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Ask HN: Good books?
181 points by bherms on Oct 3, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 167 comments
I just finished reading Atlas Shrugged, which I thought was a fantastic book. I'm reading Another Roadside Attraction now on the recommendation of a friend, but I think I want to read some non-fiction next, or at least eye-opening fiction. I'm thinking about some Bertrand Russel, Richard Feynman, or books on philosophy, human behavior, or economics.

What are some good books that you've read that are ground breaking, thought provoking, or changed the way you think/look at things?

ps: you can check out my shelf at shelfari.com/herms

If you liked "Atlas Shrugged", you will love "East of Eden" by George Steinbeck. It has some passages on self-determination that puts anything found in Rand to shame. It's a tome, and it starts slow - do yourself a favor and make it through the introduction of one of the villains, Kathy (chapter 8 or so). It doesn't slow down after that.

"The Watchmen" by Alan Moore. It may be a graphic novel, but the issues it raises on ethics and morality are chilling. I still think about the ending every now and then, and I haven't read it in over a year.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. In addition to the primary themes on class, race, and the killing of innocents, it has an interesting thread on living with your own moral code.

"Catch 22" by Joseph Heller. Ostensibly a satire of the military, this is a good self-reflection on the American soul (circa 1961).

"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!". The life of a Nobel winning physicist and renowned professor doesn't have to be boring.

"Everything is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safran Foer. The premise is too complicated to describe here, but it really delves into the cruelty and self-protectionism of the human heart. Plus, its hysterical!

"Slaughterhouse Five" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Describes the horror of war and the effect it has on the rest of your life.

"Chronicle of a Death Foretold" by Gabriel Garcia Marques. Tells the story of a murder that everyone in town knew would happen, but nobody tried to stop.

Surely You're Joking is amazing. It's one of those books I can't get enough of, and I reread it several times. I wish I had such an interesting life.

"Classic Feynman" is a compilation of Surely You're Joking and "What do you care what other people think?" plus some extra material. Highly recommended.

Oh I'm not joking, and don't call me "Shirley"!

That is a splendid list.

I'll add:

"Sandman" by Neil Gaiman. Also a graphic novel, but this series literally reinvented comics to me, and to many other readers.

"Lunar Park" by Bret Easton Ellis. Probably the safest introduction to Ellis if you aren't looking for a rampant gore-fest. Spooky, creepy, chilling, but also insightful, confounding and enlightening.

"Catcher in the Rye" by JD Salinger. Mostly recommending as it fits into the above list, but I feel like it was missing. I personally felt it was overhyped, but I'm the odd man out, as everybody I've ever talked to considers it profound.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman is pretty good as well .. very good infact ..

The first chapter of East of Eden is the most gorgeous chapter I've ever read!

What do you mean it starts slow!?

Every one of those is on my list :)

I've read Watchmen, Everything is Illuminated, and Slaughterhouse Five. All were fantastic. The film adaptation of Everything is Illuminated was actually very good too.

I thought Slaughterhouse Five was great, but I think I found myself left thinking more after reading Breakfast of Champions.

Really? I've read both (along with several other Vonnegut books), and I thought S5 was much more though provoking. Given how quickly his books read, I might have to reread Breakfast of Champions.

I really enjoyed _The Sirens of Titan_ and _Cat's Cradle_, too.

Could you put into words the chilling issues about ethics and morality found in The Watchmen? I've read it some year ago, but I really can't remember anything striking, though I'd like to.

I believe he's referring to the end: If you could save the world, but to do so, you had to destroy New York City, could you? Should you? How much evil is acceptable in order to do good?

If it turns out that you enjoy graphic novels, I'd recommend Alan Moore's "Promothea" as well.

Isn't that John Steinbeck rather than George?

Yes. Somehow that survived three rereads. Thanks for the correction!

Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything. It's a history of human reasoning, tracking the emergence of science into what we know today. Fills in a lot of meaningful gaps you may have forgotten from your various science courses, while providing the human side of major advances (rivalries, disappointments, hoaxes, all of it).

Science from a new perspective is excellent, but it's also such an interesting window on the many people who have struggled against really difficult problems to move humanity forward.

Also, make sure you go play Bioshock (the first one) for a sobering counterpoint on Randian thought. Atlas Shrugged is awesome, until you remember that you can't trust any group of people to maintain their rational behavior in the face of personal gains. Great story, and it'll drag you back from Randroid town (it did me, anyway). Either way, the kid in me would still love to have dinner in Galt's Gulch.

If you'd like to read eye-opening fiction, I heartily recommend The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein. It's an incredible exploration of what it is to be free and how modern societies evolve at the expense of their citizens' personal liberties. One of the most thought-provoking pieces of fiction I've ever read, and lots of fun character-wise as well. (Incidentally, Heinlein was a fan of Ayn Rand, so if you liked Atlas Shrugged, you may find this even more interesting.)

Another lovely counterpoint to Ayn Rand is "Sewer Gas and Electric" by Matt Ruff. It is absurdist science fiction that is hilarious and full of fascinating characters.

I really enjoy Atlas Shrugged as well, I've read the whole book twice, actually. But I don't believe it is a good code to live by. My favorite quite about her books comes from The Daily Show. On the back of America The Book there is a fake blurb from Rand: "just like one of my books, reading this book will make you an asshole for two weeks."

Her books are seductive because they intentionally oversimplify life. Her characters are not realistic and are completely binary. Everyone is either a superhero or a weasel. This makes for entertaining reading, but not much else.

Read "Crossing to Safety" by Wallace Stegner. It is a brautiful book about an intense relationship forged between two couples. It's my favorite thing I've read recently.

I loved that Rand "quote" too, when I saw it.

Reading Atlas Shrugged made me an asshole for at least 2 weeks - I remember some stormy arguments with my flatmates over drinks.

As polemic it's amazing; as a moral code it's callous.

Haha, I have played Bioshock. Twice. Incredible game in every sense: art, story, gameplay, etc. I still need to try the second. I picked up Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land on recommendation from a good friend, but I've yet to read it. I'll have to check out Bryson as I really enjoy reading about science, especially from different perspectives. You never learn as much about something from a single point of view -- life is 3-d.

I didn't love Stranger, but I blame Heinlein's stroke on that. Mid-way through writing it, he had a stroke – and you can tell because there's this huge break in the direction of the narrative.

