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Ask HN: Which books have made you introspect?
513 points by deathWasp271 on May 11, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 374 comments
Hi all, Nearly an year ago, I faced a life-shattering crisis that completely wrecked my world view. Since then I have rebuilt up from scratch, and I have found that a lot of the things that I used to believe were false. Books such as Man's Search for Meaning have been very pivotal in that regard. What books could you recommend for the same?

I highly recommend 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.

This book gave me the courage to take responsibility in my life and start working towards things which are important for myself. As the author once said, you don't get not to pay a price, you only get what price to pay.

It actually gave me the courage to leave Berlin and go back to my country(Romania) which even though is more poor and low in quality of public services, my friends and family are there and they are a priority for me right now.

It also thought me to make small changes in my every day life even though is something as small as cleaning my room. And these small changes give me enough confidence to pursue bigger ones like quitting smoking for good.

This book was not worth the hype for me; I read the whole thing, but regret purchasing it.

- It sorely needed an editor. Echoing other's sentiments, it could have been < 1/3 of its length. The writing style was rambling, overly emphatic, and arguments were often not coherent.

- It used a gratuitous amount of Bible quotes, which

  1. weren't necessary to make his point,

  2. were often referenced as if they were data, and how people actually behave, rather than anecdotes/fiction
I got suckered into to buying the book because the author is a compelling public speaker. I enjoy his lectures.

In retrospect, though, part of what makes him a compelling public speaker are his highly emotional arguments, which don't seem to be founded on great reasoning, and therefore make for a bad book, since we have more time to be critical about arguments when reading.

This[1] is worth reading.

"Jordan Peterson's popularity is the sign of a deeply impoverished political and intellectual landscape"

[1] https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/03/the-intellectual-we-d...

I'm sorry but the first paragraph is very unfair and not true in my opinion.

You can figure out for yourself, watch this debate and tell me if Peterson is the type of person described in the article.


I promise I'll read your full article beyond the first paragraph :)

The article mentions that interview and concedes Peterson comes out stronger there.

I think both had strong arguments at times.

Quite fascinating discussion, like watching a match of intellectual boxing :)

I recommend reading the whole article.

Things are busy at work today, but I'll check it out when I have some time. If you could point me to a shorter clip within the almost 2 hours video, I will be more likely to look at it.

You can watch anytime at least the first 20 minutes. I just wanted to give a counter example to the first paragraph of the article which describe him like an opaque person who doesn't listen. I particularly like this debate because it shows he can have a decent conversation with a well known atheist and he actually listens to him. That's why I find the first paragraph really off which makes me having some doubts about the whole article. But I will read it nevertheless.

He did not came particularly well off in that debate.

I think both had their good points at times. Anyway, the debate shows a man different than the one described in the article. That's why I posted it

The author of this article either didn't actually read 12 Rules for Life or already made up their mind before going in.

> Jordan Peterson appears very profound and has convinced many people to take him seriously. Yet he has almost nothing of value to say.

The irony of this is that the author himself has nothing of real value to say. (See, I said it so it must be true)

I won't lie: My first reaction was to say "This is BS" to a lot of what JP writes and talks about - particularly biblical references as an atheist.

But then I realized much of what he is saying is true - and it personally hits my ego in such a way that the reaction is pretty much revulsion/dismissal.

Can it be written more concisely? Probably. But he is an academic afterall...

FWIW: If you enjoy his lecture style / cadence - try his Audiobook version. I would likely have a tough time with reading his book - but the audiobook format delivers like his youtube lectures, which IMO are very well done.

Peterson is very good at speaking and lecturing (practice makes perfect!) and I enjoy his work. That said, his tack is largely an updated stoic philosophy. A good idea, don't get me wrong. Still, if you liked his book, I'd go back and read more about stoicism. Here are some suggestion, but if anyone else has others, please chime in:




> updated stoic philosophy

No, it's not. Stoicism has much more depth and the Stoics would not agree with Peterson on many things. Stoicism also doesn't need to be updated.

I mean, his 12 points are pretty stock Stoicism, with a 21st century spin. By my reading, he's not entirely stoicism, true, but he sits in the adjacent seat. If he is this popular with (as I see it) his re-skinned stoicism, then the conclusion that 'stoicism needed an update' is not unreasonable, as it seems to resonate better with the re-skin than without. Caveats, obviously, apply.

I think its unreasonable. Popularity and quality are often at odds with one another.

Adam Sandler has earned people more money from movies than almost anyone. That doesn't mean Anthony Hopkins needed an update.

The way he talks about religion, I think he's way into Jungian archetypes and psychoanalysis and shit.

I originally thought his critique of postmodernism/continental philosophy and stuff was interesting, reminiscent of chomsky

His thesis on alcoholism is interesting, clearly he's atleast a decent psychologist. Reminds me of my aunt, psychologist at U. of Missouri, really interested in carl jung and religion.

IQ testing and personality tests always seemed broken to me. What is IQ measuring? Personality tests seem like arbitary categories. All of this is based on frequentist statistics (factor analysis), wonder if there's a bayesian perspective but I have no idea what i'm talking about honestly, especially compared to Peterson.

I can't stand his economic views, they're similar to Joe Rogan's "classical liberal"/market fundamentalist views. I like Kevin Carson's word: vulgar libertarianism:

"Vulgar libertarian apologists for capitalism use the term 'free market' in an equivocal sense: they seem to have trouble remembering, from one moment to the next, whether they’re defending actually existing capitalism or free market principles. So we get [a] standard boilerplate article… arguing that the rich can’t get rich at the expense of the poor, because 'that’s not how the free market works'— implicitly assuming that this is a free market. When prodded, they’ll grudgingly admit that the present system is not a free market, and that it includes a lot of state intervention on behalf of the rich. But as soon as they think they can get away with it, they go right back to defending the wealth of existing corporations on the basis of 'free market principles.'"

Peterson is openly "way into" Jungian archetypes and psychoanalysis and shit.

Sorry to hear that. While I agree that the book could have been shorter I'm honestly curios about two things:

1. Do you regularly apply some of these rules in your life?

2. What arguments were not logical in your view?

The Bible is data. It's a collection of texts with its own [secular] field of study.

Peterson's thesis is something like the following: that the early biblical stories constitute a kind of dominant eigenvector of human cognition and experience, what you get when you iteratively retell a story over a hundred generations.

To dismiss this as anecdotes or fiction is very much to miss the point of what Peterson is trying to do.

It's hard for me to see why this logic points to the Bible and not the Odyssey or the Iliad, about which we could say much the same things (especially the Iliad, which shows clear marks of some parts of the story being much older than others). Or frankly any very old text with pre-literary roots.

I am certainly pro-Bible, but in the terms you're putting it here it doesn't seem especially compelling.

It doesn't uniquely pick out the Bible, except to the extent that Western civilization was shaped far more thoroughly by the Bible than by Homer.

> It sorely needed an editor. Echoing other's sentiments, it could have been < 1/3 of its length.

So like every self help book ever?

For some reason I am repulsive towards 'self-help' books. I always have a feeling that you just cannot sum up all the things to be "happy" or "content" or whatever in one book. I have seen numerous people who read inspirational quotes/books but the act the opposite way. I feel it is very difficult to change how the internals of a person work, reading a book will definitely push you in the right direction, motivate you, elate you, change your mental models[0]. But to bring those changes in your actual life, seems quite difficult and time consuming. Can your "mental model" be modified just by reading 1-2 books ?

I am interested to know, how often when you face a situation, you stop and think, oh I read this and that in a book, I should act this way instead of my natural intuition to do the other way.

Given the limited experience with life I have and the fact that I haven't read any of the self-help books, I am willing to change my perspective regarding this. Will give a shot to '12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.'

[0] => "It’s Okay to “Forget” What You Read" https://medium.com/the-polymath-project/its-okay-to-forget-w...

If I read a 300 page book and it has even just one sentence that somehow speaks to me and makes me introspect or reconsider or change some mental model I have, I absolutely find it with while. Sometimes the one encounter is enough to cause change (though sometimes it takes a while for my brain to change/adapt), and sometimes it takes multiple encounters with the idea.

IMO any book can be categorized as "self-help" - most business books I read, psychology books, biographies, etc, I read to enjoy, and the best ones (the ones I tend to enjoy the most and remember) are those that I'm changed by (ie. improved) in some way.

People get too caught up in labeling things instead of trying it out and seeing it works for you. You can read (for example) a celebrity gossip magazine and finish with great personal insights - the probability is just low - but if you do, awesome! Same goes with "self-help" books.

I also think it's highly dependent on timing. A book one year may have no meaning to you in one moment but be life changing in a future moment. It's the difference between reading things applicable to your situation now vs future need - the former approach is generally much better.

This is how I feel about this book (12 Rules for Life). I was actually just thinking about his 'Tell The Truth' chapter just last night. It's such a simple concept, but if you find yourself lying, even to yourself, you find that ultimately it snowballs into a worse problem in the future. Even if this is all I got out of the book (which it isn't) it's absolutely worth the read.

Do you really need a 300 page book to tell you that you're not fortunate enough to be the first person in recorded history that doesn't ever lie to other people? Do you need it to tell you that you're also not the first person in recorded history to be free of bias (self-deception)? What do you think about the linked article's assessment of the summary of principles? This is the first time I've heard of this guy and the princicples, along with everything else the author quoted sound just as vapid as he suggests.

I really think happiness is just a result of our brains filtering out unpleasant facts, we learn that the whole childhood; how can you be happy if:

1. the whole nature is based on preying on the weak, and that's mandatory for survival; right now some animal "kid" is being eaten alive by some predator without "empathy" of any kind

2. at this very moment some person that might be relatable to you in some special way (like a perfect fit for a friend or partner) is having a really bad day, like dying-bad

3. the amount of sophistication in cheating each other might be one of the main factors in developing many forms of language, behavior or even science

4. health statistics aren't about others; they are all about me and you, we all are going to end up in one category or the other; often we have no say in it as our destruction is already programmed inside us

5. whatever you worked on hard all your life can be gone from one moment to another; earthquake, volcanic eruption, storm or even divorce can strike any time

6. even if you dedicate your life to something amazing, become rich, respected, adored or die a heroic death before you turn a villain, at best you will be a short, quite pointless remark in the history notes; however most likely you will be as important as a dust speck

7. excitement of novelty wears off quickly if you become a hedonist; going ascetic to lowest lows so that you can reach highest highs again will become pointless at some point as well and nothing will move you anymore

8. even if you believe in afterlife, vast majority of religions will tell you that almost everyone ends up in some sort of hell or won't make it to the "next stage of game"

If you frame happiness like that, then yes, it'll be hard to be happy. But happiness, I think, is not an objective state that you get to when all your expectations, desires and wants are met. That's just the story our primitive animal brains tell us, but the reality is that happiness is an inner mental state, and the influence that external factors have on us is just our own imagination.

