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Ask HN: What are your favorite books or essays written at least 100 years ago?
290 points by marceee0901 on Sept 8, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 237 comments
For example, "On The Shortness of Life" by Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65)

The Count of Monte Cristo, hands down. Published 1844 by Alexandre Dumas, one of the greatest writers to have ever lived.

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.

This is going to sound weird, but...

I remember your comment from four years ago (!) [0] 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!

[0]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12245036

Nothing is weird when you’re on HN, thanks for making me smile! I felt a little silly repeating myself when I typed that comment out earlier, but I didn’t realize it had been for years... time flies!


(Also, thanks for the link to the earlier comment. I had forgotten about the unabridged bit!)

Ha ... not as weird as you might think, 'cos I also thought the same, unless there're a few others on this site dedicated enough to learn French to read this book ...

ha, I also began learning French because of Count. Maybe we should start a club.

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.

Curious about how you undertook learning French. What is the best way.

Not sure about the best way, there are definitely better ways to do it than my route. I used Duolingo for vocabulary and the Coffee Break French podcast along with reading and listening to as much material as I could find (french movies and shows, french wikipedia, french news sites)

I love this book too. Funnily enough, I also picked up the French version, and forced myself to read it despite not knowing French (but my native language is Spanish, so being familiar with the story, I could follow relatively well).

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.

It’s funny, the financial aspect stuck with me as well! I appreciated that different characters made their money in different currencies (and that everyone could convert between them) and how some currencies were more often associated with per annum revenues than others.

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.)

Currently reading Rich Dad/Poor Dad, no earth shattering insights(yet) except the central tenant is to understand finance and aim to live off investments.

This. I remember when I started reading the tome (1800 pages IIRC) someday, 30 years ago. I simply couldn't put it down, literally. I went on reading almost non stop for 2 days and 3 nights, barely sleeping.

Monte Cristo is also my favorite novel by Alexandre Dumas, but I enjoyed many other books he wrote — he used to have assistants that wrote part of his books, and, IIRC, one of them claimed that he was the main author of some novels.

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).

Not against you in particular but I really hate these sorts of 'behind the scenes' info about authors. I just recently read that Asimov needed a lot of editorial help. It really takes the magic out of it.

2 years ago, I replied a similar question by saying The Count of Monte Cristo is my favorite book in my youth. I finished reading the Chinese version on one day when I was 16. Since that comment my son was given the book (English) at the same age for his English class last year, he finished it in more than 1 month. I think I have failed as a parent (by not forcing him to learn to read).

I’m curious if it was an unabridged translation? TCMC is some 1200-1400 pages long in English depending on the binding and the translation, but there are some much shorter versions. I pretty much paused my life once I picked it up, but it took me around three or four days to complete it. (Of course I purposely took my time, cherishing every page and not wanting it to end.)

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.

I'm pretty sure it's not abridged because it's 3 books, each a few hundred pages.

Congratulation on learning French. The reason you did it makes it an even more beautiful achievement.

Thank you. Unfortunately as a result my comprehension of spoken French sucks as compared to everyone I know that learned French so they could watch foreign films :)

A masterpiece to live through the ages. The first time I read it I was impressed that I could read something as long in such a short time.

I remember that feeling well, although I’d some prior experience with surprisingly short/not long enough books (Gone with the Wind is sometimes described as “the shortest long book ever” for similar reasons).

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.

Hahaha I remember having the same feeling when I read Les Miserables! One of my favourites definitely.

What is so good about it? Your passion is starting to make me want to read it.

Maxwell's book on electromagnetism, it shows his hindsight perspective on interpreting the phenomena. One can look at the papers and works he wrote that led up to it, but they are full of detours and unbalanced attention with small dead ends. When he writes his book he tries to convince the audience of his time in one comprehensive work.

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).

Which book is this? I believe reading the original masters who came up with the discoveries is the way to understanding. It is said that when the Great Mathematician Gauss was asked as to how he made his discoveries, replied; "By studying the Masters and not their Students". There is something about the process of trial and error, testing various hypothesis', going down dead ends and then doubling back and finally lighting upon the answer which clarifies and provides intuitive understanding that can only be conveyed by the person who went through the experience i.e. The Discoverer himself. Everybody else is just parroting the end results without understanding (there are always a few exceptions of course).

severine is correct: it is in A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism, which can be had free of charge from the Internet Archive.

vol I


vol II


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.

