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Ask HN: What books changed the way you think about almost everything?
2009 points by anderspitman on Feb 5, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 1165 comments
I was reflecting today about how often I think about Freakonomics. I don't study it religiously. I read it one time more than 10 years ago. I can only remember maybe a single specific anecdote from the book. And yet the simple idea that basically every action humans take can be traced back to an incentive has fundamentally changed the way I view the world. Can anyone recommend books that have had a similar impact on them?

One book that changed me was reading Master and Margarita in Russian for the first time.

It was the first book I started reading I could not put down until the end. Gained a lot of appreciation for literature at that time.

The other book that I enjoyed and changed me was ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’ by Alan Watts. I was a fan of Alan Watts works through his lectures already and it was wonderful to hear his ideas in writing for the first time.

The book is available to read for free online (https://antilogicalism.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/wisdom-of...).

I wish everyone read or watched Alan Watts lectures and books. The world would be a much nicer place if that was the case.

My favorite quote is by him:

‘We thought of life by analogy with a journey, a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end, success or whatever it is, maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.’

Great quote, Watts is truly inspirational. What a happy surprise when Ctrl+F takes you right to the first comment ;)

If anyone doesn't have the time or attention span to commit to a full-blown book, The Joyous Cosmology [0] and Become What You Are [1] present some of Watt's ideas in a more condensed format. The former is a ~30 page essay freely available online. The latter is a collection of ~15 very short essays (1-12pg each) - a perfect replacement for smartphone scrolling when confronted with 5-10 minutes of free time.



There is a game available on most gaming platforms, PC and console, called Everything which is home to an experience crafted using Watts' lectures. It is quite an interesting experience. Not quite a game but more of an interactive philosophical exercise, but quite good, and a very interesting introduction to Watts' work.

Is there a recommended order of Watts’ books, a fundamental one to start with? I’ve ended up buying a few of his books, but haven’t started on them yet.

The Wisdom of Insecurity is a good place to start unless you’re interested in a specific topic like Zen or Taoism.

Thanks for mentioning an amazing book of literature. The Master and Margarita is my favorite fiction book! I've read it in two translations and I prefer the Burgin & O'Connor to the Glenny, but both are great.

Everytime I read it I gain more insights. I absolutely recommend reading this book alongside a readers guide which gives more background and depth, there are many biblical, historical, and author-related references that won't be understood otherwise. The author's own life is massively relevent to the events of the novel. I recommend this guide:


My experience with secondary literature about MaM is negative. I went to the University Library and checked out a massive commentary on it and a book about its interpretation.

The latter argued that, contrary to a common notion, Woland is emphatically not the Devil. I did not get far in trying to understand it, but this and the similarly non-understandable commentary really took away some fun out of reading the book, because I constantly felt I was too stupid to get it.

Reading commentary is good, but maybe on a way lower level than literature professors trying to make a name.

I just wanted to point out the hilarity of this in the context of the book's literary critic thread :)

I can sympathize with this, however, if you read my recommended guide, it absolutely isn't "that kind" of criticism. It's very readable and made a lot of sense to me. :)

Was amazed when I saw the recommendation on the top comment. My fiancé recommended me this book and I just finished it on my commute this morning (this specific translation). Still thinking about it! Wonderful book, super engaging and just absolutely beautifully written. I couldn't put it down. Highly recommended!

About depth of the book: we've studied it in literature class in Russia for a month, because it's a kaleidoscope of interpretations, one would definitely miss too much without a guide (especially in 17 y.o. as myself). The only piece with more class time is War and Peace for obvious reasons.

What about Almost Zero? How does that stack up? I am dying to read that https://inpatientpress.bigcartel.com/product/almost-zero-by-...

It's good but nothing outstanding, the ending is particulary weak. But that's fine because the author is not a professional writer.

I've never heard about this book. What can you tell us about it?

Any particular reason for preferring that translation? I'm always curious to hear others' thoughts before picking one to read.

I did a meta review of translations before trying that particular translation. I found it extremely readable, and the humor comes through nicely, while also maintaining some of the long sentences Bulgakov liked and remaining faithful in general to his style.

When you mentioned Alan Watts and his quote, I thought I'd share a small animated clip that presented that quote well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGoTmNU_5A0

If we're sharing Alan Watts related stuff, check out Everything [0]. It's currently 75% off too.

[0] https://store.steampowered.com/app/582270/Everything/

animated by Trey Parker & Matt Stone

In case someone wouldn't know, they are the creators of South Park.

I LOVE the Master and Margarita but I've only read it in English. When you say you read it in Russian for the first time, did you mean you've read it in English before? If so, were there huge differences?

Russian is my native language so I read it in Russian for first and second time. Never read it in English so can't say. But I think this is one of those books that will lose some of its 'magic' in translation.

This is disappointing to hear, but to anyone who is deterred by this comment from reading it in English, don't be. Even in English, the book was undoubtedly one of the best books I have ever read. There's something about it that makes you go "What happens next?!" for all 400 odd pages of it, and before you know it, you're at the end. It's truly a masterpiece - Bulgakov spent 10 years writing the final version of the novel after burning his initial manuscript twelve years prior in 1928, but as you will come to learn, manuscripts don't burn ;)

I've read it first in Russian (I'm a native speaker) and then in English (Ginsburg translation) when I was learning the language. I don't think it lost too much in translation, but it might because I'm very familiar with the original text. You don't need to know anything about Russia or Soviet Union to enjoy it.

Another book similar in spirit and quality to M&M is "Danilov, the violist" by Vladimir Orlov.

I speak both Russian and English and read it both languages. Yes, some of the magic is lost, but not too much. Mostly it's word interplay and phrases that are just hard to translate.

But you can recover a lot of understanding even without speaking the language with a bit of work. By say trying to get a feel for what Moscow might be like in the 1920. Political persecution and censorship are major themes. Even things like psychiatric hospitals are important because they were often used as an alternative torture and imprisonment system. Writers are poets were also important. That was before TV, radio was just getting started so writers were sort of like the Youtube celebrities of the day. And controlling what they say, do, and act was critical. In other words things that might seems kind of "meh" or odd carry significance and knowing about it might make it for a richer interpretation and a more interesting read.

Can you share which translation you read? I imagine there's multiple that people will still find enjoyable but there's a lot of options for russian lit.

I read the Mirra Ginsburg translation, which I have heard is a sin because it is based on the censored text. If I could do it over (which I probably will in a couple years) I would probably read the Burgin/Tiernan O'Connor translation that another commenter has mentioned. There is more information on all of the English translations here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Master_and_Margarita#Engli...

I'm not the person you replied to but I read the Diana Burgin & Katherine Tiernan O'Connor translation and thought it was absolutely brilliant!

I do wonder what tasteless books benefit from this magic, but the other way around.

Off topic, but the good old Blues Brothers movie is even better in the version dubbed in German, in my view. The German dialogues are hilarious.

Could you share a few quotes or ideas from Master and Margarita that changed how you think?

I really liked the book, but mostly because I thought it was funny and had great plot. I fear I missed all the deep wisdom.

> Cowardice was undoubtedly one of the most terrible vices - thus spoke Yeshua Ha-Nozri. 'No, philosopher, I disagree with you: it is the most terrible vice!'

(This is Pontius Pilate's response to Yeshua.) To me this is about staying silent when you see evil being committed. But it doesn't even have to be 'Evil with a big E', it's just about speaking up when you see something that doesn't sit right with your morality.

The other big takeaway for me was about how Margarita threw away all the rules of society to save the Master (her beloved). But she did it for more than just his sake, I think; she certainly took her liberation from society's expectations of women.

Thanks for pointing out. Even though I don't share your take on this, I find it interesting.

I think the first example is just some innocent banter of a couple characters from long ago, who had a very naive understanding of the world because they couldn't begin to comprehend its true complexity.

I think the second example is something any cool person would have done, because witches are awesome.

Don't you think that the world would be entirely different place without cowardice?

Certainly. But I think the world would be a far better place without hatred than without cowardice. So hatred is much worse than cowardice.

IMHO envy, fanaticism, cruelty also cause more harm than cowardice.

I'm not sure about that.

Absence of cowardice (also known as self-preservation) will severely limit what people allow to do to them. This includes limiting all the things that you listed as worse than cowardice.

On the other hand, lack of fear will empower ideologies that employ suicide bombers.

Also it will make nuclear wars much less unthinkable.

As a more technical companion to Freakonomics, I would recommend "The undercover economist" and its sequel by Tim Harford. It's a great introduction to the way economy shapes our lives and choices. You will never drink coffee or sit in a queue the same way after reading it.

Another book that changed allot about how I look at the world is "The long tail" by Chris Anderson. Maybe too thin of a concept for a whole book, but definitely interesting.

Thank you for this! I love Alan Watts too. Recently I've started listening to "chillstep" mixes of his talks on youtube (while doing yoga/meditating). They're really fantastic. Eg. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLu1wP9HhYM

>I wish everyone read or watched Alan Watts lectures and books. The world would be a much nicer place if that was the case.

Parties would become a lot more insufferable.

Shhh. Let people enjoy things.

I love this comment, and intend to steal the wording whenever I'm brave enough.


wonderful in comic form! :D

I've registered here to write this. It is interesting that two most voted books here, Master and Margarita and Animal Farm are both about Stalin.

