Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Top books discussed on Stack Overflow and other Stack Exchange sites (bookinsider.gitlab.io)
170 points by BookInsider 19 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments

This is off-topic at best, but I find it interesting that with certain websites which won't be named, as a college student I have basically unlimited access to all the books, movies, and songs I'll ever want for the rest of my life (or until anti-piracy measures get smarter).

I used to wonder what it'd be like to be a rich celebrity, and be able to buy literally everything you want immediately. And now that I can do that in a few fields of commerce, it's turned out to be not very exciting at all. It's good to know that if a book looks interesting, I can have it, but it's not nearly as exciting as I would have expected it to be. I'd imagine celebrities knowing that they can own any house or car is kind of underwhelming.

And if you compare to anything but a handful of recent decades, you not only can afford to buy pretty much anything that only the very richest have had access to, you can easily buy things that even the richest have hardly even dreamed of. And yes, still most people find their lives pretty underwhelming.

Which is why I am always a little dubious about economic metrics used to compare across decades. Sure you can measure the cost of the average basket of fruit from my local grocery store, but how do you quantify the fact that there is a greater variety of fresh fruits available in that store today than the richest person in the world would have access to a century ago.

The weird part is how obvious this seems. Obviously, the things we have don't make us significantly happier. But if we lived our lives with this simple assumption, our lives would look infinitely different.

Expensive things I own or rent that make me happy:

* Having my own house (no random roommates or bad family members)

* Having a computer and cellphone

* Having a bike

* Having house plants

These things cost money, and also make me happy. I think the key though is to buy and own things that will bring you joy. If maintaining house plants is a chore you’re doing to keep up with trendy design, it won’t bring happiness. If having a house full of greenery helps to you to feel more connected with nature it will bring joy. Figure out the things you own that bring happiness, and don’t buy the rest.

That sounds just like me. I wonder if you buy apps. There is so much value for me in cell phones (hm, or rather small computers), that i feel, even if it seems like i do not spend too much, that i get a huge bargain with these small devices: weather, nav, music, video, news, chat, photo, etcetc...

>if you compare to anything but a handful of recent decades, you not only can afford to buy pretty much anything that only the very richest have had access to

What are you thinking of here?

No idea what OP was thinking of, but it's easy to think of examples.

Any kind of air travel or trans-oceanic travel is a great example.

In door plumbing is another good one.

Instant communication is another.

Everything sort of has become instant. Instant entertainment (netflix, hulu), instant travel (Uber,Lyft,flights), instant communication (slack, whatsapp, FaceTime).

We live in an age of instant gratification. It only keeps on getting better.

Likewise. The primary limit on media consumption is, of course, time available to consume it, and piracy doesn't change that.

I think the one interesting place is w.r.t textbooks. Piracy means that I can efficiently pull up multiple textbooks on any given subject, as well as textbooks on any pre-requisite subjects. The size and cost of most textbooks would make that untenable otherwise.

Perhaps you are underutilizing your capabilities. I have found this access to books and papers incredibly enriching.

Though my ratio of books skimmed or read partially to books read from beginning to end has skyrocketed, I've found that with many books just one page or even one sentence carries valuable knowledge.

I can't even begin to compare the knowledge I have access to today to what I had just a decade ago, and a decade ago compared to two decades ago is even wider of a difference.

I'd hazard a guess that the primary benefit of being wealthy is not making your peaks even higher but rather lifting up your valleys. You can afford to pay people to do most of the more dreary household stuff like groceries, cleaning, clothes, etc; you don't need to insure small stuff anymore; you can afford to go the extra mile on healthcare (more physiotherapy, chiropracty, w/e); for expensive stuff, if needed you can pay full sticker price instead of having to wait out deals. There's probably tonnes more, those are just the things I could think of off the cuff.

I quite like the dreary stuff, it provides a useful foil to the demanding parts of my work.

It's hard to make people happier over the long term.

Even happiness due to marriage returns to it's base level, in time.

So media ?

But ask yourself:

Are you more knowledgeable because of free non-fiction books ?

Have you been exposed to more culture, and dare i say, better culture because of free TV ?

And aren't those things valuable, even if they don't make you happy ?

“Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.”

- Rabbi Hyman Schachtel (1954)

i suspect it has more to do with experiences. It’s not necessarily about accumulating stuff, digitally or otherwise but about experiencing the the best of these various things. So nicer homes, better food, fancier transport. They’re probably less concerned about knowledge than you and I and are probably more interested in imposing their own views on the world than the rest of us.

