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Ask HN: What's one book that changed your life?
214 points by lando2319 on May 27, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 176 comments
What's one book that changed your life?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

I lead a team to translate the whole book to Vietnamese fifteen years ago as a freshman highschool student, and released it for free online. We beat the printed book publisher by months. I should have gotten into tons of troubles, but everyone was kind enough to not beat me down. I didn't get into any legal troubles partly because people saw the values in doing it, partly because they didn't know what to do with it, partly because we were anonymous later on. The website received so much traffic I couldn't believe. Later on, I wrote an ajax-based site: after loading a very simple skeleton, it would only load plain text on demand afterwards, yet it would quickly saturate any free hosting bandwidth I could get. To put it into perspective, I had several HN front page stories nowadays and I got about 50k unique visitors worldwide a day at best. I got 5k a day just from Vietnam back then.

It was how I knew and met half of all the important people that shaped my early twenties, many of them were writers, translators, poets, reporters. It was an incredible stretch of luck and a huge eye-opening experience to be starting it and seeing how powerful the internet could be and where following a passion could lead me to at that age. I was a college dropout at 19 and an internet celebrity I knew from that incident picked me up and suggested to me that I should look into studying in the US. If not, I would have been typing this in a dark hot corner in Vietnam today.

I wrote a bit in more details about it here: http://www.tnhh.net/posts/Harry-Potter-and-me.html

Archive of the translated book in 2004: http://web.archive.org/web/20040213105923/http://huanhuu.net... (it was lame)

This is awesome! Order of the Phoenix has a special place in my heart as well, because this was the first book I have read in English :D Me and my mom didn't want to wait half a year for translation.

But actually on-upping professional translators? That sounds amazing!

That is awesome, and exactly what great writing is about.

Cool story, thanks for sharing!

"A Guide to the Good Life" by William Irvine. It's an approachable guide to stoicism and it helped me become less attached and less anxious about things that I have no control over. I really value the increased peace of mind.

I took a lot of notes when I first read the book (https://booknotes.quora.com/Notes-on-A-Guide-to-the-Good-Lif...) and I still revisit them occasionally. (The notes don't replace reading the book, but give a good sense of its contents.)

+1 for the book recommendation and the reading notes.

I have always had a little bit of the spiritual side to me, but in the last ten years I have come even more to appreciate both the philosophy of stoicism and Buddhist teachings, which have a huge amount of overlap in my opinion.

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki

I was 19 and living in a van, camping under bridge overpasses in Colorado so I could just ski all day every day. My naive uneducated mind was formulating some sort of psuedo-hippy philosophy around the state of ecstasy reached in the perfect ride down a mountain through powder. Little did I know the "no-thought" mantra I had been inculcating was just a pale impression of this thousands year old tradition of mindfulness. When I picked this book up at a library I just sat down reading page after page being blown away by how he would describe the exact same sensibilities I had been reaching for. It was my first spiritual awakening as an adult.

Yeah, fantastic book - I remember specifically the section about his wife teasing him because he hadn’t experienced nirvana or something.

Hey man, where did you do most of your skiing? Also I would love to chat with you about how you went from ski bum to professional programmer (I'm assuming) but you don't have an email in your bio. Cheers

Mostly Abay/Keystone

We liked to hate on Vail on that side of the pass, but it really is the best. The only problem was affording it ;)

Thanks for mentioning. I saw your comment and started reading. I think it's going to be a long night tonight for me.

The Inner Game of Tennis. My coach gave me his copy from like 1998 that was very, very worn and I could tell he had read it many many times.

He was a badass, grew up in South Central, would ride his bike to nicer areas of LA where there were tennis courts, and just hit against the wall until someone else would show up & he’d ask to play with them.

Ended up playing in High School, and getting a full ride to a DI college.

He told me that reading this book when he was trying to get scholarships to college was one of the turning points in his life and then said, “How I’m teaching you to respond to adversity on the court is preparation for the more important challenges you’ll face in your life off the court.”

To this day, I often suggest this book to anyone as it played a similar role in my life as well.

I am a classical musicianby profession (principal bassoon in Norrköping Symphony orchestra if that tells anyone anything). I have used the techniques in the inner game of tennis daily for about as long as I can remember. A teacher of mine noticed I had a very uneven level and made me read it. One of the most important books in my professional career.

The Game, by Neil Strauss.

I know, I know, PUA's are despicable and all that. But as a super sheltered Mormon nerd who had zero flirting instinct and put girls on a pedestal/treated them like aliens, it absolutely refactored the social part of my brain for the better.

