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Ask HN: Which books do you wish you'd read earlier in life?
177 points by arikr on Feb 3, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 136 comments
Which books do you wish read when you were younger?


Which books that you read while younger do you wish you'd followed more closely / taken to heart more?

It's funny how western (probably American) HNers are mentioning the "how to succeed everywhere" books all over this thread. This is silly, methinks. I would mildly suggest those people to take a bit wider look at where they live and why they consider those books important to be read as early as possible.

For me, I don't regret about not having read anything, I'd rather regret about having read too much and nothing substantial at all at the same time. But regardless of the fact that I've read a ton of bulls*t books and virtually nothing fundamental, I don't see a need to catch up. No haste = no waste. We can live very productive, moral and full lives without reading anything.

I'm not a fan of "how to succeed everywhere" books myself - if they claim that on the cover, they're usually not advertising the type of success I would wish to build my life on.

Having said that, books have been invaluable (and indeed essential) to western society in general, and to many people of my acquaintance for whose accomplishments I have the highest respect. I don't think that's a coincidence.

Books allow you to think with somebody else's mind, they allow you to share in the combined experience of all the authors you have ever read. They show you a world beyond the world you yourself are restricted to. They let you talk to the greatest thinkers, not just of our time, but of all times. Tapping into this accumulated wisdom is a mind-broadening, and quite often life-changing, experience.

I have not always lived in the West. I know first-hand a society that, though technically literate (in the sense that many can read), is nowhere near being a literature-based society like the one I live in now. And I have seen the consequences: people stuck in the vicious circle of poverty and ignorance, one feeding the other ad infinitum. I'm not just talking about financial poverty, either, but rather about the deeper-seated poverty of the mind that quells so much potential for personal and social development. And lastly, I have seen that almost all the progressive thinkers, the men of action of that society, had something in common: They loved their books.

Agree with comments re: books are invaluable sources for one to experience, learn and empathize etc.

But it's so true that the entire trend amongst my peers (and the greater North American) attitude towards "life hacking" and "self optimization" is becoming overkill. This is an article I recently read that articulates really well on this whole cultural focus of "how to succeed" books:


Some quotes: "In our current era of non-stop technological innovation, fuzzy wishful thinking has yielded to the hard doctrine of personal optimization. Self-help gurus need not be charlatans peddling snake oil. Many are psychologists with impressive academic pedigrees and a commitment to scientific methodologies, or tech entrepreneurs with enviable records of success in life and business. What they’re selling is metrics. It’s no longer enough to imagine our way to a better state of body or mind."

"There is a great deal of money to be made by those who diagnose and treat our fears of inadequacy; Cederström and Spicer estimate that the self-improvement industry takes in ten billion dollars a year."

>"There is a great deal of money to be made by those who diagnose and treat our fears of inadequacy; Cederström and Spicer estimate that the self-improvement industry takes in ten billion dollars a year."

That seemed a strange sentence, so I read the article; still seemed as strange. Not sure what you'd have to believe to be able to write that. If I write—

"There is a great deal of money to be made by those who diagnose and treat our fears of inadequacy; the medical industry takes in ten billion dollars a year."

—hopefully the incoherence is more obvious. It seems the original was ridicule dressed up as science.

I guess I could perceive that because I bought quite a few self-help-type books of various kinds, and got a lot from them; they helped me immeasurably. I'm not really a course/group kind of guy, but I did one 2-week course that was amazing. I don't think any of it was due to my "fears of inadequacy". It was more my wanting to learn about myself/humans, to overcome problems I had from childhood, to be happier, to have better relationships; stuff like that. And I think I've achieved all that. :-D (Well, it's a neverending journey..)

Thank you for sharing that article, quite thought-provoking!

I think the problem we're facing is not in itself the desire to improve ourselves. Rather, it's doing it with the wrong focus and for the wrong reasons.

I found this quote from the article illuminating: "Spicer reflects that he has spent the year focusing on himself to the exclusion of everything, and everyone, else in his life." There is nothing inherently bad about improving your diet, working on your physical fitness or boosting your self-discipline. Becoming healthier and more productive can be worthy goals, but if they cause you to forget the people around you, they are the wrong goals. Self-improvement that is limited to the self is nothing but glorified egocentrism. We can become better athletes, better workers, better anything; but if we don't become better friends/neighbours/partners while we're at it, it won't make us better people.

Secondly, the reasons why we wish to improve ourselves. This is something I cannot talk about without reference to my Christian faith, because the two are deeply intertwined. For my faith tells me that I am not perfect and never can be on this earth, but that that is all right, because God loves me just as I am. At the same time it tells me that God loves me too much to let me stay the way I am, that He has given me an incredible potential that I can develop and that I can work on my imperfections knowing that He will help me. Therefore, when I read books or form habits to improve myself, I am not doing so because I need to, but because I can. I don't have to prove anything to anybody, but I can joyfully grow and develop in areas in which God has given me a greater potential than I have currently reached.

Western civilization is based on merit and it is based on being very competitive. (It's true in your mates, your social standing, your financial situation, etc) That's the reason for the improvement books.

> Western civilization is based on merit

This is one of the larger falsehoods I've read in a while.

It's based on money, connections, favors, historical precedent and power. And it's not the only one.

The book Moneyball talks about this. Well I thought it would be about baseball, but it was kind of about our ability to judge merit. It's hard even in a measurement driven sport like baseball. Sports are arguably the purist meritocracy, yet scouts were routinely missing on their evaluation of talent.

Sadly, in most fields of employment, measure of merit is either hard or downright impossible. Hence, people have to invest a ton of time into creating an illusion of superior competence. Just look at developers - nerd-posturing discussions in the office, chasing latest frameworks, faking passion by doing open-source commits etc. It's a sad world we live in.

Never said that merit was purely based on work.

I'm just saying the West doesn't have positions that are based on how close you are to the king, family connections, caste, or other mystical reasons.

The funny thing that I've gotten in response is that people seem to believe that merit is only based on how your technical skills are. That's just one part of the job in the tech field.

On the contrary, there are many positions which are filled based on connections and belonging to a certain elite. That may not be prevalent in tech, but that's because tech is viewed as unglamorous, hard and boring work, and who would want to do that. But, in fields such as politics, diplomacy, professorships on major universities, directors of museums and countless others of major influence, the candidates very often get selected on the basis on family connections, or at least belonging to a certain clique. Of course, the candidate must meet some minimum requirements for perceived competency (a diploma from a top school, strong CV otherwise), but there's plenty of such people and, amongst them, connections will decide on who will get the position.

I'll check back with you in 10 years and see if you still believe this to be true.

Man, this is both naive and very negative. Can you say more about why you think the civilization is based on that?

Is it merit based? I would say it's capital based.

Capital generally being a measure of how people evaluate you, yes.

You make a reasonable point, but I'm not sure I like your alternative:

> We can live very productive, moral and full lives without reading anything.

I have not read much and i am in my 30's and wished i had worked like crazy in my teens and 20's because i did not had much fun either. My personal wisdom is its better to go bad by overuse rather than no use.

"Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug, Second Edition

The book changed the course of my life. It allowed me to build a sustainable business, that at some point became my full-time job.

The magic of that book comes from the fact that it allows you to gradually develop a compassion. For your customers, prospects and all other living beings in this world.

Having that compassion embedded, you start to see a lot of subtle things. The most impactful experience for me was to comprehend that the world is a place full of pain and hardships. Not only for me, but for all others too.

Once you see it, you immediately understand there is plenty of space where you can bring the value to others.

But that's not all. The story does not end there. It turns out that bringing the value to others brings value to you.

People start to write you things like: "you are legend", "if you ever come to Chicago give me a call", "here take my money". And this is a tipping point where things start to work as a good business. It starts to shape your life. At some point it becomes evident that you should charge a prime for your product and develop the whole thing even further. While helping other living beings along the way.

That's an awesome position to be in. I thank Steve Krug, the author of the book, for bringing his findings to other people like me.

Would you recommend reading it even if not particularly interested in web usability?

Absolutely. The product I've made is not even web-based. Treat web usability just as an example; you can extrapolate the results to much wider areas of life.

You specifically mention the second edition of the book. Is there a particular reason you would not recommend the "revisited" third edition? I'm not sure if you're actively recommending against it, or if you're just recommending the edition you happened to read.

I don't like the third edition as much as the second one.

The reason for that is added chapters about mobile usability. That addition made the book a bit noisier and somewhat hard to follow.

Great comment, can you share an example where you realized there was space to bring value?

See a reference to "Reservoir of Goodwill" in the book. The reality is that reservoir often gets empty due to the bad experiences. So there is a plenty of space to fill it in with your service or offering.

Ask HN Threads with similiar topics/recommendations:

* Books you wish you had read earlier? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14477851

* What books have made the biggest impact on your mental models? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15155833

* Books on specific topics that have applied to many areas of your life? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14477851

* Books with a high signal to noise ratio? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10027102

Damn you! Geez, I downloaded 31 books yesterday from these lists. :-) As if I didn't already have a huge backlog from other book mentions on HN... So much great stuff.