In MoM the all 3 main characters have real prototypes. Master is Author (Bulgakov), Margarita is Author's wife Elena, Woland is Stalin. Bulgakov was under assault of Soviet regime, he wanted to emigrate, but Stalin kept him in country. He was in constant fear of being detained for anti-soviet propaganda. Her wife which he loved a lot was forced to became secret informer, she reported periodically to officials against him. Bulgakov knew that, and this theme also in book. This moment is so tragic and central, because her wife was editor of the book. MoM is about exceptional courage of Bulgakov, his personal response to Staling, his sole main reader. At that time, just comparing Stalin to Statan was enough to be executed.

I highly recommend this course to understand better MoM https://arzamas.academy/courses/39 unfortunately it's in Russian.

There's a rather modern and new German translation which has been turned into an audio play by Bayerischer Rundfunk. I adore that! They have cast an Austrian as Fagott, with a wonderful Viennese dialect.

No idea whether Fagott has some linguistic extravagance in the original, but it works really well on this Master of Ceremonies.

Really appreciate your phrasing - I feel the same way about Anthony Bourdain's material (while on a very different matter) - has convinced me to check out some more Alan Watts.

Thanks for mentioning Bulhakow. This is my all time most favourite book.

I mean, come on, the devil himself vs the communist party of Russia, sprinkled with loads of humour. What else do you need?

That last quote with music: https://youtu.be/hJj_4ir12-w?t=385

Animal Farm was a really important book for me. I picked it up aged about 10 or 11 and I remember being really struck by how easily the pigs were able to exploit the other animals' grievances with humans to secure their own power. It felt like a grown-up story with some quite powerful, disturbing meanings under the covers. So I told my English teacher about it and all she told me in response was to go look up the Russian Revolution. I didn't understand why, but did it, and then the book had a second, much bigger impact on me. And of course what a way to learn about allegory!

It was the first time I realized books could be dangerous, subversive, and truly educational as well as simply informative or entertaining.

Totally, I agree! Even though George Orwell is more known for 1984 but his work truly shines with the Animal Farm. It is a children's book fwiw but every aspect of it is meant for the grown-ups. Outstanding!

Luckily if you're in Australia, you can read this book for free because it is public domain there.

[1] https://bubblin.io/cover/animal-farm-by-george-orwell (iPad-book)

[2] http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks01/0100011.txt

Thanks for the link. It was fun reading it again for the first time in 30 years!

You're welcome! :-)

>>I told my English teacher about it and all she told me in response was to go look up the Russian Revolution.

You have to only look at the management hierarchy in your company. Pigs in the Animal Farm novel eat apples.

We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for YOUR sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples.

Why do you think your bosses get business travel, no limit credit cards, RSU, big bonuses and neat double digit monthly pay check.

It is for YOUR sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples.

>Why do you think your bosses get business travel, no limit credit cards, RSU, big bonuses and neat double digit monthly pay check.

Sorry, but i dont believe this is an accurate analogy. The reason is that otherwise they might leave for another opportunity. No-one is telling workers what the pigs are saying in AF.

That is true for every body in any company. But it happens only with the management.

One of the strangest things about that text is that very few of the folks I've talked to about it seem to feel that the issue with the pigs at the end is that there is a farmer.

That is to say, I very rarely find anyone who will agree that the book is anti-capitalist at teh same time that it's opposed to Stalinism.

I see the book continually taken happily anti-communist text. But the text is certainly not _just_ about the Soviet system under Stalin.

Over the years, the big impact of Orwell to me has been how readily people can look at systems that they consider to be Other than their own and critique them while eagerly ignoring the implications for their own situation. That is, everyone here thinks the sheep are dumb, but at least they went through a period of time where they tried to replace the farmer with a different pig... where I live in Texas, all the sheep just think they are the farmer.

To me it’s a warning that when you rightfully overthrow an authoritarian you have to be careful not to trade that authoritarian against another one. This seems to happen all the time. Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, Russia and probably many more.

The word "revolution" is probably the most deeply ironic one in the whole of the English language. You fight and die to overthrow the oppressor only to end up back where you started.

And that meaning, "going round in circles" is tacitly encoded by it's very use.

TIL. Thank you. As a non-native english speaker, I've only now had this epiphany.

The only exceptions are revolutions guided by good ideas and solid values.

Just "overthrow the current leaders and then (??? magic happens here ???) and then we get a better society" doesn't work. You end up where you started or worse because usually the ideas haven't changed.

Intellectual revolutions must precede political ones.

This is why I'm kind of a dull boring centrist politically. I dont support any major attempt to rock the boat because there has been no intellectual improvements that might guide such a thing.

Most revolutionary thinkers don't think replacing the existing leaders will "magically" lead to a better society.

They have grievances with the existing systems, reason to believe those in power won't address those grievances, and reason to believe replacing those in power with people more sympathetic to their grievances will address them.

Also, there has been a boatload of revolutionary thought about how to make a better society over the last century or so. There are clear ways that our system is imperfect and clear ideas of how it could be improved. I'm not sure why you claim there are no "intellectual improvements" over the status quo.

> They have grievances with the existing systems, reason to believe those in power won't address those grievances, and reason to believe replacing those in power with people more sympathetic to their grievances will address them.

So they are doing exactly the same as those in power, which is taking care of themselves.

> The only exceptions are revolutions guided by good ideas and solid values.

Those are mostly not exceptions; successfully uprooting an existing power structure takes more than good ideas and solid values, and replacing it with something that will stably sustain itself both during the revolutionary emergency and afterwards without either falling apart or enabling a power hungry would be despot to exploit it to create an authoritarian regime takes far more than that.

Appeals to justice and the dignity of all things form the basis of an intellectual revolution. It’s just not televised.

I guess that's why the US revolution worked. They were going into the war with a full fledged constitution ready to go.

> I guess that's why the US revolution worked.

The US “Revolution” was a regional separatist movement led by the local elites and local governments that did not upend the basic local social, economic, or political power structure save for severing the latter from a remote central government (and the resulting new central system was replaced with something more closely approximating, and deliberately modeled on, the old one very shortly after the Revolution in the face of widespread perception of imminent failure otherwise.)

In other words, it mostly wasn't revolutionary and in the one way that it was it mostly failed.

It was a liberal revolution, but not a social one. It definitely shifted the power and I think calling it a revolution is justified. A bit of a side note, but I wholeheartedly recommend https://www.revolutionspodcast.com it starts with the English revolution, then moves to the US, then back to Europe for the French Revolution. There are a lot of episodes on the revolutionary XIX century in Europe and how the “question” slowly changed from the political one to the social one.

Careful, you're in danger of swallowing uncritically propaganda aimed at halting progress.

Yes, in any period of turmoil sociopaths will attempt to abuse all and every lever of power.

But over the centuries we have made a lot of progress.

Humanity needs to get _much_ better at how we organize ourselves and decide things and grant authority to others.

Russians have basically given up after riding this merry-go-round for the past almost two centuries.

True. Russians and also Poles have suffered a lot over the last centuries. From one bad situation to a worse one.

At least the Poles are doing ok now as part of the EU. I wonder if Russia could go properly democratic and join during my lifetime.

Russians are probably the least luckiest people in the world.

* they bore the brunt of Mongol invasion which utterly wiped the aristocracy at the time and set back the countries development by generations and depopulating the land. Luckily, the Mongols stopped there and didn't move further west, saving the populace of Western Europe

* Without warmwater ports, Russia lacked the capacity to participate in maritime trade that bolstered the economy of Western Europe

* Brutal and absolute monarchical rule suppressed any kind of representative government; Serfdom (essentially, slavery) was abolished only in the late 19th century

* Once it got its act together and started Industrializing in good stead... now comes the Crimean War, depleting morale, resources and will of the people

* Oh... was that not bad enough? World War 1, which strains the country so bad, that Germans successfully foment unrest and ultimately Revolution. The Revolution itself ends up being the best strategic decision by the Germans, and the Communist Government signs a treaty essentially ceding large parts of the country to the Central Powers

* But wait! That didn't mean the end of troubles for Russians, and they endure a prolonged Civil War fought not just on the Western theater, but also on their Eastern provinces. Red and White Russians fight each other constantly, appropriate resources from the peasants by force.

* The Country has barely recovered from all of this, Stalin comes to power. The madman purges experienced officers and intelligentsia leading to a very ineffective State and Military; he signs a pact leading to (temporary) peace as they know they can't fight the Germans

* Whoops, nope, the Germans invade anyways, reach as far as Moscow. Millions of Russians perish. St. Petersburg is besieged in one of the most destructive sieges ever, period

* At the end of the war, Russia has lost millions of its population, resulting in a demographic catastrophe that will affect it forever

* Once again, Stalin foolishly throws away a chance for friendship, and instead of working in good faith, we end up in the Cold War. The Soviet Union makes tremendous progress, but is no match for the economic and military might that comes with the vast (and now booming) population of the West. The Soviet Union was _offered_ aid as part of the Marshall Plan, and could have possibly used it for kickstarting their economy and supercharging economic growth but no

* Despite having a highly educated workforce, Soviets fail to capitalize on it, instead becoming the same repressive state they replaced. They fail to take advantage of the technological improvements and ultimately fall far behind

* the final kick: right after the fall of Soviet Union, when the people finally hope to be free and pursue and obtain the benefits of modernity, they're hit by an economic and social collapse. Again, the result is depopulation; crimes are high, lives are wasted by alcohol and tobacco.

And this is just the highlights. So... I do feel bad for the Russian people.

But TBF, we're doing rather alright compared to Africa, India and some of South America. Because of heavy emphasis on engineering disciplines in the USSR and because oil now, I guess.