We choose to be unhappy. By fixating on our wants, our worries, our anxieties, or desires, by refusing to be happy unless everything is exactly what and how we want, we don't let our body and our mind be. I think it's only when we let go of our destructive thoughts, when we let go of what has been and what will be, and just live in the present, in the moment, that we can experience a real state of happiness.

It sounds esoteric and counter-intuitive, I know. But just consider the thought. I personally find this to be more and more true the older I get.

I think it doesn't sound counterintuitive. The thing that's counterintuitive is that we're not in this state all the time (myself very much included).

Wow that's quite a depressing list, how long have you been curating it?

Assuming you won the birth lottery (no terminal illness, overall healthy, work in tech given you're on HN), then you are in the top echelon of society and success.

There are many things to be happy about e.g. volunteering to give back, settling down with a significant other, starting a family (or not), traveling the world, cooking, fixing cars, shooting guns, etc. While you partake in these activities (hobbies?) you can get lost in them and for brief moment, nothing else in the world matters i.e. your list. This gives you something to look forward to and a routine away from existential ideation.

Humans are social creatures and we've evolved this way. Generally speaking the majority of us derive happiness from the ones we care about in this weird thing we call life. Thanks for sharing the list!

All your points are true and I agree with them. When I raise similar viewpoints to some people they tend to regard me as pessimist, but I actually feel quite stable and happy with my life. I'm curious how do you feel or deal with the facts you listed here?

In my view, searching for happiness is a bit pointless in a world where everything is temporary and brutal in many ways. But there are things which you know you can avoid to not make your life a living hell(Peterson's words) such as doing excessive drugs and alcohol. As Charlie Munger used to say once is much easier to try to not be stupid than trying to be smart. I totally agree with that. After avoiding things which will make you miserable for sure, it all comes down to probability: it's still probable that life will f*ck you up in a grand way no matter how many good things you did. Just hope for the best and be very grateful if you're life is not a living hell now. Meaning is very important. Life itself is meaningless but we get to decide what it will mean in the end. When I decided to leave a good career to move back to a poor country because I wanted to be close to my family I gave a meaning to my life, which is "family is important to me and I will prioritize it no matter what".

Lastly, Peterson book is not about searching for happiness, is just a readme manual about dealing with chaos. Some ideas are not necessarily mind blowing, one can find good tips in stoicism, buddhism or whatever religion or philosophy. But his book can be a start.

> For some reason I am repulsive towards 'self-help' books.

I wouldn't classify 12 Rules of life as a typical 'self-help' book because Peterson is not a self-proclaimed self-help guru without any substance.

If you check his career section on Wikipedia you'll find out that "Peterson's areas of study and research are in the fields of psychopharmacology, abnormal, neuro, clinical, personality, social, industrial and organizational, religious, ideological, political, and creativity psychology. Peterson has authored or co-authored more than a hundred academic papers. Peterson has over 20 years of clinical practice, seeing 20 people a week, but in 2017, he decided to put the practice on hold because of new projects."

And he doesn't try to sell you the idea that life is beautiful and amazing, he actually agrees that life is tragic and brutal.

> I always have a feeling that you just cannot sum up all the things to be "happy" or "content" or whatever in one book

I agree to that. You cannot sum up all the things which make you happy or more content, but you can follow principles which increase the probability of success in what you want to do, such as "be a bit better tomorrow in some minor way"[1]

> I am interested to know, how often when you face a situation, you stop and think, oh I read this and that in a book, I should act this way instead of my natural intuition to do the other way.

Not every time, but more often than before reading that book. For example, I've read Feeling Good: The new mood therapy(another great book with a self-helpish title) and after reading that book I really started to put in practice some exercises in that book which by now they became almost automatic. For so much time I was a victim of cognitive distortions and now I finally found a way to beat them. And not only me. [3]

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cz2tYGt0_As

[2] https://www.amazon.com/Feeling-Good-New-Mood-Therapy/dp/0380...

[3] https://blog.ncase.me/nicky-reads-feeling-good/

I use so-called self-help books to find philosophies I resonate with but didn't know about. Basically, I improve my strengths by reading about principles I share with an author who has thought about it longer than I have.

>> I am interested to know, how often when you face a situation, you stop and think, oh I read this and that in a book, I should act this way instead of my natural intuition to do the other way.

This of course won't work.

But reading a book, finding a usefull tool in it, and practicing it until it become a part of your skills is possible.

This is absolutely true.

The way to change behavior is to actually change something and consistently practice that change.

It requires a great deal of commitment. Progress is generally slow. Set backs happen.

But if you actually change something and make it a diligent practice eventually it will be part of who you are.

There are a huge amount of people that read/share/talk about feel good life change quotes/books/etc that are doing nothing more than playing psychological tricks on themselves while avoiding the hard discouragingly long process that is required to make actual changes.

Well, there's also the fact that many of our problems are external, and can only be solved by interacting with others and making real change; your attitudes and lack of optimism are not the actual problem.

I loved the message of self-reliance and "bearing your burden" in the book personally, it really reminded me of Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. Could've done without all the religious metaphor but I understand the point of it being there.

He reframes religion (specifically Christianity and the Bible) as a symbolic guide to living as opposed to a historical text that should be taken at face value. i.e. God is a symbol for the greatest good. Christ is a symbol for the human ideal of that greatest good.

In his view, the value of the Bible is not as a pre-scientific historical account of the world. Instead, it's a survival guide for generations of people (who had no concept of science anyway) told in story form.

When I look at his religious metaphors in that light, they seem relevant and meaningful in the context of his 12 Rules.

How does viewing God and Christ as symbols for the greatest good make sense? If they existed and were anything remotely resembling what the Old and New Testaments describe they were incredibly immoral and psychopathic at various times.

I think we stand to learn quite a bit from reading the Christian bible, but I didn't walk away feeling like anyone should emulate the behavior on display.

If you want to understand why he uses religion so much as I did (I've always considered myself an atheist), his lecture series here goes into it in much greater depth: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL22J3VaeABQD_IZs7y60I...

He's dedicated his life in trying to explain why the atrocities of the 20th century happened and how they can be prevented. I believe he sees our rejection of religion as part of the problem but he understands that the way religion has been presented in modern times (last few centuries) is completely alienating given the rise of science. So he uses science to attempt to give a new meaning to the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of western society. I'd say the biggest precursors to his work are Darwin and Carl Jung.

So many people want to take away all the doctrines that make Christianity distinctive and then turn around and still call it Christianity. I can't understand the point of this exercise. What exactly does he think is the point of Christianity, if he doesn't believe in God?

> He's dedicated his life in trying to explain why the atrocities of the 20th century happened

Looking at what he published it seems he dedicated most of his life to researching the effects of alcoholism.

Also would you mind expanding on how he uses science to give new meaning to the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of Western society?

> Also would you mind expanding on how he uses science to give new meaning to the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of Western society?

The first lecture should give you a good idea, but if you're looking for discussion, I'd be willing to have it but we'd be here for hours. We'd have to get into philosophy and define terms like "science", "God", "society", etc. We'd then have to explore psychology and models of consciousness, like Jungian archetypes and Freud's subconscious. We could also cover biology and how some substances trigger spiritual experiences that have positive life-changing effects. All the while, we could relate these discussions to the stories of the Bible or chapters of the Tao Te Ching and why they are both at the very least profound and contagious.

I'll give the lecture a watch. I am more interested in how he approaches the subject. I've had my doubts out Peterson for a while since some of his views seem very regressive, however I haven't watched everything he has said.

I like you. Most of the people criticizing him didn’t bother to watch his lectures or read the book and still act like they know him.

But still that means he wants to believe in something that does not exist. The fact that we depend on God and religion is what actually takes our sight out of what is right in front of us which is family, kids, neighbors, little things, etc. Why do we need to attribute these things to God? Can’t we all be nice to each other without God?

> But still that means he wants to believe in something that does not exist. [...] Why do we need to attribute these things to God? Can’t we all be nice to each other without God?

I might be wrong but it doesn't sound like you've really read his material beyond 12 Rules for Life. It doesn't necessitate believing in something that does not exist but it will at least leave you with a deep respect for your subconscious and for the collective subconscious. That's enough to understand the value of religious stories. Once you're there, belief in God is your own business... it's not even clear if he believes in God and I'd say it's barely relevant.

Whether or not you believe God exists, ideas and stories about gods are part of the foundational myths of our society. Properly interpreted, they shed light on how the subconscious works.

You might try reading the book Sapiens by Noah Yuval Harari. Among other things, it shows how intersubjective realities such as human rights, religion, and money make civilization work, whether or not the objects of those stories 'exist'.

Have you read him? More, are you even trying to represent his position?

I don't think you have to fully understand or agree with him. In large, I don't. Your paragraph, though, is a gross deliberate misunderstanding of his view. :(

I actually read the book. Not sure what you mean by deliberate. I am being very clear. Instead of trying to bridge the gap or modernizing religion and continue to spread the myth in some shape or form, can’t you not use religious references to state your arguments?

You represent him as taking religion over family. This seems counter. And a false divide. Rather, he seemed to push to use religion to strengthen self. Strengthen self to strengthen family. Strengthen family to strengthen society.

Again, I don't necessarily agree. In large, I think he is familiar with a different nihilism than I am. I grant, however, that he probably knows the topics better than I. I certainly plan to dive deeper on it. In large because I disagree.

Yes, I could have done without the religious metaphor as well, I hope some potential readers will not be put off by this because it really is a great book. Something stayed with me after reading this book and I'm so glad I didn't give up when reading about too many religious analogies.

Peterson also gave a presentation about his book for those who are interested https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5RCmu-HuTg

I just finished the audible of this. The emotion in his voice for some of the more laden sections was tough. I confess I was almost in treats for the section of his daughter's health.

I have not reformulated my understanding of the rules. Definitely plan to.

Regardless, I second all you put here. Good luck on your decisions!

12 Rules for Life reads like a skilled astrologer would write: many vague clouded truisms, lots of exceptions, covers pretty much all bases.

No wonder people are getting insights out of the book. It is practically impossible not to!

Life changing and powerful. Simply no other book will make you as introspective as this.

IMO The next closest thing - in terms of creating introspection - is a psychedelic / psychotropic experience with accompanying ego-death [1].

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ego_death

I like the principles in the book, but it could have been edited down to about a 1/3rd the length. It reads like transcriptions of his lectures, rather than something intended to be prose.

I'll add a recommendation for the condensed audio version of "Maps of Meaning" available on his podcast. From Amazon's blurb on the book: "A cutting-edge work that brings together neuropsychology, cognitive science, and Freudian and Jungian approaches to mythology and narrative, Maps of Meaning presents a rich theory that makes the wisdom and meaning of myth accessible to the critical modern mind."