When I read the book, I was 22 and had never been on a date. Six months later I was engaged. Still married now, almost ten years later.

The Space Merchants, co-written by Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth. Mind you, I was barely a teenager at the time I read it. But:

-It led me down the path to the realization that advertising in almost all of its current forms is unequivocally evil and has no credible moral justification in our current society. I have been running adblocking software on all of my devices (and that of my family's) and feel mildly disgusted every time I see an ad in the street or on the rare occasions I watch television.

-It opened my eyes on the fact that corporations having more power than governments is a huge deal, especially at times where government is often equivocated to 'lazy bureaucrats' and opposed to private companies' supposed 'efficiency' (but for whom?).

-It made me realize that environmentalists are not just some rambling, soft-natured and out-of-touch hippies but simply ringing the bell about how we are going to be royally screwed if we don't radically change our current consumption habits.

But the most shocking thing about that book is that it was written in 1952. There was no targeted advertising and tracking, no concerns about global warming, no oil peak. Critics at the time said it was witty and light-hearted, but far too much of a caricature to be taken seriously. Reading the thing more than 60 years later gives the whole experience a sour pang of irony.

>But the most shocking thing about that book is that it was written in 1952.

Corporate greed and advertisement is quite old, though.

I think you will enjoy The Fifth Sacred Thing if you haven’t read it already.

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

Not because of contents, but because of the fact how i got it. Our local "search engine" (already dead) make a gift to everyone in the country - you can pick any IT book that you wish and they will give it to you for free.

That was a great example how spending (very little i suppose) money can help a lot of people. Most of my friends got something from them. Eventually when i won several prizes on coding contest i have done same thing - i gifted 50 books to young developers and they was able to pick anything they want too. That was a great experience and after years people sometimes still tell me that how it helped them.

This book called Mindfulness[1], was gifted to me, is very short and easy to read, it has nothing to do about spirituality (which I though it was), and has real life and practical examples. So because it changed my view then I could benefit from a lot of other good materials and talks that before this book I'd not even consider. Long term it also gave me a rational reason to meditate.

I think the saying "the master appears when the student is ready" kind of applies to books, it the depends the moment of your life the book will tell you something or not.


Economics in One Lesson by Hazlitt.

It's old but many of the lessons he teaches are still relevant today. It opened my eyes to the danger of only thinking about the things that are easily observable, and ignoring the "unseen" things.

> The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.

An absolutely excellent book. Read this when first starting to think about economics and followed it up with Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell.

This is one of those books where if you know only a little about economics after reading it you'll know even less.

Economics in one lesson is heavy on rhetoric and light on substance. The lesson is "look for hidden externalities". Which is by itself totally fair: we should indeed be mindful of externalities.

However when dealing with complex sociological questions there are always negative externalities and the case can always be made that there are additional hidden externalities we don't fully understand yet. And therefore the correct solution to all these sociological problems according to Hazlitt is to do nothing. Because only the externalities of action are considered, not the externalities of inaction. That's the slight of hand applied throughout the book. So the solutions are the same libertarian nonsense we're all familiar with: no government, no taxes, no minimum wages, no unions, no tariffs, etc.

"Economics in one lesson" is by no means a good book, but it's pleasantly written, freely available online, and it can be read in an afternoon. Additionally it makes the reader feel smart because it provides a very simple solution to a multitude of very complex problems. So that explains the appeal. If people want to learn basic economics they should study a reputable college textbook instead.

> when dealing with complex sociological questions there are always negative externalities and the case can always be made that there are additional hidden externalities we don't fully understand yet. And therefore the correct solution to all these sociological problems according to Hazlitt is to do nothing.

How can he propose to do something about what's not understood? Both action or inaction have consequences and those consequences once understood would motivate a new action or inaction. I'm not criticizing, I ask this because I didn't understand well the argument in its abstract form.

This book is complete trash. You should find a better book.

Care to explain why?

I'm not the guy who posted, but probably because the book has a conservative lean.

Regardless, I think the book is great as well.

Haven't read the book, but it doesn't matter. One man's trash is another man's treasure. The book might have been just what OP needed at the time they read the book. There are tons of books that I've read that were instrumental to me at some point, but today they are complete trash to me. From fiction to non-fiction.

Care to suggest one?


I agree that the book upthread presents weak arguments. I didn't like it even though I sympathize with much "libertarian nonsense".

Quiet by Susan Cain: realizing that i am normal, that my need to be alone is something that many other also feel. Realizing that its ok to be like this made me really emotional, sitting there on the train to work, almost crying of relief.. Yep, changes my life for the better, made me feel more secure about my self.

The Easy Way To Stop Smoking, by Alan Carr.

