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Ask HN: Best books you read in the past decade?
873 points by Anon84 25 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 417 comments
Now that the decade is coming to a close, what where the most (personally) influential books you read? Which impacted you the most either personally or professionally? The ones you learned the most from?

The Count of Monte Cristo - This is one breathtaking epic. I have been putting off reading this novel for quite some time and occasionally see this name popping up in HN too, but never gave a serious thought for giving it a go. Was I wrong! This is an epic in its true sense, and you will feel a sense of amazement as you progress through the novel. I'm quite a reader, and I have not experienced such amazement when reading any other book (atleast in recent times). Perhaps, I read this book when I was pretty down and kind of hopeless where my life is taking me, because this book is all about HOPE. Even if you are not a reader, the storyline itself will beat any of the entertaining stories out there. But this book is more than its storyline. At the minimum, you will learn to hope which is a big takeaway from this novel. If you are on the fence reading this, just go for it.

Other books which I find interesting

- The Slight Edge

- Sapiens

- The Master and Margarita (apart from the fact it is a great novel, this is so wickedly funny )

I'll second the recommendation of The Count of Monte Cristo.

There's a user on HN who learned French just so he could read it in the original, and I can see why.

If you read it, make sure to read the unabridged edition, and not any of the many abridged editions, which are often targeted at children and are a travesty to the mature themes in the original.

I can personally recommend David Clarke's reading of it on Librivox,[1] who does an excellent job.

[1] - https://librivox.org/the-count-of-monte-cristo-version-3-by-...

Counterpoint: I prefer the abridged version. Dumas was originally paid by number of pages and it shows IMO.

He was paid by the number of lines -- which actually does show by, for instance, the number of dialogues with Noirtier, a mute who mostly responds "yes" or "no."

Which one would you recommend?

Completely agree for the Count of Monte Cristo, but wanted to add that I had a similar experience more recently with Shogun (James Clavell) which I found equally inescapably immersive.

If by 'inescapably' you mean trapped in sprawling meandering threads with no meaning or relevance to the story that must be read out to completion before you realize you've been had, sure.

The sword buried in earthquake and the samurai-wife subplots come to mind even all these years later.

Still, it was riveting compared to the shaggy dog that was Tai-Pan, the only book I've had the distinction of hurling at the wall in disgust at its non-conclusion.

There is a 70s TV mini series that did a good adaptation of the Shogun book. So I decided to read the book, it was well worth it. At 1000+ pages I wish it could have been longer. I loved it.

Thanks for the suggestion. Adding 'Shogun' to my reading list

If you are adding Shogun then surely you also must add Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa. A sprawling epic loosely based on history, with real historical people as characters

Thanks for suggestion. Added to my reading list ...

Highly recommend the audio book, if you're into that.

The Master and Margarita is one of the best novels I've read this year too. It is funny and is so fresh with its humour, despite being several decades old.

Funny coincidence. I just finished The Count of Monte Cristo and started reading The Master and Margarita after that few days ago. Nice to see that they are well recommended here.

I guess it's a testimony of how fresh it feels, the book has been written in the 1930s


I read Robin Buss Unabridged version from penguin for "The Count of Monte Cristo".

Also, some of other interesting books I forgot to mention in my original list

- How to Change Your Mind (don't be put off by title)

- Meditations, Marcus Aurelius (good peek into the mind of one of the greatest emperors of all time)

I picked up The Count of Monte Cristo on a dusty shared bookshelf on some combat outpost in Afghanistan circa 2010. I read through it in two days and loved it so much that I ordered the unabridged as soon as I had the means. Fantastic read.

The Count of Monte Cristo is a true masterpiece. I have the unabridged version and have recommended it to others many times. Dumas has profound insight into human nature--the characters are beautifully drawn (even the villains) and with such realistic contours that they seem like actual people. A brilliant read.

Which translation (if so) of "The master and Margarita" have you read? It's on my to read list for some time but when it's time to pick it up, i'm always turned off from finding the right one.


There's a Count of Monte Christio movie that's very good too. I highly recommend it.

It is a great book but I honestly felt like nearly all the action in Rome could have been done without.


Nonviolent Communication.

I think it was linked on HN where it caught my attention. This book teaches a great way to communicate, but for me, it has also helped me think about my feelings and how I can communicate those feelings better. I feel more in touch with my feelings and more empathetic as a direct result from following what the book is teaching.

On the communication side, it has helped me put more structure around tough conversations, personally and professionally. It has helped me understand others more and vice versa. It's also helped me see toxic traits in others. Such as people who aren't interested in understanding or people who struggle to understand their own emotions.

I'm not sure you need to read the whole book to get value out of it. I'm not knocking the idea of NVC, I think it's helpful, however, reading the book it seemed like the author took a great article/blog post and turned it into a meandering book to jack up his speaking fees.

You can save yourself the time/money and just read the Wikipedia page - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolent_Communication

I disagree. There are a lot of books (especially self-help books) that I feel that way about. I think every chapter in this book is worthwhile, and I plan on re-reading it at least once.

He's not everybody's cup of tea, but I don't get the sense at all that Marshall Rosenberg was in it for the money.

This book has also helped me connect better with others and accomplish what I think needs to be accomplished.

It almost feels like magic how effective it is as it seems to sort of ballet step away and around from conflict. I usually don’t care about conflict so it’s nice to just sort of leave behind all the distractions that come when people focus on the wrong parts of communication.

A recent example where this helped me...I was trying to figure out what tasks needed to be done to launch a product. At first I asked the project manager what tasks he defined and he started getting very defensive because perhaps I thought he sucked at his job. Just by rephrasing that I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to contribute to things that needed to happen and that I wanted to know what steps needed to be taken, the pm opened up. I felt like the book saved me 30 minutes of pointless arguing.

The co-author of this book is (seems to be) Deepak Chopra who acquired quite a fame for his liberal use of quantum physics terminology (quantum woo-woo) and for producing thoughts and ideas which typically turn out be not very coherent under a closer scrutiny (https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Deepak_Chopra), i.e. for "sounding deep while saying nothing"

I wonder how his co-authorship affects contents of the book. I bought the book (b/c of this thread, not even looking at the authorship), and I will judge the book based on its contents, but suporting financially a de-facto cult leader of a not very rational movement doesn't sound like a good move from my perspective.

“Foreword by Deepak Chopra” is hardly co-authoring.

The amazon book page is confusing, it lists him as a co-author. The book's cover says it's just a foreword, so I guess you're right.

Still, not to surrender in this thread completely, letting such type of person to write a foreword for a book is not a very good initial signal in itself - it casts doubt on the main author's judgement with regard to whom she considers an authority in matters of communication (or, in any matter other than producing confusing statements).

I haven't looked too closely, but the author was already dead by the time this edition came out so it's quite possible he had no say in the matter.

That's standard practice for Amazon (the author of the introduction being listed as an author of the book). It's confusing and annoying.

I can't stand books that "sound deep while saying nothing". This book definitely does not fall into that category. It's one of the books (if not the book) that has had the biggest impact on my life since reading it. It's like a more modern How to Win Friends and Influence People.

In a different version of the book than the one you mentioned, the forward is written by Mahatma Gandhi's grandson. That forward is also very worth reading.

Thanks for mentioning this. I don't go near anything that guy touches. Will be skipping this book.

He was added as a foreword author after the main author had already died, just FYI.

I feel compelled to restate how wonderful this book is.

> it has also helped me think about my feelings

The book focuses on communication with others, but effectively fosters constructive inner dialogue as well. I know of at least one other person who claimed it helped them avoid destructive habits.

> it has helped me put more structure around tough conversations

I deescalated a nasty dispute between two people close to me after reading only the first few chapters. I was impressed because I wasn't the type of person to emotionally connect with people so effectively.

I believe the world would be a better place if more people read this book.

I recently purchased Say What You Mean which is about Nonviolent Communication and Mindfulness. I’ve only read the introduction but it really resonates with me.

Actually connecting with people rather than just talking past them and having them talk past me is something that I find very appealing at this point in life after realizing how much people seem to ignore what I am actually saying (and realizing I am almost certainly doing the same to them).


Is a link to an earlier comment okay?

For sure.

Probably Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger or Prometheus Rising back in 2010. The “reality tunnel” concept has defined much of my personal and intellectual exploration of the past 10 years.

“ When we meet somebody whose separate tunnel-reality is obviously far different from ours, we are a bit frightened and always disoriented. We tend to think they are mad, or that they are crooks trying to con us in some way, or that they are hoaxers playing a joke. Yet it is neurologically obvious that no two brains have the same genetically-programmed hard wiring, the same imprints, the same conditioning, the same learning experiences. We are all living in separate realities. That is why communication fails so often, and misunderstandings and resentments are so common. I say "meow" and you say "Bow-wow," and each of us is convinced the other is a bit dumb.”

Cosmic Trigger was great, but I must say it's hard to speak of Robert Anton Wilson without mentioning his magnum opus, The Illuminatus Trilogy.

The Illuminatus Trilogy is my favorite book of all time.

A lot of people have a hard time with it, considering it nonsense and giving up a fifth of the way through. I'd strongly suggest sticking with it. There is a reason is seems like nonsense and the reason is given at the end of the book - the whole purpose of all of it is to reprogram your brain. It's a journey worth taking.

