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Ask HN: What books fundamentally changed the way you think about the world?
152 points by gtrevize on March 6, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 214 comments

Perhaps because I had terrible schooling that never taught this kind of stuff: The Selfish Gene.

Getting a solid grounding in how life can arise without, well, magic, shifted my thinking quite a bit. At a low level, life has no inherent meaning, so it's whatever we make of it. For many this is probably obvious, but if you grew up in a rather fundamentalist religious environment, it's quite the change!

Interesting, I had almost the opposite experience after having grown up in a fundamentalistic atheist environment. When I read the bible with an attitude like "God, if you really exist I will listen", it seemed somehow I understood what I read for the first time. It was the strongest experience I had in my life. This is over 30 years ago, I'm a senior developer now) and I still read almost daily in the bible. No other book has really changed the way I think about the world to any close extend.

> "God, if you really exist I will listen"

I think most atheists would agree with that statement and would want a benevolent God to exist.

Maybe most, but certainly not all. See: Christopher Hitchens:

"[Religious belief] is a totalitarian belief. It is the wish to be a slave. It is the desire that there be an unalterable, unchallengeable, tyrannical authority who can convict you of thought crime while you are asleep, who can subject you - who must, indeed, subject you - to total surveillance around the clock every waking and sleeping minute of your life - I say, of your life - before you're born and, even worse and where the real fun begins, after you're dead. A celestial North Korea. Who wants this to be true? Who but a slave desires such a ghastly fate? I've been to North Korea. It has a dead man as its president, Kim Jong-Il is only head of the party and head of the army. He's not head of the state. That office belongs to his deceased father, Kim Il-Sung. It's a necrocracy, a thanatocracy. It's one short of a trinity I might add. The son is the reincarnation of the father. It is the most revolting and utter and absolute and heartless tyranny the human species has ever evolved. But at least you can fucking die and leave North Korea!?"

Out of interest are you atheist? I find my own atheism comforting. To be confronted at my death with the Catholic Heaven I was taught about as a child would send me into despair. Life would be rendered meaningless for me were I to find out it's all been some sort of game, for which the prize for winning is that you meet your creator and praise him.

I am atheist (born and raised). What do you mean by the Catholic heaven sending you into despair? I thought it was supposed to be a fun and happy place. Hell does sound scary as hell (pun intended) though and I'd rather stop existing than risk going there. For the record, a capricious god which allows hell to exist is incompatible with my definition of benevolent. That being said, if I believed the Catholic god truly existed, you can be sure I'd be following the bible to the letter (a tiny price to pay to avoid an eternity in hell).

I mean, that's sort of what I want out of AI. A Culture-like Mind, like one of the hubs in an orbital. Resource allocation issues would cease to exist if we had a benevolent god or something like it!

Whereas I grew up in an agnostic household, and I’m still pretty strongly agnostic, especially as I’ve gotten into constructive mathematics (where we talk about provability, not truth). Maybe unlike you two, I just didn’t have anything to reject, so there was no need to look into the “other side”?

I like to say “if a god made me, it made me unable to believe in it”, which is certainly an interesting thought exercise, but not exactly inspiring.

You might like to read "The Minds I", a collection of philosopy edited by Hofstadter & Dennett. It has a number of pieces that address this issue pretty directly, including "Non Serviam" by Stanislaw Lem. In it the writer describes the fictional field of "personics" (we would say "artificial life") and considers the role of a human experimenter in creating artificially intelligent beings that inhabit a virtual world in a computer. From there it considers the question of what rights and obligations creator and creation have to each other. For instance, what would we think of a human who created such a virtual world and then demanded that the inhabitants worship their creator?

> fundamentalistic atheist

Did you invent this term just for the comment?

Seems like this term has been used before: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalism#Atheist

Absolutely. I had like one page in my textbook dedicated to evolution, so when I read The Selfish Gene and everything clicked and it all made sense, it was the sort of 'eureka' moment I'd always heard about.

Yet sadly 90% of the population still misunderstand/poorly understand evolution by natural selection. They seem to think it's progressive, or some mysterious force of nature that produces "better" animals over time.

Before you downvote this comment and dismiss it, consider it a valid discussion. What are your thoughts on folks that believe in a God that created the laws of nature that are consistent with our scientific models? This is to say a person 1) believes in God and 2) believes that God put forth the laws of nature that are consistent with teachings in the scientific community.

Well it's not contradictory per se - nothing disproves a god hand-adjusting mutations, for instance. It's just got a lack of evidence which means we should assign it a low probability.

More commonly what I see is that people aren't 100% intellectually honest when they get into it. They don't apply the same rigor to their religious beliefs as they do others. Or they sort of re-interpret or cherry pick themselves around their scriptures to avoid awkward parts. Or they start stepping back and making less powerful claims than their religion traditionally did.

Sometimes they step all the way back into "well what if God is just the laws of physics?". At that point I don't think it's much of a technical discussion and more like, hey, if this comforts someone, and it's not making them make bad decisions (like hurting others based on this belief), well I'm not gonna waste my personal energy arguing.

I mean, so long they aren't arguing that the creator of all spacetime and beyond, of infinite knowledge and capability, cares how we dress or who we sleep with ... eh, fine whatever. Now, people selling water claiming it can cure cancer, that's another story ;).

This is what most educated Christians believe, and basically what I was taught in 12 years of Catholic school; it's a thoroughly mainstream position.

How do Catholics (or Protestants) reconcile evolution with the Creation of Man then?

Did God create Man or did he create the laws of natural selection that created Man?

Unlike evolution, abiogenesis has never been demonstrated in a Petri dish. Same for the Big Bang. In my understanding, some theists believe God "instantiated" a universe with certain parameters which we perceive as physical constants, that naturally led to hydrogen transforming itself into consciousness after 13.7 billion years. If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, he did it on purpose fully knowing how it will develop. So physics, geology, biology, etc. are all true and also the Genesis creation myth is kinda true (they believe genesis is a metaphor for people lacking the education to understand the full story).

I think if you assume there is a god compatible with science, I don't think there is any god account that matches this. Most accounts of the various gods involve violation of the laws of physics. I think if it's the bible god we are talking about, then I've seen a lot of mental energy spent on trying to work out how it might be compatible. Seems to me, it's driven more by a desire not to give up ones belief in god than a rational desire to find the truth.

"Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là." -- Pierre-Simon Laplace

One might think that that god leaves a lot to be desired and that god is probably a tool of a god.

Given the scarcity of life in the universe in general, and the alarming rate of extinction in nature - more than 99% of all living things to ever exist are extinct, it's one thing to say the universe was designed with a purpose. But you can't really say that it was designed with life in mind. Life, and Earth- do not occupy a privilaged position in the universe. If you accept that- and all evidence points to that being the case, you cannot make a case for a theistic God.

you sound much too certain about this. the fact is we really know almost nothing about extra-terrestrial life.

I'm not making an argument in any way shape or form for a divine creation to the universe. I'm just trying to point out that you're making claims you can't possibly support with evidence and sounding as if you're certain of them in the way that people are certain about evidence backed claims. in other words, you're speaking from dogma not from knowledge.

I completely agree. The Selfish Gene did more to change my view of the world than any other book I've ever read. Not in a religious sense, as many others cite, but rather it laid the foundation for a deeper understanding of people, culture, violent behavior, herd mentality, etc.

It's a masterpiece.

On the quick I could think of two:

"Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman - essentially a book about "bugs" in our minds that lead us to bad decisions,

"The Design of Everyday Things" by Donald Norman - changes the way you look at human-made things, makes you better appreciate examples of design that take functionality into account.

+1 for The Design Of Everyday Things. Unlike perhaps other books in this thread, it literally changes the way you look at the world, or at least the objects around you.

Beware, though, as it may lead you to get unreasonably upset every time you encounter a misleading door handle.

A challenge with _Thinking Fast And Slow_ is that some of its fundamental premises have been called into question during the "replication crisis" in psychology.

Do you mean all the priming stuff? I thought the fast-slow thinking distinction was still okay. In that case, What Intelligence Tests Miss by Keith Stanovich might be a better read.

+1 The Design of Everyday Things. I believe this is a must read for anyone creating something for other people. I'm definitely a better designer because of it.

++ Thinking, Fast and Slow

Great book, textbook-ish, but reshaped how I look at people and problems

+1 for Thiking, Fast, and Slow. Definitely a life changing book.

Ugh Norman doors.

Fundamentally changed are so big words but these were pretty cool:

- Douglas Hofstadter's GEB: An Eternal Golden Braid

- Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber

- Ursula K. LeGuin's The Word for World is Forest

- Propaganda by Edward Bernays

- Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond

- Empires: The Logic of World Domination from Ancient Rome to the United States by Herfried Münkler

- Smedley D. Butler's War is a Racket (more of an exposé)

- In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell (ditto)

- Neuromancer by William Gibson

Going along with this sort of fundamentally changed worldview theme - I loved Debt: The First 5,000 Years but for me it was equally important to read a book called The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers by Robert L. Heilbroner. This book summarizes the entirety of major paradigms in the history of economic thought, complete with great little biosketches of the authors and their times, from Adam Smith to Joseph Schumpeter. Highly recommended, especially as a counterpoint if you are already a little much in the David Graeber camp as I was.

+1 for "In Praise of Idleness", some of the essays from the 20s and 30s that are still contemporary (including one of my favourites Russell's essays: The Ancestry of Fascism) and, of course, the self-titled one is a discussion we see a lot now with all the automation lurking on the horizon.

"Neuromancer" I wouldn't say that would be in my list of "fundamentally" changed the way I think, it's a good story with a cool narrative style but in the sci-fi genre I'd put "Childhood's End" way before "Neuromancer" in changing the way I think.

+1 Debt: The First 5000 Years. Fantastic! Especially for economic theory/sociology nerds.

"Walden" by Henry David Thoreau. Truly did change the way I think about the world, the fundamentals of what is required for a free life, and how humankind so often tethers itself to a life of misery. Consider, for example, this quote: "The farmer is endeavoring to solve the problem of a livelihood by a formula more complicated than the problem itself. To get his shoestrings he speculates in herds of cattle. With consummate skill he has set his trap with a hair spring to catch comfort and independence, and then, as he turned away, got his own leg into it."

Or perhaps this: "I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf [...] Why should they eat their sixty acres, when man is condemned to eat only his peck of dirt? Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born? They have got to live a man's life, pushing all these things before them, and get on as well as they can. How many a poor immortal soul have I met well-nigh crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down the road of life, pushing before it a barn seventy-five feet by forty, its Augean stables never cleansed, and one hundred acres of land, tillage, mowing, pasture, and woodlot!"

I loved it, and I thank him constantly for reminding me of what it is to be born free.

In defense of those ~"poor ignorant slaving farmers": I'm descended from some poor dirt farmers who are revered and admired by their multi-generational families, and were admired by their fellow townspeople (largely of a different culture and language), for the start they gave the children and the influence they had on everyone around them. Everyone knew they were honest, people liked the free seasonal watermelons, and enjoyed their humor (back in the days of poetry recitations etc). Though passed on for many years, they impact me and others to this day. Extended family reunions still talk about them (there's one in a couple of weeks, in fact, full of people I'm connected to but don't know them all). I think they chose their life more than Thoreau thought, and what kind of legacy they wanted to leave, and to whom. Many hundreds are grateful they did not live self-centeredly.

Thoreau didn't condemn being a farmer. He pointed out how it doesn't go along with his values. Like an empty room you can fill in with thousand different things, we all have the liberty of choosing different values to fill our lives with. Bear in mind Thoreau never got married or had sex, which probably is almost everyone's recipe for a happy fulfilled life.

One example of many comes from the family in Mexico, about the 1940s:

"13 hijos!? y todos vivos??" ("13 children?? and all living??" [one mother])

"Unos mas vivos que otros, pero todos comen." (A play on words, where I failed to add the right marks, but: "Some more lively [same word as living] than others, but they all eat.") And they all (but one who died in childhood) had happy families of their own, spread across North America. I'm a grandchild of that one.

I hate to say it, but The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.

The book itself is largely dull, overwritten, and characters are afflicted with "Ayn Rand Syndrome" - where the protagonists are always perfect and the world around them is fundamentally flawed and can only be fixed with free market capitalism. It's like "Joss Whedon Syndrome" without the smarm.

BUT, I did glean an appreciation for following a path of one's own creation, committing to your goals even as the world sets out to discourage you and undermine your work at every twist and turn. It was quite inspiring and invigorating to read this book in my late teenage years.

But then again, I have recently found the same theme to be more accurately and entertainingly portrayed in a Japanese anime: Gurren Lagann

Everyone else can down-vote me because this really doesn't contribute to the conversation but I have to say it: Gurren Lagann is a better inspirational substitute for The Fountainhead?! The geek in me understands completely and I think that is SO awesome!

Fundamentally, both stories were about working very hard to carve one's own path at all costs lest the world twist you into conforming to its desires.

Except Trigger went on to make a fascinating story about clothing and the power it has had for all of history (Kill La Kill), while Ayn Rand made an even more unreadable whinefest where every person in government is solely on a spectrum between incompetent and evil, and the only solution is to give up, take your ball, and go home. (Atlas Shrugged - somewhat undermining the point of The Fountainhead in the first place).

I found Kill La Kill to be an amazing little story. Campy and farcical but also really profound in a certain way. Total deconstruction of a whole genre of fiction as well as a fascinating social commentary on one of the defining aspects of human society (clothing/fashion/social status).

