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YC's Winter Reading List (ycombinator.com)
494 points by yurisagalov on Dec 12, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 214 comments

This is my favorite passage from Titan:

With a talent for seeing things anew, Rockefeller could study an operation, break it down into component parts, and devise ways to improve it. In many ways, he anticipated the efficiency studies of engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor. Regarding each plant as infinitely perfectible, he created an atmosphere of ceaseless improvement. Paradoxically, the mammoth scale of operations encouraged close attention to minute detail, for a penny saved in one place might then be multiplied a thousandfold throughout the empire. In the early 1870s, Rockefeller inspected a Standard plant in New York City that filled and sealed five-gallon tin cans of kerosene for export. After watching a machine solder caps to the cans, he asked the resident expert: “How many drops of solder do you use on each can?” “Forty,” the man replied. “Have you ever tried thirty-eight?” Rockefeller asked. “No? Would you mind having some sealed with thirty-eight and let me know?”34 When thirty-eight drops were applied, a small percentage of cans leaked—but none at thirty-nine. Hence, thirty-nine drops of solder became the new standard instituted at all Standard Oil refineries. “That one drop of solder,” said Rockefeller, still smiling in retirement, “saved $2,500 the first year; but the export business kept on increasing after that and doubled, quadrupled—became immensely greater than it was then; and the saving has gone steadily along, one drop on each can, and has amounted since to many hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Rockefeller performed many similar feats, fractionally reducing the length of staves or the width of iron hoops without weakening a barrel’s strength[...]

Interesting story; thanks. I have a few reactions to it:

First, it seems like a marketing photo-op for the CEO. In your opinion, is the author trying to make Rockefeller relatable? You can see how it works with HN readers.

These days his success is attributed to business acumen and notorious practices, not engineering, but I haven't read much about him. What impression does the book give?

Also, I would argue that the time he spent on solder drops was a waste of company resources much more valuable than solder: his time. What would he say if he saw the machine operator similarly wasting company time or resources? Rockefeller would have helped his company much more by improving his own efficiency.

Finally, in most companies when Rockefeller asks if you can reduce the number solder drops and you are the lowly solder machine operator, you reduce the solder drops no matter what. There is no way that story could have ended differently, and nobody would reveal that the boss's idea had bad consequences: The barrels had to be handled more carefully, they leaked at a higher rate, they had to increase some other sealing process to compensate, etc.

All my cynicism may be unfair, however.

EDIT: A bunch of edits

It's certainly a PR piece. The story may even be apocryphal. But there is a rational reason for him to take such a small action.

Promoting such a story within the company spreads the word that a good way to impress the boss is to question processes and look for improvements. Especially if he asked similar questions frequently.

People could start to think, what if the boss comes by, is there anything inefficient in my task that I can improve before that happens.

Good point. The following is something I thought of before and after I replied to the comment below, but which escaped my mind when I wrote it:

It depends on how the author represents the story. If he represents it as an example of Rockefeller's leadership technique and skill, that's one thing.

If the author represents it as Rockefeller's exceptional efficiency and engineering acumen, or is trying to show how relatable Rockefeller was, then the author is doing PR too.

I would argue that you can combine two parts of your cynicism to create something very wholesome!

1) "It seems like a marketing photo-op for the CEO."

2) "Rockefeller would have helped his company much more by improving his own efficiency."

Surely the photo-op helped create a culture of efficiency and optimization throughout Standard Oil?

Agreed, and very well put. Who knew you could combine cynicisms like that? The mind boggles at the possibilities ...

To me the 40 drops suggests that the operator only "guessed" how many drops are enough, to the nearest multiple of 10, and left that as good enough; and rhe 38 suggestion was basically saying, "find out exactly how much is enough instead of being ok with good enough"

It was right in front of my eyes and I didn't see it. Humbling. Thanks for pointing it out.

In related news, Titan just got bumped to the top of my reading list.

Optimizations like this one with Rockefeller sells well, i.e., relatable, to many people because they tend to optimize locally themselves. As you alluded, local optimizations could lead to problems at the global level, e.g., lack of system robustness. Unintended consequences.

Unfortunately, manufacturing has taken this road in developing fragile products. Even the food industry "optimizes" production to maximize taste preferences at the expense of nutrition: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/72/6/1424.full

I don't think that sort of thing makes him more relatable to anyone except bean counters and engineers. It might have been company lore, though.

In general the book shows him to be very good at seeing opportunities and at optimizing. I recall similar behavior in the sections about issuing stock and shipping via rail as well.

Your point about the lowly solder machine operator is belied by the fact that he first suggested 38, then went back up to 39 after there were too many leaks. One other trait which is omnipresent in the book is that he was very careful with the ledger. He would have noticed if costs were increasing elsewhere.

Thanks for responding ...

> He would have noticed if costs were increasing elsewhere.

My guess is that you haven't worked in many large organizations! :)

The reason I say that he would have noticed is that the book has many examples of him being careful with expenses and the numbers in general. From the same chapter as the quote above:

As a former bookkeeper, Rockefeller devoted special attention to ledgers. One accountant recalled him stopping by his desk and saying courteously, “Permit me,” then flipping quickly through his books. “Very well kept,” he said, “very, indeed.” Then his eye leaped to a tiny error. “A little error here; will you correct it?” The accountant was flabbergasted by the speed with which Rockefeller had scanned so many dense columns of figures. “And I will take my oath,” he reported, “that it was the only error in the book!”


Thanks. I really appreciate your contributions and it has changed how I think of Rockefeller; it makes me ask the question of his genius, if that's the right word. I'm still not seeing anything that distinguishes, for me, between genuine genius and much more common hagiography and myth, but I know very little about the subject and now will keep looking and asking.

Also see the documentary The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power based on the book with the same name:



Sounds like Hank Rearden.

knowing your business in and out was the only way to success, back in those day. right now, you just google it.

Sounds like all my bosses squeezing pay and hours. "You are working until 5:30, could you work until 6? 6:30? 7?"

Same here, I don't see what's so laudable about marginal optimization / penny pinching. Anyone can do it and almost everyone does it, they just aren't in the position of CEO and so don't have their efforts multiplied by a factor of a million (assuming that what Rockefeller did was even optimization; I have the same doubts as hackuser). The "CEO feats" that most inspire my respect are of the exact opposite form. Jumping ship from a lucrative career to work on a default-dead startup, cannibalizing iPod sales to bet on iPhones, that kind of thing. It's not innovation if nobody thinks you're crazy for doing it.

A hero of micromanagement!

Comments on a couple of the selections:

- Grit - I can see why it's caught on, it's pretty well-written and informative, but it's not one of the stronger books in the genre and I don't think it will stand the test of time. I recommend The Willpower Instinct - by Kelly McGonigal and Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise - by Anders Ericsson in its place.

- The Rent Is Too Damn High - Matt Yglesias is an intellectually dishonest pundit and I recommend staying away from anything he publishes. He's a leading representative of what Nassim Taleb calls the Intellectual Yet Idiot[1]. He deleted 3000 tweets praising Obamacare that look bad in retrospect[2][3]. He's also mentioned directly in the Podesta emails as a pundit to be "cultivated."[4] This article from 2011 [5] points out numerous examples of his sloppy reporting and intellectual dishonesty where he doesn't own his mistakes, deletes critical comments, etc.

1. https://medium.com/@nntaleb/the-intellectual-yet-idiot-13211...

2. https://twitter.com/BuffaloBlueBear/status/79120869059868262...