Hail Eris!

I truly believe there is a shared reality separate from our experiences. The further you are from that reality the more "stupider" you actually are.

It's not all apples and oranges. Some people are right some people are wrong and some things are better than other things.

Robert Pirsig used the word "mythos" to describe this in Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance.

To quote:

The mythos-over-logos argument points to the fact that each child is born as ignorant as any caveman. What keeps the world from reverting to the Neanderthal with each generation is the continuing, ongoing mythos, transformed into logos but still mythos, the huge body of common knowledge that unites our minds as cells are united in the body of man. To feel that one is not so united, that one can accept or discard this mythos as one pleases, is not to understand what the mythos is.

There is only one kind of person, Phaedrus said, who accepts or rejects the mythos in which he lives. And the definition of that person, when he has rejected the mythos, Phaedrus said, is "insane." To go outside the mythos is to become insane.

Haha, no. You don't get a free pass of some single shared reality.

There is an infinite bunch of realities, and the one you see is defined by your own experience only.

In other words, what you perceive is what that you are. Or that you can't perceive that what you can't accept.

Hat tip to Douglas Adams who described this idea that obvious.

Haha, no to you.

Except that the majority of people perceive realities that are highly, highly similar indicating that they are all perceiving a singular thing outside of their own experience.

There's a reason why people who deviate too far from the norm get locked up.

There's also a reason why you understand the reality that I am describing to you right now. Likely because we are both perceiving the same thing. In order for us to perceive the same thing it likely must exist as a single shared reality separate from our own internal minds.

How do you know that the realities the majority of people perceive are highly highly similar? Language alone cannot be used to deduce this since perceiving and constructing realities is rooted in the domain of qualia and the psyche.

How do you now there are people for that matter other than brain(s) in vats ?

The fact that you are willing to assume so much does not invalidate parent’s argument, merely exposes the flaws in yours.


see my response to another persons post. By coincidence i address your issues as well.

There is no single reality.

People that get locked up are just the poor souls that can't live with this fact.

Yeah go around blabbing about multiple realities in public. See who gets locked up.

You have heard of witnesses supposedly seeing the same event but having profoundly different interpretations haven't you? They believe them fully but what they see changes based on genetics, culture, history of the person. There are as many realities as there are people.

What happens when you gather all witnesses to watch a video recording of said event and describe the event as it happens? Do they see something different or do they see the same event? Likely they will see the same thing and the distinct descriptions that permeated the "interpretations" will disappear.

Evidence from common sense and psychology attribute the distinction in your example to flaws in human memory. No field except philosophy tries to twist it into some multi-reality concept.

There is no concrete evidence either way proving whether there is actually a shared reality or not. Additionally, it's impossible to even prove the existence of other realities outside of the reality you yourself are experiencing. I could be a figment of your imagination. Such things are impossible to prove.

But what lends evidence to the notion that there is in fact a shared reality, is the fact that we all go out and look at the sky and see that it is blue. It's that simple. Your intuition says there's a sky and that means it probably is. Don't get too lost in the philosophical mumbo jumbo because all these concepts of reality have equal probabilities of being true. But the reality or illusion that is placed in front of your eyes is the reality where multiple individuals occupy a shared reality where they all see a sky and they all say the sky is blue. That's all you got, might as well believe it.

+1 for this, I read Prometheus Rising in 2011 and it has heavily influenced my mental model for different drugs. It's not particularly scientific but still a fun read.

That sounds exactly what this Lippmann quote from Public Opinion is talking about! https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21897532

From a few angles:

* I read the Bible out of curiosity and ended up joining a church, so that's pretty consequential.

* Moby Dick and Journey to the West were probably the most sheer enjoyment I got out of books

* Learning C# 3.0 by Jesse Liberty is extremely dated at this point, and was dated even when I read it, but was the first book that made me "get" many basic OO concepts and taught me a language I've gotten a lot of professional mileage out of

* Skiena's Algorithm Design Manual and Sedewick/Wayne's Algorithms. Most people do algorithms in school. I learned about it while I was already writing programs for money all day, which means it deeply impacted the way I think about my work.

* Discrete Math with Applications by Epp -- I didn't read it all the way through but gave me the foundations to actually understand what the hell the books in the last bullet were talking about

* Battle Cry of Freedom by MacPherson was the first really meaty historical book I read. Turns out I like those a lot.

So many more but this seems like a reasonable place to stop for this discussion.

People here are quick to dismiss the Bible as trivial but it has some very good stories and wisdom if you read it with an open mind. In the same way some books help you understand life, relationships and your place in the world the Bible will help you with that. Unfortunately some people start interpret it towards their view of life which lead to some extreme and harsh views that separate us.

Yes it does.

It is also great source of knowledge of what to do for example:

how to beat up your slave so to not offend god

what to do if your daughter is raped (spoiler alert sell her to the rapist).

what to do to people having tattoos or wearing mixed fabrics.

It is also a great that non of it contradicts itself: https://infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/contradict...

Bible is what it is, but its not a source of never-ending wisdom. And being treated as holy book gives impetus to bad people to do bad things and feel good about doing it.

You have to remember that The Bible isn't one book. It's a collection of a bunch of different books in one convenient binding. I finally finished reading the whole thing last year and was surprised by how many different perspectives it contained. Anybody who says "The Bible says x!" is at risk of missing the point. It's far more accurate to say something like "In one of his letters, Paul said x" or "Esther told her father x." Context is critically important for this collection of very different books.

Yes agreed, there were a lot of studies done on the bible its origins and authors, its undisputable that it was written by several authors in several different historical periods (Including new testament).

Problem with bible is that people clam it was divinely inspired - written by god through human hand. Well it is clearly not. But all it really is a tool in hands of extremists justifying their evil deeds. That's how you have 'thou shall not kill' but wanting all gays to be killed etc.

"I read the Bible out of curiosity and ended up joining a church, so that's pretty consequential."

In that case, to be fair to yourself, did you also read the Quran, for comparison? Other religious texts?

I read some of the more notable Greek and Roman mythology if that counts. Otherwise no.

Quite amazing, happy to hear you have found Jesus! Did you read the Bible without any help? It's such a complex set of texts, all from very different ages, from very different people. Couldn't imagine myself getting the most out of it without help.

Wow, a lot of these resonate. Epp's Discrete Math was so much fun--definitely my favorite textbook from college. Moby Dick was mindbending, and my favorite novel until reading Homer's Odyssey. The Bible was a great education in ancient cultures. I was just reading an interview of McPherson on NYT's 1619 project, too.

May your journey of faith be fruitful. I enjoyed reading Dostoyevsky and G.K. Chesterton along those lines.

I've enjoyed a few Dostoevsky books, especially Crime and Punishment. The Odyssey is also a blast.

Question about the Bible — is Jesus a real person or could it be that he is a symbol of and an invitation for, choosing love, to the best of one’s abilities, in every present moment and choice on one’s life?

What is your take on this? What about the Church’ take?

The way I read it, the Bible makes it a point to communicate that Jesus was/is a real person (and that his importance actually hinges on that fact). AFAIK, this is and has always been the Church's position.

> I read the Bible out of curiosity and ended up joining a church, so that's pretty consequential.

Is there a bigger story here? I'm not the type that would find reading the Bible appealing but I can say without a shadow of doubt that if I would, it would not awaken any latent desires for religion.

I've read 3 different versions of the bible and it converted me from an agnostic to an atheist. I think GP may have been predisposed to religion (or at least to the social aspects of joining a church) as the bible, as interesting as it is, is only as interesting as any other selected and vetted collection of philosophy and story telling. Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam also have very interesting texts worth reading.

This isn't meant to be insulting or dismissive, I have nothing but good will to GP, but statistically just reading the bible doesn't usually lead to joining a church. If it did, you could lose the rest of the evangelism and missionary practices and not really see a dent in the population of Christianity.

> it converted me from an agnostic to an atheist

I don't think these are necessarily mutually exclusive, but treating them as if they are, I'm curious why. I would presume your definitions, based on this, that:

* agnostic = "I don't know if there is anything" * atheist = "I do know that there is nothing"

I have mostly met agnostic atheists, being "I don't know if there is anything, but I believe there's nothing", whereas it seems you are a gnostic atheist.

I'm curious because I somewhat took an opposite path in my life - reading Godel's Incompleteness Theorem exposed myself to the idea that I can't ever know what's out there, so it lead me to agnosticism.

Philosophically I call myself agnostic. But colloquially I call myself an atheist. Also while I'm agnostic about there existing _any_ powerful being (god), I'm pretty dang confident that the gods described in religious texts do not exist. So in that sense, I am atheist (towards human religions). And it is in this last sense that I could see someone going from agnostic-to-atheist by reading the Bible or in other ways learning more about religion/psychology/history.

I translate atheism similarly to amorality. An amoral action or thought is orthogonal to the existence of morality. An atheist is orthogonal to the existence of god / gods. The existence or non-existence of any deity is not only unprovable, it has only academic influence on my actions or thoughts.