You remember how Ryan Holiday got pretty famous quite a while back? I like Jordan Peterson, but I fear that he's the same kind of phenomenon. He's just curating all these sources, and we view him as a genius and a pancea for our anxiety ridden young adults.

Nothing wrong with curating sources, is there? Yes, in large he is sharing his learnings from studying old sources. Mostly religious. Not all Christian. But mostly.

I think he would be delighted if he got more people to go to the sources. I could, of course, be wrong.

Not neccessarily anything wrong with him. It's just our tendency to flock to these figures to the answers of our problems, and perhaps they fix a couple people for a five year span, but a new generation washes in, and another guy will get his shine. Information doesn't fix anything. He's just cashing in.

This comment is leaving me with some pause. Quite frankly, I didn't even know the name of the author, and would have stared at anyone blankly that said it. Still would, oddly.

I did enjoy his reading of his book. And I will admit that I found some of the ideas more compelling than I would have thought seeing them on paper. In particular, the religious overtones are somewhat offputting to me, on paper. Will see how I feel about them after a few day's reflection.

To the point of this post, however. If he his being pushed as a savior of some sort, I agree that is misguided. However, based on their merits, many of the arguments were compelling and I'm interested to see where they can be taken.

So, to that end, I'm not sure what the criticism "he's just cashing in" has to do offer here. What, exactly, are you accusing him of? Successfully presenting his arguments? Is that really such a bad thing?

I am not accusing peterson of anything. I'm just trying to predict the future. He seems like an icon. Something long lasting. He's just another figurehead, and anyone could have filled his place. This is just tides turning. This is just a hiccup in the universe. He will go away, he will try to stick around, and it will be ugly. But he will fade away. He will go mainstream. It won't matter. This is just entertainment. It's not real help. It's not therapy. It's not a fix for the underlying issue of our society and our males.

You accuse him of "cashing in." If that is meant as a value free statement, my apologies. You then state that "he seems like an icon. Something long lasting."

Oddly, he just seems like an author, to me. If he is a figurehead, I missed that there was a movement. Is there more subtext to this? I assumed he just had a good seller. Oddly, many people can and do lay claim to that honor. It neither diminishes nor distinguishes it.

Another commenter said Peterson is not an empty self-help guru. I suspect the only difference between the "real deal" and an "empty self-help guru" is how much we like the person.

I suspect that there are no real deals out there at all. Or if they are out there, they aren't writing books about it or recording youtube videos to redpill us.

All of these are novels. In my 20s I felt guilty and frivolous for reading fiction, but eventually I realized I could learn a lot more walking in a protagonist's shoes than I could reading self help etc.

'My Struggle' by knausgard. Lengthy but worth it, even if you only read book 1. On face it's just the angst of some middle class writer, but following him into the recesses of his own introspection is really something.

The borderlands trilogy, Cormac McCarthy. This guy tackles major existential questions in his fairly simple (but dark) stories. it'd help to have basic grasp of Spanish for these books

And maybe my favorite book, Lullabies for little criminals by Heather O'Neill. It's about a little girl who's being raised by a junky and is coerced into prostitution. Obviously a very dark premise, but the way the protagonist experiences it made me think a lot about resilience, relative hardship,etc.

Fiction is in general severely underrated among STEM people today, with many arguing for how it is a waste of time, etc. I was fortunate enough to grow up in an environment where I had good access to it, and a healthy level of support for my interest.

THe thing I find funny about this is that many of the "STEM legends" such as von Neumann, Ulam, Einstein and others had read a lot of classical literature. Einstein himself is quoted saying: "Dostoevsky gives me more than any scientist, more than Gauss." I just make sure I give this quote only when there are no number theorists in the room.

Sure, if one just confines oneself to the "popular" works on a standard YA list, it may be reasonable to conclude that some fiction is not worth reading for a STEM person. However, the classics are classics for a reason after all.

Moreover, it is also not implausible that a discerning eye can find plenty of great worth in modern authors as well, something the parent has done.

If someone in real life told me that fiction is not worth the time, I'd instantly write him off as at best a moron who has mastered some technical skills.

Edit: he may manage to become not a moron in the future, I just mean that I would proceed under the assumption that he is at this time a moron.

I am a literature major working as a software engineer, and I agree! Humanity has a very long history of story-telling. Often stories can tell us more than rational argument, since they hook-up with our intuition (rather than logic). This isn't to say there aren't laws in the Universe, but that the way we understand things is often emotional and intuitive. A good story can say so much about the human experience.

I wish I had the discipline to read more. Even when I finally get myself to sit down with a book I always find myself zoning out.

I had the same problem. I've been doing 100% audiobooks for several years now and I'll never go back. I can work through a regular length book in a week w/ retention on par with regular book reading.

Yeah, I feel you. Used to read a huge amount. Found myself zoning out and reaching for my phone to check (ironically) HN, or my email. Solved by turning my phone off and leaving it in another room. Checking it becomes more effort than not checking it - habit quickly broken.

Perhaps on a similar vein, I recommend Montaignes Essays, even though it is not fiction, he lets you peek into his deepest thoughts, is a masterful lesson in understanding one's own self and other people.

Lullabies for little criminals is an INCREDIBLE book.

ack, yes. thank you!

I'll answer your question first, then suggest something I consider more important, having survived several life-shattering crises.

- The Tao Te Ching, especially Ron Hogan's translation (freely downloadable here: http://beatrice.com/wordpress/tao-te-ching)

- The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Jean-Dominique Bauby

- Getting Things Done, David Allen

- Gimp, Marc Zupan

- Thinking in Systems, Donella Meadows

- Leadership Step by Step, Joshua Spodek (full disclosure: me, https://www.amazon.com/Leadership-Step-Become-Person-Others/...)

The suggestion I consider more valuable is to focus more on active behavior than relatively passive reading. Of course, still read. But it's easy to read more and more, telling yourself you're getting more perspective. You are, but nothing changes your perspective like actually moving.

Even if you don't know what will work best -- meditation, fitness, art, music, travel, cooking, gardening, starting a business, etc -- starting with something, even if you soon abandon it, will lead you to things you love and that develop you faster than reading alone. Plus activity will make what you read more meaningful.

I include my book because it's specifically a book of exercises that lead to developing social and emotional skills designed to build on each other.

> more valuable is to focus more on active behavior than relatively passive reading

This, I believe, is the true answer to the OPs question. I suffer from an illusion, very common I think, that in order to get better at something, be it C++, life, or interactions with your SO, one has to first collect information and experiences from other people. Not that this is the wrong thing to do, but it has to be interleaved with acting on the information.

Think of reading books (or, in general, information collection) as earning money. What are you going to do with all that money in the bank? It's a means, right? To what end?

A quote I repeat many times a year from to myself _why: "When you don't create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability."

If I'm being honest, I read a lot of books, but the only one I can think of really substantially changing my worldview was the Bible. Since you probably do not want to read the entire thing I am particularly a fan of Ecclesiastes, and maybe you could try some of the gospels if you still have steam after that.

A couple related suggestions: - https://www.amazon.com/Seeking-God-Way-St-Benedict/dp/081461... - If you're religious, this book is great. If you're not, I think you can still take away from it the values of balance in life, being open to life's changes, and doing daily routines with love. - https://www.amazon.com/Seven-Storey-Mountain-Thomas-Merton/d... - It's meant by the author as a sort of confessions for the 20th century. Also, Merton lived a pretty interesting life, so it's an entertaining story from that stand point.

Generally, what I've found is that most helpful introspection books say a lot about getting out of one's own head and focusing on one's relationship with others (and, for the religious, one's relationship with God).

Interesting suggestions. I actually read Saint Augustine's Confessions, which was an interesting book in that parts were very poignant and parts were really kind of ponderous considerations of, like, the nature of time.

Further, if you want to read the Bible end-to-end, consider a chronological Bible. It organizes passages into when they occurred in time, for example in the Old Testament there's overlaps between Kings and Chronicles; in the New Testament there's overlap across the four gospels. I find it much easier to read long-form with that organization.

Study bibles are also very helpful. Extensive footnotes, culture commentary, historical background, etc. put things into perspective.

There's an excellent YouTube channel called The Bible Project that breaks down each book in the Bible, explores recurring themes, and explains the original meaning of certain translated words. Their Ecclesiastes videos is one of my favorites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeUiuSK81-0

Here's another from them that answers "what exactly _is_ the Bible?" for anyone curious https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_CGP-12AE0

How did it change your worldview? I tried to start it and couldn't get into it, despite knowing it's important to 40% of the world and is referenced in other sources very commonly.

Well, I went from being curious to read it for the reasons you mentioned to being a practicing Christian. I just ended up finding it a compelling sort of moral system to think about the universe, I suppose. It took getting to the New Testament before I thought of it as anything more than a curiosity, though.

There are definitely parts that are a slog, especially in the Old Testament, and just picking it up and reading it be tough, especially since it's so long.

You might enjoy just starting with a more focused set of books -- as I mentioned, Ecclesiastes is great. Job is another well-loved bit of wisdom literature. Mark is the shortest gospel and a primary source for two of the others (also, because it was written for a gentile audience, it doesn't assume a lot of familiarity with the OT the way something like Matthew does). Esther and Judges are two that I think are good just from a narrative/excitement perspective.

You're a practicing Christian, I don't know many, can you indulge my curiosity? Do you believe in the literal truth of the bible, creationism, the big bang? I am a scientist and I doubt I'd ever be convinced to follow a religion whose followers believe in some stories and myths that are essentially anti-scientific. I don't mean to be harsh or barbed, I'm just saying I'd view the book as a mythological artifact from 2000 years ago, and not set of morals for viewing the world, especially when that set of morals includes stoning adulterers or not wearing a diverse set of fabrics in my clothes. Maybe it's possible to pick and choose things like be kind to others, golden rule, don't focus on possessions and wealth, focus on making good. But how is that exclusive to the Christian faith? To me, I find those moral goods very easy to employ with absolutely no faith in the less credible activities going on in the bible.

I hope this a not mean response, I just view the Bible as an inherently different document than most Christians, I think, and I want to establish dialogue outside of my little bubble.

Fundamentalists and literalists are a very small minority of Christians and their movement is more or less a reaction to science/the Enlightenment that didn't really exist in any significant strength before the 19th Century (and honestly it's hard to square with a careful reading of the Bible, which contradicts itself in ways that present problems for literal readings). Even as far back as Augustine you have Christians writing "obviously don't deny objective reality because it could be read as in conflict with a Bible verse." So no, I'm not into Young Earth Creationism or any of that.

