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Ask HN: What are the best unknown books you have read?
613 points by bogoman on Jan 19, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 388 comments
Reading a tweet by Tommy Collison¹ reminded me that the best book I have read about musical harmony is practically unknown²

What are the best unknown books you read?

¹ https://twitter.com/tommycollison/status/1215008546657423361

² https://www.amazon.com/Harmony-its-systemic-phenomenological...

How To Measure Anything[1] by Douglas Hubbard.

The basic gist of the book goes something like this: in the real world (especially in a business setting) there are many things which are hard to measure directly, but which we may care about. Take, for example, "employee morale" which matters because it may affect, say, retention, or product quality. Hubbard suggests that we can measure (many|most|all|??) of these things by using a combination of "calibrated probability assessments"[2], awareness of nth order effects, and Monte Carlo simulation.

Basically, "if something matters, it's because it affects something that can be measured". So you identify the causal chain from "thing" to "measurable thing", have people who are trained in "calibrated probability assessment" estimate the weights of the effects in the causal chain, then build a mathematical model, and use a Monte Carlo simulation to work out how inputs to the system affect the outputs.

Of course it's not perfect, since estimation is always touchy, even using the calibration stuff. And you could still commit an error like leaving an important variable out of the model completely, or sampling from the wrong distribution when doing your simulation. But generally speaking, done with care, this is a way to measure the "unmeasurable" with a level of rigor that's better than just flat out guessing, or ignoring the issue altogether.

[1]: https://www.amazon.com/How-Measure-Anything-Intangibles-Busi...

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

It’s a good recipe for making a lot of estimation errors. Worse, it will leave you feeling more confident than you should be. Then, when you least expect it, it’ll blow up in your face.

It also sounds a bit like real life parody to me. How to find out employee morale?

Well, you need to hire some statistical experts, who model everything and than give you an estimate and if they got the callibration right, the result might be even close to reality.

Definitely easier than the other solution. Like talk to your employees once in a while and have a culture where they are not afraid to speak up if something is bothering them.

Ah no, too complicated. Back to math. That works better when dealing with those irrational emotional humans.

Unfortunately this only works with a small set of workers, in a physical location. If you have 500+ employees, some remote, spanning different countries/cultures, it's not easy to tell how "company morale" is. You can try to send out anonymous surveys and such, but then you run into reporting bias, etc. It's a complicated problem at scale.

What about both though? Or something similar but different, what is better between talking to users or looking at data points? What about both?

True somewhat. That is what bothered me with this book. While the importance of Statistical Models is undeniable, i am not sure whether they are applicable everywhere. Nature has endowed us with certain heuristic decision making models (see the works of Gary Klein on RPDM) and many a time one can decide based on "gut feelings" (see the works of Gerd Gigerenzer).

I worked at a clueless large company, but even they knew morale was bad, thus me being placed on the morale comititee. Our one meeting we decided it was difficult to improve morale, but after some discussion we did end up with an ice cream social..

The morale thing was just an example to help illustrate the principle...

I know. And my point was, that you can take the statistic too far, especially when dealing with humans. And this is happening in my opinion since a while. Even Stalin said: "the death of one man is a tragedy, but the death of millions just statistic." And by his actions, they were just statistic to him.

Humans are more than a number ... but when you are at a desk remote and only have numbers, than you are disconnected and it is much easier to make inhuman decisions as you are dealing with numbers and not humans anymore.

So that being said, yes, having the numbers additional that signal a decline in morale for example, is probably not a bad thing to have. If this does not replace actual human contact, because human moral also drops, when they not feel treated as humans anymore and just as numbers.

So that being said, yes, having the numbers additional that signal a decline in morale for example, is probably not a bad thing to have. If this does not replace actual human contact, because human moral also drops, when they not feel treated as humans anymore and just as numbers.

Agreed. And this is true of every tool... it has a place, and when used properly it can be of benefit. But it can also be misused in a way that is harmful or destructive.

There is merit to what you say, but that's the reason you have to have actual domain experts working on building the model, and why the calibration training matters.

That said:

"All models are wrong, but some are useful"

One of the important points made in the book was that one should always be thinking of a range of values, not a single value. This ensures whatever model you use will capture the uncertainty that is inherent in any measurement.

Exactly! This book has to be read with Nassim Taleb's books for a healthy dose of skepticism.

Even though I am a fan of Hubbard's work, I would agree with this to a point. I am also a big fan of Taleb's work, and I do believe that a healthy measure of skepticism in all things is a Good Idea™.


Please edit this to be less disparaging. I agree with your complaint, it's just presented in a mean spirited way. From the guidelines,

> Be kind. Don't be snarky.

fair enough, I was being more flip than the parent comment warranted.

embarrasingly, I can't seem to figure out how to edit a comment so leaving this here:

OP: I am sorry for harshing ya. I shouldn't be so dang cranky. cheers.

* Edit: I guess I waited too long and the edit button is gone now.

As a product manager I can't recommend this book strong enough. It has been a saver for me in a number real life situations - solving "Fermi" problems in Interviews to handling day2day PM stuff (market sizing, analytics etc.).

The writing style makes it hard to read (almost like an academic research paper) it's tough to keep urself interested. However the learnings are substantial too.

Sounds interesting. I’m sure the book covers this, but isn’t this how you wind up with perverse incentives? Once managers figure out that you’re measuring X as a proxy for Y “thing we actually care about” they’re going to start optimizing for X, with potentially unpleasant results.

This goes back to the whole correlation does not equal causation thing in statistics.

You're likely thinking of a correlated number, the measurement number must be a causative. Direct improvements on any causative number will by definition affect the outcome.

Say we're looking at developer retention. A correlated number is like scrum points. A causative number is like salary.

Of course, while the data on the causative and correlative effectiveness of both metrics is dispute-able... you still get my point.

If you like this book you'll love "The Perfectionists" by Simon Winchester; https://www.amazon.com/Perfectionists-Precision-Engineers-Cr...

Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban is not unknown but not hugely popular.

Post apocalyptic novel written in a made up language (think Clockwork Orange).

Poetic and deeply moving account of a boy's journey through a world where scientific knowledge has devolved to primitive ritual and incantation; and his dawning realisation that we lost everything.

I've never read anything else like it.



Riddley Walker was probably also a big influence on Iain M. Banks' Feersum Endjinn [1]. Most of the chapters are narrated by Bascule, a simple-minded (but certainly not stupid) young man who writes phonetically:

  Woak up. Got dresd. Had brekfast. Spoke wif Ergates
  thi ant who sed itz juss been wurk wurk wurk 4 u
  lately master Bascule, Y dont u ½ a holiday?
The novel is a bit out of character for Banks, and reminds me of something Gene Wolfe or Terry Pratchett might have come up with. I think it's a wonderfully underrated gem, and Bascule's narration is one of its endearing features.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Feersum-Endjinn-Novel-Iain-Banks/dp/0...

I’m not sure I’d describe it as out of character.

Phonetically styled narrative from characters pops up in several Banks novels. I’d argue the The Barbarian’s Scottish dialect in The Bridge was a precursor to Bascule.

There are also smattering’s of fun phonetic speech in the first few Culture novels. Most memorably from Fwi-song the prophet of the Eaters cult.

I had the feeling with Feersum Endjinn Banks decided to go ‘all in’ on the fun phonetics.