Very logically made me realise that willpower was really just about changing how you talk to yourself. Essentially learning impulse control.

I lost a deadly, expensive habit and a fair bit of weight. Clean for 6 years.

Great book.

It was the fourth or third book I had read in my life up until that point.

I read it and realized that in order for me to quit smoking, I had to quit drinking(I was around 19 at the time and a heavy drinker), and in order to do that I needed to change/get away from the circle of friends at the time. That day, after finishing the book the decisions were obvious and I did exactly what needed to be done. It was like: 1,2,3 done. I did it!

I quit drinking for 1,5 years. Moved to a different tow, to get away from all my friends at that time. Started reading books like mad, because I realized that the info in a book can substantially change my life.

I’m 30 now. I’ve been free from smoking for more than 10 years. Reading books has led me into having a well paid(by the standards of my country) job in SEO/digital marketing. I have not started, nor finished uni.

I think I need to re-read it, because I’d like to kick my habit of drinking and a few other bad habits.

I could not recommend it enough.

Clean for 6 years. Wow. Respect. Will read for sure. Just the thing I need.

This book is great. 10 years going.

101 BASIC Computer Games by David H. Ahl.

This was a book published in the 70s by DEC. I vividly remember at either the very beginning or the very end of the book there was a section on how to send submissions for consideration in future editions, complete with instructions on how to properly pack oiled teletype tape for shipping. :)

I found a copy of one of the editions of this book in my parent's book stash in the 80s some time after I got a C128. Up until then the C128 had spent most of it's time in C64 emulation mode alternately running a BBS, downloading cracked games while taking some liberties with the telephone system, or playing those games. Starting on that book put me on the path of teaching myself to program.

If the OP is looking for something that changes philosophical outlook, or something that might be relevant today, then I probably disappoint. However in taking the question literally, I'd guess this book set me on the path to the life I live today more than any other single book.

I started in a similar way with my C64. At that time I didn't have access to cracked games or anything like that so I started typing up BASIC programs (not sure it was that book in particular, the cover does look familiar). That led to teaching myself programming. It was a wonderful time having found a machine that let you express your thoughts in such a new way, very exciting. Not sure young kids nowadays can have the same connection, things have become way more complex.

Its about thinking biases, by far the book with the greatest information density I have ever read. 2 pages per thinking bias. Paid of a 1000 times.


How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

I refer to my handwritten notes on this all the time, and seemingly no matter how consistently I apply the ideas in my dealings with others, I always have a feeling that I wish I was doing better at it.

Seconded. So very helpful.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

I read it during a stay in a psychiatric facility. I had checked myself in because I felt unsafe towards myself.

I couldn't focus reading anything else. I could focus reading this. It even made me smile. Then even laugh.

The author killed himself before he ever saw it published. It's a remarkable book. In addition to helping me get out of my head for a bit, reading it facilitated a desire to make / build / write something good and live to see it exist in the world.

That was 2006. Happy to say I'm still here, still trying.

Sapiens (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23692271-sapiens) Gave words to describe my feelings for various ideas in my head. Another thing that happened (probably unrelated), after this I reestablished my reading habit that got lost for nearly 10 years.

This book is a great read. It is about how homo sapiens became the most powerful species on earth. It changed the way I used to think about various things such as religion, capitalism, nationalism, race, gender, equality, independence etc.,

"Bring Me Your Love" Charles Bukowski

Bukowski's style gave me a permission that I didn't know I was looking for. It was raw and accessible. It showed me that prose and poetry didn't need to be buried in metaphor and riddles.

That extends to much of life: let's get on with it. Sometimes it's fine to drop ceremony and adornment--especially if it's not genuine.

The Brothers Karamazov, by Dostoevsky, without doubt. Seriously, the chapter with the Legend of the Great Inquisitor forced me to ask myself what was the meaning of "freedom", and this in turns urged me to reconsider a lot of beliefs I had hold before.

For me it's The Idiot, due to Myshkin being such a distinct character. But all of Doestoevsky's work was eye-opening for me.

"1984" by George Orwell and "Gödel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter.

How did "1984" change your life?

I was probably to young for the book when I read it (about 15): the explicit description of a brain-wash torture with the result, that two lovers won't recognize each other emotionally anymore afterwards was beyond my imagination and left me with a mild form of capgras delusion that lasts until today.

> capgras delusion

So, that's what it is called? Thank you.

"Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War" by Robert Coram was the first biography I really enjoyed. John Boyd's dedication to his ideals is inspiring. The retrospective that comes from seeing an inspiring life, with all its trade-offs and inevitable end, was life changing.