>Which book is this? I believe reading the original masters who came up with the discoveries is the way to understanding.

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.

Do you have a place to get a good copy of this? Amazon seems to be turning up those dodgy PDF rips to print.

You might find "Maxwell on the Electromagnetic Field: A Guided Study" (https://www.amazon.com/Maxwell-Electromagnetic-Field-Masterw...) an easier introduction to Maxwell's theories and hence a good place to start with.

Dover editions are fine, imho. Certainly leagues better than the scans you are describing:


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.

I got mine from the Internet Archive, see my reply to someone else above.

Also by Maxwell, his semi-pop science lectures on Newtonian physics, 'Matter and Motion'.


I really like books written by Jules Verne. Those books were really ahead of its time. He was a prolific and best Sci-fi writer. I would like to mention few of his works like 20,000 leagues under the sea, journey to the center of earth and Around the World in Eighty Days. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jules_Verne

When I was a child, I loved Jules Vernes' novels. My favorite were "L'île mystérieuse" et "Michel Strogoff". I've read them again after a few decades, and I enjoyed them both.

"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.

I love that his books are so approachable for youth (especially in some translations). He paints such a beautiful picture of a world waiting to be explored, ripe for the taking. (Personally however, I would rank Journey to the Centre of the Earth above 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.)

Macbeth. I was forced to read it for English class (am non-native speaker) and this is the book I remember.

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...

I second the votes for War and Peace, Anna Karenina and Brothers Karamazov ... but I think I can add a unique (and very special to me) entry with:

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."[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Stanhope,_4th_Earl_of_C...

Since many other people have mentioned ancient essays I like, I'll go for something more "modern". Some of Bertrand Russell's earlier works are well worth a read even though they're obviously dated.

* 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

Something that’s always fascinated me - Bertrand Russell’s life covered many years and massive change, making for a good biography. His grandfather met Napoleon when in exile and I believe recounted this experience to a young Bertrand Russell (I can’t find a source for this currently). Bertrand Russell also watched the moon landing on TV. These events seem so far apart but are separated by just 2 (long) lifetimes.

There are people alive today with a grandparent born in the 1700s - https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/heir-raising-experience/ (at least true up to a few years ago).

His History of Western Philosophy is really great, too.

That book has a large number of criticisms for its (in the opinions of the views it criticizes) misguided polemics; if it's worth reading, it's also worth reading its criticisms.

In philosophy this is the rule not the exception. And reading the sources is also valuable, as he himself pointed out. Especially now that we have the web so you don't even need to visit a well stocked library to see how accurately he represents a philosopher's writings (his views on those views not withstanding).

Sure, I agree, but there are different standards for books which claim to expose a history than there are for books which are replies and polemics to other points of view. A history book shouldn't be the place to argue a point of view, and if it is, it shouldn't be so blatant as to be sourced as one of the main places where Russell does make his polemics. I don't intend to get into a discussion about how everything written carries with it a point of view and bias, but with a book like that, you can come away with the impression you have an accurate picture of Western philosophy when really you've just got one philosopher's view, and from a book written by someone with such esteem as Russell you come out parroting objections to Hegelianism that were refuted sixty years ago. And for the record, I wouldn't recommend Hegel's History of Philosophy lectures for the same reason.

Oh definitely! But I'd be stretching the "100 years ago" limitation if I included it.

Candide by Voltaire

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)

Loved it when I read the first time. Still have the first copy I read, lent to some friends, and every now and then I browse it a bit. Really fun!

This was made into an opera too.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

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

Second Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Essays by Montaigne

Both have been mentioned a bunch of times, but I also find that the Tao Te Ching [0] and The Prince [1] both pop into my head, in fragments, from time to time when I'm thinking about the modern world and the humans in it.

Also, if you're wondering where things like genome editing lead us, they lead us to The Island of Dr. Moreau [2] (H.G. Wells, 1896).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tao_Te_Ching

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Prince

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Island_of_Doctor_Moreau

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius => A lot of wisdom on how to lead and live

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

Clausewitz and Machiavelli... but no Sun Tzu?