In the early 90s I went to a Banks reading (possibly Crow Road or The State of The Art) in Sheffield and during the Q&A he talked with great animation and detail about his new as yet untitled novel, which a few years later turned out to be Feersum Endjinn.

Sorely miss him.

I mean the story, sorry, not the style. It's one of Banks' few self-contained sci-fi novels, and it's set in a rather odd universe that fits into the "dying Earth" tradition of dystopian sci-fi (Wolfe's New Sun/Short Sun/Long Sun sequence, Vance's Dying Earth, etc.) more than in Banks' more utopian/panoramic Culture novels. His other standalones, Against a Dark Background and The Algebraist, are much closer to his Culture novels, for example.

> I’d argue the The Barbarian’s Scottish dialect in The Bridge was a precursor to Bascule.

I'd certainly agree with you there. He's variously introduced his readers to Scots, the Doric and the vernacular in his books over many years. Feersum Endjinn was a fun read, especially for me as a Scot who has an interest in the Scots language.

> Sorely miss him.

I do too. I'd met him at various times over the length of his career. Always a bloody nice guy and always self deprecating in a way you knew was very genuine. I always relished him taking the mickey out of his famous neighbour in North Queensferry, Gordon Brown, every now and again.

I never read Gene Wolfe or Riddley so not commenting directly on them.

But I wonder if this type of "puzzle box" interface to a plot line actually produces a false catharsis that makes what is otherwise a crappy plot seem a lot better than it actually is...

I'd rather have a story be narrated in utter clarity and be enamored with it rather then be given a puzzle and have to piece together the plot only to have my bias for the story be affected by the catharsis of solving the puzzles. Maybe the puzzles themselves are what make the story worthwhile.

Either way, I'm interested in the given opinions and opinions on this story despite the "puzzles." If Riddley or Gene Wolfe laid out their stories with crystal clarity, how good would it be?

Well, I question the reality of the idea of "utter clarity", or its usefulness to a narrative.

Common to all story-driven narratives is that the writer purposefully hides information. The author knows everything, and knows how the story will end; the characters don't. This creates suspense. That doesn't make the book a "puzzle".

Further, the choice of "dialect" has nothing to do with puzzles. Rather, it imbues the narrative with character. There's nothing in Bascule's particular language that obscures the plot. His first-person perspective certainly does, but that's because the character's understanding is more limited than the reader's. Bascule's odd and uneducated (and possibly dyslexic) choice of spelling reflects his young and carefree personality, but it also causes the reader to underestimate him at first; Bascule comes across as a simpleton, which he isn't. Feersum Endjinn is otherwise a pretty straightforward sci-fi novel.

Ultimately, good novels aren't about plot, they're about stories and how they're told. Take away that, and you're left with just plot.

As an aside, Wolfe is on another level entirely. He absolutely wrapped his stories in puzzles, and in his case the puzzle and the story are two sides of the same coin and completely inseparable. To decipher the puzzle is to understand the story. In The Fifth Head of Cerberus, for example, it's at times unclear exactly who is narrating the story.

My usage of the word utter clarity is more in contrast to Wolfe's style of narrative with hidden meanings and themes.

Basically any book that has to have the reader do extra work to solve a puzzle is using the catharsis of solving the puzzle as an illusory element that affects your bias towards the book.

If the author chooses to hide information then reveals it explicitly at a later time for the effect of suspense this to me is still a story presented with utmost clarity.

From your statements it seems as if Riddley is not exactly that type of "puzzle" book.

I've never read that but can completely see it from your quote, thank you.

Here's how it starts off, be warned:

On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen.

He dint make the groun shake nor nothing like that when he come on to my spear he wernt all that big plus he lookit poorly.

He done the reqwyrt he ternt and stood and clattert his teef and made his rush and there we wer then.

Him on 1 end of the spear kicking his life out and me on the other end watching him dy. I said, "Your tern now my tern later."

That's an amazing opening. I'd like to read that now. (I have heard of this book before, but only in outline.)

Edit: Oh my word! He wrote the text of the children's book "Bread and Jam for Frances" (and, I now learn, a whole series of others with the same character). That's a lovely bit of writing. I had no idea.

Yeah, it's like that all the way through, and some of it is inspired

This sounds like the Sloosha’s Crossing last section of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Pretty cool.

Good spot! Riddley was influential on Mitchell.


Sounds very reminiscent of The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth[0]. Will check it out, thanks!

[0] http://paulkingsnorth.net/books/the-wake/

This is how we speak today, to the ear of a speaker of Anglo-Saxon or, here in Argentina, Latin. Only more so.

Yes. I guess that's what he was aiming at.

Reminds me a bit of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, which is an incredible book.

One of my favourites too, although I wouldn't link them apart from the darkness and poetic beauty of the language.

But it's surprising how quickly you settle into it, honestly.

Agree completely, but I know several people who have struggled or just given up because it never clicked.

so it's not a completely made up language like klingon but just a dialect of english? sounds entertaining for an amateur linguist to study!

Yeah, "made up language" was a poor choice by me - its an attempt at imagining a transformed English.

Can you get it in English? I'd rather go to the dentist than attempt to read more than a paragraph or two of that gibberish.

It's not for everyone. Once I'd got my head round it I found it easy to follow and beautiful.

Riddley Walker is a stunningly good novel.

I've read it twice and I'd read it again. Many years ago there was a dramatisation of it at the Edinburgh Festival, very powerful.

One bit that sticks in my memory is when Riddley stumbles on the overgrown ruins of what must be the M25 motorway that encircled London. And he cries: "O what we ben wonce! And what we come to now!"

Yes, exactly! That's my favourite part, his realisation of the magnitude of the loss, it's completely devastating.

"The Method of Paired Comparisons" is a 1980s dissertation which discussed a strange form of statistics called paired comparisons. It is the fundamental math behind the ELO system (chess matchmaking) and other tournament designs. It was originally for psychology experiments.

My ELI5 version is... Imagine data of the form Alice > Bob (Alice beat Bob in one match). Because many matches take place, the data can be contradictory, like Alice > Bob and Alice < Bob. (Alice won the first match, but Bob won the second match).

There can be loops, like Alice > Bob > Carole > Alice.

In the face of these apparent contradictions, how do you linearize the data, or in ELI5 terms... How do you assign a score to each player?

ELO is probably the most popular methodology, but there are many kinds of linearization strategies, Bradley Terry for example is another one that ELO was in fact based upon.

The math is very well formed, and is likely a secret weapon for fantasy sports players. But it doesn't seem like many people know about this form of math at all.

I just want to mention that the Elo system is named after professor Arpad Elo, and thus not in all caps.

Mark: I need you

Eduardo: I'm here for you

Mark: No, I need the algorithm you use to rank chess players

> "The Method of Paired Comparisons" is a 1980s dissertation which discussed a strange form of statistics called paired comparisons.

The H.A. David one first published 1969, second edition 1988? Or a different one?

That sounds familiar. I'm going by memory, but I'm pretty sure H A David was the author.

I guess I read the 2nd edition. 1988 sounds like a familiar copyright date.

The hidden persuaders by Vance Packard

I read this book as a kid, it changed how I view the world and I've never forgotten it's lessons. It shows how the ad world is working hard to persuade you. It convinced me to always question what are represented as facts by ads or the media. A healthy skepticism has served me very well.

Most people never deeply question and Packard is correct that there's an entire industry trying to persuade you. Not just what product to buy but which college to attend or which company to work for and yes even which political candidate to vote. Those very same hidden persuaders, some of the brightest minds in the world, are working on the web still trying to persuade you to click.

