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Ask HN: What books have most influenced the way you see the world?
80 points by samcgraw on Jan 26, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 61 comments

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck - great insight into the human condition

One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson - concise and pithy while containing lots of useful pointers

The Divine Center by Steven Covey - the spiritual grounding that informs his later more secular books and much more interesting if you don't mind religious thought mixed in with your motivation

The Foundation trilogy by Issac Asimov - Caused a huge detour in my life. Immersed myself in speculative fiction for decades due to the brain-quake caused by this material.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein - A detour of a different sort. Great introduction to alternative modes of thought to my uncultured religious teen mind.

LDS/Christian Scriptures - regardless of your belief level, the ideas/thoughts/stories/literature encompassed in scripture is enriching to the mind

Meta comment: It would be more helpful if people included a reason why they are listing these specific books. Seeing a title of a book they never heard of probably isn't enough to get anyone to read it, but a few quick words about why you found it important might intrigue people.

can't agree more.. It seems like many are simply listing their favorite books, not necessarily the ones that "most influenced the way" they see the world

The two books I've read that have shaped my worldview the most:

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein - A classic SciFi novel that digs deep on relationships, politics, and religion. Like a lot of old SciFi, it's filled with blatant sexism. If you can look past that, it has a lot of great lessons.

Island by Aldous Huxley - a beautiful look at alternative societal structures, psychedelics, and the cruelty of the western world overcoming sacred places.

Men also smoked more often that women at that time.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig

Came here to say this.

The squel "Lila" is also quite profound.

Antifragile - Nicholas Nassim Taleb

Mother Night - Kurt Vonnegut

Pavarotti: My World - Luciano Pavarotti, William Wright

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World - Jack Weatherford

The Hardcore History podcast's coverage of Genghis Khan/the Mongols is additionally a wonderful resource.

Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) - classic book of objectivism , self proud and wealth

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson) - awesome analytics book about wealth source

The Wealth of Nations (Adam Smith) - classic book about source of money and economic processes

In no particular order:


The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

The Prince

How To Win Friends and Influence People

I wish I'd included Meditations in my contribution- speaks directly, wisely and usefully even to the modern man's condition.

It's quite trendy at the moment, but Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari was quite the life changing book. As well as An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Commander Chris Hadfield was a rather inspirational tale.

HomoDeus is indeed wonderful

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo has life changing philosophical implications when applied outside of simple home life.

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu is a classic text on harmony and humility.

The Epistles of the Bible: Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude

- A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich - aleksandr solzhenitsyn - Breakfast of champions - Kurt Vonnegut - Plato's the republic - The unfettered mind - Takuan Soho

Bunch of Eastern stuff...Hagakure, Book of 5 rings, art of war, tao te ching

Subtle art of not giving a fuck, The art of happiness

But the one book I always keep...The boy scout handbook

Crime and punishment - made me open minded and try to put myself in other person's shoes. This helped me alot to be less judging.

The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins. None of his militant atheism. Just a brilliant and engaging work on evolutionary biology.

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan. It helped me be have more cohesion in my thinking in regards to my love for science and my very religious upbringing.

The Better Angels of our Nature - Steven Pinker (The world isn't so bad, and it's getting better all the time)

Vagabonding - Rolf Potts (It's easy and cheap to move around the world these days)

The Asian Saga by James Clavell, reading as a kid on how to rule your life, business and create a dynasty...


As grown up, on now to rule the world:

More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite by Sebastian Mallaby


The Dune series, especially "Dune Messias", made me a vocal critic of organized religion.

Books by Vernor Vinge made me a liberal (european meaning, pro free markets and individual responsibility).

Ken McLeod made me aware of the rich history and valid points of communism and socialism, even when I'm still not a fan.

Iain M. Banks showed me that an AI-enabled future doesn't have to be a distopia. He also made me aware of how pale and boring the often cited "Star Trek Utopia" really is.

I really liked dune 1 . But God I hated dune 2 and dune 3. I tried so hard to like 2 and 3. What's your opinion. I would be curious to know

I don't read very much, but: 1984 2001

The Bible for sure is #1

As an atheist, I am curious what in the Bible has influenced you.

I read it and I found that without the faith part (which makes it a book important to you, no matter if you like it or not) it reads as a story like others. I am not trying to be critical in any way, it is that I failed to find really deep thoughts inside, which would make me think after reading it.

It is full of stories which have a moral, not different from many others and not thought provoquing (of course this is my personal opinion) - as a casual reader I be glad to be pointed to such parts there.

In fact, there's quite a lot of practical and interesting insights into relationship, finances, discipline and more, for example the book of Proverbs is full of literal advice on dealing with family, children, marriage, business ethics. The letters of Paul to the Romans and Corinthians contain very interesting thought provoking statements on love, relationship, respect. Even if you remove faith completely from the picture you can definitely find very interesting content.

When I was younger, I read the Bible from cover to cover, twice.

Now I am much older and as an atheist, I wish I hadn't wasted my time on such simplistic themes written by simplistic men. There are much deeper and more profound books also written by man, and far more complex.

