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Secret Hacker Bookshelf (whattofix.com)
129 points by jacquesm on Oct 4, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments

This is a good list, but if you're a startup founder you generally only need to know 1% of each of these books. Don't buy them all. If you had to choose 3 books from that list, what would they be?

(Caveat: As a hacker with an interest/need to learn marketing)

22 Immutable Laws of Marketing - just the best overview for how to get out there (in the words of Steve Jobs, "it's a noisy world, the best you can ever hope or ask for is that just one single idea about what you do can be remembered"). Also might as well throw Positioning in there as its compliment.

Made to Stick - how to encapsulate a single idea, and hook it in people's minds

Founders at Work - a huge boost of motivation and some interesting individual strategies that people used, but light on useful tactics or broad strategies that you can action.

Not on the list, but I really highly recommend, is "Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works" - an absolute bible for how to get your words on a website to be read and remembered.

Love Made to Stick and Founders at Work. I haven't read 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, but I'll check it out, thanks.

One excellent marketing book I recently read is Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd by Youngme Moon (no ref link: http://www.amazon.com/Different-Escaping-Competitive-Youngme...). She believes that going tit-for-tat on adding features and augmentations is a losing game that results in every competitor looking like one another. Instead, you should find your strength, and focus on that while resisting to focus on where your product falls short. The book is also very... poetic. She's quite a quotable writer. Good stuff.

+1 for 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. I purchased it after Tim Ferris cited it as one of his top books and I learned a lot from it.


The Innovator's Dilemma

4 Steps to the Epiphany (not listed)

Probably one of the most important things for a startup to know is that startup products are almost by design supposed to be incomplete --- even inferior! --- to existing offerings. It's inferiority that puts nascent breakout products in the blind spot of incumbents. A great way to lose is to try to match up an incumbent point-for-point.

The quality and relevance of the books on this list seem mixed at best.

Maybe I'm cynical but the original page looks like linkbait for the guys affiliate code to Amazon. I'm saddened that HN has found this so 'useful'. I think we could do a better job crowdsourcing the very best and relevant books together on a "Ask HN" thread.

It's fairly easy to criticize something that somebody did, but it's usually a lot harder to do better.

From what I understand about how Daniel put this together, he wrote some software to create these lists, he did not try to add his own 'value judgement' to what got on there or not.

Presumably he could have done a better job, but that goes for any piece of software, so instead of saying that 'we could do a better job' try to be specific and indicate which books you think belonged there and which did not (and maybe why?) that way Daniel has something that he can use to try to figure out if he can improve things.

There have been many attempts at 'crowdsourcing a list of relevant books' but none that I've seen got longer term traction and I'm really happy that someone is willing to invest the time and the effort in to making this happen.

First versions almost always suck, now let's see how to make it much better than what it is today without diminishing the contribution in a way that reads as though you think Daniel intends to score 'big bucks' from this somehow.

I understand your perspective, but I don't think a list of books generated from best sellers/most popular is the way to go... after all that's why I don't want to get an MBA - because it's the same old populous thinking that actually ISN'T the way forward nor most relevant to startups.

dotBen --

Boy are you preaching to the choir. It's weird to see my own objections to my own article repeated back to me.

I'd like to make a couple of points for you to consider:

1) Regarding monetizing the links, there are two possible arguments: a) that it is beneath the quality of the board to publish sites that monetize so blatantly, and b) it was an attempt by me to somehow "game" HN so I could (presumably) make a buck from something that people liked.

This is a startup-related board. Hundreds, if not thousands of startup founders read and post here every week. Guys that are making money using Adsense on free web sites, guys that are making money on freemium models, guys that are trying to get as much traffic as possible and worrying about the money all the time. No matter what kind of application or startup you have, monetizing eyeballs is part of the discussion here. At the end of the day, each bit of traffic means server costs. That means that there has to be some trade-off. As several pointed out, print out the list and take it to your bookstore.

As far as gaming the system and making the board go to hell, let me remind you that we've had "rate my startup" posts for years. Lots of them had blatant monetization strategies right there for folks to see. Apps asking for donations, apps using paid recommendations, apps for using gradual engagement. I think this is a pretty sophisticated bunch of folks. If I thought for just one second that my post would lead to blatant link-spamming of HN I wouldn't have posted it. Fact is, HN is already being blatantly link-spammed. All sorts of articles both on the front page and on the new page have all sorts of profit models. That's why we vote. I honestly think the quality will continue on at about the same level as before. If not, then I'll be the first to ask PG to remove my article. My reputation in the community is not worth the few bucks I might make off the article.

