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Ask HN: Book Recommendations?
98 points by baccheion on March 5, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 81 comments
Does anyone have any book recommendations? Preferably non-fiction (like business, self-help, finance, tech, etc). What are the best books to read? I'm going on a learning/reading binge, and I want to get the best stuff.

This comes up quite often, here are two helpful links:



I prefer HN Reads. Though both are good sites (and the first is aggregated automatically, which is a plus), ramiro.org only finds books that are linked to Amazon. IMO this gives a rather skewed result, as most books mentioned on HN are only mentioned by the title. (And the more famous the book, the less likely it is to be linked to Amazon, since everyone is assumed to know about it already - e.g. TAOCP, SICP, etc.)

I made http://www.hnreads.com a while ago to help find book suggestions from threads on hacker news. I expanded the idea to look at subreddits related to books, at http://www.bookbot.io - the eventual plan being to unify the two. There are quite a few things I would like to add, but they will have to wait until I finish my thesis!

Great invention. Congratulations and thanks.

I have barely finished chapter one of this 1981 book but I think it offers insight into the past for all of us who got into this field after Java was already prevalent.

> It chronicles the experiences of a computer engineering team racing to design a next-generation computer at a blistering pace under tremendous pressure.



That is one awesome book.

Self-help/personal development/philosophy:

- The obstacle is the way (Ryan Holiday)

- Meditations (Marcus Aurelius)

- Level up your life: how to unlock adventure and happiness by becoming the hero of your own story

- the six pillars of self-esteem

- so good they can’t ignore you

- the power of habit

- how to fail at almost everything and still win big


- soft sell: the new art of selling

- essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less

- the magic of thinking big

- everything is negotiable

- making things happen

- lean customer development

- what customers want

- inspired: how to create products customers love

- delivering happiness

"So Good They Can't Ignore You" by Cal Newport is awesome.

Not really non-fiction, but Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is always a good read. Also if you're just interested in 'stuff', Plato's The Republic is very worth reading :



> Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I really enjoyed the parts of that book that were actually about the motorcycle trip. Pirsig's thoughts on quality didn't resonate with me, at all.

I had the same experience when I read it for the first time, I was skipping over the "philosophy" part to just read about the motorcycle trip.

Then I read it the second time.

And the "chautauqua" (what the author calls the philosophical discussions) blew my mind!

I have read the book 3x so far, and the insights keep deepening.

Have you tried the follow up - 'Lila'? It goes at it somewhat differently.

No. I'm not really looking for more Pirsig.

My reading list is already probably a decade long (I'm a slow reader). I've recently started to abandon books that don't grab me after an hour or so and I'm wondering why I didn't do this years ago. Previously I finished anything I started.

Took a philosophy class in college, where we read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Got a big shock about halfway through the book when I closed it and saw "Non-fiction" on the spine!

If you're about to work for the federal government. I suggest catch 22 and Kafka.

Now that I'm working with them,I realize those books aren't fiction: they're documentaries.

Principles by Ray Dalio. My interpretation is that this book shows 'how to get what you want'.

That sounds so far up the chain of abstraction and generality, that it’s easy to dismiss the book. Don’t! The book is impressive partially because it manages to distill useful truths which are applicable at such a general level.

It's written by Ray Dalio, who is undoubtedly extraordinarily intelligent and remarkably determined to self-improve. He is the founder of the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates and consequently the 69th richest person in the world in 2015.

The firm itself is noted for it’s unique company culture. He believes that people can only improve through feedback and that there are strong social conventions and cognitive barriers which prevent people receiving the feedback they need. At Bridgewater, every meeting is recorded and broadcasted to the company. At any level in the company, if someone is being considered for a promotion, they will be invited for a discussion. Senior executives will discuss, in front of the candidate, the merits of whether to promote them or not.

The book contains elegant, simple, yet crucially important truths. They seem obvious at first sight, but he fleshes them out in such a way that you realise you don't really act consistently with those truths, even if you perhaps trick yourself into believing that you do. Through reading the book, you can internalise some of his approaches in understanding the world.