Though as years go by, I hate this snow mush more and more. With a passion.

The Eastory channel on YouTube has done short (10 minute) animated videos of the eastern front of WWII - Germany vs Russia - tracking all army unit movements and the movement of the frontline, and summarising what each side was trying to achieve at each stage. (It's more interesting and watchable than my description sounds).

"here, 40k prisoners of war. 300,000 soldiers here. 500,000 POWs. Here, 1.2 million soldiers. Another 120k POWs." on and on and on. The scale of it is just unthinkable.

1941: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wu3p7dxrhl8

1942: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pucJTYK7_Yo

1943/44: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VA9QBHDtfCQ

You are talking about different Russia's.

> they bore the brunt of Mongol invasion which utterly wiped the aristocracy at the time and set back the countries development by generations and depopulating the land. Luckily, the Mongols stopped there and didn't move further west, saving the populace of Western Europe

It's actual Russia (now called Rus` or Kievan Rus` in modern history), then Little Russia, now Ukraine.

> Without warmwater ports, Russia lacked the capacity to participate in maritime trade that bolstered the economy of Western Europe

It's bunch of various nations, then Great Russia, when part of them was captured by Russia, then Grand Duchy of Moscow, then Russian Empire (since 1860), now Russian Federation.

  Time span | Historical name | Modern name | Language then and now
   ?? - V   | Russia (Русся)  | «Old Russa» town | Old Norwegian, not exists
   VII-XII  | Russia (Русь)   | Kievan Rus`, Ukraine | Slavonic, Ukrainian
   XVII- pt | Russia (Россия) | Russian Empire, Russian Federation | Many, Russian (modernized Church Slavonic)

There was also the reign of Lenin. It started with the execution of the Tsar and his family, and culminated in the Red Terror. A quote from Martin Latsis when he was deputy chief of the Ukrainian Cheka sums it up:

>Do not look in materials you have gathered for evidence that a suspect acted or spoke against the Soviet authorities. The first question you should ask him is what class he belongs to, what is his origin, education, profession. These questions should determine his fate. This is the essence of the Red Terror.

People always forget one of the craziest blows to Russians: sometime around 1648 tsar Alexei, under the influence of the Orthodox church, banned all secular music. I guess “music is of the devil” was named as the motive, but the actual cause likely were skomorokhs, or folk jokester-singers ― satire was always the strong suite in folk entertainment. So, in the 18th century Russian music had to start again, beginning with the ‘classical’ genre this time. I also suppose this is why folk singing is much better known than really old folk music (though a lot of songs too are late inventions by individual composers). Meanwhile, the church itself didn't have a tradition of music afaik, again preferring singing (rather monotonous, at that).

I myself have seen only brief mentions of this, and thus far couldn't find a definite source detailing this mess.

* And also Russians have high suicide rates.


You need fire to forge steel

That's how it goes 9 times out of 10. I learned that from reading Why Nations Fail. It busted the whole myth of "progress" and replaced it with "change".

That’s real optimism there, assuming it goes well 10% of the time.

Not an assumption. Look at the world. Read history. Most times power structures are challenged the challenge isn't successful or it is overthrown and the same or worse power structures replace it.


Shockingly less blue than you might hope.

10% is still optimistic. The Russian, French and Haitian revolutions all worked out pretty horribly and the American Revolution killed a ton of people and destroyed an enormous amount of property to avoid the terrors of Canada.

Washington was quite the exception. So many at the time predicted he would be a dictator, but he gave up power 3 times voluntarily, and set an amazing example.

And Egypt 2011

That episode just proves that Egypt's masters in the West don't really value democracy as much as they constantly claim to value it.

And West ! failed to accept real democracy when they saw that real democracy is very dangerous and unacceptable and not aligned with their interests.

There was never any real democracy there. It just changed from dictatorship to dictatorship to dictatorship.

I think you are talking about Egypt and @fdsak was talking about US & Europe

Your last sentence diminished the value of first sentence. The countries your mentioned are just different not authoritarian and probably are so because of too-much-fingering by imperialist countries.

I agree with you I think.

I took it as more an anti-authoritarian story than purely anti-capitalist or anti-communist. The anti-capitalist parts are fairly self-evident, at least to me: that's the rather brutal system the farmer has imposed on the animals at the start.

Booting the farmer out and starting again with the animal-owned collective sets the story up for the real message, which is that power corrupts and it is very easy for anyone attracted to power to co-opt legitimate grievance for their own ends. The return of the farmer brings a nice circularity to the story as well as giving the idea that the imposition of will on others is usually to their detriment. Capitalism or communism are basically indistinguishable to everyone existing without power or influence.

It is an allegory of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The farmer represents the Tsarist autocracy. In a Tsarist autocracy all power and wealth is controlled by the Tsar (Farmer Jones). This is actually a long way from capitalism. In the end the pigs form what is referred to as an oligarchy.

It is more than that, however, both in authorial intent and without it.

So many people seem to want to name-check Orwell for anti-communist purposes without recognizing that the man himself fought for a revolutionary socialist militia in the Spanish Civil War. In other words, he put his actual life on the line for communism (in the non-Stalinist form he interpreted it as), and actually ultimately probably died from complications related to injuries he sustained in that conflict.

His writing changed after Spain. He saw the deliberate press distortions, and the Soviets installing listening equipment in the telephone exchanges. If anything, this gives him greater credibility. This is a review he wrote of /We/, which I dug up while thinking about your comment. http://orwell.ru/library/reviews/zamyatin/english/e_zamy

Nothing there in that review is inconsistent with the anti-Stalinist but revolutionary socialist views of the POUM militia he fought with in Spain.

Now, arguably "Emmanuel Goldstein" in 1984 is meant to be a kind of Trotsky figure (and his book within 1984), and the fact that Goldstein and his book are ultimately shown to be fake and created by the Party may be a kind of critique or renunciation of Trotskyism and similar currents. Hard to say.


For me one of the weirdest use of this book was a vegan (and animal rights supporter) friend who copy/pasted on Facebook the speech of Old Major, the eldest pig who incite the Revolution, who was explaining to the animals how bad the farmer was treating them. For her it was perfectly expressing her feeling that farming animals was a monstrosity and she was completely ignoring that the speech was designed by the pig to manipulate the listeners (the other animals) and that it was a metaphor of communism. So for her, the issue was indeed the farmer, not as symbol of capitalism, but simply as a farmer exploiting living beings. All symbolism was evacuated and all that remained was a rousing speech for animal rights.

I suppose all book interpretation eventually shows the ideology of the reader. It doesn't even have to respect the presumed intention of Orwell who, from what I know, never expressed any support for veganism or actual animal rights.

Animal Farm can really be read as Orwell's retelling of Trotsky's "The Revolution Betrayed"

>Over the years, the big impact of Orwell to me has been how readily people can look at systems that they consider to be Other than their own and critique them while eagerly ignoring the implications for their own situation.

"Capitalism is terrible" is a pretty constant meme on the left in US politics right now, perpetuated by many people who have read that book.

>where I live in Texas, all the sheep just think they are the farmer.

Ah the classic "people that don't vote to tax the rich for entitlements think they are rich". If your model of how people vote depends on people being completely stupid, it's wrong.

It is incredibly relevant to politics today. Galvanising people's anger to get them to support something completely unrelated that's not good for them at all, is something we see constantly. In Brexit, in Trump, but also in many other cases. People are easy to manipulate. And instead of a warning, people are treating Orwell's books as an instruction manual.


Btw, I enjoyed watching the score on the above comment jump up and down. Apparently a bunch of people get irritated when their ideological hero gets called a dirty commie using the man's own words.

I think something similar, and even more scarier is 'The Lord of the Flies'.

Also perhaps 'Watership Down'.

Does anyone have any recommendations for reading up on the Russian Revolution? Books, videos, or otherwise.

It doesn't exist yet, but when Mike Duncan's Revolutions podcast* wraps up the Mexican Revolution, the Russian Revolution is the next stop. I'm really looking forward to it. Duncan does an incredible job of tying together the precursors, politics, social situation, and military campaigns into a coherent serial narrative.

* https://www.revolutionspodcast.com/

Wow, how have I never heard of this podcast before? Looks amazing, thanks!

Thanks for posting this, I can't wait to give it a listen!

Darkness at Noon, by Arthur Koestler, is another allegorical book about the Russian Revolution, more specifically the Moscow trials that followed. The book had a strong impact on me.

Great great book. I need to re-read it.

It’s a great book but I would recommend it to readers who are already somewhat familiar with the Russian Revolution and how Stalin seized power (defeating both the left and right-wing oppositions within the Bolshevik party) after the death of Lenin.

Hey there!

