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Ask HN: What was the one book that you read and it actually changed your life?
259 points by cozy101 on Sept 13, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 218 comments
For me it was this very old book, Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl.

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Never really been one to enjoy popular books on philosophy (Alchemist was overrated, Monk who sold his Ferrari cliched, The Secret just boring ...IMO) and picked this up at a used book store. The book truly put a new perspective on life for me.

Perhaps it was a combination of the time when I read the book: Undue stress, massive imposter syndrome, that feeling of not moving ahead in life, and the oh-so-messed-up quarter life crisis, but this book was an absolute eyeopener for me.

Find your own meaning in life, and live your own philosophy instead of aping a "master" (spiritual or otherwise) because a "master" is someone who has shaped his own philosophy and that will almost NEVER completely apply to you. In the book, when the titular Siddhartha realises this and starts off on his own journey, something clicked within me and I started making genuine attempts to get past my (mostly) self-imposed problems in life. Can easily say this book helped me get through confusing times and come out better on the other side

Truly a life-changing book for me, and no wonder it's been popular for over half a century!


The Art of War, The War of Art (except the final bits of the book) and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance come in a close second, each having shaped the way I look at decision making processes and influenced my general life strategy

I'll add The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse because it saved me from decades of pointless game playing. (Actually just read everything by Hermann Hesse).

Sounds interesting that a book about "game" saved you from "game playing". Not sure what sort of game you're exactly referring to, though IMO video games that let you grind against scripted NPCs indeed could waste one a lot of time. However games that pit you against human opponents, when practiced adequately, can actually teach you a lot. There was a piece about how chess playing is being taught in the Wall Street to train decision making under pressure. Many video games can also help you achieve similar effects. So it's not all negative.

I would love it if you could elaborate on how the book saved you from decades of game playing. (If not here, email in profile.) I've started this book now, but also an avid gamer and hobbyist game maker.

Perhaps I'm still not at that time and place in my life where I'd appreciate Siddhartha. I found it thoroughly nauseating. And the forced translation of Sanskrit idioms was especially cringe inducing.

I didn't find it nauseating, it's an interesting tale, but I'll agree that it didn't make any profound influence on me beyond any other fiction book that I've read.

Perhaps reading it as an eBook on my phone, means that I didn't take it in well enough.

I haven't read Siddhartha, and expect I won't like it, but perhaps the Sanskrit idioms translate better into German? (https://shreevatsa.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/sanskrit-and-ger...) Did you read the book in German? Or if not, which translation (Wikipedia lists at least six: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Siddhartha_(novel...)?

I read the Hilda Rosner's 1951 English translation. Maybe I'll give one of the newer translations a try.

I've re-read Siddhartha at various times of my life and it had a profound impact on me each time. Can't recommend it enough.

We read Siddhartha (Gautama Buddha) story in 8th standard (CBSE) in India.

Hindu god Ganesha was created to curb Buddhism and thats why Buddhism is not famous in india.

I am Hindu but unaware of this fact. Though I'll do some googling but can you provide your source and reasoning behind that?

I am aware Shankaracharya did try to curb Buddhism but I wasn't aware of ganesha angle.

All the states in india have the practice of people having their caste name as their surname except in the state of Tamilnadu(about 70 million population). This was due to one atheist man's effort who opposed the caste system Periyar(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Periyar_E._V._Ramasamy). He broke the ganesha statue on the day of buddha's birthday as an act of protesting the use of ganesha to instigate the religious violence for political benefits. Ganesha was created to stop people from converting to buddhism. That's why ganesha was always found under the palm tree which is buddha's place. Also ganesha statue is made gigantic and is taken in to streets and made more entertaining festival inorder to create more merriness and keep people more engaged and not to feel left out. But at the same time Ganesha statue is disolved in water after about 10 days, this is beacause the non-brahmin people who were allowed to do the priest duty for 10 days should not become a competion to the brahmin priests.

Ganesha was way before ( even before Krishna ) Buddha. So, not sure from where you get this to info.

Krishna and his super power and other avatars of krishna is a belief and Buddha's existence is a recorded fact. Ganesha's references are found in the literature only after the existence of Buddha. That's why no reference to ganesha is found in vedas.

To add to that, Narcissus and Goldmund was also a quite influential book.

The divided mind / healing back pain - Books by John E. Sarno.

To give you a background I have struggled with back pain all my life. After dozens of MRIs, X rays, physiotherapy, ayurveda, yoga, posture exercises, and spending almost 100,000 in the last 15 years on this, a simple book saved me.

The effect was so powerful that I could feel the symptoms fading while I was reading it. It gave me my life back. A few weeks ago I finally had the courage to teach my little one to walk without worrying about bending my back.

Now I feel that more people suffering from back pain, chronic fatigue, etc should be made aware of it. Here is a intro video about it [1]

P.S. I credit hacker news for the source.

[1] https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vsR4wydiIBI

Also, for anyone interested, there is a brilliant 2016 documentary film 'All the Rage, Saved by Sarno'

Here's Dr.Sarno's words at the end of movie trailer: 'All this because of one simple idea — that the mind and the body intimately connected'

I couldn't find a place to buy it online. Do yoh have a link? Thanks

Sure, I found one here on Vimeo. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/alltherage

also, the official website http://alltheragedoc.com/

Thank you for this. I needed this

Just as a follow up, I had every symptom that the book describes. Last night I couldn’t put the book down, at the end tried its recommendation and lo and behold my pain from “herniated” disks went away. Thanks again for this.