It’s a book which altered my way of thinking about the world in a profound way.

PDF link here: http://www.bwater.com/Uploads/FileManager/Principles/Bridgew...

The Art of Manliness has a great set of booklists. If the website's title is not obvious enough, they are all completely centered around manliness, so be forewarned. By this, they mean manliness as opposed to boyishness, not womanliness. Heres some good lists and a link to their landing page for all their book related content:




You can also check out Blinkist - they summarize business/finance/self help books to 10-15 short key insights. It's pretty cool (Disclaimer: I worked for them, but actually mean it): http://blinkist.com

In this election season, if you are left leaning and would like to understand just what it is that's underlying the politics of the right (or vice versa), I recommend Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind.


Prior to reading this, my politics aligned very closely with those of Sanders and I thought everybody on the right were selfish, evil, close-minded fools. After reading the book, my politics are still left of center (but definitely right of Sanders), but I think I understand and appreciate the politics of my right leaning family and friends.

Zero to One by Peter Thiel

The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Strategy Rules - Five Timeless Lessons from Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs by David B. Yoffie, Michael A. Cusumano

These are all timely books and recently written.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (by Oscar Wilde) is just so beautifully written. It was Oscar Wilde's only novel (he only needed one). It also has the absolute best preface of any book I've read: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/174/174-h/174-h.htm#chap00

I've been reading Boxes - How The Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levison lately. It's pretty interesting and enjoyable.


In a flagrant act of self-promotion, I'll recommend my own book on math and physics: No bullshit guide to math and physics. What is remarkable about it is the interlinked explanations of mechanics and calculus, so you get a picture of why it all works. Great review if you ever wanted to learn these topics. Comes with a review of high school math too, in case you need it.

https://minireference.com/ 4.5 stars on amazon http://www.amazon.com/No-bullshit-guide-math-physics/product... If you're getting a print version, I recommend the version through lulu.com, since the print quality is better.

Below list are some of my favorite books overall that I didn't see mentioned.

---Non-software related

How to win friends and influence people -Dale Carnegie (The definitive guide to helping you work better with people, truly great book, should be required reading)

Blink- Malcolm Gladwell

Godel Escher, Bach - (Recursion, but not from a software perspective. Its a glorious book that will change the way you think about recursion.)

Hitch Hiker's guide to the galaxy, - Douglas Adams (Glorious book that is a fun read, when you need a break pick this up and laugh hard)

Foundation Series - Assimov (Great stories from one of the best sci-fi writers ever)

-------------------Software related Code Complete Concrete Mathematics The Art of Computer Programming The Design of the Unix Operating System Introduction to Algorithms -Cormen Design Patterns Elements of Resusable OO Design -Gang of Four

My recent favorites: Jobs, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, High Output Management, Innovator's Dilemma, Lean Startup, On The Shortness Of Life, How Google Works, Zero To One, Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Power of Habit, Things Fall Apart, Stoner

I'm not sure this is the "best stuff," but I'm currently reading From Counterculture to Cyberculture, and moderately enjoying it.

It's about Stewart Brand, but really more about the scenes he was involved in, it's not a biography. Covers the Whole Earth Catalog and the WELL, but also talks about the influence of systems theory and Bucky Fuller, and clarified, for me at least, the difference between the New Communalists and the New Left, which were somewhat conflated in my mind. It also puts Stewart Brand as a character, if not an essential one, at some key events. The mother of all demos and the founding of the Homebrew Computer Club are what I'm referring to here.

By far the most useful book I've ever read is Prescott Lecky's Self Consistency, a theory of personality. I think it was published in the 40's. It's his theory of the human personality in response to the popular ideas of the time from Freud and various behaviourists. If you want an incredibly useful model for understanding your mind and the various forms of resistance we all have to deal with, I don't think you'll find a better book. (And I've read a lot of them). Last I looked the book was about $150 used, on amazon, but there are PDF's floating about.

The Goal.

If you're interested in project management, Making Things Happen is good.

