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For me it was

  Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond.
It blew my mind on almost every section! I loved it I suppose coz it answered a lot of questions I'd growing up and a bit more. I've recommended it to everyone in my family.

One critique I received was that there is repetition of ideas but I think its because primarily humans carry past successes anf failures so most of the changes are evolutionary to what worked previously and second this book is akin to a thesis and every chapter is essential to building up the case.

By far the best non-fiction I've read.

While no doubt Guns, Germs, and Steel is a good work, I will be hesitant to subscribe to ideas it presents, carte blanche. Please see this reddit discussion[1]

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/AskAnthropology/comments/1rzm07/wha...

The first link in that reddit comment points to [1] which is a critique of another Diamond's book. But if you let me give two comments on it:

(1) In the first sentences, the author (a PhD student in history) cannot really hide his irritation that someone with a background in animal physiology has written a popular book about history. I have seen this ad hominem several times about Jared Diamond. Somehow those historians cannot stand that someone with no degree in history has written such a popular book.

(2) "Guns, Germs, and Steel attacked the notion that racial superiority explained Western global pre-eminence, a view taken seriously by almost no one who’s taken seriously"

Actually, what Guns, Germs, and Steel did, was to provide a first comprehensive theory (that I have heard of, anyway) that explains why Europe, and not someone else, rose to dominance. This is the merit. The main merit is not that it, as a side product, discredited the racially based theories.

Failing to understand this difference does not speak highly of the writer of the review.

[1] http://www.columbia.edu/~saw2156/HunterBlatherer.pdf

I'm sure I find books to read in this "Ask HN" but your comment is exactly what's the issue with it.

So the OP asks for high signal to noise ratio. There comes a recommendation, and then I read some good discussion on Reddit on how the book is actually kind of wrong.

This begs the question: What's "high signal to noise" anyways? Someone who has read 10 books on a subject will find barely anything new. One who just starts out might find "gems" on every other page.

And also: If a recommendation here in this "Ask HN" is given and then debunked as mediocre, how sure can one be to actually find a book with high signal to noise without reading the book?

In that sense: Thanks for your comment. In-depth discussions like the one on Reddit is really necessary, because I, as a starter, have no clue how to evaluate a book. Every recommendation should probably come with a lengthy discussion about its accuracy by people who know the subject :)

I kind of agree with you "high signal to noise" take. It is highly subjective. Most of the times, going with populistic choice seems to be way forward. Unfortunately we have very short time. Personally very liberal estimation of my reading prowess, I don't think I will read more than another 500 books in my life time.

My emphasis with my comment is to read books, ideas with healthy dose of skepticism, rather than worshipping it as gospel.

Yes the repetition was noticeable, I would typically start reading a paragraph, realize that it was a point made previously and end up skipping a whole page.

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