To be fair, few people actually read it in the first place (one big way in which my experience of church was not what I imagined)

Which is actually a pity. The bible is at least as full of pithy quotes and genuinely helpful, thoughtful points to consider as the usual self help books. It's definitely worth a read, but so is a lot of Greek philosophy, poetry, other religious texts and a bunch more. Hence the original question that spawned this whole thread! There is original, thought provoking content being written all the time. This HN post has already given me a few recommendations for finding it, both in fiction and non-fiction.

There are factors working against it, like the length, the popularity of the KJV with its archaic language, long sections of somewhat boring genealogies or religious laws, and so on. But I'd always chuckle at Bart Ehrman's observation that it was very strange how many students he had who said they believed the Bible was the literal, inerrant word of God yet hadn't ever read it -- after all, "wouldn't you want to know what he had to say?"

I wonder what the absolute number of living people who have actually read the bible is compared to the number of people who have read Joyce, Tolkien, Tolstoy, even George R R Martin!

There are many texts that are long and arduous, yet they are sometimes worth the effort to read! In many instances the rewards are seemingly unsubstantial but they all provide something that can shape subsequent thoughts in many ways. I suppose it's a matter of priority and interest. Ah well, vive la différence!

I finished the Bible last year. It took a lot longer than other equally long books have taken me to read. The Bible is really a collection of a bunch of different books. The constant narrative changes can be hard to follow. To be clear, I'm really glad that I read it, but I understand why a lot of people don't.

And of course, some of the authors on your list would be enhanced by being conversant with the Bible. That was kind of what led me to read it in the first place.

Not really. The New Testament grabbed me in a way I didn't anticipate.

That's interesting. I was raised Catholic and am still now a sort of very detached Catholic and I read the New Testament earlier this year and it had kind of the opposite effect on me --- not so much in any fundamental way regarding what I believe spiritually, but in my attitude towards the church itself. I spent 12 years having priests and nuns drill the basic story in all its details into my head, and what's in the actual book is very different.

Tom Bissell --- who is sort of a lighter, breezier version of the kind of essayist David Foster Wallace was, and who has done a lot of serious writing about and in video games, which is not my thing at all but maybe HN's --- has a sort of travel/essay book about the apostles, where he visits each of their purported burial sites and uses that as a starting point for an essay about some aspect of the region, the particular apostle, or some broader aspect of christian faith, which you might find interesting.

That sounds interesting. Thanks for the recommendation.

I do think coming into it without any particular expectations, and while watching secular videos about it, was actually helpful in being able to get something out of the text. I was raised Catholic but I guess my upbringing wasn't particularly rigorous in that way so I didn't have that many preconceived notions about what the text was "supposed to" say.


No religious flamewar on HN, please.


Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina, because it made me a better father; Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, because it taught me of the importance of something that I’d occasionally dismiss as a nuisance; Pain Free and Pain Free at Your PC by Pete Egoscue, because it completely changed the way I understood posture, pain, and how repetition influences my body; and Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, because it taught me how despite big changes in technology and society and way of living, very little changes when it comes to our personal struggles and concerns; Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, because it helped me realize that in any situation, my attitude is what I always have control over; and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey because it greatly contributed to my mental framework for how to be productive and for this quote, which is probably my favorite of the past decade:

“In the space between stimulus (what happens) and how we respond, lies our freedom to choose. Ultimately, this power to choose is what defines us as human beings. We may have limited choices but we can always choose. We can choose our thoughts, emotions, moods, our words, our actions; we can choose our values and live by principles. It is the choice of acting or being acted upon.”

Re: Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, this critique of the book is worth a read: https://guzey.com/books/why-we-sleep/

Thanks for sharing. Very informative. Especially this quote gave me pause:

> I wanted to drop you a line to thank you for all the time and effort involved in debunking Matthew Walker’s book. As someone who works with individuals with insomnia on a daily basis, I know from firsthand experience the harm that Walker’s book is causing.

> I have many stories of people who slept well on less than eight hours of sleep, read Walker’s book, tried to get more sleep and this led to more time awake, frustration, worry, sleep-related anxiety, and insomnia. …

Disappointing... That book has been highly recommended ad infinitum on HN, to the point that it was sounding like gospel. Maybe that should've been a hint, heh.

Has Walker responded to that critique?

This may constitute a response, but it’s not clear if the original author wrote it in response to Guzey’s claims, or if it was the author or just an imitator. The writing style strongly suggests it’s the author, and it uses the author’s twitter handle and website name as the subdomain: https://sleepdiplomat.wordpress.com/2019/12/19/why-we-sleep-...

Glad someone posted this. This book gets so much praise. But like any popsci book, there are huge incentives for the author to exaggerate and manipulate to produce a clear and marketable message. Just consider that if there was no interesting story to tell about sleep, of course there would be no book.

Funnily enough, there's also a completely different book by the very same name, written by a German sleep researcher. And this one's actually really good (imo). [1]

[1] https://service.randomhouse.de/paperback/Why-We-Sleep/Albrec...

What a great critique. I'd like to see a similar treatment of Jason Hickel's "The Divide", which feels both terribly important and very biased and sloppy.

Agreed, I would pay something for a feed of critiques like this, would save me time dodging poorly constructed literature, I like books, they are like the internet but usually a little more refined.

I'd like to give this a more thorough read, but so far this critique strikes me as done in bad faith. I read the book. I'm also in the middle of a biophys PhD, so I like to think my opinion is "extra super special". Here are my comments:

Point 1: the chart bottoms out at 7, which falls within the range the book recommends. I'm fairly sure he recommends 7-9, and that the required amt varies from person to person. Another thought I had: metabolism and longevity go hand and hand. I mean, I just read a brand new paper from George Church's Harvard lab, showing that they reversed several chronic ailments in mice by inserting FGF21, which regulates glucose levels. And sleep absolutely regulates metabolism. Personally, I'm keeping my ears perked up when it comes to metabolism/circadian rhythms/homeostasis, etc.

Point 2: Depression is an incredibly complicated topic. It is a psychological construct, the net result of thousands and thousands of genes, filtered through a modern technological world, and then filtered through inventories, interviews, and assessments. For this reason, I am not at all surprised that Guzey was able to find studies that suggest that sleep deprivation might have some benefit for some people. I would HIGHLY recommend this new, open-access Nature review paper covering the genome wide studies on depression: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0450-5. Its almost not worth pitting a complex phenotype like depression against another complex behavior like depression. But what the hell, let's brush with broad strokes: the significant genetic variants associated with depression have to do with regulating homeostasis (eg sirtuins). So I would not be surprised if good sleep is at least correlated with low levels of depression.

Point 3: I know almost nothing about FFI, but we have kept mice awake, and they do eventually die. I'm pretty sure humans would die too, but ethics precludes us from performing such a study.

Points 4&5: This is just fussing about Walker's writing and WHO. I'll have to agree with Guzey that Walker's citations and consistency are often weak. And I honestly couldn't care less about WHO. But I'm pretty confident that sleep quantity has declined with time across the world. I remain curious about the connections between light and circadian rhythms (I think retinal cells go straight to the superchiasmatic nucleus, the circadian rhythm controller). Also, sugar is a thing in the modern world.

So yeah, I'm just frustrated by his nitpicking, and his seeming lack of appreciation for sleep as an open biological question. We don't know why we sleep, really. If anything, the title is the worst part of the book. But at least the contents respect the question. This criticism does not. Nonetheless, I am a sucker for obsessive bloggers (eg slatestar, gwern, cowen, etc), so I will definitely be checking out Guzey's other writing. It looks interesting.

A couple of follow-ups here: Andrew Gelman has, I think, the best commentary on Guzey's critique.



To my knowledge, Walker hasn't responded to Guzey's criticisms. The other issue that has emerged in the weeks since Guzey published his critique is that Walker seems to be using the erroneous claims in his book in his papers. Relevant exchange here: https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2019/11/24/why-we-sle...

Hi, I'm the author of that critique.

>Point 1: the chart bottoms out at 7, which falls within the range the book recommends. I'm fairly sure he recommends 7-9, and that the required amt varies from person to person. Another thought I had: metabolism and longevity go hand and hand. I mean, I just read a brand new paper from George Church's Harvard lab, showing that they reversed several chronic ailments in mice by inserting FGF21, which regulates glucose levels. And sleep absolutely regulates metabolism. Personally, I'm keeping my ears perked up when it comes to metabolism/circadian rhythms/homeostasis, etc.

The point you're making has nothing to do with the point I'm making in the relevant section. I take issue with Walker writing "the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life span". You seem to have missed this part entirely. If you say that the book recommends 7-9, feel free to quote the book because it definitely seems that he strongly advocates at least 8 hours. Example: as I showed in section 5, Walker takes 7-9 hours recommendation from the National Sleep Foundation and then falsely claims that they recommend 8 hours of sleep.

>Point 2: Depression is an incredibly complicated topic. It is a psychological construct, the net result of thousands and thousands of genes, filtered through a modern technological world, and then filtered through inventories, interviews, and assessments. For this reason, I am not at all surprised that Guzey was able to find studies that suggest that sleep deprivation might have some benefit for some people. I would HIGHLY recommend this new, open-access Nature review paper covering the genome wide studies on depression: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0450-5. Its almost not worth pitting a complex phenotype like depression against another complex behavior like depression. But what the hell, let's brush with broad strokes: the significant genetic variants associated with depression have to do with regulating homeostasis (eg sirtuins). So I would not be surprised if good sleep is at least correlated with low levels of depression.