Maybe not one, but 3 books:

Into the Wild (book and movie): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7ArZ7VD-QQ When I was in high school I was considering the same path as Christopher took, but then I heard about him and I learned from his story. "Happiness only real when shared"

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6289283-born-to-run This is how I got really hooked up to triathlon and ultramarathons. Great book, I lent it to many people and changed some of their lives too.

Learning PHP and MySQL: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40544.Learning_PHP_and_M... The book is ok, not great, but it changed my life. This is how I learned to program.

But I would say that other media also had an impact. Like poems:

"If—" by Rudyard Kipling: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qH5txHlSOUI

Then there are some short videos: The Race: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cM5A1K6TxxM Godspeed: https://youtu.be/pNSWTwB-_bk "The Hubble Ultra Deep Field" by Deep Astronomy: https://youtu.be/oAVjF_7ensg

The art of worldly wisdom, by Baltasar Gracian.

Timeless classic, tiny book of 300 maxims. Each one very profound, highly re-readable as you go through life. I've been reading it over and over little bits at a time, for well over a decade by now. Life changer for sure.

Definitely in my top ten list, too. Like Machiavelli, but its D&D alignment would be Neutral Good.

Nothing whatever like Machiavelli. I don't understand that last part you wrote, sorry.

Surprised it's not mentioned yet -> "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho.

This book is pure gold, however one has to approach it with a right mindset. It's not the best literature, per se, you will ever read, but if you take a deeper look, it's very simple, yet very profound. It somehow reminds me of the quote from Charlie Munger (Warren Buffett long time associate, and one of the wisest man alive) - "Take a simple idea, and take it seriously"

I had a very The Alchmist experience while I was reading The Alchemist. I was reading the book on the bus and and was so engrossed that I missed my bus stop. Then I decided that since it was a nice day, I'd take a walk around the neighborhood I ended up in. At the guitar store, there was an amazing Martin guitar that I couldn't put down. I still have it 15 years later. Kismet.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I learned to be less Arthur and more Ford about my approach to living my life in general, and dealing with Fenchurch winking out of existence in particular.

Did you learn how to fly yet? ;) I think at that point, Arthur learns how to be less Arthur himself. I don't think things between him and Fenchurch would've worked out, had he been the same person he was at the beginning of the books.

Then again, the last book really depressed me - I can't imagine having my Fenchurch being ripped away from me...

That part was probably worse than the ending for me.

I hope you are doing well.

I'm doing well now. Thank you! Hope you are too.

Particularly Ford in the third book then, huh?

"The point is, you see," said Ford, "that there is no point in driving yourself mad trying to stop yourself going mad. You might just as well give in and save your sanity for later."


One of the best! 42.

Anything by R.A.W. 23

A friend loaned me a copy of Ken Wilbur's A Brief History of Everything, which I credit with starting me down the path of philosophical thought. I honestly don't remember a whole lot about the book, but even if I did I'm not certain I'd recommend it if only because I've noticed this tendency of people to read a book about philosophical ideas and then just stop thinking about the ideas and treat them as some kind of dogma. I do recommend deep philosophical thinking though, and to try not to get caught up in the academic side of philosophy.

Terry Pratchett's Hogfather, in retrospect, laid the foundation for a fundamental shift in my understanding of belief and how it interfaces with reality.

Moral Mazes by Robert Jackall.

It helped me better detect and understand seemingly hypocritical and self-defeating actions by middle managers in companies, and also a lot of the disingenuous emphasis on “passion” used to suppress wages in start-ups or sell job candidates on a reduced salary or equity package with poor expected value or risk characteristics.

I wouldn’t say anything from Moral Mazes was surprising when stepping back to think about known manipulative behavior of middle and upper management. But it did give an excellent analytical and even a normative philosophical framework to use for recognizing and diagnosing it, which sometimes helps for avoiding it, choosing your battles, or knowing when to quit or turn down job offers.

I read practical ethics by Peter Singer in a time of my life when I was struggling to justify my way of life. It pushed me down a path that I still follow today.

Gösta Berling's tale by Selma Lagerlöf was also very defining. It kept me away from the niilism that often strikes teenagers. Truly wonderful writing (Although I can't vouch for any translations).

Interesting you mention Practical Ethics. How did it impact you? Is it more towards post-modernism and leftist ideas or tilts towards the right side of the political spectrum?

That's a tough question to answer, as he's often both. For instance Singer assigns many animals personhood, yet doesn't assign it to new-borns.