Some links from Project Gutenberg:

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

It's been a long time since I was acquainted with Uncle Tom's Cabin. I remember clearly how the opening presented an idyllic scene that could have been written by a proponent of slavery, but things went quickly downhill precisely because the slaves were not free. I was struck by how this was a judo-like persuasion technique. I don't remember the rest of the book well, but my curiosity is piqued by controversy surrounding the book that I found trying to verify a quote. I wish I had time to pick it up again. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jala/2629860.0030.104/--lincoln...

Thus Spoke Zarathustra - Nietzsche (esp. Walter Kaufmann preface edition). It's an energetic, angry, poetic, and often rambling tour de force on mankind overcoming its smallness. Halfway through you'll start wondering if Nietzsche is a genius or a lunatic, and the answer is Yes.

On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin. It's pretty dense, dry, and can require a bit of a commitment, but there's some pretty interesting bits and pieces in there aside from just proposing evolution.

I would also highly recommend the sequel, the Descent of Man. That's where Darwin actually discusses the evolution of humans, a topic he gingerly avoided in TOOS

Great read! I especially like how a lot of his speculation turned out close to what we know today. Choice quote: "I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale."

The Voyage of the Beagle by Darwin is a great read - its an account of his adventures (no other word) on the Beagle.

I've seen Meditations being mentioned a lot on this thread but for me, 'letters from a stoic' (or 'moral letters to lucillius' ) by Seneca has been more approachable than Meditations.

'Letters from a Stoic' is indeed a masterpiece, and I've found that the Penguin Book's translation is fantastic. It made me feel like I was reading my own grandpa's letters with warm-hearted instructions on how to be a good person when I become a grown-up.

I've got two translations of Meditations, one was fairly easy to digest (Hayes), the other was terrible.

Les Misérables. First read it when I was in elementary school. It was a beautiful, touching piece. Not only did it tell a story, but also it presented the whole cultural background upon which the story occurred. Every time I read the book, I learn something new. In elementary school, I was mostly moved by Jean Valjean's resilience, calmness, and competency. Later on, I started to appreciate the humanity shown in other characters as well. Then, I read into the culture. It was most interesting to compare this book to A Tale of Two Cities.

Notre-Dame de Paris is great too, and similarly deep in historical and cultural reconstruction.

I’m intrigued by the scarce mention of Spanish authors, particularly those from the Golden Age. Other than Cervantes, I haven’t seen any of his coevals listed: Lope de Vega, Francisco Gómez de Quevedo, Luis de Góngora, Calderón de la Barca and many others.

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.

I'm convinced it's just lack of exposure.

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).

I think, unless you are taking a class specializing in Spanish literature, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote unfortunately overshadows the rest in literature curricula.

It's be great if you linked us to their essays. It's a lack of exposure and education.

José Ortega y Gasset was mentioned.

On Being the Right Size:


Only 90 years old, but it came to mind and it was close enough that I needed to check the date.

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884) by Edwin Abbott Abbott

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

Basically the first science fiction, and the warnings of the perils of technology are still just as relevant today.

I would almost considered quoting the great ancient literature a cheat-code but I still do really like the Ecclesiastes.

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 :)

Essay: A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift. First read it in high school. A revolutionary piece of sardonic wit—especially for a young person after so many literature classes of pure gravitas.

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.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is a pretty obvious one for this demographic.

Crime and Punishment (1866) by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius has been mentioned 5 times in this thread so far. I endorse it as well. This book is the private diary of the Roman Emperor. He doesn’t say anything about politics or much about other people, just exhorting himself to do better and be better. This man walked the walk.

To follow up your recommendation: he was more than a Roman emperor, he was arguably one of, if not the most powerful people on the planet. Some might argue that any Roman Empror was, but his reign I believe was near the zenith of Rome’s Empire in terms of territory (please correct me if I’m wrong).

Therefore you’re reading his diary, realizing his own worries, all the while being this person.

In terms of territory, the Empire reached it's zenith under Trajan.

Was Trajan later or earlier? Thanks for the clarification in any case

Earlier. After Marcus Aurelius it was a steady downward trend.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea- Jules Verne (1870). Also many other novels by the same author.

Kahlil Gibran - The Prophet.

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.