Moon feels much more cohesive and internally consistent. It's my favorite work of Heinlein's. Citizen of the Galaxy is also outstanding, even though it was written for the "juvenile" market.

The neatest thing about Bryson is that he's a travel writer. It works out really well for a science book, though, because he takes nothing for granted and describes everything with such loving flourish. It's a travelogue through the history of science and it's funny, and fun, while still respecting the subject matter.

And please, for goodness sake, don't let anyone ruin the Bioshock story for you.

Am I the only one who is very libertarian-inclined but hated Atlas Shrugged? Instead of creating characters that are human (with flaws, weaknesses, subject to emotional reactions) but that manage to "win" by sticking to some ideal, she creates characters that are the personification of that ideal, completely out of touch of reality.

I mean, not even Greek gods were perfect if you know basic mythology. Yet, you want me to believe that Hank Rearden will just give up "his true love" just because he sees value in Galt? And what happens with Rearden's self-interest? (as in, I want the girl, dammit!)

Acting out of self-interest in only valid when dealing with money? Stupid!

Besides, talking about the "Philosophy of Ayn Rand" is no different than talking about the "Theology of L. Ron Hubbard."

she creates characters that are the personification of that ideal, completely out of touch of reality.

That's intentional. The effect is Brechtian - the characters are designed to force you to think about and self-rationalize the concepts they represent. They're not there to populate a fictional world you can lose yourself in.

Relax. You're not alone. I'm extremely libertarian and I hated the Fountainhead (haven't read AS). And objectivism rubs me the wrong way.

I think generally libertarian philosophy is inclined towards voluntarism as the broad umbrella. In other words, altruism - I hesitate to use this word so how about charity - is not to be forced upon people by the hand of the government, which is coercive. Personally, I believe that there are genuinely people, who through no fault of their own, are unable to help themselves. Like the electric-wheelchair-bound multiple gunshot wound victim who was one of my low-income food-delivery clients in DC. That could have been anyone. And if it happened to you, you woudn't be able to care for yourself. And you'd want someone to, out of the goodness of their hearts (or hell, for whatever screwed up reason they might have) to reach out help you.

But that isn't the same as someone "putting a gun to your head" and telling you you'd better help that person, at the threat of arrest.

Although I completely agree with you, Rand considers herself a romanticist[1], and therefore uses her literature to portray her vision of the ideal human being. In fact, I think I read somewhere that she hated naturalism.

[1] See The Fountainhead's introduction in one of the recent editions.

Rand claims that the characters were intentionally portrayed that way:

"My characters are persons in whom certain human attributes are focused more sharply and consistently than in average human beings"

I agree with you on the Rearden vs Galt issue though...that doesn't make sense.

I believe it does, in the context of the story.

1) Hank Reardon wouldn't tolerate a life of (self) deception; knowing Dagny wanted Galt, and accepting that truth, was the only internally consistent course available.

2) Hank Reardon loved and respected Galt. If he had to give up Dagny to be able to continue to be a part of Galt/D'Ancona/Dagny's life, then his rational response was to do that.

3) Hank Reardon embodied the self-confidence that allowed him to see Dagny's preference for Galt was not a rejection of Hank, nor did that diminish Hank Reardon (e.g. your value isn't shaped by others).

You have to view it as a thought experiment -

only individual freedom matters -> libertarianism

only equality matters -> communism

only arbitrary values and efficient pursuit of them matter -> fascism

behind every form of government lurks an oligarchy that has to make workable tradeoffs between those ideals, while of course pursuing their own interests

What basis do you have for equating the "Philosophy of Ayn Rand" with the "Theology of L. Ron Hubbard"?

"The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values" by Sam Harris is a new release which falls into the category of philosophy, remarks on human behavior, and is bound to reference Bertrand Russell.

Harris, who has trained both as a philosopher and a neuroscientist, argues against the popular notion that science can have little or nothing to say about morality. Necessarily, he confronts related ideas like moral questions having no objectively right answer and science and religion being "nonoverlapping magisteria". Basically, he says that all moral questions must relate to maximizing the wellbeing of conscious creatures, and that what increases or decreases a creature's wellbeing can be studied scientifically at the level of the brain.

I just started reading it. Even if I'm not yet sure that I'm going to be completely convinced of the claim that "science can determine human values," I'm finding Harris to be a very clear thinker, as well as an amusing writer.

If you want a taste of his ideas and style, you can watch his TED talk, "Science can answer moral questions."


http://www.amazon.com/Moral-Landscape-Science-Determine-Valu... (It isn't available from Amazon until October 5; I bought my copy in a bookstore.)

I am a extreme advocate for science and a complete atheist, but completely disagree that any of the points he brings up in his TED talk actually support his thesis. I think he is confounding being able to discover logical fallacies in existent (moral) arguments with the possibility for innate derivation or at least making a very large leap of faith. I remain unmoved from the notion pure science is strictly observational and every single decision for prescriptive action is, at its core, a value judgement.

The core question for most prescriptive action is often simply determining the limits of the self, that is, how do we delimit the boundary between the self vs. the other, and what are the bounds that we choose to extend empathy to?

Is the near-self or that which empathy extends to everything that biologists have classified as homo sapien? Is it confined to ourselves and a handful of close friends? Is the boundary defined at humans sharing similar values, goals, and culture? Is it extended to all animals with a central nervous system? How can we determine what this value ought to be scientifically?

"The seperation between science and human values is an illusion, and actually quite a dangerous one at this point"

This seems to ignore historically that, more often than not, science is used as ex post facto justification. Darwinism and natural selection is a true scientific observation with mountains of supporting evidence. It was also later adopted as a central logical doctrine for the most abhorrent policies of Nazism. A logical argument for eugenics could be made, but remains abhorrent because in Nazism, the near-self vs other distinction drops off in a freefall across subsets of humanity. This contrasts strongly with today's average definition of near-self considered to be the set of all that is homo-sapien.

The set, degree, and unit by which we extend empathy in the self vs. other distinction IS the core of human values and he does not offer a derivation.

I suppose I should reserve final judgement until I investigate his book you mentioned more thoroughly.

From watching the video of him at TED, I don't think he got to expound on his ideas to the extent that they'd be done justice. The God Delusion does a fantastic job of showing how morality can be entirely derived from science, logic, and reason. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it!

