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Ask HN: What are your favorite non-fiction books of all time?
134 points by StriverGuy 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 86 comments
What are the best non-fiction books you have read that expanded your views, hobbies, interests etc.

- "Rationality: From AI to Zombies" - probably the most influential book I've read in my life, profoundly changed the way I think. It's a collection of LessWrong essays on science and rationality.

- "On Intelligence" and "I am a Strange Loop" - how mind works.

- "Rework", "Zero to One", "Start Small, Stay Small" - insightful startup advice.

- Fun autobiographies: Ghost in the Wires (Kevin Mitnick), iWoz (Steve Wozniak), Catch me if you can (Frank Abagnale), Just for Fun (Linus Torvalds), Elon Musk, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

- How companies work: Creativity Inc (Pixar), In the Plex (Google)

- On writing: Art of fiction/nonfiction by Ayn Rand, Story by Robert McKee, Save the Cat, Step by Step to Standup Comedy.

- Other: The Selfish Gene, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Serious Creativity, Hackers & Painters, Hacking Growth, Angel (on angel investing, by Jason Calacanis).

Also collections of essays by Paul Graham [1] and Scott Alexander [2]:

[1] https://www.dropbox.com/s/2no0sqybnxurpcd/Paul%20Graham%20-%...

[2] https://www.dropbox.com/s/i43lqpdyd4qa255/The%20Library%20of...

The Selfish Gene has been the most influential book on my life. Especially when Dawkins makes the point about pre-darwininan philosophy needing rethinking. His point being that natural selection/evolution is such a profound notion that it should be embedded into the underpinnings of philosophy itself.

You know, when I first saw (many years ago) an animation of DNA replication my first though was: hey, this looks like code. Imagine my suprise seeing this Dawkins fellow comparing DNA to code in the beggining of the “The Blind Watchmaker”. Great minds... something something.

Hah, I remember learning about how DNA works in secondary school. You know, there's this "reading frame" that reads "triplets of nucleotides"... just like a CPU reading machine instructions! Might have had something to do with me reading an intro book to x86 ASM at that time.

For me the comparison of gene and meme blew me away. In short: There are not one but two things in you yearning/working to be reproduced: your genes (not body) and your memes/meme complexes. Thosr memes that are not good at getting reproduced die out, just like for genes.

The book is now around 40 years old but still stunning in its insightfulness.

Please don't... every time a thread like this shows up on HN, I end up impulsively buying some of the recommended books. I'm usually very happy about the purchase, though. :).

Humor aside; not sure if favourite of all times, but definitely impacted my thinking a lot:

- "Rationality: From AI to Zombies" - https://intelligence.org/rationality-ai-zombies/ - read this when it was still a bunch of posts by 'Eliezer on LessWrong. It cleaned up my thinking quite a bit, and introduced to couple new ideas from economics, sociology and epistemology.

- SICP, obviously.

- "How to Win Friends and Influence People", and "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" - from the father of the whole genre of self-help/personal development, and one whose books are still probably the only good ones in this genre, Dale Carnegie. They explain exactly what it says in their titles.

The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch. The sheer breadth of the ideas covered in this book is breathtaking, and there are some truly mind-bending ideas explored in this book. If you're looking for a good general science book I highly recommend this one.

Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom. Few thinkers have thought about this issue as deeply as Bostrom, and it was fascinating to hear his thoughts on AI.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Pretty traumatic read but essential if you really want to understand a dark and overlooked chapter of American history

I would love to hear more commentary on Bostrom. From the parts I've heard (in podcasts - still haven't read the book), it is a lot of talking about technology that is nowhere near where we are today, and thus (to me), a waste of time. But I am open to being convinced otherwise...

The prologue to Superintelligence was written with just for you. It is available here:

The Unfinished Parable of the Sparrows https://blog.oup.com/2014/08/unfinished-fable-sparrows-super...

Sapiens is an okay book, but it’s all over the place. On one hand it kinda says that in many regards we have hypothesis at best (ie we don’t know) to follow it with [sometimes] wild theories. There is no way you can cover as much ground as the author wanted in a book this size. It got diluted and turned into the classic “X best seller” crap.

I listened to the audiobook but never understood the hype behind it. Seemed like bunch of speculation akin to Malcom Gladwell books.

That’s the classic recipe for a “best seller”. A lot of hype and polish but of little substance.

For me, it was probably the most important book I have read in the last 10 years, if only to expand my thinking to stop making assumptions about everything. To me, rather than a textbook claiming authority over an entire field, it was a demonstration of the exercise of searching for reason for the way things are beyond "that's the way it is", for things I took for granted in an extremely religious upbringing.

I had a different experience. There is a lot of speculation in the book and normally I would not mind it that much, but again you have to practice what you preach (which the author does not).

Again, it’s an okay book. I wouldn’t say the best in the last 10,5,2,1,0 years but worth reading, if only to form your own opinion and learn a few interesting factoids here and there.

I recently read Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari and it nearly broke my mind. It was on Obama and Bill Gates' reading lists that year and it is phenomenal. It's like one of those books that took some ideas I had been kicking around for years and blew the whole thing wide open.

If you want to get a taste, go look up 'The Legend of Peugot' from the book.

There was also a sale on the ebook for $3 on Amazon this weekend -- not sure if it's still going.

> it nearly broke my mind.

Can you perhaps mention some examples?

There are a lot of fantastic ideas (whether one agree or not with the author) in this book. 2 that come to my mind:

- we tend to think that our species was a result of evolution - a concept that's somehow nice and smooth. In reality, the author argues, at each step of the evolution, the 'better' species simply exterminated the previous one. Think about that ! We (or our ancestor) just exterminated those poor Neanderthals that we so fondly think of now

- when he describes a corporation and applicable law (I think it's about Peugeot) comparing the lawyers to shamans. It really makes you realizes how most things and laws of what govern our world are just pure invention and it's very similar to religion actually

So, it's Nacirema: The Book?

Great examples. Thanks.

The Story of Civilization - Will and Ariel Durant

Reading this so far has been one of the most rewarding learning experiences of my life. If you are interested in how philosophy, religion, and civilization has emerged and grown in our species, than you will be constantly delighted while reading this. The Durants are equal to none.

It is a bit unfortunate that the Durants crammed all non-Western history in a single volume while devoting ten to European history, but it was a product of its time. Still, it is certainly well written and few historians attempt this sort of "complete" history these days.

True... it’s an amazing volume on western philosophy but fails to adequately look at philosophy from other cultures.

Not really a book, but...

The Berkshire-Hathaway shareholder letters are very entertaining and informative, and reading Warren is probably the best way to deeply understand the last ~40 years of US business climate.


Oh I can only agree ! Each year I'm eagerly waiting for it.

To complement, I would add two books from Buffett and Munger:

- "The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life" by Alice Schroeder

- "Poor Charlie's Almanack" by Charlie Munger - a fantastic read

1. Born a Crime (audiobook) by Trevor Noah is an entertaining yet thought-provoking listen

2. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (just gives a different perception to success all together, at least did for me)

3. Mastery (Robert Greene) - can be dismissed as Anecdotes but really powerful ones

4. Deep Work (Cal Newport) - a guy who doesn't like to be on social media and I found reading about him and stumbled upon this and it's absolutely an insightful read

5. The subtle art of not giving a fk - This is a short, beautiful and an amazing read even if you aren't looking for self improvement

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb has implications that I find impact very disparate areas. It's hard work in places though.

The Quark and the Jaguar by Murray Gell-Mann is a wonderfully readable and accessible intro to complexity, which again is a topic that seems to crop up all over the place.

Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine cites a shedload of research to dispel gender-related myths. It should be taught in schools, in my opinion.

John Seymour's self sufficiency books.

Haven't been able to put it all into practise, but they opened my eyes to what's possible, and provided some motivation to make the best use of the space we've got.

Bomber Command by Max Hastings. This book explained the change in Allies attitudes around bombing during WWII from "only barbarians bomb civillians" to the mass fire bombing of heavily populated cities. It was also eye-opening to read about the massive death rate in bomber command. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bomber-Command-Pan-Military-Classic...

The Art of Electronics, and especially the student manual that accompanies it. I read these a long time ago, and at the time it was a pretty good introductionto electronics, especially if you bought some cheap second hand test equipment and had a few breadboards and components to do the lab work. I'm not sure if it's aged well. There are a bunch of people on HN who still do electronic work who could recommend better newer books.

> I'm not sure if it's aged well. There are a bunch of people on HN who still do electronic work who could recommend better newer books.