The closest way to bring it to HN world is PG's famous essay The Submarine that talks about recurring themes in the media such as 'suits are coming back'. The public relation professionals planting those stories are also hidden persuaders.


There's plenty of alarmism in The Hidden Persuaders—I think it's fair to say that Freudian 'depth psychology' and subliminal imaagery turned out to be less of a threat than once feared—but once you read what he says about "good guys" versus "bad men" in childrens' TV https://books.google.ie/books?id=29jhBwAAQBAJ&pg=PT76&lpg=PT... you'll never look at Scooby-Doo or the 1960s in the same way again. In that respect I think Thomas Frank's The Conquest of Cool https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/C/bo36... may be something of a successor to Hidden Persuaders, but I haven't been able to read it myself yet.

Sounds very interesting, but is there a more recent book covering similar material? This dates from 1957 and I suspect there is more to say about it now.

"Trust me, I'm Lying" by Ryan Holiday

The doc “Human Resources” is a good look into this as well.


I wonder about suits... weddings, funerals, in court... or employees in thankless jobs (car sales and fry's electronics)

The Network Revolution – confessions of a computer scientist (1982)¹ is the title which immediately springs to mind. I never see anyone else mention this book, but I liked it. One of the many interesting things it contains is an anonymized telling of what happened with Doug Engelbart and why, even after giving the dazzling “The Mother of All Demos”², the SRI company did not succeed in its grand plan for the future of computing.

It also talks a lot about very early Internet history, and gives the history of many things which I have not seen others reference, like Lee Felsenstein and Community Memory.

I suspect the book might not be well-known because its author, Jacques Vallée, it mostly known for being a ufologist. I did not know this until after I read the book, though, and the book itself does not contain any references to UFOs. I can wholeheartedly recommend the book, and it’s free to read online!¹

Later books in the same vein like Hackers and Dealers of Lightning are more well-known and seem to be appreciated by many, but this book seems to have been overlooked by most people.

1. https://books.google.com/books?id=6f8VqnZaPQwC&pg=PS1

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mother_of_All_Demos

...mostly known for being a ufologist

I remember a book he wrote, something about "Magonia". Not sure he considered UFOs "real" but more of a collective psyche phenomenon. Actually he collected a lot of ancient stories from previous centuries: fairy tales, Mother Mary visions, strange happenings of 1800s and befor 1950... it was very entertaining.

I happen to have almost all of his ufology books including "Passport to Magonia" and you're right that he covers those subjects, but he doesn't claim it's a collective psyche phenomenon. Instead he argues that it has elements of this but guided by an external control system, which is itself part of some, for lack of a better word coming to my mind right now, extradimensional intelligence (he never makes this specific word use) that manipulates human beliefs by manifesting entities in a way that corresponds with the more general belief tendencies of any era. Thus, in ancient times, what we now call UFOs manifested as "fairy folk" and such while today the tendency is more towards temporarily physical apparitions that are made up to be "aliens", presumably because it fits better with the psychological tendencies of our current technological, space-exploring civilization. His core point though is that in both cases, we're really seeing the same extremely ancient phenomenon recur in different guises. Many nuts and bolts UFOlogists really dug into Vallee's ideas because of this, but to me at least, it actually makes a lot more sense than UFO's being aliens in the classical Hollywood, scifi sense of the word. Their behavior makes no discernible sense in that context.

I still think it's very interesting how he found the tales of UFO sightings stereotypical and tried to explain the patterns in an original fashion.

I mean it's a nice way to look at things that makes me curious of the other book.

Take him with a grain of salt, since he's just a single researcher in a big field laden with quackery and crackpots but I thought his approach and reasoning were refreshingly clear headed. I recommend his other UFOlogy books very much at least for the sake of entertaining curiosity about something many people don't read about often.

How does he come to the conclusion that it's an external controlling system rather than just cultural iconography and individual psychology?

Essnetially (and i'm really boiling it down here) he argues two main points and connects them to form that conclusion: First, that the wider phenomenon clearly shows evidence of being a tangible thing with highly varied but in certain ways similar physical manifestations across an enormous span of human history. This is a thing which weakens the probability of it merely being iconography based on individual psychology or myth making.

Secondly, this being the case, those widespread, long-running physical manifestations indicate something more subtle than mere UFO visits that only began during recent history.

Ergo, we're looking at something external, at least partially physical and because it has affected our belief systems and legends, and thus quite possibly a sort of control system. (This last one is a bit more of a leap but the first two main arguments are covered fairly well in his books).

Vallee is fantastic, and I would strongly recommend his books on UFOs as well. He's the kind of serious & careful researcher we need when it comes to studying complex problems that less serious people deny even exist, & his work stands out as reasonable and of excellent quality even compared to folks like Keel.

Like Keel, Vallee gets attacked by people who don't read him on two sides: by the people who are quite sure that UFOs are extraterrestrial visitors, and by the people who are equally quite sure that UFOs are the lies of con artists and the delusions of madmen. Neither explanation holds up to serious scrutiny.

I remember reading about Lee Felsenstein and Community Memory in Hackers:


But yeah, I guess it came out 2 years later.

> I remember reading about Lee Felsenstein and Community Memory in Hackers:

You’re right, I misremembered; there’s nothing about Lee Felsenstein or Community Memory in The Network Revolution. The story about Doug Engelbart is definitely in there, though.

This reminds me of something my dad taught me long ago:

"Be careful what you measure"

I think your comment was not meant to comment my comment, but instead to be a comment on https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22094294 Mods could probably move it.

Among technical books, books by Cornelius Lanczos are some of the best (less popular) books I've read. Some quotes from his "The Variational Principles of Mechanics":

From the Preface:

Many of the scientific treatises of today are formulated in a half-mystical language, as though to impress the reader with the uncomfortable feeling that he is in the permanent presence of a superman. The present book is conceived in a humble spirit and is written for humble people.

From Chapter 8:

Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. -- EXODUS III, 5

We have done considerable mountain climbing. Now we are in the rarefied atmosphere of theories of excessive beauty and we are nearing a high plateau on which geometry, optics, mechanics, and wave mechanics meet on common ground. Only concentrated thinking, and a considerable amount of recreation, will reveal the full beauty of our subject in which the last word has not yet been spoken.

This book was also on Gerald Jay Sussman's must-read list of books [1]. Another great book of his is "Linear Differential Operators" -- if you've ever wanted an intuitive explanation for why d/dx is not Hermitian but d^2/dx^2 is, this is the book you need to read. A quote from the book that resonated with me when I first read it:

Since the days of antiquity it has been the privilege of the mathematician to engrave his conclusions, expressed in a rarefied and esoteric language, upon the rocks of eternity. While this method is excellent for the codification of mathematical results, it is not so acceptable to the many addicts of mathematics, for whom the science of mathematics is not a logical game, but the language in which the physical universe speaks to us, and whose mastery is inevitable for the comprehension of natural phenomena.

[1]: http://aurellem.org/thoughts/html/sussman-reading-list.html

A request: please don't put quotes in code blocks. It makes them completely unreadable on mobile.

I've italicized them. I wish HN had some other way of stylizing quotes.

I usually indent quotes with ">" (markdown-style), add italics for clarity at a glance, and maybe fancy double-quotes when it feels right.

> “I wish HN had some other way of stylizing quotes.”