You missed the point I was making entirely. Walker wrote that there are no biological functions that do not benefit from a good night's sleep. I point out that this is false, as sleep deprivation therapy is a safe, effective, and a very-well studied treatment for depression.

>Point 3: I know almost nothing about FFI, but we have kept mice awake, and they do eventually die. I'm pretty sure humans would die too, but ethics precludes us from performing such a study.

You missed the point I was making entirely, again. Walker wrote that FFI demonstrates that lack of sleep kills people. I pointed out that saying that is completely false. What relation do mice have to the point I was making?

>Points 4&5: This is just fussing about Walker's writing and WHO. I'll have to agree with Guzey that Walker's citations and consistency are often weak. And I honestly couldn't care less about WHO. But I'm pretty confident that sleep quantity has declined with time across the world. I remain curious about the connections between light and circadian rhythms (I think retinal cells go straight to the superchiasmatic nucleus, the circadian rhythm controller). Also, sugar is a thing in the modern world.

Points 4&5: this again has very little relationship with what I was writing. In section 4, I pointed out that Walker has seemingly invented a sleep loss epidemic and attributed it to the WHO. This is not just an issue with citations. In section 5, I pointed out that Walker misrepresents National Sleep Foundations sleep guidelines, saying that they recommend 8 hours of sleep, while in reality they recommend 7-9 hours of sleep.

For readers of this exchange: if you're still unsure how serious my concerns with the book are, the clearest example is provided in section 18, where I show deliberate data manipulation by Walker. He simply edited out the part of the graph that contradicted his argument in the book: https://guzey.com/books/why-we-sleep/#appendix-what-do-you-d...

Hey Guzey, thanks for hopping in. I like your blog.

Walker's book is sloppy. The graph you mention last is egregious. No disagreements here. Honestly I agree with you at least partly on all of your points.

So why did I miss your points? I was trying to give better evidence/info relevant to the topic of each point. My hope was people would read it and continue to respect sleep as an open and very interesting biological question. Maybe it came off as ignoring the points. I understand that. But honestly I don't care about Walker that much - I care about sleep. Its really weird, and we don't understand it.

Out of curiosity, what is your current stance on sleep?

EDIT: after re-reading this comment, I realized it might seem a bit disingenuous, because I did criticize your arguments as bad faith. Clearly I care a little about your take-down of Walker.

I said this because you found claims in Walker's book, found errors in his evidence, and then denied the general claims in your bold-font headings. It seemed like you were dismissing the putative importance of sleep along with dismissing Walker the author. I felt this was uncharitable to the topic, so I gave you the "bad faith" charge.

Got it. I apologize if my tone was too harsh. I do stand by all of the bold-font headings, but yes, primarily the post is directed at Walker.

My current stance on sleep is that we don't know much about it and we don't know much about how much exactly we need to sleep. I'm collecting some notes on sleep (very preliminary so far) here: https://guzey.com/sleep/

Oh its alright, I didn't feel attacked.

If you're curious, here's another GWAS open-access paper on sleep: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-08917-4. Its self reporting, but its tricky to do EEG or some other technique on half a million people. Also this associated portal is cool: http://sleepdisordergenetics.org/home/portalHome

Thank you for all your work, which must largely be a thankless task.

Thank you.

'Point 2: Depression is an incredibly complicated topic. It is a psychological construct, the net result of thousands and thousands of genes, filtered through a modern technological world, and then filtered through inventories, interviews, and assessments. For this reason, I am not at all surprised that Guzey was able to find studies that suggest that sleep deprivation might have some benefit for some people. I would HIGHLY recommend this new, open-access Nature.....'

All of this is completely irrelevant to Guzey's point, which is that sleep deprivation is a known treatment for depression. You are going off on a tangent about the genetics of depression, while failing to engage with the topic under discussion.

This is also a very strange claim to make. I am pretty sure that you should be surprised - the anti-depressant/sleep thing is well known in part because it's so unique: I've never heard of even a single study finding sleep deprivation to be a striking temporary treatment for schizophrenia, autism, bipolar disorder, psychopathy, etc, all of which are influenced by 'thousands and thousands of genes, filtered through [etc]', the way it is for depression to the point of being meta-analyzable. (And if they exist, I don't recall them being mentioned anywhere in the sleep/depression papers.) It's a really strange finding!

If I completely buy Guzeys citation, sleep deprivation works for half of people temporarily. So, kinda useful but not sustainable. It also ignores memory and other effects sleep has on mood.

The point I am making is we can keep throwing new treatments at depressed people, or we can finally recognize the immense heterogeneity of depression, in both its genetic & environmental causes, as well as its many phenotypes (there are lots of ways to hit the inventory threshold). This fact is why this argument over sleeping or not is even happening. It’s not a tangent, in my opinion. This is the central problem.

>If I completely buy Guzeys citation, sleep deprivation works for half of people temporarily. So, kinda useful but not sustainable. It also ignores memory and other effects sleep has on mood.

You'll be interested in reading this study: "How to preserve the antidepressive effect of sleep deprivation: A comparison of sleep phase advance and sleep phase delay" https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s004060050092 and googling the keywords from that study

Also, you again ignored the point I was responding to in that section.

I also loved 7 Habits -- before reading it I had kind of brushed it off as just another wishy-washy self help book, but it exceeded all expectations.

However, what I took away from it was nothing about productivity, but rather how to live a good life. Habits 1-3, 5, and 7 are all solid advice that have broad application far outside of the narrow domains of the workplace. The mental model in Habit 1 about the "circle of influence vs. circle of control" has been one of the single most effective contributions to my mental health.

When new parents ask my advice, “Brain Rules for Baby” is the one and only book I recommend. Everyone has told me later they loved it.

Egoscue was a paradigm shift for me. I had never considered posture as a critical factor in health, and since reading his books, I've gone down the rabbit hole of posture and myofascial therapy, and I'm appaled at how ignored this domain is in society. Most of us are walking around with so much energy trapped in the tension of our bodies, and our knowledge work further disembodies us. To anyone reading this, I highly recommend buying The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion, it's like 6 bucks on Amazon, and will change your life.

+1 for Why We Sleep. It's one of those books that really changed my outlook on a fundamental aspect of life that too many of us take for granted.

Great suggestions. Your post reads like the first part of Meditations by Aurelius.

If you like Rilke, you'd also really like James Hollis' The Middle Passage (1993). As for as books from the past decade go David Brooks' The Road to Character was pretty good. His follow-up The Second Mountain would have been better if he didn't recycle so much from the previous work. Sam Harris' Waking Up was pretty eye opening as Harris is a very lucid thinker.

Mans Search For Meaning affected me in a way that very few books ever have. You grow up knowing about the holocaust, you see the imagery, but it's all impersonal. You understand why it's a horrific deed, why hitler was a horrible human being, and why we as a society should never allow that to happen again.

But there's just something about Frankl's descriptions, at least for me. It personalized it in a way I had never really experienced before. That book horrified me in a way that none of the other material on the holocaust ever had.

Professionally influential:

  - High Growth Handbook (general company building tips)
  - Traction (the one by Weinberg and Mares; engineer-friendy guide to marketing and growth)
  - Understanding Michael Porter (great intro to business strategy)
  - Monetizing Innovation (pricing advice)
Personally influential:

  - Thinkertoys and Cracking Creativity (how to be more creative)
  - Atomic Habits (how to establish good habits)
  - A Guide to the Good Life (friendly intro to stoicism)
  - What Got You Here Won't Get You There (building self-awareness)

  - Richard Feynman autobiographies
  - The Martian
  - Shadow Divers
  - Ready Player One
  - The Myron Bolitar Series (mysteries with a good sense of humor)

Is High Growth Handbook for later-stage companies (say 1M+ ARR)? Or not necessarily?

Part of what makes the book good, in my opinion, is that it has useful advice across stages. Some of it applies to very early stage companies. The other thing is that having a good sense of what to expect at 25 or 50 people will have some influence on what you do when you're three people.

Fiction: Unsong by Scott Alexander. The funnest and funniest sci-fi yarn since Douglas Adams, amidst tantalizing explorations of theodicy and existential absurdicy. It's even free: http://unsongbook.com https://github.com/moorederodeo/Unsong-In-Ebook-Format/relea...

Non-fiction: The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. Of all the books of the last ten years, I can't think of one that more transformed my understanding of (and compassion for) my fellow thinking, feeling, moralizing, tribal primates. https://righteousmind.com/

I can second The Righteous Mind. Currently almost done with it. Has given me many thing to think about.

However, I feel like the author sometimes falls into the same biases/flawed thought patterns he spends the book describing. Because of this, I'd rate it as very good instead of great.