The upshot of this is that he advocates veganism, but also abortion, and even acknowledges that the killing of infants is potentially okay here.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

Read it first when I was 16, at the recommendation of my literature teacher in high school. For the past... - darn, this was long ago! - ...more than 20 years, I've read it at least once a year, and intend to do that for as long as I can read.

That book changed me, like nothing else since.

Happy to see this mentioned here. While I can't claim that it was "lifechanging" for me, I still maintain it to be one of the best SciFi novels I've ever read.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Hailing from a village in India and having seen Bill gates and other celebrities as real successful and been amazed about it, I had an entirely different notion of success and talent before reading outliers. But after that I started believing that Success can come from anywhere and whatever we call IQ or Intelligence, that is all something that's another skill and can be honed. It broke the myth of innate talent and success.

Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig

I read it only recently but it changed the way I look at everything now. I am now seeing how our creative culture is being hurt without most people noticing. I have become an advocate for free culture and contribute all my art to public domain. The book itself is freely available, you can google it and download it right now if you want to read it.

Count Zero by William Gibson. Somehow I ended up reading it before Neuromacer. It was in the early 90s. I was maybe 16 or so and I remember just getting sucked into that world. It was also the time when I was getting more and more into coding and learning about networks and when I managed to connect to the internet from home for the first time.

The book "Non-violent Communication" changed my life.

After I read it, I had some of the best communication with romantic partners I ever had. I also had fights with friends transform into heartfelt conversations when I was practicing NVC, even though my friends weren't practicing it.

Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth By Buckminster Fuller

I first read it when I was ~25 and it made me think about the way the world is, the historical reasons it is this way and how we can nudge it towards being better.

It frustrates me that Fuller wrote the book nearly 50 years ago and all the same stupid crap continues to happen and humanity doesn't seem to be getting its collective shit together.

But then I remember the lessons from the book on why the world is like it is and how we can only nudge it slowly....

You can read it here: http://designsciencelab.com/resources/OperatingManual_BF.pdf

Edit to also mention; Small Gods by Terry Pratchett (as well as basically every other book he ever wrote).

Why I Am Not a Christian, by Bertrand Russell (1), 16 years of Catholic indoctrination (0).

I love his essay on the benefits and virtue of idleness. Incredibly relevant today.

Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse

After that, I had to read all the others too!

The Art of Loving by Erich Fromme

A description of how love (romantic love, brotherly love, love for God, love for oneself) has to be actively practiced much like any other discipline and what the consequences are for individuals living in a society that by and large does not hold this belief. As a younger person who often gets frustrated with how easy it is to get caught up in his own narcissism and materialism, this book helped me better understand myself and what my core drives are moreso than anything else I’ve encountered to date. Only like 120 pages to boot.

The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, by Charles Eisenstein.

I almost passed on this one due to the corny sounding title, but I’m so glad I didn’t. It renewed my optimism about the future of humanity at a time when my faith was deeply challenged and I was bringing a new person into the world.


Gravitation by Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler

The Road to Reality by Penrose

The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli

"For a long time, we have tried to understand the world in terms of some primary substance. Perhaps physics, more than any other discipline, has pursued this primary substance. But the more we have studied it, the less the world seems comprehensible in terms of something that is. It seems to be a lot more intelligible in terms of relations between events.


We therefore describe the world as it happens, not as it is. Newton's mechanics, Maxwell's equations, quantum mechanics, and so on, tell us how events happen, not how things are...we understand the world in its becoming, not in its being. Things in themselves are only events that for a while are monotonous. But only before returning to dust, everything returns to dust.

The absence of time does not mean, therefore, that everything is frozen and unmoving. It means that the incessant happening that wearies the world is not ordered along a time line, is not measured by a gigantic tick-tocking. It does not even form a four-dimensional geometry. It is a boundless and disorderly network of quantum events. The world is more like Naples than Singapore.

If by 'time' we mean nothing more than happening, then everything is time. There is only that which exists in time."

Very influential in my teens:

Absalom, Absalom by Faulkner

USA by John Dos Passos

Cache Lake Country by Rowlands

To kill a mockingbird.

Quite frankly that both introduced me to racism and taught me to strongly condemn it. I also learnt the value of education and the utility of appropriate conduct.

Dune (and the sequels through God Emperor).

I’ve never found a writer who could discuss humanity writ large — both in masses, and over enormous spans of time — like Herbert. Dune is the easy to read, fast moving approachable yarn that gets you in. The real masterpiece is God Emperor, where we get to see humanity over thousands of years, and we really learn Herbert’s most important lesson: beware the charismatic dictator.