Me too, also simple ordered lists and ```inline code```.

This is exactly how i do it as well.

"Excuse Me Sir, Would You Like to Buy a Kilo of Isopropyl Bromide?" It's a memoir by chemist and businessman Max Gergel, full of hilarious and hair-raising anecdotes about how a scrappy small American business could operate before the EPA and OSHA existed. It's also powerful if anecdotal evidence for why the EPA and OSHA were ultimately necessary.

Excerpt, brief review, and link to PDF of the full book here on Derek Lowe's excellent blog In the Pipeline:


I will always promote Jose Hernandez-Orallo's The Measure of All Minds [1]

It attempts to codify how we should go about measuring and evaluating the somewhat fuzzy concept of "intelligence." He proposes an extension of his "Anytime Intelligence Test" which could be used to test animal and machine intelligence on a level playing field.

Measurement of task capability against a baseline is the most overlooked problem in AI and as far as I am aware Hernandez-Orallo is the only one focusing on it.

Notice that all of the major "breakthrough" moments in AI over the last half century had a human baseline that an AI was competing against. Those baselines were ones that had been already developed over years (sometimes a century) and were part of competitive games already. Go, Chess, DOTA etc... had leaderboards or international rankings.

For fuzzier things like driving, translation, strategy, trading etc... there is no generally accepted and measurable baseline test for what is considered human level, only proxies and unit specific tests. So we continue to not know when an AI system is measurably at or exceeding human level. Without this we can't definitively know how much progress we're making on Human Level Intelligence.


Travels in Tartary, Thibet, and China, by Evariste Regis Huc

He's an early 1800s French Catholic monk and is possibly the greatest travel writer of all time. Not only is the trip amazing, but the way he writes about it? Incredible.

In the sequel, the Chinese empire summons him to stand trial for being a Christian, since it was mostly illegal to be so in the empire at the time. It, too, is amazing.


You will love this book: The Story of the Mongols Whom We Call the Tartars by Friar Giovanni Carpini.

The cover itself is worth the price of the book - https://www.amazon.com/Story-Mongols-Whom-Call-Tartars/dp/08...

Oh! I will look for it.

There's something... special, about finding these in old printings. I found the sequel to the one I linked at, of all places, a flea market in Temple Bar in Dublin, as a circa 1850s print. As in the book itself was over a century old!

I look forward to finding a printing of yours that's nice and old, too!

Thanks for the recommendation. I've started reading it and it's a little hard to digest with the way it's written but I'm quite enjoying it :)

Anthony Trollope's "The Warden."

Trollope isn't as well known as Dickens or Austen. I think the emotional intelligence of this book makes up for the fact that nothing much happens.

There's a vicar who is old friends with the Bishop. He's made Warden of an Almshouse for old men in the community. The amount of money he's going to get to do basically nothing is embarrassingly large.

It's an extremely gentle book about controversy, conspiracy, and people taking a moral stand.

It got me hooked on Trollope. His other books are far more intricate, worldly, and entertaining. But I like this short novel very much.

I read “The Way We Live Now” at the height of the first dot com bubble. Amazing. There is truly nothing new under the sun.

A thousand times yes to Trollope, and I think there are a lot of nineteenth-century novelists who are like that (not quite as well known as the biggest names, but absolutely superb). Wilkie Collins (The Moonstone, The Woman in White) is another good example from that category.

Dan Simmons’ novel “Drood”, a very fictional account of the relationship between Willkie Collins and Charles Dickens. A fascinating true item I learned from the novel was that Willkie Collins was addicted to laudanum and for many years hallucinated his doppelgänger whom he called ‘ghost Willkie’.

Drood was a fascinating read, and was my first exposure to Wilkie Collins. Reading Drood is the reason I have a copy of The Moonstone on my shelf waiting to be read at this very moment.

Wilkie Collins was well known and quite popular in the Soviet Union as we’re some other American authors: o’Henry, .... Dreiser, as I discovered not well known in America.

Could you through in a few more names please? Would be interested to check what I’ve been missing. Thanks!

Amazed to see Trollope mentioned here.

I read Dr. Thorne probably twenty years ago, and liked it OK. I recently found, and have been completely blown away by, the Timothy West recordings of Trollope on Audible. They are hands down the most consistently enjoyable audiobooks I've ever come across (and I've been listening to audiobooks since the 90s). West's readings add so much to the experience. I really cannot recommend them strongly enough.

Trollope is pretty great. Especially if you like a long story arc and a large cast of characters, try the Warden series and the Palliser series.

Ariel Rubinstein - Economic Fables. For everyone who is interested in an intuitive and (self-)critical perspective on economic theory. The PDF version is available for free on Rubinstein's personal web page, but requires you to provide your email address: http://arielrubinstein.tau.ac.il/books.html

Ariel Rubinstein is one of the most honest game theorists I've come across. He's extremely critical of the claims that game theory can be used to accurately predict outcomes of the real world [1]. Economic Fables is a semi-biography as well, and has details of his life growing up in Israel. I wish more scientists (across all disciplines) had the audacity to critically assess their own fields of research like Rubinstein. He also gives almost all of his books -- including his widely-used text "A Course in Game Theory" coauthored with Osborne -- for free on his website [2].

[1]: http://arielrubinstein.tau.ac.il/articles/FRANKFURTER_ALLGEM...

[2]: http://arielrubinstein.tau.ac.il/books.html

Call me dumb all you want, I can't figure out how to download any of the books

"Light and Color in the Outdoors" by Marcel Minnaert. The book goes into the physics of a lot of outdoor phenomena; you will be amazed at the things you never noticed or thought about before reading it.

"The History and Social Influence of the Potato" is a pretty good time.

"Politics of Qat: The Role of a Drug in Ruling Yemen" may sound way too niche, but it's fascinating as a study of transportation in a drug economy. Qat is a perishable leaf (like salad) and the politics of the entire region depend on who can more reliably deliver it to gunmen.

I just saw the Potato book mentioned last night in Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan :) I had no idea that "potato vs. wheat" was a "class" issue in Europe, with potatoes coming from the Americas, but it makes a lot of sense.

In general Pollan references a lot of great work in all of his books. If anyone wants to find some stuff to read his books are a good first stop.

Politics of Qat is almost impossible to find. Any suggestions on how to get a copy? On the Amazon website of my region it only shows one edition available for around $1000

Funny coincidence, I bought the Minnaert book recently! Especially as a rendering engineer, it's absolutely fantastic.

Any comments on the cheaper, earlier edition printed by Dover as "The Nature of Light and Colour in the Open Air"? Is the later edition worth the higher price?

The Cloudspotter's Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds by Gavin Pretor-Pinney


I found this book in the Best Books of the Year 2006 round-up by The Economist: https://www.economist.com/books-and-arts/2006/12/07/fighting...

Book review: https://www.economist.com/books-and-arts/2006/05/25/radiantl...

Website: https://cloudappreciationsociety.org/

Your harmony book sets a high bar for obscurity! I'm sure many of us with an interest in harmony would like to know more - please tell us something about it.

A book I am very fond of that I don't think is widely known (though it's not in the same league as your suggestion) is "Resisting the Virtual Life", a 1995 collection of essays on the theme of cyber-wariness published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights imprint - more often associated with poetry.

Also very obscure for a long time, though easily bought now: Mervyn Peake's self-illustrated children's book "Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor". From the author of Gormenghast, but frankly much better. Highly recommended.