That is awesome to hear. I have created a small mp3 file for the 12 reminders [1]. If you ever get the pain just play the mp3 file to remind yourself of it again. Good luck! :)

[1] https://clyp.it/chqx0dku#

I haven't read the book, but from watching the video it sounds like the main idea of it is to practice mindfulness.

Not sure if it is that simple. The main idea at least as per what I understood is that there is nothing wrong with your back or structure.

People with multiple herniated discs, "pinched nerves", etc never have back pain yet people with no structural abnormality suffer from paralyzing pains.

The reason is your mind. The logic being your brain tries to hide difficult emotions aka stress and most specifically repressed anger (which you may be even unaware off) by creating physical pain by creating oxygen deprevation in some nerves (which is totally harmless like a cramp but feels like the end of the world to you).

So the pain is real and measurable even though harmless. Regardless, this creates fear and you start believing that the problem in your disc bulge, herniation, etc which is causing it. This is my own interpretation but it's the fear of pain more than pain that makes it into a debilitating pain.

Once you add all the advice on sitting like this and standing like that and getting into the car like this plus problems from your MRI, X Ray and more and more things you are doing wrong, you start believing there is something actually very wrong with you. Yet is not the cause of it but just your repressed emotions.

So long story short as soon as you start believing your body is fine and it your emotions causing the pain, the pain loses its purpose and goes away (that's why people who have been struggling for years get better in 2 to 3 weeks).

The best part is you don't even have to fix the emotions, Just knowing your issue is not structural will make you better.

Can you explain a bit what the method is? If it is not mindfulness, what is it? Thanks

The method is just to realize that the pain isn't due to any structural abnormality but rather due to suppressed emotions. I think the easiest way to learn more about it is to watch Dr. John Sarno's lecture on YouTube (its about 50 mins long and quite easy to grasp at 2X speeds)

Do you mean this lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p20QhBz-Tik ?

It's here (1). Starts around 10 min mark. It's the one he used to give to people who he attended to personally I think.

(1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPV-UbSH3KU


Non-violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. After reading this book, the way I related and communicated with people completely changed.

Concretely, right after I read it, a break up that would have been very tense for me became straightforward and peaceful. Also, using NVC techniques, a fight with my friend got transformed into both of us getting tearful and pulling over the car to hug each other because we felt so connected.

The developer of NPM.js recommended this book highly[1] on his blog, so I picked it up. Already on a first reading[2] I could see its potential to be life-changing. It has definitely changed how I interact with (or see) others (and myself), and I am trying to put more of it in practice; currently on a second reading.

I think it appeals to the programmer/mathematician in me, because to a large extent it is teaching me to be more precise, about distinguishing observations, evaluations, thoughts, feelings, etc. Of course the ultimate goal is to establish genuine and sincere connection with other people, but even if you can do that with one person (yourself?), the time is probably well spent.

[1]: http://blog.izs.me/post/112818868228/letter-to-marshall-rose...

[2]: https://plus.google.com/+ShreevatsaR/posts/2428KBRfYdb

Well said!

There is a video of this seminar online "The basics of non-violent communication. Very Eye opening. Very helpful for relationships with those that we love.


But more importantly, it's very helpful for those we don't have affinities for!

TCP/IP Illustrated Volume 1: The Protocols. It changed my life because I realised I could better comprehend systems others had already pored over and offer new insights. By comparing the contents of this book to RFCs I was able to propose numerous new remote operating system detection strategies which I published. I then had contact from a hacker group on the other side of the world, plus web visits from a swathe of militaries globally. (This was back in the mid-late 1990s when people didn't bother obfuscating their IP.) Gave me the confidence to go do my own thing in a lot of ways, including leaving Australia for its lack of R&D opportunities outside of military/academia, and probably a significant historical factor in my current position as a founder.

+1 for Mr. Stevens!

Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. As a teenager it gave me an intellectual basis for my faith and helped me see it could be defensible.

Darwin's Doubt by Stephen Meyer. If God exists methodological naturalism can't be completely true. This book helped me see that there's still areas science can't fully explain, like the information explosion of the Cambrian Explosion.

Please don't burn me at the stake.

Although I'm not as religious as I used to be, I still highly regard 'The Screwtape Letters'. CS Lewis is an excellent writer.

I'm not religious at all and still loved 'The Screwtape Letters'. I recently found myself reminded of TSL while watching 'The Good Place'. It's not of nearly the same depth as TSL but plays with some of the same concepts.

I'd just like to point out that there's a big difference between things that we currently can't explain using rational methods and things that rational methods will never be able to explain.

my Dad'd bible I have loved reading all his comments and notes in the margins over the years

1. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius - practical advice on how to arm yourself every day.

2. Man's Search for Meaning by Frankl - no matter how bad you think you have it, it can be worse, and you can find meaning.

3. The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen - it's the journey (not the destination) and <i>pay attention!</i>

The Snow Leopard was so beautiful. I read it slowly, over the course of several months. My girlfriend at the time teased me for reading it so slowly. But it was one of those books I didn't want to read quickly because it was so dense with meaning.

I tried getting through Meditations, but I couldn't. Maybe I'm more used to long-form writings, rather than the short paragraphs? I could read them, but I felt like they didn't "sink in", even if I felt they were profound at the time.

I don't know which translation you read, but maybe give the Gregory Hayes version a chance. It is more recent and more straightforward, less stylized in terms of phrasing. I felt that the language got in the way less when reading it.