I read his book "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason". I thought it was incredibly well written and presented some awesome points in favor of doing away with religion (however, I'm obviously biased as an atheist).

I haven't watched his TED talk yet, but I'll be checking it out asap.

The idea of "evolutionary morality" is covered in depth by Richard Dawkins quite often and really makes sense when you look at it. A society that avoids immoral behavior (moral meaning there is a victim, not religious-based moral ideals) benefits mutually. It's basically a moral version of the prisoners dilemma. I personally would rather have a society that bases morality on logic, reason, and thought than on fear of retribution from an angry man in the sky :)

If you're looking for something different then check out The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. It's is an eye-opening book in a very nontraditional sense.

You may remember Pausch as the computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon who was told that he had but a few months left to live (cancer). This book doesn't stray from its topic: "What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance?" If you're looking for motivation and an "out of the box" approach to analyzing daily life then this is it.

Here's the book: http://www.amazon.com/Last-Lecture-Randy-Pausch/dp/140132325...

Here's the famous speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo

I didn't know he wrote a book about it, thanks. I've watched the speech a few times and it is excellent.

Since you mentioned 'eye-opening fiction' I give you my wholehearted recommendation for Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality:


Don't be misled by the 'fanfic' tag, it's a mere shell for a very deep piece of work, endorsed by Eric S. Raymond and David Brin. Many have accused the author for slipping in a lot of his own voice, calling it his own 'Atlas Shrugged', but seeing as you liked that, I think you'll find this a pleasure, too.

Has no one recommended Musashi? Really? Here's a writeup I did in another comment -


If you're talented and get frustrated with stupid people, you have to read "Musashi" by Eiji Yoshikawa. I mean, you have to.

Musashi was one of the greatest (maybe the greatest) swordsman of all time. He invented a Japanese longblade/shortblade mixed style of swordsmanship, at one point fighting himself out of an ambush when he was attacked by over 30 men. He was undefeated in over 60 duels, including defeating arguably the second best swordsman in Japan at the time while fighting with a wooden oar he carved into a rough swordlike shape.

Here's Musashi's Wikipedia page:


The book by Eiji Yoshikawa is historical fiction - it's period accurate and follows all of Musashi's most well known story. It fills in some other details we don't know of Musashi's life - how he might have trained, some minor scuffles with bandits of the day, and it added a love story.

The book is exceptional. Musashi has immense amounts of raw talent, but is in conflict with himself in the world, arrogant, keeps getting into problems and trouble until he comes to more mastery and wisdom. Seriously, I read a lot, and this is hands-down my favorite book of all time. It's a hell of an enjoyable read, really pleasant and beautiful, fun and adventurous, but also filled with deep wisdom. It's a great swashbuckling story, but also teaches you about thinking critically, tactics, strategy, training, tradeoffs, and so on. Just a masterpiece. Easily the most influential book of my life.

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I haven't read the fictional works of Musashi, but his own warrior manual "The Book of Five Rings" is quite good, like "The Art of War". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_Five_Rings

I tried reading this after finishing Shogun but just couldn't get into it. Watched the movies instead with Toshiro Mifune as Musashi, and will agree that its an epic story. The legend of the wandering warrior who lives only to increase his skill is something that occurs a lot in Japanese fiction (e.g. Ryu in SF).

Second that, great historical fiction. Yoshikawa's other book, Taiko, is equally good.

Yeah, I quite like Taiko as well. It's more dry and expansive - it covers a few leaders throughout an era, as opposed to Musashi that has one main character and 2-3 important supporting characters.

Did you know any Japanese history before reading Taiko? I did, and enjoyed it a lot. I wonder if it'd be too much for someone with no historical background before reading it though? It covers a lot of ground.

I bought the book based off of this comment and read it. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks

Bought the book because of this comment. I'm yet to read it though.

Most books by Hermann Hesse, really... Narziss&Goldmund changed my perspective on life. If you have anything artistic in you, it's a must-read. Steppenwolf, Siddharta and the Glass Bead Game are other must-reads.

Gabriel Garcia Marques, One hundred years of solitude.

Practically all of Jorge Luis Borges' short stories. Mind-bending.

Milan Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Michael Ende's Never Ending Story.


Hesse has come highly recommended. I added several of his books to my list of must-reads. I did a little research on Borges and think I'll have to read some of those stories. I think Unbearable Lightness of Being was recently adapted into a movie, as I didn't know it was a book. Will check it out.

I read many of Hesse's books. I liked his "Journey to the East" - a really interesting statement on leadership through service.

Anything by Hesse will change how you think! "Demian" is also a must read.

Trying to confine myself to books I haven't seen others mention:

"Guns, Votes, and Democracy" is a wonderful book about democracy in the third world and is both insightful and surprisingly readable.

"The Retreat to Commitment" is the only philosophy book I'd actually recommend.

"The Design of Everyday Things" is a book for anyone who makes or uses things.

"The Transparent Society" is a thought provoking book on the future of privacy.

"The Mystery of Capital" is a book on the importance of non-corrupt government in successful capitalism, a good point of view to have in addition to Rand.

"The Strategy of Conflict" on how to use game theory in the real world, and negotiations especially.

Hermann Hesse's novel "The Glass Bead Game".

Ostensibly it's about this sophisticated game played in a monastery that abstracts over the sum of human knowledge. To me it presented a very potent argument for the value of academia in a commercially-driven world.

If nothing else, it nicely counterbalances the monomaniacal ambition and stress of tech startup land in a way that us geeks can appreciate.

The Glass Bead Game is mostly about useless academics that play a useless game and are remote from reality.

The main character tries to find true meaning, then dies a sudden death, unfit for life when confronted with it.

And Ulysses is about a man taking a walk...

It's that perception of 'useless' that The Glass Bead Game addresses for me, at a personal level. YMMV.

The glass bead game is never really described in the book. It does not serve any real purpose. It is just an academic exercise with no grounding in reality. The players are academics who don't have to earn anything. The state pays for them. Even among other academics it is not clear if the glass bead game is useful. The main character feels this emptiness and tries to escape from that. The end is typical.

I don't think lispm was expressing a judgement on The Glass Bead Game, but rather pointing out the subtext of the book. The parallel with Ulysses is not applicable, IMHO; a day of a man's life is just the ostensible surface of the book, not its subtext.