Another anime that really surprised me with its depth and sophistication was Puella Magi Madoka Magica. KyuBey still gives me nightmares just thinking about it.

I'll upvote you. Gurren Lagann is my favorite piece of media, and it's one that left a deep impact in me. And it's a pretty awesome story to boot.

One the surface it may seem like a dumb giang robot action-fest. But it has profound messages about fear, determination and legacy.

In my early 20s I embraced Objectivism through this and Atlas Shrugged (bad writing aside), and in my 30s I abandoned it.

Particularly, the process of abandoning it forced me into a clearer view of my personal value system. That in turn has made me a better person: it is hard to have integrity if one doesn't understand what they believe.

The Fountainhead is just bad writing. You hit it on the head when you said "the protagonists are always perfect and the world around them is fundamentally flawed".

Its difficult to take a book seriously with such caricatured and poorly written characters. I've seen better writing in comic books.

- Ishmael and Story of B by Daniel Quinn

His thoughts on religion and interpretation of religion as propaganda and how we've framed our taker society very much influenced my young mind.

- 1491 and 1493 by Charles C. Mann

The way we look at the new world and how vastly different standard teachings and what actually happened are.

- A Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine

Put to words what I already mostly practise, it identified my issues I had with buddhism.

- A Dictators Handbook by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita

An interesting flip on politics, it made me stop worrying so much about the here-and-now of it, and quelled my anger with the (further?) realisation that it is a game. If we want to fix what's happening we need to fix the rules, not the players.

Dictators Handbook was interesting for me too, showing politics as a game of patronage. Once you look at the world through these eyes, a lot more makes sense.

N.N. Taleb's "Fooled by Randomness" fundamentally changed the way I look at the world in seeing so much of what people ascribe to skill or errors, just to randomness or bad luck.

> A Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine > Put to words what I already mostly practise, it identified my issues I had with buddhism.

Could you elaborate a bit on this? What issues did it identify?

One of the problems I have with buddhism is the withdraw from society and the world around you, it behests you to focus on your internal mindfulness at all costs. The way Irvine describes Stoicism (and the tenets set forth elsewhere) puts the stoic into the world for their own and everyone else's betterment.

There's nothing wrong with the way buddhism says to withdraw, it's just one of the reasons I don't fully jive with it—then again, you don't exactly have to love it or lump it, you can pick and choose for sure. It's just an observation.

SciFi has definitely changed my world view. The most influential, by far, has been the Culture series by Ian M. Banks, especially Excession which deals a lot with the AI minds from the series. Other influential scifi include Blindsight by Peter Watts and Ursala Le Guin's The Dispossessed.

- The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

- Blindsight and Echopraxia by Peter Watts

- The Tao Te Ching

- The Gateless Gate (Koun Yamada translation/editing)

- The Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, The System of the World) by Neal Stephenson

- The Invisibles by Grant Morrison

- Incerto (Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, Antifragile, The Bed of Procrustes) by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

- Iron John by Robert Bly

- Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

- The Character of Physical Law by Richard P. Feynman

- Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges

- 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

- Pharmakon by Dale Pendell

- The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss

- Greek Mythology by Edith Hamilton

- The Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual by Gary Gygax et al

- Introduction to Algorithms by Charles E. Leiserson, Clifford Stein, Ronald Rivest, and Thomas H. Cormen

I'm curious. How did the DnD books changed you? Was it the books in particular or the roleplaying "activity"? (or, could any other RPG book have the same effect?)

several different ways. I'll try to keep it brief, though each of these could be a whole essay unto itself

1. a presentation of many archetypal themes, characters, monsters, gods, and demons pulling from a wide variety of sources and mythologies that I had not previously been exposed to. this was horizon expanding. encouragement to go out and actually learn about the source cultures that the D&D material was inspired by.

2. a fascinating system for dealing with moral and ethical judgments. the "alignment system" with its two orthogonal axes of Good<->Evil and Law<-->Chaos, and the interesting distinction between various kinds of neutrality (apathetic/passive vs. actively balanced, for example).

3. introducing me to the premise that play and socialization are primarily _creative_ and _imaginative_ activities. being raised on a diet of television and video games made this part particularly important as a counter-balance to all the passive entertainment that was being done to me.

Agree. The lawful/chaotic distinction is something I'd not encountered before, and really helps one look at behavior in a new lens. For example, am I lawful out of convenience, fear, or true belief in it? It was a bit jarring to realize that I was Lawful Good (as far as I can tell) despite having Robin Hood (chaotic good) as a hero for most of my childhood.

you may not be as lawfully aligned as you think you are. here's an appropriate, if somewhat forced, test that is relevant in contemporary America:

what is your position on adult use of marijuana in states where it has not been legalized?

as a followup, what is your position with respect to state vs. federal law disagreeing with each other in states that have legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana?

Rationality: From AI to Zombies by Eliezer Yudkowsky

This book changed the way I approach problems in my personal and professional life. It has helped me to reflect on any given thought and understand where the thought comes from and where is could be leading me. It's been really enlightening to reflect on my own cognition through the tools and examples of Yudkowsky's book. It's long and dense, but is by far the best book I've read in the last few years.

Looks like I got to check this out. I read Yudkowsky's "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" [1] a few years back. It made me want to pursue this line of thinking further, but being a work of fiction, it doesn't really offer a clear set of tools. (I wouldn't say that this book fundamentally changed the way I think though. It's mostly the continuation of a path that started with a brief, but intense study of Descartes in teenage years.)

[1] Available for free in all formats at http://www.hpmor.com/

The conviction in his tone and how he wears rationality like a cape, the book helped me understand the meaning of rationality, the map and the territory and power of beliefs to predict and also acknowledge the existence of an objective reality. Its sort of a journey down the rabbit hole for me.

The Book of Mormon (with the Bible). Together, they affect everything about how I see the world, what matters, peace amid problems, hope for the future -- everything. (And the related columns by Daniel Peterson and books by Hugh Nibley. Fascinating stuff, given all the ramifications.

https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm | http://www.deseretnews.com/author/22746/Daniel-Peterson.ase | https://bookofmormoncentral.org/

Also, now that I think of it: Asimov's robot and Foundation books (to a lesser degree), and videos by Milton Friedman (years ago).

(FLOSS, fast personal knowledge organizer for touch typists: http://onemodel.org )

[edits: added Asimov & Friedman.]

As a person who isn't Mormon, but was raised as such, including two years as a Mormon missionary--I feel like these resources have also fundamentally changed the way I think about the world. Even though me and the parent comment likely view them very differently, I think reading works like the Book of Mormon and those by Hugh Nibley was useful exposure to an interesting world of beliefs.

Any reason in particular for Foundation? I'm reading it right now and I love it, but it doesn't strike me as a life changing kind of book.