"Invention of Nature"; nonfiction; about the life of Alexander von Humboldt; Darwin said of him "if it hadn't been for AVH, I would have never stepped foot on the HMS Beagle"; profoundly important to modern science, an adventurer, yet little known in modern times

"Stoner" by John Williams; fiction; this book knocked me on my butt and I read it all in almost one sitting; about an English professor who refuses to relinquish his integrity in the face of great adversity

"Light Years" by James Salter; fiction; inexpressibly beautiful novel that takes place largely on the Hudson River above New York

"Narcissus and Goldmund" by Hesse; fiction; a fun yet literary adventure novel about the importance and fun of living life with integrity

"When Things Fall Apart" by Chödron; non-fiction; Chödron proposes that leaning into suffering, experiencing it as directly and fully as possibly and without resistance paradoxically leads to profound relief from suffering

"Enlightenment Now" by Pinker; non-fiction; proposes, convincingly, that life nhas drastically improved for nearly everyone on earth due to a shifting philosophical orientation towards enlightenment values; proposes that although much is problematic, there is reason for great hope, too

Narcissus and Goldmund is probably my favorite of Hesse's novels, but also great is The Glass Bead Game.

> "Stoner" by John Williams; fiction; this book knocked me on my butt and I read it all in almost one sitting; about an English professor who refuses to relinquish his integrity in the face of great adversity

I read this book twice in the past 4 years. Such a wonderful and well-written book.

On The Shortness of Life by Seneca.[1]

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl is also excellent.[2]

[1] - https://tripinsurancestore.com/4/on-the-shortness-of-life.pd...

[2] - https://www.amazon.com/Mans-Search-Meaning-Viktor-Frankl/dp/...

It seems Frankl has been somewhat exposed/debunked. I loved his book too as a teenager; it pained me to read sources mentioned on his wikipedia page. Would you believe he was at Auschwitz for only a few days, performed medical experiments on Jews himself, and it appears his main thesis about attitude mattering above all else for survival in the camps is simply false.


Wow. I'm shocked. I had never heard of these controversies, despite spending some time interested in Frankl a while back.

They seem plausible at first read, and should receive more attention. Thank you for highlighting them.

Please be careful... Investigate these claims more fully than Wikipedia, these claims can be exaggerated / out of context

As far as I can tell, these claims are backed up by Frankl's own autobiography and interviews. See quotes:


If true, this is sad and worrying, but be careful with the Wikipedia page: almost every source in that section is the work of one man, which doesn't convey a consensus at all.

I finished the audiobook a month ago. I had read up on the wikipedia page, but had conveniently skipped the controversy section. I assumed there are always naysayers! This time I took the time to read it. It definitely does put a different colour on the whole thing!

Frankl’s work always seemed like cultishness and apologia from what I had elsewhere read on the history of the Holocaust. But I was unprepared to learn that he was a card-carrying fascist who inserted meth into the skulls of people who had killed themselves in rebellion against Nazism...

> In his "Gutachten" Gestapo profile, Frankl is described as "politically perfect" by the Nazi secret police, with Frankl's membership in the Austro-fascist "Fatherland Front" in 1934

> None of Frankl's obituaries mention the unqualified and unskilled brain lobotomy and trepanation medical experiments approved by the Nazis that Frankl performed on Jews who had committed suicide with an overdose of sedatives, in resistance to their impending arrest, imprisonment and enforced labour in the concentration camp system. Operating without any training as a surgeon, Frankl would voluntary request of the Nazis to perform the experiments on those who had resisted and once approved, published some of the details on his experiments, the methods of insertion of his chosen amphetamine drugs into the brains of these individuals, resulting in at times an alleged partial resuscitation, in 1942, prior to his own internment at Theresienstadt ghetto in September later in that year

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure [1] by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

I didn't necessarily agree with all of it but it helped me understand the changes I've seen across workplaces, colleges and beyond. It was also a nice way of thinking more "grey" in terms of the current political climate, and trying to understand the reasons behind people's actions regardless of their political stance.

[1] https://www.thecoddling.com/

Another Haidt book well worth checking out is "The Righteous Mind".

Great for grey thinking and better understanding. And I think it's one of those books that if everyone read it, we'd all be better off. Like an antidote or inhibitor to tribalism.

I haven't read the book, but I've listened to Jonathan Haidt talk on this subject, and I had the exact same response as you.

For me, I just flat cannot understand this current generation, from safe spaces, to being mentally broken over the smallest things. I've always viewed it as a dishonest way to try and get power over people.

Until Jonathan Haidt. He helped convince me that these young people are legitimately fearful of the world around them.

I know "Getting Things Done" by David Allen is a book the HN crowd occasionally loves to hate, but I came across it at the right time in my life and was the impetus I needed to reorganize my life and put systems in place to ensure that I ... well ... started to really get things done. Since then, I've built up my Emacs ecosystem to support a GTD-derived workflow and I've never looked back.

Also on my list are the already-mentioned "Getting To Yes" and "Nonviolent Communication". I also really enjoyed "Good for You, Great for Me" by Lawrence Susskind, which is a slightly more real-world take on the ideals put forth in "Getting to Yes".

I also studied Physics in College and my course on Classical Mechanics was really the impetus to continue down that path for a while. Textbook was "Classical Dynamics of Particles and Systems" by Thornton and Marion.

Only reason I didn't mention GTD is because I read it more than 10 years ago. It was very influential indeed. Probably the most important book I read in the decade before this one.

Out of Control by former Wired editor Kevin Kelly. This book was a labor of love and it shows--every chapter explores some fascinating new topic on the intersection of biology and technology. Even though the book was written 25 years ago it feels completely fresh. I'm sure anyone who reads this site would enjoy it.

David Deutsch's The Beginning of Infinity. If you know him, it's probably because Deutsch did some pioneering work in Quantum computing back in the day, but this book covers everything from physics to biology to computing to art with a grand sort of theory of everything. There are few popular science books more densely packed with original ideas.

Borges' collected fictions. There probably isn't much that needs to be said about this that hasn't already been said. Borges was a visionary.


Stanislaw Lem's Solaris. Completely changed the way I think about sci-fi.

Nick Bostrom's Superintelligence. I think this is still the gold standard of speculative AI books.

Sapiens. Like everyone else I loved this one.

Didn't care for Sapiens. Very pop-science with the author's opinion littered throughout alongside wild predictions on AI, automation.

The only other book I read this year was Evicted by Matthew Desmond. It was an excellent account of poverty cycles as it relates to housing.

I felt the same way. Romanticizing hunter/gatherer society and downplaying positive effects of agrarian society or any notion of evolutionary psychology. It started OK and about halfway through it seemed like he was just giving thoughts and theories on various things, without any references.

Though more focused on cultural evolution, I much preferred Joseph Henrich's "The Secret of Our Success".

Evicted offers a great view into a topic that may be new to many HN readers

I really need to pick up Solaris.

I felt like Sapiens rewired my brain in a way. Homo Deus only drove in the message that we are nothing but algorithms

> I felt like Sapiens rewired my brain in a way.

Same here. His explanation of intra-species realities blew my mind. Explains a _lot_.

> Homo Deus only drove in the message that we are nothing but algorithms

Biological algorithms but still...

Yes I found the idea of "intersubjective", and the word, very useful. Money, corporations, religions, etc. being great examples.

(This reminded me of it and I had to look it up)

Thought Sapiens was good too. The other two seemed a bit dark, especially Homo Deus, but still learned a lot.

2010 - Outliers, Malcom Gladwell

2011 - In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan

2012 - Born to Run, Christopher McDougall

2013 - Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss

2014 - Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon

2015 - Awaken the Giant Within, Tony Robbins

2016 - Black Swan, Nicolas Taleb

2017 - Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman, Richard Feynman

2018 - The Prophet, Khalil Gibran

2019 - Three Body Problem (series), Liu Cixin

These aren’t publishing years, just the year these books transformed me.

I’m finishing the Four Hour Work Week.. this book just reads like a “get rich quick”/scammy collection of snippets. It’s conflicting at times (“money isn’t the end-all be-all” v/s “how I made 10k$ a month sipping piña coladas”). The only useful takeaway was not to waste your life 1) wasting time and 2) working, which is fair.. but the message is wrapped with so much ego I ended just being annoyed through most of the book.

The title and intro is unabashedly “get rich quick” fodder. But hidden inside, one can find practical applications of Pareto principles to work and life choices, in ways that made me question how I approach everything. Better books have followed in this zeitgeist. This one found me first.

> Better books have followed in this zeitgeist

Any suggestions?

Deep Work (Cal Newport) and Strengths Finder (Tom Rath) helped me achieve far more practical returns on work / lifestyle design.

I even found Tim’s later books (4-Hour Body, 4-Hour Chef) to be far better.

I felt the same exact way for a long time.

Tim Ferris has at times mentioned some regrets regarding the title and contents and wishes he could re-write parts of it because he does not like that association. He freely admits it was a marketing gimmick, essentially.

However, after reading/listening to some of his other works, I've seen it in a different light and grew to start liking it again.

Born to Run changed my sole, which healed my plantar fasciitis and knee pain.

I love all these books except the four hour work week. I do not believe Tim understand what it takes for a person in low income class to be successful.

In defense of self-help books; you latch to the one that finds you.

The 4-hour workweek provided me a useful foil to Gladwell’s “10,000” hours. It might take 10k to master, but you sure as hell can move fast if you get to 80% in 10 hours.

Great article in Forbes about 4 - hour work week. https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelschein/2019/01/17/tim-fe...