2) about the following the crowd thing, boy am I in there with you.

I am not a book-seller. I'm simply a startup guy who has read a lot of books and would like to share that with others. In my post, I recommended that people follow the discussion on places like Amazon (or here) before deciding to buy any kind of book. I have to say here that there were a lot of benefits to the readers (and author) by using those affiliate links. Amazon serves the image, Amazon provides an up-front price current price before you click. Amazon even hosts a reviewing an discussion system. All of that is simply too much to ask for one blogger to put together for one article. I strongly advise folks to come back to HN and read the discussion and also to track the discussion over on other sites before buying a book. After all, Ben, I'm the guy who wrote a blog article a couple of weeks ago criticizing both popular authors and people who follow their books blindly! So I'm the last guy to want to see people just follow the crowd in their purchasing decisions. Use your brain, compare notes, make an informed choice. Even after you get a book, be careful how you apply it. I really hope that I got that message through.

Finally, why be so cynical? This board is all about hackers and startups. I'm happy to share my traffic and revenue numbers from the post, I'm happy to talk about whether or not a website that provided information like my blog article would make sense. Perhaps somebody else can take what we've learned with my post and make something of value to people. We're here to learn from each other, not make a quick buck at other people's expense. That was never the intention.

Followup with sats from the article and analysis, including profit potential, traffic, and business options.


I think overall it is a good list, one I take issue with is "Head First HTML" I don't know if it is fixed now, but about a year ago, I tried to teach someone using that book as a manual and the first chapter was incomplete, It literally was missing the text so the individual could not continue without me. Which defeated the point of buying a book so that they could do projects and learn while I was not around.

For most of the rest that I have read, they are great books first or second best on their respective subjects. This is one of the better lists I have seen.

We really should have this kind of post 1-2 times a month as this one (books) comes up just a little less frequently than "whose hiring". We should also have one for "tools I use to develop with" I always scrounge out a gem that I did not know about in those tools posts.

I tell you what would be nice Daniel, would be to have these kind of posts and have your blog scrape the post for products people recommend and then add those products to your list, if you could grab their votes you could get a sudo weight to their product recommendation.

From personal experience, "HTML Dog" is a better book than "Head First HTML". The list is good but if it's targeted toward people not already familiar with the tooling, some hand holding is required.

For example, "HTML Dog" and "CSS Mastery" may be placed together. As already suggested on his blog, parallel path recommendations would be good viz. Python using "Think python", Ruby using "Learn to program", Scheme using SICP .. and pointing out that if your aim is to learn to program, you can pick any of them.

But heck, it would be too much work for the poster.

Yes, that would be great to have a 'curator of the HN library', I nominate Daniel for the post!

I'm surprised that The Pragmatic Programmer isn't on there. Am I that much out of date that this book is no longer recommended? It completely changed the way I thought of development at the time.

Kernighan and Pike's _The Practice of Programming_ covers a lot of the similar content better, IMHO, often with more concrete examples.

(Also, _The Pragmatic Programmer_ might have more impact if people hadn't been systematically ripping it off for blog content for years.)

I think the fact The Pragmatic Programmer is a little less "crunchy", in terms of the technical content, than books like SICP and Code Complete probably has something to do with the fact it doesn't seem to get mentioned as much any longer. It's still one of the best programming-related books I've ever read, and I'm kind of disappointed that it does not seem to get mentioned as much as it once did (based on what I've seen).

This list is missing some pretty vital books:

* 4 Steps to the Epiphany (Steve Blank's mimeograph-quality bible of lean startup marketing)

* Growing a Business

* The Knack

* All of Seth Godin

* Blue Ocean

It's weird that the list has so many big-business suit-and-tie titles (Ogilvy, New Rules, etc) but is missing small business core titles like these.

You can download 4 Steps to the Epiphany from Stanford.edu in pdf format (my preferred format anyway).


Not sure what the legality is of that but it's there if you want it. Do buy the book and support Steve if you find it useful.

That is only 45 pages. The full book is larger, if you look at the table of contents you'll see that this is incomplete.

I'm a bit surprised at not finding any Seth Godin books. Do you, personally and as a 'hacker community' not find his books useful? I always felt like they taught me more about marketing than any other books I'd read on the subject. Is there something I'm missing in reference to Godin's books?

I was a big fan of Seth Godin's blog and books until a few years ago. Now I don't read any of those.