Maybe life-changing is a strong way to put it, but I think of the stuff every time I read about SpaceX etc. I read the trilogy when I was a youth, and in recent years re-read it and a few others in the series. It just makes exploration seem exciting, which hovers in the back of my mind. Maybe like the "wild west" did for earlier generations. Plus the ideas on government, managing populations subtly or brutally or otherwise, unity vs. individualism (one entire planet had explicitly decided to have one mind, in a way, shared by the whole ecosystem). Then the robot stuff has another whole set of ideas & interactions, which spurred thinking on individual agency and what is a "person" and why. (And some content which I wish I had not read as a boy, though it's mild compared to other sci-fi. It wasn't the right time for such thoughts.)

I gather that some ideas for the Foundation series came from Asimov's reading about the Roman empire. And I admire his sheer abilities in writing both so prolifically and enjoyably.

(Edit: I could have mentioned in my original post about books: The Little Schemer (Friedman et al) and another, fat, textbook on Scheme (also Friedman et al; he was the professor) changed, somewhat, how I thought about programming.)

It was the first book that I can recall reading that was quite definitely Science Fiction. The scale at which he imagined things was amazing. Re-reading it recently, I was struck that my nostalgia seemed stronger than the experience itself, but it pretty much got me to read every damn bit of science fiction I could from then on.

So, not sure whether it's an amazing book (it was to me when I was 12), but it definitely set in motion a life-long love of science fiction books.

Atlas Shruggd by Ayn Rand - turned me into a little shit. Ragged Trousered Philanthropist - restored my empathy and created a depth of understanding that has not left me in the 25 years since I read it. (I recommend the second and not the first).

The Poisonwood Bible - turned me into a (troubled) atheist and (untroubled) feminist.

I've been looking for a reason to read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, I think I'll check it out.

I recommend the first. Atlas Shrugged is one of my favourites. The main lesson I took from it was to think for myself. A quote from the book (paraphrased): "an error made by yourself is safer than ten truths taken on faith".

Fahrenheit 451: first book that really made the idea of fascism real to me. It sounds crazy to say this, but before reading Fahrenheit 451, I learned plenty about ww2 and the rise of Nazi Germany, but it seemed like a different world. But then something like Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 comes along, and it just hit me. Not only that, but it just gave me a whole new perspective on the power of literature and how important a genre like Sci Fi can actually be.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

My favorite book in 2013 (http://codingfearlessly.com/year-2013). After reading it, I accepted my introversion and learned how to better use it, view it as a strength instead of weakness.

Curious, how did you start using your introversion better?

This book gave me insight on who I am and why am I like this. It didn't change any of my behaviors.

That insight gave me more confidence. Before 'Quiet', I wouldn't allow myself to act a certain way or would feel bad if I did.

One simple example: as an introvert, I would get tired at parties or gatherings of bigger groups. Before 'Quiet', I would try leave unnoticed (slightly embarrassed from leaving so early). Or I would stay and feel increasingly worse. Now I'm better aware of what's going on inside me. I feel more confident and leave. Or I find a quiet corner, read a book on my iPhone for 20 minutes, and get back to the group.

That's nice. They call that introvert hangover - http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/08/introvert-hangovers.htm....

Just a few off the top of my head:

  * The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander - changed how I think about American racism from an abstract concept to reality.  Should be required reading.

  * The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho - the book I've read more than any other, a beautiful parable about finding one's place in the world.

  * Ishmael by Daniel Quinn - although it has many flaws, this book was very effective in making me question some basic assumptions about human behavior.

  * House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski - I can't exactly pin down what changed in me, but this book shook me in a way that no other book ever has.  In the right situations reading this book can be like meditation.
There are many other books that changed the way I think about literature, but I wouldn't say they affected my worldview.

"Man's Search for Meaning" by Victor Frankl.

It's written by a holocaust survivor who was also a psychologist - totally changed my philosophy on what matters in life.

Strange not to see Nietzsche here. Twilight of the Idols was his first book I read, then I ended up reading all the others without taking a break. Can't agree with everything he says, but it definitely resulted in making a 180 degree in my views on religion and morality.

Yeah, I read "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" in High School. It had quite an impact TBH. It really made me more confident with women and helped me to follow the "if you want something, go out and claim it" philosophy.

The Holy Bible. It will not only change the way you think about the world, but also your entire life.

A world-changing book, to be sure; though perhaps better to understand it in its cultural context, than to read it literally. In either case, for mature audiences only.

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

I loved this book. I read it on a plane and giggled

Could posters please elaborate on how the books changed how you look at the world? A recommendation by itself doesn't say much or explain what you would get by reading it.

1984/Homage To Catalonia by George Orwell

Manufacturing Consent/Necessary Illusions by Noam Chomsky(Possibly even more relevant today than it's ever been)

The Selfish Gene/The Extended Phenotype by Richard Dawkins

The Republic by Plato

The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions by Kuhn

- Anatomy of the State by Murray Rothbard

- What has government done to our money? by Murray Rothbard

- For a New Liberty by Murray Rothbard

- The Law by Frederick Bastiat

The world is a rotten place thanks to politicians, and at the same time the world is a beautiful place in spite of politicians.

Rothbard was pretty good, but his student, Hans Hoppe, is even better. One of the greatest minds alive today.

Absolutely. Hoppe is the greatest philosopher alive.

I'm not sure what "fundamentally" means in this context, but these certainly made a lasting impact upon my young mind:

Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter

Dune by Frank Herbert

Post Office by Charles Bukowski

V. by Thomas Pynchon

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Pretty much everything by JL Borges

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse had a big impact on me when I was a teenager. The message I took from it is to not depend on teachers, mentors, or answers-from-above, and instead forge your own path in this world.

Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy by Douglas Adams

Right go Jeeves by Wodehouse

The Hitchhiker’s Guide series was formative for my absurdist sense of humour and outlook on life. What a strange, hilarious, sad, and beautiful world we find ourselves in.

The Nature of Order by Christopher Alexander (also The Timeless Way of Building)

Lila by Pirsig (If you've read ZMM and left Lila unread you've left a lot on the table)

The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutch

Antifragile by Taleb

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Yudkowski. Particularly Chapter 39.

The two Political Order and Political Decay books by Fukuyama

Life's Ratchet - Hoffman

Im currently reading the Beginning of Infinity, i liked the way the author criticises almost all "ism"s and explains what they are in the process. Im in chapter 5 now and i just read about how he believes beauty/aesthetics and morality are objective akin to something like laws of physics, but its explained in ch11.Excited :D

If you like that stuff, check out Alexander's Nature of Order. The books are expensive, but are also beautiful books, and the content is great as well.

"Evolution of Cooperation", by Robert Axelrod.