The Elusive Quest for Growth by W. Easterly -- read it when I was in college hoping to study development (poverty, growth) economics; changed the way I look at poverty, economics and politics in general. Likewise I helped me ditch modern liberalism for classical one.

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Black Swan by Nicholas Nassim Taleb

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Godal Escher Bach - I think influenced myself and a lot of people who think about AI.

The Surrender Experiment - about following the flow of life and seeing events unfolding in front of you and how amazing the perfection of life is if you take a step back observe how everything plays out

“What makes it go, what makes it work, what makes it fly, what makes it float” taught me that gadgets and appliances have internal mechanics.

“The Lucifer principle” introduced me to evolution and evo-psych thinking.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life - Mark Manson

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) by Richard Feynman

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

Surely you're joking Mr. Feynman - got a second degree in Physics

So good they can't ignore you - the one career self-management book you should read

The essays of Waren Buffet - how to approach investment

The Social Brain - Michael S. Gazzaniga

(Relays a bunch of super interesting experiments done on 'split brain' patients with important consequences for normally functioning brains. Not at all gimmicky, doesn't read like a popularization—I think my dad said he read it in grad school for cognitive psych. But I read it as a teenager so it's generally accessible, and it'll likely change the way you think about people and their brains.)

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions - Thomas S. Kuhn

(Looks at large scale trends in scientific progress [as well as looking more closely at the notion of 'progress' in this context]. Probably the most important features he extracts have to do with distinct phases that scientific work can typically be classified under: 'normal' science and 'revolutionary' science. These concepts are easiest to understand in relation to the notion of a 'framework'. In revolutions, we are developing new frameworks and potentially abandoning lots of old work; during normal science, we are elaborating within an established framework. Phrases like 'the dominant paradigm' in this context are due to Kuhn [IIRC he uses 'paradigm' rather than 'framework']. The book isn't so long and his argument for and presentation of these ideas is well worth reading.)

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution - Steven Levy

(Traces the major trends, personalities, and events leading to personal computing as we know it today, starting with IBM mainframes mediated by an IBM employ. Also describes the origin and meaning of the 'hacker ethic'. The hacker ethic, especially as exemplified by early MIT programmers in the book, was hugely influential on how I came to think about programming and creative work generally.)

The Varieties of Religious Experience - William James

(It's largely an attempt at a scientific account of the potential cognitive/emotional impacts of adopting various beliefs, though especially religious/philosophical beliefs. James was an early experimental psychologist and philosopher. The book is mostly a transcription of his Gifford Lecture series of the same name.)

The Philosophy of Physical Science - Sir Arthur Eddington (Got me thinking about deep issues where we still trip ourselves up by assuming that parts of our own mental makeup are parts of the objective universe instead. Also clarified my understanding of the notions of 'structure' and 'analysis'. Also gives an interesting example of using Group Theory for physics work. Not as scary (or long) as it sounds, though it takes some work.)

Also: Three Scientist's and their Gods, Metamagical Themas, The Society of Mind, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, Chaos: Making a New Science, and Darwin's Dangerous Idea.

The Discworld Novels by Terry Pratchett and the Fencer Trilogy by K.J. Parker.

I read a lot of everything I can find but always get back to these.

Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche. No single book has changed my view of reality, specifically ethical reality, more.

What about Beyond Good and Evil made such a big impact on you? I read it and enjoyed it a lot as well but struggle to put it into words how it has impacted me.

many years ago and long before 'matrix' his books changed my view on the world: William Gibson, the guy who invented 'cyberspace'


Narcissus and Goldmund - Hermann Hesse

beautiful boy - david sheff

crime and punishment - fyodor dostoevsky

the trial - franz kafka

catch-22 - joseph heller

how to win friends and influence people - dale carnegie

mindset: the new psychology of success - carol dweck

I really enjoy novels a lot more than self-help and business books, but lately everything I read is about some business concept or backstory.

Paulo Coelho - The Alchemist - because it wonderfully describes the journey of an entrepreneur

The Four Agreements - Don Miguel Ruiz

The War of Art - Steven Pressfield

Thinking, Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman

Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived by Laurence Shames & Peter Barton

Start With Why - Simon Sinek

East of Eden - timshel "thou mayest"

The Beginning of Infinity - David Deutsch

The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins

The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins

Lying - Sam Harris.

Behave - Robert Sapolsky.

Gene: An Intimate History - Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

The Prince, Machiavelli

in no particular order:

Lord of the Rings



Moby Dick

The Master and Margarita


Arabian Sands

Gawain and the Green Knight


I love The Master and Margarita. A lithuanian friend introduced me to it and she told me that it was censored back when Lithuania was still part of the Soviet Union and they used to share those parts in secret (copied on a typewriter).

true samizdat!

I have the english translation by Burgin and O'Connor, which is excellent. https://www.amazon.com/Master-Margarita-Mikhail-Bulgakov/dp/...

Ha, that was the word I was looking for, thanks :)

Ok, I'll have to read this version too then (only know a german one so far). And probably learn russian.

Surprised nobody has yet mentioned "Waking Up" by Sam Harris.

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