Yizhak Sadai, formerly head of the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv, was a brilliant teacher and philosopher. Many of the best musicians in Israel studied with him at some point during their career, even if for a brief period of time (As a recent example: Tom Oren, winner of the last Thelonious Monk Piano Competition, was his student for a year or so). I had the privilege to study with him for a year, and this book used to accompany our lessons.

The book is a thorough explanation of western harmony in its very basic aspects, from first principles. It also includes criticism of other, more famous music theory books, which is very interesting. One thing I love about it is how every theoretical concept comes first from what is perceived (hence "phenomenological"). A brief example of that is how some chords, which look like dominant chords if you look only on their notes, are sometime subdominant chords, because of the context in which they are played.

Some quotes:

On the approach of the book: "The conventional analytic approach as taught in academies is based primarily upon the depiction of the WRITTEN content of a composition by means of symbols and concepts inherent to the accepted analytic code. This analysis however, which describes mainly what is SEEN, does not always succeed in describing what is HEARD - the perceptual musical essence"

His definition of tonality which I loved so much that I had to memorise it: "Tonality constitutes the organisation of a given number of tones in a manner which creates among them differences of kinetic potential."

I remember getting Semiology of Graphics from the Palo Alto library around 2006. At the time it was sort of legendary and out of print, but it looks like it's since been reprinted. I think you can get most of the ideas from newer books, but it's well done and clearly ahead of its time.



Interestingly another relatively unknown book I like (and bought/read 20 years ago) is also about harmony:


I would say there's two kinds of harmony: harmony in equal temperament, and "alternative" harmonies based on physics, and this is about the latter. I can't tell from the link what the other harmony book is about. What's good about it?

As far as computer books, I've read a lot of recommendations here over the years like "thinking forth", "Computer Lib" by Ted Nelson, etc. They are well known to some audiences but not others.


I also enjoy reading what people though the computing future would be like. I have "Superdistribution" by Brad Cox:


And "Mirror Worlds" by Gelertner:


I'm pretty sure Gelertner claims that the Facebook feed is identical to his "life streams". I guess taken literally it's hard not to see the current Internet as a "mirror world" that's becoming the real world.

I would recommend "Graphics and Graphic Information Processing" by Bertin over La Semiologie simply because the latter reads more like a reference book where Bertin is extremely thorough. But GGIP gets straight to the point and can frame your thinking while going through Semiologie such that you won't lose your way.

Unfortunately GGIP is expensive so I would try to find it at your local library. (French copies are online).

Thanks for the recommendations. Many look interesting but are not books I would organically bump into, which is an alternative description of what I was looking for.

As for a Sadai's book: it is an extremely thorough book about western harmony from first principles. It treats what is perceived - what we hear - as the anchor, and not what we see when we analyse the notes on paper. A good example of that is how we decide to give names to chords. We tend to name chords based on the notes in them, but this can sometime lead to misunderstandings because the context and how those notes are spread through the chord are also very important. Basics like which note is in the bass is taken into consideration, but otherwise these factors are often ignored. Sadai shows many examples for that throughout the book - as well as such "Mistakes" in other famous books. A quote from the book about the approach taken: "The conventional analytic approach as taught in academies is based primarily upon the depiction of the WRITTEN content of a composition by means of symbols and concepts inherent to the accepted analytic code. This analysis however, which describes mainly what is SEEN, does not always succeed in describing what is HEARD - the perceptual musical essence".

> I also enjoy reading what people though the computing future would be like

This prompts me to propose (although it's not obscure) "Artificial Intelligence: The Very Idea" by John Haugeland. It's an AI textbook that is extremely readable and inviting - the best I've seen as a purely readable text, though probably far too basic for most readers here - but that is entirely drawn from the realm of "good old-fashioned AI", i.e. things like logic systems that have very little in common with what is understood as practical AI nowadays. Combine the readability of the book with the apparent hopelessness of its premise, and you have a perfectly nostalgic experience.

Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society (La Technique) https://ratical.org/ratville/AoS/TheTechnologicalSociety.pdf

Jacques Ellul, Propaganda https://archive.org/details/Propaganda_201512

Thomas Ligotti The Conspiracy Against The Human Race https://archive.org/details/TheConspiracyAgainstTheHumanRace

and anything written by Peter Wessel Zapffe (an introduction to his work https://philosophynow.org/issues/45/The_Last_Messiah)

Leopold Kohr, especially "The Breakdown of Nations"

Science, Politics and Gnosticism: Two essays by Eric Voegelin, https://www.amazon.com/Science-Politics-Gnosticism-Two-Essay...

I found it to be a very interesting and deep take on the philosophical and historical origins of many contemporary political currents.

The Road to Serfdom, by F. Hayek, a liberal economist.

I found it very well written, amusing and even hilarious in how even in the 1940's supporters of communism and progressives where making the same kind of arguments that are made today. Hayek needless to say, deals brilliantly with these. As relevant today as when written. I find its ideas resonate a lot when thinking about how systems of all kind come to be and function.

Road to Serfdom is some of the most simplistic empty bilge I've read, bordering on unreadable. I guess it's pushing 35 years ago I read it, while I was still a keen supporter of the mainstream right, after an enthusiastic loan from a fellow Thatcherite friend. In reading it I found it so absurdly weak and obviously hollow that it started me questioning all "known facts" and "common sense" of my politics. That was the point that started my search for a range of economic and political viewpoints, reading deeper, and moved me away from Thatcherism to the centre ground!

The writing style was terrible, as every third sentence seems to close with something like "and this inevitably leads to socialism and serfdom, and eliminates freedom". Only a dozen or so pages in and I was thoroughly sick of this device, as it's becoming clear that's his main and just about only argument -- extreme repetition.

It's a short article padded to a book length rant that anything less than total laissez-faire market libertarianism leads to slavery, serfdom, social democracy, socialism, nazism or communism (He appears to understand no difference between any of these). That any tiny government plan, regulation or service must lead to totalitarianism and blackshirts.

So my memory is also of finding it hilarious, I suspect for very different reasons. I also remember being left completely baffled as to why it ever got to be popular. :)

I consider Michael Polanyi's works to be very important in a certain way.

MP's The Tacit Dimension (1966, ~120pp) is a good introduction to his ideas about "Tacit knowledge", i.e. 'we can know more than we can tell', e.g. facial recognition. , A quick and enjoyable read that might appeal to many in this crowd.

Akin to Hadamard's Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field.

If you've got time, MP's earlier Personal Knowledge (1958, ~400pp) might be a worthwhile deeper-dive. I recall that his style reminded me of Lewis Thomas.

Self-directed behavior - Watson

This is a textbook for behavior change course, but it is 100% practical (project to pass subject is to change some kind of behavior)

Only tested information Science-based. This book can change your life but you wont find it mentioned anywhere

Very good book. I forgot how I stumbled into it but it's pretty much the text for changing behavior. Only person coming close is BJ Fogg's work on tiny habits who really just distilled the material into "You won't believe THAT ONE TRICK, psychologists will HATE you!".

"The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" — Erving Goffman (1959). Timeless. https://www.amazon.com/Presentation-Self-Everyday-Life/dp/03...

Not sure if these books are unknown or fallen out of favor, but I've never spoken to anyone else who's read them without me passing them on first:

Travels - Michael Crichton - a number of useful life lessons I'm only just catching up on


The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ragged-Trousered-Philanthropists-Wo...