I am a total whore for historical fiction:

'Shogun' by James Clavell was the first book I read that had me glued to it for hours and hours at a time. Tai Pan is also a classic.

I also found the original three Courtney books by Wilbur Smith (starting with 'The Sound of Thunder') were a guilty pleasure. They are pure trash, with thin characters and a predictable plot but epic adventure nonetheless.

More recently I've topped off the 'Emperor' series (chronicling Julius Ceasars life) and have started the 'Conqueror' series (same thing, but its about Genghis Khan). Both by Conn Iggulden.

Not quite at the same literary level as some of the other suggestions here but I was wondering if I was the only one.

If you liked Shogun you should read his book King Rat. One of my top 10!

+1 for Shogun and Tai Pan.

If I were to name one, it would be "The Black Swan", by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

You hear all the time about how unlikely it is for someone to succeed as a startup. Or how the Democrats have a 65% chance of winning. Or even how statistically speaking, it's safer to fly than to drive.

After going through that book, my perception on randomness was changed forever.

Have you read the Taleb's previous book, "Fooled by Randomness"? I was completely blown away by it. I didn't find "Black Swan" to be anywhere near as interesting, but that could just be because I read it second.

Yup, I did read his Fooled by Randomness before I read this one. That one blew me away too. The Black Swan succeeded in in being even more impressive though, and I think it covered quite a bit of new ground.

The Black Swan is longer, and has a bit more technical coverage. I liked that, but I've heard from others that it gets in the way of the main point about how to deal with randomness.

Regardless, both books are insanely good. Worth the time and money for sure.

Same here, I liked FBR better than BS. Taleb himself says he 'no longer likes' his first book (FBR), but then the guy's a bit of a contrarian, to put it mildly.

I should add that a few traders I know recommend FBR as the first book a new recruit should read.

I agree -- FBR is a much deeper book.

See here: http://jseliger.com/2010/03/22/influential-books-on-me-that-... for a list of influential books on me. I actually have a half-written post on books I wish I'd read when I was younger; here it is:

1. <em>Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience</em> by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

2. <em>The Guide to Getting It On</em> by Paul Johannides [sp?]

3. <em>The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature</em> by Geoffrey Miller

4. <em>Hackers & Painters</em> by Paul Graham

5. <em>Man's Search for Meaning</em> by Viktor Frankl

6. <em>Stumbling on Happiness</em> by Daniel Gilbert

In all cases, I think these books profoundly shaped how not only I think, but I think others can learn to think too. All suddenly revealed new connections and ideas about the world I'd never experienced or expected to experience before.

Granted, no book can be removed from its context, and its possible that if I'd read some of the books above as a younger person I wouldn't have been ready to appreciate them. But <em>Flow</em> seems by far the most valuable of the choices listed above because it engulfs more of the content of the others than any other choice.

Steven Berlin Johnson's new book Where Ideas Come From looks promising: http://www.amazon.com/Where-Good-Ideas-Come-Innovation/dp/15... .

I'll have to second #3, the Mating Mind. It put a lot of stuff about dating into context.

"Fooled By Randomness" by Taleb is one of my favourite books of all time! I found it really eye-opening.

I'm currently reading "Outliers" by Gladwell, and it's a great read! I'll probably try and pick up a copy of his "Tipping point" next.

Another good psychology/behaviour/economics book is "Freakonomics", and it's sequel "SuperFreakonomics". Both interesting reads. If you haven't read "Fooled by randomness" yet though I'd definitely recommend that first!

I am also reading Fooled by Randomness right now, enjoying it a lot. Black Swan was good. I didn't like outliers very much. Tipping Point and Blink were more interesting to me.

I am a big fan of both Fooled by Randomness and Black swan. I especially love the fallacies he discusses w.r.t. human brain!

I also recommend Sudhir Venkatesh's "Gang Leader For a Day".

Non-fiction: "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" by Robert Cialdini

Fiction: "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell

I'm going to assume that you've read Crytonomicon and Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson, but if not... they are #1 on any list.

Snowcrash is fun but doesn't have anyhere near the depth of his later books. Cryptonomicon is fantastic, you shouldn't let the first one of the System of the World put you off, and I love Anathem. Unfortunately Neal Stephenson is terrible at ending books; but the journey is def. worth it.

I gave up on System of the World after it turned out not to be a trilogy after all. Anything else by Stephenson I obsess over, though. Anathem was basically a religious experience for me and I read it straight through twice - something I only do about once a decade.

I might be ready for a fourth reading now.

Anathem was absolutely fantastic. It's the only book I have re-read in the past 15 years.

This is an exciting thread for me because you folks are the first people I've talked to that didn't hate it, and I've been somewhat afraid to take it off my shelf.

I have recently gotten into long-form magazine articles, and I encourage you to check out Kevin Kelly's list:


Plus http://longform.org/ and http://givemesomethingtoread.com/ are both excellent.

Neal Stephenson's "Mother Earth, Mother Board: Wiring the Planet" in particular was formative for me as a teenager.


Alan Kay's reading list: http://www.squeakland.org/resources/books/readingList.jsp. I think you can find what you are looking for. :)

"Economics in One Lesson" by Henry Hazlitt is one of those perfect little books that can greatly expand your world view in one night. I highly recommend it. (http://www.amazon.com/Economics-One-Lesson-Shortest-Understa...)

Also, I second Walden by Thoreau and suggest you read the Fountainhead. The Fountainhead isn't quite as blunt as Atlas Shrugged, but I find it a lot more life affirming and positive.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Amazing book on the meaning of life from the founder of logotherapy (therapy based on helping clients to find meaning in their life) who is also a holocaust survivor.

The first 2/3 of the book is an autobiography about his experiences in the concentration camps and the psychological mindset of the prisoners. The last 1/3 takes his experiences and outlines the basis for which logotherapy lies. Reading it was a profound experience. It's the kind of book that you will think back to a few times a month for the rest of your life.

The last line here is not hyperbole. It changes you, plain and simple, to read this mans experiences and their translation into a form of therapy.

+1 on this.

One of the most concise arguments for a secular humanism based on shared suffering and the human condition. Fundamentally important.

If you like Feynman, definitely read James Gleick's biography of him, Genius.

I actually didn't like Gleick's other books very much, but Genius is beautiful. I went from thinking I'd major in English to majoring in Physics after reading it back in high school.