He investigates the question of why is it the case that we see so much intra- and inter-species cooperation -- how does it arise if we start from the premise that we are genetically engineered solely to care about our own well being?

This book is utterly fascinating on many dimensions, but it is a tremendous look at how to think about a problem so creatively and poke at it in ingenious ways to get amazing insight. Also notable is the fact that his paper (which preceded the book), is one of the most cited papers in academia and is highly influential, yet you won't see anything higher than basic arithmetic in the entire book, and really everything he does is accessible to a normal high-schooler!

"The Metamorphosis" by Kafka and "Self-Reliance" by Emerson.

Both offer some pretty significant challenges to one's notion of self.

+1 for Self-Reliance. Made me see the strings that bind us from the day we're born to a life of obsequiousness and bowing to authority.

Fooled by Randomness, Antifragile, and A Guide to the Good Life

Non Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.

I find in these conversations people say a book changed their life but they have trouble naming any concrete examples of how it did so. So in that vein, the techniques in Non Violent Communication changed a particular breakup I went through for the better by making it clearer to me what the other person's feelings were, radically changed the outcome of a fight I was having with a friend (from what would normally be yelling at each other to a deep tear-filled tenderness), and has otherwise changed how I listen and express myself with my romantic partners. This book is amazing.

Jacques Neveu, Mathematical Foundations of the Calculus of Probability, Holden-Day, San Francisco.

Random variables and the associated probability theory and conditional probability theory are surprisingly relevant, especially now with computing, in the real world. That the set of real valued random variables X such that E[X^2] is finite forms a Hilbert space, e.g., is complete, is astounding. So is the martingale convergence theorem.

Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving.

Heavily about how what people do is in response to the anxiety they feel from the realization that alone they are vulnerable to the hostile forces of nature and society.

Understanding Media - Marshall McLuhan

The Book: on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are - Alan Watts

The Limits to Growth - Donella Meadows

Ishmael - Daniel Quinn

Huge +1 on The Book: on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. I keep re-reading that book hoping that I'll be able explain things half as well as Watts does...never seems to work but I still venerate this book. I cried when I read him explain beautiful concepts to a T that I figured I'd never be able to convey convincingly to anyone else.

Peace Is Every Step - Thich Nhat Hanh

One of the most influential books on meditation I've ever read. Quote from the Dalai Lama about it: "This book has the capacity to change lives."

I read the Bible cover to cover. I liked the bible because it dealt with fear a lot. Fear of the guy coming over the hill and slaughtering your whole tribe on a moment's notice. Fear of your whole legacy being destroyed and lost when people you've never heard of show up. I also liked the view of god that he's a jerk, but that's all that there is. It was like they were trying to put together a worldview that corresponded to a reality where terrible things happen all the time, so they made god a jerk. I just think back to what people in the old testament had to deal with on a daily basis and think my life is really not that bad.

"Prices and Production and other Works" which is a compilation of F.A Hayek's work by Joseph Salerno. It contains a lot of great criticisms of Keynes theories during the 30s. I used to really think I could understand mainstream economics, but Hayek totally demolished it in my mind and I can't have productive discussions with academically trained economists anymore because I have to start over from first principles with them.

"The Edge Effect" by Eric Braverman was a great book for understanding my mind. I got a lot out of it and it changed my understanding of my personal psychology.

Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon (1973). The Platonic ideal of the Postmodern novel that combines a deep understanding of modernity with deep understanding and pessimistic view of technology. Purgatory, Dante (1320). No other work so elegantly grasps Christian Sanctification and it's true difficulties. Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstin (1953). Like Pynchon, Wittgenstein understood quite well the exhausting pedantic nature of modern life. A book that can stand on it's own without having read much philosophy, this work attacks the foundations of most of "Modern" (I would label this as post Medieval philosophy ). Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, Abelsson, Sussman, Sussman (1985). For me, the definitive "Programming is what exactly?" book. Computer Systems, a Programmer's Perspective, Bryant & O'Hallaron (2012). The Concrete Systems yin to SICP's abstract yang. BattleCry of Freedom, McPhearson (1988). The best Civil War history in the past generation that also lays bear how much of what we view as modern crisis in the U.S. ( partisanship, horrendous propagandized media coverage, etc ) is as old as the country itself.

The Dictator's Handbook, by Bruce Bueno De Mesquita & Alastair Smith. - a fascinating take on how and why governments with varying levels of democracy behave the way that they do.

You might've seen CGPGrey's video based on it, the rules for rulers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rStL7niR7gs

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

"The Essence of Decision" - Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow

The easy way to think decisions is with the rational actor model. "The United States didn't sign the TPP agreement because..." "Apple removed the headphone jack because..." When the reality of large organizations is that decisions are made in the interaction of many people suborganizations. Allison and Zelikow are political scientists who massively advanced academic understanding of organization decision making... to illustrate their theories, they did original research into the Cuban missile crisis using it as an example of various models. Very accessible. It changed the way I think about how companies, governments, and the world works.

"Infinite Jest" - David Foster Wallace

It changed my life. This book taught me empathy and the truth in ordinary things... It's brilliant and amazing and worth making your way through 1000+ pages. RIP DFW.

"On the Shortness of Life" - Seneca.

More an essay, but profoundly impactful.

Guide to stoic living is great as well. It makes Seneca a little digestible.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond: why, for example, did the Spanish conquer South America and not vice versa?

- SciFi - Foundation Triology, 2001 Space Odessey and Ring World - Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand - I never read anything like that before - Leon Uris' books (Qb VII and a host of others) showed how scary humanity can be - The Magic of Thinking Big was a breath of fresh air - Edward De Bono's books

The God Delusion made me an arrogant atheist

Manufacturing Consent made me anti-authoritarian

Feeling Good by David Burns made me less pessimistic

The Autobiography of Malcolm X. It should be required reading for high school students in the United States.

* John Wyndham: The Day of the Triffids.

One of the minor themes is the relationship between morality and society. I read it as a teenager, and it made me think about the issue in a way I'd never done before.

* Adolous Huxley: Brave New World.

Similar reason as for the Triffids. If this is a dystopia then what, exactly, is wrong with it? To answer that you need to first define what society is for, and to do that you need to confront deep questions about what humanity is for.

* Desmond Morris: The Naked Ape

* Robert Axelrod: The Evolution of Co-operation

* Matt Ridley: Nature Via Nurture

These three changed the way I think about human nature.

* Douglas Adams: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

There were all these ideas in my head that I didn't have words for, and suddenly here was someone making jokes about them.

* James Burke: Connections

A book as well as a TV series. History suddenly became interesting, as well as making a lot more sense.

The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect - Roger Williams

As someone who seems themselves as a technologist (all this stuff we're working on will eventually work out for the best, warts be damned), this story was an existential-crisis-inducing wake-up call.

Basically, what happens if tech progresses to the point that humanity becomes a species of bored gods?

