Which books to take to Africa?

Niall writes me:

I have an optimization problem that I thought you and other loyal MR
readers, like myself, could help me with.

The Question: How should I go about selecting books to bring with me for
a year of field research in rural Africa?

1. I have a limited amount of weight I can carry on the flight
2. There is little or no access to additional books where I will be
3. I only expect to return to the US once during that year

Thanks for continuing the to make MR the most educational blog on the web.

Sadly I do not know this fine gentleman.  But I’ll suggest the following five books: Moby Dick, The Bible (but it must be a serious translation), Plato’s Dialogues, Homer’s Odyssey, and a long, fun book of science fiction or fantasy that you haven’t already read.  LOTR would be a fine first choice if it fits that bill, otherwise ask around.  The basic principles are that the works should be long, deep, divisible into smaller parts, capable of sustaining rereadings, culturally central in some way, and last of all you need one piece of pure fun.  Readers, can you improve upon these tips?

I’ll add that if you read some language other than English, and thus read more slowly in that language, pick a book or two there as well.


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