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Books I Recommend (jessfraz.com)
597 points by ingve on Feb 25, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 147 comments

I read/listen to a lot of books and the only book on there I’ve read so far is The Managers Path, which is about the transition of the software engineer in his/her career. It’s a great book for any software engineer, it’s short too.

Given that I haven’t heard of many of the other books on the list, I’d say this is a good list I’ll be checking out a few of the titles.

One trick about “reading” (listening) to a good chunk of books has been Audible, to retain the content I’m listening to on my commutes and on the go I take a lot of notes.

As a little self promotion I created a cross platform App that lets you listen to any Article from the web by using great sounding AI/ML to convert the text to audio. I built it recently because I feel really strongly that Audio is a great way to learn and maximize that dead on the go time rather than waste it.

If you’d like to check my app out it’s here:


Counterpoint: while I agree that audio is useful for learning, I’d encourage everyone to not consider mental downtime wasted. And that we should resist the urge to fill it with content constantly. We must be able as humans to simply sit alone with our own thoughts. It’s as important for creativity and mental output as anything learned in those “dead”, “wasted” times.

Makes sense actually.. we all need time to think. I thinn walks where one could just let their mind wander are great.

If I didn’t spend some time thinking I would’ve never built this thing :)

Still though on these busy commutes, especially while standing, I find the time much better spent staying informed and learning but that’s just me.

That's why I prefer to listen to podcasts when taking walks etc, rather than full-on audiobooks - if my mind wanders and I start thinking about something else, it's not a big deal if I missed an episode of some tech podcast. With an audiobook, I have to try and find where my mind left off! (which is usually a lot more cumbersome than when the same thing happens while eye-reading)

Contra argument: this means podcast too. You need total solitude. Most podcast are useless, the only one I found useful (people in podcast just shit talk unlike audio books or/and crafted essays). Econ talk is great one (was recommended on HN) and every other where the guest is smart

Can you post an audio sample on the landing page? A narrator's voice has a big impact on if I want to listen to an audiobook. With this being automated my first concern is that this will sound way too robotic.

Also if you don't mind sharing, how did you get the voice library?

In the last few months, I have leaned more towards audio based learning but I have realized that personally audio is great for shorter content (less than 1 hr). After 1 hour, I get distracted because I feel like I could listen and do something else. Then when I pause and think what I got out of the last few mins of hearing, I realize I wasn't paying real attention. I also tried listening for 1 hour, taking a break and listening for another hour. I am unable to recollect what I listened last time while I have no problem recollecting material I read. For example, I am "reading" two books simultaneously now - one from kindle and another via audible. If you asked me what I learnt from the audible book,I would struggle to summarize. I am part of a book club and one of the women I see there has great notes on every book she has read. She was telling us how audiobooks aren't any good because to truly understand content, you need to pause, assimilate what you just read and process it (she writes it down). Audiobooks do not give that break. I usually ask Alexa to pause and resume but it plain sucks to do that.

I'm an avid audiobook reader. (My wife gets annoyed when I call it "reading", but still.) I personally wouldn't use audiobooks for learning and assimilating brand-new content to a high level of detail. It's just too tough that way.

But I also find that that's rarely my goal when listening to an audiobook. Fiction is the obvious example. Unless you're studying a book for school or something, I think audio is a great way to take in a book. There's also "non-critical" non-fiction which I find works really well. Books like Sapiens or People's History of the United States, or books on management techniques, where you're more interested in the concepts and high-level material rather than retaining specific details. I would happily do audiobook for a book club, but not for a school assignment. That's just my experience though, results may vary.

> One trick about “reading” (listening) to a good chunk of books has been Audible, to retain the content I’m listening to on my commutes and on the go I take a lot of notes.

While I share your enthusiasm about audiobooks, I encourage you to leave Audible behind:

- Audible is heavy on DRM, for no particular reason except for platform lockin and control. There are plenty of DRM free alternatives e.g. https://audiobookstore.com/ or https://www.downpour.com/ . To this day Audible doesn't sell Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, because they insist on adding DRM (which the author doesn't permit – he has strong principles regarding digital freedom).

- Audible, like Amazon, is becoming too much of a monopoly, which in general harms the product/user (remember IE6?). You don't even have to look for alternatives because of lofty principles, but just for your selfish interests to have a prospering alternative at hand, when Audible/Amazon screws you over.

Nice and I agree. But the convenience from Audible is hard to beat especially if you have an Echo.

Your app looks really promising and I’m thinking of buying a subscription. Is there any limit on the article length?

Btw, small bug with an empty history (iOS): https://ibb.co/C2hT5Jq

Really appreciate you checking it out, I’ll get on that bug ASAP.

At this time there is no limit to the size, it’s distributed on the backend so could technically do a whole book.

Thanks for sharing your insight. I am not able to access your app in my country. Do you have some country restriction to it?

If you're interested in this space/solution, we've been running Narro (https://www.narro.co) along the same lines (with a TON of integrations now). It also supports dozens of languages/voices, PDFs, ebooks, videos, yadda yadda yadda

Looks great but "Not available in your country". ?!?#@!!?

Shhesh, for a while there we thought we had achieved Cyberspace - now we're moving back to thousands of fuedal kingdoms all guarding their borders....

You should be upfront that this app is limited to 30 "articles" (or partial listens). Your app description makes it seem that the premium version adds only: "Subscribe to create your own playlist, download for offline listening, or browse through playlists that are tailored for your interest to discover new articles."

Premium is required beyond the 30? Listening to 5 seconds of an article counts as a play?

Overall really cool app though. Could see it branch out with an awesome feature set.

I am curious how do you take notes while using audiobooks? I have been trying audiobooks but somehow I find it distracting. And the notes taking process to be cumbersome too, as I need to go back and replay something over and over again. So for now I prefer ebooks/hard copies.

How do you take notes on your commute? I find when I'm driving I can't take notes, any voice note taking app is too cumbersome. I assume your commuting let's you use your hands though.

Not available in my country(Romania). Guess I'll stick to TTS reading of epub/PDF version of them (I enjoy the Google TTS to avoid cognitive ease bias).

This app is awesome!

Mom, is that you?

lol, appreciate that, thank you for trying it.

I was actually looking for something like this, it's a shame I can't install it. It says that it's incompatible with my Note 8.

Sorry about that, tried to hit as many devices as possible. Cross platform App development turns out to be really hard, especially the behavior on different devices.

It would be nice if the Android sign up/log in forms allowed password paste, for use with a password manager.

The one thing I wanted to find on your site I could not find: a sample audio generated from an article.

Maybe I know too many physics grad students who self-consciously model themselves on him, but wouldn't recommend the Feynmann books to young people. It's too easy to end up as a pile of somebody else's quirks without his unique brilliance and humanity. Wait to read Feynmann until you have a fully formed ego.

I read the Feynman books as a young person (middle school?) and I came away with a different and very positive impression. What inspired me about him was his insatiable curiosity and how that was expressed. As a kid, the silly stories are funny, and they have a certain appeal just for that, but they are stories in which the protagonist is a curious, brilliant, child-like scientist, which is something to aspire to. That didn't lead to any later attempt to model my own behavior on him as a physics student, and I can't think of examples of people that I saw that had done that.

The same could generally be said about anyone under 25 and philosophy books. Read the literature classics, sure (they're about philosophy and politics too), but reading treatises on someone else's hard-won idiosyncratic view of the world without the emotional barriers and critical filter erected by years of trial and error may just turn the young person into a parrot, or worse, a nihilist without a cause.

As someone who was serially consumed by various philosophers when I was younger, I totally disagree.

Going all in on a philosopher at least once, especially when you're young, is the best way to really appreciate philosophy. It's the difference between understanding what the philosopher thought and understanding what it's like to truly think those thoughts and be immersed in the value system.

I have read philosophy before turning 25 and hence, and I both agree and disagree with this advice. On the one hand, I’ve certainly had my fair share of realizations of how daft I was when I read the works when I was younger and how quick I was to adopt the ideas of others without really understanding them. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be able to contend with a vast number of texts that I do now without the background and terminology I absorbed by being a bit arrogant and tackling some of the works that I had when I was younger.

In general, you can bolster your defenses against unwitting influence if you have a good teacher guiding you and reminding you to be critical. This is more or less the point of dialectic.

Your last advice is critical, but I've seen people fall into voids and make twitch decisions and statements about important things in their lives with consequences spanning years, because they have a philosopher's aura around their fledgling heads. Besides, we can still be plenty arrogant at 25, 30 and 40 but with a bit more consistency.

Out of curiosity, what would a nihilist with a cause look like?

I know, I know, but a cause could be just sustained senseless but concrete suffering, as opposed to imagined sorrow.

I see your point on holding some space for self-exploration before we cargo cult other's beliefs as our own. A couple counter-thoughts: (1) There is no forming of ego without external influence. I'd much prefer a younger person be influenced by the enthusiasm for life of Feynmann when compared to the thousands of other options. I imagine influence to be a zero-sum game. Better to have it add up to enthusiasm. (2) We see different aspects of a book at different points in our lives. We hear only the questions to which we are capable of finding an answer (partial quote of FN). Rereading books that influence our younger years is a form of self-discovery.

Cargo culting Feynman's beliefs would be ironic indeed. :)

That makes sense. However (and this is just my isolated experience) I found some good teachings in Feynman in my teens/early 20s without really ending up mimicking his style or behaviors. Some anecdotes in Surely You're Joking were comforting--for example, that you can pick up new skills very late into adulthood that are typically thought of as only accessible by starting early, if you approach them with curiosity.

And some were politically inspiring: with the Challenger disaster, he was an outside mind investigating a systemic problem where people's incentives were en masse preventing them from seeing an ossified power structure. At least that's how he described it, and I'm convinced the lesson was valuable even if it was more complex than that.

Could you elaborate on how people model themselves on him ? I have never read Feynmann. I am in university right now and was going to pick up one of his books soon.

He was anti-authoritarian to the core, a prankster, and undeniably brilliant. But copying the first two doesn't make you the third. Picking locks and doing physics problems at the strip club won't help you become the next Feynmann. He could get away with that stuff because he was uniquely brilliant. Also, being obviously-smarter-than-you is tiresome, even in people who can legitimately cop that attitude. Feynmann himself got on people's nerves sometimes, but we should also remember that his cheeky anecdotes aren't all there was to the man, and he had a lot of good working relationships.

I'm curious how much that has to do with being around students as much as Feynmann's influence.

> Picking locks and doing physics problems at the strip club won't help you become the next Feynmann.

Those also sound a lot like stereotypes of the smart wannabe-cool (or wannabe-smart cool?) people in films and TV. Just look at the awful stereotypes of smug-smarter-than-all young guy in Goodwill Hunting for example. Or any movie where people write equations on glass with a marker.

That said, I'm not around physics grads much so I'm not expert. Although the one physics grad I know well fits into your categorization well. Nothing worse than a "quirky intellectual" without the intellectual part down.

If that's all the people you are referring to took from his books there was probably no hope for them anyway, at least at that stage in their life - it does sound like it's just immaturity you are talking about.

I think there are some good lessons for a young person in his playful curiosity about the world & the anti-authority message was mostly about not taking things for granted & not to be afraid to push further for a more complete answer and question things just because they have always been done a certain way.

another good reason is that he sexually harassed a lot of women and is a bad role model in at least that one very important way, so it should be read pretty critically.

One of the great books I am currently reading is Meditations* by Marcus Aurelius. This book reminds me time and again not to worry about things that I don't control and only focus on things that I can. This book introduces Stoic philosophy and I am surprised it is not that popular among Tech community (rarely being mentioned in Best Books HN posts).

*There are many translations of this book and the one I feel is easy to read is the one by Gregory Hays: https://www.amazon.com/Meditations-New-Translation-Marcus-Au...

I can’t recommend this book enough.

I wish this place was a bit more hospitable to literary fiction.

It can be, depending on the particular thread. I'll speak for myself, but I find it incredibly difficult to read technical/business/pop-nonfic/etc. books in my free time. After a long day programming the last thing I want to do is read the literary equivalent of a TED talk. My bookshelf is a place where the "red dragon" Compilers book can peacefully coexist with Cannery Row--it's just that, more often that not, I reach for the fiction.

I used to be vehemtly against self help/business books but the podcast Bookworms helped me find some valuable ones. The hosts go through a book and summarize or talk about it.

But in general I agree - I don’t want to read about I can be more “efficient” at work during my leisure time. I’d rather read a novel or history book.

Do you have the website? Get different results searching for Bookworms podcasts

Bookworm.fm - was singular rather than plural. Disclaimer is that both authors are self employed-ish and busier than most regular office workers are.

I wish I was like that. I have the opposite problem - I have great difficulty reading fiction, and all the nonfiction I read consists of math textbooks and papers.

I used to love reading novels when I was younger. I read them voraciously. These days I find it incredibly hard to sit down and read novels, even when they're "good".

I try to specialize in American authors--but If you want a random selection of my favorites to recommend in order to understand this modern era of America, I present these three:

J.R. - William Gaddis (1975)

(A very nice blog post on it here: https://biblioklept.org/2012/02/09/i-riff-again-on-william-g...)

J R, ambitious sixth-grader in torn sneakers, bred on the challenge of "free enterprise" and fired up by heady mail-order promises of "success." His teachers would rather be elsewhere, his principal doubles as a bank president, his Long Island classroom mirrors the world he sees around him -- a world of public relations and private betrayals where everything (and everyone) wears a price tag, a world of "deals" where honesty is no substitute for experience, and the letter of the law flouts its spirit at every turn.

Operating from the remote anonymity of phone booths and the local post office, with beachheads in a seedy New York cafeteria and a catastrophic, carton-crammed tenement on East 96th Street, J R parlays a deal for thousands of surplus Navy picnic forks through penny stock flyers and a distant textile-mill bankruptcy into a nationwide, hydra-headed "family of companies."

Bleeding Edge - Thomas Pynchon (2013)

It deals with government paranoia, conspiracy theories for 9/11, It uses Computer and ‘deepweb’ Internet as the framing device for the novel—which is why I bring it up in this context. It somehow fits fairly nicely into the political thriller genre, while addressing modern concerns.

Don Delillo - White Noise (1985)

While Jack Gladney is an intellectual academic, an expert in the unlikely field of “Hitler studies” (and something of a fraud, to boot), he’s also a pretty normal dad. Casual reviewers of White Noise tend to overlook the sublime banality of domesticity represented in DeLillo’s signature novel: Gladney is an excellent father to his many kids and step-kids, and DeLillo draws their relationships with a realism that belies–and perhaps helps to create–the novel’s satirical bent.

[Some other random american novels I find excellent/significant]

Crossing to Safety - William Gaddis

Chronic City - Jonathan Lethem

Latro in the Mist - Gene Wolfe

Arcadia (Play) - Tom Stoppard

The Last Picture Show & Texasville - Larry McMurtry [Read both]

The Blithdale Romance - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy

The Crossing - Cormac McCarthy

^One of the most interesting novels touching on Southwestern United States. The First chapter regarding the Wolf is one of the most uniquely environmental sections I've seen by prominant American authors. Admittedly, I'm a bit biased in this regard.

A Scanner Darkly - Phillip K Dick

Good list. Nit: Crossing to Safety is Wallace Stegner

Whoopsies, apparently Gaddis has been on my mind lately!

Thanks for the recommendations. 'White Noise' definitely resonated during the time I read it. The white noise of anxiety sounded loudly.

Finished 'The Recognitions' a couple of weeks ago and will definitely get into 'J.R.' soon. I hear it's almost all dialog.

Of the Pynchon I've read, I find there's almost a recursive structure to his sentences/paragraphs...paragraph-sentences. Made 'Gravity's Rainbow' a bit of a challenge, for me. Though, 'Inherent Vice' was a bit easier to digest. 'Bleeding Edge' has been on my radar and the themes seem right up my alley, so it'll be read within the next couple of years for sure.

If you managed to read the Recognitions, J.R. will be a piece of cake and will reward you very well.

Besides being long, I didn't find "The Recognitions" exceedingly difficult. I was occasionally lost as to which character was speaking/being described, but the characters were mostly distinct enough to reason out. Pynchon's penchant for stringing along train-of-thought can be a bit more challenging. But, I definitely felt some proto-Pynchon vibes with Gaddis' writing.

That's a good assessment. I think my difficulty stemmed more from knowing that my Father could extract quite a bit from the text--especially since he is the son of a pastor/read the KJB at age 4 and could quote scripture to me seemingly at random. He is also the most interested out of my social group in art history, and is an english professor. Right up his alley!

In particular this set of points hits J.R.'s relevance to modern america (https://biblioklept.org/2012/01/23/i-riff-on-william-gaddiss...):

3. What is J R about? Money. Capitalism. Art. Education. Desperate people. America.

4. The question posed in #3 is a fair question, but probably not the right question, or at least not the right first question about J R. Instead—What is the form of J R—How is J R?

5. A simple answer is that the novel is almost entirely dialog, usually unattributed (although made clear once one learns the reading rules for J R). These episodes of dialogue are couched in brief, pristine, precise, concrete—yet poetic—descriptions of setting. Otherwise, no exposition. Reminiscent of a movie script, almost.

6. A more complex answer: J R, overstuffed with voices, characters (shadows and doubles), and motifs, is an opera, or a riff on an opera, at least.

7. A few of the motifs in J R: paper, shoes, opera, T.V. equipment, entropy, chaos, novels, failure, frustration, mechanization, noise, hunting, war, music, commercials, trains, eruptions of nonconformity, advertising, the rotten shallowness of modern life . . .

8. Okay, so maybe that list of motifs dipped into themes. It’s certainly incomplete (but my reading of J R is incomplete, so . . .)

9. Well hang on so what’s it about? What happens?—This is a hard question to answer even though there are plenty of concrete answers. A little more riffage then—

10. Our eponymous hero, snot-nosed JR (of the sixth grade) amasses a paper fortune by trading cheap stocks. He does this from a payphone (that he engineers to have installed!) in school.

11. JR’s unwilling agent—his emissary into the adult world—is Edward Bast, a struggling young composer who is fired from his teaching position at JR’s school after going (quite literally) off script during a lesson.

12. Echoes of Bast: Thomas Eigen, struggling writer. Jack Gibbs, struggling writer human. Gibbs, a frustrated, exasperated, alcoholic intellectual is perhaps the soul of the book. (Or at least my favorite character).

13. Characters in J R tend to be frustrated or oblivious. The oblivious characters tend to be rich and powerful; the frustrated tend to be artistic and intellectual.

14. Hence, satire: J R is very, very funny.

15. J R was published over 35 years ago, but its take on Wall Street, greed, the mechanization of education, the marginalization of art in society, and the increasing anti-intellectualism in America is more relevant than ever.

16. So, even when J R is funny, it’s also deeply sad.

18. Young JR is a fascinating study, an innocent of sorts who attempts to navigate the ridiculous rules of his society. He is immature; he lacks human experience (he’s only 11, after all), and, like most young children, lacks empathy or foresight. He’s the perfect predatory capitalist.

19. All the love (whether familial or romantic or sexual) in J R (thus far, anyway) is frustrated, blocked, barred, delayed, interrupted . . .

20. I’m particularly fascinated by the scenes in JR’s school, particularly the ones involving Principal Whiteback, who, in addition to his educational duties, is also president of a local bank. Whiteback is a consummate yes man; he babbles out in an unending stammer of doubletalk; he’s a fount of delicious ironic humor. Sadly though, he’s also absolutely real, the kind of educational administrator who thinks a school should be run like a corporation.

The world in general doesn't think much of literary fiction. If it did, then it would just be called fiction.

Yes, you can learn more from Moby Dick than 90% of the books on this list.

Additionally, Melville's "Confidence-Man" might best describe the past couple of years... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Confidence-Man

For those interested, the pdf of the datacenter book is freely available on the publisher's site: https://www.morganclaypool.com/doi/10.2200/S00874ED3V01Y2018...

I don’t understand why people recommend books like “a programmers introduction to mathematics”.

They’re advertised as books for “programmers” or people that know little math, yet they hide solutions from the reader.

The reader that doesn’t know proper proofs or deep mathematics likely isn’t the same ones that know if their solutions are correct.

Programmers like to write code with test cases. We don’t like to write code once and trust there are no bugs. So, why would we want to write mathematics any differently? How is a beginner math student even going to know if their answers are correct? I’m sure someone reading this will say “you’re robbing the reader” if you provide solutions. I don’t agree with that. That’s a bit of gatekeeping because not everyone has access to a TA or professor and we’d really like to learn this stuff and know if we’re on the right track.

Are there any actual math text with solutions that are better than the one advertised in this list?

There’s no profound reason why authors don’t typically include solutions. It’s not gatekeeping and it’s not to appeal to an idealistic sense of the Right Way to learn mathematics.

The real reason is twofold:

1. Authors write textbooks for universities and professors, not students. They write for the academic paradigm they’re familiar with, in which the professor is primarily teaching a student. The textbook is simply used to arrange a course, and professors would rather not have solutions available in the textbook.

2. Authors don’t earn much money from textbooks and textbooks aren’t weighed very heavily for tenure. There isn’t much of an incentive for them to write textbooks with solutions for the reason stated above, and it’s actually significantly more work to include solutions to your exercises.

To put it very bluntly, there are extremely few non-students in the market for math textbooks, which is already a high-effort and low-return market for authors as it is. To get such a textbook you’d need someone who: knows the material extremely well, is very good at exposition, has a lot of time to invest in this as a passion project and doesn’t mind if it’s not used much or at all in well-known universities.

This! I completely agree! Also who cares if the solutions are online? If the professors want to use the book in classrooms then they should come up with their own exercises instead of basically stealing the book's questions.

I completely agree that any book with exercises without solutions is completely useless. I didn't even have access to professors or any teaching assistants even DURING my undergraduate years. So the assumption that you can discuss the questions with your professor doesn't even hold water.

> If the professors want to use the book in classrooms then they should come up with their own exercises instead of basically stealing the book's questions.

I always wondered why there weren't supplement books/websites of practice problems that were separate from the text book. Seems like an easy way to make money. I guess because it makes it harder to pass on to the students.

There are! Some books have “solution manuals” or “companions” with worked solutions to a subset of the problems. There are also those big compendia of “5000 problems in linear algebra” or whatever.

It’s true that these are most common for big, intro-to-intermediate classes, and less common elsewhere, but there are a lot kicking around....

There are a lot of "problem books" where I live in Bulgaria.

    > So, why would we want to write mathematics any differently?
I think you're stretching the unit-test-to-mathematics analogy a little too far.

I haven't looked at the book in question, but generally, you don't just "know if" your solution is correct, you prove it, or at least consider examples that can demonstrate if your solution works in some conceivable cases. That's how "unit tests" work in mathematics.

If the book has armed you with enough knowledge to work though a problem to the end, it has done it's job. The real test will come as you build on that knowledge later on in the book or in real-life applications.

Moreover, it's not like this stuff is obscure knowledge. You can find help online or by looking at other books or connecting with others.

As I read it, the point is not about using unit tests to verify correctness, but as an interactive means of learning the problem inside and out prior to finding a complete solution. The trick is in learning what you don't know, and one can do that faster with regular feedback. There does seem to be a delicate balance between letting a student "stew" for a bit to really learn how to find and be confident in solutions, and preventing the student from heading down a wrong course. Books can never provide real feedback, I suppose, but it's a nice option to have solutions available even if students must be trusted to independently exhaust the available resources for attaining them first. Often having the solution is at least helpful as a "sanity check" when it comes to mathematics - I feel it is all too easy for beginners to make proofs on hidden and untenable assumptions and not necessarily realize it.

The point isn’t we need to do formal verification to test correctness. It’s that you probably wouldn’t write a program first pass and assume it is but free. So, why would you assume beginners that don’t know how to write proofs would write correct proofs without feedback to check?

Absolute beginners may not able to write an actual proof that their answer is correct, but at least they can verify that it satisfies the problem (depending on the actual problem).

In any case, since the study of mathematics is cumulative. Even if the student can't prove or verify that their answer to a specific problem is correct they will eventually reach a point, often within the same problem-set, where inability to solve a problem will force them to encounter their gaps/misconceptions.

The most important thing in a mathematics text, as with any other text, is lucidity of writing and the preparation of the student.

The issue isn’t just that the person can’t write a valid proof, but that the person thinks they have a valid proof, but it is actually invalid and they don’t have feedback to know it.

I recognize math as a source of useful ideas. I want a high level overview of what math can do, so that I may draw ideas and solutions from it as needed. I find that many proofs are intuitive, although I can't prove them myself; that's OK, I am happy with my fuzzy and fallible intuition here, and it serves me well enough. This is not unlike mathmeticians who often suspect something is true before proving it.

Test cases are not proofs. I don't want to write mathematics, I want to write code and maybe draw some fuzzy and fallible human inspiration from mathematics.

The author seems to have taken this desire into consideration too but I don't think he has figured out the way he wants to solve it.

I did find this: https://github.com/pim-book/exercises but it doesn't seem to have taken hold quite yet. Maybe if you and others are so inclined, a nice community effort can solve this issue together and maybe that interactive discussion helps mediate some of the other reasons people give for not providing the solutions up front.

Seeing a correct proof may or may not help you understand whether your proof is correct. What you're asking for is more like code review, not something you can package with a book.

Disagree. Some proofs are very straightforward and standard. Those are easily checkable with a solution guide.

Yes, some are straightforward. Most are not. For example, suppose a student shows that T: V --> W is bijective and linear on the way to proving a solution to an exercise. The textbook solution shows dim(V) = dim(W) and T is injective instead. Another student shows that dim(V) = dim(W) and T is surjective, and still another student simply uses the rank-nullity theorem directly

All of these solutions are equivalent (or at least, may be if there are no other mistakes). There are probably other equivalent formulations that I can't immediately think of. But each of these students may see the solution and not realize that they're equivalent. Or worse, they may understand the equivalence of the foregoing statements but make a critical flaw elsewhere in the proof, and still think they have the correct solution.

I'm not arguing against solutions in textbooks. I'm just saying that for most proof-based mathematics they wouldn't be useful as solution checkers.

Yes, which is why you include "several proofs of this could include..."

Sure. But now you're talking about half a page to a full page of solution commentary for each exercise. Math textbooks at the upper-undergrad and grad level usually have 10-20 exercises per chapter. Those exercises will usually require a student to fill out a quarter to a half page for any correct solution. Even if an author was decidedly economical in how they did it, writing comprehensive solutions for each exercise would constitute another book's worth of material.

Can it be done? Yes, absolutely. It is likely to be done? Almost certainly not. This is why we have solutions books - you can usually write a full book consisting only of solutions to another book's exercises.

When you hit upon a proof like that, you know it. If you're struggling and need feedback, then your solution is probably more complicated than the elegant one in the book, and the question you're asking is, okay, my solution isn't great, but is it even a solution?

There's a reason these books declare some level of "mathematical maturity" as a prerequisite. By the time you get to certain content you have to either be comfortable checking a proof (maybe set it aside for a few days like you would any other writing) or have human help.

Think you missed my entire point of including solutions for the beginner, i.e., someone that lacks math maturity and the reasoning of how easily such a person could fool themselves into thinking their thought process is valid.

Someone who is a beginner will be working on easy material with a textbook that has very mild expectations of "mathematical maturity." Textbooks mostly (with a few intentional exceptions) calibrate the mathematical maturity they require according to how much work a student will have done in order to be ready to tackle the book's subject matter. Some people might think they can be ready to do problem sets in an advanced math textbook while skipping the work that would have given them the maturity it requires, but they are kidding themselves. They can't advance on the spectator track and then make a horizontal move over to actually doing the math. There's nothing wrong with people passively reading the material if they enjoy it, but if they want to tackle the problems, they are going to have to work through the earlier material by solving problems as well, and if they do that, they'll find that their sophistication increases along with the demands on it.

The way you were arguing makes it sound like you are against beginners having access to solutions, or that you completely misunderstood my initial argument. I am not arguing about anything other than that. If you want to address that in particular sure. I am not saying anything about people skipping material and getting bitten by it later.

Even the first textbooks that start introducing abstract math and developing mathematical maturity in beginning college students often (usually?) have problem sets without solutions, and I'm defending that. I think it's better than providing solutions, even for people working alone.

Of course it isn't ideal to work alone; it's helpful to have other people to point out errors in your proofs and to present their own proofs to you. I just don't think providing solutions helps at all in that way. What gives you the best approximation of that experience is spending a long time working on problems. Sometimes you'll realize you've proved something false and have to debug your own proof, so you'll be collaborating with yourself. Solutions will only make it harder for you to force yourself to have those experiences.

I've seen book authors talking about solutions to their book. And the two most talked about reasons are 1. Morale Stuff 2. If they provide their solutions online then the Book will not get adapted by professors.

I understand but sometimes there are books targeted for the “self-learner” that provide 0 solutions and are the type of books that save off major theorems to be proven in the exercises.

That’s completely fine. Don’t advertise the books for self-learners or “programmers”.

I would like to see actual books targeted at these demographics that provide solutions and aren’t concerned about being adapted in a classroom.

There is a market for those that graduated university a long time ago and would like to learn math outside of a classroom.

These sort of people don’t want to see solutions because they have to turn their work in for a grade, but because they want to check their work and get feedback. Outside of having to consult with TAs or professors they don’t have access to.

There ought to be (and probably are!) analogues of StackExchange or MathOverflow where people can post and discuss solutions for problems in specific books. Would be interesting to know about existing options.

Mathematics is a very broad topic. Which part are you interested in?

Any books in: Introduction to proofs, Abstract algebra, Topology, Linear algebra

For abstract algebra, take a look at Pinter's "A Book of Abstract Algebra" [1]. It's a Dover republication, so is not expensive. It has a lot of exercises...in many chapters more than half the pages are exercises.

It does not provide answers to every exercise--maybe 10% tops--but a lot of the exercises are small and should not be any problem. These are often in a group, where he takes something that would be one hard exercise in another book and breaks it down almost to the level it would be if were part of the main text, leaving just small thing for you to fill in as exercises.

There are a few recurring themes throughout the exercises, where he applies the material of the chapter to some specific application in several exercises (e.g., error correcting codes if I recall correctly), and subsequent chapters continue with those themes in their exercises.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Book-Abstract-Algebra-Second-Mathemat...

I liked the Better Explained books, particularly for Calculus, as it really explained the "why"

For Linear Algebra, "Linear Algebra Done Right" -- way better than my college lin alg course.

For "general mathematics", I like books that read almost like novels to really grasp the "why" of mathematics, so these are more to embellish your general understanding of "what is the point" type questions -- so things here like Euclid's Window come to mind, and "An Imaginary Tale: The story of square root minus one" will help explain complex numbers in more detail than you ever cared. Reading about the history of mathematics and the writings of some of the greats, like Rene Descartes, Lehonard Euler, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Issac Newton (the amazing thing is all these greats lived within a century of each other)

For linear algebra I'll suggest Jim heffron's book. He provides solutions to questions also


We do have theorem checker and proof assistants these days. Are there books to learn math with Isabelle or Coq?

Not really, because it's extremely nontrivial to formally verify the proofs of most theorems.

You clearly haven’t read the book or even clicked on the link. It’s written by Jeremy Kun, a fantastic math professor who’s written several excellent posts on his blog on how to intuitively grasp mathematical concepts.

Every time there is a post here about a mathematics book, or even only only tangentially connected (as here), someone complains about the lack of solutions to exercises.

I definitely sympathize with your position. But I think a few things are worth pointing out.

Firstly, it's useful to remember that the purpose of a mathematics book is to teach mathematics, and conversely the purpose of studying one is to learn mathematics, not to solve its exercises. That is, the exercises are not a goal in themselves — they are an additional gift offered by the author in addition to the mathematical content. (Many famous mathematical books don't even have exercises... writing a book is already a lot of effort, coming up with good exercises is additional work, and including solutions is a bit more on top of that.) Moreover, even if a book has exercises, they are never enough, and it is the reader's job to make up many more of their own. (I think readers' giving so much weight to exercises that happen to be written in the book come from school/college mathematics education and testing.)

[1]: https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/56739/why-dont-...

[2]: https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/57889/hardy-wrights... ("A random sample of 10 maths books I have handy shows that 4 doesn't have exercises.")

[3]: https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~abhishek/chicmath.htm (search for "no exercises")

To put it in programming terms: the exercises are the tests, the way to verify that your understanding of the mathematics has no bugs in it. If you're trying to verify that your solutions to exercises are correct, you're in a position akin to writing tests for your tests: it can be useful, but it's a second-order concern. Just as tests should be as “dumb” and “obvious” as possible, if there's any doubt at all that you've solved an exercise correctly, that itself is an indication that your understanding of the mathematics isn't complete, and you need to go back and engage with the material (think deeply, write your own exercises/tests, etc) until it becomes obvious. Of course this takes a lot more effort than plowing through exercises and verifying one's solutions.

Programmers have another advantage over other mathematics students: you can test your understanding of the mathematics by writing actual programs. For example, if you're reading an elementary number theory book and learn about the Chinese Remainder Theorem, you can write an actual program/function for finding solutions to a system of modular congruences. As computers require a level of precision greater than human readers, this will force your understanding to become really sharp, as you have to deal with all the corner cases as well. (No doubt there are areas of mathematics for which this is hard to do, but most of the undergraduate curriculum can fit, and if you find something that's hard then maybe making it “programmable” can be your unique contribution.)

All that said, it's definitely comforting to have solutions to exercises: there's a boost in motivation from being told that your answer is correct and you can progress to the next section, and though there's a cost here (if you needed to be told your solution is correct then maybe you should actually spend more time understanding the mathematics instead of going to the next section — but then again maybe not everyone really wants to understand the mathematics that well), I think that's probably the main thing that's missed when books don't have solutions. As a self-learner, motivation is most of the challenge, and solutions can definitely help there.


Personally, if I look back at books I went through a good fraction of as a self-learner (and loved), there's an even mix:

Concrete Mathematics and Generatingfunctionology have complete solutions.

• Burton's Elementary Number Theory has “Hints”, and “Answers” to selected exercises (i.e. those where the answer was a number, not a proof — these are not much work for an author to include).

The Art of Computer Programming (obviously I've read only a tiny bit of it) has problem ratings and sometimes very terse solutions / outlines of solutions.

• Uspensky and Heaslet's Elementary Number Theory (which I read before Burton) and Analytic Combinatorics have no solutions at all.

I don't think solutions to exercises have made a substantial difference in my engagement with these books, but who knows.

I disagree with the notion that if you question your solution then your solution isn’t correct.

A beginner could easily fool herself onto thinking she has correct understanding, but actually her proof is buggy. Without feedback, she wouldn’t know.

I agree. Among other things, I'm pointing out the opposite risk: a beginner may come up with a correct solution to the exercise, check from the book's provided solutions that her solution is correct, and move on to the next section, fooling herself into thinking that she has sufficient understanding (hey, she solved the exercise correctly!), not realizing that “not needing to look at the solutions” and “coming up with (or finding from other sources) lots more exercises” is part of the task of understanding.

BTW, I didn't mention this earlier, but for verifying solutions to exercises which ask to prove something, I've never found it useful to see a solution that is simply a proof. The only way to get more confidence that you've proved something correctly is to find someone adversarial (e.g. a friend with similar or greater mathematical maturity) and try to prove it to them while they keep say “why” or “I'm not convinced”. (A proof is a social process; you cannot get feedback on your proof from a static, non-interactive source like a book.) One's proof may be superficially similar to what's in the book and yet not be a proof, while it can be very different and still be fine.

What provided proofs can help with is getting you unstuck when you've been unsuccessful at proving something. So they help with frustration and motivation, as I mentioned earlier (feedback not so much).

When you’re doing basic proofs, showing solutions are often simple enough for unconfused verification. There are often standard ways to go about proofs, solutions could provide those standard solutions with sufficient detail written out.

I haven't read this particular book, but if the text includes several examples of detailed proofs, I might be okay with not having access to solutions.

Every time there is a post here about a mathematics book, or even only only tangentially connected (as here), someone complains about the lack of solutions to exercises.

There's probably a reason for that. It might be good if people made a sincere effort to actually understand that reason, instead of just dismissing it and trying to explain it away.

Programmers have another advantage over other mathematics students: you can test your understanding of the mathematics by writing actual programs. For example, if you're reading an elementary number theory book and learn about the Chinese Remainder Theorem, you can write an actual program/function for finding solutions to a system of modular congruences.

Agreed. But I personally don't find that to be sufficient justification for not including solutions to exercises. But at least those of us who are programmers do have this option to help supplement our understanding.

All that said, it's definitely comforting to have solutions to exercises: there's a boost in motivation from being told that your answer is correct and you can progress to the next section

I guess everybody approaches this different, but for me, it's not a question of comfort or motivation... I'm literally blocked from proceeding to the next section until I know I understand the current section. I mean, yeah, it's a self-imposed limitation, but it's no less real as a result.

Of course, at the end of the day, it's always possible to make progress, because you can check your answer other ways (using math.se, /r/cheatatmathhomework, the physicsforums.com boards, etc.) but for my money, a good textbook is one which provides solutions, or for which a solutions manual is available (to students, not just to teachers).

I guess when it comes to mathematics books we can distinguish between several levels:

• Level 1: You're not seeking much understanding, just reading the book like a novel, maybe glancing at the exercises and trying to solve one here or there. (As we're talking about solutions to exercises, we can ignore this demographic for purposes of this discussion.)

• Level 2: You're seeking some amount of understanding, the kind that would be enough to pass a test. You read through the theorems, then you try each exercise (or most of them), want to be sure you've got it right and could solve it again in a test, etc. Most of the “work” (the kind with pencil and paper) you do with any section, you do when you're solving the exercises.

• Level 3: You're trying to really understand the mathematics, not just what would be enough to get an A if you'd been taking it in a classroom somewhere. You read the book carefully, you treat every theorem as an exercise (i.e. try to prove it yourself before reading the proof given in the book), ask lots of questions (see the Halmos quote starting with “Don't just read it; fight it!”), try lots of examples and counterexamples. Conversely you may even ignore the details of a proof that's written out in the book, if you have one of your own and can see at a glance that there's nothing mathematically interesting going on in what's in the book. Or you may read the book's sections in a different order, after getting a feel for what it's trying to do (see Thurston's quote about “the best psychological order”: https://books.google.com/books?id=5irlDQAAQBAJ&pg=PR9). Either way, by the time you reach the part labelled “exercises”, you've filled up more pages of paper than you will by working through all the exercises. And despite all this, there may still be parts that you realize you only half-understand (or not at all), but you're excited and want to read ahead anyway and know you'll come back to this.

Part of “mathematical maturity” is going from 1 to 2 to 3. Of course, we're all at different levels when it comes to different areas of mathematics, and different life situations. (Frankly for many areas of mathematics I'm at level 0, actively trying to avoid reading anything about it because I find it so painful.)

Anyway, to talk more concretely, when it comes to exercises, there are two kinds:

• those that ask you to find or compute an answer, something which satisfies some equation(s) or inequalities or some property or whatever. These are the “hard to find but easy to verify” kind, and can have one-line answers at the back of the book, and frankly there's no reason authors shouldn't include them.

• those that ask you to prove something. Here a solution given in the book can show you one way to prove it, and can be extremely useful when you're stuck and frustrated that you cannot solve the exercise and would really like to do so before you proceed. (So I always appreciate one when it's present.) What it cannot do in general is give you feedback on whether your proof is correct: there can be many ways of proving the same thing, and many incorrect ways that look very similar to what the book may have.


> it's not a question of comfort or motivation... I'm literally blocked from proceeding to the next section until I know I understand the current section. I mean, yeah, it's a self-imposed limitation, but it's no less real as a result.

My two comments to that are: Firstly, reminding oneself that the goal really is “I know I understand the current section”, not “I know my solution to this exercise is correct” — if you have doubts about the latter then almost certainly the answer to the former is no, you don't yet understand the current section (even if you can solve all the exercises) and would benefit from more time spent on it. But secondly, the opposite: from http://pi.math.cornell.edu/~hubbard/readingmath.pdf

> This may contradict what you have been told—that mathematics is sequential, and that you must understand each sentence before going on to the next. In reality, although mathematical writing is necessarily sequential, mathematical understanding is not: you (and the experts) never understand perfectly up to some point and not at all beyond. The “beyond,” where understanding is only partial, is an essential part of the motivation and the conceptual background of the “here and now.” You may often (perhaps usually) find that when you return to something you left half-understood, it will have become clear in the light of the further things you have studied, even though the further things are themselves obscure. Many students are very uncomfortable in this state of partial understanding, like a beginning rock climber who wants to be in stable equilibrium at all times. To learn effectively one must be willing to leave the cocoon of equilibrium. So if you don’t understand something perfectly, go on ahead and then circle back.

I like your levels classification. I would say that for most areas of math, my goals fall closer to your "Level 2" than anything else. I don't want to be a mathematician, but I need to understand certain areas of math well enough to read papers / books that use that area of math. For example, ML papers that use calculus, probability, linear algebra, convex optimization, etc.

For what my goals are, I don't necessarily need to get to level 3 (although I might like to if I had infinite time available to indulge in every hobby/interest that I have).

Anyway, my feeling is that exercise solutions are very useful up to, or just around, what you call "level 2." And I expect that a lot of other HN users making this same complaint about solutions, are probably also working at or near that same level. For getting to level 3, I would agree with you that solutions are less useful (although even there I expect they would have some value, at least for self-learners).

It really is a different thing when you're trying to learn this stuff on your own, instead of being in the context of a classroom where you have an instructor and/or TA's that you can get to check your answers. For those of us in that mode, anything that adds friction to the process is extremely frustrating, at least from my subjective perspective.

This may contradict what you have been told—that mathematics is sequential, and that you must understand each sentence before going on to the next. In reality, although mathematical writing is necessarily sequential, mathematical understanding is not: you (and the experts) never understand perfectly up to some point and not at all beyond.

I expect this is another of those things where it kinda depends on where you are. Getting up to and through, say, Multi-Variable Calculus does seem to depend on a lot of earlier subjects that depend on earlier things, in a roughly sequential stream. But beyond that, I can see that things start to diverge and become not-strictly-sequential.

Is there a HN Goodreads collection, or similar? Lots of lists like this (inc. my own: https://www.productgems.io/library/) but would love to see something centralised when in search of a new book to read (that's not a generic top 10).

This website has a list of books talked about on HN: https://hackernewsbooks.com

I really like theirs newsletter, helps me to notice interesting topics I have missed and over the time highlights books that appear as recommended. That's how I finally started reading "Why we sleep", which I thought will be boring but is very entertaining.

Another functional equivalent: https://toptalkedbooks.com/hackernews

I personally find Hacker News Books to be easier on the eyes.

This one also lets you look at Stack Overflow and Reddit mentions.

I once found this, but it's quite dead.


Maybe if enough people like it, it'll get some activity. :)

I really want - and am thinking about making - an extension that adds HN comments to Goodreads books.

Whenever I read a book thread on HN I end up adding most of the books to my reading list on goodreads. But a year later, I don't remember why I've added the book and all I have to go on is the Goodreads rating and goodreads comments.

These aren't that bad, but if the book has been on a HN book thread, I would much rather see a one sentence comment from HN that reads: "I loved this book, you should read it right now." Instead of any other comments from normal Goodreads users.

How else is it possible to even begin parsing a thread like this? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17980964

Please test your site on mobile. The divs containing individual books are too narrow to read on my iPhone 6.

> The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change: Every single book list should include Camille’s book. It is a great read for managers and non-managers and has given me the tools for knowing what is normal and what is not.

Ugh.. no. If there was a book I read this year which read as if it was written for the sake of writing a book, it was 'The Manager's Path'. It was a series of insipid blog posts consisting of frequent itemizations of 'truths'. So many repetitions that I legit thought I mis-touched my kindle when turning pages a couple of times as I felt I read the same paragraph twice across a couple of chapters. Looking at the table of contents it looks as if it's fairly organized but when you're reading it, it's mostly all over the place. Also, if you spent more than a couple of years in the industry nothing in the book should be a surprise.

I was so hyped before reading the book as literally everyone recommended it but honestly it fell short for a generic non-fiction read.

I disagree. I found the book enlightening as I was experiencing growing pains moving to a more senior role on my team (less time for getting things done, more time helping others, etc) and this book helped me realize that it was to be expected.

That may be obvious for others, but it wasn't for me.

I'm glad you found value in reading it, I truly do. And I am well aware I'm not like others. Just wanted to give my 2c about the book.

As someone new to people management, actually, prior to people management but with an interest in the topic, I found it very interesting and useful.

I was not even sure what "IC" meant or what an "engineering manager" might do.

Personally, I found there was lots of actionable advice and a clear "path" for how one might operate in different roles in an organisation.

Almost any non-fiction book could be described as a series of blog posts or articles, so I don't really understand that criticism.

YMMV but I would recommend it.

I recently read Shoe Dogs and boy that was an eye opening experience. I loved it very much that I re read it. You can literally feel the excitement of Phil through his words. Maybe it was because I was doing something similar i.e starting my own thing. But still it's a book, everyone can take away something. 10/10

> I recently read Shoe Dogs

I suspect you're referring to "Shoe Dog" (singular, not plural) by Phil Knight describing the early history of Nike.

It is a fascinating book, indeed.

Yes. My bad. Shoe Dog.

I can’t recommend ‘“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character’ highly enough, a truly brilliant read (or listen) and many years later I find myself thinking back to it frequently.

"Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard" got my attention. Even if it's from 2010, I still find it valuable. I bought it and now it's just me and my kindle :D

Thank you for your book recommendations.

Is there a way to know if "Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception" is based on solid scientific evidence?

In short, no. It is based on the experience of 3 former CIA officers and theories and methodology one of them has developed as a result.

Tangent: are we witnessing the beginning of a new design trend? I feel like every app & website that’s popped up recently is designed in something like a “modern” version of an 8-bit/retro aesthetic. (Hence the terminal-purple & courier font here, but many more examples abound).

I don't see any terminal-purple on this page.

Ooh, nice TTS, sounds good!

+1 for Quiet. Great book.

I’m reading this now, and am about half way thru. I wish I would have read this before Deep Work.

none of her links are affiliate? Am I reading that correctly?

That might the the more shocking thing lol

I would be glad if there was a little information about the author of the blog. I do not know who jess fraz is, why would I bother to see his/her recommendations?

It would be pretty nice for posters to put some additional information about the topic rather than just posting a link.

My logic is in reverse - I look at the list of books to judge whether the person is someone I want to know more about (also irl).

So, the short explanations of why the books are interesting is your introduction to yourself, your overlap (books I already read) is the evaluation material, and the rest of the blog/notes is the thing that it's really being discussed.

What I know about her is that she was a member of the Docker team and now works for Microsoft. She seems like a good professional and is popular among those who are into twitter, blogging and events, but I don't know if there's anything particular remarkable about her (if you are thinking about celebrities such as Ritchie, Linus, Stallman and others).

According to her Twitter that gig at Microsoft already ended.

She also joined GitHub recently and left in couple of weeks.


This is unnecessarily harsh. Sometimes there are circumstances outside of your control. I don't think it's a good idea to judge someone's career when you don't know them.

That means nothing when it comes to ability. It's also pretty standard these days. You don't move up, you move out.

For the same reason that you read hacker news I guess? You don't know who submitted the links and you still read them. So your point is moo (yes moo, not moot, like a cow's opinion). (It seems people really can be offended by anything these days, even by a book recommendation)

Yes, because I believe in the community. I was not stating the blog poster was not worthy, I was simply saying that even a single line of information by the OP would help to everyone. No hard feelings.

Because she is famous (over 100K followers on twitter) ;)

On a more serious note: Because there are some books in this list that at least I've never heard about but sound interesting.

Twitter may be open to all, but it is not representative of the general demographic, even in this industry.

In the grand scheme of things, Twitter fame means little.

I honestly can't even imagine a personality that takes in to account an individuals number of followers when assessing their relevancy. I just can't grok that.

I can't believe someone could read Feynman's sandwich story and still recommend that book.

Feynman's book is definitely super sexist by modern standards. I wasn't around in the 60s and 70s to know if his was the general attitude, or an outlier.

To me, the book is decent for background listening during chores or driving (it is a free audiobook if your library has an associated Hoopla account), but almost all stories boil down to either "I was such a horny guy", or "I used different math tools which allowed me to solve the physics problem", which gets old after a while.

His behaviour was sexist enough to elicit massive protests because he kept sexually harassing his female students. The earliest protests against him were in the 60s.

agreed. part of breaking from the legacy and tradition of massive sexism and misogyny is critically evaluating things that subtly reinforce it (like Feynman's book).

but tech culture is pretty averse to doing that and will insist that it doesn't matter and we can ignore the sexism which is safely "in the past" (as if).

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