And for general sheer amazingness, I always tell people to read Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon. It's like reading Shakespeare; the first 50 pages will take a while, but then you'll get used to the style and realize it's the coolest thing you've ever read.


The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Ebb and Flow of History. David Hackett Fisher.

This book is incredibly, incredibly prescient. Written in 1997, almost predicts the current financial situation. If you want to have an idea where, based on 1000 years of history, our economy and the state of the world is going, then you should read it. It didn't change my perspective (I called the crash of 2008-2009 a few months before it happened) but it really gave me a firmer understanding behind why I was correct to have felt like that was going to happen. It's also a page-turner. Fisher is an incredibly good writer and wrote a fascinating picture of revolutionary america in "Paul Revere's Ride".


Malcolm Gladwell's books are good, too, but my position on them is that the insight is all stuff you should have figured out - sometimes you just need gentle reminding. I noticed outliers and tipping point on your shelf, those will go very very far in helping you come up with entrepreneurial strategies. Outliers got me off my butt and got me programming android (I hadn't touched computer programming in 4+ years)... I would suggest popping the gladwells to the front of your queue.

Want to blow your mind?

Fiction Keep an open mind, and a sense of wonder when you read these for max effect!

Hitch-hikers guide to the galaxy. I was hooked at "The big yellow ships hung in the air just the way bricks don't."

Dune - what does scarcity do to a society?

Isaac Asimov - Robot series. Foundation series. All of his short stories, esp. The Last Question, Nightfall.

A.C. Clarke - 2001 - series, Childhood's End, The Fountains of Paradise

The Little Prince, The Count of Monte Cristo, Catch-22, Siddhartha, Ender's Game, Sundiver, Wodehouse.

One of my all time favorites is Zen and the art of motorcyle maintenance.

Agreed. This book changed my life like very few others have. It completely defies categorization and whatever you're expecting it to be, it isn't.

I've read it three weeks ago and am still astonished about the impact. I have also ordered "LILA" - which Mr. Pirsig wrote 20 years later. Very much looking forward to reading it.

People nicely covered it here. A few other additions:

(a) Why is Sex Fun (http://www.amazon.com/Why-Sex-Fun-Evolution-Sexuality/dp/046...): covers the history of human sexuality

(b) The Prophet: http://www.katsandogz.com/gibran.html

(c) Demon Haunted World by Sagan http://www.amazon.com/Demon-Haunted-World-Science-Candle-Dar... is a nice place to explain the method of science

(d) Sleepwalkers (http://www.amazon.com/Sleepwalkers-History-Changing-Universe...) gives you an idea of how we humans,err,sidetrack and ultimately come to explaining the universe

That should be enough for this summer

If you are interested in finding great new books, you could sign up with the service I created: http://anynewbooks.com. It's not exactly a recommendation service, but it's useful to spot interesting new titles that come out regularly.</shameless-plug>

A while back I read The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton, and enjoyed it immensly. de Botton has a real philosophical bent, and profiled a number of different occupations, and makes a lot of really insightful observations about the modern workforce. Can't recommend it highly enough.

Check out: http://fivebooks.com/

"Every day an eminent writer, thinker, commentator, politician, academic chooses five books on their specialist subject. From Einstein to Keynes, Iraq to the Andes, Communism to Empire. Share in the knowledge and buy the books."

I apologise that I'm not going to mention any specific books that I really recommend, but this seems like a good place to mention how great audio books can be. I love reading, but dont have anywhere near the time I used to these days to do it. I discovered audio books about 2 years ago whilst driving my young children to school. Its a 1-hour round trip, so for 30 minutes I'm in the car on my own. I've really enjoyed listening to business biographies (Richard Branson) through to books that I have been a bit sceptical about but have still picked up some good tips (4-hour work week). If you have a commute or a time when you're regularly able to listen to an audio book I thoroughly recommend them. It's very difficult to read whilst driving (!) so the audio book works well for me

I always was against them until I decided to grab a few on a whim to take on a solo drive to Orlando (16 hrs each way). I was surprised how easy to follow it was and really enjoyed it. I generally have thisweekin.com shows on while I work, so I tried to listen to one while working -- major fail, I couldn't concentrate. I drive an hour to work every day though, so I'll have to give it a shot then.

Karl Popper's 'The Open Society and Its Enemies'.

From the outside Popper's book looks as just a simple attack on Plato, Hegel and Marx, however at it's core is one of the greatest defenses of democracy, liberalism, and rational thought ever written.  As you read it, you'll find even though the failed political and economic philosophies of Hegel, Marx, and Plato have very few followers in modern politics today.  The methodologies they used, to "discover" their philosophies, still remain and are utterly rampant across the whole political spectrum.

I hope you enjoy Popper as I did when I first read him. The book was like an inflection point for me, before it I was someone else, after it I was changed forever.  Only great books can do something like that and this is one of them.


Always find something useful for me there.

Gravity's Rainbow (Pynchon)

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (Rilke)

The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991 (Hobsbawm)

Bhagavad Gita


Crimes Against Logic: Exposing the Bogus Arguments of Politicians, Priests, Journalists, and Other Serial Offenders (Whyte)

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Wittgenstein)

edit: added 2 more & author names

I love the Bhagavad Gita. I just wish Hindus actually followed what it said...

That being said my additions to the mix are:

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse


Tipitaka (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/index.html)

Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley

Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault

Philosophy in the Flesh by George Lakoff

I've listened to a couple recorded lectures by Lakoff before and enjoyed them, I'll have to add Philosophy in the Flesh to my reading list, thanks.

I took a Metaphors class with him. One of my more influential professors.

If you're looking for a list of books with an entrepreneur focus, there's a good list over on Quora: http://www.quora.com/What-books-should-entrepreneurs-read

I recently read Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49", which is amazing and dense and hilarious. Highly recommended, but it's not an easy read, so be forewarned. It's short enough that you can easily power through it on a plane ride or whenever you have downtime.

A little while back, i started reading DFW's "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," a collection of shortish essays. DFW's writing is a bit like Douglas Adams where you really start to think and write like he does if you're not careful.

Both Pynchon and Wallace though, have a ridiculous command of the english language, so it makes for really engaging but sometimes challenging reading.

Have fun!

Someone mentions Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel" below - which is very good. However, can I strongly recommend his book "Collapse" - which is rather thought provoking.