Oh, lordy lord. Then don't read Gomez DaVila.

Meditations is an outstanding book. You don't have to read "through". You can browse and see what connects with you. What made a strong difference to me: the translation. First, I could not connect with the book. Then I found another translation and started liking it. Later I realized that the fist translation, while harder to read and understand, was much better. It was, like he wrote. Short. No unnecessary words.

It's actually his personal diary, written often while he was on campaign. From that perspective I think it's impressive how insightful he managed to be in short bursts. But if you are looking for something more long-form, you might try Seneca's Letters or Epictetus Discourses.

Do we know he wasn't just practicing philosophy by writing down what he heard others say?

>no matter how bad you think you have it, it can be worse, and you can find meaning.

I agree. I have a personality where when something bad happens I just assess my potential courses of action and act accordingly. Sometimes I get depressed, but I usually snap out of it and get back to work. However, I am married to someone with a chronic, debilitating illness. I'm struggling to help her keep hope. I think one of the tricky things to get around is that people with legitimately terrible situations don't want to hear "It could always be worse." They kind of have a point. Just because there's a person that has it worse doesn't mean they aren't suffering also. I think Frankl's book might be helpful, but I wouldn't really know where to start trying to convince her that it might help.

Two books.

"The Design of Everyday Things" by Donald A. Norman

The Design Bible. This book gave me objective ways to explain what would have previously been my "negative opinion". Coming to grips with the reality that bad design is rampant reinforced my growing interest in product design.

"PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story" by Dr. Alexander Shulgin and Ann Shulgin

The Phenethylamine Bible. As a kid I was fascinated by Shulgin and his work advancing science for all of these genuinely good and positive reasons. I watched politicians with no understanding of science use hype to outlaw all of Shulgin's fascinating chemicals against the recommendations of experts in their relevant fields. Shulgin's work is open source and the 2nd half of PiHKAL was my first exposure to open source code.

33 Strategies of War, Robert Greene.

It's about dealing with conflict. Resource management, especially in regards to conflict. Emotional management on a group level. And it applies to conflicts with yourself as well.

All of us have some kind of conflict to deal with, whether it's an unruly client, bullying boss, emotionally draining relative, burnt out staff. The book covers strategies in dealing with them. It even starts with covering how to identify people who may be enemies acting as friends.

While it sounds aggressive, a lot of it covers on how wars are best won without ever having any fighting. Sometimes you can just discourage people from attacking you. Sometimes you have to decide to withdraw, to engage, to intimidate, or to handle it from a much higher level, distracting or draining their resources before they can attack you.

Sir, I’m currently reading non violent communications by marshall rosenberg, do you find any similar idea ?

Entirely different idea. The book is still about different types of violence (political, social, military/physical, financial).

To put it one way, it doesn't embrace violence for the sake of violence, e.g. Ares, god of war. But uses the possibility of violence to enforce peace, like Athena, goddess of wisdom.

The 4-Hour Workweek - made me quit my job and start a business. Since then I've been able to travel internationally for the first time in my life while working as much as I want.

Interestingly, the biggest eye-opener of reading the 4HWW is the part when Ferriss defines the word muse. I used to only think that it was a dichotomy of 1) boring 9-5 selling out your soul for the rest of your life, or 2) VC-backed startup scaling like mad and ending in a 7+ figure acquisition, but never considered the option in between: lifestyle businesses that are "automated", so you can actually do other things with your life.

I would second the 4-Hour Workweek, yet I am still searching for a profitable idea. How long did it take you from reading the book to reaching the ability to quit your job?

Same. The profitable idea is the hardest thing for me. It seems like everything I think of has already been done before.

In the book, Tim Ferris makes his money by selling phoney brain supplements to golfers. That's not a new idea, but it's a profitable one.

I think part of the reason I'll never have a great deal of money is that the idea of tricking someone into buying a useless product makes me uncomfortable. As does adding more plastic and trash into the world.

I think approaching an idea that already has existing solutions is better than trying to come up with a completely new idea. The existing solutions indicate that there is a market for it. Can you improve on those existing solutions, and deliver some value that is lacking in them?

With 7+ Billion people on the planet most people have done something similar to any idea. Isn't the point in the book that you can still succeed by creating your own flavor of an idea or selling that idea to a new market?

That might be the point. I didn't make it that far because after what seemed like 60 pages of the author talking about how he's naturally a world class performer at pretty much everything he's ever tried to do in his entire life I got tired of the bullshit time-share salesman style of writing.

Where does the actual advice start? This book is recommended pretty much every time someone asks a similar question, I might be willing to give it another shot if there's actual content somewhere in it.

Also, did this guy create a successful business outside of his self-help stuff before he started writing these books?

I think the book is worth reading. His inspiration for writing 4HWW was his experience running a supplement business, which he later sold - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Ferriss#Career

Prior to reading the book, I had a retire-early mindset. My idea was to work hard at high paying jobs and save a lot so I could retire early. After reading the book, I had the idea to create multiple streams of income in order to achieve the goal of retiring early.

Others have mentioned that it's not easy to find a lifestyle business that earns you enough income to live off of, and I've also had that problem. However, I've had partial success. I don't think I'd have ever pursued this path without reading 4HWW. It's not an instruction manual, though.

If you interview people about the type of problems they deal with day to day then you start to get tons of ideas. That’s how I started.

The problem isn't to find problem for which you can start a business. The problem is to find a problem for which you can start an automated business. That's much harder.