The Hacker Classics - https://jsomers.net/hn/

The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

Second Treatise on Government, John Locke

Second, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau, lucid and understandable essay

I am currently listening to Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, and it is by far the most interesting book I've read/listened to. I have been moved to tears again and again by this book.

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.

I just finished Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You. His writing about the plight of the workers and peasants was striking. It was also creepy to read his fears in 1890 about the threat of a senseless Europe-wide conflict. His criticism of governments, the church, and military service all seem valid to me. However, his advice to improve humanity is based on the assumption that the reader is a hard-core christian who wants to follow the literal words of Christ.


The poetry of Rabbie (Robert) Burns.

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.

The Bible.

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.

We share some favorites.

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 ; )

Victory - Joseph Conrad

Notes from the Underground - Dostoyevsky

Brothers Karamazov - Dostoyevsky (there is a bunch of other brilliant Dostoyevsky books)

The Prince by Machiavelli, 1532

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

So you are in management position?

Lol, no, although I think these are valuable lessons that anyone needs, not just managers or princes. I'm omitting a lot of the great books I would suggest but others have suggested as well.

"The lost tools of learning" by Dorothy Sayers https://classicalchristian.org/the-lost-tools-of-learning-do...

Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tzu. Short, concise and applicable to modern world.

Not an essay per se or book though.

Never got across this one, but it does look quite interesting. Thank you!

Witter Bynner's Translation is truly the one. Its complemented in me by

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."

Hmm, I used to the one by Stephen Mitchell. Will have a look at Witter Bynner's, thank you!

Witter Bynner’s translation is my favorite. My grandpa gave me a copy when I was starting high school and I read it probably 5 or 6 times a year since then.

I share many favorites with iBelieve (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20914527) and others but here are some I also enjoy that I don't see mentioned yet:

- 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.)

A clear winner for me: The Odyssey by Homer.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain

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!)

I read a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court when I was around 12. It was fun and fantastical, but perhaps I didn't absorb any deeper meaning because I was too young. I'm curious what makes it top your list?

It came to mind as I recently finished a new Twain biography. As an old and very jaded tech person, I appreciate the idea of technology proving not a panacea.

In order, I'd put it under North of Boston for sure.

Read it again! It contains a lot of political commentary.

For me, its The Sorrows of Young Werther. Published in 1779. It is a short read and quite beautifully written.

Goethe's later work Faust (I+II) is my absolute favorite. The first book (play) is quite short and extremely well written in the german original. The second book is much thicker and extremely convoluted.

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.

The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster (Written in 1909)

Enchiridion of Epictetus

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

+1 for the machine stops. it’s happening right now

Some of the speeches of Robert G. Ingersoll. Great oratory from an age when oratory was prized.



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....

Nicomachean Ethics - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.html

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.

The Revolt of the Masses by José Ortega y Gasset

Edit: Not quite 100 years but will leave it here for posterity

Here a short list - The Edda - Lots of Latvian Dainas[1] - Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Immanuel Kant, (1785) and Critique of Pure Reason (second edition 1787) - Goethe's Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, (1828–29 edition - Divina Commedia, Dante Alighieri, (1320)

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daina_(Latvia)

Tons of good stuff already here. I love lists like this.

Two short b-sides: - The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber by Ernest Hemingway - The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

"Extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds" : stock bubbles! Politics of beards! Ancient memes! History of fiat currency! Tulip mania! All very relevant to our times.

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.

"Madness of Crowds" is an entertaining read, but its not really solid history. His account of tulip mania in particular seems to have depended largely on stories in religious pamphlets about the dangers of greed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulip_mania#Mackay's_Madness_o...

The Conquest of Bread, Peter Kropotkin


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

See also Anarchism and Other Essays (1910) by Emma Goldman. It reads like it was written yesterday.

Walden by Thoreau - on self reliance and nature

De architectura By Vitruvius - classical construction and architecture

Song of Myself by Whitman - poetry

Hound of the Baskervilles by Doyle - thriller

I'd like to chime in, although may be a bit late.

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.

It's been mentioned before but meditations is great, but I would also like to add "How to live on 24 hours a day" by Arnold Bennett https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2274

In fiction Sherlock Holmes and the Three Musketeers is some of my favorites.

Sherlock Holmes and the Three Musketeers

I wish that was one book.