On a related note, a novel that looks at some interesting very long lived organizations and has some interesting philosophical components I'd recommend Neal Stephenson's Anathem:


I loved G,G&S, but found Collapse disappointing in comparison. There was a lot of unnecessary personal gushing about his home state which had no contribution to the work and undermined the credibility of the argument. It picks up after that though. It's a much more political and argumentative book than G,G&S, and seems to force a view on the reader (a view I happen to agree with, but still felt uncomfortable with the amount of persuasion in there).

YMMV - I rather liked the very personal descriptions of Montana. By comparison I found G,G&S rather dry.

I suppose that makes it a matter of taste. I like my science books to be impersonal, and my political books to be personal. I tend to dislike it when one crosses into the other.

"God's Debris" by Scott Adams. Yes the Dilbert guy. It's available for free download http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gods_Debris.

There is no wiki page for the provided link. Is it only me ? Tried the suggestion on the wiki page, no avail.

HN is cleansing the apostrophe in the url. It is god's rather than gods.

Fixed wiki with a simple redirect.

You're welcome :)


Reading first and second Dune trilogy would give you a lot of what you are asking for.

Also I would recommend reading Alamut from Vladimir Bartol.

For more serious works - I would offer Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy.

"Will to Power" by Friedrich Nietzsche, who you'll probably love if you like Rand.

"A Thousand Plateaus" by Deleuze & Guattari. A psychedelic philosophy of complexity. Not exactly an airtight philosophical system, but it will blow your mind several times per page.

"Being & Time" by Martin Heidegger. An intense, logical investigation of individual existence. A deeply nuanced philosophical take on death, being, and temporality. This is the book to grapple with your inevitable annihilation.

"Will to Power" by Friedrich Nietzsche, who you'll probably love if you like Rand.

Read The Gay Science first. Will to Power is a posthumous publication of, essentially, Nietzsche's notes. It's not clear he ever meant to publish it and it doesn't really present a cogent statement of his beliefs.

I do think you'll like Nietzsche if you like Rand though. They're probably equally mercurial and narcissistic. At least Nietzsche's a little more rigorous (which isn't saying much, Rand is like Fisher Price philosophy).

"Being & Time" by Martin Heidegger. An intense, logical investigation of individual existence. A deeply nuanced philosophical take on death, being, and temporality. This is the book to grapple with your inevitable annihilation.

Arguable. It depends on whether or not you're reading it as a serious philosophical work or to see Heidegger's perspective. Phenomenology doesn't have a whole lot of respect amongst most modern philosophers.

Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer. Ignore the breezy Gladwellesque title, it's much better than that and touches on philosophy, human behavior and economics. He presents an alternative view of the same sorts of phenomena that Kahneman & Tversky's work in behavioral economics, about which I might say more but my nephew is tugging at my sleeve.

Here is a list of books that I made a while ago by looking at the top recommended books from various places.


The list contains fiction as well as non-fiction. My pick: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts - One of the best books I read last year (fiction).

Nice list! Several of those were on my "to read" list or I've already read.

You should consider signing up at shelfari. It's a cool site for tracking the books you've read, own, want to read, etc. You can also maintain a nice list and share with others. From a developers standpoint, it's pretty cool too, with a nice UI, some cool features, and a decent revenue model (Amazon affiliate).

Read George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. Whether or not you are into fantasy, it's a must read series, not to mention it's been picked up as an HBO series too. Everybody I've recommended it to has loved it, regardless of their opinions about Fantasy (going on 20+ people now). Just read it!

These books, although some now I might not endorse some of their teaching but they have help me to see the world in a different light:

The Mystery Method - Erik Von Markovik[Social Engineering at its best]

Rich Dad Poor Dad: Guide to Investing - Robert Kiyoski

The Thoughtworks Anthology: Essays on Software Technology and Innovation (Pragmatic Programmers)

Bible - First class book in teaching how to behave towards others, especially proverbs.

Tao Te Ching - For this two verse you should read it: "When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. When people see some things as good, other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other. Difficult and easy support each other. Long and short define each other. High and low depend on each other. Before and after follow each other"

Cyropaedia - "Along with the The prince this book was required reading by all former statesmen."

For fiction, I recommend Lolita, The Count of Monte Cristo and Voltaie. That is a nice entertaining mix.


The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World's Greatest Philosophers, by Will Durant. Written in the 30s, it covers some philosophers who would not be considered influential today, and doesn't do justice to the 20th century. But it's a relatively easy read, and clarified some guys I either didn't read or didn't appreciate in my freshman great books seminar.

Walden and Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau. Ah, the wisdom. Likewise The Essential Gandhi, by Mahatma Gandhi. Haven't read all of it or even as much as I should, but his autobiography of his early years and experiments with truth are the story of a great soul.

The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self & Soul by Douglas R. Hofstadter. Various attempts to reconcile the mind-body dichotomy and build a science of cognition.

Human behavior

The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal, by Desmond Morris. If you ask people why they act the way they do, they will probably talk about rational, moral, idealistic justifications... but if you were a primatologist, what would you say about why humans act the way they do? Morris, a zoologist familiar with great apes, describes how human behavior may owe much to ape biology and society as well as to big brains and rational and spiritual pretensions.

Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective by Peter L. Berger. Humans don't really have the capacity to create new behaviors on the fly when faced with new situations, or to respond in real time to new behaviors in others. Instead people internalize roles and scripts that they act out in daily life with small variations, interpret others' actions in light of performances they have seen before, and collectively build shared narratives in a 'social construction of reality'.

How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life by Thomas Gilovich. A grand tour of the fallibility of homo economicus, and reality torturing heuristic shortcuts that lead us astray.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B. Cialdini. How markets, salesmen, lawyers, small children and other devious hucksters take advantage of our decisionmaking shortcuts for fun and profit.

Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment by Tal Ben-Shahar. Came upon these after reading about his lectures, the most popular at Harvard. A lot of very sound advice to have a more positive outlook. I wish this influenced me more LOL. But applying it is no mean feat. Dan Gilbert also has Stumbling on Happiness, but haven't read that, and Gretchen Rubin, niece of Robert, has a bestseller - happiness is turning into a self-help fad and industry, but it seems empirically based and common sensical.


The Road to Serfdom, by F. A. Hayek. A powerful case against government overreaching and socialism. Focuses on the long run dynamism, information efficiency and evolutionary adaptability of markets which is lost when governments attempt to tame their shorter term inequities. Capitalism and Freedom is also strong, but Friedman, while brilliant, was somewhat more ideological, simplistic and one-sided.