3. https://twitter.com/JimmyPrinceton/status/791127776388583424 (check the whole thread)

4. https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/emailid/31954

5. http://www.chequerboard.org/2011/02/matt-yglesias-the-one-ma...

Can you provide a more clear link to evidence of your claim that Yglesias deleted 3000 tweets about Obamacare? I see images of a few tweets deleted. Perhaps Twitter is showing us different messages below the message you directly linked.

I don't have a link, but he deleted his whole tweet history a couple months ago. I never saw an explanation, but I doubt it had to do with his attitude towards Obamacare, which is well documented elsewhere, and which hasn't changed that much.

Sorry, while editing my post I ended up with a ridiculous-looking sentence (obviously all 3000 of those tweets weren't about Obamacare). It looks like at this point he's deleted almost all of his history all the way up through ~November 16th. At the time though it looked like it was just a block of tweets[1], which happened to include a couple of his most popular tweets ever (including the one screenshotted above about Obamacare). The timing of the original deletions was at the same time news was coming out about big premium increases under Obamacare next year, which is where the link between the tweet deletions and Obamacare came from. That may have just been a coincidence, though. It doesn't take away from the fact that he doesn't stand by the opinions he spews to 200k followers.

You can see in the 2nd link is my previous post that someone caught a screenshot of a tweet-deleter app spamming his timeline (this was in late October, I also saw those tweets in real-time), which means he's done another round of cleansing, basically deleting his entire tweet history.

1. https://twitter.com/edhendel/status/790994649972224002

Has anyone evaluated the actual arguments in the book? I've arrived at the view that the high cost of housing in the UK is causing us more problems than the obvious one of reducing incomes available for other forms of consumption or investment, and I would appreciate an insight.

The basic premise is that not only do restrictions on housing development make housing more expensive, but it creates an overall drag on the economy as well, because people that could be working in high productivity industries choose to work in less productive jobs to avoid a high cost of living. (Productivity in the economic sense of GDP per employee, not anything personal.)

For example, a great programmer turns down a job at Facebook because they want to have a family or afford a house. Instead, she takes a job at an insurance company in Columbus, OH. Or someone gets an aerospace degree but doesn't want to live in LA, so they don't work at SpaceX. It's hard to give examples that don't sound like they're demeaning the life choices people make, and the book is much better than my off the cuff ones. Plus he gives data as well as better explanations.

I cannot speak to the rest of Matt Yglesias' work, but I read TRiTDH. I found the book to ring true and be consistent with what I learned in my Masters of Urban Planning program and a decade's worth of reading books and news about urban development and economies.

I imagine many people here saw Don Quixote on the list and kept scrolling. Sounds like YC is trying to make you go back to a book you probably gave up on in high school.

The edition pictured, translated by Edith Grossman, is extremely approachable. It uses mostly modern language which makes the original humor of the book really stand out. It's incredible that a book written over 500 years ago can still be funny and engaging. I'd recommend it to everyone, after reading this translation it moved from 'boring book I couldn't finish' to 'one of my favorite novels ever'.

They didn't help matters by giving it such a glib description.

Creativity INC is one of the best books I have ever read on creativity and I have read a lot to know how much most of them really suck.

It has the added bonus of providing an alternative biography of Steve Jobs which in itself is interesting.

It's much more than a story about Pixar. It's a great insight into some of the very problems you deal with as you build and try to maintain a culture.

I can't recommend it enough.

If you want a peek into the books content Ed Catmul did a great talk at Standford.


Creativity, Inc. is also one of the best books on management.

I say this with reverence for the work of Peter Drucker and W. Edwards Deming.

Having read most of the "quality gurus" (including Deming) and a bit of Drucker...your comment catapulted the book up my reading list. Thx.

How does it compare to "pixar and beyond"?

I haven't read that one yet. Have you?

Yes, it's an amazing book. But it looks very similar, hence my question ;-)

Yes agree thats its primary value to me to.

Analogous to the top ranked thread in this post about glorifying Rockefeller; Ed Catmull was implicated in artificial wage suppression practices and non-poaching agreements across his industry.

So, every silver lining has a cloud, it seems.

I was surprised too and saddened after the fact it seemed noone here has talked about the amount of malpractice, and predatory tactics either direcly practiced by rockefeller or associated to him.

I was a disappointed with it, I couldn't help feeling it was a little too self congratulatory all the way through. You could argue that was justified, after all Pixar has been very successful but it spoilt it for me.

I guess I read it different. I read it as what do you do once you established success. How do you make sure your culture doesn't suffer and become complacent which happens so often.

So it's selv congratulatory but only to make a very different point; Where do you go from success?

Pleasantly surprised to see Lee Child mentioned there.

The Enemy (mentioned in the list) is a prequel, though. But it is special in the sense that it is narrated in first person. Special because (no, not a spoiler): Reacher, the protagonist, doesn't say much, but the internal thinking is described in a very attractive way through out (so readers naturally long to hear in first person). The most common thing you read in the books is: "Reacher said nothing". Heck, it's so common that there's even a book written with that phrase as the title; it shadows the author, Lee Child, to investigate what it takes to make the popular character -- http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/529959/reacher-said-...

FWIW, other books from the author I enjoyed and recommend: Echo Burning, Die Trying, Tripwire, Persuader. (/me fondly recalls reading 17+ books (even saving money as a student 10 years ago to pre-order) until a few years of years ago; will resist making a comment on the Reacher movies; but makes a sincere please to read the books first, and ignore, as best as you can, the movies).


Related author: Robert Crais (characters: Elvis Cole and Joe Pike).

I'd also recommend the Sniper series of books by Stephen Hunter.

My personal picks as I continue to try to understand global economic trends since the 1980's through the prism of the 2008-crash:

The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy by Yanis Varoufakis [1]

The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future By Stiglitz, Joseph E. [2]

The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War by Robert J. Gordon [3]

1. https://www.amazon.com/Global-Minotaur-America-Economic-Cont...

2. https://www.amazon.com/Price-Inequality-Divided-Society-Enda...

3. https://www.amazon.com/Rise-Fall-American-Growth-Princeton/d...

Yanis gave a good endorsement of "How Will Capitalism End?: Essays on a Failing System" https://www.amazon.com/How-Will-Capitalism-End-Failing/dp/17...

Also you might like Dean Baker's latest book. You can get it free from his website in all formats, or via Amazon

"Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer"


Thanks, yeah, already in the middle of Streeck's essay collection. Jarring.

You'd probably enjoy The Unwinding by George Packer[0].

I consider it "The Great American Non-fiction Novel".

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Unwinding-Inner-History-New-America/d...

> The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy by Yanis Varoufakis [1]

Have you read "And the Weak Suffer What They Must?"? It's fantastic. Really helped shape my view before the EU Referendum here in the UK.

Not yet, but it's on my list. I've been watching a lot of Yanis' talks on youtube, very compelling perspectives.

Agreed. He's a pretty compelling presenter/speaker. He participated in a discussion on Channel 4 news [1] along with a former Kremlin Advisor that I find highly entertaining.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZjqicN8Zug

Have you found any notable economist that critiques his work?

He is more like a political figure than an economist theorist. I have yet to read the books but have seen many of his lectures and its so opinion-based that its hard to be critical. I think he is more of a communicator than a novel intellectual.

Haven't tried really, but no. I was too worn down by the referendum to willingly take any more...

I think you would enjoy "How Nations Fail" by Acemoglu and Robinson, and the EconTalk podcast with Russ Roberts.

I've been meaning to read it but Gates review but me off[0]. Would you agree or disagree with it after reading the book?