It was a wicked quote:

> 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.”

Sources: https://www.bookbarnniantic.com/single-post/2014/05/24/74-RE...

Nash, Ogden. "Each June I Made a Promise Sober," The New York Times Book Review (June 7, 1953), 1.

WOW. That book would be amazing.

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 first 19th century book to impress me was Nicholas Nickelby by Dickens. It's a British sort of "Les Miserables", A Christmas Carol style. And my wife reads Pride and Prejudice at least once a year. It's a surprisingly modern book, very much worth reading if you don't mind the romance.

In the 'travel essay' genre, Xavier de Maistre's "A Journey Round My Room"


On the Sensations of Tone by Hermann von Helmholtz

The Road by Jack London

all of the Oz books by L. Frank Baum

The Scottish Students' Song Book

Heart Songs

The Age of Reason

The Art of Money Getting by Barnum

The Confessions by Augustine of Hippo.

The entire _Arsene Lupin_ series by Maurice Leblanc, been reading them again and again since I was 12.

Starry Messenger - Galileo

Very fun and readable. He's so excited to tell the world about what he's learned.

Progress & Poverty (1879) by Henry George

Orthodoxy (1908) by G.K. Chesterton

The Brothers Karamazov (1880) by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Between - very roughly - 100 and 200 years ago books (some containing essays) were where the intellectual life of the west happened. Since we are not in any meaningful way different - or smarter - than people from the 19th and early 20th century a lot of what they concerned themselves with is still relevant for us, especially the stuff that managed to get itself canonized.

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 :-)

All the essays of Emerson, GK Chesterton, Hazlitt, Oscar Wilde, RL Stevenson, William James

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

Anna Karenina, by Tolstoy

A solid contender for the title "best book of the 19th century".

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

If you are going to read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, then you should probably read The Theory of Moral Sentiments first. It helps with the understanding.

I second That Which Is Seen by Bastiat, nice and short intro to economic way of thinking

I’m intrigued by the scarce mention of Spanish authors and their work, particularly those from the Spanish Golden Age. Other than Cervantes, I didn’t find any other coeval authors: Francisco Gómez de Quevedo, Luis de Góngora, Calderón de la Barca, Lope de Vega, and many others.

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.

The John Carter of Mars books have traveled remarkably well through time.

And the Pellucidar series too.

Panchatantra -- more than 1000yr old collection of fables from India. It's a kind of self help book that uses vivid storytelling with animal characters, to impart practical life lessons.

I would suggest to read the one with the sanskrit verses being translated into hindi/english/others as the conversation between the characters is very illuminating.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

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.

The Count of Monte Cristo

I second that.

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.

L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution (1856) by Alexis de Tocqueville. In English it is either The Old Regime and the Revolution or The Old Regime and the French Revolution.

The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902).

"Beginning Of Guidance By Imam Ghazali"

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.


For books, I'd say Herodotus and also Plutarchs Lives of the Great Greeks and Romans.

The Phantom Rickshaw and other Eerie Tales, Rudyard Kipling. This is the one that includes "The Man Who Would be King" that's a fairly well known film with Sean Connery and Michael Caine.

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.

Spinoza's Ethics

Euclid's Elements

Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics

Anna Karenina

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.


Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships (1726)

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 enjoyed reading this one:A History of Freedom of Thought http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10684/10684-h/10684-h.htm

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. Not an easy read, but one well worth the effort.

A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder, 1888 [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Strange_Manuscript_Found_in_...

Ars amatoria - Ovid (a book on picking up women, TL;DR: things have not changed much since back in the ancient Rome)

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.

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, my favorite book of all time.

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.

Ah yes! Thomas Hardy, Far From The Madding Crowd.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satipatthana_Sutta - Establishing Mindfulness, ~500 BC, by supposedly Siddhartha Gautama.

The Confessions of St Augustine

What is Man? And Other Essays by Mark Twain


Phantastes, George MacDonald.

My favourite fiction book, well worth the read, and the author was hugely influential on a lot of later well known-English writers including, Lewis Carroll, and according to Wikipedia, a major influence on "W. H. Auden, J. M. Barrie, Lord Dunsany, Hope Mirrlees, Robert E. Howard, L. Frank Baum, T.H. White, Lloyd Alexander, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Walter de la Mare, E. Nesbit, Peter S. Beagle, Neil Gaiman and Madeleine L'Engle."