Don't know about changing my life, but these books changed the way i look at things:

The Tao of Pooh: Benjamin Hoff

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade by Kurt Vonnegut

TI 99/4a basic reference manual

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, by Abelson, Sussman

Object Oriented Analysis and Design by Grady Booch

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

Thieves in the Night by Arthur Koestler

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

War and Peace by L.N.Tolstoy

Chapaev and the void by Pelevin

The war of art, by Steven pressfield

I've listened to this book over a dozen times on Audible (also available on audio CD). I love the added energy given to the reading by listening at about 1.4x speed.

Mindset by Carol Dweck

The Three Body Problem series

Just great, modern, adult scifi books that describe scale of time and space really well in a constantly surprising plot

I'm amazed at all the "big names" mentioned here. Thinking about the quesion, I don't think I could pinpoint a book that drastically changed any "philosophical" views of mine.

I'll go with "Turbo Pascal für Kids" instead. It's the first programming book I've read as a kid and the topic has stuck with me so far :)

Immanuel Kant's critique of pure reason

Wow, that's a very tough book

The one book is probably actually three books that were read more or less at the same time: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick, Little, Big by John Crowley, and Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe. These books led to a change of reading habits in way that led eventually to working in publishing.

Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield, because I realized how simple are my own troubles compared to those 300 spartans that faced death against a force that easily was 1000 times bigger. Now every time I’m facing difficults I remember about those guys and nothing looks so hard in comparison.

Atlas shrugged I read this for the first time during the summer I graduated from college and was backpacking through South America. It struck me like a thunderbolt, putting into words principles that I strongly believed in but had not seen in print elsewhere.

zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance


"Gumption trap". oh yeah. Book of wisdom. Eventually I read the sequel, also good.

I absolutely adore that book

A Constitution for Living (Buddhist Principles for a Fruitful and Harmonious Life)


or get it free via


This is an interesting question to me, because I've read lots of books over my life and I don't really think I can say a book has 'completely' changed my life.

However, I've read books with interesting ideas that I've probably applied in my life to varying degrees, which I guess one could say has changed my life to some extent. If that's the criterion, then there are probably too many to list.

Since I'm likely being over-analytical, if I had to recommend one book to read it'd be something like 'James and the Giant Peach' or another book that would sufficiently open one's imagination.

My first ever programming book was "Usborne Guide to Understanding the Micro: How It Works and What It Can Do" written in 1982:


It's introduction to microcomputers and programming on ZX Spectrum.

I've read russian version of this book in 1994.

In post-soviet area in 1990, time was shifted, so in 1990s we had wave of popularity of ZX Spectrum and 8-bit game console NES (i.e. what was popular in 1980s in the west).

Ghost in the Wires.

Reading of Kevin Mitnick's exploits and benign (to me) curiosity was inspiring as I was testing out my own hand at hacking and social engineering in college. His approach to SE allowed me to get over the fear of dealing with individuals in my job hunt and to generally see people more as people (strangely enough).

The book is full of excellent anecdotes on the joys and consequences of sincere curiosity. To this day it still inspires me to ask "What is behind x/ if I push/pull/turn/fuzz this x" and "What happens if I just ask for x"

The Taoist Classics, Volume One: The Collected Translations of Thomas Cleary

(Tao Te Ching / Chuang-tzu / Wen-tzu / The Book of Leadership and Strategy: Lessons of the Chinese Masters)

Getting Real by 37Signals - https://basecamp.com/books/getting-real

Got me started building my first business.

Real Food/Fake Food by Larry Olmsted taught me to care about the quality and source of the food I eat.

Just caring about that has helped me lose 94lbs, and changed my life forever. Thank you Larry.

Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu. Gives you a completely different perspective on life. Also Awakening Upon Dying by the same author.

"Why employees are always a bad idea" - put into words something I always felt possible but was too afraid to demand. Gave me finally the motivation to start my own company. I was a wannabe for a long time, always searching for the right "idea" to start something when I realised that all I really wanted is a work environment where I have the freedom to choose how I want to work while still be part of something bigger.

The Bible

Agreed. A close second for me is Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. It helped me understand the Bible and put the things I was reading into categories. It's a thick book, but very readable. If you want something a bit smaller, there are two thinner books that are a summary of the original:

* Introduction to systematic theology (the discipline, not the book): https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/whats-systematic-...

* Introductory book: Christian Beliefs

* Mid-Level: Bible Doctrine

* In Depth: Systematic Theology


Obviously to anyone knowing me well enough I'm biased but I think parts could be of interest to some people here, esp. the proverbs.

Personally I got a lot from it and I'd say it has helped me to stay alive, make friends, work smarter and generally don't waste my life.