The Four Hour Workweek. It showed me:

1. How to make a business without "experience" 2. A model of how to make an automated business

Changed my life and led me to create a mostly automated business that is still going seven years on.

Note: this book often rubs people the wrong way, and requires caveats.

The four hours refers to maintenance work, in my interpretation. I could maintain my business on four hours. But, it would gradually atrophy. So, I grow it. But, with the liberty to take a lof of time off, when I want.

For those allergic to Tim Ferriss, Start Small, Stay Small by Rob Walling is an excellent read.

But, the four hour week was the book that hit me like a ton of bricks and changed the course of my life.

The business, if anyone is curious: https://lsathacks.com

What it hit me the most is about what the worst thing that could happen if you try your venture, it blows my mind back then and it really boost my confidence. I'm guessing it's related to the author stoic perspective

I did the worst case scenario exercise he gave, exactly as described. Then I went on a long walk, decided to leave law school and try business.

I still have the paper I used.

Briefly, the exercise was:

1. What's the worst case outcome of trying 2. What steps can you take to mitigate it?

In my own case, it was taking a year off law school, and using up some savings + possibly needing to get a job before starting law school again. Not a giant risk. (Not zero, either, but having it quantified really helped)

The other part of the exercise was measuring the worst case against potential gain. In my case, it was permanent, long run freedom. Which, I got! So, well worth the risk.

A Short History of Nearly Everything

I read it at ~18 and can easily draw a direct line between it and going into research, but I wish I had read it a few years earlier and became interested in science sooner. Maybe I would've actually done my homework in high school.

I agree. This book changed my perspective. Up until I read this book, I largely accepted the stories told by my family and religion. It wasn't until I learned the painstaking work and effort that went into scientific research that I began to trust it. This book does a great job of describing some of science's greatest discoveries and the people behind the effort to uncover them. It's also lightweight and sort of fun.

A Mathematician's Lament, by Paul Lockhart. Also, i'm not completely sure about this, because i had to have my eyes a bit open to understand it. But would be nice to had readed it in my sixteens.

Basically, one of the important ideas i saved was; If you want to learn something, don't just simply study. First, find a problem that care you, then try to solve it, last, study how to actually solve it, maybe existed a better way that you could use for your next try, making easier to you to understand everything related to that problem and say with confidence you learned; maybe didn't existed a better way, and you can share and discuss your solution achieving a better one.

Find problems, solve them, make them easier, learn.

Then, make that general for all your life problems, not only those science related ones.

Dale Carnegie, How to win friends and influence people. The book had opened my mind on how people react to criticism.

Human Relationships, Steve Duck. Relationships are so important in life, and not at all obvious for everyone, yet we are all left to ourselves on them.

From my standpoint, this is one of the most overrated books of all times.

I stopped reading it somewhere in the middle because it did not tell me anything new at all.

I understand we are all different and have our strengths and weaknesses, what is totally obvious to you is probably a new concept to me.

I agree that most of the advice is pretty obvious if you reflect on your and other people's behavior. Also, I grew pretty tired of always using a string of anecdotes as support. Sometimes they don't even seem to fit the current chapter.

However, I think the important point of the book is that Carnegie succinctly collects a small number of behaviors that will improve your social life if you apply them. So you might not learn something new in the book, but hopefully it will teach you to focus on these known things instead.

"Most overrated" - means that you've heard from a lot of people who liked it a lot more than you, got a lot out of it.

I read a lot of movie user reviews on IMDb, and often people rant angrily about incredibly overrated movies, with the impression they're saying something about the movie and not about themselves. Maybe they feel smarter or better than the people who liked it. As if not being able to appreciate something is a virtue.

Anyway, why try to stop people reading a book millions have learnt something from?

> Anyway, why try to stop people reading a book millions have learnt something from?

That was not my intention, to stop someone from reading it. I explicitly said that:

> I understand we are all different and have our strengths and weaknesses, what is totally obvious to you is probably a new concept to me.

Sure, I understand. But a comment saying just "I learnt nothing from that book." wouldn't be worth posting on here, not substantive. People talking about overratedness sound like they're on a mission to right a wrong. I appreciated your change of tack; originally I had sentences in my previous comment saying your first sentence read like you wrote it before you read the book, and your third like you wrote it after, but I deleted them. :-)

It is fascinating though how the most common subject in lists like this on here seems to be How to Win Friends and people saying it's great, other people saying it's overrated, not worth reading. Another thing I learnt from those movie reviews was that someone writing about why they love something is usually far more worth reading—is for much better reasons, says more about the thing—than someone not liking it, which often depends on arbitrary personal factors - not being advanced enough to appreciate it, being too advanced, feeling misled by the advertising or word-of-mouth, preferring or being used to a different style etc

I thought about my comment and also yours, you made think about why I wrote this.