Selling a well-packaged promise for easy riches has proven to be a successful strategy over and over again.

Fell in live with Three Body Problem series, and recommend it quite often

The best books in the past decade, that's a hard one! It's also hard to pinpoint what I learned where, but I'll just list the most memorable ones. I read a lot of software engineering books to learn language X or technology Y. But that's just o'reilly books and probably not that interesting to list here.

- Jobs by Walter Isaacson. To learn about the Apple and Steve Jobs himself. I thought it was great

- Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It's older than a decade (about 4 decades old actually) but I only read it a few years ago when I studied philosophy and it left quite an impression on me, food for thought.

- The Dip. It's motivational, I think back on it every now and then when pushing myself through a rough patch in the gym or professionally.

- Turing's Cathedral, it's a history of computers basically. Recommended if you're into software/computers.

What are the best O'Reilly books you read? I've read some excellent books from them and some meh.

Will have to check out Jobs. I enjoyed his Leonardo DaVinci.

Now I'll have to go check out his DaVinci one :)

I'll have to read both of them in the coming year 2020 :)

Principles by Ray Dalio changed my life and really helped me better understand that inwardly looking at and analyzing my emotional responses to problems at work and home set me up for failure and since reading it I've had such profound clarity of thought. I recommend that book to literally everyone.

Worth pointing out that an official bulletin point summary/excerpt is available too


Another vote for Principles. It was gifted to me two years ago, and it triggered (over time) a complete change in my leadership and management style.

Felt like this was helpful from a personal perspective. Not sure how many organizations could live up to this level of discipline.

TBH having worked with some ex-Bridgewater folks I'm pretty skeptical how much Bridgewater actually lives up to it.

Range by David Epstein [0].

It's a good middle point on the understanding of 'mastery' that Gladwell started in the late oughts and whose meme of '10k hours' kinda infected a lot of pop-psych and MBAs. Epstein argues that there are areas where 10k hours work, but limits very much exist. His thesis is that you have to know your environment and that most environments are too chaotic for just grinding out hours. A larger Range of knowledge/experience is likely a better strategy for many areas of life.

I gave copies of the book out as a thank you note/gift after an interview, as I think the book is really good and that the firm could get something out of reading it; that even if they did not hire me, it would help them.

I know that's a bit looney, but it worked. I got my dream job and a hefty pay raise, great benefits, and a short commute.

Literally, the book changed my life.

[0] https://www.davidepstein.com/the-range/

Econtalk had a good episode with David Epstein as a guest if anyone wants a sampler. https://www.econtalk.org/david-epstein-on-mastery-specializa...

My criterion is 'influential on me', they may not necessarily be the greatest works of literature.

Mastery - Robert Greene

The Talent Code - Daniel Coyle

Peak - Anders Ericsson

The Power of Now - Eckhart Tolle

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy - William B. Irvine

The Power of Habit - Charles Duhigg

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning - Peter C. Brown

Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art - Stephen Nachmanovitch

Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari

Peak is a great book, strongly recommended for anyone that is interested in the 10k hour concept that was 'glossed over' in Malcom Gladwell's Outliers.

Before I scan the thread for inspiration, these are mine:

1. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; I have no words for this except that it was profound and I was ready for it.

2. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team; a classic where history knows better than we do.

3. Special Topics in Calamity Physics; a fictional tale that shows you how damn easy it is to get lost in conspiracy and speculation.

4. House of Leaves; you can't beat a mind-bending horror like that. I live for this stuff.

5. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse; It's 50 pages long, just read it.

6. Tantra Illuminated; A well researched and academic study into the history and the beliefs of Tantra

7. The King in Yellow and its derivatives; The Hanged King lore in the SCP universe is obsessively fascinating to me.

+1 for House of Leaves! Didn't expect to see that here. Bizarre and mind-bending. Awesome experimental fiction. Really have to go back and read it again sometime soon.

(And no, there's no eBook - that I know of. You'll err... understand why when you see the physical copy.)

I loved this book, and honestly it's one of the best books I read in the past decade. There does exist an eBook, because I read it on Kindle and I remember I used to wonder how amazing it would be to read it in hard copy. Well, it's been almost 3 years now - time for a re-read in Hardcover!

Not sure if decade, as I don't have good memory for such stuff (sorry!), but certainly at least for last year, the following book that had a really huge impact on me:

Gai-Jin by James Clavell

It showed me how different cultures can have very different "codes", how they can see others as "barbarians" purely based on that; more specifically, helped me look more critically on (part of) European culture and history through "foregin eyes", and better understand some aspects of Japanese culture taking them nearly all the way from "weird" to "natural". While at the same time being just a super entertaining and engrossing story!

Shogun by James Clavell is another great book with the same side effect.

I read Shogun and Tai-Pan as recommendations from my dad and I thoroughly enjoyed both.

As a Game of Thrones fan who likes history, I've loved to read the Accursed Kings from Maurice Druon. I just couldn't let go of the book once I started - I wish schools taught history like that!

The series of books has largely inspired George R. R. Martin's novels, and you will recognize many character traits, as well as the trademark realistic scenario, where main characters also die a lot... Unlike A Song of Fire and Ice, it is based on actual European history, and is fairly accurate - so no nightwalkers or dragons, but it is every bit as epic a saga.


The Black Swan by Taleb and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Kahneman are two books that pretty much completely changed how I view the world, and have made me much happier as a direct result.

I can't wait to read/listen to black swan

i suggest reading it, listening to it would be tough because there are a lot of important illustrations of fractals, etc.

I'm not seeing it mentioned here, also a good resource:


Thank you for this. Really intriguing how they do it: "All links to Amazon, Safaribooks and O'Reilly get extracted once a week from Hacker News posts. We then rank the links based on how often they are mentioned and the karma of the user on Hacker News. So books mentioned several times by different people having high karma tend to rise to the top." [0]

[0] https://hackernewsbooks.com/about

You can check the Show HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12365693

The author even shared the formula used to calculate those rankings

* Elements of Statistical Learning - Hastie, Tibshisrani

* (Lot's of machine learning books to list: PRML, All of Stats, Deep Learning, etc.)

* Active Portfolio Management - Kahn, Grinold

* Thinking, fast and slow - Kahneman

* Protein Power (the Eades') / Why we get fat (Taubes)

* Why we sleep (Walker)

* Deep Work / So Good They Can't Ignore You (Newport)

* Flowers for Algernon (Keyes)

* Getting to Yes (Fisher)

Flowers for Algernon was great, but I'd strongly suggest reading the short story and avoiding the novel.

The short story was lengthened in to the novel and was ruined, in my view, by all the Freudian-influenced attempts to sexualize and psychoanalyze the protagonist. It was a real let down after the brilliance of the short story, which had absolutely nothing to do with any of that.

I felt the opposite - the attempts to paint the protagonist with run of the mill human qualtiies led me to emotionally invest in him even more. This makes you experience the gut-wrench even more.

A strong upvote for Thinking Fast and Slow. I think it should be required reading in school, or at least parts of it.

Keep in mind that the findings in Chapter 4 have NOT been replicable.


For a book of 38 chapters, that’s not half bad!

Indeed, it's only 1/38 bad.

Indeed. Kahneman actually wrote a comment on the blog post that surfaced this issue:



Reading "Why we sleep" right now and enjoying it very much. It covers a lot of research, and Walker manages to tell a story and get you the bird's eye view of what the research means. Definitely recommend.

What are your impressions of "Active Portfolio Management" ? I am asking because have a lot about passive investing and why it works.

Fantastic list, and thanks for the links.

Personally, I would put "Sapiens - A brief History of Humankind"[0] in the list rather than it's successor "21 Lessons for the 21st Century".

While some people have some gripes about The 48 Laws of Power and Robert Greene's other books, in my opinion, they serve as a really valuable tool for understanding how most medium and large companies work. And for anyone interested, a great way to dip your toes into it is by having a look at Derek Sivers' book notes - https://sivers.org/book/48LawsOfPower

[0] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sapiens-Humankind-Yuval-Noah-Harari...

- Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

- Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

- The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe: How to Know What's Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake

- Sherlock Holmes: The definitive collection

Factfulness and Enlightenment Now utterly transformed my outlook on life and the state of the world. These two books turned me from a cynical complainer into an optimist. Cannot recommend them highly enough.

Noticed multiple recommendations of Factfulness and decided to read a sample from Amazon. While I'm fully onboard with the material, the writing style put me off: it felt very egocentric and self-congratulatory.

Strange. That’s not how it came across to me. Maybe checkout some of his ted talks to get started: https://www.ted.com/speakers/hans_rosling

Nassim Nicholas Taleb thinks it's BS. There's been a lot of debate on Pinker's book.


Wrong Pinker book. Taleb took issue with Better Angels of Our Nature, which is Pinker's book about the decline of violence.

Enlightenment Now is different. Taleb might also have opposed that book (he likes to pick fights) but that's not what your link describes.

Getting Things Done - the 2001 version I read two years ago, I use the general idea and it helps to have a clear head when your fighting fires daily.

Never Split the Difference - some very practical negotiation strategies.

Mini Habits by Stephen Guise - short book but awesome method. I am still doing the one pushup habit since last March.