I won't claim it's impossible to comport yourself morally without being an adherent of any religion, but the Christian faith offers a more comprehensive framework to think about our relationship to the world and other people that I think is valuable.

this definitely depends on where you are. In the US, 1 in 4 are evangelical [0].. and 24% believe the bible is the literal word of god [1].

0. Pew paper, no longer available.. so wayback machine: https://web.archive.org/web/20090304020453/http://pewforum.o... There's probably more up to date poll on this somewhere though.

1. http://news.gallup.com/poll/210704/record-few-americans-beli...

I feel like this is one of those things that people say but, when push comes to shove, don't actually believe. Does anyone actually believe in the firmament described in the creation story?

When you're premise is "the bible is true" and "god can do anything", then what's not to believe? Most Christians I grew up with don't even think about it, they just accept it all.

They believe the Earth is surrounded by water, and the water is kept out because the Earth is enclosed in a solid dome? There are obvious challenges to this idea familiar to even school children.

Oh ok, thank you for your response. What are some examples of what the Christian faith offers you, the comprehensive framework?

I don't know how good a job I'll do describing it briefly, but I can try.

The fundamental message we can take, in my interpretation, is that every human being is deeply flawed and yet had inherent dignity and worth, regardless of nationality, status, wealth, etc., and that it is the duty of a Christian to keep these things in sight and help his fellow man. Not necessarily in dramatic or obvious ways, but as a general inclination. Of course there are a lot more details but I think this is the core.

Of course you might object that you don't necessarily have to be Christian to believe those things, but looking around you'll see many examples of behavior driven by different axioms (and given the environment Christianity came to exist in, a message about the dignity of the poor would actually have been going seriously against general trends).

This isn't as clear as I'd hoped but I hope it gives some idea of where I'm coming from.

Since you are a scientist, I'll mention I thought this Feynman talk was astute. http://calteches.library.caltech.edu/49/2/Religion.htm

Again, not op, but, it gives me a reason to pick the altruistic option rather than the selfish one, when I can 'morally' justify both.

For instance, beggar on the street. I can feel morally okay by saying "They might not really be in need, just doing this to get extra money; I'll donate to organizations dedicated to helping homeless instead". But from my Christian perspective it changes, "Why am I judging this person's need? Who knows how much those organizations will help this individual person, who is here now, asking for help. Maybe they don't need it, but maybe they do. Would I rather risk a mouth going hungry, or risk 'wasting' giving a dollar to someone who has enough?", and I give the dollar. Or better yet, say "Wait, why is my time so valuable? Am I really in so much of a hurry? Why don't I see if I can buy this person a meal and talk to them for a bit".

Now, I can certainly see people aligning their basic axioms to arrive at this same decision without an appeal to religion...I just know that for me, I wouldn't. Without a belief in a God who I know values them as much as me, and wants me to help them, I have no reason to push back against my own selfish rationalizations. I might still donate, but then it's just to absolve myself of any guilt I might have (which is also the goal of the rationalizations, really). For me, the belief in God compels me to move past just absolving my guilt, and instead leads me to ask how I can show love.

You might make the case that this is just another form of guilt, and maybe it is (certainly, doing nothing leaves me feeling just as guilty), but it feels qualitatively different. A begrudging giving of a dollar compared with actually engaging with the person leads to two very different feelings, and I know I never choose the latter without an appeal to religion. Again, for me; YMMV.

Thanks for your response, I am cherishing the open dialogue that is definitely outside of my bubble. I see your personal viewpoint, but what about the aggregate? Taking Christianity as a whole, I believe it's fair to characterize it as being used for many extremely violent acts, such as the nominal justification for crusades, for religious wars in Europe (catholic vs protestant, for instance), or for the suppression of free speech and scientific advancement (galileo, evolutionary theory, the big bang, and so forth). To me, in the aggregate, it seems that these negatives have balanced off or perhaps outweighed the potential good works of practitioners who otherwise would not have performed good works.

Obviously, there are many different ways to view the Bible and Christianity. As another practicing Christian, I'd say that the most important thing to understand that the Bible is about the revelation of Jesus, and the book is through and through about revealing his nature, character, and way of interacting with the world. If you talk to or read most orthodox theologians (and by this I mean, not 'church leaders' but those who study and write about belief and doctrine and are generally accepted as largely non-heretical), you'll find a surprisingly wide view of the 'literal' nature of scripture, but a significant agreement on the essential nature of the teachings of Jesus.

The moral side of the Bible is a side affect of growing closer to, and following the teachings of, Jesus.

I'd also say that one of the things that non-fundamentalist Christians have done particularly poorly in popular culture in the last 30 years is discuss how the Bible we have was written to a different culture than ours, and taking it 'literally' means stripping it from much of the intended meaning. You asked about creationism and the big bang, here's a book you could possibly be interested in, by a scholar of Genesis, discussing how the text of Genesis is not intended as a scientific document. It's called The Lost World of Genesis One, by John Walton (https://www.amazon.com/Lost-World-Genesis-One-Cosmology/dp/0...).

I'm not who you replied to but am also Christian, specifically LDS. For context, we believe the Bible to be the word of God, so far as it is translated correctly.

In my opinion, it's a mistake to think of biblical stories or any other stories for that matter as literal truth. For example, God created the world in six days and on the seventh He rested. But what is six days? Is it six 24-hour, Earth-space days? Is it six undefined periods called "days" so readers can digest it? There are so many details one can pick out and focus on, and we as humans are excellent at fixating on minute details that aren't important.

The problem with this of course is that any organized religion will have misconceptions that are true-ish. What I mean by that is best explained by a phrase tossed around a lot in the LDS church: "Christ is perfect but His servants are not," and topics such as personal modesty are often conflated with being righteous. What I'm getting at with all this is that if you truly dive into Christ's teachings and the rules he strictly taught are few and far between; most teachings are the parables that are good life lessons on serving others.

The parable of the ten virgins is an excellent example. Basically, it's a metaphor that suggests that half of God's people will be unprepared for His coming. Okay, that's easy, but what does unprepared mean? Well, Christ taught that we need to be baptized. Alright, but what else do I need to do? Well, he taught that rich man he should give up everything and follow Christ. Uh, but I have a family to support and feed, and I'm pretty sure I can't do that. I'll figure out what I can do to serve my spouse and children and family and neighbors and do that.

That's what I find being a disciple of Christ is about. The Gospel is essentially 1) faith in Christ, 2) repentance, and 3) baptism. Everything else is about you figuring out what it is for you to be a better person for those around you, and that makes you a servant of God.

This explains things I think better than I was.

Also not the poster, but I'll put in my 2 cents.

I believe in inerrancy, which sometimes means literalism, but sometimes doesn't, because it comes down to intent. The Bible isn't a science textbook, so there's room for allegory and hyperbole, but it can only go so far, so some issues, like "was there a real Adam and Eve", or "was there a flood that wiped out all of humanity except Noah and friends" would, in my view, cross that boundary, and so I do believe they happened.

Underneath this worldview are presuppositions about the nature of reality. Christians believe in a natural order - that the world works in a certain way - and that God created it that way and sustains it. But that doesn't rule out God's ability to interfere with his creation. Since, in the Christian understanding, such events are unusual, they aren't discoverable via Science.

So Christianity is anti-scientific only if you believe the only real knowledge is scientific knowledge (logical positivism). There are serious philosophical problems when it comes to this worldview, even if you're not religious. (It doesn't do a particularly good job of explaining science itself for example)

I highly recommend "Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism" by Alvin Plantinga for a serious philosophical approach to this problem.

As to your second point about morality. I actually agree with you. In my view the Bible is not really about morality, in the sense of a bunch of rules and guidance for life, but rather the Bible presents a grand narrative about the nature of the world we live in:

- We were born good and free but Adam and Eve through their sin brought ruin and death to all creation and drove a wedge between us and God. - Not satisfied to see us destroyed, God came up with a plan to save us instead. - That plan starts with Abraham and the nation of Israel, but is all intended as a foretaste of the ultimate fulfillment to be found in Christ. - Christ, as the second Adam, pays the penalty for Sin, thus allowing the severed relationship with God to be re-established, and freeing humanity from the power of sin and death - Christians live near the end of this story, in the "already" and "not yet" before Christ comes again

So morality is important, but not so much for the rules, but for what it tells us about God. In the Protestant tradition, the purpose of the law is in 3 parts: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_and_Gospel)

1. "[W]hile it shows God's righteousness . . . , it warns, informs, convicts, and lastly condemns, every man of his own unrighteousness" (2.7.6). 2. It functions "by fear of punishment to restrain certain men who are untouched by any care for what is just and right unless compelled by hearing the dire threats in the law" (2.7.10). 3. "It admonishes believers and urges them on in well-doing" (2.7.12-13).

And its that first part which is so vital. The laws exist to show how sinful we are and why we need a savior.

I have a much more liberal style, I suppose. I don't really look at Adam and Eve or the Flood as stories which are literally historical events. A question for you: the Bible contains multiple, divergent descriptions of the same events in places (or at least that's how I would see them). How do you reconcile these? Or is that not a problem for the framework you're describing?

Yes it could present a problem. It really depends on the what's being discussed... I have found that there's often much more going on in a text than there might at first appear. A list of things that often trip up interpretation:

- subtleties in language that don't translate well

- not catching hyperbole or idioms (like know=sex or foot=penis)

- genre confusion (is revelation apocalyptic poetry or literal history)

- expecting too much precision from a text (is 40 days actually 40 days?)

- similar, bringing my cultural assumptions about the nature of the text... graphocentrism applied to an oral culture, reading into it guilt instead of seeing honor and shame, expecting word-for-word quotes, when in the ancient world historians had different standards, etc

- not paying close attention to the literary quality of the text (information is carefully chosen and presented by the author, not haphazardly thrown together, and to really understand the text you have to dig deep)

- one that's really hit home for me recently: there are typological dimensions to the text... events are shaped by what the author is trying to tell you. For example the beginning of John is full of temple imagery and language which is arguing for a deeper meaning to the purpose of the Old Testament and how its fulfilled in Christ. Events would likely look very different from how they're presented if you were a casual observer.

It might look like adding all these things together doesn't look an awful lot like inerrancy, but at least my goal is to try and find out what the text is really saying, and once I feel like I figured that out, then I'll take it quite seriously, even if its hard...

Did you have a particular story in mind?

Not the poster, but as a Christian, no, I find the idea of the Bible being taken literally as rather surprising, and a rather recent invention.