Ishmael https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ishmael-Novel-Book-1-ebook/dp/B000S...

Another thought, Robert Heinlein doesn't seem well known in the UK these days but I think he might be better thought of in the UK although may be considered dated and sexist. I often see him quoted on here.

Any chance you can expand on what kind of life lessons you found in the Travels book? The description of the book makes it sound like it's just a collection of adventures.

It's split into 3 parts

1. Medical School

2. World travel

3. Inner travel

The medical school part has some interesting perspective on careers/development and life goals. The world travel deals quite a bit on relationships. The inner travels part challenges a few preconceptions. I first read it about 20yrs ago and I've re-read it a few times which is unusual for me.

The Analysis of Art by Dewitt Parker. This was referenced in Dynamics of software development by Jim McCarthy. They're both pretty good but the Parker book is kinda rare.

Propaganda and Information Warfare in the Twenty-First Century by Scot MacDonald, it's purely academic but also a fantastic read. Also academic is Technoscientific Imaginaries: Conversations, Profiles, and Memoirs by George Marcus, also obscure but at least easier to find.

The 60s-80s books from City Lights are nice when you come across them. Pretty rare though.

Aquarium by Viktor Suvorov.

The "Aquarium" of the title is the nickname given to GRU headquarters in Moscow by those who work there. "What sort of fish are there swimming there?" asks Suvorov of his boss when he learns about it. "There's only one kind there—piranhas." ─ Wikipedia.

Book: https://archive.org/details/ViktorSuvorovAquariumTheCareerAn...


My "best unknown" in the espionage topic would be Gordon Winter's Inside BOSS[1] which tells of the author's stint in the employ of South African intelligence during the apartheid era.

Sample passage:

> I asked [Intel chief] H. J. van den Bergh how on earth British intelligence could obtain all the names of people who voted Communist in British elections. Surely the vote was secret. H J laughed and said any voter attending a polling station automatically had his name checked on the voters’ roll, which naturally gave his residential address. And when he voted he was given a numbered counterfoil. His voters’ roll number was written on the counterfoil stub which bore the same number.

> ‘It is therefore possible for the voting slip to be related to the counterfoil stub, which then gives the man’s number on the voters’ roll,’ explained Van Den Bergh.

> ‘But all the voting slips are locked in big black metal boxes and locked away after the elections, so how do British intelligence get to them?’

> H. J. van den Bergh shook his head sadly as if he was sorry I was such a simpleton.

> ‘That’s the answer the British authorities will always give if anyone claims that ballot papers are secretly scrutinized. But let me ask you some very simple questions. First, you agree that the voting slips are placed in boxes and then filed away in some official building somewhere?’

> ‘Yes,’ I answered.

> ‘And presumably those boxes are placed in a room?’

> ‘Yes.’

> ‘Does that room have a door?’

> ‘Yes, I suppose so.’

> ‘Does the door have a lock?’

> ‘I should imagine so.’

> ‘Is there a key to that lock?’

> ‘Yes, there must be.’

> ‘Then,’ said H. J. van den Bergh triumphantly, ‘somebody must look after the key.’

> Only then did I realize what he was getting at.

1: https://archive.org/details/INSIDEBOSS/page/n5

Great find, thanks!

Some of his other works are also worth reading:

'Inside the Soviet Army': http://militera.lib.ru/research/suvorov12/index.html

One excerpt:

> The winter of 1969 was an exceptionally bitter one in the Soviet Far East. When the first clashes with the Chinese took place on the river Ussuri, and before combat divisions reached the area, the pressure exerted by the enemy was borne by the KGB frontier troops. After the clash was over, the General Staff held a careful investigation into all the mistakes and oversights which had occurred. It was quickly discovered that several KGB soldiers had frozen to death in the snow, simply because they had never received elementary instruction in sleeping out in temperatures below zero.

> This was alarming news. A commission from the General Staff immediately carried out experiments with three divisions, chosen at random, and came to a depressing conclusion. Wartime experience had been irrevocably lost and the modern Soviet soldier had not been taught how he could sleep in the snow. Naturally he was not allowed a sleeping bag and of course he was forbidden to light a fire. Normally a soldier would spend nights when the temperature was below freezing-point in his vehicle. But what was he to do if the vehicle was put out of action?

> The chiefs of staff of all divisions were immediately summoned to Moscow. They were given a day's instruction in the technique of sleeping out in snow at freezing temperatures, using only a greatcoat. Then each of them was required to convince himself that this was possible, by sleeping in the snow for three nights. (It should be remembered that March in Solnechnogorsk, near Moscow, is a hard month, with snow on the ground and temperatures below zero.) Then the chiefs of staff returned to their divisions and immediately the entire Soviet Army was put to a very hard test-that of spending a night in the open in numbing cold and without any extra clothing. It seemed as if those who were stationed in deserts in the south were in luck. But no-they were sent by turns to either Siberia or the north to be put through the same tough training. Thereafter, spending a night in the snow became a part of all military training programmes.

'Inside Soviet Military Intelligence': http://militera.lib.ru/research/suvorov8/index.html About the GRU.

'Spetsnaz. The Story Behind the Soviet SAS': http://militera.lib.ru/research/suvorov6/index.html Excerpt talking about the importance of a spade:

> Every infantryman in the Soviet Army carries with him a small spade. When he is given the order to halt he immediately lies flat and starts to dig a hole in the ground beside him. In three minutes he will have dug a little trench 15 centimetres deep, in which he can lie stretched out flat, so that bullets can whistle harmlessly over his head. The earth he has dug out forms a breastwork in front and at the side to act as an additional cover. If a tank drives over such a trench the soldier has a 50% chance that it will do him no harm. At any moment the soldier may be ordered to advance again and, shouting at the top of his voice, will rush ahead. If he is not ordered to advance, he digs in deeper and deeper. At first his trench can be used for firing in the lying position. Later it becomes a trench from which to fire in the kneeling position, and later still, when it is 110 centimetres deep, it can be used for firing in the standing position. The earth that has been dug out protects the soldier from bullets and fragments. He makes an embrasure in this breastwork into which he positions the barrel of his gun. In the absence of any further commands he continues to work on his trench. He camouflages it. He starts to dig a trench to connect with his comrades to the left of him. He always digs from right to left, and in a few hours the unit has a trench linking all the riflemen's trenches together. The unit's trenches are linked with the trenches of other units. Dug-outs are built and communication trenches are added at the rear. The trenches are made deeper, covered over, camouflaged and reinforced. Then, suddenly, the order to advance comes again. The soldier emerges, shouting and swearing as loudly as he can.

> The infantryman uses the same spade for digging graves for his fallen comrades. If he doesn't have an axe to hand he uses the spade to chop his bread when it is frozen hard as granite. He uses it as a paddle as he floats across wide rivers on a telegraph pole under enemy fire. And when he gets the order to halt, he again builds his impregnable fortress around himself. He knows how to dig the earth efficiently. He builds his fortress exactly as it should be. The spade is not just an instrument for digging: it can also be used for measuring. It is 50 centimetres long. Two spade lengths are a metre. The blade is 15 centimetres wide and 18 centimetres long. With these measurements in mind the soldier can measure anything he wishes.

> The infantry spade does not have a folding handle, and this is a very important feature. It has to be a single monolithic object. All three of its edges are as sharp as a knife. It is painted with a green matt paint so as not to reflect the strong sunlight.