Every business can be automated. Just find good people to run it for you.

That's not the spirit of the 4HWW. The idea is to make a product that requires not much improvement, and people just buy it from your website, so essentially your 4 hours are spent doing accounting and basic customer support. You might have a part time guy to do server maintenance but that's about it. So essentially most of your revenue is profit for yourself, and you can run a "small" business with revenue in the 50-100K range.

If you start hiring full time workers, then your business has to scale a lot. Like revenue has to go to 500-1M range so you have enough to pay full time workers as well as money for yourself. That's just a completely different beast.

500-1M USD? If you hire full-time US workers then that's probably the case.

For me I hired a few remote part-timers around the world. So it costs me an order of magnitude less. And they're all awesome, so I barely have to lift a finger.

It took me about four years. It would've been faster if I knew then what I know now.

Care to summarize what you know now that you didn't know then?

Go on...

I could write a whole book on what I’ve learned :) As can any other business owner I think. But I’d be happy to chat with anyone wanting advice.

Any tips on finding "automatable" problems?

Pretty much all businesses are automatable. Just hire good people and have good processes in place for them to follow.

For example, WP Curve was even able to automate the process of hiring dozens of developers. You would've that that it would require a very manual intervention by the owner: https://wpcurve.com/hiring-developers/

I read the 4 hour work week when we (wife and myself) were already travelling and working on our own companies (this was when it just came out first by the way); we both scaled down to working max 1 day a week, found that that made us create more and more projects. Found out we really do not like not working.

What kind of company did you start?

Could you elaborate on your lifestyle, please? What kind of job do you do on that max 1 day a week? How do you spend the rest of your time? How far do you travel? Do you stay long at one place or you'll constantly on the run? Do you have kids? If no - do you plan to have them? If yes - how do they manage with that lifestyle? Having your knowledge and experience, what would you have done differently? Thanks in advance!

Like I said; that 4hr workweek was like 10 years ago: since then the week is full again. But with multiple businesses (check my profile/linkedin). We hike a lot (few hours a day). When we worked less than a day we travelled through europe, now all over the world. We try to stay longer in one place when we can, but business meetings take us all over. No kids, consciously not ever.

I would not do a lot different but as you ask; I would have started real business networking far sooner. I am a tech guy and always surrounded myself with business guys so I would not have to. I think that was not so smart. I always thought I would be bad at it, but it just is not very hard. And with the right contacts, you can grow and achieve things much faster.

I started a SaaS company in the hospitality industry.

I have been trying this since the book came out...

I've never been able to get a successful low-maintenance business going, what kind of business did you start?

Start any business and just hire good people to run it for you.

I have a SaaS. I have a support person, product manager, and developer. Between them they handle 90% of the day to day tasks.

The 4-Hour Body is a great book too. I hesitated to mention it but if you mention the 4-Hour Workweek then I feel like it is to be mentioned as well.

The God Delusion and The Selfish Gene. I know they are a bit dated by now, but when I read them they broadened my horizons and encouraged to review my religious standpoint from a scientific perspective.

For me it was Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World.

I was not especially religious, or especially anything until that book convinced me that skepticism was a useful default setting.

Sweet! I will give that a try!

One book is too restrictive to decide. People change, surroundings change, situations change...so would it be with books that have changed us or influenced us.

I'll leave you here not with a book, but with one tiny piece of one tiny book:

The first chapter of "Illusions" by Richard Bach. As with other fantastic works that others have listed here, a distinguishing factor about these impactful or "life changing" works is that you can re-read them countless times and benefit from them anew on every read. This first chapter is one such work for me.

I'm not implying that the rest of "Illusions" is worse than this first chapter (on the contrary, it's great), but this chapter is short, yet so powerful, and best of all, it stands by itself.

Bonus, if you like to read brief but powerful pieces, pick up "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran and read the chapters that interest you. I'd suggest the "On Giving" chapter as a great start.

The Toyota Way - one of the most important books I've read to help understand why companies are dysfunctional.

I knew corporate America (and even many startups) were so dysfunctional, but I didn't know what could replace it. The Toyota Way shows a bright path to the ideal. And makes me realize how far we are from that.

Its not the tools its the ideology that matters is basically why many companies are dysfunctional, from what I remember reading about Toyota Way

Yep, culture eats process/tooling for breakfast.

Man's Search for Meaning expanded my view of the human spirit and life in general.

Deep Work gave me some good insight on how to get the most out of my days.

Sapiens vastly widened and shifted my understanding of the myths that make up our society.

I'll second deep work by Cal Newport. I didn't realize just how distracted I was until attempting his methods.

I don't think any book has significantly changed my life. I've read a pretty wide range of books, and remain basically the same schmuck I've always been.

That is quite sad. You should read some of the books in this thread. I know there are at least 10 life changing books for me.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I'm pretty sure from that point on I started going down the same rabbit hole as the protagonist. The results of that are a bit of a mixed bag to be honest, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

This was one of my favorites. The style of writing made me rethink what is possible in storytelling and philosophical/psychological narratives.

Can you share more regarding what that mixed bag looks like? How did it change your life?

"The Great American Health Hoax" by Raymond Francis made me understand that health is not gained with medicines but by avoiding toxins and eating nutricious foods.


Avoiding toxic doctors, too.

When young and before I knew better, I had two surgeries that should not have been done. Or, for one, not executed in the manner it was; and it was only necessary because of an unavoidable gap in insurance coverage.