Just on the face of it, there are 'books' in the Bible meant as history, books meant as 'self-help', despondent mullings on the meaning of life, a love letter, personal recountings, letters written to others...these are all kinds of authors and approaches here, and so it strikes me as silly to take all of them literally. I mean, Jesus is quoted as saying "Go tell that fox", when speaking of Herod; there is no other mention of Herod being anything other than human. Clearly, if the Christian message is to be taken as truth, it shows that God is able to speak in metaphor (as well as interesting translation differences; for instance, the word for 'day' in the creation story is a word with a number of translations ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yom )

So, how do things that seem antiquated apply now? Well, some parts of it -are- antiquated, in that they were meant for a specific time, and not now. Chesterton had a number of beautiful assertions in his book Orthodoxy, to the effect that Christianity is necessarily paradoxical, because -people- are paradoxical. To take that here, from my perspective (and there are many) morality can be both absolute and relativistic; what is 'good' is absolute, but what is treated as 'good' at a given time is relative to that time. You know that slavery is evil, but could you go back 4000 years and convince people of that? No. You would just alienate them, and likely get yourself killed. But you -could- convince them to at least treat their slaves better. You could design a moral code that would in time lead to them stopping slavery, by just introducing the idea that slaves are humans, with rights. If we credit the idea there is a God, and that evolution is a thing that that God uses, then the idea of allowing a moral idea to evolve into a fuller fulfillment of itself, over time, as people think, and talk, and develop, is an unsurprising thing for that God to do.

As to stoning adulterers, and a number of similar things; don't misunderstand what was a legal code with a moral one. Yes, it was influenced by morals (same as our own law is), but the punishment was a legal code to be adopted by a people, and was a symptom of the time. No Christian but the most fundamental would say we, now, should adopt stoning as the appropriate punishment for adultery. Interestingly, the Bible makes it clear "the wages of sin (is) death", but that that's a moral issue between man and God. Any actual judgement indicated to be carried out between men is toward a legal system, and its rationale is much the same as our own, to prevent people from doing it and/or to allow for carrying out some semblance of imperfect justice (since flawed man judging flawed man will necessarily be imperfect).

Similarly, many of the Old Testament rules were particular to the context of the time, and can only be understood in understanding the culture at that time. For why not wearing a diverse set of fabrics, have a look here - https://www.gotquestions.org/different-types-of-fabric.html

I mean, Jesus is quoted as saying "Go tell that fox", when speaking of Herod; there is no other mention of Herod being anything other than human. Clearly, if the Christian message is to be taken as truth, it shows that God is able to speak in metaphor

24% of the US believes the bible is the literal word of god[0].

Knowing some evangelicals personally... they would say Herod literally told the fox. Through god Herod was able to speak to the fox.

Remember, in adam and eve, the snake and eve have a conversation. So clearly it is possible that animals can talk. Many christians believe adam and eve is a literal telling of what happened.

0. http://news.gallup.com/poll/210704/record-few-americans-beli...

No, it's Jesus -calling- Herod a fox. I have never heard an evangelical say "Yes, Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was actually a fox. A literal fox, canidae vulpus."

The passage is -

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, "Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you." He replied, "Go tell that fox, 'I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.'

There's basically three ways to take that passage (across translations, I might add, though I don't know the aramaic); either Herod was a literal fox, there was a random fox that Jesus in a complete non-sequitor pointed to and told the Pharisees to talk to ("Talk to the fox because the Lord isn't listening" I guess?), or Jesus showed that metaphor is totes a thing the Christian God understands and uses (which would make sense given all the parables and whatnot).

I feel that reading the thing could disabuse them of these ideas.

"The wages of sin is death" refers more to the general idea of human mortality, doesn't it?

Sure, but it also equates to a judgement. If God is the genesis of all life, all good things, etc, then being outside of his will equates to death, and being/doing/etc outside of his will is also what equates to sin. While that is a state of being, it's a state defined by the will of another, i.e., an implicit judgement. I agree that the terminology isn't great though; judging is something that implies a careful consideration of a person's state, whereas to an all knowing God, judgement would be simply a categorization that takes zero time or effort.

In context, I think Paul's message is "human beings die because of sin, but through belief in Christ you can have eternal life."

And the Genesis message with sin bringing death into the world, too. But I'm not sure what your point is?

Maybe I misread you, but I thought you were suggesting something to the effect of Paul telling people that sinners, as judged by humans, should be put to death.

Ah, no. I was saying that, basically, any punishment proscribed for a sin in Talmudic law was specifically to create a -legal- framework, for the time, and has to be viewed that way. From a moral standpoint, the punishment for every sin, in God's eyes, is death, but that that's a punishment that only has meaning in a person's relationship to and/or with God. It has no bearing on how man interacts with man (and in fact would run very much counter to what God says -should- dictate our interactions with one another).

It was basically in response to the above poster saying the Old Testament proscribed stoning for adultery; yes, but that isn't a moral statement that that -should- be, forevermore, the punishment for it, and being a Christian doesn't mean you have to believe adulterers should be stoned. Rather, it was a legal statement for that time, that that was the punishment to be carried out.

It's not unusual to try to start it and not be able to get into it because many aspects are so dense and confusing. Rather than start at page one, try to first get an overview of the message and purpose of Jesus by listening to an audio sermon, like this one from Mosaic in Los Angeles, "Why Jesus?": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jqlZlYlr2c

Now, as you work through the Bible, Old and New, attempt to see if pictures in the old testament portray this one message, using Jesus as a lens. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typology_(theology) for some examples.

There are Bibles with the references to Jesus in the Old Testament highlighted, which will help you do this. The Jesus-Centered Bible [0] has allusions made to Jesus in the Old Testament printed in blue text and is probably the most useful for doing this. The Gospel Transformation Bible: Christ in all of Scripture [1] has extensive footnotes showing the message of Jesus in the narrative and poetry that precedes him by hundreds of years.

[0]: https://www.christianbook.com/nlt-jesus-centered-bible-leath... [1]: https://www.amazon.com/ESV-Gospel-Transformation-Bible-Black...

Try Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb. He's the artist behind Mr. Natural, but this is a non-satiric work. Once you get past the first few pages of creation myth, Genesis is a riveting story. The illustrations are beautiful and help make sense of unfamiliar customs.

If you want a good visual version, The Brick Testament is a fun starting point: http://www.thebricktestament.com/

Flowers for Algernon, without a shadow of a doubt, had a huge impact on how I regard intelligence in others and myself, and it also put the pursuit of success into a new context for me. Lastly, it made me evaluate the prospects one has going into life, with respect to what is (and isn't) under once's control.

Honestly, "Flowers for Algernon" is the most frightening story I ever read. It made me realize that whatever intelligence I have right now I got basically by accident and that I may lose it at any time. There's nothing I can do to prevent this and - in case it happens - (EDIT: in the end) I won't even recognize what I lost. The only thing I can do is to leave some kind of a mark on the world, right now, before it happens. It turned out to be a great motivation for doing creative stuff - in my case, I chose to write things, blog posts, articles, pet project write-ups, things like this. Definitely one of the most impactful stories I've ever read.

> I won't even recognize what I lost

Alzheimer's victims know what they lost, until rather late in the disease. It's part of what makes it a hell.

My maternal grandparents both went that way. Apparently long after they were both essentially 'gone' the nursing home staff would occassionally find them in the main living area, late at night after everyone was meant to be asleep, dancing together. Clearly something of their former selves remained.

A demonstration: This American Life, https://www.thisamericanlife.org/583/itll-make-sense-when-yo...

Act Four, A physicist with dementia details the process of understanding an analog clock.

“A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” by William Irvine has taught me appreciate what I have and take it easy on myself when things don’t go as planned.


Yes, I would suggest Stoicism too (I have a page devoted to it: http://pa-mar.net/Lifestyle/Stoicism.html).

Also, I am working on a page on A Philosophy of Loneliness (https://www.popmatters.com/a-philosophy-of-loneliness-by-lar...) and finally I would suggest "Trust the Process" (https://www.shambhala.com/trust-the-process-1598.html)

All these somehow helped me in dealing with personal issues and/or provide some adjustment to my views.

Finally, maybe this one might help, too https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/89200.Pragmatics_of_Huma... (I read it in Italian and many years ago, the current edition is probably updated).

Yes, this was another one of the books I read last year. I liked how it separated the world into internal and external. I realized how much smoother life became once I focused on living with an internal set of principles, rather than external expectations.

If you like Stoicism you should try Pierre Hadot's What is Ancient Philosophy and at least the main essay from Philosophy as a Way of Life. He's an excellent writer and you can get other useful perspectives from the other ancient schools. The Epicurean take on pleasure (absence from pain) is helpful as well as the ancient skeptical practice of equipollent dispute.

A lot of people here are offering up books with life advice (though I saw a recommendation for Sapiens which I can also highly recommend) which may or may not help depending on what your problem is. Why not just practice introspection daily through meditation instead? For some motivation and evidence on what it can do for you, I'd recommend "Why Buddhism is True". In spite of its title, the book aims to give some logic behind mindfulness meditation. If specifically you have been dealing with chronic low mood as a result of your life shattering crisis, I'd also recommend "The Mindful Way Through Depression". If that isn't an issue for you, I personally enjoy Jon Kabat Zinn's writing in general so I'd research and pick up one of his books. Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield are some others in this field who have a lot of experience teaching mindfulness meditation in a Western context and have a lot of very useful advice when it comes to practicing mindfulness meditation. There is another popular "how to meditate" book out there called The Mind Illuminated which I see recommended on HN every now and then, though I personally feel it is a bit overkill (it is more of a textbook). With regard to Alan Watts, I've only read "The Wisdom of Insecurity" and personally found it to be a waste of time and money, though I guess you can read it online for free so that saves you the money at least :).

1. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Mostly the bits about how our society is mostly built on collective fictions.

2. Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse

I remember being very moved reading this, but I can't quite remember why.

Looks like it's time to re-read it.

> I remember being very moved reading this, but I can't quite remember why.

I think it's the unfolding of someone who sought knowledge and enlightenment throughout his life and the feeling of impotence he felt when sharing knowledge that can only be transmitted/obtained through life experiences.

You have to live life in order to be enlighted. He always "knew it" in reality, but he didn't have the life experience to really know it.

Elders knowledge won't do it - you can't live/experience life through others experiences/knowledge.

After some age, I think we tend to relate to this because we recall people trying to pass knowledge to us and it never clicked until we lived such events. After that, everything gets a new dimension.

The final, moving message of the book comes down to "live in the present." Something we hear 50 times a day from friends, commercials, videos, etc. But I think Siddhartha communicates and brings the reader on a journey that results in this realization the most effectively out of every piece of media I've ever consumed

I second Siddhartha, I think it's the closest I have come to understanding "enlightenment" (whatever it may mean for each person). Give it a try.

> Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

I couldn't follow him in all his conclusions, namely the hunter gatherer worship, that things were in a sense better for them.

But it's probably in the top 3 books I've ever read, best in the last 5 years.

Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse is also a great read, dealing with feelings of meaninglessness and how they relate to one's identity.