I'm not an historian or anything of that kind but I'm really interested about the Russian Revolution and I spent quite a few hours on finding the best books about it. My knowledge about those books mainly comes from r/askhistorians (highly recommended!) and academic journals such as the American Historical Review and the Slavic Review. I saw a few other people recommending Miéville's October and even Reed's Ten Days. Now, I'm not claiming those books are bad in any way (I own Reed's) but if you're interested in an historical analysis those are probably not your best shot. Miéville is a sci-fi author who describes himself as a socialist, so he is not trained as an historian and, at the same time, he's definitely simpathetic to the Revolution. Reed's book was written during the Revolution and is a great book if you look at it as a primary source, but it's definitely a partial one. If you're interested in a book of history, then I would recommend you either Fitzpatrick's "The Russian Revolution", which is a short (about 200 pages) book from one of the great pioneers of the revisionist school in soviet historiography. For a more recent (and longer) book I would take a look at S.A. Smith's "Russia in Revolution: An Empire in Crisis, 1890 to 1928". I want to make it clear: Miéville's and Reed's books are great, but one should approach them knowing the context. It's similar to another great book (highly recommended!) by Orwell: Homage to Catalonia. It's similar to Reed's Ten Days, but I would not recommend it as an history book. Hopefully, those recommendations should be enough, but if you have other questions feel free to ask. For a quick look about Soviet historiography, here is a _great_ article by Sheila Fitzpatrick (the author of one of the books I recommended above) reviewing 5 books that came out in 2017: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n07/sheila-fitzpatrick/whats-left

Once you know the context, you can appreciate more books like Reed's and Mièville too.

Happy reading!

Thank you! Appreciate the recommendations and explanations. I've been wanting to approach the Gulag Archipelago but was looking to enhance my understanding of the historical context and political climate of the times first.

Yes approaching it with context is extremely important, as its the heavily influenced by the cold war. Consider that Gulag Arcipelago estimates about 60 million dead in the gulags, which is simply not accepted in today's historiography. 60 million would be equal to over one third of the Soviet Union's population, even before the Second World War.

Sci-fi author China Mieville recently wrote "October: The Story of the Russian Revolution".

I just finished reading this and loved it! As someone without much preexisting knowledge about the course of the revolution or anyone involved other than the Tsar and the main Bolsheviks, I found it to be very accessible and engaging. You really get a sense of the personalities of the main actors, especially Lenin.

I found Sheila Fitzpatrick’s The Russian Revolution 1917-1932 to be a well-written and fairly balanced account of the period. In her first chapter she goes as far back as the emancipation of the serfs to describe the societal context that led to the 1905 and 1917 revolutions. The book is easy to read, not too long but is well referenced if you want to further explore.

Gresham College: Lenin and the Russian Revolution, lecture might be a good start. https://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/lenin-and-the-...

Trotsky's book on the revolution is a literary masterpiece on par with Thucydides, though it's obviously not the best choice for an objective or broadly-based historical picture.

I assume you mean "The Revolution Betrayed?"

  * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Revolution_Betrayed

A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924, by Orlando Figes

Unfortunately not available in electronic form, but well worth the trouble of paper.

A People's Tragedy, while important as it has been widely read, is nowadays criticized quite heavily in the historiography of the Russian Revolution. Consider reading a few other books (like S.A. Smith's for a very recent one) if you want a different perspective.

Interesting, I did not know that. I see by your other comment that you've done more research into this than I have - I'll take a look at r/askhistorians. Thanks for the heads up and the suggestions.

I picked up A People's Tragedy after reading Figes's book on the Crimean War - do you happen to know if that book is similarly criticized? In other words, should I put a mental asterisk just next to A People's Tragedy, or next to everything by Figes?

Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with Figes' books in general, but with a few searches I came up with a few reviews. The first, on the LRB, is quite positive, but the author, Geoffrey Wheatcroft does not seem to have, based on his wikipedia page, much expertise on the topic. The other, published in Victorian Studies, is more academic, and is quite negative. The author, Andrew Lambert, cites numerous errors. His most important critique is that this book narrates what he calls the "old-crimean war", and that it largely ignores what are now considered some very important aspects of the war. If you want some alternative books, consider taking a look at this thread (https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/5v7ggr/what_...), where u/kieslowskifan, a user who I absolutely admire for his knowledge, recommends a few crimean war books to a fellow redditor. Happy reading!

I'm guessing you meant as an e-book, but it is out there as an audiobook

Trotsky's "My Life" is a good read.

I personally enjoyed reading Ten Days That Shook the World by John Reed. The writer is as biased as it is talented.

For a feeling of what the early Soviet Union was like, I highly recommend We the Living by Ayn Rand. If you don't like her politics, I still recommend it to understand exactly what it was that she is reacting against.

That book is not exactly autobiographical. But she does draw very heavily on her own personal experiences to draw that time and place as accurately as she could. For example the purge that ended Kira's university education was not made up, and indeed would have ended Ayn Rand's career if she had been one year younger.

You're being down-voted for no good reason. If you want to understand what drove Ayn Rand to the extremes then "We the Living" is probably the best explanation there is.

A famous contemporary account is Ten Days that Shook the World. it was written by an American who, it's safe to say, was fairly pro-communist.

But really it's such a pivotal moment in modern history that you're not going to starve for material. It sounds glib, but in this instance you could do worse than start on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Revolution

I highly recommend Homage to Catalonia if you liked Animal Farm. It really explains how Orwell became disillusioned with communism (while fighting for it).

Thats a quite simplistic way of interpreting.

He fought for socialism and he stayed a socialist - but he became a enemy of Stalinism.

The brotherhood and spirit of the socialist militia he was in, he praised as real and something he never experienced before or after.

Simplistic yes, but also true. He became throughly disillusioned with socialism because he felt that someone like Stalin would always take control of it.

My interpretation was that he was always anti-authority, but his experiences led him to believe that an authoritian figure will always try to grab power and it doesn't matter what `side` they say they are for, power is their aim.

True he liked the spirit of his socialist militia but by the end I think he felt its spirit had been crushed and abused by others.

Nice thanks for sharing that


I'm not sure why you're being sarcastic, I can easily see the book having a big impact on a young person. No need to be mean or patronising.


That was clearly sarcasm. A directed one and thus patronising. Irony happens when there is a contrast between intent and effect, like "the man had to bring his car to the repair shop after driving over a pothole. He is ironically responsible for maintaining the roads"

Truly, most of those who struggle to speak it and write it do not deserve the English language, any more than their great teacher Alanis Morrisette. The situation you describe is not irony. Irony is a property of communication, not of coincidence.

An event can still be situationally, or cosmically ironic even if it's not in fiction. if you really want it to be a property of communication, then think of the communication as being between the universe, or God and the subject.

More importantly, English is defined by common usage, and the usage of irony in describing an unexpected combination of real events has been common for hundreds of years. I believe this probably comes from people's common belief in fate, or that their lives are part of some broader story. Under this mindset, it makes perfect sense to use terms from literature to describe phenomena of life. And your insistence that irony is a property of communication is satisfied.

Words have multiple senses, and the ones from common usage are just as valid as the ones from academic usage, though they may be harder to pin down.

This is why it is important for words to have specific meanings. This muddling of "irony" is at least partially responsible for the narrative fallacy that you describe. The universe does not care about our subjective experience. "Unlikely" events occur in everyone's life, but not because the Fates are taking poetic license with that life. If the roads should be better maintained or if they are maintained much better than they should be, we won't know from repairs to the local road superintendent's car.

I love new usages that make English more capable or more entertaining. I detest those that impoverish our discourse and thus our thinking.

I was ten years old, Harold.

* Factfulness and Thinking Fast And Slow. The latter helped me internalise that my thinking, like most humans, is biased. Even being aware of those biases doesn’t always help. We need to go above and beyond to overcome our biases. Factfulness goes into detail about what those biases are and how they lead to a distorted world view. Rather than taking the easy way out by blaming journalists/politicians/rich people, he turns the focus onto us and our biases and speaks about how to look at the world in an objective fact based manner.

* The Dictator’s Handbook. One simple axiom - leaders do what is necessary to stay in power. Using that idea they explain the basis of all political systems, whether autocracy or democracy or somewhere in between. I didn’t really understand politics before I read this. CGPGrey has a video where he summarises the book. [1]

* (Only for Indians) India After Gandhi. You can’t really understand your country if you don’t know it’s history. History stopped in 1947 according to our history books, and most people are blissfully unaware of what came after. They don’t know how close India came to losing democracy or how easily it could happen again. They don’t understand the dangers of promoting one language at the expense of others because they don’t know that it’s been tried before. Every Indian needs to know so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past over and over.

[1] - https://youtu.be/rStL7niR7gs

About thinking Fast and Slow, people might want to know that the author has pretty much admitted to major flaws in his research. https://retractionwatch.com/2017/02/20/placed-much-faith-und...

While his admission concerns mostly the theory of priming, the problem is not specific but a methodological error. In my view all his research should be looked at with suspicion and with a view to have his experiments replicated independently sooner rather than later. This has been a problem throughout social psychology and other branches of science, so nothing specific to Kahneman, he's just the best known. Which brings up the next thought, which is I always look at information from the epistemic point of view: where does this knowledge come from: rational thought, experiment, experience, faith? I just notice, without judgement, how eager some of the posters here are to accept a theory or a philosophy even when it has already been debunked, or the evidence is flimsy, or maybe it's formulated in ways that are not even "debunkable". And there is a pragmatic view that if it feels right and it helps, why not.

India After Gandhi is truly a powerful book, and you're right in saying that it is our duty as an Indian to educate ourselves about post-1947 happenings. My only issue with the book, though only slightly, was the fast that Guha was a bit too soft on Nehru. There were many flaws/bad decisions (and good decisions too indeed) taken by Nehru which, I think, the book downplayed.

Nevertheless, Guha is truly an amazing historian and all of his books deserve to be read!

I read the first five or so chapters of Factfulness based on this recommendation, and do not recommend that book. Here is my review (also posted to Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2713701220):

The book was recommended to me as being mainly about bias, with the state of the world as examples, but this was wrong – the book is mainly about the state of the world, and it gives a few basic biases I already knew about as examples. The state of humanity all over the globe is not something I care about as much – I can’t personally affect it and it won’t affect my personal life – and the book never explicitly justified its assumption that it is important for people to know.