Ha, when I remind myself, the other was necessary because of a string of failures initially culminating in an incompetent doctor and the PT he lauded. Then compounded a year later by a surgeon who'd rather operate than image and then was quite lackadaisical about recovery.

Beyond the topic of doctors, we have so much sugar in our diet, in good part because ADM needs to move corn products for profit. I imagine they've now cornered the market on beet sugar, as well, although I don't know. And the cane sugar growers who continue to lobby very effectively e.g. with the leverage of Florida state and its political influence.

"Modern medicine" is very limited in what it can actually, thoroughly fix. Staying healthy is the bulwark, but with a lot of financially motivated people poking holes in this for their own benefit.

"Food of the Gods" by Terrence McKenna was a revelation and led me to dive into his other books and lectures (and many topics spawned from it). Complete shift in baseline perception. Though not his quote, he said it frequently: "The truth is not only stranger than you suppose, it is stranger than you _can_ suppose."

I must've spent a lifetime listening to and reading McKenna. Time to go back and have another listen.

Check out https://asktmk.com/ too :) There's an API!

Dune. A camp counselor gave it to me when I was 11, and it changed the course of my life. Opened my mind to thinking about fear, courage, family, sacrifice, Empire, and the scope of human affairs. I reread it every 2-3 years.

As a handful of other people have said here, the Bible. It changed my life (although who knows what I would have become if I hadn't read it). Eventually, I decided that if it made such a difference in my life, I should be part of making it available to others. So I studied linguistics, and became a member of Wycliffe Bible Translators/ Summer Institute of Linguistics, who translate the Bible into minority languages (usually languages which were previously unwritten). That got me into computational linguistics. While I'm not a WBT/SIL member any more, I am still a Christian, and I do still work in computational linguistics, which I'm pretty sure I would not otherwise have gotten into. And it has been worth it all.

A book published in 1946 is "very old"?! hehe. Maybe try Plutarch's Lives (about 100AD), or Xenophon's Memorabilia of Socrates (about 370BC), both of which are extremely readable, gossipy even, and touch on that subject. Marvel at how little's changed.

If I had to name one book, I guess Emerson's Essays: First and Second Series, (that first copy I had also included Representative Men) which I discovered when I was about 20, and read from almost every day for at least 10 years, and still never go more than a few days without....well, it's more myself than I am (to paraphrase Emerson, I think). Trying to track that quote down just now, I realized that Emerson's Uses of Great Men[0] explains the matter far better than I could.

The first time I read it, it was like he'd described 10,000 things I'd experienced, and had thought couldn't possibly be described. That was 27 years ago. I can't imagine at all what difference not coming across him would have made, but I guess "it actually changed my life" would be a huge understatement. Also Russell, Hazlitt, Chesterton, Santayana, Stevenson, William James, Nietzsche etc have been hugely important, but....somehow, in various ways, none are quite such admirable characters, or teachers for all seasons.[1] This:

"It is nothing for any man sitting in his chair to be overcome with the sense of the immediacy of life, to feel the spur of courage, the victory of good over evil, the value, now and forever, of all great-hearted endeavor. Such moments come to us all. But for a man to sit in his chair and write what shall call up these forces in the bosoms of others – that is desert, that is greatness. To do this was the gift of Emerson. The whole earth is enriched by every moment of converse with him. The shows and shams of life become transparent, the lost kingdoms are brought back, the shutters of the spirit are opened, and provinces and realms of our own existence lie gleaming before us." – JJ Chapman


[1] I almost added Thoreau, but he seems an extension of Emerson, unimaginable without him. Well, you could say that about Nietzsche too.

"Emerson. – Never have I felt so much at home in a book, and in my home, as – I may not praise it, it is too close to me." – Nietzsche

Paraphrasing Cory Doctorow, "be worried about the person who only reads one book." [1]

Your life changes when you read many books from many authors.

[1] https://YouTu.be/Fvhb4WqJ7pg

Something Doctorow said in a blog post (not one of his books surprisingly) has had the most impact on my life (paraphrased): “You shouldn’t have a bug out bag, you should have a bug in bag. You’ll live longer as a group than on your own, so prepare with supplies and tools to help others.”


The Holy Bible.

Even without the religious aspects, it's an incredible document. A lot of human nature is explained.

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli. Specially the edition annotated by Napoleon Bonaparte itself. It was enlightening for me in a moment when I discovered there was a dark side of human nature that I couldn't ignore.

Some more answers here from about 4 years ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8716111

Mind if I ask how the book changed your life?

Personally, A Farewell to Arms has likely caused the biggest change. I became really absorbed in the book and at the same time in life was expecting my first child. I didn’t know the story at all, and was not expecting the ending in the least.

There have been many things in life that have taught me to enjoy what I have because it can all be gone in an instant. But that book combined with where I was in life cemented the lesson.

I’m interested in how Man’s Search caused a change in your life.

Holy shit, that's a bad time to read that book. I think I may share that book with you as one of the most life-changing books. I remember crying during the ending as a teenager.

A lot of Hemmingway is deeply touching work. I found both The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom The Bell Tolls to be excellent studies of human nature.

Learning OpenCV from O'Reilly

Helped me a lot getting to know computer vision from a practical aspect and became one of the best professional in my department and got to work on so much futuristic projects that would have be seen only in some film.

"For a New Liberty" by Murray Rothbard, not only solidified my understanding of power, politics and the state already explained in "Anatomy of the State" by the same Rothbard, but also opened my mind about the eternal struggle between power and liberty, aggression and defense, the essential traits of life in the whole universe.