Hesse us one of my favourite novelists. I'd also suggest Knulp as an interesting read, though not very on-topic in this general thread.

Glass Bead Game by Hesse put academia, and system building of the mind in general, in perspective for me.

Siddhartha is such a great book. I actually read it slower just to enjoy it for a longer time :)

Read it long ago, one of those books that just sticks with you. Easily one of my favourite works of fiction. Hesse has such a bizarre writing style but it is a very deep book.

"Finite and Infinite Games" by James Carse. Makes me think a lot about the rat race versus a life lived for a higher purpose. My copy is pretty worn out from my carrying it around a rereading it.

If you like graphic novels, the ending of "Asterios Polyp" made me gasp and put the book down and walk outside to mull it all over.

I've bought, read, given "Finite and Infinite Games" several times. I actually remember the day I bought it (first copy), nearly 20 years ago!

Goedel, Escher, Bach - an eternal golden braid. This book is so rich with philosophical content it will change you.

When I first encountered this book, I was working as an outside hand at a small town hardware store trying to save up enough money at $5.85 / hour to afford to move to go to college. It cost me $10 in gas every day just to get to work, and I am deathly allergic to almost every outside plant in Oklahoma, so it was a miserable few months. At lunch time I would go to the local library because it had air conditioning, and I happened to check out this book. For the next 8 weeks, reading this book on breaks was the taste of escape into the life of the mind.

I really struggled to read this. It's so dense, in an almost impenetrable way. Am I the only one? I did some skimming, but never seemed to catch on.

That'll be why you found it so hard. It's not really a book you can 'skim through' at all, but if you pay attention, maybe take some notes and reread the sections you may be having trouble with, you'll start to get the idea.

The great thing about GEB is that Hofstadter basically assumes no prior knowledge from the beginning of the book - he just asks that you pay close attention and exercise your analytical mind. You'll then soon start to notice the patterns, jokes and puzzles in the writing, and how they all relate very closely to the ideas presented in the book.

Note: the book isn't necessarily out to prove anything, and if you're looking for a massive 'aha!' moment towards the end of the book, you'll probably be disappointed. It's just an incredible journey down the recursive rabbit-hole that ties together mathematics, formal logic, linguistics, biology, computer science and loads more all through the extremely deliberate use of language throughout.

It still blows my mind, but requires a good amount of concentration, re-reading and note-taking - which seems fair enough as I can't even imagine how long it took Hofstadter to write!

“You're reading it wrong” seems like a questionable defense of any book to me, in the same way that “you're tasting that broccoli wrong” and “you're listening to Paganini incorrectly” might be.

I only mention this because it hurts to see people waste weeks of their lives trying to appreciate something under duress (be it literature, music, art) or under the belief that the fault is with them rather than simply accepting their lack of any natural affinity for the thing they are studying.

Sometimes it is worth working to appreciate things that are alien to you to stretch the mind, but other times it's perfectly fine to accept that a cultural artefact just might not be for you; that there is nothing wrong with the way you have been consuming it. It frees you to move on and find something new.

I totally agree. I don't think anyone should read, watch, or listen to something because some other group of people defined it as great. I will say, though, that if a sizable group of people define something as "great", you might at least be curious and give it a chance. I took a music appreciation class during a January term in college, and it really opened up the world of classical music for me, and I think my life has been better for it.

I'm not arguing that OP was 'reading the book wrong', just sharing my experience reading it myself. I personally found it pretty rewarding though challenging, I'm just sharing my experience. I found that taking notes and re-reading sections (along with talking to other people who have read/were reading the book) helped clear up some of the ideas in my head. If somebody gives it a go and decides it's not a book that they're interested in - that's fine, it's not my job to pressure you if you find it doesn't resonate with you personally.

It's not just you. I often see it cited in must-read lists, but also found it rambling and impenetrable.

In the 20th anniversary edition I have, the author spends the full preface admitting as much by explaining that people who've reviewed the book don't seem to understand its message:

“Needless to say, this widespread confusion has been quite frustrating to me over the years, since I felt sure I had spelled out my aims over and over in the text itself. Clearly, however, I didn't do it sufficiently often, or sufficiently clearly.”

He then attempts to outline the principle thesis:

“…GEB is a very personal attempt to say how it is that animate beings can come out of inanimate matter.”

“Very personal” is right — the book reads like a fever dream of tangential scribbled notes compiled into an ~800 page tome, only loosely coupled to the notion of how animate things come to be.

It is still interesting and brilliant and challenging and worth skimming if not reading in its entirety, but do not expect it to be instantly enlightening or full of take-aways.

Yeah, it's a struggle. I've attempted to read it twice, and never made it all the way through. Still immensely rewarding though.

It’s the kind of book you need to sit down and deliberately read for a while, rather than snatched moments here and there or while waiting for something else.

Personally I found it very informative and interesting - though not ‘enlightening’. I did stop reading it for a while and found it difficult to pick up the thread again though.

It is dense, but if you want something a bit lighter: slaughthouse 5, hitchhikers guide, a confederacy of Dunces. All great reads with insightful thoughts on life.

It took me about five years of slog, but was at the same time a constant joy and absolutely worth it.

I personally think Hofstadtler is one of the few people around currently who actually is on the right track to understanding the fundamental nature of consciousness. Although I would recommend 'I Am A Strange Loop' for a more direct dive into that specifically, GEB is great for an introduction to some of the twists and turns of self-reference, feedback loops, etc.

Seconded. Parts of it are kind of impenetrable, or seem like it, but you can feel the love in it and it's so personal while also being so astonishingly wide-ranging… it's like taking your brain on a world tour to see things it never imagined were possible.

I loved this book and it made me think a lot but in what way did it make you introspect?

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as well as Godel, Escher, Bach.

Helped me see the limitations of rationality, rigor, and measurement.

Godel, Escher, Bach changed my entire world view.

How so? I read it, and though very good with the logic/math, I wasn't as moved. I'd love to know more about your journey.

Edit: For me 'Information' by Glieck was very good, as it summed up the logical 'journey of man' as a struggle to refine signal to noise. When interpreting math/logic as such, I was floored and a lot of things made more sense to me.

I read it while in college. It put me into a mental space where I was considering recursion on a universal scale for the first time. I'd never considered, previously, how recursive processes construct everything I see and experience, including my own consciousness. It was the most beautiful idea I'd ever come across and satisfied my need to answer how we came to be.

This has been my number one book for pretty much my entire adult life.

It's worth the read, 100%.

I second this - on both books.

Two great books.

Harry Potter and Methods of Rationality of course. It quickly led me to the list of cognitive biases on Wikipedia, which are, basically, the answer to introspection question by definition.

The book is here for free: http://www.hpmor.com/

As a religious person reading Orson Scott Card's Xenocide (Part of the Enders game universe, but not at all like Enders Game) really impacted me.

In it you have a father who is a religious leader and transitions out of the religion to a more atheistic view and his daughter who becomes holds true to their faith in spite of the evidence and her father.

I saw a lot of myself in that girl and it really brought to light the folly of religion when you step outside of the religious framework. I'm still religious but the book made me think.

+1 to whoever mentioned Seneca's On the Shortness of Life, or any of the Stoic writings.

The Old Man and the Sea. People either love or hate this book, but it had a profound impact on me.

The Moral Animal, by Robert Wright. Made me consider how much of human behavior can be explained through evolutionary biology.

The Truth, by Neil Strauss. Incredibly vulnerable memoir that will make you reflect on your own relationships and what you want out of them.

In general, I think that you can learn much more from classic fiction than any new business book. Books that have been read & discussed for the past 50+ years have much more staying power and timelessness than a TED talk that led to a publishing deal.

> The Old Man and the Sea.

Could you share how this impacted you? I'm one of the people on whom this book fell flat.

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford.

I've often questioned if spending 8+ hours a day writing software was the right thing for me to do, when I get so much more gratification from physically manipulating something. It was a welcomed read.

I recently read and enjoyed the essay version. Would you recommend the book? Specifically, did you feel that the amount of depth in the book necessitated that format as opposed to an essay?

I'm frequently disappointed by really good ideas that could be presented in a dozen pages being stretched to occupy 200 (e.g. Deep Work)

Unfortunately, I found the book version to stretch the concept much too far. He was able to include far more description of how to find pleasure working on physical things, which I thoroughly enjoyed. But it definitely drags when he gets into the philosophical justifications.

So did it make you work less than 8+ hours a day?

The Enchiridion of Epictetus is one of the main books of stoicism.

It has really changed the way I see life and face adversity.

It is very short and easy to read, despite being quite old, and contains actual down to earth wisdom about life

It somehow goes quite well with the teachings of Frankl, if you replace "God" by meaning.

I modernized a public-domain translation of Epictetus and had a nice printing done for my nephew's graduation. It's an amazing book on how to live.

Marcus Aurelius's Meditations reads like the daily thoughts of someone attempting to live according to Epictetus's handbook. (Obviously, they're both Stoic works, but they make a better pairing than that alone would make you expect.)


> With regard to whatever objects either delight the mind or contribute to use or are tenderly beloved, remind yourself of what nature they are, beginning with the merest trifles: if you have a favorite cup, that it is but a cup of which you are fond of—for thus, if it is broken, you can bear it; if you embrace your child or your wife, that you embrace a mortal—and thus, if either of them dies, you can bear it.

Some of the advice is sublime, like this. (And some isn't, but it's a book worth reading.)

Wonderful thread! There is most certainly a canon of "introspection" literature. Required for any one who pays heed to the wisdom of "knowing thyself". Gandhi's Experiments With Truth and St. Augustine's Confessions are perfect examples. Absolute honesty. With the single goal of providing future readers many years hence with some guide points in navigating the seas of life.

List of 100 Best Spiritual Books of the Century


And just a heads up. This June brings the arrival of another biography I am very much looking forward to. Matt Polly's definitive Bruce Lee: A Life. Perfect summer beach reading to provide the inspiration for a commitment to discipline!


Welcome to the club! The same happened to me 3 years ago. At that time I also started reading "Man's search for meaning".

The following book had the biggest impact on my world view:

The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation, by Thich Nhat Hanh

I personally don't believe in any religious things, and I still don't. But now I look at the world differently.

Buddhism is know for reincarnation, which looks a bit silly to me. But as this book points out, it is not reincarnation, but rebirth in (Zen) Buddhism. Both are completely different. There is nothing silly about rebirth, and it's actually more accurate that how we, as individualistic westerners, view the world.

As someone who loves science, after reading this book, I have a more realistic view on the world than I had before, and than most of my rational friends right now.

The (Zen) Buddhism in this book is not so much a religion with believes, but more a philosophy on how to look at life and the world.

"Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics" by Henry Stuart Hazlitt.