A friendly fyi to BookInsider: I noticed that your amazon urls have "?tag=bookinside-20" and therefore you need to clearly disclose on your website that your book links are part of the Amazon Affiliate program.

If you don't, someone could report your website to Amazon and get your account banned. (https://www.google.com/search?q=amazon+ban+seller+account+ta...)

Thank you for your FYI, I have updated the Amazon info into the webpage now!

Seems like you're doing things above board, kudos. I was wondering, since this a site catering to entrepreneurship (among other subjects), if you wouldn't mind sharing your revenue numbers from your participation in amazons referral program. As a programmer find these sorts of lists helpful. I wonder what kind of action you're seeing for a top post on HN :)

Odd that "Assertiveness at Work" comes top of the RPG books list. https://bookinsider.gitlab.io/2018/12/01/top-20-books-on-rpg...

I looked into it, and it's just one user recommending it over and over: https://rpg.stackexchange.com/users/2100/sardathrion

If you yourself were an RPG hero and you're trying to save the world and that's your job then perhaps assertiveness at work is exactly the right book for you?

Are you saying that it is a bad thing to count mentions over and over if they are all from a single user?

Maybe not a bad thing, but seems less of a strong signal of “goodness” compared to a book recommended the same number of times by different users. You might consider capping the number of times you consider recommendations for one book from a single user to something reasonable, like 3. That way you get more of a crowd consensus as to what’s really good.

I don't know what changes, if any, would stop this problem from occurring. It just jumped out as a case of a book at the top of a list that doesn't really address the topic in question. It does seem like an outlier in the data, right?

Maybe, though, there's some hidden validity to the implied idea that assertiveness is a key issue in the RPG community.

Working Effectively with Legacy Code is the best Software Engineering book I have ever read. Most authors will show you very trivial examples, but Feathers shows detailed examples and an almost formulaic way to make your code testable. You can read and memorize SOLID principles, but he shows you how to _do_ SOLID principles.

I was revisiting that book again last night briefly and was having a chuckle at some of the example code in Java (I assume it's Java?) before some of the more modern features came into the language and thinking "yep, using iterator and .next() to do your loops sure is legacy code alright!". It smelt like Java 1.4

Good times.

This is great, but an important caveat: this is actually “books for which the Amazon links are most frequently given” (maybe other sites too; the About page doesn't clarify), i.e. “most-linked books”, rather than “most-discussed books”.

For example, it says that on the TeX/LaTeX StackExchange, The TeXbook is mentioned only 6 times (https://bookinsider.gitlab.io/2018/12/01/top-20-books-on-tex...), while in fact it's mentioned closer to 1357 times (https://tex.stackexchange.com/search?q=texbook). What appears to be true is that only 6 times someone bothered to link to Amazon when mentioning the book. Worse, for the English Language & Usage site, the Oxford English Dictionary does not even show up in the results (https://bookinsider.gitlab.io/2018/12/01/top-20-books-on-eng...) while in reality it's mentioned about 7000 times by acronym (https://english.stackexchange.com/search?q=oed) and about 1600 times by full name (https://english.stackexchange.com/search?q=%22oxford%20engli...).

Under what circumstances will someone add a link when mentioning a book? I can think of two:

- The user thinks the book is not sufficiently well-known, so they add a link to Amazon or some other such site, for the readers to learn more.

- The user is trying to make money off affiliate links, or whatever.

For books that are well-known, or for the typical (lazy) user like me, books are going to mentioned and discussed without any link to anywhere being added (and often by acronym or nickname). So in that sense this site is actually likely to miss all the most frequently discussed books — the ones so well-known that no one bothers to link to anything when mentioning them (as in the examples above).

Shows that the hard part of data analysis is usually data cleanup (eliminating false positives and false negatives) and normalization (this one seems to treat links to different editions on Amazon as different books).

All that said, this site is useful nevertheless; thanks for making it!

I tried to do something like this years ago by scraping websites in a particular niche. I decided that I wanted to count a book any time it was mentioned -- not just when it was linked to. As a junior-level programmer, however, it was a problem I couldn't solve.

How do you determine whether someone using the word "mindset" is talking about the book by the same name, or just using the word?

It's a hard problem; one you can't ever fully solve. You need to accept some degree of error, as pretty soon you'll hit the point where every incremental improvement requires you to basically double the amount of effort. (You can start by incorporating some signals like whether the word/title occurs in uppercase, whether it has any special formatting like italics, whether the author's name occurs nearby, and so on.)