Not a professional in this area, but between various HN comments I've read and YouTube channels like EEVblog, I've seen the third edition of this book recommended multiple times as the best book. It's actually sitting on my to-buy list because of that.

The Warren Commission Report.

Originally suggested by Werner Herzog as the most thrilling book ever written. It's ludicrously detailed. Absolutely riveting and thrilling. Opened my eyes to how a story can be constructed around a single moment and elucidated by a huge investigation.

A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson -- https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21.A_Short_History_of_Ne...

First half of the book changed my life, and second half is merely good. I wrote a full review [0], and eight years later, that first half has become one of my favorite reads ever.

[0]: http://www.spaceponies.com/review-of-a-short-history-of-near...

Oh yes! A Short History of Nearly Everything is really good. I thoroughly enjoyed it (Bill Bryson can write funnier than anyone I've read, apart from P.G. Wodehouse). I would just add a caveat that I read it first in junior high and it blew my mind. Maybe for someone who is read up a bit more, it might not be as mindblowing.

The Secret of Our Success on the co-evolution of humans and human culture.

The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution on what are states, where do they come from, and how do they work?

The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life is just what it says on the tin.

The Strategy of Conflict is the original book on game theory which stands up pretty well.

Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts on the modern science of what we know about what consciousness is.

I'm a third of the way through the Vital Question - absolutely amazing read so far. The concept of eukaryotes' high energy per gene opening up the doors for all of this marvelous complexity is so simple and powerful. Can't wait to keep reading.

It may be interesting at the end of this thread to take an inventory of the publishing dates of listed books. Will most be modern? Will many come from learned past of our elders?

It is hard for me to select a favorite. However as a voracious reader there is only one author for whom I have found myself re-reading his books multiple times: Robert Sarah.

He has published two books:

The Power of Silence (extended reflection on silence and the human condition) God or Nothing (autobiography + reflections on current affairs)

Pre-Industrial Societies: Anatomy of the Pre-Modern World https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1780747411/

Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0195313984/

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the Economy Bigger https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0691136408/

The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: An Elusive World Wonder Traced https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CG3JMD0/

The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature https://www.amazon.com/dp/0670031518/

"Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity" is a short book that anyone that has any interest in Ray Bradbury's work or in fiction writing should read.

"The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg and "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" by Robert Cialdini are both books that showed how and why you often act against your best interest.

Gun germs and steel

The Innovator's Dilemma

Thinking Fast and Slow

Godel Eschel Bach

Hard Things about Hard Things

"when breath becomes air" by Paul Kalanithi. Influenced me a great deal & one of my all time fav reads. A short excerpt : https://stanmed.stanford.edu/2015spring/before-i-go.html

“Soft skills” are typically the hardest.

The Power of Vulnerability: Brene Brown

Non-Violent Communication: Marshall Rosenberg

The Secrets of Consulting: Gerald Weinberg

The MIT Press books are good and cover a range of subjects: https://mitpress.mit.edu/topics

Some are pretty short reads as well. I just read "Information and Society" and enjoyed it.


1. 'The Making of the Atomic Bomb', R. Rhodes

2. 'Apollo: Race to the Moon', C. Murray, C. Cox

3. 'The Prize', D. Yergin

4. 'Are Your Lights On?', D. Gause, G. Weinberg

5. 'Becoming A Technical Leader', G. Weinberg

Endurance by Alfred Lansing - It's a well-written book about the incredible story of Earnest Shackleton's attempt to be the first team to cross Antarctica by land.

Command And Control, by Eric Schlosser. A history of America's nuclear weapons program and it's many near-disasters.

Raven, by Tim Reiterman. Biography of Jim Jones by one of the journalists who'd reported the story the longest.

Liquid Intelligence, by Dave Arnold. Everything you need to know to understand cocktails and make good ones.

On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee. An exhaustive reference on the history and science of food and ingredients. Every page has something surprising and useful.

In no particular order.

Empires of Light, by Jonnes. Titan, by Chernow. The Wright Brothers, by McCullough. His Excellency, by Ellis. The Wizard of Menlo Park, by Stross. I Invented the Modern Age, by Snow. Dealers of Lightning, by Hiltzik. Margin of Safety, by Klarman. Masters of Doom, by Kushner. Andrew Carnegie, by Nasaw. Infidel, by Hirsi Ali. Buffett, by Lowenstein. Where Wizards Stay Up Late, by Hafner. Shoe Dog, by Knight. The Making of the Atomic Bomb, by Rhodes.