The title doesn't do it justice because it sounds so cliche, but once you read it, you'll actually agree that this DOES cover everything you need to know about economics (although heavily biased towards austrian economics than keynesian)

Also an important side effect: You'll realize how economics is not just some boring, esoteric, and impractical stuff that you'll never need to deal with in your life, but actually essential in designing complex systems.

I could've written this exact comment after I read this book, but I actually wouldn't recommend this. I read it right before I did my economics degree, and it really warped my view of the "right way" to think about econ.

It does give you a starting point, but the Austrian view isn't in the mainstream for a reason. It introduces just a bit too much bias into novice readers for my taste.

I think this cuts both ways.

In my case I came from the opposite direction. The first time I learned economics was through conventional lens of what's considered as the "norm" in modern economics, where Austrian economics is largely dismissed for the reason you point out. All economics books do cover Austrian economics but they are still biased against them so if you're a newbie, you come away thinking "OK these classical and Austrian economics theories are interesting in theory but I guess practically they don't work and it's outdated and nowadays it's all about Keynesian".

So coming from this point of view, reading this book did open my eyes, even though I knew exactly what the book talks about even before reading the book. I guess the general tone of the book was very effective in giving me a balanced point of view, since I at the time had a biased view towards Keynesian.

My current point of view is that there is no right or wrong answer, but there is only difference in context. In certain contexts Austrian way of thinking makes more sense, in certain contexts Keynesian makes more sense.

But it's looking more and more likely that it's time for Austrian economics to shine in the next decade, because of trends like globalization, increasing chaos in the world, and cryptocurrency.

What would you recommend instead?

Unfortunately I can't recommend any particular book to learn economics alone. I don't learn best this way and I feel I got basically all of my knowledge through my coursework. I'd honestly recommend a course. Even an online one may be workable.

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English. This book is wonderfully calming, don't worry about what it means, just soak in it.

I'll also add another vote for The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus and for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

On a darker note, if you had any illusions left, Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.

I keep coming across this blog post, and each time I read it, I find myself liking it:

6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person


Some good points that article, but the “ABC” speech in Glengarry Glenn Ross is not a good compass to guide your life.

Firstly, the article is about much more than just the ABC speech. Read the whole thing, and don’t get hung up on that example this time.

Secondly, the ABC speech (referred to in the article) isn’t meant to be a “compass”, it’s meant to be a motivating speech. (Using threats and abuse, granted.) Note that the speech contains no actual guides, tips, or instructions on how to sell real estate. It’s essentially (paraphrasing) “Do it or you’re fired.” and “I could do it easily, so if you cant do it, you must suck.

It may not be the best way to convey this particular message in most cases, but I could imagine situations in which it was suitable.

Your off-target criticism of the article by criticizing the ABC speech for something it isn’t reminds me of when the article much later says “So even now, some of you reading this are feeling your brain bombard you with knee-jerk reasons to reject it.”.

I first read this article at a young and impressionable age, and I think it has some great points. But I also think I took it too far to heart. I've spent a lot of time acquiring skills and knowledge and a career. But people generally don't care about what you can do, as long as you're above a certain baseline of not being a total loser. They care about how you can make them feel about themselves.

“Making people feel good about themselves“ is also a skill. It’s useful in almost all aspects of life. Your fault was maybe interpreting the article’s concept of “what you can do for others” a bit too narrowly.

Such introspection for me began at the end of my college days – Books and essays by Herman Hess, Camus, and Kafka. Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann was a high point. Its interesting that its these books that prepared me for the Bible, to start understanding it an entirely new way. But dont miss reading Steinbeck :-)

The Autobiography of Malcolm X - Especially interesting read in today's political climate - pivotal nonetheless

I tried. Twice. As a privileged white man in America trying to understand the black experience. However, I could only get about 2/3 of the way through before giving up. I empathized with his early agony and injustice, but the fact that he turned it into a hate for white people and a religious fixation was way too much for me. In the end I saw the only difference between his view and the views of the Klan was his brought out by personal and systematic suffering. The hate, the bias, the intolerance would have just been a simple copy/paste of terms. I got volumes more out of James Baldwin's "The Fire Next Time".

It's worth getting all the way through. He becomes transformed at a certain point, and realizes his earlier beliefs were wrong. Malcolm wanted to delete or revise the earlier part of the book at that point but Alex Haley prevailed to keep it as it was.

MAN you need to get through that last third! He eventually rejects this worldview after his disillusionment and departure from Nation of Islam. After converting to Islam proper, during his pilgrimage to Mecca, he completely alters his old views.

If there's a quote to sum up the final third, it's this:

"Brother," he said finally, "remember the time that white college girl came into the restaurant -- the one who wanted to help the Muslims and the whites get together -- and I told her there wasn't a ghost of a chance and she went away crying?"


"Well, I've lived to regret that incident. In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping Black people. Something like this kills a lot of argument. I did many things as a [Black] Muslim that I'm sorry for now. I was a zombie then -- like all [Black] Muslims -- I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march. Well, I guess a man's entitled to make a fool of himself if he's ready to pay the cost. It cost me twelve years." [0]

[0]: http://malcolm-x.org/docs/int_parks.htm

I guess you didn't get to the point where he says:

>There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white.

>You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to re-arrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.

>During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept in the same bed (or on the same rug)--while praying to the same God--with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the actions in the deeds of the 'white' Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan, and Ghana.

>But as racism leads America up the suicide path, I do believe, from the experiences that I have had with them, that the whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwriting on the walls and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth--the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to...A few nights ago, a man who would be called in America a 'white' man, a United Nations diplomat, an ambassador, a companion of kings, gave me his hotel suite, his bed. Never would I have even thought of dreaming that I would ever be a recipient of such honors--honors that in America would be bestowed upon a King--not a Negro.

(Above are snippets from a letter he wrote. The different portions I quoted are non-contiguous). On his return from that trip he said in a press conference that he is willing to put aside his differences with others and is willing to work with anyone who is dedicated to improving the lives of African Americans.

What I found impressive about him was how much he had changed, and continued to change, throughout his life. He was a deeply introspective person, and continued to refine his thoughts. He was a high school dropout who lived a fairly pathetic lifestyle. And then during his time in prison he decided to make something out of himself. It's impressive how much he changed for the better. I am a very well educated person, but I struggle to achieve what he did in terms of how articulate he became. And most people I personally know simply do not have the courage to continually evaluate their beliefs and change them.

Much of it may have been fueled by hate, but it's also clear his greater goal was always to improve the lives of his kind - hatred was merely a strategy towards that goal. And at some point he realized it didn't need to be part of that goal.

Over a decade ago I had to go on a multi-day road trip and needed something to listen to. So I downloaded all the speeches I could find of his, sorted them chronologically, and listened to them. In some ways they were more impressive than what you see in the book. And the transformation over the years is quite apparent. One other thing that stood out was how well informed he seemed to be about foreign affairs - something neither the book nor the movie points out. He was quite critical of US foreign policy. And he was very skilled at pointing out hypocrisies of the government very openly - something very few people do these days, and frankly, the likely reason many people idolize him.

Of course, he had his flaws - you can find them in Manning Marable's book. His trajectory in a continual positive direction, though, was impressive. He died before he reached his 40th birthday. I have little doubt that he lived another decade or two and had continued on his path of self improvement, he would be a much more revered figure than he is.

Thank you for sharing this. I still have the copy on my bookshelf in my office. I know that I'm a different person now from when tried to read it 10 years ago. I'll pick it up again.

To be fair, the second half of the book (soon after he comes out of prison) is relatively poorly written compared to the first half. A lot of rambling, preaching and jumping around chronologically. I wonder if Alex just got lazy or had some kind of deadline to meet.

The movie's not bad, to be honest. Obviously can't capture everything, but overall does a good job.

I enjoyed the book, although I felt like he was overawed with and naive about how harmonious Saudi Arabia (and the greater Muslim world) actually is. But that's easier to say from today's perspective, where we're all familiar with sectarian warfare between Muslims.

Reading this book changed my life. I'm really surprised (positively) it was mentioned though given this site's demographics ...

Here are a handful that really stuck with me and changed how I think about things:

    Gig: Americans Talk about Their Jobs
    The Tao of Pooh
    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
    Tao Te Ching
    A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction
    Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny
    Novice to Master: An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity
    How the Mind Works
    The Design of Everyday Things
    Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
    The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
Some of these are typical for the audience here, but a few are more off the beaten path. I really liked "Gig" and "A Pattern Language".

Fiction is harder to pin down. I think, overall, reading fiction has had a greater impact on my understanding of human nature than non-fiction has. But it's diffused over a larger number of books so it's hard to point to specific ones. I think simply reading a large volume of fiction helps me understand all the ways people can live and think.

If a "life-shattering crisis that completely wrecked my world view" means a breakup definitely read "No More Mr. Nice Guy" from Robert Glover.

I hung out on the forums for that book for a while. Helped me on my path, there were a lot of hard but important truths there.

I can say I've got through something similar.

A book that made me very introspective was David Brook's The Road To Character . It made me ask my self a lot of questions which I have documented here https://www.deepthoughtapp.com/packages/55/david-brooks-humi...

Another book was Paul Kalanathi's When Breath Becomes Air I also copied some quotes, questions, and answers here https://www.deepthoughtapp.com/packages/135/paul-kalanithis-...

I'd recommend reading biographies because they can help you give perspective about how a person leads their life. The ones I found thoroughly fun was Trevor Noah's Born a Crime, Phil Knight's Shoe Dog.

I have learned things from some of the ones mentioned. But I also have one that is a bit different than the others here so far.

In 2001 I came down with a heart condition. I was 42, had two young kids, a good job, and basically did not know what to do. Spent a lot of nights up at 2 am. I read through the Aubrey-Maturin series https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aubrey%E2%80%93Maturin_series. On their face, they form an adventure series of historical novels (they fit into a category that Great Britian has, naval fiction). But it seemed to me then and still seems to me now that they are literature, an extended meditation on what it means to be a man.

In any event, they fitted my circumstances. I learned a great deal. They helped me. (I advise starting with the second one, Post Captain.)

Interesting - those are the books that the "Master and Commander" movie is based on. I liked that movie, is it close to the books?

I enjoyed the movie a great deal I thought it was as true to the series as was realistic for a hollywood enterprise.

But I don't think a person would get much sense of the books from the movie, just as a person would not get all that much sense of an Austen from a hollywood version. (BTW, that's why I suggest the second book in the series for a first try. It is much more like the rest of the series than the first book, in my opinion.)


Alan Watt's Wisdom of Insecurity book was enlightening for me. You can read it for free here:


If you like Alan Watts you might enjoy Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice from Shunryu Suzuki.


If you like that, I'd further recommend the biography of Suzuki, Crooked Cucumber. It's an interesting read.