Seth Godin books are good when you starting to read those kinds of books. His blog can inspire a lot when you are new to his style, but after some time you realize that many of the articles in the blog (or the books) do not teach you anything new. They are just rehash of the same ideas over and over. YMMV, but I have a few Seth Godin books I am not able to complete because the books are very low in actual content. Every time I start reading them, I put them down to read some other better book.

So yes, Seth Godin will inspire you initially, but after a while the value in reading the books and the blog seems to be going down.

But then again this may be a case of familiarity breeding contempt. Or this may be the case of me graduating from the Seth Godin school of thought. I don't know.

I completely agree with you. In the beginning, when I was confused whether I had to stick to the illusory safety or to do my own thing and create value. Listening to Seth Godin's audio books and some of his interviews had definitely helped. Sometimes, people need that kind of motivation and reassurance to get started though they will realize sooner or later. Now, I don't see the point in reading his books and I have removed his blog from the feeds probably for the same reason as yours.

Seth Godins books are like the training wheel equivalent of marketing. But no matter what, you will always find at least something in there that might change your perspective, I've yet to see any book that I didn't learn something from.

Nice list. I wouldn't expect to see SICP, The Little Schemer, and CLSR next to Head First HTML, however. Certainly, the former are a bit more timeless.

Nice to see "How to Get Rich" by Felix Dennis in there. Best lesson from that book? "Equity isn't the main thing, it's the only thing", as in, don't give away any part of the only thing you have of value; your business, unless you have to.

I added a book recommendation engine to HackerNewsers a few months ago, but so far only a few people have added their reviews, http://www.hackernewsers.com/books.html

Great list, but is Introduction to Algorithms really so good that you had to list it twice? :)

That's an interesting list of books, thanks for the submission.

How did you collate the lists?

Where did you get the books from? (e.g. HN, other sources?)

It's interesting to see what's not on there as much as what is. I would've considered the javascript books not nearly as important as Stephens' TCP/IP Illustrated, or Tanenbaum's Operating Systems Design and Implementation, but then again how much use would they be in this modern age (for the majority of use cases)?

Great job, Daniel. Thank you.

I am familiar with about half of these and the ones that I know are great. The ones that I don't know are a new opportunity for me.

Nice touch on the front covers. Anyone with a color printer could just print your page and take it to Borders or Barne's & Noble. Looks like an easy way to find stuff on the shelves and read a whole lot of Chapter Ones.

Is HN really the new place for book spamming aa links?

Which books don't matter. Half those are outdated or will be by the time they're read.

You know you should really take a look at who posted the article and who wrote the article, jacquesm and Daniel are some of our most respected and informational members that we have. Both have contributed volumes of information to this site without asking for anything in return. If there is anyone one this site that could be accused of having the passion for the subject matter of this site it would be Daniel.

As is said in the blog, this post comes up quite frequently so Daniel put it on his blog. Forgive a guy for trying to cover some cost, would you.

As well you don't lose anything by giving someone an affiliate sale, so unless your getting tricked into clicking someones links I think people can tend to make a bigger deal of it than is needed.

I upvoted you, but the general problem with these links is that they affect author motivation, whether or not they realize it. This is especially true for subjective listings such as this one, they are simply a brain dump of whatever the list author could think of. That's why you get SICP next to "Head first HTML", and that's why you don't get "Coders at work" at all, even though it's mentioned >800 times on this site, vs much less for other titles on the list.

This list was put together by googling "best books" on ycombinator and then picking each thread and listing the books from top to bottom.

HeadFirst appears because a commenter pointed out that it was a good book that you wouldn't think of, and this comment got several upvotes. From this thread: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=128713

There was no "thinking" that was involved in creating the list. It was a pure mechanical process. That's why there are two dupes and a lot of books that didn't make it.

I guess to be completely fair I should have written a program to scrape every book mention on HN and then cross-matched them to aggregate votes. But I was just trying to make a larger version of an HN comment in blog format, so I didn't take the time to write up a system. As it was, it took most of the day tracking down links, book references and such.

I can assure you that there was no finagling with the list or author's opinions that were inserted. I have "coders at work", and it's a great book. It would have made my list easily. There are a bunch of other books just like it. My list would have included more Java books, and books about tracking to-do items. But this wasn't my list. It was HN's.

Right but this is this person's list they may or may not have read "Coders at work" therefore they may not be able to recommend that works. A good book is an opinion and this post reflect his opinion and while the majority might hold the same opinion it is none the less an opinion of good. As for motivation I don't see it, he would make roughly the same amount for recommending a different book. Now if he is friends with any of the authors then that would be a different case entirely.