This is a trope that I've grown to really enjoy, and one that doesn't get played with near as much as it should. The next closest thing I can think of is the movie Zardoz, but that one is so abstruse that it turns people off unless they really think about it.

If you go check it out, keep in mind the story gets rather grotesque in places. Imagine what depravity people would get into if death were impossible, and you're on the right track.

The Reenchantment of the World by Morris Berman. Assigned in a college course and it raised a ton of still-important questions about the foundations that our scientific and materialistic worldview(s) rest on. I'm "over" this one in a lot of ways, but it was huge at the time I read it.

Mind and Nature by Gregory Bateson. Bateson was mentioned in the other book, and by the professor who assigned it. This is his most comprehensive piece of work (really his only comprehensive work -- pretty much everything else is topical papers, collaborations, interviews, etc.). It introduces systems/cybernetic thinking in an accessible and applicable way, such that they become relevant in basically any context.

Edit: wrods.

I got "the emperors new mind" by roger penrose when it first came out as I was graduating high school. I found it really good and eye opening.

Various books by Tony Buzan ( memory, speed reading, mind mapping ) and six thinking hats (and others) by edward de bono really got me to see our minds are very versatile and, like our bodies, can be pushed in prodded to do lots of things

Puzzling through many philosophy books has probably given me some my more dramatic changes in the way I see the world. But not one in specific, each provided little "ah hah!"s

All of Calvin and Hobbes

The art of war,book of 5 rings, and the prince, all made it clear that strategy and winning are quite different from the sanitized western middle class life I was brought up in.

The Phenomenon Of Science: A Cybernetic Approach To Human Evolution, by V.F. Turchin.

It made me realize everything is about Control and today we are living the era of the Control of Culture.

The subject so fascinated me I've started to write about back in 2006 and still writing today.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Phenomenon-Science-Cybernetic-Approac...

Online: http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/POSBOOK.html

Gust: http://metamn.io/gust/

The Economic Growth Engine: How Energy and Work Drive Material Prosperity by Ayers and Warr

Describes the economy in thermodynamic terms, as a materials processing machine, in contrast with neoclassical models of abstract "factors of production". Does a deep dive on examining what technological progress is and how it happens. I don't agree with everything in it but the perspective is unique and highly thought provoking.


Sapiens. It has been helpful on two levels - 1. For my limited historical knowledge, it's a good crash course. 2. On a higher level, it explains why culture is a glue that keeps the wheels of any civilization spinning.

Finding Flow

- Character analysis (W. Reich)

- Meetings with Remarkable Men (Gurdjieff)

- Courage to Stand Alone (UG Krishnamurti)

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Written by a senior researcher at MIRI, it distills all the cogsci and pop psychology books you can think of (Kahneman, Freakonomics, Gladwell) into a smart, funny, engaging, book-length book-quality fanfic. Plus it's available freely online. Seeing these methods applied by a protagonist helped me internalize them far more than any number of rereads of other books could have.

If that's too frivolous for you, Rationality: From AI to Zombies is the textbook format of all this information, from the same author.

Heidegger: Sein und Zeit https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21477742-martin-heidegge... (translation: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/92307.Being_and_Time ). Great philosophy, and, alas, nazi author. But you can't choose your family either.

- Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand

- V for Vendetta - Alan Moore/David Lloyd

- Heat: How we can stop the planet burning - George Monbiot

These are the books that quite literally changed my world view and interpretation of our place/purpose in it.

"Only Yesterday" by Frederick Lewis Allen.

I first read it in history class in high school and have gone back and reread a few times since then, when society and politics began making me nervous. It's really fascinating to read about day-to-day things from a hundred years ago and find out just how little things have really changed.


Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse.

Being and Event by Alain Badiou (translated by Oliver Feltham).

After Finitude by Quentin Meillassoux (translated by Ray Brassier).

Spring and All by William Carlos Williams.

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

Average is Over by Tyler Cowen. About educated middle class workers working with collaborative automated systems vs non-educated and a changing society.

Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson. An allegory about how our modern jobs are changing.

Mindset by Carol Dweck. About the belief of fixed mindset vs a growth or learning mindset, and the effects of both.

The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin. How our industrial (conformity) economy has evolved into a connection (post-industrial) economy, and what it takes to survive in this new world.

"4 hour work week" and "Rich Dad, Poor Dad"

I found "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" to be horrible. He said he built a lot of wealth by camping outside bankruptcy lawyers' offices and buying the houses from people filing for bankruptcy for super cheap. Then he'd turn around and sell them for full value. He seems like a total charlatan.

What's wrong with that? Like most arbitragers, he provided liquidity. It sounds like he helped people.

Are people who go to liquidation auctions bad?

The behavior itself is in a moral gray zone. I wouldn't feel good about myself at the end of the day if I made money preying on people going bankrupt. Morality aside, it is bad advice because it isn't feasible to do that in today's world, and it isn't a valid career track. To me it sounds like he's selling a get-rich-quick real estate scheme in an infomercial.

Can I ask how these books fundamentally changed the way you look at the world?

Not trying to speak for the parent commenter that posted, but those books are part of an overall shift in my career/business thinking from "me working more" to "building assets/systems that work for me".

I'd throw in Ramit Sethi's writing as well in shifting me from trying to "cut" as much expense but rather to grow the profit side of my work.

in my case - it changed how i think about "buying things" and how to priorities spendings that will yield return over just immediate pleasure.

This sandwich doesn't cost $5, it actually cost me $179 over a 20 year timeline!

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: A Novel by Mohsin Hamid


I encourage people to read it. It's perspective changing. I know its a fictional novel but it made me realize that other countries have their own version of the American dream.


Austin, who is now on the faculty of Harvard Business School, wrote this seminal book on measurement dysfunction and how incentives in the information age drive misbehavior while he was an IT executive with Ford Motor Co. Europe. This very readable book was derived from his dissertation in operations research at CMU. It completely changed my world view, and continues to do so.

Not really a book per se, but Shakespeare's writings had a profound effect on me when I was younger. The idea that the English language could be used to such mind-blowingly-brilliant effect is something I've never forgotten. In many ways, I still believe virtually everything we read and write in Western literature and entertainment is likely just stealing something Shakespeare wrote much more profoundly centuries ago.

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Maybe not fundamentally changed the way I think about the world, but the way I think about myself and others regarding my and their fulfillment in life.

It inspired me on many levels, that I had to write down my personal notes and lessons learned. [0]

- [0] https://www.robinwieruch.de/lessons-learned-deep-work-flow/

Thinking Strategically. A great primer on game theory. Everything changed colors for me after I read this. Definite required reading for everyone.

Abundance. Problems of economic scarcity are really about access. Technology can solve those problems, and we're getting close to solving a lot of the biggest ones.