And if you like that, I'd recommend "Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen" which feels like a continuation of "Zen Mind, Beginners Mind"

Thank you very much :) I'll definitely check it out.

Also from Alan Watts, 'The Book'. At the same time an introduction, summary, and companion to his various lectures. The book he would give to his children as an introduction to the world and life (according to the preface).


I second Alan Watt's.

Watch some of his youtube videos as well - they gave me strength to endure through some tough times.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Letters from a Stoic by Seneca.

I guess you could say any book on Stoicism, really, as the others I would mention also fit that bill.

A Marcus Aurelius quote changed my life when I was a teenager. It was something like, "it is not dying that a man should fear, but a man should fear never having lived at all."

From that point, I pushed myself to live -- got seriously into primitive technology and wilderness survival, traveled to many parts of the world, and did many other things that I previously wasn't able to do. I just found my old copy of Meditations in a box yesterday and plan on reading it again.

Meditations easily has my highest rate of highlighted words in relation to total book length. Seems like every page (almost) has some eternal and profound in it.

I became interested in Marcus Aurelius when Hannibal admonished Agent Starling to read him.

The one that comes to mind above all else for me is the "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" written by the great Persian mathematician, philosopher, polymath Khayyam in the 11'th century. His perspectives on life and death ever so eloquently painted in words are amazing!! Just wish I could read the original Persian version as I'm sure much is lost in translation.

Oliver Sacks' 'The man who mistook his wife for a hat' made me think how much of what I assume is inseparable to my internal experience is really something I take for granted.

I haven't finished it but Foucault's 'Archaeology of knowledge' is enlightening in many ways not least because of its precise language on transformations of fields of knowledge.

Principles by Ray Dalio.

I worked, somewhat briefly and largely unsuccessfully, at Bridgewater Associates several years ago and while I strongly disagree with the utopian description of BW as a bastion of egoless radical transparency and all the great things that are supposed to come out of that sort of an environment, the book and the principles behind it are really enlightening. I do honestly think if all workplaces operated in the way the book describes there would be more successful companies in the world and happier people working in them.

Working at Bridgewater is kind of like dating a real asshole: it's better if you break it off while the going is good so you can remember the experience fondly.

I'd love to hear more about your time at Bridgewater Associates, if you can share. (Principles is one of my favorite books.)

They aren't all self help. Some just shook my world view so much that I couldn't help but introspect, reviewing everything I believe from a new angle. I find the experience I had with each fairly intimate. I hope others may have the same experience with any book, but think that these may do it.

1. This Is What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - Haruki Murakami

Murakami talking about his decision to become an author and also his lifelong hobby of running.

2. Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls - David Sedaris

Made me laugh for the first time in awhile.

3. The Myth of Sisyphus - Albert Camus


"This is Water", a commencement speech by David Foster Wallace. Whenever I'm overwhelmed with life, stressed about work or relationships or whatever, I read this. I keep it in the kindle app on my phone specifically for that purpose. https://www.docdroid.net/n9UgjO3/this-is-water.pdf

This speech made a very strong impact on me as well.

I find listening to the speech even more chilling: https://youtu.be/8CrOL-ydFMI

Okay, here's an unusual one that hasn't been mentioned yet (and I'm completely serious with this suggestion): Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, by Ashlee Vance. [1]

Musk is a polarizing figure, no doubt, but what really struck me, at least as presented here, is his vision for the future. That he's not working for money or glory so much as to save the planet and the species. That's a pretty big goal, and a tremendous service to humanity.

More than any book I've read recently, this made me stop and reflect on my own life and what I'm doing with it. I work, primarily, in entertainment, which has its own value, and I try to make a positive, if small, difference in the lives of people around me, but ... nothing like on the scale of what Musk is doing.

This is a pretty indirect suggestion, and nothing in the book advocates this sort of introspection, but it was my profound take-away. Who knows? It might have a similar effect on you.

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25541028-elon-musk

A friend gave me a copy of this book following a crisis. He had had a similar experience and it had helped him. I read it 3 times in a row over the period of a few weeks and it really helped comfort me.

Fear - Thich Nhat Hanh


The big ones for me:

1) Antifragile by Taleb (Skin in the Game is so far excellent as well) 2) The Border Trilogy by McCarthy 3) The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky 4) East of Eden by Steinbeck 5) Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut

Taleb's books are something I almost hate to recommend.

I don't like a lot of his attitude (arrogance) and I'm not sure I'd call them all that well written either. He likes to ramble and seems to cram as many "SAT words" as possible into his writing, even when simpler/more commonly used words would done the job just as well.

With that said, they're some of the books that have made me reconsider the world around me the most and he has a very interesting take on the world.

"The fall" and "The stranger" from Albert Camus, arguably the most accessible cornerstones of Existential philosophy, and they really make you think about your position in this world and as a person. The play "no exit" by Sartre is also very interesting, and works well as the audio version by Partially Examined Life (a philosophy podcast).

Well if you've read Frankl then I think you should read Primo Levi. The Drowned and The Saved and also If This Is A Man. One could say he came to less easily swallowed conclusions, but I think it is essential reading.

For me personally however I think Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment more or less informed my world-view from a very young age and continues to do so.


I picked up Crime and Punishment a few years ago, but had to put it down, due to both foreseeable and unforeseeable circumstances. How would you introduce it if you were to recommend it to someone?

I think introductions can take away from the direct experience of a great book. I think what's important is that since it is a work of literature it has the privilege of not even trying to deal with absolutes. It is an examination of what it might mean to be a moral human being. A kind of huge, entertaining thought experiment.

Ecclesiastes. (and the other Wisdom books)

Kierkegaard’s Either/Or

Thoreau’s Walden

William Stringfellow’s Impostors of God: Inquiries into Favorite Idols

... and any good poetry.

Yuval Noah Harari's books, 'Sapiens' and 'Homo Deus' really changed the way I look at things.

They have a bit of speculation, but if you seek to introspect and challenge your convictions, they're excellent books. 'Sapiens' specially.

1. Gödel, Escher, Bach - An Eternal Golden Braid

2. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

3. Siddhartha

4. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

5. The Blind Watchmaker

The book Non-Violent Communication lead me to examine my communication style and deeper motivations/feelings. Practicing it changed the communication in all my relationships for the better, even if the other person wasn't practicing NVC.

Seneca - On the Shortness of Life

Although it can be read in an hour or two, it completely rewrote the way I approach life – particularly by reframing procrastination and idleness.

"You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire"

Vonnegut when read carefully. Slaughterhouse-Five, Galapagos, and Sirens of Titan are three of the better ones I have read. They all connect tangentially to the same universe, so reading more Vonnegut also has cool pay-offs and tie-ins.

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Promoting “breathing” without thinking and not taking your thoughts too seriously has got me through a lot of emotional turmoil and “life situations”. Incredible even 5 years later.

I completely hated this book.

Why so? It appears to be in vogue at the moment but it doesn’t seem to be saying anything novel.

As you allude to, the basic idea is the same stuff you've heard if you've read anything about "mindfulness." Basically a lite Buddhism -- a lot of your unhappiness comes from a constant spigot of unbidden thought you can't shut off and you can improve your life by learning how to shut it off and be absolutely focused in the present moment, through exercises like meditation. I think this is a bit oversold but not bad.

But that's not really enough to have a media empire and series of books, so the book is larded with all kinds of ridiculous claims, including risible Biblical exegesis, an attribution of various historical atrocities live Kristallnacht to a failure to like In the Now, an extended discourse about how living In the Now can make menstruation a rapturous experience rather than a painful one, and obviously bogus claims about how living In the Now will actually cause the molecules of your body to spread out and make your body less dense.

I found Mr. Tolle's visualization of the pain body an extremely helpful tool to get me through extreme stress time and again.

I think these things, when moving beyond basic limbic system hacking like deep breathing, are highly personal, so YMMV.

I agree it has the tepid undertones you imply, but did not devalue the book since the one tool it provided me with has served me so well.

I'm glad it worked for you. All the talk of the pain body and the egoic mind just fell flat for me.

"All the talk of the pain body..."

The point with these therapeutic visualizations is to try how they work, personally, as an actual tool to solve a concrete dilemma. As such it does not matter how useless they sound in written form. Human mind has these psychlogical switches that just seem to work in specific situations. For example of a pathological "switch", the gambler is lured by an unpredictable sequence of loss and reward. Which to most people sound extremely silly, until they try it out themselves, and are totally hooked. Therapeutic switches can seem to have equal power to deal with ones emotions and pain.

For me, visualizing my pain as a separate entity that fed from my suffering allowed me to conceptualize my internal pain in a way in which I could observe and deal with it better.

It's like how some yogis speak of energy flows and whatnot - which is completely inconsequential hogwash and do not matter just as long as the movement and breathing techniques do their very physical work on the human body.

The problem with presenting functional techniques as deeply linked with an esoteric philosophy, a religious movement or (in Tolle's case) a guru is that the technique is often used as a token hook just to lure the person to follow the movement or philosophy.

I will say that meditation is one of the few things that felt good when I had a head injury.

Most recently How Not to be a Boy, by Robert Webb (of Mitchell and Webb, Peep Show fame). An autobiography of his childhood and early career, but also observed through the lens of how masculinity's cultural demands damage men, and those around them. All written by someone who's very funny.

He summarises the first few chapters in a brief video, so you have an idea what you're in for: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ujt4We82Jk

I will check that out. David's autobiography was a bit disappointing to me unfortunately

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt.

This book had a big impact on me; it definitely made me re-evaluate how I was approaching things like politics and religion.

The most important book I have read currently is “The Anatomy of Peace” by the arbinger institute. This book teaches me how to stay out of interpersonal conflicts and become a person pthers want to be together with.

“Crucial Conversations” is another really important book that teaches how to safely deal with very hard conversations.

For my own personal development/relationship with women I must say that “No more mister nice guy” and “the way of the superior man” has both helped me.

Lastly the letting go e-book by Leo Babauta from zenhabits also is really good.

1. A Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine

-my first introduction to stoicism.

2. Mastery by Robert Greene

-stories about the lives of luminaries such as Henry Ford, Michael Faraday, and Da Vinci on what it takes to be successful.

3. Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger

-for providing me a new mental framework on building discipline and confidence.

4. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

-for giving me a paradigm shift on how to think about myself and others.

5. Seeking Wisdom From Darwin to Munger by Peter Bevelin

-a compendium of cognitive biases and mental models.

I recently read "Outline" by Rachel Cusk, and it made me think a lot about the importance of listening, and how much you can learn about another person (and, through them, yourself). "Listening" isn't really something that'll change your worldview, but it's definitely a tool to enable you to do so.

That aside, the book is just very well written and really quite enjoyable to read, which is never something that hurts.

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