I've just started High Output Management and so far it seems good. Of course there are always the classics like Good to Great, What Color Is Your Parachute, etc

I was going to add, "The Goal". I just received two more copies of it from Amazon today. I've given away more copies of that book that I can count (and will give away another one to a co-worker on Monday).

Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working:_People_Talk_About_Wha...

Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bowe_%28author%29#Gig:_Am...

If you haven't already read it, "Getting Things Done" by David Allen is one of the best known productivity books.

Some people I have spoken to say his method isn't for them but I've found it useful, even if I haven't implemented everything he suggests.

I'd also recommend "Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software" by Charles Petzold. It starts at simple circuits and builds up a picture of how computers work. It has really helped me get my mental models of what's going on inside a computer straightened out!

I have always been skeptical about GTD (and haven't read the book). It seems very cultish. And apparently he just released a new version where he changes the terminology he uses for every concept, which sounds very confusing.

On the other hand, I see GTD principles pop up all the time on todo list apps, and a lot of it seems like a good idea.

I felt the same way about GTD for the longest time, until I decided to read the small book and see what the fuss was all about. It completely changed the way I look at productivity and getting things done. GTD is not so much about David Allen or The GTD Method, but about a logical, structured way of processing inputs into your life. The more inputs you have, the more you'll benefit from the ideas (I consider them ideas more than 'methods') presented in the book.

I don't follow GTD exactly the way David presents it in the book, but that's just the thing: What I learned from the book was not a specific method, but how to think about task management in a way that makes sense given the limited capacity of my brain to remember a large number of transitory things.

I'm about 100 pages in, and the concepts seem very sensible so far. It boils down to methodically keeping track of your to-do's in one list, not in your head, so you don't have those distracting "oh right I need to do X" moments throughout your day. The book is a collection of tips to help you do that better -- you can take bits and pieces if you want.

I have no doubt that if I actually started doing what he says my days would be more productive and less stressful.

That said, so far the book is really verbose, so I'm unsure if I'd recommend it over an online summary.

You might prefer "Time Management for System Administrators" :


It's a little bit GTD-ish, but has a direct practical IT take on it without so much dwelling on terminology. Certainly changed the way I worked for the better.

IMHO GTD is right in two key things i) put everything into inbox; ii) distinguish between tasks, tasks with deadlines and events (e.g. a doctor appointment).

But it doesn't give us some key insights needed to prioritize and to avoid getting stuck into executing unimportant things. IMHO, the kanban concept of work-in-progress limits is crucial.

some recommendations on mixed topics from my recent non-fiction reads, I enjoyed all of them for different reasons (the song machine book even got me to listen to music I would never have thought I'd enjoy, but can't argue Max Martin knows how to write a catchy song!)

When breath becomes air http://smile.amazon.com/When-Breath-Becomes-Paul-Kalanithi/d...

Do no harm, Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery http://smile.amazon.com/Do-No-Harm-Stories-Surgery/dp/125006...

The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory http://smile.amazon.com/Song-Machine-Inside-Hit-Factory/dp/0...

Why we work http://smile.amazon.com/Why-We-Work-TED-Books/dp/1476784868/

Enlightenment 2.0 http://smile.amazon.com/Enlightenment-2-0-Restoring-politics...

I started reading Henry Kissinger's On China. I'm currently on the Cold War chapters. USSR and China actually had a very tense relationship and Mao often played Soviets off against the Americans.

One reason I wanted to read the book is Kissinger and Nixon are responsible for establishing relationships with China. My parents generation were able to come to the US because of them. Many older Chinese immigrants have positive opinions of the two, despite them being amongst America's least favorite politicians.

I highly recommend "The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography" by Simon Singh. Really readable history of cryptography, without much math.

Just finished "Love's Executioner" and "Creatures of a Day," both by Irvin Yalom. A deeply touching glimpse into the world of psychotherapy. Highly recommended.

May I also add "The Road Less Travelled" by Scott Peck to books on Psychotherapy. Excellent read.

Robert Caro's The Power Broker about Robert Moses, the most powerful unelected government official in U.S. history.

