STEWART BRAND is the president of the Long Now Foundation, established to creatively foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years. He leads a project there called Revive and Restore, which seeks to bring back extinct animal species such as the passenger pigeon and woolly mammoth. Stewart is well known for founding, editing, and publishing The Whole Earth Catalog (1968–85), which received a National Book Award for its 1972 issue. He is the co-founder of The WELL and Global Business Network, and the author of books including Whole Earth Discipline, The Clock of the Long Now, How Buildings Learn, and The Media Lab. He was trained in biology at Stanford and served as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army.
What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are books that have greatly influenced your life?
Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility by James P. Carse
One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism by Rodney Stark
The Idea of Decline in Western History by Arthur Herman
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven
These are the fundamental guidebooks for understanding and helping civilization. The Decline book shows the consequences of believing romantic, tragic narratives of societies becoming degraded, while The Better Angels chronicles how humanity has in fact become less violent, less cruel, and more just with every passing millennium, century, and decade. One True God demonstrates how lethally competitive and regimented monotheistic religions inevitably become, while Finite and Infinite Games makes a thrilling case for getting beyond obsession with winning zero-sum outcomes and focusing on improving the games we play, infinitely.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
CrossFit. Swagger in, stagger out. Repeat.
Back when I was 75 (I’m 78 now), I checked out the local CrossFit “box” and was enchanted by the absence of mirrors and machines, and by the presence of free weights. For an hour at a time, twice a week, I lose myself in the intense workout, different every time, pushing my strength, stamina, and agility in measured competition. Result? Over a year, I lost 30 pounds, back to my youthful fighting weight of 155 pounds, and I feel great, which makes me proud, which makes me happy.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?
All I know is what worked for me. After college, I learned a whole array of marketable skills through classes and jobs. By the time I was 24, I could have earned my living as a logger, writer, field biologist, commercial photographer, Army officer, museum exhibit researcher, or multimedia artist. I also learned to
live happily on almost nothing. I stayed with none of those things, but the skills served me in everything I eventually did, such as publish The Whole Earth ‐ Catalog.
I was fortunate to base my college education on a science (biology), but I do wish I had taken some anthropology and trained in theater skills (introverts need them). For me, far better than graduate school was two years active duty as a military officer. Any kind of national service (Peace Corps, etc.) is a boon, both for you and for society.