Borderless Economics. Immigration has a lot of huge benefits. But really, it's the best humanitarian tool advanced countries have.

Free to Choose - Milton Friedman

Emotional Intelligence - Daniel Goleman

Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein

Awakening: A Sufi Experience: Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

-I found it for $2 at a STRAND Bookstore wilst out for a stroll in the city. Best $2 spent on a book, EVAR. @a tme whn I didn't know how to explain the utter crystallization of something fascinating but grand, though obtruse happening in my innards, this book shone light on alot of what I was waking up to, hence - Awakening!

"Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers", marketing book by Geoffrey A. Moore.

The Poisoning of Eros by Raymond Lawrence Jr.

The Phenomenon of Science: A Cybernetic Approach to Human Evolution by Valentin Turchin

Paul's 1st letter to the Corinthians

History, Guilt & Habit by Owen Barfield

The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

Dawn by Octavia Butler

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm

Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Galeano's Memory Of Fire books, also Saul Alinsky's _Rules For Radicals_ (one of the best marketing books ever written).

Probably not a title someone would bring up on HN, but the whole Carlos Castaneda was really great for me. I actually read the "Art of Dreaming" first then went back and read all the 15 books or so in the series. Considering i'm not much of a reader, pretty proud of myself for getting through those even though it took me years.

I am with you on this one. I've read and liked quite a few books mentioned here, but I'm hard pressed to find one that fits the "fundamentally changed the way I think" criteria. It was all fairly incremental. Except Castaneda's writings. That stuff was explosive.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

After reading this book, I started living with a lot more gratitude for everyday things that I'd previously been taking for granted.

That might sound like a cliché, but frankly -- reading visceral accounts of decent folks having to eat leaves and grass in order to survive?

Yea, that changes the way you think about the world.

The Psychology of Computer Programming, Gerald M. Weinberg. We write code to be read by humans as well as machines.

Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa. I still can't put into words how this book changed my world view, but it was one of the most impacting books I've ever read. From religion to arts to personal goals, everything changed with this book. I'm pretty sure I left the church while/right after reading it.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Persig Why We Make Things, and why it Matters, Korn Ahead of the Curve, Broughton Hell's Angels: a strange and terrible saga, Thompson]

All changed my thinking about things for different reason, but shared the common theme of making me think more about every idea I have.

At 14 The paradox of god and the science of omniscience At 17 Sidhartha (H. Hesse) Started meditating At 18 The Upanishads The Tao te Ching Chuang tzu At 19-21 Zen Flesh and Bones At 23 The Tao of Physics and The Web of Life by Fritjof Kapra At 28 Black Swan by N. Taleb At 30 Accelerando by C.Stross

Getting Things Done by David Allen

The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

A brilliant overview. I wish he'd update it.

The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene.

* The Bhagavad Gita http://amzn.com/1586380192

* On Managing Yourself http://amzn.com/1422157997

* The Dilbert Principle by Scott Adams http://amzn.com/0887308589

* The Peter Principle by by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull http://amzn.com/0062092065

* How to Manage Your Boss by Christopher Hegarty http://amzn.com/034531817X

* Time Management by Veronica Hurst http://amzn.com/1537560700

* The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey http://amzn.com/1451639619

* The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo http://amzn.com/1607747308

* The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle http://amzn.com/0553328255

* Alistair MacLean's best novels:

++ Night Without End http://amzn.com/0006161227

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++ The Dark Crusader or The Black Shrike http://amzn.com/0006165435

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++ Ice Station Zebra http://amzn.com/B0046A9MO0

The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant

Because a representation of this can be published as a book, I'll say the six cello suites by JS Bach.

After a strange, 15-year journey, I eventually understood one of Peter Kreeft's proofs for the existence of God, "There is the music of Bach, therefore God exists." ;)

Many muslims also believe that the beauty of the Quran's poetry is proof of the existence of God. Although they believe it is explained by the prophetic status of Muhammad, I've always found the belief to be surprisingly humanist for such an old religion, in the same sense as Kreeft's quote.

Of course God exists; Man created Him.

1. Mindset - changed how I view new things/ideas I encounter or things I want to learn. I have introduced this to my wife and she loved it. She has now adapted the growth mindset (what the book teaches about).

2. e-Myth Revisited - changed how I view and run business.

- How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World's Most Dynamic Region

Changed the way I look at economic development and government's involvement in it. To make country's economy grow, it's not enough to just take the laissez-faire approach.

The graphic novels - "Watchmen" and "The dark knight returns". Fundamentally altered my perceptions of the modern graphic novel. Now I constantly look out for best-sellers, top-x lists and run to the library to rent them.

The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins; Red Queen, Matt Ridley; Sperm Wars, Robin Baker;

Read in that order, the books explain much of what is going on in our society and lives. This has enabled me to to analyse my own, and others, actions and motives.

The Slight Edge - Jeff Olson

This is the book that suddenly hit me like a lightning. Give it a try if you haven't. It will fundamentally change the way you plan and execute things, from short-term immediate stuffs to your ultimate dreams.

  Codemasters - Game Genie NES Codebook
  Aldous Huxley - Collected Essays
  Guy Debord - Society of the Spectacle
  Antonie de Saint-Exupery - The Little Prince
Also worth mentioning, is everything by Dr Seuss.

The art of deception / spies among us.

Entrylevel infosec stuff. But, really put the mindset that if you ask for something in a specific way, you'll always get it.

It's not the request, it's how you form the request.

When Corporations Rule The World - David Korten

Neuromancer - William Gibson

Red Storm Rising - Tom Clancy

It's rather remarkable that for some people "world" means universe or nature while for others it means human society. And the latter group is an overwhelming majority here.

A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume

Representations by Jerry Fodor

A number of essays published by Chomsky over the years (a recent, small compilation book called What Kind of Creatures Are We? is a handy start).

Prisoners of Geography - Tim Marshall

The Revenge of Geography - Robert D. Kaplan

Prisoner's Dilemma - William Poundstone

The Master Algorithm - Pedro Domingos

Zero-Sum Future - Gideon Rachman

The End of History and the Last Man - Francis Fukuyama

Entanglement - Amir Aczel

Thank you for Prisoners of Geography. I just bought it and it seems very insightful, judging by the first few pages.

Quite relevant given the meta-topic - "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas Kuhn. It's where the term "paradigm shift" comes from.

Quite some overlap with others here, but to add some of my own favorites:

- The Shock Doctrine by N. Klein

- The Anarchist Banker by F. Pessoa

- Collapse by J. Diamond

- Thinking, Fast and Slow by D. Kahneman

- a few books by Noam Chomsky

EDIT: nearly forgot:

- Brave New World by A. Huxley

"We the Living" -- by Ayn Rand. This novel, unlike Orwell's 1984, shows that one does not have to loose his identity under oppression of communism.