[0] https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Why-Nations-Fail

Disagree. Gate's main point is that the book is not rigorous, but it's based on a peer review literature (just making it accessible to laymen). So while some more technical people might get annoyed at the lack of rigor, it doesn't mean that it's not there, they just don't harass you with p values and endogeneity tests in the book.

For those interested, C. S. Forester's Hornblower book(s) became a pretty good TV series[0] starring Battlestar Galactica's own Jamie Bamber!

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hornblower_(TV_series)

My father read these books to me and my brother when we where younger and I enjoyed them so much! They're also cited as part of the insperation for the game "sail" (which can be installed as part of the BSD games package.)

The author has some really clever ideas for set-pieces in that book. I've only read the first (chronologically) one, but it caught my attention. At one point, he is captaining a captured merchant ship back to England and is checking it for damage from the skirmish. There's no water in the hold, so the ship must be undamaged, though it's a little strange because every ship has some water in it. Later we find it's actually severely damaged but the ship is transporting rice, which has absorbed all the water.

This also features in the show!

Both The Idea Factory and Titan were excellent. Haven't read any of the others yet. I'd recommend reading The First Tycoon[0] before Titan, as chronologically it sets the stage very well for the world Rockefeller rose to power in.

[0] http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4839382-the-first-tycoon

My disagreement with the placement of "Strangers in Their Own Land" is basically that it really is well loved by Mother Jones[1], NYT[2], etc. but not at all liked by the people it claims to report on[3]. I guess if you hold liberal beliefs and want some reinforcement, then its a good book, but I would think you probably want to read books by people who actually are the people being talked about.

1) http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/08/trump-white-blue...

2) http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/25/books/review/strangers-in-...

3) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2016/09/01...

I have to agree that it isn't the quintessential book to understanding the right. It starts off with good intentions, but she misses a few things, most likely as a result of not being able to escape her bias. I found the following review something to keep in mind if you do read the book. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphbenko/2016/09/30/book-revie...

Thank you, I just couldn't find the words myself but "couldn't escape her bias" is a perfect phrasing of what happened.

I'm about 25% of the way through Strangers.

The negative review you've given seems to be a content-free screed: most of what the writer criticizes is fairly innocuous phrasing (e.g. "my Tea Party friends" rather than "my friends"). The only substantive point is the claim that she lumps people into overly broad categories, but honestly, I've yet to see that. Do you have any sources that dislike the book and point out flaws in her analysis?

I guess if you considered the link I provided a "content-free screed" then I'm not sure what to say. Your example was not a good characterization of the review.

I read the review. Mostly, it seemed to be summarizing the book. Then, as the OP noted, there are a few nitpicks of phrasing.

Would you care to summarize the review?

Also, I don’t see how protomyth concluded that Carlos Lozada was one of the “people it claims to report on” (i.e. Tea Party supporters / working-class rural whites). From what I can tell Lozada is a journalist turned newspaper book reviewer who was born in Peru, lives in DC (previously NYC), has a masters degree from Princeton, and thinks Trump is a “totalitarian”. E.g. see another of his reviews, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2016/06/09...

You didn't engage the content of the book. You just said you didn't like it because liberals did. That's content free.

The phrase that comes to mind is epistemic closure.


You will only accept a description of your reality from inside of your reality. Contrast that with the author who actually moved to Louisiana and lived there to find out what they think. Advantage the author.

> You didn't engage the content of the book. You just said you didn't like it because liberals did. That's content free.

No, I think its a poor choice when you are trying to tell the story of a people so that you can gain an understanding of them and they don't like or agree with the book, but their opposite number does and sees it as a revelation. Living among the natives to write a book is an old ploy that has been done poorly for a long time, but since I live here full time, clocking hours isn't really part of my argument.

Confirmation bias would be a nice way to put it https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

Again, that's not engagement. That's judgment and whether you live 'there' matters not a whit.

BTW before you can cite confirmation bias you have to engage the material. She did. You didn't.

This is pretty fruitless and really you are just jumping all over. If her going to live some place matters (as you seem to indicated in the comment you made), but my living here doesn't, then I am confused. I view the content of the book with a belief that she didn't look through her subjects eyes and thus failed to live up to an true description of the people. I'm a bit sensitive to that type of thing since I've seen it more than once from another culture I grew up in.

anyway, I'm done with this as I don't have an idea what your definition of "engagement" is and since I'm having flashbacks to running into trouble with the changing meaning of "socialize", I'll go think pleasant thoughts.

Can you recommend an alternative?

Hillbilly Elegy is excellent and touches on some of the points, but really just read conservatives. We're not exactly shy about what we don't like about modern liberalism. Go peruse the pages of National Review or Commentary Magazine.

Didn't both of those publications vigorously oppose Trump?

The "conservative intellectual" niche may be the most politically irrelevant group in the country.

>Didn't both of those publications vigorously oppose Trump?


>The "conservative intellectual" niche may be the most politically irrelevant group in the country.

Trump won the Presidency, not the Movement. The rest of the GOP, though shell-shocked, has not suddenly ditched conservatism and embraced Trumpism. The vast majority of the GOP members of the House and Senate, and those in state governments, are conservative, not Trumpist.

Conservatives, not just Republicans, have far more power in the US right now than at any point in recent memory.

And thankfully, the Founding Fathers, sharp blokes that they were, crafted a system of checks and balances. I suspect we'll hear fewer cries of "obstruction!" when Congress blocks President Trump's policies than we did for Obama's.

Please don't take this personally, but I think the "obstruction" comment illustrates why political topics tend to degrade into something bad.

It's a subcase of "blue team criticizes red team for action X, but conveniently ignores blue team performing action X". Problem is this accusation gets thrown constantly by both red and blue teams. And it's probably true most of the time: teams are partisan. It's also hard to objectively evaluate.

Political discussion on the net is mostly just replaying these well-worn tropes.

Again, nothing personal - I have been thinking since the politics ban how we can have good political discussions.

I actually agree with you, and fighting the urge to get a dig in can be tough. You can also see from the other responses to that comment how it derails conversation. I'll try to be better in the future.

Yeah, such comments are the spice of conversation; without them, it's a bit bland. Somehow they work better in person.

The problem I have with the GOP's obstructionism was not that it was checking power, but that it was purely political. They obstructed policies that had been supporting by conservatives in the past, just because they didn't want Obama to be seen as having succeeded with anything. That is not what the checks and balances were designed for.

> but that it was purely political.

Any governing action is entirely political; I think your problem is that it was entirely partisan.

A lot of conservatives saw it as their duty to stand athwart Obama's agenda and yell, "Stop!"

And quite frankly, they succeeded. I think you're unfairly discounting how much of that was ideologically driven, rather than the result of simple partisanship.

You can say that a strategy to regain power is an ideological action in the long run, but then what is the difference between ideology and partisanship?

It wasn't a strategy to regain power, it was a mission to prevent the President from inflicting further harm upon the country (according to conservative thought). There were plenty of Republicans who thought it would cost them in the elections. But they saw it as worthwhile to prevent the expansion of the welfare state and the enshrinement of Obama's progressive agenda in law.

The notion that they wanted to make government work worse in order to bolster their claim that government doesn't work is what progressives tell each other, not what motivates conservatives. Ditto working class voters "voting against their interests", etc.

> A lot of conservatives saw it as their duty to stand athwart Obama's agenda and yell, "Stop!"

Given how much of it was their own agenda from 20 years back, what the hell was the point of that?

Which policy proposals did Republicans block that you think they would have been ideologically predisposed to embracing?