> The spade is not only a tool and a measure. It is also a guarantee of the steadfastness of the infantry in the most difficult situations. If the infantry have a few hours to dig themselves in, it could take years to get them out of their holes and trenches, whatever modern weapons are used against them.

I'm always amazed at how few people have read The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes.

It covers the physics, politics, motivation, cultural implications, and so much more. It's one of those books where being extremely long is a feature because it's unbelievably interesting. I highly recommend it.

The Structure and Confirmation of Evolutionary Theory by Elisabeth Lloyd has had an outsized effect on my thinking, even though I do not work in that field.


I decided to investigate feminist philosophers of science a few years ago, since I'd heard they write postmodern garbage, and randomly picked Elisabeth Lloyd first. I ended up reading everything I could get my hands on, all her books, papers, talks, webpages. Totally admirable. She is awesome, and responds to critics with tireless patience. 'Feminist science' as she does it is just good science. A lot of it points out blind spots in the ways various scientific fields have operated, because of things taken for granted.

You know, I haven't read anything else by her than the book I mentioned; however it surprises me none that she would address feminist issues in science in a rigorous and fair-minded way. Maybe, someday when I have time again, I'll pick up and read her other stuff!

Wow, I never realised that this existed. I read a preview from google books and I must say that I am extremely impressed.

Shipwrecks, by Akira Yoshimura. It's short, cold, meditative, and harsh. The author has won several awards in Japan but isn't widely known otherwise.

I read all his other books (those that were translated) after it.

This is interesting, from his wikipedia page [1] :

> After the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Yoshimura's nonfiction chronicle of three previous tsunamis on the coast of Sanriku, Sanriku Kaigan Otsunami received an influx of orders, requiring a reprint of 150,000 copies. Yoshimura's wife and author in her own right, Setsuko Tsumura donated the royalties from the book to the village of Tanohata, which was heavily impacted by the tsunami. Tanohata was a favorite place of Yoshimura's to visit and inspired him to begin research on the historical tsunamis of the area.

Thank you for the recommendation.

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

The Journey to the West - Wu Cheng'en

Abridged English translation:


In its book form this story is basically unknown in the English-speaking world despite being considered one of four literary classics in Asia. And the 70s TV show that was based on this story was very faithful to the source material, particularly the humour.

Some other fabulous Chinese novels, not really obscure as they are the most famous novels in China, but not well known to English speaking readers: Dream of Red Mansions/Story of the Stone, an epic about two families and the decline of their fortunes; The Scholars, another 18th century long book of linked stories that's basically political satire; and Outlaws of the Marsh/The Water Margin, a long series of linked tales about bandits that's a little bit Robin-Hoodish as it's really about their political rebellion.

70s shows? I had not heard of them. I did know that Dragon Ball is loosely based on it.

Hmm, never saw either of those.

I grew up watching this classic:


West With the Night, by Beryl Markham. It’s a beautiful autobiography about and by a woman who grew up in British East Africa, became a bush pilot, and eventually became the first person to fly across the Atlantic from East to West, departing from Britain.

I recommend not reading the introduction.



The Lumberjacks by Donald Mackay https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7797112-the-lumberjacks. Tales recorded from British Colombian lumberjacks in the 19th century.

I found it completely by accident, picking it up at random off the shelf in my university's library while procrastinating.

Not exactly a book, Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States. (1)

It raises some concerns that folks in this forum are probably interested in and could do something about. Things like forcing US companies doing business in China to transfer dual-use technologies, the lack of US suppliers for certain goods, like high tenacity polyester fiber, domestic production of PCBs, specialized glass for NVG systems, a shortage of software engineers, but also shortages in skilled trades, like welders.

The dominance of the Chinese in certain critical industries is also problematic. For example one manufacturer produces 70% of small drones, which then creates secondary attack surfaces, like lack of security on the drone’s link. Another is the Chinese takeover of solar panel manufacturing, which creates a potential energy security risk.

For those skeptical of any report from the current administration, I would refer you to Ash Carter’s Inside the Five-Sided Box (2) which raises many of the same issues.

(1) https://media.defense.gov/2018/Oct/05/2002048904/-1/-1/1/ASS...

(2) https://www.amazon.com/Inside-Five-Sided-Box-Lifetime-Leader...

As an American, we need to bolster our manufacturing in areas where IP to manufacturing output ratio is high. What I mean is, thrift manufacturing of useless gadgets we see on Amazon front page is trivial and does not add any value. Advancing semiconductor manufacturing for example is hard, and that's exactly why we need to do it.

China has prowess in centralization and consolidation of their sub-supply chain - but that can be done in Thailand (Casio started making their $10-20 watches in Thailand since 2016, for e.g.), Vietnam, Indonesia, India, etc. Making cellphone cases by the millions is not adding any intellectual value in the society. These problems have been solved.

I am old enough to remember "Made in USA" was a real marketing asset. We've lost our shine, just watch the Apollo 11 documentary (2019), it is an eye-opener. We need a new leader in this country that can inspire men and women to be passionate again, dissolve political differences and behold the American spirit. It is still there.

> China has prowess in centralization and consolidation of their sub-supply chain - but that can be done in Thailand (Casio started making their $10-20 watches in Thailand since 2016, for e.g.), Vietnam, Indonesia, India, etc. Making cellphone cases by the millions is not adding any intellectual value in the society. These problems have been solved.

On this – China's One Belt One Road initiative specifically targets many of these countries to come together into a consolidated economic alliance that includes trade routes and infrastructure subsidies plus a basket currency pegged to the GDP from the region.

That's clever for a number of reasons. One of them is that it captures the revenue from precisely these alternative manufacturing bases that could otherwise be competing with China.

It may or may not be successful depending on how aggressive China is or whether or not they keep up the same business practices and culture that make companies want to take manufacturing out of Shenzen in the first place.

There's a massive political opportunity for the US but I think there's a lack of strategy in the administration to seize it.

Sounds like we need someone who wants to Make America Great Again...

It's interesting that all of this is only a problem if China is indeed an/the enemy. In fact mutual dependence is one of the key elements of Europe's narrative since WW2 - "if we all exchange and trade we will not make war against each other."

On the one hand not surprising that a War/Defense-Ministry funded documentary has this underlying premise of 'China is the enemy'. On the other hand we should really wonder: where the hell are we headed and how can we change this trajectory?

What happens if Taiwan is invaded? Would the US stay neutral, or at that point would China become an enemy? If the US stays neutral, then who is a friend?

You can only be truly friends with people who share your principles and values. Not all of them, but most or many of them.

If China childishly invades Taiwan then the US would have to childishly declare war.

Isn't the whole point of the united states to be inclusive of all principles and values.

I think the whole rivalry from both sides is more because China is projected to surpass the US economically. The US wants to keep its dominance out of pride and China wants to dethrone it, also out of pride.

It's more of childish pride thing but at the same time both countries can potentially burn everything down if they act on the urge.

You should read "The Dictator's Handbook". Dictators may be driven to externally irrational behavior by what appear internally to be an entirely rational chain of decisions. And I mean rational in the Homo economus sense of the word.


Thanks I'll check it out. Sounds similar to the tragedy of the commons where the opposite phenomenon is in affect.

Rational decisions made by individual actors when measured in aggregate become irrational.