The biggest worldview changer for me was probably the work of the late Edward T. Hall.

Hall was an anthropologist attached the the University of New Mexico. He and his research partner, linguist Norman Trager, were doing research in comparative culture. Hall discovered they would need to provide a comprehensive theory of culture to define what they were comparing and make it possible to do meaningful comparisons.

The results of that effort are documented in Hall's books _The Silent Language_, _The Hidden Dimension_, and _Beyond Culture_.

Culture is normally thought of as "Everything we know and do", but Hall demonstrated it was broader and deeperl Like the proverbial iceberg, 90% of culture takes place on an unconscious level, handled by reflex. We aren't aware may things we do are done by reflex, unless we find ourselves in a culture that does things differently.

As an example, you are at a gathering of some sort. (What sort doesn't matter.) It's not crowded, and there's room to spread out comfortably. You are talking to someone you just met. How far apart are you standing? Why that distance instead of nearer or farther away?

If you live in the US, the answer to "how close are you standing?" is "about 3 feet". The dominant culture here derives from northern Europe, where that is the correct social distance to maintain with folks who aren't family or close friends. No one ever explicitly tells you "Thou shalt stand three feet away from strangers and folks you don't know really well!" You absorb it by osmosis beginning in early childhood, by observing and mimicking what you see the adults do. By the time you are old enough to be out on your own, it's embedded reflex you do without thinking.

Now plunk yourself down in a culture with a different notion of correct social distance, like Greece, where the default is about a foot and a half, and watch the fun. Someone from our culture will think the Greeks are "pushy" and "in your face". The Greeks will think we are cold and standoffish. Each side is simply attempting to maintain the social distance correct for their culture.

Many things fell into place when I read Hall, and my notions about why various things occur changed radically. A lot of current international problems can be considered clashes between cultures with differing underlying elements. Religion, political structure, and economic system are overlays on top of underlying cultural patterns, and differences in the overlays may mask the deeper underlying issues. ______ Dennis

"The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Permutation City (Greg Egan), or Diamond Dogs (Alistair Reynolds)- have to read it in the right mind frame as some sort of moral analogy

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Not because of his life. But because of his thinking (and other people's thinking in the book).

George Orwell's 1984 and Isaac Asimov (just about everything he's written, especially love his shorter stories).

Reading Shakespeare has been the most useful with my shyness and it also let me understood how society or the adult world, works


The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn

The Apology of Socrates, Plato


The Pragmatic Programmer, Andrew Hunt and David Thomas

The Best Interface is No Interface, Golden Krishna

Mad Magazine Super Special, Fall 1981

Was quite young when I read this and it was maybe my first (or at least strongest) exposure to satire.

A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.

Edit: Also, David Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years.

Legacy of Ashes - Tim Weiner. Pulled the wool from my eyes as to what my country is capable of performing in my name.

Chromosome 6 by Robin Cook. Fascinated me for some reason. It gets very technical and I like the rigor, detailing.

The Triumph of Politics by David Stockman - totally changed the way I understand the operation of government.

The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett.

A last chance to see - Douglas Adams

I didn't understand the importance of conservation efforts until reading this book.

For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto by Murray Rothbard

It presents a clear vision of a society without government

The Game - Neil Strauss - eye opening, influenced me to focus on self development and social skills

The Plague and The Outsider by Albert Camus. Taught me my place in the world

I second The Plague. A book everyone ought to read.

American Slavery, American Freedom by Edmund Morgan

Best American history book I've read.

The Goal - Eliyahu Goldratt

"Language in Thought and Action" by S. I. Hayakawa.

Capitalist Realism



Snow Crash

What is Life?

The Stranger

special mention: David Pearce's archipelago of paradise engineering manifesto-websitelets

Max Born: Einstein theory of relativity

The Player of Games - Iain. M. Banks.

Saul Kripke, “Naming and Necessity”

Awareness by Anthony de Mello

selfish gene, fountainhead

Consilience by E.O. Wilson

The Big Orange Splot

The Selfish Gene

Throwaway since this is a bit embarrassing.

How to Win Friends and Influence People. Crucial Conversations. 5 Love Languages. The Way of the Superior Man.

I'm 37 and I'm a stereotypical geeky, low-social-capability guy. Coasted through life on being smart, to the exclusion of much else. I'd get pedantic and into pointless arguments, but justify it because I was right -- sorta being a dick though not intentionally, just emergent behavior. I did poorly on romantic relationships despite being married a decade. I'd stumble around conversations awkwardly or interject stupid facts and just overall sucked at the personal side of life.

Learning to talk to people, to deal with people, learning the give and take of conversations and to try to be interested in people -- this has completely changed my life. It works in business, it works in personal relationships. People that I'd usually mock (think homeopathic hippy type folks), the kind of folks that'd usually dismiss me, they have actually said glowing things about me to other people, and I now have friendships with such folks. Even with guy friends: I'm constantly surprised how powerful a simple "How are you doing?" or "Did you get home OK?" -- just small displays of interest, really can strengthen relationships.

The last book I mention, The Way of the Superior Man, I hesitate. Some of it is a bit silly. And it comes off VERY macho/chauvinistic. In fact, the first time I looked at it I tossed it in disgust. But damn, it'd have saved me so much grief. There are feminine/masculine differences (as personalities, not just sex or gender.) Just basic stuff like "held and heard": you don't need to try to solve her every problem[1], just listen and support her in what she does -- stuff as an engineer I wouldn't do at work and that bled over into personal life. Not attacking people when they say silly things... I've had a girl tell my family I'm the kindest guy she's ever dated. They all went silent and looked back and forth "... him?" 3 years ago I could never, ever, have imagined anyone saying that about me in any situation, let alone romantically. When people blow up and want to fight with me, I recognize the words don't really matter and it's just emotion and try to respond to that. Even my ex has ended up apologizing after yelling at me and saying I'm a good guy - another timeline I never thought I'd be in.

And I know, this sounds like manipulation. But the bizarre thing is that after you set out to be like this and try to care, you actually end up caring and it's totally sincere. Life isn't C, being "lenient" on people and trying to think about them instead of picking at the specifics of what they said won't get you into trouble.

[This might be relationships 101, but I know a lot of guys in a similar social situation and a few of them tried the same approaches and are way happier too. So maybe this will help someone.]

1: https://xkcd.com/306/

"How to Win Friends and Influence People" is easily one of the most important books out there for anyone working in any professional env that involves other humans.

No need for throwaway - awesome selection

Glad you were able to recover from you "well, actually" habit as Miguel de Icaza termed it :)


On The Road - Jack Kerouac. How to live in the present moment and have a voracious appetite for travel and new experiences.

"Streets are for People: A Primer for Americans" -Bernard Rudofsky "The Bible Proves the Teachings of the Catholic Church" -Bro Michael Dimond

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