Obama himself wanted single-payer healthcare, but was unable to get the support of conservative Democrats for that. What actually passed was based on the Republican proposals made in the 1990s in response to Hillarycare, and almost identical to the plan that Mitt Romney helped develop and pass in Massachusetts and which he (Romney) said should be the model for the nation. The individual mandate was originally suggested by the Heritage Foundation in the 1980s.


Every Republican voted against it. At no point did Republicans in Congress try to improve any of its manifest flaws, but instead they held hundreds of symbolic votes to repeal it and return to the status quo ante (which, prior to that, everyone had agreed was unacceptable - no presidential candidate of either party in living memory had failed to include healthcare reform in their platform). Republicans who had never objected to the individual mandate when they proposed it now claimed it was unconstitutional (Obama didn't help, by claiming for political reasons that it is not a tax). Romney ran for president on a platform that his healthcare plan was a good idea when he did it but a bad idea when Obama did it.

To liberal ears, it's really hard to explain how this was a principled stand against wacky liberal ideas run amok, and not simply an attempt to regain power by obstructing even previously-bipartisan ideas, even at the cost of damaging the country, to ensure that the other side couldn't take credit.

>To liberal ears, it's really hard to explain how this was a principled stand against wacky liberal ideas run amok, and not simply an attempt to regain power by obstructing even previously-bipartisan ideas, even at the cost of damaging the country, to ensure that the other side couldn't take credit.

To my ears, it comes across as a desire to have no health-care reform at all, and blame it on the Democrats to boot. They just want to dismantle and privatize every public service they can, regardless of whether people actually rely on it or not.

>Every Republican voted against it. At no point did Republicans in Congress try to improve any of its manifest flaws

David Frum argued against this and got booted from polite conservative company for his troubles. The Obama administration inserted poison pills into the bill, like some of the impositions on small businesses, as bargaining chips they could give up to Republicans in exchange for their support, but he seriously misjudged the Republican mood.

Fact is, in the middle of a massive recession when the government had just rammed through a really ugly trillion dollar bailout and the deficit was going through the roof, no conservative was going to vote for a massive new entitlement program. They wouldn't vote for it now, either.

You also have to understand how immensely unpopular Obamacare is with the Republican base, which has very little to do with Fox News and everything to do with how it's a massive wealth transfer from working taxpayers to the nonworking poor. Obama likes to crow about giving 20M people health coverage, but think of what that means: 300M already had it. And for those 300M, their health care coverage got worse and more expensive.

And Obama's "Elections have consequences. I won." line to Eric Cantor might, in retrospect, not have been the ideal way to get Republicans on side. Just throwing that one out there.

>Romney ran for president on a platform that his healthcare plan was a good idea when he did it but a bad idea when Obama did it.

Which was obvious bollocks, and one of the reasons he lost--there was absolutely no appetite for Romney among the Republican base. He was the Republican's Hillary Clinton.

>To liberal ears, it's really hard to explain how this was a principled stand against wacky liberal ideas run amok

Conservatives believe government is generally terrible at everything. They think the health care system needs less government, not more. Your default position when it comes to "will conservatives support x policy proposal" should be, "if it shrinks the government then yes, otherwise no".

The US currently has around $100T, with a 'T', in unfunded liabilities in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That gap is going to close one way or the other, either through increased taxes, decreased spending, or a sovereign debt crisis. Adding another massive chunk to that is a very bad idea that conservatives simply do not like. Paul Ryan isn't trying to cut Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security because he's a nasty man who hates poor people, he's doing it because the US simply cannot afford those programs and the only way to pay for them would be to massively raise taxes. If you're okay with that, vote Democrat.

>simply an attempt to regain power by obstructing even previously-bipartisan ideas, even at the cost of damaging the country, to ensure that the other side couldn't take credit.

There's a real divide in the GOP between the line-in-the-sand types and the responsible government types. You've got people like Boehner, who thought it was necessary to compromise with Obama on some things, and people like Cruz, who thought it was vital to take a stand and ensure the government did not continue to grow, even at the cost of shutting it down. While electoral politics certainly play some role in that, it really is driven by ideology. Ted Cruz, whatever else you might say about him, is not a flap-in-the-wind sort of guy. He's a true believer. Ditto Ryan.

You're conflating politicians with voters.

Most GOP voters are not conservative true believers. The fact that Trump won the GOP nomination is proof enough of that.

That's certainly true, and you'll see Republicans pass some legislation they don't want to. But they're not going to rubber-stamp policies they find abhorrent.

I suspect the trillion-dollar infrastructure spend will happen. But the "Muslim registry", and similar illiberal proposals, will not.

How do you see that aligning even slightly with your earlier statement about not passing Obama agenda because it wasn't aligned with conservative beliefs?

How can a trillion dollars infrastructure spend under Trump and yet a health care plan that would save money be blocked by under Obama?

I applaud your constructive approach in this conversation BTW. And I hope you are right about blocking Trumps craziness.

I suspect Congressional Republicans will pass Trump's infrastructure plan because they're shell shocked and not quite sure what their base demands of them. It's not an ideological capitulation, but rather a defensive retreating into their shell while they figure out where they stand. Was Trump really a denunciation of the Conservative Movement, or just a well-known figure who eked out an EC victory against a detested and uninspiring opponent?

>a health care plan that would save money be blocked by under Obama?

Which plan was this? Obamacare was a massive expenditure. If you're talking about proposals to improve it, why would Republicans try to fix a program they thought was ill-conceived and detestable in the first place? They now have the opportunity to repeal and replace Obamacare whole cloth. Let's see what they do with it.

>I applaud your constructive approach in this conversation BTW.

Thanks. I'm trying to be civil, hopefully with some success. I realize SV types aren't a natural audience for conservative views, but I think HN is a pretty good forum for people to discuss opposing views rationally and civilly.

>And I hope you are right about blocking Trumps craziness.

You and me both. I'm more hopeful than optimistic, at least in the first year while Congressional Republicans find their legs. My appraisal is that they'll probably pass some legislation that's anathemic to conservatives, but they'll stop short of endorsing illiberalism. There's a personal, moral difference between doing things you think are wrong and doing things you think are Wrong, and the latter will remind Republicans of who they are and what they believe.

As I can't edit this comment any more, let me apologize for the "obstruction" bit. It was a cheap blow, not a meaningful contribution. But please do pay attention to the "checks and balances" bit, then go read Federalist 51[1] (if men were angels...) or at least a decent summary of it[2]. This notion of government being designed to pit power against power in an effort to avoid what Trump would be if he governed unopposed is central to conservative belief, and it's why we keep banging on about the Founding Fathers and the Constitution.

[1] http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa51.htm

[2] https://mises.org/library/if-men-were-angels

The money shot:

"The great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions."

No, you'll hear more cries of "obstruction!". They'll be on Trump's Twitter feed. If current trends continue, the media will feel that each one is news, and will write an article about each one.

My hope is that Trump Twitter fatigue sets in very early.

> My hope is that Trump Twitter fatigue sets in very early.

I've been hoping that for a year now :(

Possibly because they won't be doing it, or at least not going so far as to unconstitutionally refuse to hold hearings on Supreme Court replacements.

On what grounds do you find a refusal to consent to an executive's appointment to be unconstitutional? As someone who's been studying the constitution for five years, it seems eminently constitutional to me as well as every lawyer or law professor I've discussed the matter with.

Washington Post has asserted the claim that it is unconstitutional as a "3 pinocchios" falsity[1]

[1] - https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/03/...