Fortunes Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street, by William Poundstone. Ties together the common quests of pioneers of information theory, investors, and degenerate gamblers and mobsters.


The Razor's Edge, Somerset Maugham. A case study of ways in which different types of motivation can dominate different people in constructive and destructive ways.

The Jewel in the Crown, by Paul Scott. In each chapter, a different character relates a Rashomon-like point of view of a shocking crime, and through them a mystery is explained, and a complex portrait of India's many faces is revealed.

I have a soft spot for satirical Brit-novels, like Vanity Fair, The Way We Live Now, and Wodehouse.


Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, by Roger Lowenstein. An insightful biography of the greatest living investor, or maybe of all time.

Gates, by Manes and Andrews, is also very good.


Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics, by Gary Zukav, and The Tao of Physics, by Fritjof Capra, on the unbearable elusiveness of reality. If a particle is just a probability density function of potential interactions with other particles, does the substance of reality reside in the particle, or in the interaction?

Grammatical Man : Information, Entropy, Language and Life, by Jeremy Campbell. Is the substance of reality matter or information, or are they the same? If biology is applied chemistry, which is applied physics, which is applied mathematics, maybe mathematics is the study of formal systems, which is a subset of things that can be computed and decided, ie computer science, which is a subset of things can be expressed and communicated, ie information theory.

The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics by Roger Penrose, a massive grand tour of scientific knowledge and big questions of the late 20th century. When you get done with that, go for the sequel, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe... I haven't yet, but good luck!

The Naked Ape is a fantastic read!

1) If you like Atlas Shrugged, then maybe you will like "For a new liberty" by Murray Rothbard (the founder of anarcho-capitalism movement): http://mises.org/rothbard/newlibertywhole.asp

That's a deduction of libertarian principles from non-aggression axiom and application of that principles to current problems.

2) If you are interested in philosophy, then read "History of Western Philosophy" by Bertrand Russel. Unfortunately It's written from the socialists point of view, but if you ignore Russels' left views, it's an excellent introduction to the history of philosophy.

The 100 greatest books of all time everyone must read http://bighow.com/news/the-100-greatest-books-of-all-time-ev...

"The meaning of it all: thoughts of a citizen-scientist". Probably worth reading more than any academically lionized philosopher.

"From Heaven Lake" is a really good non-fiction book that reads like a fiction.

Feynman was a fascinating and brilliant man. I've been reading a lot about him online, watching some videos on youtube, and reading through his quotes. I definitely need to pick up some of his books. I'll check out From Heaven Lake too. Thanks!

This is a really great video to watch. It's worth watching once or twice a year to remind onself to be humble. And it's particularly apt this week!



- 'The Selfish Gene' - Richard Dawkins

Grokking the concept changed the way I thought about life forever.

- 'Quantum Reality' - Nick Herbert

One of the best introductory level books on quantum physics mysteries. No nonsense.

- Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert Pirsig

The book that introduced me to Kant, Hume and philosophy of science. Just for that, I'm forever indebted to it.

Some favorite fiction books -

- Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson Loved 'Snowcrash' too.

- 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress' - Robert Heinlein

- Anything by Kurt Vonnegut, Milan Kundera, Somerset Maugham

I had heard much about this book earlier :Guns, Germs and Steel ,

But only recently did I watch a documentary (hmm, probably on hulu.com) which was completely based on that book.


One I consistently recommend is "Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear" by Dan Gardner, it's a fantastic insight into how we approach risk both individually and as a society.

It can be pretty revelatory.


The Age of Wonder: How the romantic generation discovered the beauty and terror of science. by Richard Holmes.

Biographies of top hackers from 1769 to 1840.

On the philosophical side, I sugget "Existentialism Is a Humanism" by Sartre: it explains in a clear and simple way the idea of Existentialism, which is a great philosophy based on strong principles, and a key idea in the modern philosophical debate. It somehow changed my life, and made me think a lot more about life principles that can actually guide one's life.

Couple that with Camus' <i>The Stranger</i> and <i>The Myth of Sisyphus</i> and you've got enough satisfying "thinking material" for a nice long while.

One more suggestion for fiction: Rohinton Mistry's <i>A Fine Balance</i>. This will FOREVER change your perspective on hardship while giving one a fantastic appreciation for living. I'm always giving copies of this rare gem as a gift and I have heard nothing but rave reviews from those who have been touched by its power.

If you want an anti-existentialism refreshment that will open your mind, try Lao-tzu or Confucius. Be careful, all translations are not equal. If you wish to have translations plus Chinese characters, check http://wengu.tartarie.com/wg/wengu.php and have a deep dive into something different.

I'd suggest "Gone with the Wind", an ultimate classic. It is tagged as epic romance but I personally feel that it is more than just romance. It has changed a few perspectives of mine and I couldn't get off the story for nearly 3 months. I really enjoyed the book.

If you've enjoyed "Atlas Shrugged, which I'm planning to read, try reading "The Fountain Head" by the same author.

Somebody mentioned The Sirens of Titan (Vonnegut) in the comments below. I've gotta second that recommendation. It's Vonnegut's first novel, and probably not his best, but it's certainly my favorite.

If you resonate at all with Vonnegut's humor and pathos, then please oh please grab a copy of Sirens. I'm tired of being the only one at the dinner table who's read it!

I'm not sure if this is non-fiction enough for you but, Tony Robbins, "Awaken the Giant Within" is one of my favorites. It is a good self help type book. It comes in Kindle too. http://www.amazon.com/Awaken-Giant-Within-Immediate-Emotiona...

I have recently finished reading Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations." I highly recommend it. At over 1200 pages it is not a quick read, however all of it was worth it.

I recommend setting it beside your computer, and every evening reading a few pages and then looking up on wikipedia all the names and other terms.

I'm currently reading Full Tilt - a thrilling personal account of an amazing Irish woman's bicycle journey from Europe to India in 1963. Highly recommended.


Richard Feynman (you mentioned him) - Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman

Thorstein Veblen (econ; one of the most cynical econ books I've ever read--in a good way) - The Theory of the Leisure Class

Norbert Weiner (philosophy, robots) - The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society

I can't believe that in a thread about good books with 135 comments nobody has mentioned The Brothers Karamazov.

