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What are the most indispensable books for indie hackers? (indiehackers.com)
301 points by ChanningAllen 21 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

Doing your own research, visiting libraries, reading reviews, etc. These are the best way to find books that you never would have found otherwise.

Otherwise you're going to end up with the same old stuff (SICP, Release It!, GEB, Code Complete, blah blah blah). Those books are actually good but they are on every single list and even worse, some "modern classics" are actually complete dreck. You might impress your developer friends but you won't advance yourself.

For example when I was studying for my PhD in signal processing and machine learning (before machine learning became popular again) I had to learn a lot about functional analysis. I also needed to learn a small amount of measure theory; and to go appreciably deeper in to time-frequency analysis, probability, and statistics, than I had before.

I discovered many masterpieces of my own accord. I never would have seen them because one lesson I learned during my literature review and actually doing research is that very few people actually read the books and articles they cite. They merely copy bibliographies from one ancestor article to another without knowing why.

I had an epiphany the other day. These books offer expansive references to where the author found or sourced their material. Looking through there is a great place to start once the standard books have been completed.

Yes, the tendency for "winner take all" distributions to happen are annoying as heck.

I was always amazed at how few people used the library at university. Lots of people used it as a study space, but hardly any actually took out books unless it was an urgent loan for something.

Given how expensive textbooks are, it's well worth taking a bunch out and deciding if you actually want to buy any of them. Especially books outside your field (eg as a physicist I would take out CS books).

Interestingly, the "visiting libraries" bit is something I do frequently - Our 8 year old comes with us and he loves reading too.

I tend to buy the books they are throwing out as they're only 20p each.

To be fair, there is a lot of terrible books but there's always the odd hidden gem in there.

I'd never have found any of them in a search or a review site... gotta love the analog world.

Even if you don’t explicitly copy it my understanding is there is certain references you are just “supposed to” cite. That’s not then same as having good exposition of course.

>>visiting libraries This. Lacking the "efficient optimisation" of online search, you may actually discover real, valuable information from original sources.

> Those books are actually good but they are on every single list and even worse, some "modern classics" are actually complete dreck. You might impress your developer friends but you won't advance yourself.

I don't get it. If these are good books and you have not read them, how will you not advance yourself by reading them?

I think he means if you read the ones that are vaunted but bad you won't advance yourself, not that you can't advance yourself by reading classics.

“The Mom Test” by Rob Fitzpatrick is in my mind the most revolutionary and essential business book for indie hackers in the last 20 years. It would have saved me $1.4 million in my attempt to beat craigslist at its own game a decade ago.

It illustrates in the most logical progression a set of easily implementable steps to ensure that your own confirmation bias doesn’t sink your company.

I was surprised that one didn't make the list.

Agreed! I had listed it as an "honorable mention" on my response, but I think they only wanted one book per person.

I just want to recommend a service called eReaderIQ. It's a price tracking service for eBooks. Basically any book you've wanted to read has been available for $3 or less in the past year. I've saved a ton of money with this service.

- https://www.ereaderiq.com/

You're welcome :)

Or just use LibGen like a true Internet patriot.

That's illegal.

On that note, I'd just like to add this thread from academia stack exchange.


Even if the company suing you will have a tough time proving their case, they can still bury you in legal fees.

Downloading copyrighted content from such sources is legal in many jurisdictions. What's illegal in most places is uploading said content to others. This got conflated 20 years ago when peer-to-peer file sharing developed, where you are downloading and uploading at the same time. But the web is not peer to peer.

Not in Russia

Here's another vote for The E-Myth. I would recommend it to everyone working in any business. For example, if you are considering joining a company, you can use the principles described in the book as a way to evaluate that company. If you are starting something or a business owner trying to grow, it describes accurately the mistakes you might make and a path forward.

In a similar vein, Built To Sell (John Warrillow) was eye-opening for me when I first read it, focusing on building processes and systems so that you can remove yourself as a roadblock to increase chances of success. Almost an “if you love them, set them free” philosophy and written in a very readable style.

Do you recommend reading the newer books by John Warrillow? Or should I just read the classic Built to Sell?

One option no one mentioned: No book. Do first, read later. Experience trumps reading every time. At least I think that many people just started to work on something instead of reading first.

My favorites, which I read only after I launched a product:

Rework. About improving a product.

"This is Marketing" from Seth Godin. To get the right mindset about who the audience is.

Start Small, Stay Small - by Rob Walling and Mike Taber

"Great how-to guide about being a micropreneur: an entrepreneur running many small but profitable businesses."

Here's a Sivers summary of the book


I think a new edition of this book is coming out soon.

Except I still haven’t started working on it :grimacing:

I’ve been meaning to update this for years but hard to find the time. Right now MicroConf and TinySeed are keeping me busy, but it continues to be on my long-term list.

The Dip by Seth Godin is perhaps the essential book for an 'indie hacker'.

It's about identifying the difference between dips (good business ideas facing inevitable challenges) and cul-de-sacs (poor ideas that are not going anywhere).

Choice quotes:

> Strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations

> Extraordinary benefits also accrue to the tiny majority with the guts to quit early and refocus their efforts on something new

> Quit the wrong stuff. Stick with the right stuff. Have the guts to do one or the other....the opportunity cost of investing your life in something that’s not going to get better is just too high

A bunch of hollow cliché phrases, like everything else by Seth Godin.

For me most interesting are autobiography books where author is sharing his path from the start, instead of giving "10 rules of success" (which is his subjective insights summary of what worked for him).

The beauty of autobiography books is that we need to aggregate (generalize) these key insights based on the raw story ("subjectively raw" of-course) and our current situation.

The most valuable part for me is about overcoming hard problems.

The #1 book in my list is "Shoe Dog" by Phil Knight (The Founder of Nike). There is also an audiobook where Phil himself is read the first chapter.

This title is a clever way of avoiding the stereotypical "Top X books for Y" that always seem to be an affiliate-mill article (anecdotally).

This article is listicle blog spam trash. Additionally offensive is it conflates "hacker" with "startup founder" (said with irony on "hacker news").

I was a little confused what they called an "indie hacker" and how they dedicated an entire website to such people. It's not conflating "hacker" with "startup founder". It's defining "indie" as "small startup founder" and "hacker" as "person who works in the software industry".

As the exact target audience, it's kind of neat to me.

Indie hackers is well known and these guys are legit they don't put out affiliates spam.

They're also owned by Stripe which helps, since they don't really need the money that comes with being affiliate spam.

I was trying to be more diplomatic, but I totally agree :-)

My favorite from the list is Traction. It is quite short and it clearly fit the type of person that I am: Developer who like to sit down and create some products, but haven't really thought about channels and distribution systematically before.

MAKE Book by Pieter Levels

This guy is productive and successful, and likes to share knowledge and ideas.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things is supposed to a good book for start ups/indie hackers. I listen to a lot of podcasts in this area and it's mentioned quite a lot.


I like this book because I like anecdotes from tech startups. I especially the following story [0] as it has profanity, email judo, earnestness, and candor...

“Then, just two weeks before the launch, Marc, without telling Mike or me, revealed the entire strategy to the publication Computer Reseller News. I was livid. I immediately sent him a short email:

To: Marc Andreessen Cc: Mike Homer From: Ben Horowitz Subject : Launch I guess we’re not going to wait until the 5th to launch the strategy. — Ben Within 15 minutes, I received the following reply:

To: Ben Horowitz Cc: Mike Homer, Jim Barksdale (CEO), Jim Clark (Chairman) From: Marc Andreessen Subject: Re: Launch Apparently you do not understand how serious the situation is. We are getting killed killed killed out there. Our current product is radically worse than the competition. We’ve had nothing to say for months. As a result, we’ve lost over $3B in market capitalization. We are now in danger of losing the entire company and it’s all server product management’s fault. Next time do the fucking interview yourself. Fuck you, Marc”

[0] https://www.vox.com/2014/3/3/11624080/when-ben-met-marc

If you don't mind me asking, what kind of podcasts do you listen to?

Startup grind

Indie Hackers

Build Your Saas

Founder Quest

Y Combinator


Product Hunt Radio

Start Ups for the Rest of Us

Everyone Hates Marketers

The Art of Product

Masters of Scale

The book: Small Giants.

This entire book is literally about companies that focus on deliberately growing but still staying excellent. Many were profitable and didn't raise a lot of outside funding. Many also were strongly owned by employees.


These are all MBA business books whist I could see some business books being useful.

Having 100% make me think the target audience are MBA students and not "hackers"

Keep in mind that IH'ers are trying to start their own independent internet-based bootstrapped businesses. Having joined the IH community recently, I can attest that the business side of things is where most IH'ers are lacking in terms of achieving that goal (myself included). Their technical skills tend to be "good enough". Hence the value placed on these types of books. Hope that helps to explain.

It does but not in they way I think you thought it did

True. Something similar to the ARM Cortex Technical Reference Manual is more my idea of "hacker": http://docs-api-peg.northeurope.cloudapp.azure.com/assets/dd...

Do you think this is "indispensable" on the general sense of the title?

I think some of the classic tech business books are also good for “indie hackers”:

Andrew Grove’s High Output Management

John Brooks’ Business Adventures

Brad Felds and Jason Mendelson’s Venture Deals

Antifragile is on the list, but Fooled by Randomness is better I think as it’s shorter and contains almost all the ideas.

Wait, this isn't about hacking at all. Disappointing.

If you liked E-myth, the Road Less Stupid is a great one for small companies or startups especially if you're struggling to move from an operator to an owner role

Not super familiar with the space, but ReWork by Jason Fried and DHH, founders of BaseCamp (DHH made Ruby on Rails), was pretty good. They provide a very different take on business and startups than typical on HN. They are almost anti VC, and really have some good points when it comes to making something and running a company differently than typical enterprise and startups do.

There should be a disclaimer that these are mostly self-help books. I don't personally find these books useful.

I wonder why this is being downvoted.

The War of Art is undoubtedly a self-help book, and so is How to Make Friends and Influence people. Both contain little more than trivial platitudes IMO. I have not read the other books, but from the abstracts it looks like several more can be considered self-help books.

I was hoping for hands-on books like "The Art of Electronics" by Horowitz & Hill or similar.

Or at least something like The C Programming Language. Or at least Introduction to Linear Algebra by Gilbert Strang. Or at least The Theory of Relational Databases by David Maier.

Saw antifragile in the pic. Didn't see it In the post dissapointed

Its the fifth in the list. I tried to direct link to it within the article but couldn’t from my phone.

What exactly is a indie hacker?

It's explained here: https://www.indiehackers.com/about

It largely refers to software developers who make a living from one-or-more revenue-generating businesses they've built themselves.

This type of person is distinct from people who are employed full-time (or on a long-term contract) or who fund a business with major outside investment.

The key values of the indie-hacker community seem to be around building sustainable businesses that can fund an individual or small team to build valuable products for a small-but-substantial niche of customers, as distinct from the "boom or bust" approach of VC-funded, rapid-growth-focused startups.

It is a made up term that's not actually a thing; it refers to the people doing the kind of stuff that you'll find on IndieHackers website.

That was the first thing I tried, but since the only relevant hit is the indiehackers side leads me to believe its s made up term and not actually a thing, and I wanted to confirm that. But thank you for your informative reply nonetheless, obvious you put a lot of effort in it!

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