But what you can do is be very up front about the error: you can be explicit about your methods and describe their modes of failure, give examples of some of the things you might miss, try to analyze your error and how bad it is, and so on, and finally leave it to the reader to decide how seriously to take your results. (If you see some recent papers they include a “Threats to Validity” section, e.g. Section 3.4 here: https://people.engr.ncsu.edu/ermurph3/papers/seip18.pdf)

Thank you for your input! I will keep improving the site based on your suggestions and advice from others. I add a patreon link to my site so hopefully that can become a progress log.


I was perhaps somewhat amused to see that a large portion of the books under "Science Fiction & Fantasy" are actually non-fiction or reference books about the backstories / physics / realism behind various Science Fiction & Fantasy universes / worlds.

Thanks everyone for your suggestions and testing of my site. I will keep improving it. I just create a patreon link to my site so hopefully that can become a progress log.


There is an error on https://bookinsider.gitlab.io/2018/12/01/top-20-books-on-mat...

Line 223: \u can only be followed by a Unicode character sequence.

On Safari 12.0.3.

Thank you for letting me know! It has been fixed now (will be updated in a few minutes), and I also add twitter for the Book Insider site: https://twitter.com/Book__Insider

I see that under the algorithms tab, Knuth's TAoCP is ranked 13th equal, together with 4 others.

Thank you for noticing that! So far I haven't dealt with books with the same number of discussions. I will probably sort the tied-rank books with sentiment score.

Is there an implicit understanding that these are all "good" discussions?

Not necessarily. Some of these might be universally hated.

I bet all of them are pretty interesting, however.

It is true that some of the discussions actually hated some books. So I tried to use the sentiment score to characterize discussions.

If you check the sentiment score of a discussion from my site, it shows you that whether the discussion is good or bad.

The serverfault.com list includes 2 editions of the same book. If you collapse them, it would make room for another deserving book.

Tom Limoncelli Co-author of TPOSANA

The book is so good it deserves to be listed twice. :)

I noticed electrical engineering had nothing in the power systems category, so these lists are still pretty sparse.

Hi can you be more specific about which tags you are referring to? I checked those tags but all of them have some books. I didn't find any tag in EE with nothing listed.

Some of these links are actually other products (not books) on Amazon. We remove these products. Still need to improve the UI so sparse lists look nicer. Thank you for pointing that out!

No problem. I'm sure each category can be endlessly fleshed out. It just looked weird that there was a lot of EE not covered.

Surprised the English stack exchange doesn't reference the OED that often.

How they count mentions is not mentioned anywhere, but it appears they only count links to Amazon. Obviously no one is going to link to Amazon when mentioning the Oxford English Dictionary. In that sense, they may be missing the true most discussed books, the ones so well-known that no one bothers to link to anything when mentioning them.

that's disappointing. i was also hoping to see books that have commonly-used nicknames, like "the dragon book", get counted.

I was unable to determine what you mean by “the dragon book”. Is that related to the recent Dragon movie that was in the Oscars? I don’t imagine you mean The Magicians book 2. Maybe you mean “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (terrific dragon on the cover!) but I’m honestly not really sure what you mean otherwise :(

While you could answer my above questions directly, I don’t need them answered; I’m just trying to make the point that “nicknames” cannot be easily correlated with a book when you scale up to “the entire word of readers”.

He almost surely means Compilers: Principles, Techniques, and Tools by Alfred V. Aho, Monica S. Lam, Ravi Sethi, and Jeffrey D. Ullman [1]... or one of the earlier versions of the book with different authors and titles ;-).

As was common for 80s software textbooks, this was nicknamed for the distinctive image on the cover.

But (and now your edit clarifies that this indeed was your point), perhaps your point is just how difficult it would be to automatically disambiguate nicknames in diverse communities like StackExchange.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compilers:_Principles,_Techniq...

Google manages to scale up fine in this case -- searching for 'the dragon book' gives the correct answer as its first hit (via wikipedia)...

well, this is difficult to do ... We will need to create a nickname dictionary for all books in the first place, right?

You are right. I didn't think about that, and I will think of a way to get all actual mentions in the next step. Thank you for the suggestion.

OED = Oxford English Dictionary

I hope Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs is on that list.

consider making your site accessible to nonjs users, please. currently, the book lists are not visible.

Thank you for your suggestion! I didn't thought about that. But in the next step, I will definitely make changes to consider nonjs users!

Is it sad that the most popular book is about working with a legacy codebase?

The preface of that book IIRC is about the fact that 90% of dev time is spent reading code trying to find where to insert your new code (the other 10% of your time).

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact