I’m an avid reader and I always laughed at the idea of having a “favorite” book.. until I found mine. I loved the book so much, I resolved to learn French (et je l’ai fait!) just so I could someday read it in the original French.
I remember your comment from four years ago (!)  and it really stuck with me. However, I could never find the thread, so when I saw this thread, I simply had to check if you wrote a comment again; and here we are! I recently began reading it and is really enjoying it. Thanks for the recommendation!
(Also, thanks for the link to the earlier comment. I had forgotten about the unabridged bit!)
Also, the only book I have found close/equal to Count of Monte Cristo is Les Miserables. The book is amazing, no idea about the musical. There are so many parts of the book (Waterloo) that just blow my mind. Also served as a motivation to learn French.
Something that really stood out for me was the description of the finances of the characters. It's like back then everyone understood that the goal was to live off investments, and that working for a living was an unfortunate, hopefully temporary condition. Seems like nowadays it's such a central part of everyone's default life philosophy (at least that of mere plebs like me) that few people question it.
Out of curiosity, did you watch the 2002 movie? If so, what did you think? That's how I discovered the story in the first place.
I’d say it’s a pendulum that’s swung too far in correction, imho. It’s a good thing to make money off of honest hard work (a lesson TCMC does not skimp on) as compared to inheriting your riches via the aristocracy, but it definitely isn’t the end goal.
I’ve learned long ago not to watch movies of books I love, it’s far too painfully disappointing and takes away from the world-building a great author triggers in your mind’s eye. (I’ve only ever watched one movie rendition of a classic and found it not only adequate but even superior to a book, and that was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, probably because the book was intentionally incoherently written to reflect the works as seen through Chief’s delusional eyes.)
I'd recommend reading "Les 3 mousquetaires", where the Lady is one of the most interesting characters I've ever met. The book was a huge success, and is still famous in France nowadays, like its main character, D'Artagnan. The two sequences are okay, "Vingt ans après" and "Le vicomte de Bragelonne".
Other good historical novels by Dumas are "La reine Margot", "Joseph Balsamo", "Le collier de la reine". For the fans, there are dozens of lesser novels, like "La tulipe noire" (which I know I've read, but can't remember at all).
I ask only because you owe it to yourself to read the real deal, just in case the Chinese translation you read was one of the much more common shorter versions.
Les Misérables is probably my second favorite but that took me so many times longer to make my way through, probably because of Victor Hugo’s unfortunate tendency to go so off track, interjecting with two hundred page history lessons describing his favorite scenes from Waterloo.
What I love especially, is that he is very careful and systematic about his conclusions, splitting up in cases, instead of simply producing the solution and then proving it is a valid solution.
For example he does not assume that every point in space has a single value for total potential. First he describes how it is at least theoretically conceivable to follow a path and observe the total potential to vary continuously, and arrive back at the point of departure but end up with a different value of the total potential. He is effectively describing the possibility of wormholes (which didn't bear the name "wormhole" yet back then), or "charge without charge" (think Wheeler). But after this part of the book he assumes that the total potential is singlevalued (not because he proved so, but because describing physics in spaces with complicated topologies is far from straightforward, even today).
The relevant section is in the preliminaries in Vol I : I assume you already know electromagnetism, I suggest jumping to pdf pages 52 "on potentials" and reading till 57. No modern textbook will explicitly introduce such an assumption, instead modern textbooks assume the student has been indoctrinated with cartesian product spaces i.e. R^3 etc. Such students would have seen in prior analysis courses that the line integral of the gradient of a scalar function does not depent on the path [... in R^n!]. So if curricula and students implicitly and a priori exclude spaces other than R^n, then no student will protest that for example the line integral of the electric field between 2 points could depend on the exact path, making all subsequent math and theorems more tractable, at the "small price" of a priori excluding the (arguably) confusing possibilities of handles (if you are a mathematiciann), wormholes (if your a physicist).
Maxwell on the contrary refuses compromise on investigative accuracy to "ease the job of didactics", theres many examples of that throughout the treatise.
I agree. There is a great book series: Great Books of the Western World, that accumulates all the fundental texts written by subject area founders. They are green bound tomes. There is also a homeschooling curriculum built on using them, I am jealous of anyone who received such a great education growing up.
If you want something nicer you could find a old used hardcover from the mid-twentieth century. Sometimes big reference works like this have never actually been used and are in effectively new condition.
"L'île mystérieuse" is the survival adventure of a small and disparate group, but the main theme is how science can dominate nature. The mystery part is better enjoyed if the reader knows a bit of Jules Verne' other books.
"Michel Strogoff" is a pure and romantic adventure in Russia, at the time of the Tatar invasions. It was sometimes brutal for a child reader, but I could still remember many scenes thirty years later.
Other good novels are "Voyage au centre de la terre", "Vingt-mille lieues sous les mers", "Cinq semaines en ballon", "Le tour du monde en 80 jours", "Les indes noires". I've a few others which I enjoyed at a lesser point.
Jules Verne - Around The World In 80 Days I read a translation of.
Immanuel Kant - An Answer to the Question: "What is Enlightenment?
In the end, there is a lot of old text which I haven't read. Probably too much...
Chesterfield's Letters to His Son:
"Begun in the 1737 and continued until the death of his son in 1768, Chesterfield wrote mostly instructive communications about geography, history, and classical literature, – with later letters focusing on politics and diplomacy – and the letters themselves were written in French, English, and Latin, in order to refine his son's grasp of the languages."
* The Problems of Philosophy (1912) gives a short introduction to philosophy that he at the time considered "positive and constructive". https://www.gutenberg.org/files/5827/5827-h/5827-h.htm
* Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1901 to 1915) is an anthology of his ideas that were still evolving even then. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/25447/25447-h/25447-h.htm
It was the first book I read for school that made me laugh out loud and realize that some of these old boring books were actually pretty awesome (which is why people are still reading them centuries later)
Essays by Michel de Montaigne
Self Reliance by Emerson
Theory of Moral Sentiment by Adam Smith
A Treatise of Human Nature by Hume
And the memoir of my vote for the most interesting man who ever lived, Humphry Davy's Consolations in Travel
Also, if you're wondering where things like genome editing lead us, they lead us to The Island of Dr. Moreau  (H.G. Wells, 1896).
On The Shortness of Life, Seneca
=> An essay about how to handle life and how to see what is really important
On War, Clausewitz
=> An important essay about strategy and war, politics and management
The Prince, Machiavelli
=> A little bit cynical but quite realistic about the nature of power in the hands of humans
Thirty-Six Stratagems, multiple authors
=> A list of strategies that can be used in any situation, whether when winning or losing
Essays, by Michel de Montaigne
In English (Vol. 1), https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3581
In French (Vol. 1), https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/48529
Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius
English translation by George W. Chrystal, 1902 https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/55317
English translation by George Long, 1957 https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15877
Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo
In English (Full), https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/135
In French (Vol. 1), https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/17489
20000 leagues under the sea, by Jules Vernes
In English (slightly abridged), https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/164
In French (with illustration), https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/54873
What are the reasons for this phenomenon, which is not unique to HN? Are the the works too archaic for modern taste? Are the translations just not good enough to convey the virtuosity of the originals? Lack of exposure? I’m truly curious to hear from this audience of why this phenomenon.
Amazon or Barnes and Noble don't feature their books, librarians don't mention their works, and most folks have probably just never been exposed to them (even in college).
Only 90 years old, but it came to mind and it was close enough that I needed to check the date.
Basically the first science fiction, and the warnings of the perils of technology are still just as relevant today.
From the other end of the spectrum, "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" is the book/story that inspired my interest in cryptography. In the end I never worked in infromation-security but I did enjoy it from my 10 years til I left college, and I still do enjoy going for puzzle-hunts with some of my friends :)
Book(?): And I’m not sure it qualifies but a collection of Rimbaud’s poems and lyrical prose is a sure winner as well. I have difficult time wrapping my mind around the fact that he was so young.
Therefore you’re reading his diary, realizing his own worries, all the while being this person.
Timeless themes written in beautiful prose:
It's out of copyright (first published in 1923, so almost 100 years), someone has put a website together of each theme, here is one on work:
I've probably moved on from this book a little now - but it's still beautiful and sometimes gives much needed perspective.
On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
Second Treatise on Government, John Locke
Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun (1917) just turned 100, and it is also one of my most favorite books of all time, it too was moving me to tears again and again.
He led a life of grind, hustle and debauchery, and his poetry is remarkable for its thematic breadth- Burns talks of love, solidarity, nationalism, drinking and everything else that concerns an intelligent young man of ambition and low birth.
Its sort of a mix of Trainspotting (the book) and rap set 250 years ago in Scotland.
Mysterious Island (1874), Around the World in Eighty Days (1873), and other books by Jules Verne.
Books by James Fenimore Cooper.
The Sea-Wolf (1904) by Jack London.
The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) by Alexandre Dumas.
Oliver Twist (1839) by Charles Dickens.
20000 leagues under the sea by Jules Verne was my introduction to science fiction and I also enjoyed Mysterious Island (which overlaps, but is less science fiction).
I had forgotten James Fenimore Cooper, and I have forgotten almost everything about the books, but yes, these were in the school library too and I read them.
(we had no TV when I grew up so I read a lot, mostly books in the styles mentioned above but also historical books and fiction from the WWII, but obviously none of these are over 100 years old.)
Also the Bible, it might not be highly regarded here, and I'm obviously biased, but as someone who reads other texts as well I think a number of people here could find parts of it interesting, especially contrasting it to what school and others might have told you. (Spoiler: besides the endless listings of who was who that most people will learn to skip, the full version is also a lot messier than what anyone working in school or wanting your money will tell you ; )
Notes from the Underground - Dostoyevsky
Brothers Karamazov - Dostoyevsky (there is a bunch of other brilliant Dostoyevsky books)
Chuang-tzu, 4th century BC
The Art of War by Sun Tzu, 5th century BC
Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, 14th century AD
Not an essay per se or book though.
..also "Zen Flash, Zen Bones" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_Flesh,_Zen_Bones
Martin Fischer's Translation of Baltasar Gracian's "The Art of Worldly Wisdom". (Amazon seems to have a few)
Quoth Nietzsche: "Europe has never produced anything finer or more complicated in matters of moral subtlety."
- a lot of the viking stories (Soga om Eigil Skallagrimson etc)
- viking poetry, particularly Håvamål: a kind of a viking version of the Proverbs.
- old Norwegian fairytales (a number of them can be read in more than one way besides the obvious bed time stories for kids and others aren't for kids, but you'll recognize the topics from modern films as well.)
After a long journey through human abysses, it ends on the note "Who ever strives with all his might, that man we can redeem." which has always stuck with me and is one of the core ideals of my morality.
North of Boston by Robert Frost
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (+ the other Sherlock Holmes')
Candide by Voltaire (was reminded by other posting - this is great!)
In order, I'd put it under North of Boston for sure.
Enchiridion of Epictetus
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason. Not intended as oratory, but like Ingersoll's lectures, great fun to read aloud.
> But some, perhaps, will say: Are we to have no word of God—no revelation? I answer, Yes; there is a word of God; there is a revelation. THE WORD OF GOD IS THE CREATION WE BEHOLD and it is in this word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh universally to man... The Creation speaketh an universal language, independently of human speech or human language, multiplied and various as they may be. It is an ever-existing original, which every man can read. It cannot be forged; it cannot be counterfeited; it cannot be lost; it cannot be altered; it cannot be suppressed....
On Liberty - https://www.utilitarianism.com/ol/one.html
Reading those allows a masterful foundation for understanding ethics, which is crucial for a deeper understanding of utility as a primitive concept.
Edit: Not quite 100 years but will leave it here for posterity
Ancient novels may require some leeway on the part of the reader. Dumas' Three Musketeers certainly stands up well. Ivanhoe is mostly good fun with some horrific antisemitism.
Brits will enjoy "1066 and all that", although not strictly 100 years old.
Two short b-sides:
- The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber by Ernest Hemingway
- The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
It was written in the backdrop of massive industrialisation.
Many argue that it predicted both:
(1) the problems with capitalism and massive state protection of private property that go along with it, as well as
(2) the atrocities that would occur if most production was centralised, as in the USSR.
Anarchism, Libertarian Socialism and the anti-authoritarian left is definitely an overlooked branch of the political spectrum
One book I will never get tired of reading over and over again is:
The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
There's just something magical on that book which even to this day brings a lot of essence on how I understand and value life.
This book traverses generations, and is always a good read regardless whether you are at a schooling age or even close to retirement.
De architectura By Vitruvius - classical construction and architecture
Song of Myself by Whitman - poetry
Hound of the Baskervilles by Doyle - thriller
In fiction Sherlock Holmes and the Three Musketeers is some of my favorites.
I wish that was one book.
> In his poem “Each June I Made a Promise Sober,” Ogden Nash voiced the common cry of those who work in bookstores or libraries or live otherwise surrounded: so many books, so little time! Always the guilt-inducing pile of unread books, eyeing us like neglected pets. He lists some of the classics he hasn’t read—my own list includes, I blush to say, Moby Dick, War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, The Faerie Queen, etc. etc. etc. etc.—and concludes:
“So every summer I truly intend /
My intellectual sloth to end /
And every summer for years and years /
I’ve read Sherlock Holmes and The Three Musketeers.”
Nash, Ogden. "Each June I Made a Promise Sober," The New York Times Book Review (June 7, 1953), 1.
Much better than "The Hardy boys and Nancy Drew" mashups that were actually a thing.
From that, I’ve recently decided to start reading The Inside of the Cup by Winston Churchill, and Psychology and Industrial Efficiency by Hugo Münsterberg
The Road by Jack London
all of the Oz books by L. Frank Baum
The Scottish Students' Song Book
The Age of Reason
The Art of Money Getting by Barnum
Every book by Nietzsche (except Zarathustra).
La Bruyere - Characters
Charles Mackay - Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular
Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
Ambrose Bierce - The Devil's Dictionary
Very fun and readable. He's so excited to tell the world about what he's learned.
The novels that managed to become classics became so for a reason (and if you've ever read some second rate 19th century material you'll appreciate the the distinction).
The art form of the fiction as moral treatise probably hasn't been surpassed since then. So just pick up a few big 19th century novels and start reading :-)
Orthodoxy (1908) by G.K. Chesterton
The Brothers Karamazov (1880) by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Together with Madame Bovary.
Which wins, IMHO. But still: great book.
- The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith
- Das Kapital, Karl Marx
- That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen, Frederic Bastiat
Philosophy / Politics:
- The Republic, Plato
- Second Treatise on Government, John Locke
- The Law, Frederic Bastiat
- Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes
- Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
- Democracy in America, Alexis de Toqueville
- On Liberty, John Stuart Mill
- The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, Mark Twain
- The Story of an Hour, Kate Chopin
- Metamorphoses, Franz Kafka
- Candide, Voltaire
- The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
What are the reasons for this oversight? Is their work too archaic for modern taste? Are translations too poor to convey some of the originals’ virtuosity? Lack of exposure? I’m truly curious as to why this phenomenon happens, and HN is not the only forum where I’ve observed it.
It might be a bit of a cliche but it really is profound and is actually more useful than I first thought. Especially "show strength at your weakest, show weakness at your strongest" is something that I've used during negotations and presentations. It sounds like common sense when you read it, because you've seen a lot of this stuff work out ahead of reading it, but it's only once you read it that it becomes abstract and defined enough for me to apply it.
There's also a lot of movie and tv adaptations of this book out there(Alan Badel was probably the best Count) and I really enjoy compering them to the book.
Written by the popular 11th century philosopher and jurist on topics around the purification of the heart.
This book was written towards the end of his life, where he didn't care much for what influential rulers might say.
His other short story books, such as The Jungle Book and Just So Stories - so much better than the Disney.
The Time Machine and other Stories, H G Wells.
Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics
For a lighter, but still interesting read, anything by Saki is good - Sredni Vashtar was the first story of his I read and I still come back to it decades later.
This book is filthy, funny, misanthropic, insightful, and ridiculous in all the right ways.
> I was complaining of a small fit of the colic, upon which my conductor led me into a room where a great physician resided, who was famous for curing that disease, by contrary operations from the same instrument. He had a large pair of bellows, with a long slender muzzle of ivory: this he conveyed eight inches up the anus, and drawing in the wind, he affirmed he could make the guts as lank as a dried bladder. But when the disease was more stubborn and violent, he let in the muzzle while the bellows were full of wind, which he discharged into the body of the patient; then withdrew the instrument to replenish it, clapping his thumb strongly against the orifice of then fundament; and this being repeated three or four times, the adventitious wind would rush out, bringing the noxious along with it, (like water put into a pump), and the patient recovered. I saw him try both experiments upon a dog, but could not discern any effect from the former. After the latter the animal was ready to burst, and made so violent a discharge as was very offensive to me and my companion. The dog died on the spot, and we left the doctor endeavouring to recover him, by the same operation.
Yes, this is a passage about trying to inflate a dog with a bellows. This is why this book is in the Western canon.
The Beetle: A Mystery by Richard Marsh (1897)
This novel is bizarre...to the max! (I'm bringing it back.)
This shit came out in the same year as Dracula (1897) and outsold it. That tells you that this is a boss novel that you should read immediately.
The plot is that a shapeshifting beetle person with mesmeric powers is trying to revenge themselves on a member of Parliament. After reading the first section of this book, in which a tramp is mesmerized, given spooky powers, and sent to steal some letters, you'll want to start shouting THE BEETLE! just like the characters in the novel. Keep an eye out for Sydney Atherton, a scientist who uses the mysterious fluid known as Electricity to fight our antagonist, and who randomly kills a cat with sarin gas to make a point in a conversation.
Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
Not as good as The Beetle, obviously, but holds up shockingly well. In this rollicking novel, Victorian organizational technology (gramophones, stenography, typewriters) triumphs over the undead. But read The Beetle first, it's way better.
Evelina, or the History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World (1778)
This is another awesomely messed-up book that's a great beach read in 2019. People are constantly getting kicked out of carriages and rolling down hills, falling down stairs, etc. It's like Jane Austen but with violence. Incidentally, Frances Burney was Austen's fav writer. There's an old person race in this novel, so enjoy that.
I loved the characters, how they evolved and their relations with them. A weak character will through years become successful while another character they admired will fail miserably.
O'Henry, the Gentle Grafter.
"If you want to learn something NEW -- read an OLD book."
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens, 1861
Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper ("On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies"), A. Einstein, 1905
> You shall have thousands of gold pieces; - thousands of thousands - millions - mountains of gold: where will you keep them?
More technical, but I constantly use Ruskin's Modern Painters as art reference. Each volume has detailed chapelters on natural forms (trees, mountains, etc). The attempts at geometric drawings of the structures of cloud patterns are particularly beautiful imo. He's a phenomenal writer, anyway.
Mentioned by others elsewhere in the comments, but Candide and The Count of Monte Cristo are possibly my two favourite books. The first one feels incredibly modern, which is quite impressive given that it's basically the first European novel. Second one I've always thought is like an exceptionally good airport novel (and the sci-fi version is also one of my favourite books, and one of the best sci-fi novels ever written). Very difficult to put down.
Also, anything by Swift, Hazlitt, Twain I can read and reread endlessly. I read a lot of opder stuff, but I've noticed I'm often quite quick to discard it if it doesn't scan as contemporary writing -- those three I find in particular have quite modern styles
It's strange, reading Rand; I liked her use of language but didn't like her "heroes", nor the points she was trying to make. And after The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged reads like a twice-as-long, twice-as-over-the-top rework of the same material, just with a female heroine. So it's safe to skip it if you're pressed for time.
(I wanted to put in the Shape of Things to Come but it doesn't quite make the cut)
On speeches - Cicero (the only book that breaks down a speech is such a detail, same thing as above)
Gorgias - A Socrates dialog with a Gorgias, a sophist (men that were very well versed in the art or persuading but without having real knowledge), hard as it was (and it still is nowadays ) Socrates debunks this guy claims with elegance and class.
“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelly
“Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde
Mahabharat has everything in it. However west has not yet warmed up to it.
What a book.
Anything by Dostoevsky
Crime and punishment
Alice in wonderland
Art of war