I did appreciate one thing: the book’s description of exactly what system is supposed to replace the “developing”/“developed” dichotomy. I was told as a child that it was obsolete, but never what was supposed to replace it. The book proposes categorizing countries within a distribution of four income levels in which most countries fall in level three. The author never justified his choice of four levels, nor his choice of boundaries between the levels, but I am willing to believe based on the graphs that at least this model is more useful than the older two-level dichotomy.

However, the rest of the book was pretty boring. I didn’t fall in the category of “people who think the world is getting worse” that the introduction assumed I fell into, so the next few chapters that kept insisting that the world was getting better were redundant and boring for me. The other chapters all seem the same and I don’t think I’ll learn anything useful from them.

I can guess that Bill Gates recommended this book because it is written for people like him – rich philanthropists who are wondering how best to use their power to make a difference in the world. Most people do not fall in this category.

>>They don’t know how close India came to losing democracy or how easily it could happen again.

Would it have been a bad thing? Well, China is doing swimmingly well. And please don't give the oh-India-is-very-diverse argument. Those who claim China is not diverse, doesn't know China.

Democracy was not something that originated out of India. It got shoved upon and lapped up by the very white-washed freedom-fighting leadership back in the day. No other alternative has/was ever been considered ["A political system with Indian characteristics"]. Also, for a country with a very high illiteracy rate, I never figured out how democracy actually works.

>>They don’t understand the dangers of promoting one language at the expense of others because they don’t know that it’s been tried before.

So let's just promote English and ensure there will always be animosity and division amongst the intellectuals (since by definition, they'd already know English) and the rest who only speak a "regional vernacular". The thing that has shocked me most on my interactions with the Indian English-speaking (elite) is on how unoriginal they are. I could have well been speaking with a Brooklyn hipster and wouldn't have been able to tell the difference (other than the appearance and context). Well with none of their "regional vernaculars" being developed and growing up on just a diet of American and British books and (liberal) ideas, can't quite blame them.

ps: I do a lot of business travel to India. Let's just put it that I have a love-hate affair with the country.

I was just thinking about our government in India earlier today and how the illiterate population play a role in sustaining a bad functioning government. My concern was mostly with the environment and how those in power seem to be doing nothing to fix what needs to be done urgently. I do not know how to explain the craze that the common people have for politics, but it is very active here. They get riled up very easily and this has let people who have the ability to trigger the thoughts of the masses into power. Very often, those who get into power do not join politics to bring change but only because they see how easy it is to be corrupt.

On the flip side, I think most of the modern generation has a better understanding of what needs to be done and where our priorities should be but it's gonna be a long time before those in power go away for good. But it might be too late by then, and I'm afraid we'll be stuck in this cycle.

Didn’t know that the Rules for Rulers video was from a book.

I would also recommend The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru. It's an awesome book.

What would you recommend for a general history of India especially around British invasion? School textbooks are obviously biased.

I've only read a couple of history books about India, one by William Dalrymple and the other by Ramachandra Guha. I'd highly recommend both of them. In case you want to know about the last decades of the freedom struggle, Gandhi After India is probably what you're looking for.

OK, it might be a bit embarrassing to post this, but I'm going to say Marie Kondo's "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up."

Not so much for the tidying part (though I did find that extremely helpful), but the whole idea of only keeping things in your life that "spark joy" (not an exact translation by the way - "spark excitement" or "spark meaning" are other ways I like to think about it) has had a profound impact on me.

I realized there were lots of things in my life (much more than just physical objects) that I had just sort of accumulated without thinking about what I really like or if something was good for me. I found the benefit of "practicing" this concept without mundane household objects allowed me to have a stronger sense of what I really enjoy in the more important aspects of my life.

My wife started watching that Marie Kondo TV show. I came to realize that there are few possessions I own that I would really be upset about losing.

"Only keep it if it sparks joy"? Yeah, just burn the house down, I'm fine.

My experience is kind of opposite. I decide one day to discard everything I own and live out of a suitcase for a while (had plenty of savings so was not living poor).

I had bookshelves full of books I never read, architecture books, art books, children's books, clothing I never wore, toys and figures I didn't play with, stuffed animals, framed posters, and entire household of stuff.

5 years later I miss some of that stuff. For lack of a better word I think it was part of my identity. Of course not all of it but lots of little things, even if I didn't use them they served as anchors for memories. Even if the only anchor was when I bought them that would remind me of other things that happened around the time I acquired the item etc..

I'm still mixed on if it was the right thing to do.

I think you went too far. The mindset is never about minimalism -- or what you can do without. It's about ensuring that what you have is good. You should have stuff. Books, toys that are memorable, clothes of different kinds. What you have needs to be important though!

"I decide one day to discard everything I own"

That's not the Marie Kondo thingy. Ms. Kondo's recipe is that you go through your stuff category at a time (books, shirts etc) and per each item figure out if that thing "brings you joy" or not.

My wife was into it. We went through our stuff and ended discarding lots of crap. So, it's rather "go through all of your stuff once in a while and throw all crap away" than "ultra minimalism at all cost".

I moved to Japan 8 years ago, and brought basically nothing with me. I don't miss, or actually even really remember, anything I had before.

Thanks for posting this. I am the kind of person to whom many forms of minimalism are seductive, and yet, the books, tchotchkies, and ephemera pile up.

You're not James Altucher are you? Cause he talks about how he did that all the time.

What an extremely insightful experience - thank you for sharing this!

Which, to be honest, I found very liberating after having a similar reaction. And while I didn't burn the house down I came pretty close.

where is the lol emoji on here. I feel the same way. too many things in the house.

This book helped me too. I used to hoard all kinds of stuff and find clever ways to store it because it might be useful some day, if I could ever find it at the right time. Eventually I started intentionally buying duplicates of things I needed so there would always be one on hand. I'd especially be reluctant to get rid of stuff that didn't take up a lot of space. I didn't realize how much it added up. Sometimes getting rid of even very small things can make storage much smaller and more manageable. I know where everything is now, and it saves a lot of time! I moved to a tiny apartment and got rid of most of my things and now I'm just nice and cozy with the stuff I actually want.

I don't think this is embarrassing at all. After the initial purge, I couldn't believe how much it changed my purchasing habits. I now have a very simple rubric that prevents me from buying things I don't need. Tidying Up reads as a sort of mild self-help manual but it conceals a powerful anti-consumerist undertow (speaking as an American, anyway)

I really like the phrase "anti-consumerist undertow!" but I also visualized it in the opposite way - consumerism as the undertow, and "Tidying Up" as the "swim parallel to shore until you're out" advice.

Can you share your rubric?

It's a really great idea, and the way people are taking to it is really nice to see. I even see people understanding after a few eye rolls the importance of her more Shinto inspired things (such as being thankful to items).

From her I learned that all items have a home. I had heard such an idea before, but her explanation made it stick. Now I don't lose keys or gloves or ear muffs, they all have a home in my house. It's not ideal placement, I often end up backtracking a bit, but I think the idea isn't to wring efficiency out of every decision, but to just know and accept, and that feels ok when you're around joyful things.

This has a very different impact on me, since I enjoy experiencing taking apart and putting back and restoring and playing etc... vintage musical instruments in my spare time.

It never gets old. There is no real reason to sell one because each instrument is almost childlike in some incorporeal manner.

I ended up purchasing more things, but just being more tidy.

It sounds like those instruments "spark joy" for you.

Exactly... but it does't lead to a "simpler life"

I assume it means there are other things in your life that don't spark joy like those instruments. That's where to focus.

"Basic Economics" by Thomas Sowell. Not an easy read, but it deeply changed the way I think about incentive structures and the law of unintended consequences. It's a tough pill to swallow for people (like myself) who cling to utopian ideas, but the older I get the more I realize we must live in the world as it exists, with human nature as it really is. Dreaming of a better world is counter-productive if one does not engage with reality. We can build a better world, but only by being honest about the current state of things.

+1. Reading Sowell really challenged my utopian impulses, it's amazing how deep his thoughts are but how simply they're expressed, apparently he advised people in the bay area to stop protecting so much open space in the 1970s with the warning that this would increase housing prices dramatically eventually. In hindsight this seems so intuitive and obvious but he gets credit for not needing hind sight and anticipating the most salient consequences.

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt is amazing too - https://mises.org/system/tdf/Henry%20Hazlitt%20Economics%20i...

Interesting fact: Economics in One Lesson is an extended meditation on Frédéric Bastiat's classic essay "That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen." Part of Hazlitt's goal was to make Bastiat's ideas more modern and accessible. However, enough time has passed that some of his examples are a bit dated. I actually prefer the original. Bastiat is a splendid writer.


I think the Broken Window Fallacy is the core underpinning of this book.

Hazlitt wrote another good book Thinking as a Science.

Downloaded :-)

I also went looking for an audiobook version. Looks like Downpour has it DRM free: https://www.downpour.com/economics-in-one-lesson

Just a heads up - the theory explained in that book (Austrian school) is 100% fringe economics. It's very popular with libertarians, but not really considered to produce very useful outcomes by pretty much any other school of economics.

You either haven't read the book or you you misunderstand how much of the book is Austrian economics. Yes, modern Austrian economics is considered fringe. However, historically the foundational results of early Austrian economics has been fully integrated into mainstream economics. From Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austrian_School):

> Among the theoretical contributions of the early years of the Austrian School are the subjective theory of value, marginalism in price theory and the formulation of the economic calculation problem, each of which has become an accepted part of mainstream economics.

Hayek was considered partly Austrian and he got the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1974, well after this book was written. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Hayek)

The core lesson of the book is fantastic:

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

This is not fringe at all.

Probably the biggest reason the Austrian School is "fringe" (a fairer descriptor is "heterodox") is that there's no money in it.

Economics is a value free science, at least how Austrians practice it, but happens to show that government intervention is usually harmful. For example, Keynesians believe that the business cycle is an inherent failure of markets with no known cause and that government must intervene heavily to correct such errors. By contrast, the Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle takes nearly the opposite position -- that intervention, mainly in form of credit expansion causes booms. A bust is a correction of errors made during the boom and should not itself be corrected with more easy money, starting the cycle all over again.

Now, the vast majority of working professional economists derive all or much of their income from the government in one way or another. Many work for the federal government or the Federal Reserve Bank or consult with them. Or they work in government funded universities doing research with money from government grants.

Early last century, Hoover then FDR discovered and embraced John Maynard Keynes who offered a general theory that supported heavy government intervention. The Keynesian prescription just happened to provide an intellectual basis for policies that would require government to grow much larger and more powerful. Before long government began to fund more and more professional economist jobs. And no surprise, those jobs went to Keynesians.

A few decades later Milton Friedman (not an Austrian) said, "We are all Keynesians now" -- not as an admission that the theories were correct but a concession that in practical terms it's nearly impossible to work in the field and not be a Keynesian.

Do you have an opinion as to what you think is wrong with it, or just bandwagon fallacy?

What for example, do you think of Subjective Theory of Value or the Theory of Marginal Utility, which were developed by the father of the Austrian School, Carl Menger, in the latter part of the 19th century? Or the Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle, for which Friedrich Hayek won the Nobel Prize in 1974?

Have you read the book? There’s really not much about it that’s fringe or controversial.

Yes. It’s all very plausible sounding, neat, and internally consistent, but you can’t derive a useful macroeconomic model from it that matches real-world, empirical observations. (Of course, the same could be said for a lot of mainstream stuff).

Part of it is probably just the historical context - monetary systems in the modern economy are very different than the gold-standard, fixed exchange rate kind of environment the book was written in, for example, which changes a lot of how things operate. But even then I think it still would have suffered from the fallacy of composition, where you can’t start from a description of interaction between two people and just scale it up - the emergent behaviour is almost always surprisingly different.

Could you provide a concrete example where it breaks down?

With regards to Austrian economics, as far as I remember, the school is not even mentioned in Hazlitt's book, but you are right that he was heavily influenced by it. But the book and its propositions stand on their own, I think.

Although Sowell writes very convincingly and brings logical arguments at first sight, most of his statements on the free market are based on intuition rather than data. He consistently uses a handful of examples (minimum wage, housing market) and extrapolates those to other areas in the economy without substantiation. Always assuming a fully efficient market (which it is not, see different bubbles in past few decades), rational actors (i.e. ignoring human emotion and/or marketing effects that effect consumer spending) and full price elasticity of all goods/services/labor.

It's an interesting read, but be (very) skeptical. The world and economics is a bit more complex than the picture he portrays.

> assuming a fully efficient market (which it is not, see different bubbles in past few decades)

Well, I think it's part of the book to speak in favor of free markets as opposed to centrally planned "markets" (such as prices for money, e.g., interest rate).

If you're criticizing an underlying assumption, then of course I can also go ahead and criticize parts of mathematics for some of their axioms. Yet, that doesn't make mathematics wrong, only more limited in scope.

The Quest for Cosmic Justice is another great book by Sowell that challenges the utopian mindset that underlies many modern policy discussions. It contrasts utopian "cosmic" justice with the much more prosaic (but achievable) "human" justice

In similar veins, his 'A Conflict of Visions' and 'The Vision of the Anointed' are two stunning incisive books that show pretty directly why we are where we are now, as divided as we are now. Likely corresponds strongly with Haidt's 'The Righteous Mind', referred to elsewhere in this topic.

Fascinating! Just ordered it, thanks :-)

Nearly two decades ago Sowell sent me a signed copy after I emailed him challenging him on something he wrote in one of his columns!

Sowell's weak point it is that (and this is is not unique to Sowell, it's common to both nominal supporters of free markets and their opponents) there's too often an implicit conflation of the economic system that actually exists with a free market. The way he taught me to look at policy in terms of incentives more than makes up for any of that though.

Wish everyone would read this book and Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt.

+1. Thanks. My local library has a copy on hold for me now :-)

I stumbled upon this book by an accident about a month ago. What an amazing surprise it was. 10 out of 10

Sounds good. I'll give it a try

Edit: hehe the reviews suggest its quite the polarising tome.

Funny thing is, reality is based a lot in perception. For example, it was "reality" that the higgs boson didn't exist before 2012. It was simply part of a model.

The problem with just accepting how the world really is, is that it pushes many people into a state of stagnation, never really pushing the status quo. If you refuse to accept the society you live in today, then you have more incentive to change it tomorrow.

An understanding incentive structures and their design is one of the most important tools you'd need to make a significant change.

Nonsense. Acceptance of a realistic understanding does not preclude using that understanding to achieve your goals. It is certainly better then designing your policies based off a rejection of reality.

Definitely "The Machine That Changed the World" by Womack, Jones, and Roos [0]. This is "the first book to reveal Toyota's lean production system." Before reading it, I had never imagined just-in-time production or value chain mapping, or vehicle assembly lines that can profitably produce quantity one of a product before being reconfigured to produce a different model (SMED: single minute exchange of die).

Now I see muda everywhere and cringe when I overhear people talking about applying kaizen and how they think they're practicing "continuous improvement" while repeating the same rote, industrial, mindless processes that they have been for the last 40 years. We can do so much better. Toyota tried very hard to teach GM how at their NUMMI[1] plant, but it wasn't the right location relative to their suppliers for JIT to fully work and "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." -Upton Sinclair

[0] https://www.lean.org/Bookstore/ProductDetails.cfm?SelectedPr... [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NUMMI

In software people use agile as an excuse to not think through the core architecture.

I believe agile was invented to incrementally improve an already well thought production process. Once the assembly line was setup, agile was used to eliminate the unproductive activities. I am not sure agile will be helpful to build the assembly line itself?

In most scenarios that's what people try to do with agile.

I don't think that is a good comparison.

Setting up a mechanical assembly line is very different from setting up a software pipeline, although, as you can tell already, they use some of the same words and metaphors.

It isn't possible to build a mechanical factory in weeks with readily available tools [0]. We just don't have that kind of concentration of knowledge, we don't have the skills, the know-how etc. to accomplish that. Whereas with software: you have OSS, you have the Cloud, and all kinds of numerous tooling that helps you get started immediately, and iterate on that until you get to the final product. That kind of iteration, debugging etc. is just not possible with manufacturing. Which is why in manufacturing you need great designs and processes: bad decisions are very costly. They are costly in software too, but... your MVP will still churn out value, even if its not efficient. Once you prove that your product satisfies a need, you then make it better, you make it more efficient, scale it out, yadda yadda. But getting started is absurdly easy. And thats why lean works.

The designers of lean realized that all that worry about scaling, about automation, planning, QA... while its important, it doesn't provide the most value for everyone. For a smaller company, its more important to get out a product that solves a problem even if its janky. Once you prove its usefulness, you attract more money, more people etc.

So lean solves two problems: * gets you started quickly and fails bad ideas fast * lets you justify bad design if it provides more value

One could argue that the technical debt built up by this kind of process has to be paid down someday. If your product survives for long enough, you will have enough resources to do that. And then you have a core product that brings in revenue, and you repeat the same lean method for other products. Rinse and repeat, ad infinitum.

[0]: where this assumption fails, you see a lot more manufacturing. e.g. in China, the fruits of this kind of aggregation in manufacturing skill is visible, and that's why Chinese manufacturers are so adept at responding to changing market conditions.

I agree with your points above.Having said that knowledge and experience is a critical factor and I am fine with using agile for MVPs and startup scenarios.

My issue is with the way agile is evangelized and implemented in the Enterprise. These Enterprise people simply rationalize that if Toyota can do it then why we can't without realizing where it fit and where it does not.

Personally I think it does not fit with the culture of thousand approvals and beating the dead horse i.e. endlessly cross examining any design or implementation failures.

This happens because Enterprise people love the buzzwords. Agile and cloud are the latest buzz in Enterprise so they watch a ppt or two somewhere starts pushing agile into a culture where it does not fit at all. This results in sufferings and frustration.

You're describing Lean. Similar and related, but not the same.

This American Life did a fantastic episode[1] on the NUMMI plant, highly recommend it.

[1] https://www.thisamericanlife.org/403/nummi

Added to my queue, thanks!

Kaizen seems to be manufacturing's equivalent of agile. Everyone says they do it, but almost no one actually does it because that would mean totally re-configuring their business.

I hadn't recognized the equivalency of [lean] and agile before. That's interesting and helps give me a better appreciation for why we only end up paying lip service to the idea. Thanks for the thought.

A good approach to this is to start small. Apply kaizen on small things, get the "kaizen culture" ingrained in your team/company culture, and slowly move on to bigger things.