The question that Strangers tries to answer is: why do working-class whites vote Republican? The National Review doesn't answer that, it tells me how conservative elites think. I'm happy to read a primary source by someone in the working class but I haven't found it.

First, read Hillbilly Elegy. It's not directly about politics, but Vance is a working-class man who came from a home marked by substance abuse and every other kind of dysfunction you can imagine to become a Yale law graduate who works at an SV VC. It's at times tragic, at others hilarious, but it's always compelling and insightful. And it's hailed by conservatives, from humble backgrounds and rich, as an essential compendium when it comes to understanding the Trump phenomenon.

I can't recommend a primary source that answers your question, as I've yet to find one. Vance aside, the white working class is not known for its prodigious literary output. But I found this article enlightening[1]. Granted, I'm a middle-class coastal professional, so my personal ability to discern its truth is limited. And the author injects a little too much of her own progressivism for my taste. But it passes the sniff test for me.


Free to Choose by Milton Friedman https://www.amazon.com/Free-Choose-Statement-Milton-Friedman...

I'm not trying to be cute here btw.

I did in an earlier thread[1], but that's the last book I read on the subject (more technical books in the last while). Its a broad set of beliefs that get classified in the same bucket and the US is a big area. I personally identify more with a writer from rural Missouri than one from New York City. I'm not a big Ann Coulter fan, but I would guess many on the left aren't big Bill Maher fans either, and I would put the two of them in the same category.

1) https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12239123#12239625

not at all liked by the people it claims to report on

That's rich considering the popularity of conservatives books with titles like 'Liberalism is a mental disease' and 'Liberal fascism.'

How about Victoria (2014) by William S. Lind? There's a good conservative author for you. I would recommend everyone interested in politics to become familiar with his ideas.

Is "liberalism is a mental disease" on the YC reading list?

I commenting on one book anigbrowl and not at all about the naming of others. It is a pretty common practice on political and business books of all stripes to go for the most provocative title.

In fact, I am commenting on the contents, not the title.

I have not read Victoria (2014) by William S. Lind, so I have no comment on that.

The two books I mentioned were debated as much for their content as for the provocative title, though I might add that the use of a provocative title to maximize sales by manufacturing controversy is hardly something to be celebrated, but rather represents the decline of political discourse.

Regardless, I don't think that unhappiness of a work's subject with the portrayal therein necessarily carries any weight. Demonstrable inaccuracy would be a valid critique, but portraits can be both truthful and unflattering.

"The two books I mentioned were debated as much for their content as for the provocative title, though I might add that the use of a provocative title to maximize sales by manufacturing controversy is hardly something to be celebrated, but rather represents the decline of political discourse."

I also notice that I didn't say if I agreed or disagreed with the practice, nor have I read either book. Marketing is quite a nasty subject in its own right.

"Regardless, I don't think that unhappiness of a work's subject with the portrayal therein necessarily carries any weight. Demonstrable inaccuracy would be a valid critique, but portraits can be both truthful and unflattering."

raisspen found a nice review that points out the flaws https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13162277

Well...it was nicely written. Argued, not so much. I don't think we're going to see eye to eye on this, and I'm not interested in carrying any water for Hochschild - I have yet to read the book and it's focus seems too narrow and shallow to me - I don't really need another explanation of how conservatives think because I've immerse myself in conservative thought and conversations systematically for a good 15 years now.

I cannot recommend Manna enough (I assume it's similar to the online version [1]). It portrays a version of the future that I believe is achievable by continuing open-source software development and extending it to (more and more powerful) AI.

[1] http://www.marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm

Manna is an interesting story, but its incredibly poorly written. It starts out great, but the last few chapters feel like they were written by a high school student realizing their deadline is approaching and is still 5 pages short of the minimum requirement.

Classic idea-driven scifi, in that aspect.

That was great, thank you for posting it up!

This is interesting, I just went to one of the book's Amazon page and this is what I see: http://i.imgur.com/O6x8eNQ.jpg

It's almost like a horizontal scroll version of this blog post. I guess it's the small sample size.

Actually it is the large sample size. Book lists tend to do this when read by a lot of people, especially if they pull their cover art from Amazon. There was a hack whereby a person used AWS resources to generate this sort of effect on demand. The result was, as expected of such a prank, books on conservative theology having "also viewed" lists which were primarily erotica. Amazon "fixed" this by ignoring item views from addresses within it's own IP space but apparently it still works for lookups from a bunch of IPs.

The same thing can be seen for Bill Gates' books of 2016 that was posted here recently.

Cannot recommend "City of Gold" enough. Great writing and a page-turner. Full disclosure: I knew Jim Krane in the 80s when he played guitar in hardcore punk bands like Starvartion Army.

Regarding Hillbilly Elegy: I read it after another post-election book list recommended it, and found it to be a very mixed bag and generally a disappointment. The valuable part was the depiction of his home life and the disintegration of the social fabric of his community over a few generations driven by unseen but acutely felt economic trends. Very touching and powerful accounts.

The latter half of the book, however, was by far the weakest. There he attempts to recommend fixes for the issue from a libertarian perspective. His beliefs are not surprising given his current employment in a Thiel hedge fund. This part of the book had little insight and seemed to be an ideologically driven argument by, ironically, a newly minted financial elite that his own community distrusts.

> Creativity, Inc.

“Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter, on how they built a culture of openness, honesty, self-reflection, and risk-taking that protects new ideas and creativity instead of squashing them.” –Aaron Epstein

I wonder if it comes with any helpful pointers on how to execute long-term, systematic wage-fixing[0] schemes.

The top one-star review[1] on Amazon sums it up nicely.

[0] http://www.cartoonbrew.com/artist-rights/ed-catmull-on-wage-...

[1] https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/review/0812993012/R1CW8GBYEH3UQ...

One i'd recommend is The illusion of life - the history of animation in disney, it covers some of the business, the people and the techniques and of course the movies, and it's one of the most beautiful books I own. https://www.amazon.com/Illusion-Life-Disney-Animation/dp/078...

I spot checked several of these books on Pirate Bay and they were all well seeded and many uploaded today, touche Hackernews! Not that I would be interested in downloading them or anything.

The Grossman translation of DQ is a fine read. I read it in a seminar which is the academic equivalent of a book club. That was awesome. If you get into it, it's a great discussion book.

I'd recommend Marryat's Mister Midshipman Easy over Forester's Mister Midshipman Hornblower. Marryat speaks from authority when he speaks of the sea and of naval warfare. Neither Forester nor Patrick O'Brian sailed.

Perhaps Marryat is more authentic than O'Brian or Forester, but he is not as good a writer. Easy lacks the coherent storytelling, character building and -- at least compared to Aubrey/Maturin -- the excellent sense of humor.

Worth a read? Absolutely. Better? I enjoy both better than Marryat, but especially O'Brian.

I really enjoyed reading Midshipman Easy and other similar books as a kid. That particular series by Marryat was good too.

thanks for including some fiction! so many "data" people miss out on so much because they mistakenly assume something that "didn't happen" can't help or enrich their understanding of what is.

I've read shoe dog. Entertaining fast read but I don't think you should prioritize it unless you're really into sneakers or Nike.

While Shoe Dog has a lot of content about Nike, sneakers and running I would definitely recommend it if you aren't in to that stuff. It's a great story of perseverance and grit, and the characters who helped shaped Nike are quite entertaining. I would recommend it to any entrepreneur.

Someone added all this into a goodreads list, so that you can mark them 'read later'.


Also consider Robert Harris' historical fiction trilogy "Imperium," "Lustrum," and "Dictator" about the life of Cicero and the fall of the Roman Republic under Julius Caesar (assuming it's okay to recommend additions).

The ideas explored in these books are fascinating and could not be more timely. The historical notes are interesting. The reading is fun! "Dictator" is the third book in the trilogy & its Wikipedia page links to the rest: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dictator_(Harris_novel) The narration on the Audible editions is fantastic.

A few new books the YC crowd might like:

"Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future" https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1455544590

"What the Luck?: The Surprising Role of Chance in Our Everyday Lives" https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1468313754

"Shrinking the Earth: The Rise and Decline of American Abundance" https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/019984495X

Glad to see Shoe Dog on this list, that was one of the most memorable books I listened to this year (the audiobook narration was awesome). It's always interesting hearing the origin story and struggles of a company that was the underdog in the industry for so long, and ended up on top. I thought Phil Knight's account of his journey with Nike was really honest and thoughtful, I had no idea how long it took them to get momentum, or how many times they were on the brink of bankruptcy. Can't recommend this enough, I'm looking forward to reading it a second time next year.

Of course tastes differ but I didn't see much that immediately grabbed my attention (a bit of a letdown because it was the first thing I clicked on this morning). I guess ultimately that's a good thing because my backlog is still fairly long. Titan and the Nike book look interesting but I'm currently not in the mood for a "this amazing person/company" type of book.

I might pick up "City of Gold". "Make it so" could also be interesting those are the only two that immediately grabbed my interest.

Not a book, but definitely check out The Economist's Christmas edition. A lot of in depth articles on a wide array of subjects ranging from historical artifacts to road journeys to contemporary life.

I just finished The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu and I cannot recommend it enough.

It traces the history of advertising and attention capture from billboards through Facebook.

Highly recommend Manna. Its short but still worth it.

I've really come to value sorry non fiction books. Too many non fiction books seem to repeat the same point over and over. Less danger of that on a short book. My favorite non fiction author is Ian Buruma. All his books that I've read are short but loaded with information and are highly diligent about giving references.

I picked up Red Notice from the "library" at a resort in Chile last September for the flight home. What an awesome story. I learned a ton reading it and the book reads like fiction even though it is factual. Highly recommended.

There should be a list like this but more technical

I actually pre-ordered Grit based on the excerpt I had read with Pete Carroll. It sounds fascinating but I have yet to read it.

think this book is a particularly interesting read, especially considering the U.S. election opera of 2016:

"Infomocracy" -by Malka Order.

+++ some other favorites:

When Breath Becomes Air. -by Paul Kalanithi.

Arkwright. -by Allen Steele.

The God's Eye View. -by Barry Eisler.

Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley. -by Antonio Garcia Martinez.

Ego Is the Enemy. -by Ryan Holiday.

I ordered the first book on the list about a week ago form my son and I over winter. Great minds think alike.

This list took a credibility plunge when Thomas Friedman was spotted on it.

I consoled myself with 1) it is just one person's opinion (his other recommendation kind of sucked too; I think I just don't like his taste in book recommendations, which doesn't say anything else about him, or even his reading habits), and at least it wasn't Malcolm Gladwell.

(I'd suggest reading Thinking Fast and Slow, and High Output Management. I just track everything I read on Goodreads, though -- https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/3960665-ryan-lackey

You are so right. It's like he's on ecstasy, but not the party drug. Rather, a slightly different drug meant for intellectuals during the day time that makes everything seem novel and clever.

It's a list made up of individuals' recommendations. This is like saying "The credibility of the United States took a plunge when your nutty aunt went on another one of her rants."

ok, but I think it's a valid opinion to express extreme aversion for Thomas Friedman.

Arguing that the whole list is less credible because Friedman's on it? I mean, it's fine if you want to maintain your own epistemic closure, but expecting everyone else to agree?

And even you should read him, if for no other reason to be sure you understand what you're disagreeing with. Then, once you can actually state his position in a way that he would recognize as accurate, then disagree as much as you please.

Saying the list took a dive when it came to Friedman is colorful writing and not epistemic closure. It did take a dive. This is 2016 and Friedman has been around for ever. He's been insistently wrong over and over again. The Iraq War. He was so wrong about that he even has a measurement unit named after him:


He's on TV, he's in the NYTimes, he's on NPR, he has a book. Am I being closed minded if I say enough already? What has he ever been right about? What continued claim does he have on the national discourse?

I could just as easily say the same about stoicism or Carl Rogers being on the list.

I mean, no, I'm not going to read Friedman's book. No, I'm not a fan. No, I'm not defending his positions. It's fine that you don't agree with Friedman. I don't agree with stoicism, either. But deciding that the list "took a dive" just because he has a book on it? Yes, you're being closed minded.

It's really not so much that I don't agree with him and to be sure, I don't agree with him. It's more like, really, do I have to listen/read/hear about Friedman one more time? Aren't there any new voices? Dunno where you live but they still play Car Talk on KQED on Saturday mornings and one of the guys is dead. MoDo has been awesome but she should move on as well. David Brooks same.

"epistemic closure" is a phrase that bored philosophy majors use to try and disparage their opponents on political grounds. I should know, I'm a bored philosophy major.

now would you kindly speak to me like a real person?

Well, I don't know. Were you speaking to us like we're real people when you dismissed Friedman as automatically worthy of extreme aversion, without even bothering to give any explanation or justification? Were you even speaking of Friedman like a real person?

I submit that you were not. You were in fact speaking like a person whose mind is made up, and who thinks that everyone else's mind should also be made up, and there's nothing that's even worth talking about or considering. I'm not a philosophy major, bored or otherwise, but that's rather close to my understanding of "epistemic closure". (Ah, however, actually looking up the term shows that it means something rather different. My bad.)

I said "it's a valid opinion to express an extreme aversion to Friedman".

that's exactly what I meant. it's an opinion. it's not a claim of any kind of universal truth. it's a statement of taste and therefore does not require justification. I didn't anywhere say "automatically worthy of...". You said that. You're trying to put words in my mouth, which is a discredited rhetorical trick.

you are really getting carried away with word games. knock it off.

> you are really getting carried away with word games. knock it off.

No, what I was really doing was mentally combining you with the OP, cylinder. But you said "valid opinion"; OK, I can go there. I think (at least partially) discrediting the whole list because of Friedman is still a bit much, but I think you were actually agreeing with that, when you said "ok" in the post that is five parents up from this one.

But now you're being rather careless with accusations toward me - that I'm playing word games. Maybe you should knock that off, too.

Gonna have to agree with the other guy: AnimalMuppet, you're kinda being purposefully obstinept here

Nice to see Weapons of Math Destruction included.

One genre that is always missing from HNer's and YC's recommendations is Fantasy.

It feels like most people here read books to acquire knowledge and philosophy to apply to real life.

Most fantasy books are read for entertainment and imagination. There's no hidden message to parse and put toward your next start-up project. That doesn't mean Fantasy books are a waste of time though if they're engrossing and entertaining. That's why I read them.

Some fantasy recommendations:

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

The First Law series, by Joe Abercrombie (especially the standalone books #4, #5 and #6)

The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

Science fiction & fantasy are good tools to exercise mental creativity and think through scenarios of technical change.

Fantasy is a useful way to explore how technology might work in a world with unlimited resources. For example, Dor the magician in Piers Anthony's Xanth novels is able to talk to inanimate objects. In some ways that fantasy approximates a future state for how we interact with AI enabled objects like Amazon Alexa or Siri.

The USC Worldbuilding Institute (http://worldbuilding.institute/about) has been researching how fiction can serve as a catalyst for engineering, business, and social breakthroughs.

A lot of people get their fantasy fix from science fiction.

(this is my favorite place to apply the Arthur C. Clarke quote "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.", whether he meant it that way or not)

And not just the technology; I mean, what's Arrakis if not a fantasy world?

The older hard science fiction missed almost all its guesses - just look at all those spaceships - so it's better as pure fantasy than anything else.

I feel like I could've learned a lot more about society if I'd read more non-"genre fiction" books and not all those Larry Niven stories where everyone just trades facts about particle physics as conversation.

If you consider modern fantasy in the YA category then Diane Duane's Young Wizards series has been a favorite of mine http://ebooksdirect.co

Her Star Trek books are quite good, and the audible books of the Young Wizards series are narrated by Christina Moore who does a very good job on all her audiobooks.

Name of the Wind is good. Almost too good. The downside of course is that some people fear Rothfuss will never finish the story...

The farther away I get from Name of the Wind, the worse taste it leaves in my mouth. Perhaps it's because it's unfinished and Kvothe's rosy prose and tendency to superlative is not yet explained. Taken on their own, they just seem overwritten to me.

The book weaves a spell around you as your read that makes you love it more than any other book you've read recently. As time passes, and as you read the sequel, the enchantment fades, your senses return and you realize you've been beguiled. Then you hear the first insightful criticism of the work, and it comes tumbling down. That was my experience anyway.

I'll also admit to a bit of resentment towards him and GRRM, the combination of which has given me some aversion to reading series that aren't finished yet.

I've been burned twice now. First with Name of the Wind, and again with Blood Song. Both books were incredible masterpieces, and both books were a part of an unfinished series. And at least with Blood Song, the rest of the series was pretty disappointing by comparison. I vowed to never again read an unfinished series (although, I was not burned by Harry Potter, and so far I have not been burned by Stormlight Archive)

Sanderson is probably the only writer I would bank on these days. The man is clearly the most productive writer active in his genre. Mark Lawrence is pretty good too (and I recommend his Broken Empire trilogy!).

No bad taste in my mouth from it so far. I think some scenes stand for themselves, for example it has the best dragon scene ever.

If you think that Fantasy is just for entertainment and imagination, you're giving the genre short shrift. Imagining the world as different than it is has tons of philosophical implications that apply directly to our experiences of our modern world.

Think about how The First Law series is different than Lord of the Rings. Now think about how our relationships and trust in those in authority have changed in between the publications of those two series.

Fantasy is about the world we're living in right now and our hopes and dreams for it.

I read a LOT of fantasy, including all authors on your list :) .

However, I do get a feel that they're more "escapist" than the books YC readers (and people like Bill Gates) read. Many of the recommendations are more in line with what they're building (people going through similar struggles or role models or understanding the world).

And the engrossing fantasy books can take good chunks of your time (which I guess an YC alumn ought to be devoting to his startup or personal life).

In the same vein, I don't expect most YC alumni to recommend lengthy TV series :)

> However, I do get a feel that they're more "escapist" than the books YC readers (and people like Bill Gates) read. Many of the recommendations are more in line with what they're building (people going through similar struggles or role models or understanding the world).

I think this is unfortunate. Fiction is as important a reflection of society as non-fiction and I would hope that everyone will take time to appreciate art, fiction, music, etc. We understand many now gone societies through their fiction. Not just what they did, but they way they thought and behaved.

Even if you dismiss this as a worthwhile goal, science fiction and fantasy are worthwhile in understanding the world. I'm thinking of Star Trek, The Hainish Cycle, or a Stranger in a Strange Land. All of these explore contemporary problems by abstracting them.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is easily the best-written fantasy novel I've read—save perhaps The Hobbit, but that's fairly unlike modern adult fantasy. It's sad that thorough competence at storytelling is a rare quality in genre fic but, well, here we are.

Book two he gets a little too nuts with sailing junk and wow that plot device at the end is awfully familiar, but it's still got some nice world building. Three's back to form (though I'd favor the first one, slightly).

No Holdstock and his Ryhope Wood series?

Of course that might be the implied problem of a "2016 winter reading list", its not the 1985 winter reading list and you probably should have read Mythago Wood back in 1985 when it was new. On the other hand in the sci fi discussion people are arguing about a hard sci fi book that's over 20 years old, so allowing a 30 year old book isn't too ridiculous...

We actually had a few fantasy books on our Summer Reading List: https://blog.ycombinator.com/yc-summer-reading/

Thanks for the recommendations!

Just read Locke Lamora and it was quite good.

I'd add in the Malazan series by Steven Eriksson. Gardens of the Moon is the first one. Great books, but definitely a long undertaking.

It is rare to find good fantasy books. I just remembered that I also greatly enjoyed the The Witcher series (on which the popular CRPG is based).

I highly recommend all of NK Jemisin's works. The first novel in her most recent series won this year's Hugo for Best Novel: The Fifth Season.

Name of the wind very good! The second book wasn't as good IMHO. Will still buy the third : )

The majority of discussion on the previous post was about how many/most of the books conflicted with the 1-week ban on highly charged topics.

Since that's over (right?) - perhaps people can now share their opinions on the book list itself...

It was "politics" not "highly charged topics" - eg a post about javascript frameworks was fine. And I have no idea how to tell if it's over or not.

The week-long experiment was terminated early. See https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13131251

It would have been over by now regardless.

I wish they had put that on the front page since I was still flagging political articles per the request in the original message.

Yeah, I think that would have been a good idea, too, especially as they kicked it off with a "Tell HN". I think they chose to address it as it came up in the comments. That said, this is getting off-topic :)

That's why I didn't call it an outright dupe. (I wish there were finer guidelines on "significant attention")

Rescinded comment

Link to original post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13117521

Read further down in the comments. This is already being discussed:



Mark Levin? Really? My grandmother gave me Liberty and Tyranny at christmas '09 (not weird, we're a politically charged family) and I felt like it was a good introduction to what American conservatives think...for non-Americans who don't have years of immersion in our debates to go on. I already know the typical arguments for a flat tax, states' rights, and privatization of entitlements, I got nothing out of reading them again. I suppose he does present them in a well-worded and (usually) fact-based way, but I think it's safe to assume that HN readers have engaged with smart conservatives online before. And, most narrowly to that book, I doubt the defenses of Bush admin policies and specific hyperbolic warnings about Obama's policies have aged well.

I'm not familiar with Steyn and haven't read much by D'Souza. Ann Coulter isn't a good pick if you're trying to dispel stereotypes, seeing as she's the walking strawman.

In case you're wondering about how we knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing, sexist, racist, homophobic conservatives really think

Spare us the martyrdom schtick.

Mark Steyn Dinesh D'Souza, Mark Levin, or Ann Coulter would be a much closer approximation

Oh come, you have much greater intellectual heavyweights on the right. Why not cite William S. Lind or Paul Weyrich, or the brilliant strategic analysis of the Council for National Policy?

He also refers to Convicted Felon Dinesh D'Souza without adding his well-known title! (Seriously, the man was convicted of violating campaign finance rules, and he's an inveterate liar. Why the hell would anyone take his word for anything?)

He went to jail; it's true. That doesn't make his writing any more or less good. If you have a critique of his writings or books, it would be better to lead off with that than to make ad hominem attacks.

Oscar Wilde, Cervantes, Dostoevsky, Sir Walter Raleigh and Thoreau all spent time in jail or prison. Should we discard them as well, or should we evaluate their works on their individual merit of those works?