Since no one has mentioned them I just wanted to add "The Canterbury Tales" by Chaucer and "Beowulf" to the list. I've both read them in high school and liked them very much.

I remember reading the Canterbury Tales in high school. Was just recently talking with my girlfriend how studying history and people's lives of the past puts our struggles we have in some context. The Canterbury Tales is a good example of that.

Alice in Wonderland is one of my favourite books, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was also the most read > 100 year old book (well, not counting any religious writing!)

Anything by Oscar Wilde.

Ambrose Bierce, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians

O'Henry, the Gentle Grafter.

I recently came across a really great quote / piece-of-advice and it applies nicely to this thread:

"If you want to learn something NEW -- read an OLD book."

For novels, I love Shogun, by James Clavell, The Terror by Dan Simmons. For science book: QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard Feynman.

The War of The Worlds, H.G. Wells, 1898

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens, 1861

Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper ("On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies"), A. Einstein, 1905

Michel de Montaigne, his Essays are awesome and touch a wide range of subjects. The 100+ chapters in three books require an investment that will payoff.

Don Quixote

Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Sloacum.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu, 5th century BC

Traffic by Ruskin I reread quite a lot. For background, it's a lecture he gave when invited to speak, as the eminent architectural critic of the day, to dignitaries on the opening of a new exchange building. Was expected to talk about the architecture, but he talked about capitalism instead

> 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

What is The sci fi version of the Count of Monte Cristo?

The Stars My Destination (or Tiger! Tiger! depending on when and where it was published) by Alfred Bester

Atlas Shrugged had the most profound impact on me. Ishmael was a funny, short and enlightening read.

The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged also had a profound impact on me, but not in the way Ayn Rand had intended :-)

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 was fortunate enough to start with Atlas Shrugged and read Fountainhead after. It does feel like Fountainhead was her runway into Atlas, her way of getting a clearer picture of the story she wanted to tell. Although I like Ayn and her philosophy I think its safe to skip Fountainhead.

The World Set Free - HG Wells

(I wanted to put in the Shape of Things to Come but it doesn't quite make the cut)

“Civilization and its Discontents” by Freud

“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelly

“Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

A disturbing, compelling, and influential book. But do you still see it as relevant today, aside from understanding history?

I do, I don’t know that I would categorize this at the top of what’s been listed but I still think it’s worth reading.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Einstein's "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies".

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy is a tremendous book.

Everything Dostoievski

Moral Letters (Seneca)

Plato's Dialogues

As a kid I really enjoyed the Winnetou stories by Karl May

A clear winner for me: 'The Odyssey by Homer"

My Airships, by Alberto Santos-Dumont, 1904

I'd recommend My Ántonia by Willa Cather

Dostoyevski, Nietzsche, Seneca, Montaigne...

The Book of Lies, by Aleister Crowley.

Reform or Revolution? by Rosa Luxembourg.

Does "Mahabharata" count?

... and the various - interpretations "teekas" of Bhagvata Gita that came up subsequently.

Mahabharat has everything in it. However west has not yet warmed up to it.

Tao Te Ching

“451 Fahrenheit” by Ray Bradbury

Growth of the Soil, Knut Hamsun

Return to Tipasa - Albert Camus

Darwin's Dangerous Idea

That's quite a broad category. At least 100 years ago was a good period for books and essays.

Euclid's _Elements_.

Karl Marx's Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I: The Production Process of Capital.

Dao De Jing of LaoTzu

Anne of Green Gables

Also sprach Zarathustra.

What a book.

Ray Bradbury

The Odyssey

The Iliad


Anything by Dostoevsky

In no particular order:

Moby Dick

Les Miserables

Crime and punishment

Alice in wonderland

The Prince

poetry from jalaludin rumi

The Art of War - Sun Tzu

Is having Art of War as favorite book an unpopular opinion ?

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Art of war

The State and Revolution - Lenin

Dune series by Frank Herbert, not much comes close.

Dune was released in 1965.

Dammit, I skipped the "at least" part... I read "during the last 100 years".

Sometimes the 60's feel like 100 years ago. Does that count?

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