Not gonna lie, it's very hard

For me it was a sequence of books that did it. The Phoenix Project first, then David Anderson's Kanban book. Some tine after that was The Goal and Deming's Out Of The Crisis, and a book of Taichi Ohno musings.

You're right, what has been seen cannot be unseen.

I just finished The Toyota Way and am getting started on The Goal. I'm very curious about the Taichi Ohno book. Do you have a link or a title?

Taiichi Ohnos Workplace Management https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0071808019/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_...

It's interesting for a number of reasons, not least because it explains that a lot of the ideas driving how Toyota worked post-war came from the fact that they knew they wouldn't be able to let people go in an economic downturn.

Why did GM's people's salaries depend on not understanding NUMMI/TPS? I would have thought it would have been clear to them they either adapt or die, and thus their salary depended on understanding it.

Simply accepting you're in the wrong location means moving, and you can't move a factory and all it's workers cheaply. Similarly, no one wants to automate their own job away, as that would result in them not having a job.

Granted, long-term that thinking kills companies, but short term it keeps the bills paid, the kids fed, and the beer cold.

From what I was able to gather it was less about being in the wrong location and that the internal politics of GM set NUMMI up for failure.

America was able to be a powerhouse of manufacturing during WW2, I remember reading that a lot of the DNA for JIT/Kaizen/Lean came from the Marshall Plan[1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaizen#History

The Chicken Tax. Because of it, US auto manufactures promoted and sold the one market segment where they had 0 to no competition. Even today, the big American automakers suck balls at making Sedans and focus exclusively on Trucks and SUVs.

I had a similar experience with The Toyota Way, which was also about Toyota's manufacturing process.

Toyota Way is a great book.

The tools don't really mean anything, it's mostly adopting the principles enforced. And everyone has to adopt it for it to work. The ones that do it best, have a strong company culture. You define the why before the how and what.

Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius.

Bottom line: judge your success in life by how well you make your decisions, not by your outcome. You have full control of your decisions, and often no control at all over their results.

If you enjoyed Marcus Aurelius, you'd probably enjoy reading Seneca.

"On The Shortness of Life"[1] is my favorite work of his, though there are many other gems among his letters.

[1] - https://tripinsurancestore.com/4/on-the-shortness-of-life.pd...

I'm a big Seneca fan. You can read all of Seneca's dialogues, including "On the Shortness of Life", for free at Standard Ebooks: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/seneca/dialogues/aubrey-st...

I found William Irving's A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy a very legible contemporary (if somewhat idiosyncratic) introduction to Stoic thought, and maybe more accessible/applicable than the classic sources.

I'd like to read it. Of course, there's the Enchiridion:


Which is quite short.

It was more accessible to me. There is a lot of misunderstanding of who a stoic is, and what stoicism is. I think this book clears it up well.

I really enjoyed this book, I'd recommend it as a first read into stoicism over meditations.

He gave some really great examples of how to apply stoicism in today's world.

Exactly! This book is my recommendation as well to everyone who seeks to learn more about stoics. It is easy to understand, you can relate to the things said, and it is practical! It makes you think and challenges your beliefs as you go on and on. It makes sense!

A similar line of thinking is Annie Duke's Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts. A good discussion on the book can be found here: https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/how-to-make-better-d...

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0735216355/ref=tmm_h...

The idea of "Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts" reminds me of this TED Talk:

"If you ever struggle to make decisions, here's a talk for you. Cognitive scientist Tom Griffiths shows how we can apply the logic of computers to untangle tricky human problems, sharing three practical strategies for making better decisions -- on everything from finding a home to choosing which restaurant to go to tonight."


Reminds me of Little Bets by Peter Sims

reminds me of the dice man

The George Long translation is available as a proofed and libre ebook at SE if anyone wants to read it: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/marcus-aurelius/meditation...

Meditations is what immediately came to my mind also. It's a humbling and reassuring look into the mind of a great leader and stoic; to know that there was this man, the most powerful in his time, who strived - and struggled - to be the best he could, is inspiring.

Are we really going that low to take beliefs from WER (white, educated, rich) people? I mean wasn't Seneca the rich man during that time? And also Marcus Aurelius book doesn't seem appealing to read because it was never meant to be published.

About the 'white' part: the Roman empire apparently did not categorize people based on something as superficial as their skin color: "physiognomy did not function as a criterion of social status in the Roman system of stratification". [1]

[1] https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ElAnt/V1N4/thompson.htm...

I also liked this book. Also because it shows how similar problems people had then. For more stoicism I would recommend "Daily Stoic". It's one meditation per day.


Is an outcome not the other side of the decision-making coin? I understand that the outcome should not carry all the weight, but it surely often carries a lot of the weight of a particular decision. That is, how does one get good at making decisions? By seeing positive results flow from them.

> Is an outcome not the other side of the decision-making coin?

No, and that's the key. You cannot truly control outcomes, so judging your life and self-worth on them is leaving your happiness and fulfillment to chance.

> That is, how does one get good at making decisions? By seeing positive results flow from them.

Nope. You get better at decision-making by being reflective about your past decisions. Outcomes can be a factor in that, but only insofar as they can point you to the realization that you missed information that was available to you.

There are many decisions in life where there is no "good" outcome. There are some where the "good" outcome is catastrophic for you personally, and that catastrophe is avoidable if you compromise your ethics. If you see a child drowning in a river and know that there's a good chance that you will die if you attempt to rescue them, rational self-interest alone tells you to walk on by. Stoicism puts a layer on top of that - can you live with yourself without regret if you do that? Are you willing to accept the risks to live up to your own standards?

If you are interested in stoicism, 'stoicism and the art of happiness' is a good book

I liked him from his quotes and his biography - the book didn't add much at all. If anything, I like him less after having read it.

Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg is an amazing eye-opener. It's a book about how how to interact with your fellow humans in a way that enriches the lives of everyone around you. It's full of things that should be obvious, but in practice are not. You can think of it as a more advanced version of Dale Carnegie's "How to make friends and influence people", with more focus on conflicts, and a specific communication methodology.

I use non-violent-communication (NVC) constantly, at work and at home. It basically is a method that forces you to listen and to speak without judgment. But “People Skills” by Robert Bolton is a much more scientific and nuanced approach that I’ve found greater success with. They key is to so ingrain these methods that you are no longer using a method. In the end, you simply really care about what people have to say, you delay judgment as long as possible, and you practice empathy while remaining clear about your own needs and boundaries. Also, being direct.

Just last week I sat through a meeting where no one was listening to one another, elephants were being buried underground, and we were becoming more divided. Taking a cue from ‘Radical Candor’, I invited the room’s abstract complaints and negativity to focus on me, specifically. Luckily, someone was so pissed at me and my team that they launched into a list of things we’d done wrong. That gave me a chance to listen, to show I cared, and to connect the dots with his previous discussion at the meeting. Basic stuff. But it opened the floodgates to honest conversation for the rest of the night.

I always say that computers are easy, humans are hard. Would love to see more recommendations about this topic.

Humans are "Hard" because they are individuals with their own motivations, drives, capricious emotions and in a word, are not always "rational". I feel most of the books on management/organizations/communications, approach Human Communications from a utopian viewpoint. They assume a path of least resistance and then impose a structured process (fad of the month) to arrive at a positive end goal. I have come to the conclusion that this is all unworkable BS (note books like "Leadership BS", "Bullshit Jobs" etc.) and we need to change our approach completely based on actual realities rather than wishful thinking. To that end i found the following books useful;

The Art of Worldly Wisdom (aka The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence) by Balthasar Gracian - A set of aphorisms with penetrating insight into Human Nature.

Why we do what we do: Understanding Self-Motivation by Edward Deci - A short book from a psychologist.

The Empowered Manager: Positive Political Skills at Work by Peter Block

Management: A Political Activity by Ted Stephenson

> I always say that computers are easy, humans are hard. Would love to see more recommendations about this topic.

I wouldn't go so far :). They're both hard; and need talented individuals to function together and come up with great ideas and processes on how to build, maintain and scale them.

And as nerdy engineers, we often discount the humans, which we ought not to do.

It drove me up the wall and I didn't finish it.

All this "if you answered c, e and f, we are not of the same opinion" feels passive-aggressive to me.

The whole thing feels manipulative to me. It makes me think that people try an insincere way of talking to me, in order to manipulate my feelings and reaction.

I've had huge discussions with friends who try to live the book, and neither of us could make the other see their point.

One of their examples was "My boyfriend likes to go DJing, but sometimes I'd love for him to stay home and cuddle with me. So I clearly tell him that him leaving makes me feel alone and that I would like some warmth. But I don't tell him what to do, to stay at home, for example. I only talk about my own perception and feelings." – "Yes, that's great, but in communication there is the level of pragmatics above pure logical semantics. And you telling your boyfriend that him leaving makes you feel very alone is just another way of saying 'please don't go'".

This book was extremely influential to me and changed my outlook. If you’re reading the book and sense insincerity, I’m not sure how to address that beyond encouraging you to read it with a lens that it is completely sincere.

Since reading it, I have been amazed at how unclear many people communicate. They say things to express some basic emotions - anger, frustration, etc - but so many people do not express in clear terms the root of this feeling.

In your example, the woman does indeed want the boyfriend to stay at home. But saying you want someone to do something, at a minimum, doesn’t explain why you want that. It also doesn’t give them much recourse to either object, or come up with alternative solutions.

I’d be happy to discuss it more!

I can't agree with an idea that encourages you to not say what you want, for me, this is the opposite of good communication. If you want your boyfriend to stay at home, you should say so and then explain why. Not actually saying it is likely to make the situation more confused and lead to conflict.