This is a very impactful book, but challenging for those new to the topic. I would recommend reading his "The Ethics of Liberty" first.

How to Make Friends and Influence People

I agree it should be required reading in college. However, it has one glaring fault: it doesn't provide many tips on motivating yourself to take personal interest in others. We geeks like gizmos and logic and stuff, people bore us.

It's like a health book that reveals eating more vegetables and whole grains, and getting more exercise is the way to better health. That's useful info, but the hard part is motivating yourself to eat such and exercise often enough.

Great book, while on the Carnegie rush, I followed that book with How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

Nausea by Sartre. I used to really struggle with existential anxiety, and still do to some degree. That book took away much of that concern, it gave me a new way to think about meaning in life

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

"Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be, be one"

Always been a favorite.

It's an amazing one.

Demon Haunted World (Sagan). The art of baloney detection and scientific thinking.

Letters from a Stoic (Seneca). The pursuit of happiness is meaningless, focus on the pursuit of wisdom.

Poor Charlie's Almanac (Charles T. Munger). A library of mental/thinking models can take you a long way.

Of Human Bondage (Maugham). What is the meaning of life?

“Real Food, Fake Food” was absolutely critical in getting me into a mindset of caring about the quality of my food. That mindset shift has led to 100+lbs of weight loss.

"Stranger in a Strange Land"by Robert A. Heinlein.

It's a science fiction book, but it made me question everything, made me change my way of thinking towards a lot of concepts, and integrate those new concepts it in my life. I can definitely say it changed my life.

1984 - George Orwell

Makes you think we closer to that than we think

Flagged! Just kidding, but mine may be..

`Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams` by Matthew Walker. Still in the midst of it actually, and it's had a huge impact.

Runner-up would be `the end of religion` by Bruxy Cavey.

I’d be curious to hear abit more about those two.

Why we sleep has given me an immense amount of respect for sleep, something I rather apparently knew so little about. I've put off sleep for decades, and amidst this book I've come to understand that it's been a really stupid approach to realizing my goals.

I still don't understand sleep, but, Walker breaks down sleeps benefits & shows the data to back up why we should be getting a full night's rest. He has given me a newfound respect for something I wantonly would throw away at my next personal whim. Silly me, it's been working against me the whole time.

Fewer late nights learning to code, and I'm making much better progress already in the memory department.

As for Cavey's book: Cavey takes a really interesting look at Jesus through a historical lens, coupled with all these little things I had missed in my own reading of the New Testament. It's full of goodies, and is one of those books I've got 20 copies of in my library to hand out like candy.

The "Why we sleep" book is just full of facts about the difference between a good nights sleep and a lack of sleep. There are so many things that fall apart when a few hours are taken off and nobody can be conscious of it, even though they are very very measurable. He also discusses thing like how two groups of people get a night of good sleep, they learn something and get 3 days of quality sleep. Then one of the groups has their sleep limited by several (3/4?) hours. The following day they get full nights rest, and the next day they are tested on what they learned earlier in the week and there were significant deficits for the group that had that one night of bad sleep in the middle of the week.

After reading about it, I've learned a lot more about sleep, but the greatest effect is that I really appreciate sleep more, make lots of time to optimize length and quality. Knowing all the info in the book it would be difficult to justify using an alarm clock to force yourself to rise before your body is ready.

Really cool book.

Nineteen Eighty Four- George Orwell

I read this in high-school, and I can see very clearly how it has influenced my thinking up to the current day (and I'm 45 now). I would definitely say this book was a big part of influencing my to my strongly anti-state / anti-government position. I was so angry at the end of that book, and that still resonates with me today.

Orwell might not have been a libertarian himself, but his book helped make at least one, whether that's what he intended or not. :-)

I have a lot of quasi-libertarian beliefs. However, if you read up on the history of capitalism in America and how poor and middle-class people have been manipulated, mistreated, and oppressed by rich landowners and large corporations since the beginning and you may come to the conclusion that I did: Unfettered capitalism is just as shitty as communism.

I think a better form of government results from trying to achieve a balance between capitalism and socialism (Possibly other things too, I'm not a political science major). I'm not sure how far it should lean one way or the other, I just know that both ideologies lead to plenty of human suffering when allowed to completely dominate.

1984 is one of my all-time favorites. I love dystopian fiction. Have you also read Brave New World?

Feeling Good by David Burns

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

Quiet has been the one life-changing book for me. I read it at a time when I thought of myself as unsocial (because I didn't like parties) and was uncomfortable expressing myself even among a large group of friends. After reading that book and realizing how widespread introversion is, I became more and more comfortable in my own skin. Ironically I also started enjoying more at parties because I wasn't judging myself constantly, which helped me become more of a pseudo-extrovert when I needed to be.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

I haven't read that one, but I read is Pre-suasion last year, and it was definitely an eyeopener. Have quite a lot of bookmarks in that one still. Need to get around to Influence too.

Great book indeed.

To Live by Yu Hua. It was one of the most traumatic books I've ever read. A simple stoic "tale of an ordinary man enduring hardships--both of his own and others' doing."

I always felt my life was messed up and unfair because it seemed I managed to experience almost every suffering possible. This book opened up my eyes to how much someone could actually suffer and how it doesn't matter in the end in the long run.

Not a book, but a series of lectures on old testament from yale open courses. I found them as a young Lutheran, at a time more evangelical and fundamentalist influences were comming into my community, including young-earth creacionists.