Caro, a Pulitzer winning journalist, is a wiz at writing, so you'll enjoy each page. But more importantly, even though Robert Moses was a bad buy, you don't have to be bad to learn to get what you want, in an organization, by ignoring superficial power structures, and focusing on the real ones.

Plus you'll learn a ton about how NYC was built out in the depression.

Ha! Just had that binge too...

... Here's what I like:

On the business end: - Badass by Kathy Sierra - Impossible to Inevitable by Aaron Ross - Traction by Gabriel Weinberg - Cold Calling Early Customers by Robert Graham - Learn or Die by Edward Hess

On "refining your thought process": - Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley - Racing Towards Excellence by Jan Sramek - Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin - Case Interview Secrets by Victor Cheng (helps you think in a nice, structured way)

The Design of Everyday Things. Probably the quintessential book on design, the basic premise is that if you can't figure out how a thing works, it's not your fault.

Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down. About the engineering of various things, mostly buildings. Highly recommend.

The Elements of Computer Systems (better known as NAND to Tetris). Describes a computer from the bottom up.

A History of the Arab Peoples

The Quran

The Bible

Space and Time in General Relativity by David Mermin

Feynman QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: http://jakeseliger.com/2012/03/25/jonathan-haidts-the-righte...

This is a novel, but Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind is fantastic.

I'm currently reading - Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution by Neil deGrasse Tyson, so I immediately recommend it.

Recently read and thoroughly enjoyed "Elon Musk"; good insight into both starting unicorns and how much of a genius Elon is.

I recommend Dan Drown's first book, Digital Fortress: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Fortress the book is filled with Cryptography, Quantum computing, NSA, Assasins....... Was perfect for me and will be for any other hacker!! :D

I started reading it, and put it down almost immediately. The 'technical' aspects of the book are half-understood gibberish. I would expect it would just annoy or even enrage any hacker with its inaccuracies, misconceptions and general dumbing-down to meaningless of the subject matter.

0/5 - would not recommend to anyone.

An example of the "inaccuracies, misconceptions and general dumbing-down to meaningless of the subject matter" ? cause I don't recall any.

John Holland, "Hidden Order". Really. What is money? A message bus in a complex adaptive system. Lots of other stuff out there on complexity but this has a unique perspective. If you really want to go crazy find "Signs of Life, How complexity pervades biology" after you read "Hidden Order"

If you're into startups & programming (this is HN, right?), here's my list of recommended reading: http://www.hello-startup.net/resources/recommended-reading/

I'm reading James Altucher's Choose Yourself Guide To Wealth right now and I really like it, although it's quite verbosely written (I'm about halfway through). This book is about business and monetizing ideas. I haven't read Choose Yourself, which is more of a self-help book, I think.

Florian Cramer - Anti-Media: Ephemera on Speculative Arts


My top 4 recommendations (full list and notes at http://www.dotnetsurfers.com/books/) The Power of Habit, Search Inside Yourself, The Willpower Instinct, Zero to One

I'd recommend being a bit more specific about the things you're after. But here's two of my favourites (one technical, one business):

"Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software", by Charles Petzold

"Rework", by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson


"The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", by Stephen Covey

Creativity Inc., by Ed Catmull (co-founder of Pixar). A book on the structure and processes used at Pixar to sustain the creative process - It's one of the best books I've read on business/management and personal development.

Ed is an incredible human being! Go read it!

> Ed is an incredible human being!

He was also at the center of a wage fixing scandal.


The world beyond your head is fantastic. http://www.amazon.com/The-World-Beyond-Your-Head/dp/03742929...

I've compiled and organised resources, including books, about computing on : http://www.learn-computing-directory.org Also feel free to contribute!

You might find http://parrotread.com/yc useful. It has book recommendations from all the YC partners, based on books they have tweeted about in the past.

I am reading CTM by Van Roy/Haridi and watching Van Roy's edx vids. Very nice explanations that require a lot of filling in the holes.

If someone else is familiar with Oz/Van Roy stuff, I have a question.

I am, but I read it many years ago, so I might not be able to help

In this video[0] Van Roy claims that the function Three "resolves" to 3. It's at around 8:45 minute. I tried working that out, but can't seem to get it correct. What I tried

   {Inc {Inc {Inc Zero}}}
   {Inc {Inc 1}}
   {Inc {1} + 1}
   {{{1} + 1} + 1}
Can we consider {{{1} + 1} + 1} to be 3 or what are my mistakes? Thanks.

[0] https://youtu.be/Arh_6J5_fWU?t=8m46s

Derek Sivers has compiled a list of books in your preferred field of interest. I find it quite helpful.


I would also recommend the science fiction megapacks. I read a lot (especially sci-fi) and it makes me feel guily at times. :)

So if I need a quick scifi buzz, I pick a random story from the megapack.

"Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders". I am reading it now, very entertaining and you'll learn thing about management styles.

Some highlights from the last couple months of my reading, nonfiction:

Softwar (Larry Ellison), Matthew Symonds

A Perfect Red, Amy Butler Greenfield

Assault on Lake Casitas, Brad Alan Lewis

and fiction:

This Census-Taker, China Mieville

Whatever, Michel Houellebecq

Impro by Keith Johnstone

The Inner Game of Tennis

A Guide to Better Movement: The Science and Practice of Moving with More Skill and Less Pain

Punished by Rewards

Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution by Bowles

Remote: Office Not Required - https://37signals.com/remote

I Am That, by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Freedom from the Known, by Jiddu Krishnamurti

Think on These Things, by Jiddu Krishnamurti

The Bhagavad Gita

The Grand Design, by Stephen Hawking

On Western Terrorism by Chomsky and Vltchek. A lucid and refreshing take on global geopolitics.

Domain Driven Design by Eric Evans.

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman.

Do a google search for Charlie munger reading list and you'll uncover gems like Influenc, guns germs and steel, poor Charlie's almanac

That's a very broad question, so I read your comments to get a feel from where you might be coming from and/or going to and where you and I might overlap:

* Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Antifragile, things that gain from disorder http://www.amazon.com/Antifragile-Things-That-Disorder-Incer...

* Jared Diamond. The World until yesterday, what can we learn from traditional societies http://www.amazon.com/World-Until-Yesterday-Traditional-Soci...

* Frans de Waal. The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates http://www.amazon.com/Bonobo-Atheist-Search-Humanism-Primate...

* John Higgs. The KLF: Chaos, Magic... http://www.amazon.com/KLF-Chaos-Magic-Music-Money-ebook/dp/B...

* Joseph Jaworski. Synchronicity, the inner Path of leadership http://www.amazon.com/Synchronicity-The-Inner-Path-Leadershi...

* Piero Ferrucci. Your Inner Will, finding personal strength in critical times http://www.amazon.com/Your-Inner-Will-Personal-Strength/dp/0...

* William Irvine. A Guide to the good life, the ancient art of stoic joy http://www.amazon.com/Guide-Good-Life-Ancient-Stoic/dp/01953...

* Chogyam Trungpa. Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior http://www.amazon.com/Shambhala-Sacred-Warrior-Chogyam-Trung...

* Tomas Malik. Patience with God: The Story of Zacchaeus Continuing In Us http://www.amazon.com/Patience-God-Story-Zacchaeus-Continuin...

* Nick Winter. The Motivation Hacker http://www.amazon.com/Motivation-Hacker-Nick-Winter/dp/09892...

* Chas Emerick, Brian Carper, Christophe Grad. Clojure Programming http://www.amazon.com/Clojure-Programming-Chas-Emerick/dp/14...


* Peter Hamilton - The Reality Dysfunction

* Neal Stephenson - Cryptonomicon (his other hit: Snow Crash is surprisingly more history then SF now...)

>Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: An excellent book with autobiographic content about Richard Feynman, contains many funny stories and interesting insights of this brilliant man.

>J. Hromkovic: Theoretical Computer Science: An excellent introduction to complexity theory, kolmogorov complexity, automata and turing machine, language and grammar theory

>Harris & Harris: Digital Design and Computer Architecture: Introduction to electrical engineering, graudally builds your knowledge until you could implement a simple little CPU in e.g. Verilog.

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