How to Shoot Video That Doesn't Suck by Steve Stockman - I wanted to improve my video production for my programming course for kids. I am still learning but this book has been a huge help.

The Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing and Thinking by Barbara Minto - huge help with improving my written communication at my job.

The Coaching Habit by Michael Stanier - short book but huge help when your transitioning to managing people.

Made to Stick by Dan Heath - was a huge help in planning how I would teach elementary students last month about programming.

The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch - aside from application of Pareto principle, I took away the idea that books provide the best bang for your buck for knowledge density.

The 4 Hour Work Week - great inspiration to start your own thing.

The $100 Startup - like the 4HWW but with more details.

Never Split the Difference was really useful. I don't apply the exact methodology, but the general principles are useful in many different situations.

Overthrow, by Stephen Kinzer really changed the way I perceive the US position in the world and made me question a lot of things I learned in school.

I also really enjoyed Manufacturing Consent, which is prime reading right now for anybody in the US because it's about media manipulation in free society.

I definitely second Manufacturing Consent! What a great book; how many books of political theory hold up that well 30 years later? I would recommend anybody who has any interest at all in current events read it.

Steven Pinker's "The Sense of Style" is a fantastic book about effective English writing. It helped codify some stuff I already did out of habit but never really knew why, and taught me plenty of new things too. Recommended for anyone whose job involves technical writing!

Alexander Watson's "Ring of Steel" is World War I seen from the perspective of the Central Powers. OK, it didn't really help me personally or professionally, so I'm not sure it counts. But it was definitely a huge perspective-changer, and so beautifully written too.

Finally got around to reading The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.

It was on my list for the past like, twenty years, and after reading it I really wish I would have read it back then.


I loved this book as well. I am sure he "over-egged the pudding", but I am also convinced that there are some genuine insights in what he was saying.

I loved this book

It's not exactly science - but it's very stimulating.

It guides you through a wide variety of historical, scientific, and literary sources, painting a picture of contemporary human consciousness evolving right before your eyes.

Since 2007, I've taken detailed notes on every book I've read, then posted them on my site with my top recommendations up top:


My top recommendations here for the Hacker News crowd - with a nudge for the under-rated, are:

The Time Paradox - by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd


Profound idea that everyone has a primary time focus: either Future-focused, Present-focused, or Past-focused. Fascinating implications of each. Because I'm so future-focused, reading this book helped me understand people who are very present-focused. Also great advice on shifting your focus when needed. I read it 7 years ago, but still think about it almost every day.


Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want - by Nicholas Epley


Many new brilliant insights, especially about over-estimating the differences between you and others, thereby separating into us-vs-them tribalism. Scan to the end of my notes, to see. If you know more books like this, please recommend them to me. I adore this subject.


The War of Art - by Steven Pressfield


Have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what “Resistance” is. This book is about that. Read it.


E-Myth Revisited - by Michael Gerber


Absolutely everyone who is an entrepreneur or wants to be one needs to read this book. I first read it after 10 years of successfully running my company, and was still blown away and totally humbled by its wisdom. Re-reading it today, I'm amazed how my view of business was completely changed by this one little book. See my notes for examples, but definitely read the book itself to get the real impact.


The Courage to Be Disliked - by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga


Wow. A profound little philosophy book from Japan, communicating the psychology of Alfred Adler - a rival of Freud. Told as a conversation between an angry student and a patient teacher. A little book so good that I rushed home from other activites to keep reading it, and finished in a day. A surprisingly fresh perspective on how to live. (The “disliked” part is not the point, so don’t let the title distract you.)

Didn’t expect to find Derek Sivers on HN. h/t for being awesome

Seriously HN, listen to this guy about books, and check out his site.

Thanks for sharing Derek

I regularly use your book list for inspiration on what to read next


Derek's book 'Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur' was definitely up there for me.

Thanks Derek for recommendations ! And also thanks for your awesome blog posts.

PS. My better half is hating you all guys - I've ordered quite a lot of books today :)

Anything you want by Sivers is definitely one of the top books Ive read since 2010

The Myth of Sisyphus, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, Meditations, Walden

Born to Run - Chris McDougall

I had a chance meeting with this book at a newsstand in Logan Airport. I purchased it on a whim. It converted me from a sometimes runner to a full-blown run fanatic - marathons, and mountain, trail, ultra especially. It changed the entire trajectory of my life.

Some great books have already been mentioned but those which were the most personally influential which haven't yet been mentioned:

- Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger

- Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

- Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

- Kochland by Christopher Leonard

- Masters of Doom by David Kushner

I read a lot of "business consultant" books and began to be annoyed with them since many of them can be summed up by the title and the first couple of chapters.

I like the books above because they presented factual events that allow you to draw your own conclusions.

I especially like Schwarzenegger's book and Bad Blood because of their depth. It was interesting to hear about Schwarzenegger's crazy business ideas like how he became a millionaire before becoming an actor and how he bought a 747.

I found the audiobook "Master's of Doom" (book is 2003 but audiobook is newer) to be really entertaining as it was read by actor Wil Wheaton who did a great job.

I've read all of these except Kochland (just ordered it now) and complete agree. You have great taste! Check out American Kingpin by Nick Bilton for a read somewhat similar to Bad Blood.

Do you have any other recommendations?

Thanks! My only other recommendations of similar books but have already been mentioned would be the Steve Jobs book by Isaacson and Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

Deep Work by Cal Newport was great.

If only I could actually apply its principles at my job in an open office with an IM chat system.

I too struggle to apply the lessons from that book. Little by little I say.

Some things that sometimes work for me: * working early/late * having blocks for work scheduled in my calendar and turning off all the notifications.

Doesn't work for all jobs, i.e. I wouldn't be able to this when handling incomming as L2 or L3 support :)

Bhagavad Gita for me, both, personally and professionally


The Bhagavad Gita is a tremendously beautiful and profound work, and it's a tragedy that it (and the whole Mahabarata, really, of which the Gita is only a small part) are not more widely read in the West.

However, I see its core messages as deeply problematic. The entire work is a justification of violence, obedience, and traditional social roles. It's simply amazing to me that Gandhi, the most famous advocate of non-violence in history, was a huge fan of it.

> However, I see its core messages as deeply problematic. The entire work is a justification of violence, obedience, and traditional social roles. It's simply amazing to me that Gandhi, the most famous advocate of non-violence in history, was a huge fan of it.

Well, one of the interesting things about religious texts is how divergently people understand them, even when they're being totally sincere.

It justified violence as the last resort which can be taken literally in the story or as a metaphor for when someone hits rock bottom in their life. War is one of the worst things to be a part of and personal demons can feel like a battle. I actually praise it for choosing a topic that shouldn't exist in an ideal world but it knows that that's not reality and war is sometimes required (Vedic scripts would say we're in the age of "Kali Yuga", believing time is cyclical, the utopian phase of world peace simply doesn't exist).

The Bhagavad Gita is a subset of the Mahabarata epic, albeit the most famous one, so the preceding story was that peaceful negotiations were not possible even though that was the route preferred. The idea is that if two sides are willing to negotiate peacefully, that is the option that should be taken. But if one side insists on war, action (karma) and inaction (akarma) are two sides of the same coin - inaction is not avoiding doing something, it is a form of action ("He who seeth inaction in action and action in inaction, he is wise among men; he is a Yogi and performer of all actions"). In fact, Ghandi actually wrote a letter to Hitler initially asking him "peacefully" to stop WW2. This was followed up with a less peaceful letter [0]. It would seem he was happy for violent war against Nazis because they were evil and it was against injustice. (Naturally, this leads to discussions on what one would consider evil but the idea is not to be the first to attack and provoke). The ending of the epic is wasteland of emptiness caused by the war - both as a symbol of the waste of war but also as an idea that everything and nothing exists at all times; whether you chose action or inaction is on you, time destroys all regardless.

Ghandi (and I guess Oppenheimer [1] to a degree but not sure) seemed to take the concept of Dharma (duty) to strengthen his resolve and he accepted what he considered his Dharma to keep going through the difficult times. The other aspect is that Arjuna did not choose the war but his previous actions (karma) have led him to be where he is. Just like what is said nowadays about how your past makes you who you are today. Sometimes the battle is unavoidable given past actions.

Sorry, probably too long a response :D but I genuinely had the same thought as you when I first started reading about it but then did some further reading. There's so much to dissect, from all sides, which is why I think it's one of the greatest philosophical works written.

Interestingly enough, if you watch the first Matrix with the Bhagavad Gita in mind, you'll notice a lot of parallels in the hidden meaning of the Gita and Hindu philosophy about what we consider 'real' and how life is an illusory. So much so that the Matrix Revolutions soundtrack during the end fight is a famous Sanskrit mantra from the Upanishads

asato ma sad gamaya

tamaso ma jyotir gamaya

mrtyor mamrtam gamaya

(From delusion lead me to truth

From darkness lead me to light

From death lead me to immortality) [2]

Imagine Neo is Arjun.... there is no spoon ;)

[0] https://www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/when-mahatma-g...

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lb13ynu3Iac

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A67OhOUoUsc

Even if the war was unavoidable (which I don't think it was), Arjuna's participation in it (which was the subject of the Gita) was not.