The Power Broker and all volumes of The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro. The best books I've ever read. I effectively re-read them all every year or two.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fc*k by Mark Manson

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown This book has had a profound impact for years now on how I look at myself and those around me. I never saw shame as it's own entity beforehand and simply thought it was part of culture and the way things are. Now I see it as something to avoid like the plague for the sake of myself and those around me.

One, Two, Three: Absolutely Elementary Mathematics by David Berlinski

Often gets low ratings because people mistake it for an educational book. It’s a mix of history, biographies and verbal exposition on the development of mathematical theorems, with a good poetic slant. Reminds me I really need to look into his other books, his writing is scarily good.

Tokyo Vice by Jake Adlestein [1]

It's the story of a foreigner working as a serious reporter in Japan. He finds that the US government has been essentially selling organs to the Yakuza crime lords. No, really!

1: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0307475298

You might like this one, not sure how much of it is true and how much is made up


I found that a fun read. No idea how much of it is real.

Blanchard, Devaney and Hall, "Differential Equations". The first math textbook I found that you can actually read.

Oppenheim, Willsky, and Nawab, "Signals and Systems". The foundational modern text for signals processing; Fourier analysis becomes a fundamental way of thinking.

1. - 5. "A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History" by Manuel De Landa


Views: Last chance to see, by Douglas Adams.

Not only does he talk about Animals the average human never gets to see, it's also full of weird insights because of his often rather unique perspective on things. Plus, it's Adams, so it's very entertaining.

1. The psychick bible by Genesis Breyer P. Orridge. 2. Breakthroughs in science by Isaac Asimov

Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter L. Bernstein https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/128429.Against_the_Gods

The Physics of Wall Street: A Brief History of Predicting the Unpredictable by James Owen Weatherall https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13356644-the-physics-of-...

Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines (1953) by B. V. Bowden. http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/det/10719/Faster-Than-Tho...

Handbook of Filter Synthesis by Zverev. It’s out of print, but gives a nice tour of the field with good references. Beautiful charts and tables.

Design of Crystal and Other Harmonic Oscillators by Parzen delighted me with its practical depth and detail.

The Selfish Gene - Dawkins

Freedom from the Known - Jiddu

For decades I've been plagued by 'what is one supposed to do in life' question, I've been restless for years.

These two books gave me atleast a logical framework to understand my frustrations.

Just one interesting point from Daniel Bell's The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, published in 1973, was that post-industrial society would require a vast network connecting everyone, and thing, together.

I really enjoy anything from John McPhee, especially Coming Into The Country.

I'm planning on starting The Founding Fish this evening, a recommendation from a friend. It will be my first McPhee book and I'm very much looking forward to it.

I liked the Art of War in high school. Feel like it helped me a lot with stuff like negotiating salary in my early years.

Later -- The Book of the Courtier by Baldassare Castiglione -- same topic as Art of War I'd say.

In no particular order:

• Sapiens

• Thinking Fast and Slow

• The Mind Illuminated

• A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

Very interesting that you point to a Meditation book (The Mind Illuminated) and a Stoic book (A Guide to the Good Life).

I've read both, and I like both philosophies. While they both share similarities (non attachment, living in the present), it seems that in Vipasana you wouldn't try to get rid of a bad thouhgt by using your rationality. You would just observe it.

While Stoicism demands engaging rationality to overcome the emotion or bad thought.

Have you thought on how to reconcile the two? This is something I've been pondering for a while.

I think early Buddhism and Stoicism can be cobbled together into a workable philosophy, and I think Vipassana is also complementary with a number of Stoic practices.

Like you've identified, a recurring apparent disagreement between the two philosophies is how to relate to positive and negative phenomena: In the stoic view, positive phenomena should be enjoyed, but we should be clearly aware that they're impermanent so that we're not disappointed when they inevitably end. Likewise, we should bear negative phenomena with the knowledge that we could always be experiencing something even more negative.

In Buddhism, there's also guidance for relating to positive and negative phenomena in a different way, but it doesn't appear to agree with the Stoics. In Buddhist thought, we should use concentration careful attention to our inner experience to cultivate equanimity toward both positive and negative phenomena while growing a deep sense of inner fulfillment.

