Which books that you read while younger do you wish you'd followed more closely / taken to heart more?
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.
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.
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:
"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."
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..)
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.
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.
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.
> We can live very productive, moral and full lives without reading anything.
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.
The reason for that is added chapters about mobile usability. That addition made the book a bit noisier and somewhat hard to follow.
* Books you wish you had read earlier?
* What books have made the biggest impact on your mental models?
* Books on specific topics that have applied to many areas of your life?
* Books with a high signal to noise ratio?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 probably want other readers to remind that they should not blindly trust recommendations from HN.
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.
also given its content the real title should be
"How to win friends and manipulate people."
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.
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.
Anything on vision therapy/improvement, e.g. https://gettingstronger.org/2016/03/faq-for-vision-improveme...
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.
 - http://a.co/gJnmxfR
Then, every CS textbook I have written, because there was nothing like these when I needed them.
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.
You're going to love "How to lie with statistics"
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.
"The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins
"Deep Work" by Cal Newport
"Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" by Jared Diamond
It changed the way I think and most of my existing ideas.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
-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.
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'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.
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.
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.
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.
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
"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.
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.
* Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
* Wit and Wisdom from Poor Richard's Almanack by
* Influence by Robert B. Cialdini
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.
 http://amzn.to/2GL17hs (affiliate link)
non affiliate link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1935401009
I should have read fifteen years ago, but it hadn't been written yet.
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 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.
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.
I spent a lot of time studying, but not learning effectively.
The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa
War and Peace
Crime and Punishment
Count of Monte Christo
God of Small Things
Madness explained (the best book I've encountered for explaining how the mind works)
The Red Queen
Tao te Ching
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.
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".
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).
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.
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.
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.
Edit: Also, everyone should at least read Anthem. It's a quick ~6 hour read.