Understanding the origin of my sacred text from scientific point of viewhelped me keep my faith while being able to accept modern, liberal society as my own.

The Brother's Karamazov by Dostoevsky.

I gained an entirely new perspective on love for mankind. There was a passage about taking the blame for all of humanity's sins onto oneself, realizing that this is true, and then forgiving yourself. It's a hard idea to explain or even agree with, but the principle moves me, and the more I think about it, the truer it seems.

Might be a bit of an unconventional pick, but Muv-Luv Alternative, the highest rated Visual Novel of all time, is simply life-changing (a sentiment shared by quite a few reviewers). It's especially powerful against tendencies of procrastination and escapism (which I believe are present in everybody to varying degrees). One shall never ever run away from any challenges or hardship after experiencing what the protagonist and the other characters have been through. A story perfectly suited to that particular medium and so incredibly convincing. Don't think it will ever be surpassed by any similar work.

(The ratings sorted on VNDB: https://vndb.org/v/all?q=;fil=tagspoil-0;rfil=;o=d;s=rating See how MLA leaves every other VN in its trail. It's absurd.)

Far from the only book that's been life shaping for me, but one of the first: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

"Finite and Infinite Games" by James Carse.

Changed the way I think about the rat race, how the rules are agreed upon, what we mean when we think about winners and losers. Gave me a nice framework for dealing with all these roles I take on. Pointed me toward what's really important and how (and why) to help others get by.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F#ck

Learn how to decide where to invest your energy (f#cks), which things you should really not worry about too much, and what happens if you don't choose wisely. Get an idea of why "being positive" about everything leads to "The Feedback Loop from Hell" and learn how to get out.

Best book ever.

What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful by Marshall Goldsmith

I wish I had read that in my late 20's instead of in my mid-30s. If you are a successful technical person who has been or wants to be promoted to a supervisory or management position, it's a must read.

Right now: "The Untethered Soul"

Books that have brought a lot of influence:

. 4hr Body

. Captivate

. Good Calories/bad Calories / How we get fat

. How to cook everything

. I will teach you to be rich

Buddha's Little Finger (aka Clay Machine-Gun) / Чапаев и Пустота (Chapayev and Void) (1996) by Victor Pelevin

it helped me trough my mental illness, also other works by him are very strong.

Also a very good translation to lithuanian of Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man a 1964 book by Marshall McLuhan

Travels - Michael Crichton, got me into travelling, the outdoors and an interest in inner travel

The hobbit - came with the adventure game that my aunty had on her c64 got me into computers and reading aged about 7

Fear - Thich nhat hahn, read repeatably during recent hard times. Might need to re-read again soon...

Bruce Lee: Artist of Life (in 2001). This book set me on a path that transformed my life more than any other book.

I met Thich Nhat Hanh in 2005. It's a meeting that changed my life. I've been rereading The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching since then.

I have already been recommended the bruce lee book, I'd order it now but I've literally just fired off an order for some of the books in this thread.

Wings To Awakening by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

I was always interested and had a vaguely interested in Buddhism, but this book laid out everything about it nice and clear(well, in dense language at times), almost like paint-by-numbers. Everything just made sense from then on.

"The Breakdown of Nations", by Leopold Kohr. Big organizations, centralization... are not good for humans, nor really efficient or sustainable. Some/many/most(?) of us feel it, this book clearly shows why.

The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People.

If you have never read it, do yourself a favor and do so.

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It really opened my mind to so many fascinating mental constructs. I’ve probably read a half a dozen times and take something new from it each time I re-read it.

No doubt this book has been an inspiration to many (including myself), but what I find most fascinating about it is the author.

Here's a quote from the link below: "Napoleon Hill is the most famous conman you’ve probably never heard of. Born into poverty in rural Virginia at the end of the 19th century, Hill went on to write one of the most successful self-help books of the 20th century: Think and Grow Rich. In fact, he helped invent the genre. But it’s the untold story of Hill’s fraudulent business practices, tawdry sex life, and membership in a New York cult that makes him so fascinating..."


Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

For me it wasn't a book but NPR's planet money podcast that triggered my foray into reading up on real world economics. It does a great job at pointing at important concepts that are relatable and breaking it down into simpler parts I can pick up at anytime and travel deep into understanding it.

Sorry if this is off-topic, but thats what comes to mind when I think of a constant source of highly valuable information (besides HN)

I really enjoy Planet Money too. As an economics noob, what type of reading/books do you recommend for one's foray into real world economics?

I'd start with books by Tim Hartford and Richard Thaler and go from there.

The Law by Frédéric Bastiat [1]

Weighing in at 75 pages, you can read this 176 year old classic in a weekend. For some reason Locke's Second Treatise on Government made it into the canon as the be-and-end-all of the classical liberal political philosophy, and this masterwork was overlooked. Just read it.

[1] https://mises.org/library/law

Bible for myself, especially the new testament

The Buddhist Bible. A collection of Buddhist texts collected by a few Beat Generation types.

Anything by John Gottman regarding the four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse. It really pinpointed some serious communication issues I had with romantic partners.

Code. It's what got me here!

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Notes from the Underground:

https://goo.gl/x6QLgC https://goo.gl/aDPsUz

I wouldn't say it changed my life. But "Deep Work" resonated very deeply with me.

"The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror" by Thomas Ligotti. I was also expecting my first child at the time and it made me question my values and is it appropriate or fair to bring a child into this world.