(Also maybe interesting is how different it might seem to how it is usually portrayed.)

Minus the Revelations book, it's great.

Eragon. I think it was the second book, where Eragon is training with the Elf in the Elf kingdom.

That part _changed_ me. Ironically I've now forgotten the exact life lesson.

"A Pattern Language" by Christopher Alexander. Helped me to understand the language of architecture. What works and why, and what doesn't work and why. To this day I can still pick up this book, turn to a random page and get lost for hours in it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Pattern_Language

10X bei Grant Cardone, read this January. Honestly, 10X is, in itself, nothing too new. It does not reinvent the world (like 4HWW did). Yet, by its open language and Grants directness, this book somehow got me started and since January I feel like I have rocket boosters attached.

The stuff I managed to do in recent months was unseen in my life so far (not that I was unsuccessful, but the time after reading this book is really different).

Kevin Kelly's New Rules for the New Economy. I gave away probably twenty copies to my friends to explain why I left one career to do a startup.

Course that book and Kevin Kelly post bubble were roundly criticized. But looking back he got most of it right. Sadly he stopped writing for quite a few years. That book motivated me that I was doing the right thing. That startup failed, but the next one didn't.

The Story of B by Daniel Quinn helped break me of the last vestiges of magical thinking. Immediatism by Hakim Bey helped me see the beauty of disobedience.

The way it is by Ajahn Sumedho. A collection of talks, perhaps a bit rambling at times, but very insightful, by a Theravadan Buddhist monk.

I read this every few months.


This book [1], which after reading the first page (numbered page 6) will provide all the insight you need to understand the revolutionary changes of Vatican II. https://www.mostholyfamilymonastery.com/2nd_edition_final.pd...

"Gödel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter. I did not understand much the first time I read that book (I was 16 or so); maybe I understood well only one thing: that I wanted to understand more. That book made me clearly see what I wanted to do. (I am now a professor of mathematical physics). I should definitely read it again...

Probability Theory: The Logic of Science by E. T. Jaynes

I was doing a post-grad degree in biomedical engineering and that book set me on a path to become a statistician -- exclusively Bayesian at the start, but now well-versed in all sorts of approaches. (Still prefer Bayes, but I'm only dogmatic about it in theory, not in practice.)

"Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman, it made me learn to start questioning my own thought processes.

Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse

Truly a mind-expanding book, which can help remove a lot of contraints on ones’ thinking.

Gruts by Ivor Cutler.

Milk, Sulphate, and Albie Starvation by Martin Millar.

I was introduced to Martin Millar by a very close friend who stole very many books. She was good at it, and she stole hundreds of books.

In turn I introduced her to Ivor Cutler. We'd sit in her room drinking tea, eating pikelets and jam, listening to Ivor Cutler.

"Go and sit upon the grass, and I will come and sit beside you." What a genius.

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [0]

It helped me understand certain things I experienced in life without consciously knowing about them.

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

Mrityunjaya, the death conqueror. A novel depicting the life of Karna (one of the Mahabharata character). Once you read this, your entire view of Mahabharata will change. I read this in my teenage years. It has changed my view of looking at life, and I started to take life seriously.

I have this book in my shelf for so many years. I am going to read this.

I ordered a Hindi version first but couldn't make head or tail of most of the parts and later ordered the English one.

But procrastination prevailed. These days I am feeling a bit lethargic about reading; reading this comment make me to go and give it a try again.

Could you mention some of things you realized reading this book and how you are using it in daily to daily life.

I realized that life is not always fair with you. But however cruel it is, be firm with your principles. Know yourself and ignore the discrimination by others. I read this in my teenage year, the time in life which makes you, and the values of Karna become my values. I was so impressed by this book, that some year later, in my college days, I read another book by same author on Krishna's life named Yugandhar (roughly meaning emperor of Era). Now every time I am in tricky situation, I always think what will Krishna do in this situation.

Dandelion Wine

Bradbury creates a special experience that few other authors manage. Like Le Guin.

There is also a beautiful soviet film based on the book.

Minds, Brains and Machines, by Geoffrey Brown: https://www.amazon.com/Minds-Brains-Machines-Mind-Matters/dp...

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker.

This has changed how I approach sleep.

Fight Club, the book/movie, put the final nail in the coffin of my waning materialism.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling.

Despite Kipling's jingoism in other works, Kim spoke to me in school. It opened me to a world of adventure and fearlessness that I didn't know was possible. I really haven't been the same since I read that book.

What an excellent book, great story and reads like it was written yesterday. If you're trying to understand India this is the book.

Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut

How did it change your life? I have to say, me too! I didn't know how to pick just 1 book, but this is a great choice. The first novel I ever read that really spoke to me 100%, I read it over and over for many months on the school bus. So funny, so touching. I never go very long without talking about something from it. Hope the movie's 1/2 good.

Atlas Shrugged gave me a different perspective and changed a lot of viewpoints.

Ayrton Senna's Principles of Race Driving

His insight about trying to predict how the car will behave was staggering. Literally, it makes the impossible something that is achievable... terrifying but achievable.

Infinite Jest. Re-opened my mind to the aesthetic beauty and raw technical skill of competitive sports, after years of repression following negative childhood experiences.

The Poker Face of Wall Street by Aaron Brown

Tied together a lot of concepts from my undergrad with my new work, and on top of it also Poker, which became one of my main analogies for life.

Reminiscences of a Stock Operator

Fascinating story of a fabled trader from the bucket shops of mid-America in the Gaslight era to the roaring twenties on Wall Street.


The Disappearance of the Universe, by Gary Renard...and following naturally, A Course in Miracles (supplemented by lots and lots of Kenneth Wapnick).

Structure And Interpretation Of Computer Programs.

"Crime and Punishment", "Science of Evil", "Developers Hegemony".

Well, it's 3 - but it is a hard question.

Not the only one for sure, but A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The plain-spoken honesty in that book contains multitudes.

The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger.

The 6 Pillars Of Self Esteem.

I can palpably feel my awareness expanding as I do the sentence completion exercises.

I can't give just one, but here are a few that had a strong influence on me: "12 Rules for Life" by Jordan Peterson, "Why Switzerland?" Jonathan Steinberg, "Little Book of Common Sense Investing" by John C. Bogle, "A Random Walk Down Wall Street" by Butron Malkiel, "Liberalismus" by Ludwig von Mises, "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius, "A Treatise of Human Nature" by David Hume, "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman, "The Law" by Frédéric Bastiat, "Autobiography" by Benjamin Franklin, "Common Sense" by Thomas Paine, "Gespräche mit Goethe" by Johann Peter Eckermann, "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau, "The Old Regime and the Revolution" Alexis de Tocqueville, "On Liberty" by John Stuart Mill, "A Treatise on Political Economy" by Jean-Baptiste Say, "The Man Versus the State" by Herbert Spencer, "The Revolt of the Masses" by José Ortega y Gasset, "Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy" by Joseph Alois Schumpeter, "The Logic of Scientific Discovery" by Karl Popper, "The Machinery of Freedom" by David Friedman, "On Power" Bertrand de Jouvenel, "1984" by George Orwell, "The State" by Anthony de Jasay, "Sketched With the Quill" by Andrzej Bobkowski, "My Correct Views on Everything" by Leszek Kolakowski, "The Captive Mind" Czesław Miłosz, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, "The House of the Dead" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, "Conversations with an Executioner" by Kazimierz Moczarski, "Diary 1954" by Leopold Tyrmand, "The Master and Margarita" by Mikhail Bulgakov, "A World Apart: A Memoir of the Gulag" by Gustaw Herling-Grudziński

Maybe you can format it to make it more presentable. :)

What do you do after you say hello - Transactional Analysis book, mindblowing.

Carlos Castaneda, definitely.

Great fun following that saga. Esp. 'Separate Reality'

Journey To Ixtlan is a personal favorite.

The Hundred-Year Language by Paul Graham. Essay in Hackers & Painters.

Ethical Intuitionism by Dr. Michael Huemer

It gave me a plausible alternative to Nihilism.

Writing On Water by Mooji.

"Revolutionary Wealth", by Alvin and Heidi Toffler.

The Glass Bead Game.

Seconded. I didn't enjoy reading it, but it made a tremendous impression on me nonetheless.

(two authors of many) Fritjof Capra. Michael Polanyi.

The Laundry Files.

The Art of Shaolin Kungfu by Wong Kiew Kit

Wizards Presents: Worlds And Monsters.

The Great Transition, James Martin.



The Book of Mormon.

It teaches about Jesus Christ and answers questions like “Where do we come from?”, “Why are we here?”, and “What happens after we die?”. It’s had a incredible effect on my life by helping me understand the purpose of my life and provides the right perspective when making big decisions in my life.

I know it’s a true book that can change the life of anyone who reads it.

The Bible

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

Cliche, but How to Won Friends and Influence People, along with Atlas Shrugged were the 2 biggest influences for me when I was trying to get sober. Or rather, they kept me dedicated when I was getting sober and wanted to deviate.

12 Rules for Life

I second 12 Rules of Life. Can you give a specific instance where it helped you?

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