I probably want other readers to remind that they should not blindly trust recommendations from HN.

Edit: If everyone agree's on something, new readers will more likely accept the fact that this book is worth buying, but if a few say the opposite, the reader has to evaluate before buying.

I once bought the book 'garry kasparov - how life imitates chess' because of HN reviews, It was probably the worst book I've ever read, full of obvious things.

Which book are referring to? Human Relationships or the Dale Carnegie book?

Dale Carnegie

I wish I could live more by the insights of this book.

also given its content the real title should be "How to win friends and manipulate people."

While it is certainly true on some level, I think Carnegie chose not to use "manipulate" for a reason: It's not so much about getting them to do what you want, but to see the issue from all sides and choose a path that is beneficial to you both. He also repeatedly stresses honesty ("honest appreciation"). So even if there is some amount of manipulation, it's still mainly about seeing everybody as a person and working together.

Here's a chart I found useful for translating the precepts of the book into a more actionable form: https://labs.thesocietea.org/carnegie-chart/

The book the 48 laws of power is about manipulation which I don't like. I consider Carnegie's book, The 7 habits of highly effective people excellent books to learn how to help other people through win-win situations.

Right off the bat, here you go:

1. The 7 habits of highly successful people (Stephen Covey)

2. The Miracle Morning (Hal Elrod)

3. Business Model Generation (Aelxander Osterwalder)

4. The Art Of War (Sun Tzu)

5. The E-myth, why most businesses don't work and what to do about it (Michel Gerber)

6. Made In Japan (Founder of Sony, Akio Morita)

7. How to win friends and influence people (Dale Carnegie)

Probably I missed a few more, but I think these ones are a good start.

Just to plus one - also really enjoyed "The Miracle Morning". Great way to think about structuring your day, and a short read. Earlier may or may not help, but should be read at a time when you are striving to improve yourself, but maybe not finding the success you wish.

Why "The Art Of War"? - I've read it with pleasure but tbh I've never known how to use those thought...

Is it relevant to read Made In Japan now? And, what're the key takeaways?

+1 for the E-myth, a must read for anyone who wants to run a business.

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. It's astonishing to get useful, relevant advice on how to conduct yourself across two millenia. I recommend the translation by Gregory Hays, which removes the academic feel of other translations, and so makes them relevant and, at least in my case, actionable.

Couldn't agree more. This book truly deserves the "timeless" epithet. A book to revisit every few years at minimum.

For anyone who finds Marcus Aurelius a bit dry and inhuman, Seneca's letters are a gentle and applicable way to begin a journey in Stoicism.

Count of Monte Cristo and East of Eden.

I'm happy to have had the chance to read these books twice (first in my early 20s, again in my late 30s), but I only wish I could compare my experiences with a first reading during my early teens or pre-teen years.

East of Eden...so good.

Nine Hundred Grandmothers by R.A. Lafferty. Timeless and immortal: http://www.conceptualfiction.com/nine_hundred_grandmothers.h...

Anything on vision therapy/improvement, e.g. https://gettingstronger.org/2016/03/faq-for-vision-improveme...

Grit by Angela Duckworth [1].

I wish I read this back in my high school days. It's a different thing learning hard work and grit from a book than the constant "nagging" I get from my parents. The latter came in on my left ear and went out the right ear almost instantly. I was a lazy kid back then despite getting relatively good grades in school. I've learned to become grittier on my current day job (there's always something to fight for, especially as part of a startup riddled with uncertainties), but I kinda wish I could go back and pick this book up if it was available/released back then. Would have helped me better understand college applications too.

[1] - http://a.co/gJnmxfR

does her book talk down on you? every interview I've heard her on turned me off from wanting to even look at her book. also from her interview she cherry picks a lot of examples.

The Stranger by Camus, because it introduced me to the complete lack of objectivism in society, a revelation that explained a lot of things I had experienced in my life. In fact I did read it in my 20's, but it took me years to comprehend it.

Then, every CS textbook I have written, because there was nothing like these when I needed them.

Trust Me, I'm Lying by Ryan Holliday

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

I read both a couple years ago and was fascinated (and annoyed) by how many of the little tricks and tactics I recognized in sales, in the news, and really in every day life. Reading them didn't make me immune to any of it but now I'm aware and try to think more critically about what I see and hear.

another Cialdini fan!