I don't think these are actually that different: in both philosophies, the end state — whether that of a Buddhist arhat or a Stoic sage — is to be pretty much happy with whatever's going on, and the path is essentially to become aware of the bad in the good and the good in the bad. Really, I think the main difference is that the Stoic philosophy is phrased and framed in a more accessible way, but the practices complement each other well.

Concretely, imagine your dog is sick and will probably die. Stoicism tells you to appreciate every moment you have left with your dog but to vividly imagine your experience of him dying to lessen the blow when he does, and to prepare yourself for (and convince yourself of!) that eventuality. Buddhism would suggest you meditate on the mental talk, mental imagery, and emotional body sensations associated with your experience of the trauma. These are, in my mind, complementary ways to cultivate equanimity, and are even better used together than separately.

I really enjoyed Never Split the Difference. It has helped me with negotiation in life.

I enjoyed 4 Hour Work Week when I first read it. I am still trying to create a profitable side hustle.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White

The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker

The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis

The Mac Is Not a Typewriter by Robin Williams

Getting Real by 37 Signals

"The Innovators" by Walter Isaacson

All these had a huge impact on me. The descriptions are inadequate, I've just tried to mention the subject matter.

Deborah Tannen, You Just Don't Understand - how males and females talk different languages.

Lakoff & Johnson, Metaphors We Live By - how our language and thoughts are built from a fabric of conceptual metaphors. Philosophy In The Flesh is about the conceptual metaphors that philosophy is built from.

Jonathan Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century - WWI, WWII and other wars, nazism, communism etc

Plutarch's Lives - biographies and stories from famous ancient Greeks and Romans. Amazing how little's changed.

Lin Yutang, The Importance of Understanding - introduced me to ancient Chinese philosophers. The Importance of Living - introduced me to ancient Chinese writers, poets and the Chinese way of life.

Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach - read it when I was 14, and I was into music, art and programming, so it blew my mind.

Susan Faludi, STIFFED - men, work, jobs, masculinity, 20th C

Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion - media, war, propaganda, democracy

Noam Chomsky's political books

E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful - the world, development, government, planning, organization, humanity, sustainability

J.R. Saul, Voltaire's Bastards - power, history, democracy, technocracy, reason, rationality, history from late 18th C until today.

Raymond Williams, Culture and Society 1780-1950 - the anti-industrialist tradition, politics, culture, society and the new language describing these things

Clifford Pickover, Computers, Patterns, Chaos, and Beauty - programming, mathematics, art, fractals, dynamical systems etc

Ben Zander, The Art of Possibility - hard to explain, kind of advanced self-help, the magic of changing attitudes, expectations, habits.

My favourite non-fiction books of all time, though, are the essays of Emerson, Hazlitt, RL Stevenson, GK Chesterton, Santayana, Bertrand Russell. And the books of Nietzsche, SARK and Robert Fulghum.

haven't read a ton of nonfiction, but these were good

- Thinking fast, and slow

- 7 habits of highly effective people

- Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

- Getting Things Done

- Choose Yourself

I enjoyed all these. All of them are worth a read.

Business / Tech Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Are Your Lights On?: How to Figure Out What the Problem Really Is. Managing Expectations: Working with People Who Want More: Working with People Who Want More, Better, Faster, Sooner, Now! Explore It!: Reduce Risk and Increase Confidence with Exploratory Testing. Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime-From Global Epidemic to Your Front Door. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. Badass: Making Users Awesome. Social Engineering in IT Security: Tools, Tactics, and Techniques. How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody. Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. The Global War for Internet Governance. Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking. Hate Crimes in Cyberspace. High Noon: The Inside Story of Scott McNealy and the Rise of Sun Microsystems. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet. The Soul of A New Machine. Hot Spots: Why Some Companies Buzz with Energy and Innovation - And Others Don't. A Computer Called LEO: Lyons Tea Shops and the World's First Office Computer. Power Failure: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Enron. The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing. What's Mine Is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way We Live. Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network. The Undersea Network (Sign, Storage, Transmission). Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor. Meaningful: The Story of Ideas That Fly. Zero Bugs and Program Faster. Official Criticism Manual: Perfecting the Art of Giving and Receiving Criticism. Hacking Wireless Access Points: Cracking, Tracking, and Signal Jacking. Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set...Test! Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management. The Accidental Project Manager. Building Successful Communities of Practice. Card Sorting: Designing Usable Categories. More Fearless Change: Strategies for Making Your Ideas Happen. Security and Usability: Designing Secure Systems that People Can Use. Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet. The Well: The Epic History of the First Online Community. Programmers at Work.