No, of course we shouldn't. But Dinesh D'Souza thinks the rules are different for him. He lies and commits fraud. It does, in fact, matter what you get convicted of. Fraud & campaign violations sure as hell speak to credibility, for me!

Is it safe to assume then that you have no specific complaint with any of his books other than that they were written by D'Souza?

Oh, no, that's certainly not safe to assume. I have plenty of actual issues with D'Souza's writings. But i don't choose to engage here at HN in ways that would actually take up my time and energy, because why would i bother?

You already are taking time and energy to argue, so that clearly isn't the problem.

Oh, this took barely any time or energy at all! Picking through D'Souza for citations to back up my arguments, that'd be work. And really unpleasant, at that. Y'all aren't worth that.

NB: if your purpose is understanding such a messy thing as a human social group then reading about how they present themselves as thinking isn't really more or less informative than reading about how they are inferred from the outside to think. You'd need both views and some understanding of how they act (regardless of rhetoric) to get started.

There's also a major problem in that both D and R parties are going thru a turmoil period and some sub-groups are being ejected while others are entrenching and the relationships are a bit fluid. I'm not sure studying an opponent's caricature of a subgroup from the 80s or 90s is of much use in the 10s. This would apply to both parties.

I guess no book list can ever escape the mediocrity of Neal Stephenson. At least it wasn't Snow Crash this time.

Dismissive swipes aren't good here, so please don't do that. Your criticism downthread is much better. Better still would be saying what books you think are better along a similar axis, because then we might learn something too.

Do you think he's eternally mediocre, or is his recent stuff worse? Is all scifi mediocre? Is the problem that Stephenson "crossed over" and got more mainstream credibility?

Is Gibson also mediocre?

My opinion on Stephenson:

Cryptonomicon is fun, Baroque Cycle is great, Anathem is his best work (from a literary perspective), and Seveneves is 2/3rds awesome 1/3rd bad scifi pulp.

Snow Crash is how most people first encounter him. It's a warmed over cyberpunk book that repeats a lot of what Gibson did, but is also good.

The Diamond Age is one of the best pieces of speculative fiction written in the last 20 years except that it fails badly to have a coherent story with an ending that makes sense. Which is a shame considering the ideas in the book are so good.

REamde is shit and should never have been published. Dude was playing too much World of Warcraft at the time and decided to write a novel about playing too much World of Warcraft. Bad book. Avoid.

Weird, I loved part 1 and 2 but part 3 stands out as the best bit to me - I really enjoyed the envisioning of rebuilding a world from scratch and getting lost in that new world. I think the third part could make a nice series of books but I think I am in the minority about part 3

I enjoyed reading Reamde.

My first experience with Stephenson was Snow Crash, and it was an abomination. I tried Cryptonomicon next, and while slightly more coherent, it was the end of the line for me and this guy. Stephenson likes to write like he's smarter than he really is, plots that are literally everywhere, and characters I really don't care about. Let's not forget the third person present tense writing style.

Regarding Gibson, I only read Neuromancer, and enjoyed the writing. Obviously the concepts were ahead of its time, so reading it much later didn't have the same impact. But neat story.

If you didn't care for Cryptonomicon, you're probably right to stop. I've read four of his novels and that's the only one that didn't fit the pattern of [promising first 1/3], [2/3 section is bad but I'm holding on that it'll go somewhere], [3/3 goes off the rails entirely, no payoff for suffering through the middle third]. Cryptonomicon was consistently OK, at least.

The Diamond Age was the most frustrating of them, because it starts off so good, but by the end it's a total mess. There's a whole scene in the last third that exists just to have one character tell you what another's motivation has been since a few chapters in, since it's entirely obscure to the reader. Not in a big reveal kind of way, but in a "uh oh, I let some friends read a draft and they are really confused by this major character, better fix it, but, like, without working very hard" way. I mean, at least he bothers to tell us, but wow.

Like you, I enjoyed Neuromancer quite a bit (and I read it after Stephenson—only last year, in fact). The other two in that trilogy are somewhere on my mental to-read list.

The focus being on character development and conversation and scenes shows you might be a fan of soft sci fi. Thats OK. Different strokes, different folks, etc.

The only real problem Diamond Age has from a hard sci fi perspective, is its 20 years old and everyone knows about additive manufacturing and 3-d printing and slicing objects to be printed and feedstock issues and compiling and analog analogies to digital logic gates and compilers and natural language processing and the dangers of closed source, the idea of more or less tablet computing and wikipedia rolled into one. Its all really boring today of course, other than he got quite a few details wrong and its fun to spot them. Twenty years ago, of course, its ideas were absolutely mindblowing. I really enjoyed exploring and daydreaming about the new engineering and new computer science and new concepts in Diamond Age. Sure there was some fluffy interpersonal story to fill it out, but I mostly ignored it for the fascinating hard sci fi concepts.

In the late 90s it was a truly awesome hard sci fi novel. Not a very good soft sci fi novel, but whatever. Someone should suggest a modern hard sci fi novel... published in the last year or two.

Oh, the ideas are good, certainly. I'd have rather they'd been delivered in a much better novel half as long, though—which is, I suspect, as long a story as Stephenson could have managed from that promising beginning without wrecking it. It would have been less irritating if none of the story had been good, really, but that first section is great.

I don't think it's very good hard SF, either. It does so much that its explorations of the social implications of the advances—which are the whole point of fleshing out an entire novel from the "gee, wouldn't it be cool if we could X?" concepts that the book is full of, rather than writing the short essay or even (these days) tweet that would suffice to explain them as well as the book does—are underdeveloped and/or feel false. The density of these drops off quite a bit early in the book, too, leaving little to chew on but the confused characterization and the increasingly unsatisfying story.

Stephenson also has this ur-hacker myth thing going on in basically all his books, and he makes shit up about sciences (like linguistics) that he doesn't actually know a goddamn thing about. The idea expressed by a commenter below that he qualifies as "hard" science fiction is, well, absolutely true as far as it goes - but only because nearly all of the writers lauded as writing "hard" science fiction make shit up about sciences (like sociology) that they don't know a goddamn thing about.

Your pattern is commonly stated when describing Stephenson novels. I don't even know what to think of Snow Crash. It reminded me of someone just jotting down everything in their head while sitting at a coffee shop, and then sending it to the printing press.

Thanks for the future warning.

Admittedly, Snow Crash follows it the most weakly of the other three I've read. Anathem and The Diamond Age fit the pattern perfectly.

I was on the edge of my seat towards the end of the second third of Seveneves. The last third was mostly world building, though. I liked it, but I can understand why others would check out.

OK. I find Neuromancer and Snow Crash pretty similar, as raw, high energy cyberpunk books with no attempt at respectability. Gibson was artier and a better writer (in the narrow sense of prose stylist.) It's kind of hard to picture someone liking one and disliking the other.

Now I could see liking those early books and disliking the later output of both authors; they became wordier, softer, more pretentious - while keeping a lot of merit.

Speaking as some who has only read the Baroque Cycle and Cryptonomicon, there are definitely sections of Stephenson's books that are a slog, but I generally find finishing them is rewarding.

It's 36 degree C here today so guess I'll have to wait a bit to read these.

Excellent list! I've added all the books for people to save books to their reading list here on ShelfJoy http://shelfjoy.com/shelfjoy/wrap-up-your-2016-with-ycs-wint...

The summer reading list is also available here: http://shelfjoy.com/shelfjoy/ycombinators-summer-list-of-201...

Thanks for the wonderful recommendations to everyone at YC!

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