Especially since the bherms mentioned Atlas Shrugged, I think BK would be a great book to explore humanity illuminated in a much different way.

Peter F. Hamilton trilogies are astounding eye openers.

Safehold Series by David Weber is worth the time

The Moral Animal - by Robert Wright

It delves into evolutionary psychology to explain human morality. I especially liked the discussion on monogamy (the parental investment theory).

A few more recommendations:- Godel, Escher, Bach Human Knowledge - Bertrand Russell

Society of Mind. by Minsky. his book changed my perspective on how the mind operates.

The Emperor Of Scent - Chandler Burr

I never appreciated my sense of smell until this book.


I actually have two friends who lack a sense of smell. It's something you really take for granted, but I spent a day just trying to imagine all the smells I smell and what the act of smelling those things did for me. Pretty eye opening.

I would also add "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" by Richard Bach. Its a simple and inspiring story about a bird who tries to question the very simple facts and norms of life established by generations before.

The theme of positivism in this book inspires me.

I read a lot of biographies. It's interesting how you start seeing the common denominators between great men when you do. Especially 'Alexander of Macedon' by Peter Green is a riveting read.

That's easily one of the best biographies I've read. It's up there with Martin Gilbert's biography of Churchill.

Do make space for Alvin Toffler - starting with "Future Shock" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_Shock

Two great books that really impacted me, both about the horrors of bad research:

"Good Calories, Bad Calories", by Gary Taubes, on nutrition and health.

"The Blank Slate", by Steven Pinker, on human nature.

"The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand my bible.. you definitely love it if you like Atlas Shrugged.. same author and same philosophy.. more centered towards one protagonist.

Robert Anton Wilson: The Illuminati Trilogy (rethink your thinking)

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (very spiritual in its own way, but highly entertaining)

I can't recommend any book. Lately when I am reading a book I need a way of elaborating my thoughts other than reading in a linear way.

I find so many ideas and branching points that I want to explore while reading that I can't follow the author path.

Perhaps in the future books with be self-developing, that is you don't go from one page to the next one, you can ask a question and the book develop a new chapter, so the book for the future will be more about communication and less about a monologue.

Could HN be like a book? is there a central point from which all derive, a source to construct knowledge and get information?

One of the best books I have read recently is Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. Amazing story mixed with history and inspiration.

Fiction Enders game Rendezvous with Rama Hunger Games The old man and the sea

Non Fiction Rework Wiseguy Sun Tzu The art of war

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.

Explains an ethical viewpoint in a very clear style. Changed the way I think about human progress.

In non-fiction I found "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho to be excellent and thought provoking.

Cormac McCarthy - Blood Meridian, All The Pretty Horses, etc. His writing is incredible.

Robert Anton Wilson's "Illuminatus Trilogy", "Prometheus Rising".

Aleister Crowley's "Book of lies"

Daemon and Freedom TM by Daniel Suarez. Everyone on HN would love it I think.

The Wisdom Of Insecurity by Alan Watts

^ it's tiny, easily the best book I've ever read.

http://goodreads.com is suppose to help you solve the problem of "What should I read next?"

the Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. We all create alter-egos that cover for our worst sins.

Here's a few I've really liked that have a broader subject matter than only what you asked for. I figure that if you like to read you'd like these books.


Darkness Visible

A Mathemematician's Apology

Omnivore's Dilemma

Fermat's Enigma

The Code Book

Born to Run

Judgement of Paris


Killing Pablo

The Victorian Internet

Lone Survivor

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell

Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman


Into Thin Air

Born on a Blue Day

Touching the Void

Got Fight

The Conquest of Happiness

--- FICTION ---

Switch Bitch

Lost Horizon

The Cuckoo's Egg

The Simlarillion

The Time Traveler's Wife

The Alchemist

The Count of Monte Cristo

A Canticle for Leibowitz


My Uncle Oswald

Stories of Your Life and Others

Invisible Cities

Life of Pi

Atlas Shrugged


When Genius Failed

Liar's Poker

Buffett (Lowenstein)


Black-Scholes and Beyond (textbook)

Fixed Income Securities (textbook)

The Road to Serfdom

The Smartest Guys in the Room

Fortune's Formula

The Fourth Turning

Inside the House of Money

--- ENTREPRENEURSHIP / COMPUTERS (non-textbook) ---

Masters of Doom

It's Not About the Bike

Dot. Bomb

Founders at Work

The PayPal Wars

Coders at Work

The Mousedriver Chronicles

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World

The Soul of a New Machine


The Hypomanic Edge

Small Giants

Small is the New Big

Four Hour Work Week

The Boy who Harnessed the Wind

Four Steps to the Epiphany

Pour your Heart into it

Beyond Software Architecture

Setting the Table

--- DESIGN / UX ---

On Writing

The Design of Everyday Things

Understanding Comics

The Elements of Typographic Style

Don't Make me Think!

A Pattern Language


Programming Pearls

Effective Java

The Algorithm Design Manual

Advanced Programming in the UNIX Environment

The Pragmatic Programmer


Java Concurrency in Practice

Java Puzzlers

Expert C Programming

--- COOKING ---

The Secrets of Cooking Revealed

Cooking for Geeks

The Bread Baker's Apprentice

The Brewmaster's Table

--- MISC ---

Robot Building for Beginners

Mountaineering - The Freedom of the Hills

A First Course in Coding Theory

The Computational Beauty of Nature

Total Control

The Ashley Book of Knots

Make: Electronics

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes, is the best book I've read this year. It profoundly changed the way I look at things. I also found Sperm Wars to be very enlightening, ditto Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.

If you want to read some eye opening fiction then I would recommend cory doctorows three books, Little Brother, Makers and For The Win. I know it is stacked in the young adult fiction section but it still is good read for anybody.

<something irrelevant> I am shocked that in 26 comments till now nobody has mentioned Godel Escher Bach by Douglas Hofstater. Apart from everything else it has accomplished it is always the best seller in the "Nobody reads but everybody recommends" category, or at least the close second or draw to Art Of Programming by Knuth. </something irrelevant>

Good point about GEB. I actually read this when I was about 17-18 and it had a very profound effect on me and my understanding of computers and the mind. That said, I'm not sure I could get through it now (>10 yrs later). I think a lot of books need to be read at the right time in ones' life to be properly appreciated.

Finite and Infinite Games

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