Science The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes' Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy Darwin's Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists The Dinosaur Hunters: A True Story of Scientific Rivalry and the Discovery of the Prehistoric World Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Hidden Figures Prometheans in the Lab: Chemistry and the Making of the Modern World Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist's Journey into Seeing in Three Dimensions The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History Knocking On Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate our Universe Sightlines An Ocean of Air: A Natural History of the Atmosphere Snowball Earth: The Story of the Global Catastrophe That Spawned Life as We Know it Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error: The Meaning of Error in an Age of Certainty Mycophilia Packing for Mars: The Curious Science Of Life In Space No Logo King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved Geometry The Ghosts Of Evolution Nonsensical Fruit, Missing Partners, And Other Ecological Anachronisms Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA Growing Up Boeing: The Early Jet Age Through the Eyes of a Test Pilot's Daughter Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 bath Toys Lost at Sea Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science

World / Politics / Other Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power The New Jim Crow The Market for Force: The Consequences of Privatizing Security Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon's Scientific Underworld Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion The irregulars : Roald Dahl and the British spy ring in wartime Washington Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing The Gift of Fear

1. The power of now

2. Models

3. The 4-hour workweek

I read Models after a good review of it[1]. It was only sort of useful for my 36 year old self but it would have been immensely useful to me at 16.



While I tend to agree that aspects of 1984 have been and continue to be seen time and again in societies around the world......the work itself is fiction. The OP asked for non-fiction books.


The Bible

The OP specifically asked for non-fiction.

That's a bit snarky. Most of it was written as non-fiction. Your descendant will be denouncing a 21st C physics book on HN as fiction in 500 years time. I guess you haven't read, for example, Proverbs (just a load of great proverbs) or Ecclesiastes (very dark view of life - nihilistic, sceptical, world-weary) - they're great stuff. (disclosure: total atheist)

Upvoted, and I would also say the Book of Mormon, with the Bible. The BoM reinforces the Bible's teachings powerfully, and as I age and read again, sometimes in other languages, and some scholarly things about it, they both just keep getting better and better. Including in their effect on me. You can get a copy of either one for free.

Edit: Additionally, some which have been mentioned or not:

- a couple of biographies of Lincoln (one is free on gutenberg.org, the other more recent by Doris Kearns Goodwin), and one of Washington whose name I forget now, but there are good ones out there.

- the 7 Habits book (Covey), and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Carnegie.

- Refactoring ..., by Martin Fowler.

- some thick Scheme programming book from college (sorry, it's downstairs). And "The Little Schemer", also about Scheme (one of the authors, Friedman, was also our instructor).

- Since Cumorah, by Hugh Nibley (maybe dated now, but there is a lot of related work). Really got me interested in related topics.

An assortment: "The Silent Language" by Edward T. Hall. Hall was an anthropologist attached to the University of New Mexico. He and his research partner, linguist Norman Trager, were doing research in comparative culture. Hall realized they would need a comprehensive theory of culture to describe what they were comparing and provide ways to compare them. Hall's model was "culture as communication", and the results were presented in the book above. His key point was that most of culture was like the iceberg - 90% of it is processed on an unconscious reflex level. We are no more aware of most of our culture than a fish is of the water it swims in. We only become aware when we are set down in a culture that does things differently than ours. The Silent Language is about how we use space. The followup "The Hidden Dimension looks into how different cultures use time. Many things fell into place when I read Hall.

"Games People Play" by Eric Berne. Berne was a psychiatrist and founder of the discipline of Transactional Analysis. Games People Play was a PopSci bestseller when first published, which was odd because it's a highly technical volume written for other psychiatrists. His thesis was that most human behavior could be viewed as games, and most of what we did were ways of structuring time. Follow up with his "What Do You Say After You've Said Hello?" and "Beyond Games and Scripts". Hall's work above did much to explain teh behavior of societies. Berne's work does much to explain the behavior of people in societies.