Momo, Michael Ende

Rich Dad, Poor Dad

For me it is "The subtle art of not giving a fck" by Mark Manson.

“Self-awareness is like an onion. There are multiple layers to it, and the more you peel them back, the more likely you're going to start crying at inappropriate time.”

You can also go through this thread for more answers https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17168136.

Gender Trouble by J. Butler and Precarious Life by J. Butler

These two allowed me to adopt a whole new perspective on not just gender but life and liberty in general. Also, great writing style!

Discourses of Epictetus

It's not particularly intellectual, but The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey has definitely changed my life for the better. I wish I had read it years ago.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Mans Search for Meaning - Viktor Frankl.

I know you asked for 1 and I am giving 2 recommendations but nothing wrong with being generous with good things.

Who Moved My Cheese?

Aesop's Fables. I read any copy I could find when I was a child, and together, they had a lasting and profound impact on my life.

"Chasing the Rabbit" by Steven Spear. It gave me a much deeper understanding of the Lean/Toyota than other books.

Charisma by Marcia Grad - helped me become less shy as a teenager

How to Win Friends and Influence People

The Keill Randor books got me influenced in martial arts.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. I'm surprised nobody mentioned it yet. It made me reconsider quite a few things.

I am that, collected talks with nisargadatta maharaj.

Simple, instructional, profound in its ability to change me beyond words.

And fierce beyond imagination.

I'll give you a much higher life-changing-amplitude if you relax the one-book constraint. One book and I can give you something that might impact your life a few months, but that you'll likely forget afterwards. Allow me to suggest ten books (which I promise will all be focused on one specific area, and you promise you'll study seriously), and I'll give you something that will make a much higher, and long lasting, impact.

It's been 16 hours. Are you gonna make good on that promise?

The mother of all cliff-hangers! :D What would be your top 25 books then?

Gimme the books already!

What are the books?

The Anti-Christ by Friedrich Nietzsche. It made me question my faith and my entire existence.


It is the one book I always re-read every couple of years.

I first read in high school - it is a fairly short book.

Laura Day: Practical Intuition

(Inadvertently predicted Sep 11 attack while doing exercises in this book)

omnivore's dilemma - fantastic look at modern day industrial food supply chain and consequences/alternatives. perfect amount of science, business, psychology analysis applied to a topic that affects all of us 3+ times a day

I read In Defense of Food first and that seemed to stick with me too.

For the mind:

"One small step can change your life" by Robert Maurer

For the body:

"You Are Your Own Gym" by Mark Lauren

On Intelligence, Jeff Hawkins

is there a similar topic for videos? Some YouTube videos can cause profound changes in yourself an your life in minutes (if you are sufficiently open and actually want the change).

How to be open ?

I'm sure there is a great video or a great book just for you answering this question but finding it among all answering the question in the ways that are not going to help you may be a problem. Threads like this may help greatly.

"In a nutshell" being the kind of open I mean means that every time you read/listen to somebody your prime interest is to understand them (even if they speak weird to nonsensical) and find how, when and why can this possibly make sense (if you fail - try harder and harder) rather than the opposite and being always willing to rationally disprove, correct and expand your view rather than to prove you're right to the others and yourself. In the majority of arguments (and whenever you read/listen to somebody whose views don't mach yours perfectly, an inaudible argument is happening inside your head and chances are you lack conscious awareness of this) each party seems mostly interested in defending its view and disproving that of the other but it usually is more beneficial to "be open" and think about how the opponent's view may possibly enrich mine.

On Killing, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.

Changed my view of people, for the better.

Shreemad Bhagvad Geeta

Which version? I mean you have read direct Sanskrit version or any translation by B. Tilak or Vinoba Bhave or from others?

Don't remember the exact title or author, but it was the first book I read about logic, proof, and fallacies. It allowed me to separate the gems from the garbage in most of the other books I see mentioned here.

Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards

Rationality: from AI to Zombies by Eliezer Yudkowsky.

Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind. It blew my mind.

Discourses and Selected Writings by Epictetus.

The book that caused me the biggest intellectual turnaround was Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. I was a teenager, recently went through Anglican confirmation, but most of my faith was based on some magical source of intelligence or consciousness (the Christian afterlife or the idea of an active god seemed to be obvious bullshit).

GEB convinced me that intelligence and consciousness could be mechanical. I already knew about chaos and fractals, so I already had the idea that mechanical things could be infinitely complicated and unpredictable. But GEB sealed the deal, and that was it: atheism.

Calculus on Manifolds, by Michael Spivak

“The Power of Habit”, by Charles Duhigg.

Atlas Shrugged


For me it was the Dip by Seth Godin.

Obligatory "48 Laws of Power". You have to understand the rules, even if you don't want to actively participate. Greene's other books are good, too.

They're not as strong. But to echo that.

21 Strategies of war is good the 51st law is not so great. Mastery Is ok

The last I heard from Robert Greene was that he was working on a book about the motivations of people. However, I haven't heard of any progress.

"The Laws of Human Nature" is scheduled for publication in October 2018. You can pre-order it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BJLX414/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?...

I couldn't stand Mastery. It's superficial, pseudo-profound, and full of banalities. After that I've stayed away from anything by Greene.

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

Tuesdays with Morrie

Fox in socks

Godel, Escher, Bach

One doesn’t read it so much as study and marvel it

I would suggest "I Am A Strange Loop". Same author.

"How To Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie

It's an enduring classic for good reason.

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