You're going to love "How to lie with statistics"

Anthem by Ayn Rand. It’s really short and a tad trite but really made me rethink things. Still the only book I have read in a single sitting.

The Art of UNIX Programming. 10 years ago me really could have used it, feel like I wasted way too much time figuring out things this would have explained. Honestly I don’t know if I had been ready to hear it though.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity by David Allen. Whether as a recent graduate toiling with life decisions or as a recent graduate student juggling life, work, and school, I read this book about 2 to 5 years too late.

"Letters from a Stoic" by Seneca

"The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins

"Deep Work" by Cal Newport

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

+1 for The Selfish Gene, one of the best books I've read. If you have any interest in the process of evolution/natural selection, I highly recommend it. It's not as "political" or explicitly atheistic as some of Dawkins' more recent work either, so people who have a negative opinion of that sort of thing shouldn't be turned off by his name being on it.

It really is sad how many people would use a man's political leanings in the 2010s to dismiss the scientific book that made him famous in the 1970s.

Godel, Escher, Bach. I hated math for most of high-school, but I read this book between semesters and it changed my career choice.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

It changed the way I think and most of my existing ideas.

I'll second this one. Very easy to read and flows really well in my opinion. He builds up ideas very naturally with just the right balance of academic and colloquial.

This book didn’t exist until that long ago, so it doesn’t seem like a fair choice for “I wish I had read this when I was younger”.

In my opinion the goal of a thread like this isn't to share missed opportunities but to highlight potential opportunities for readers today.

I was wondering about that, but even if I'd read it in 2012 I would have benefited more than when I finally found it. And seeing as this is hypothetical, why not "books I wish I had read if they had existed earlier"..

I read many books on philosophy, sociology, and tons of literature when I was young. I wish I would have read Algebra 1-3, Analysis 1-2, Mathematical Statistics etc.

I daresay the former stood you in better stead. There's enough time for learning statistics when you really need it.

btw, Algebra Chapter 0 is excellent

are these the titles? who is the author?

there is something to be said for finding the right book at the right time.

^ this. I read Paul Graham's, What You'll Wish You'd Known when I was in high school and it was like "okay great I get it" and only now after reading it again recently has it become "wow, now I feel it."

And for me it seems to boil down to feeling the message rather than knowing it. Someone can tell you to work out and stay in shape, but sometimes it takes hitting a personal low to make a permanent change.

Meditations. Its passages have become a sort of canon for my life.

'Impro' by Keith Jonstone.

It appears, superficially, to be a handbook about the art of improvisation in theatre. But it's actually a book packed with wisdom about the ontology of creativity, the facilitation of learning, and how most human interaction is an interplay of "statua transactions".

The chapter on status is alone worth reading, and something I wish I were aware of as a younger man.

Thinking, Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman

The Richest Man in Babylon - George Samuel Clason

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert M. Pirsig

How to Win Friends and Influence People - Dale Carnegie

This is such a beautiful thread!

The Psychopath Code [1], by Peter Hintjens. You can download a free legal copy.

Psychopaths and sociopaths are out there: they're about five to ten percent of the population. Once you've had your life intertwined with one, you'll never see the world the same. Know how to identify them and deal with them.

I learned about Peter Hintjens and his book when his death was reported here on Hacker News.

[1] http://hintjens.com/blog:_psychopaths

Slaughterhouse-Five, Galapagos, Sirens of Titan

Basically, any Kurt Vonnegut book that isn't Cat's Cradle (good but overrated).

Bias note: I'm still young, but these shaped me easily.

The Divided Self + The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise + The Politics of the Family - all by RD Laing

Civilization and its Discontents - Freud

Capitalist Realism - Mark Fisher

Gateless Gate - Mu-men? Very old Chinese mystical text that somehow resonated w me considerably..

Neuromancer - William Gibson

Snowcrash - Neal Stephenson

Inherent Vice (currently reading and enjoying a lot! - loved the movie so much I got the book but I think I enjoy the book way more even) - Thomas Pynchon

I have 4:

-Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography - you can download it for free

- Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell - A bit simplistic but it opens your eye to the fact that talent is a small part of being successful in whatever you want to achieve.

- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie - You need people to succeed. Making enemies or just treating people indifferently is a bad move.

- 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen R. Covey. People put it down because the advice seems to be common sense but it's only common sense if you know it but not everyone knows it.

- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius- this is a lifelong guide. Read it until the pages fall apart and then get another and do the same.

All these books can be read multiple times and you'll learn something new so get hard copies if you can.

Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

Here's a brand new one, from a famous history podcaster, Mike Duncan of The History of Rome fame.

The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic

It would have been great if everyone had read this in the 80s, 90s, 2000s...