It encourages you to first understand and say what you need, then talk about what you want as one possible solution.

We're very "good" at solutionising what we think we want rather than what we need. One of the things I took away is a way to clearly consider and express the root cause of something. In the DJ example not wanting their partner to go may be due to any number of reasons that aren't clear to the DJ, they could be lonely, feel insecure, feel mistrustful of fidelity, feel ashamed at their own lack of passion for an activity etc. Any number of these things can come to the surface when you start saying why something bothers you rather than the first solution your brain offers up, plus it's a much nicer conversation when both parties are involved in building the solution.

What's also nice is I've had better "shower conversations" with myself to figure out what I really want from situations.

Saying why you feel the way you do is key to NVC.

Importantly, saying it without coming down with harsh judgment on the other person is also key. You truly don’t know what’s going on in their mind, or what motivations they may have had in doing something. NVC encourages realizing this and avoiding assigning feelings or intent to the other person, since you don’t know if that’s accurate.

“I feel lonely much more than I want to when you’re gone DJing Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I don’t like feeling lonely. Can we figure out something to help me feel lonely less often?”

And yes, you could say “I wish you’d stay at home,” but is that really the desire? The desire is to feel lonely or ignored less of the time in this scenario I think; maybe I’m wrong!

Maybe the DJ said she couldn’t come with thinking she would be bored. Maybe she’d love to come, but thinks he doesn’t want her there.

Saying clearly the why, without judgment on the other person, certainly seems to be pretty NVC to me.

So, the problem I find is this.

It seems natural if asked: "Can we figure out something to help me feel lonely less often?”

To respond: "Ok well, what do you want?"

If you're not willing to give actual things you want, then the other person has to "mind read." And from my experience in relationships, when people are trying to mind read what the other actually wants, this always ends up in issues/problems.

Mind reading is not the goal of this conversation.

The response you said might happen - "OK well, what do you want?" - would indeed be a desired response. The reason is that the response leads to a conversation, where they can both talk about possible solutions. And the solution doesn't have to be "don't go DJ tonight," although that could be one.

Imagine if the conversation instead was this:

Girlfriend: "I don't want you to DJ at the club tonight."

DJ thinks: "What? She knows this is really important to me, but she just wants me to stop going. What the heck. She doesn't want to support me in this now, after I've done it for so long?"

DJ says: "This is really I important to me. Stop trying to control me, I don't try to control you!"

Girlfriend: "I'm not trying to control you, I just want you to stay home tonight!"

DJ: "Sounds like control to me!" huffs out of the room

Giving the DJ some amount of context can help avoid anyone feeling accused, and can help someone misinterpret why someone wants something.

Hah, but sometimes the non-verbalized component of this communication method is a bit silly if they actually want you to consider ‘not go’ to be the only option.

“Oh, when you said you would feel alone you were actually (more or less) forbidding me from going out tonight.”

Why don’t you just say that then...

> encouraging you to read it with a lens that it is completely sincere

Ok, you've convinced me to not go anywhere near this book if it teaches you to 'communicate' like this.

Can you help me understand what part of what I said, or how I said, has convinced you to not go anywhere near this book?

It sounds like your friend may have missed some of the more critical points of the approach. Let me try:

* My boyfriend went DJing three times last week,

* but when he leaves, I feel lonely (n.b. this is different from "him leaving makes me feel alone")

* because I need some companionship in my relationship.

* I'd like to ask him to stay in with me at least x nights a week.

I talk to my boyfriend about my 1) observations, 2) feelings, 3) needs, and 4) requests (this is verbatim the four-step process outlined in the book). To all this, I might add:

On the other hand, I also wonder if DJing is his way of meeting his own needs for independence/action/excitement, and how he would feel about staying in x nights a week. Perhaps there's another way that we can make sure both of our needs are met, such as inviting close friends over to stay the night when he's gone, or inviting our friends over for a house party so he can socialize and I can still have him around.


Communication works when it's a good-faith effort on both sides to understand where the other is coming from and meet each other's needs mutually. The goal shouldn't be to manipulate the other's feelings and reactions, but to focus on the parts that no one could possibly disagree on (observation, feelings, needs—e.g., "I feel lonely") rather than blaming ("that makes me lonely") or subjective judgments ("3 nights a week is excessive").

If "we are not of the same opinion" strikes you as hokey, consider the intention of phrasing it that way: If you get in the habit of telling people when and why they're wrong, you're going to erode the spirit of cooperation required to arrive at a happy solution.

Re: the wording: I would be perfectly fine with "if you answered b we disagree". But that extremely gratuitous and overly complicated way of saying it really feels manipulative. Who talks that way, ever?

I haven't read the book. Does it really go so far as to say that the girlfriend should say all that but shouldn't say "I would like it if you would do that"?

'Cause there's a big difference between "I don't tell him what to do" and "I don't express my preferences/desires".

No, it is totally fine to make requests! NVC just advises you to give some context about your feelings and needs before you make the request, instead of jumping straight to it. The prescribed sequence is:

1. Observations: things that are objectively observable

2. Feelings: your feelings about them

3. Needs: the needs you want met

4. Requests: a proposal as to how you want your needs met

It's not always practical or necessary to go through the whole sequence. Sometimes all you need to say is "I'd like you to stay." But if things get tricky or contentious, it can help a lot to separate observations from feelings, and start with objective facts first.

For example, if someone is really upset that their partner isn't staying home with them, they might be tempted to say "Obviously you don't care about this relationship because you never spend time with me!"

That's not going to work nearly as well as "When you leave me at home alone a lot, I feel lonely and ignored. I need time and connection to feel good about our relationship. Could you stay home tonight?"

Explaining your feelings serves (at least) two purposes: (a) it helps the other person have empathy for you; and (b) it provides information about the true purpose of the request. The extra information helps ensure the right need is addressed (in this case, it reveals that what's wanted isn't just presence at home; it's quality time and connection), and helps the other person find alternative solutions if they can't accept the proposal (maybe their partner has an appointment to visit a friend at the hospital and really can't stay; but they are still many ways to address the underlying need, e.g. "It's important that I see my friend at the hospital, but I do want to spend time with you; can we make a plan to spend tomorrow night together?")

If the only information provided is the request, then the receiver can only say yes or no; they aren't equipped with enough information to find a solution that might work better for both parties.

(I guess I should add that this is my interpretation; it seems like people have different interpretations of NVC. I think of it as a tool to use when things get difficult, and for me its purpose is to convey information more clearly, not to obscure my true preferences.)

I found the opposite, that by verbally giving context to feelings it can be a more honest and effective communication. And no, the book does not say you should "only talk about my own perception and feelings" and discourage making direct requests of others in order to ask to cuddle—it merely allows you a helpful framework to communicate feelings around it if communication is difficult. See zestyping's sub-response to a sibling thread.

I think that is why I value Non-Violent Communication so much, for its desire to be compassionate and empathetic to both your self and others while realizing that you don't just deserve to get what you want from others just because you want to feel a certain way or feel you need a certain outcome due to circumstances.

The Dale Carnegie comparison threw up a red flag for me because that book is all manipulation. I have an ex-friend who read it and swears by it, but she's just become completely insufferable and fake. It's like she's constantly in a job interview.

I think that says more about your friend than it does the book. When I read the book back in high school I felt it was less, how can I manipulate people, and more, how can I become someone people enjoy being around.

Is your friend on the spectrum by any chance?

Just because someone's an asshole doesn't mean they're autistic.

I've read the book and had a visceral reaction to it personally. It is called "How to win friends and influence people" after all. Seems to be a love it or hate it type of thing.

I can see that kind of reaction. When I read it, the book seemed to be a lot about giving people what they want by changing things about yourself and your mindset. For some people that's a good idea (if you're a selfish jerk), and for some people that's a terrible idea (if you already give in too much to other people).

As someone who moved to the US at a young age, reading How to Make Friends and Influence People explained a lot of the apparent insincerity/fakeness that bothered me in both business and personal interactions, and that had been very much a mystery to me.

How did that go again?


   I am writing you to emphasise how much your business personally means to me and how $EMOTIONAL_STATE I feel about it...
Also remember that he was a huckster, for example changing his name so people would associate him with the steel Carnegies (no relation).

I know some people get turned off by his delivery and how some people poorly execute what he teaches, but I have found this to be a life changing book. I've read it easily a dozen times and listened to the 8 hour audio version almost as many times.

The main take away that I use all the time is that most of us jump to solution oriented problem solving when in conflict or explaining our side, and that's usually not what people are looking for. When someone is upset, they are usually looking for empathy. They want to be understood. When they are understood, they are able to problem solve or hear the other side.

The problems are that:

1) Marshall is teaching a new language. So, he's speaking slowly, repeating himself, and talking at a very basic level. That's why it sounds unnatural.

2) People generally suck at giving empathy, even more so when they are personally invested in the situation. So, they have a bias against it.

But, like learning any new language, when you get to native speaking level, it sounds very different.

I do couple's coaching on the side, and this is one of my main tools. It is amazing to watch. A couple who comes in and sit on opposite sides of the room, not looking each other will be cuddling on the couch crying in each other's arms 20 minutes later, right after I translate their actions into the feelings that drive those actions and simple requests. They see each other at a deep level, and that's what people typically want.

Ooh. Was just about to mention it. It's been a life-changer since I'd read it some three years ago.

+1 to NVC.

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