Arjuna had thrown down his weapons and refused to fight until Krishna intervened with his godly arguments to make Arjuna fight despite his disinclination to do so.

If Krishna had instead used his superhuman persuasiveness to argue for non-violence to each of the war's participants, perhaps the entire war could have been averted.

Regarding the Matrix and Hinduism, while there are undeniable parallels, and while Hinduism might be able to lay claim to being the first major religion to posit the illusionary nature of the world, there are also parallels to other philosophies and religions.

For instance, one can see parallels between the Matrix and Plato's allegory of the cave, and to Gnosticism.

Also, it's important to mention that Hinduism is not a single religion, but might better be thought of as an umbella term for dozens if not hundreds of different religions, some of which have radically different views.

Stopping the war was never the intention, that would betray the fundamental lessons trying to be taught. In context of the story, the idea is that they still have free will but it was a lesson to be learnt for both sides.

If there was a superhuman in real life who could avert all wars (literal and metaphorical), that would be great, but we don't live in a world where we can pray to fix away our problems (my humble opinion of course, not to offend anyone). This sets a basis for the story upon which life lessons can be learnt in the form of the Gita; fundamentally stating that time has no beginning or end, therefore everything on the battlefield has come and gone, regardless of your input in life (" I am death, the mighty destroyer of the world, out to destroy. Even without your participation all the warriors standing arrayed in the opposing armies shall cease to exist.").

I think it's why the book is so powerful, looking at a wiki list of people it's influenced, a common theme is a day to day reference of spirituality more than actual religion [0]

You're right, I didn't mean to imply it's the only philosophy or religion but I would posit it's the largest. Also, the Matrix thing was just a flippant offshoot but I never noticed until I heard them playing the Sanksrit shokla :D

Agreed, Hinduism is a catch all, often misunderstood. It's completely different from Abrahamic religions from a fundamental point of view. You can be any religion, or atheist, and still be a Hindu, in essence. Most (if not all?) branches of Hinduism considers God to be the ultimate reality of which we're all part of as opposed to an external entity, hence in the Gita, Barbarika said Krishna was the one who one the battle despite not taking part directly. Whether you use the Bible, or Vedic scriptures, to reach Moksha (Englightenment) isn't prescribed, it's your journey.

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

"Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy" by Dr. David Burns.

If you've got even a hint of depression or anxiety this is a great resource. Reading/understanding the "10 cognitive distortions" in this book is worth the time for anyone, imho.

Burns said on his podcast that his sequel to this book, "Feeling Great", is going to be published some time in 2020.

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. A really wonderful, light-hearted, hilarious novel about self-worth. The writing reminds me of David Sedaris.

I read Less as part of my "read all the Pulitzer prize for fiction novels" and I also enjoyed it quite a lot. "the road" might have been my favorite novel on the list of pulitzer prizes in my lifetime.

If you like David Sedaris you might enjoy Spalding Gray's monologues. Swimming to Cambodia and Gray's Anatomy are my favorites.

I've been maintaining a list of books I've read over the past years at https://explog.in/books/list.html; some that come to mind –

1. Small Gods, Terry Pratchett (this might actually be more than 10 years ago, but I'll still list it) I really like this one because it emphasizes the value of caring about the _core_ of anything instead of the _trappings_ that will spring up around it. Keeping this book in mind reminds me to focus on the thing instead of the appearance of the thing.

2. On Writing Well, William Zinsser I'm a programmer, and I've often found that improving my ability to write clearly translates directly to programming well: On Writing Well is the best – and warmest – book I've read on writing nonfiction.

3. Incerto, NN Taleb This series forced me to revisit several assumptions. Something that still resonates is valuing anything – particularly books – that has aged well across several years, because it's clearly valuable; and to discount the new shiny.

4. The Pragmatic Programmer, Andy Hunt & David Thomas I started an open source project in my 3rd year at college – as part of Google Summer of Code; inevitably every release would break something and I started hungering for skills that would let me create new releases _without_ breaking the world every time. I stumbled across the pragmatic programmer in my 4th year, and immediately started applying it on my project. This carried through to work and helped me a lot early in my career.

5. The Art of Doing Science and Engineering, Richard Hamming There are so many gems in this book: from the emphasis on fermi numbers for quick approximations, to a simple demonstration of the distance covered by a random walk as opposed to the distance covered by choosing a direction, to asking the question: "Am I working on the most important thing I could be? If not, why not?". He also predicted that great programmers will have one thing in common with great writers – clarity of thought.

There are some books I'm reading right now that I suspect will end up on this list: Psychology of Intelligence Analysis (available at https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intellig...) – for making better decisions with limited data; and The Power of Choice – to allow me to pay attention to the non-technical parts of doing valuable work.

Also a programmer, but have a copy of Zinsser's book next to me right now. Got from local library a few days ago, and am really enjoying. My pull request comments will hopefully become clearer, as well as company e-mails. Plus the whole book is fun, especially when he talks about some writing style and you realize he is starts using that style in the same paragraph/chapter.

Dune and Lord of the Rings. Both have such detail to their worlds that is rarely done well in other works. On top of the world building, I enjoyed the internal struggles that both Paul and Frodo had to go through to become better people and achieve their goals

It's amazing how Dune is becoming more and more relevant. Not because of any dystopia thing, but because the fundamental issues it talks about (unstable power systems, ecology and power, the right to sovereignty) are becoming more and more mainstream. If they make another movie, I think it could potentially do quite well.

In case you don't already know they are actually working on a new version of a Dune movie to be released in two parts, first movie at the end of 2020 IIRC, directed by Denis Villeneuve

Man I Hope that works out. The last attempt was just bizarre (the one with the zebra striped starships)

lmao, they're always working on a new Dune movie I think.

It's been 20 years since I last read through the 2 dune series, but I still think they're one of the best I've ever read.

The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Literally destroyed left wing politics in my mind.

The lesson of Solzhenitsyn is to beware of authoritarian politics: state violence and extralegal terror used to support the privileges of a minority group. Leftist and rightist ideologies are both vulnerable to this disease.

With some risk of 'no-true-scotsman', more I look at soviet/cold-war era, more it seems like Russia was exporting weird meld of cult-of-personality, imperialism and fascism?

To me, if reading about Gulag destroys left-wing for you, is like if realizing world was not created in 6 days destroyed your faith. Like what was your belief in the first place? But I had simmilar moments as well :)

I did hear that SSSR does still have fans in some western countries, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn has really good antidodes against that, I myself am a fan of "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich"

The whole left/right dichotomy is a bugaboo.

Politics is the continual friction between individuals and various groupings of people.

>The whole left/right dichotomy is a bugaboo.

Not exactly. Grouping along left/right, conservative/progressive axes is in effect a severe dimensionality reduction, simplifying thousands of metrics of political stance into two neat little clusters. It is technically valid, but overly reductive and forces black/white thinking into the common psyche which itself becomes a source of friction.

The cardinality, not the directionality, is the driver.

> various groupings of people.

why isn't left/right a valid grouping then?

Because there is no logical consistency to the attributes used to define each grouping. They're just a hodgepodge of loosely related (at best) ideas. So a lot of people simply don't fit in either category.

For example: I am absolutely pro-choice on the abortion issue. I am also rabidly pro-gun on the second amendment issue. So do I fall into the "left" bucket or the "right" bucket? The answer is "neither".

You sound rather liberal, in the literal sense.

To the extent that I care about, or claim any affiliation with any of these terms, I could probably loosely be described as a "classical liberal". I don't use the term much though, because most people don't appreciate the nuanced distinction between that and the modern usage of "liberal" (at least here in the US).

I'm also a little more radical than most people, and if I have to pick a label for myself, I'm more likely to choose "voluntaryist", "anarcho-capitalist", or "libertarian".

Liberal doesn't say whether someone is left-wing or right-wing, so we can disregard it as an idealistic person who refuses to take an opinion of the real political question: left or right?

but can't you define your grouping by the disapproval for other group. eg: You are a red group if disapprove blue group.

Even in your own example you can fall into either group by selecting what you care about the most and giving up others. Group where others in the group have made similar compromises.

Otherwise how can you possibly form a group, there is no one else is the world that has the precisely the same preferences as me.

you can fall into either group by selecting what you care about the most and giving up others. Group where others in the group have made similar compromises.

Sure, you could do that, and people do. The point though, is that it makes these terms mostly useless for actually describing anything. Let's say I chose to define myself as "right" because I care more about the second amendment than abortion. You see me self-identify as "right" and then conclude that I oppose abortion, support tight border control, want a legal system defined by Judeo-Christian ethics, etc. But all of those conclusions would actually be wrong. And the same kind of construction could be applied to what would happen in the other case.

That said, of course there are some people who just happen to fit exactly into the bucket of "right" or "left" as defined by colloquial usage. But I still find that the terms are mostly useless because they lack any kind of logical consistency and because so few people actually have that "exact fit". But, that's just me.

> That said, of course there are some people who just happen to fit exactly into the bucket of "right" or "left" as defined by colloquial usage.

Exactly, Unless @smitty1e knows the person personally, a generic response

> The whole left/right dichotomy is a bugaboo.

is invalid. since, as you noted, it does apply to some people.

The directions lack meaning.

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