An under-analyzed period of Roman history.

I'll echo Duncan's tHoR podcast. It is really good.

How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff. How much of what you read is really true?

Moby Dick

I'm halfway through it. I'd held off on reading it for years just due to its reputation but I'm finding it incredibly enjoyable, humorous, and in many ways not at all what I was expecting.

I read it earlier in life, and I don't think I got as much out of it as if I'd read it later.

I was so stubborn that any book, even one that foretold my exact future, would not have gotten through to me. Even now I struggle to impart any pearls of wisdom into my daily life.

The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand

The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins

How To Win Friends And Influence People - Dale Carnegie

The Game - Neil Strauss

The Four Steps To The Epiphany - Steve Blank

... among others.

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. An easily digestible summary of information and key figures in its history.

Turing's Cathedral (or as my brothers call it: Von Neumann's Cathedral). An awesome account of the history of computation, and the obstacles that had to be overcome.

Cryptonomicon. Hilarious

The Strangest Man, by Graham Farmelo. A biography of delightfully awkward Paul Dirac.

The Library of Babel, by Jorge Luis Borges. Thought provoking and profound.

My five year old is a voracious reader. I feel like this is one of the most important educational tools you can give anyone. We stress to her that if you can read, and comprehend, there's nothing you cannot learn. That's why I included the first two on this list.

How to Read a Book - Mortimer Adler

How to Read Slowly - James Sire

The Personal MBA - Josh Kaufman

The Intelligent Investor - Benjamin Graham

Think and Grow Rich - Napoleon Hill

How to Win Friends and Influence People - Dale Carnegie

"The Logic of Failure" by Dietrich Dorner. Sort of an applied "Heuristics and Biases".

"The Moral Animal" by Robert Wright. It unlocked the reasons why my impulses and aspirations were at such odds.

"The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin". Very practical advice for how to better oneself.

Caveat: Reading them earlier is one thing. Appreciating them is another.

Capital by picketty, and Dictators handbook

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

It appeals to a certain type of thinker. For me, it was for confirmation that there was another individual in the universe whose brain worked like mine. This alone was a revelation, even aside from the book's profundity.

This is ongoing practice: Zen mind, Beginner's mind https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_Mind,_Beginner%27s_Mind

The Book and The Wisdom of Insecurity, both by Alan Watts. Then I could have inoculated myself from the myopic obsession with eco-consciousness promoted by the rest of the books in this thread.

The Drunkard's Walk by Mlodinow. Really reshaped how I perceive what happens in the world, in my job, in my life in general.

Technomanifestos by Adam Brate. I never had any introduction to the history of information technology until I read this book.

* Total Freedom by J Krishnamurti

* Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

* Wit and Wisdom from Poor Richard's Almanack by Benjamin Franklin

* Influence by Robert B. Cialdini

The one I'm about to finish: The Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development [1]

Wish I had read this years ago! I think every developer can benefit greatly from understanding these principles. Plus if they were more widely known and adopted it would be easier to get other managers to go along with them.

[1] http://amzn.to/2GL17hs (affiliate link)

I would give your post a lot more respect if it wasn't an affiliate link.

non affiliate link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1935401009

In Fifty Years, We'll All Be Chicks, by Adam Carolla.

I should have read fifteen years ago, but it hadn't been written yet.

The Dice Man - Luke Rhinehart once you hand over your life to the dice, anything can happen

The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley. Debatable but opened up a new perspective for me.

Could you elaborate on the new perspective for you? What was the previous one?

I was intrigued by the title and looked up the book and found this review, and it seems to bring up some good points.


I felt drowned in pessimism from media, culture, and family for most of my life up to that point, and this book opened up an optimistic perspective on global prosperity, health, violence, education, work, inequality, environment, etc. It makes rational arguments for this general optimism rather than hand-wavey optimism. I think it can be summarized as: "Things aren't so bad for the average human and are improving in most of the important ways. We've hit on patterns (science, markets, etc.) that seem to work, and we should continue to work at making things even better."

Thanks, appreciate the detail :)

I very much agree with that philosophy and would consider myself a rational optimist if I had to label, hence the intrigue.

While optimism is good, I think it needs to be paired with equally important perspective. As that review points out, the general trend doesn't mean we can't go backward for long periods of time in multiple areas. That optimism needs to be paired with a push for improvement over complacency, which I think is the easy comfort optimism can give.

Sorry if this is preaching to the choir, but hopefully someone gains value out of this.

Edited because I just trailed off in the middle of a thought on my first go round.

Just responded with a separate reply on the critique. I agree we have to be careful with excessive optimism.

I just read that review, and it's been years since I've read the book, but here are my thoughts on what I see as the substantive points in the critique:

1. Climate change: Ridley calls himself a "luke-warmer". He doesn't deny that a doubling of carbon dioxide causes a 1 degree celsius increase in temperature, but he accumulates various evidence in the book suggesting that estimated feedback effects (water vapor, etc.) are in excess of what's likely. This claim certainly falls into one of the debatable aspects of the book and I'm not an expert to really evaluate it. I think it's a valid criticism that Ridley is excessively optimistic on existential risks. My guess is that he has a Bayesian prior that dooms-dayers are more likely to be wrong than not. He has many examples in the book of experts predicting existential risks in history and being wrong, and I think this colors his view of all experts. I think those historical examples of wrong doomsdayers is an interesting and important perspective.

2. Societal Collapse: I believe Ridley wrote about how the black plague may have been an important catalyst in igniting the renaissaince, so I don't remember him making teleological arguments. I don't think Ridley ever claimed that there won't be problems or collapse, but simply that if you look at the aggregate statistics, humans have been improving dramatically in the last few thousand years, largely driven by new forms of energy in the last few hundred years.

3. Materialism: I don't understand this critique. I already see evidence of movements forming to help people find more meaningful lives: the scientific field of Positive Psychology and Meaning-in-life research by professors such as Dr. Steger, The School of Life, etc.

A Mind for Numbers - Barbara Oakley

I spent a lot of time studying, but not learning effectively.

"The Beginning of Infinity" by David Deutsch

Wish I read earlier:

The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa

the art of living - Epictetus, Sharon Lebell


War and Peace

Crime and Punishment

Count of Monte Christo


God of Small Things

Paradise lost

Divine comedy

Non fiction

Selfish gene


Madness explained (the best book I've encountered for explaining how the mind works)

The Red Queen

Tao te Ching

Simulacra and Simulation

"Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion", by Sam Harris

I wish I hadn’t ever read Ayn Rand’s books. They were a waste of time and a distraction for too many years. I’ll say this though, I’m glad I grew up and I’m glad that when I got to the end of the Fountainhead I had already figured out what was wrong with her. If not for that, I wouldn’t have recovered.

I’ve heard this, too. For those of us, like myself, that don’t realistically expect to read her books, what was wrong with her and why do you regret reading them?

This links to a lot of good stuff:


As a philosophy / ethics person who has studied and read a lot of philosophers and never her, even from basic argument structures of hers there are fallacies galore that show no sign of being addressed.

I think the view is a magnet towards selfish people looking for justification of their views. I think her arguments, when viewed objectively (ironically), have the effect mentioned in the top level comment of pushing people away from the pitfall conclusions she makes.

This links to a lot of good stuff

It's interesting that the argument in the main article there seems to be "Rand should not be taken seriously - as an academic philosopher". That is not the same statement as "Rand should not be taken seriously".

For those of us, like myself, that don’t realistically expect to read her books,

Your reasons for feeling that way are, of course, your own, and I'm hardly one to tell you to do otherwise. But if I could offer any comment on this, let me just say this: there is a LOT of what I would call "caricaturized misrepresentation" of Rand and Rand's work out there in the wild. If your view on reading Rand is based on what you've heard about her from others, I'd strongly suggest you consider carefully if you can trust what you've been told.

On the flip-side, I'll also say this: while I personally am sympathetic to a lot of Rand's thinking / philosophy, I do think she did herself a mis-service in the way she chose to use the words "selfish" and "altruism". That is to say, her usage, while possibly pedantically correct, runs somewhat counter to the common vernacular usage, and it makes it unreasonably easy to misinterpret her meaning, or to impute things that aren't there, whether intentionally or otherwise.

Just to give an over-simplified example of what I mean... Rand never really said, say, "don't give to the poor". But she probably said something roughly like "don't give to the poor because of altruism, do it out of selfish self interest." To anybody educated in the last 30 years or so, that probably sounds very weird, because we tend to assume that "altruism" means something like "a desire to do good to others, like, for example, giving to the poor". But in her world-view, "altruism" was actually just a facade used to misdirect people and get them to buy into a mindset of subjugating the individual to the whims of the collective (and by implication, the self-appointed, corrupt, elitist rulers of the collective). The latter group of people being what she referred to as "moochers" in some of her works.

Likewise, in today's vernacular the word "selfish" has a meaning that's almost negative by its very definition. That is, to say that anything is done for "selfish" reasons is to assume a lack of charity, lack of empathy, a disregard for the welfare of others, evil motives, etc. But that isn't what Rand meant. When she says do things for selfish reasons, she really means "do things because they're what you, as rational, thinking, individual choose to do, without being coerced or manipulated". A person who holds to Rand's ideas can behave in a way that is 180 degrees removed from what we generally think of as "selfish" and still be acting in the "selfish" way that Rand advocates.

Anyway... that got longer than I meant for it to. I'll just finish by saying that I think most people should consider reading at least some of Rand's works and form their own opinions of what she is promoting, rather than simply accepting someone else's interpretation (including mine).

Also: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/201...

Rand addressed your comment about "selfish" being a pejorative (and "altruism" being a positive) in detail in the introduction to her work "The Virtue of Selfishness".


The title of this book may evoke the kind of question that I hear once in a while: “Why do you use the word ‘selfishness’ to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not mean the things you mean?”

To those who ask it, my answer is: "For the reason that makes you afraid of it.”

But there are others, who would not ask that question, sensing the moral cowardice it implies, yet who are unable to formulate my actual reason or to identify the profound moral issue involved. It is to them that I will give a more explicit answer.


I think we agree that people should read Rand firsthand and judge for themselves.

> let me just say this: there is a LOT of what I would call "caricaturized misrepresentation" of Rand and Rand's work out there in the wild.

This cannot be overstated enough. I read Atlas Shrugged (no other Rand books) and seriously feel I must have read a different book than the one that gets such vitriol spat at it on a constant basis.

And that vitriol? It's typically attacking strawmen that I never remotely picked up from the book.

I think the strangest thing about it all is you get plenty of folks saying how the current government are ayn rand acolytes... If they are, they are certainly doing it wrong. Atlas Shrugged basically described and warned about exactly what is going on in government today - regulatory capture, corruption, gains going to the folks who do absolutely nothing vs. those providing value, etc. Essentially exactly what is going on in the government and corporate America today - it's more profitable to play politics than it is to be productive and produce something of value via hard work.

Make no mistake: In Ayn Rand's world Trump is one of the moochers and would be one of the leading villains if he was a character in Atlas Shrugged. It's almost comical how much he would fit right into that plot.

So I really feel I got something out of it that is about the opposite from everyone else. I also don't understand why it rubs people the wrong way at such a fundamental level. I have to say it makes me somewhat suspicious of such people - if they can twist meanings around so effectively to fit their narrative and have such strong feelings about that fabrication I wonder where else in their life and beliefs they are doing the same.

In the end Atlas Shrugged was an overly verbose book that contained some semi-interesting parables and then smacked you with them repeatedly for 1500 pages. I mostly enjoyed it and it certainly made me think - but I wouldn't even put it in my top 10 of "life changing" books out there.

Though I have never read Ayn Rand (and from now on I will be more cautious if I decide to read her books) I can't second more the point of your message about the existence of some books/theories that should be avoided at best. To add to your example, when I was about 16-17 I came in touch with the various strains and ideas of European nationalisms, I have read on topic extensively, rapidly abandoned the topic after two years of reading about it, but right now I clearly see how toxic and distortive the ideas of nationalism have been on my word view. I have abandoned them long ago consciously, but up until now a strain of thought most typical for the practitioners of nationalism may come to my reasoning from time to time, randomly and in most surprising places. It has so easily penetrated the whole corpus of knowledge I have got about this world, so that even now I need to carefully inspect my own thought on whether they are infiltrated by stereotypical nationalistic waste of any kind.

But, put it the other way round, I once thought that the toxic books containing easy-to-understand, sometimes appealing, but deeply-flawed or useless theories are a very good (but somewhat dangerous) way to exercise mind to check whether the mind is mature enough to stand the lure of a toxic book: if your world view withheld the pressure of the book to adopt its theory, then you passed the test, otherwise you are probably f*cked in a long term.

If you want to obliterate any last remnant of nationalist thinking from your mind, read Ayn Rand. Or read The Ominious Parallels by Leonard Peikoff, one of her students.

I agree, and further suggest Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations as a book people should read early on. Anyone familiar with subsequent developments in economics will find things to disagree with, but it's important to know what he actually said instead of the self-justifying caricature presented by Rand and her ilk. If you go on to read Theory of Moral Sentiments the contrast becomes even more clear.

I would like to know what you thought was wrong.

She has a naive understanding of economics, but I find her commentary on cronyism and shallow thinking spot on. I also identify with the struggle of the heroes in Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and strive to maintain their resolve.

Edit: Also, everyone should at least read Anthem. It's a quick ~6 hour read.

What do you find naive?

I’ve heard many people say that.

You actually managed to finish them? I couldn't haha

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