"The Anatomy of Criticism" by Northrop Frye. Frye was a Professor of English at Toronto University. He had completed a study of William Blake called "Fearful Symmetry", and was attempting to do a study of Spencer's Faery Queen. But he found himself trying to make sense of various terms used in literature, and the result became a work of pure theory, unconnected with any specific works. He refers to poetry and poetics, but his canvas is broader. Part of his problem was that there was no general term in English for a work of prose fiction. It's a set of four essays, covering Historical Criticism, Ethical Criticism, Archetypal Criticism, and Rhetorical Criticism, but makes clear that while each form is valid in its own terms, none fully described literature, and a more synoptic view was required.

"The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas S. Kuhn Kuhn's work challenged the accepted notions of scientific progress, and the notion of steady accumulation. His thesis was that the real progress came from notions that lay outside accepted theories, and provided new paradigms by which reality might be understood, and faced all the resistance transformative ideas face from entrenched doctrine until they are demonstrated to be correct.

"Management: Tasks, Practices, Responsibilities" by Peter F. Drucker. Drucker was our present generation's primary primary theorist and consultant on the practice of management, and just what management was and what mangers did. This work was probably his magnum opus, where he pulled together the ideas he'd formulated elsewhere into a coherent whole. It's a liberal education not only in management, but in the nature and structure of market based economies.

"The Making of Economic Society" by Robert F. Heilbroner. This is probably the best single volume overview I'm aware of on economics and economic history, beginning with just what an economy is, and the changing conception of economics through history, with the transition from Traditional through Command to Market economies and the issues involved with each. Many animated discussions I see online about economics make me say "Those words don't mean what you think they do. Please read Heilbroner, and come back when you have. Then we might at least be talking about the same things."

"The Problems of Philosophy" by Bertrand Russell. Russell is concerned with knowledge, and how we know what we know. He asks "Is there any knowledge in the world so certin that no reasonable man could doubt it?", and concludes that it's one of the most difficult questions that can be asked. When we understand the obstacles in the way of a straightforward and confident answer, we are launched on the study of philosophy, which is concerned with precisely such questions. If philosophy is of interest, this is a superb place to start.

"Religion and the Rise of Capitalism" by R. H. Tawney. Economies don't exist in vacuums. The are aspects of the societies in which they exist, and reflect the values of those societies. Religion has been a critical part of the value systems of societies for as long as there have been societies, and religious notions on what sort of behavior is acceptable affect the structure of economies by determining what sort of transactions are permissible. Tawney is specifically concerned with religious thought in England affecting social organization and economic issues in the period immediately preceding the Reformation and the two following centuries, but while his focus in England, his description of the way in which Christian religious doctrine changed gradually to make a capitalist economy possible in England, the underlying processes could be applied through Europe in general. Read this as a companion to Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism", originally written in German and concerned with the Netherlands and Germany.

"Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy" by Joseph A. Schumpeter. Schumpeter was an Austrian economist, a contemporary of John Maynard Keynes, and (briefly) Austria's Finance Minister in the 1920's. Like Keynes, he considered himself influenced by Marx. But unlike many others, he believed Marx "asked all the right questions, and got all the wrong answers". Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy was Schumpeter's (often delightfully snarky) attempt to understand what Marx got wrong and why. It's a useful brainwash after you've spent any time reading MArx or other folks who consider themselves Marxists, and provides a needed sense of perspective.

There's more, but I have to stop somewhere...

- The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

- Godel Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter

- Language, Truth, and Logic by A. J. Ayer

- Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows

Books that serve as investment philosophy guides for those who've developed a habit of saving money but are looking for the "next step" in building more wealth. From the mind of one of the greatest investors of all time:

- The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham (get the annotated version with an epilogue written by Warren Buffett!)

- The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America

A book that discusses what matters most in your life from a resource-allocation, measurable results standpoint (family, etc.):

- How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen

A book I read 10 years ago that forever changed the way I manage productivity and organization both at work and in my personal life:

- Getting Things Done by David Allen

Books that show that our universe is just as crazy, if not crazier, than science fiction:

- Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy

- Quantum Chance: Nonlocality, Teleportation and Other Quantum Marvels

- ..and so on with intersecting topics!

Not to mention, I love trying to have as deep an understanding as I can by reading highly technical textbooks on cosmology, gravitation, and quantum physics.

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