I up-voted you, because I though this post of yours offered an honest opinion of your view on the matter. You where down to 0 and I though your opinion was a valid viewpoint, I don't like to see opposing viewpoints suppressed just because they are not in agreement.

That's a much better way of looking at this post.

I suppose, I could've phrased the post: Is a link full of SEO spam, aa links, and ad networks a legit HN post?

I guess from the upvotes and comments, it is. I was strangely curious.

A buddy gave me a Firefox extension to auto-tag Amazon links with my referral: it appends this: ?ie=UTF8&tag=thstsst-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957 .

Why? Because I write a book blog (The Story's Story: http://jseliger.com/ ) and usually include an Amazon link because a) the page is uniform, b) Amazon usually gives a concise, pretty decent description of the book and that description is always in the same place, and c) if you want to buy the damn thing, you're right there, which makes it easy.

So I don't think it a terrible conflict of interest to use Amazon referral links: I think of it as a convenience, and I make a little bit of money (enough for more books but not very much). I'm skeptical that it affects the books I write about, but if it does, readers are welcome to call me on BS. One has actually said the opposite: http://jseliger.com/2008/11/06/on-books-taste-and-distaste :

One thing I will say, as now a fairly regular reader of your blog, is that you don’t seem to read very much that you actually like. You seem, in some ways, doomed to be disappointed either by your tastes or the bar you’ve set up.

I think that Effective Java by Josh Bloch deserves to be added to this list.

If I were to recommend only one Java book, it would be this one. Definitely deserves to be on the list.

If I were to recommend only one Java book, it would probably be some kind of "Ruby for Java Developers" book.

I kid, I kid. Kind of.

Would be a great list to compare opinions on with various people at http://www.5ftshelf.com/, sadly the computer & internet section (http://www.5ftshelf.com/mini_shelves/books/6-computers-and-i...) is dominated by the head-first series. While I think they're good intros, they wouldn't rank high on my list on "must own" books in that genre.

I just downloaded PayPal Wars. Any other page turners on this list that you can't put down?

this list is huge and awesome. thank you!

I would say JavaScript the Good Parts is pretty much the bible of JS for the client, the definitive guide is nice, but a lot of stuff in there is very dated. It's not a good guide for DOM manipulation. The JavaScript cookbook by shelly powers (c) 2010 is much better.

Also, High Performance JavaScript by Nicholas C. Zakas is a great book for people who need to go from beginner to intermediate / advanced.

Pretty extensive list... could anyone recommend some less technically orientated business books (startups, small business?).

Safari (safaribooksonline.com) offers a good option for reading widely at relatively low cost.

A hacker cheat-sheet written by someone with a hotmail address. I don't mean to judge a book by the cover, but... hotmail?

Have you used hotmail any time recently?

I had a hotmail from way back and was going to swap (only held back by the lock in of my current email address being everywhere), but honestly now I don't see much reason to. Hotmail web interface is close enough to the gmail one now and windows live mail integrates nicely if your running and windows machine.

Yes, I have seen my friend using hotmail recently (on Windows). It is pretty good.

It's really not very good at all.

1) The back button doesn't function as you'd like.

2) With Chrome as the browser at least, checking an item can result in all other checked items being unchecked - this I think happens only after the first AJAX postback.

3) Logging in takes you to a page other than the inbox - that's an unnecessary additional click

4) The spam filter isn't a patch on Gmail's.

5) The search filtering has nothing on Gmail's

6) Because it uses .NET's AJAX methods as opposed to another model such as jquery ajax + web services, all actions involve posting back the entire page and therefore hotmail is much slower than gmail. (*This is an assumption based on how slow hotmail is - I haven't checked in firebug).

7) Last time I checked you can't auto-forward mail.

All this said, I still use my ancient hotmail address whenever I need to post an email address in public or give an email address to a company that's likely to spam me. Perhaps it's the same with the article's poster.

Please correct me if I'm wrong on any of the above

If you're referring to .NET's UpdatePanels, they do send the entire post data, yes. But the response only contains required HTML to rerender that area.

ASP.NET can also take any "web service" (i.e., a bunch of function you define and mark as directly callable via XML or whatever), and VS will generate JavaScript proxy objects for it. Then you get lightweight calls (only send and receive parameters and response), but get IntelliSense and stuff on them.

Hotmail might do something stupid and be slow. I don't know or care, but .NET offers plenty of options.

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