More about Hardin's essay:


> The Tragedy of the Tragedy of the Commons The man who wrote one of environmentalism’s most-cited essays was a racist, eugenicist, nativist and Islamaphobe—plus his argument was wrong

Hardin's thesis has nothing to do with his character. Please comment on the thesis and try to seperate facts away from the personality of the person saying it. As vile as this sounds, a person being racist does not automatically make all his observations false, it does not mean anything.

Either way, his essay is largely cited in academia from political science to anthropology. A blog post illustrating some factual anomalies (which in turn can also be debatable) does not render the heart of his essay wrong.

It's good to know the background of the author of an essay, but it is bad form and borderline propaganda to use that to discount an insightful observation about the world as we know it.

People reference the essay, and in so doing they are referencing the whole essay, including the nasty parts.

People doing this need to be aware of that; I suspect many are not.

Being cited doesn't make anything true, so I'm not sure what that has to do with it being correct or not.

There does exist scholarly work disputing Hardin's conjecture. For example, the work of Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University.

"Ostrom received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for her groundbreaking research demonstrating that ordinary people are capable of creating rules and institutions that allow for the sustainable and equitable management of shared resources. She shared the prize with Oliver Williamson, a University of California economist."


>Being cited doesn't make anything true, so I'm not sure what that has to do with it being correct or not.

Being cited lends more legitimacy to it being true. Think of it like a vote. One person cited it because he thinks it's true. A vote from academia is worth more than a vote from a popular science magazine.

>"Ostrom received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for her groundbreaking research demonstrating that ordinary people are capable of creating rules and institutions that allow for the sustainable and equitable management of shared resources. She shared the prize with Oliver Williamson, a University of California economist."

I think you missed the point. No one is saying that humans can't change their behavior. The article is describing a phenomenon that happens when people act rationally in a certain context. Of course with higher level knowledge of higher level contexts like how shared commons can be destroyed with rational individualistic behavior people can change.

Economic integration disincentivizes catastrophic conflicts and total war, but it does not throw away war completely. What it does do is shift conflict to the market which confuses and conflates domestic and foreign theatres. So now instead of fighting soldiers we're fighting lawyers and bank accounts and NGOs, which is arguably more insidious and messy.

One of China's key assets is having one of the largest consumer markets in the world which means a lot of companies are willing to play ball and pander to their demands or beliefs because they otherwise believe they will be missing out on revenue, a race to the bottom.

Furthermore most Chinese industry is nationalized by proxy which makes much of the manufacturing and R&D practices suspect particularly when we're integrating with them. This is how we get tech-transfer problems, selective search engine censorship by American companies, and the Huawei controversy.

And neither is physical conflict gone entirely: we still play deterrence games and spy games and quick hyper-lethal games with other nations since the root causes of conflict don't really disappear.

I really hope something is done about this. I worry that our country is largely losing its ability to produce anything.

While Manufacturing in the US is down, no doubt. We are still the 2nd largest manufacturer.

I do hope we return to being #1, though that becomes less likely every day.

USA will recover more quickly from a manufacturing slump due to the other assets it has or can acquire. Many other economies are dependent to some extent on the US. But it's going to be a big dip globally.

Re-tooling workers between industries in more developed countries is much easier, because of a workforce that's expected to not just have a single skill or is trained/expected to support more than one.

Quality in the west also has potential for strength because of greater devolution to the production floor.

But I do have a problem with saying 'west' vs 'east', everyone can learn from each other. I have problems with assumptions of superiority. Could framing it as a question of learning and leadership be better?

> Quality in the west also has potential for strength because of greater devolution to the production floor.

What do you mean?

> But I do have a problem with saying 'west' vs 'east', everyone can learn from each other. I have problems with assumptions of superiority. Could framing it as a question of learning and leadership be better?

I think it's better put through the frame of negotiation. That's typically how the boundaries of any exchange internationally are set up to be fair and, depending on the goodwill between parties and their negotiating style, are mutually beneficial or mutually non-harmful.

"East" and "West" are also drastic simplifications which I'm sure you're aware of, but you don't get the evidential fodder for analyzing negotiation structures. This includes motives, positions, interests and personal players.

Like for example if I said "Eastern Europe versus Western Europe" I'd be conflating the interest of multiple countries and would be missing out on the history between Germany versus Russia (not a lot of goodwill), or Merkle versus Putin (maybe some goodwill due to her East German background?).

It reflects badly on HN that the #1 response to an intellectual question views the world through an obsolete lens of nationalism.

The problem is when you let your shields down and unfriendly nations that DO believe in nationalism decide to take advantage of you. Similar to the whole "no one wants to be the second to last guy to get rid of all their nuclear weapons" thing.

Would you rather HN ignore that nationalism still exists and can have wide reaching effects?

International cooperation is only really feasible with a hegemon. Pick a hegemon. You should pick the US.

Ask all the countries the US invaded or where it initiated coups for its own interests... most of South America and the middle East saw themselves at the receiving end of such events.

I personally would prefer the US over China but I'd also prefer NO hegemon, especially when that hegemon tends to abuse its power.

> I personally would prefer the US over China but I'd also prefer NO hegemon, especially when that hegemon tends to abuse its power.

There's the question of whether this is structurally possible. IR theorists disagree on this issue although I favor the realist view which is that international conflict is more or less inevitable and having a central powerful mediator of conflict is necessary for peace.

Multi-polar worlds can be catastrophically unstable as they enforce no singular set of rules. A multi-polar world with a hegemonic focal point can (hopefully!) construct bounds on state behavior while still avoiding some of the evils from deigning to be unipolar.


US forpol has a lot of mistakes and flutters around too much per administration, but they are still uniquely positioned to act as a hegemon with at least some pretense of domestic freedom and mutually beneficial economic cooperation.

When did China ever invade the United States? Or any other distant western country?

Is this the great fear of white Americans? That the Chinese would load a billion soldiers on an aircraft carrier and invade the shores of Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles? Does China even have an aircraft carrier that can cross the Pacific?

This must surely be the plot of a bad B movie, and starring Ben Affleck.

> Is this the great fear of white Americans? That the Chinese would load a billion soldiers on an aircraft carrier and invade the shores of Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles? Does China even have an aircraft carrier that can cross the Pacific?

Hollowing out US institutions by replacing them with PRC puppets and shell corporations is just as worthwhile to defend against as any invasion would be.

If I remember correctly China doesn't even let you have dual citizenships. So a lot of people with connections to mainland are going to be in a position of personally deciding where their support goes even if they are born with US citizenships.

As far as wielding hard power goes, one example for China they've been testing the waters of wielding military power in territory that is typically controlled by US allies in the Spratley Islands to see how much they can get away with in occupying that location.

And canada could shutdown NYC power.

"Blame Canada"


"The Symmetries of Things" [1] by John H. Conway, Heidi Burgiel, and Chaim Goodman-Strauss.

A fantastic and beautifully illustrated expository work describing symmetry groups such as the 17 wallpaper groups in the plane (think Escher), and other tiling groups in for example the hyperbolic plane. Love the use of orbifold notation as opposed to crystallographic notation.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Symmetries-Things-John-H-Conway/dp/15...

I highly recommend the English/Canadian author Matthew Hughes and his novels "Majestrum" and "The Gist Hunter & Other Stories". His prose is just beautiful to read, you really do savour every word.

An even more obscure writer would be Christopher Evans and especially his novella "Chimeras". This is set in a medieval world in which some people have the Talent, an ability to create dazzling works of art out of thin air - just pure thought-stuff. An act of mental creation which appeals to the computer programmer in me.

I can really recommend Sweating Bullets: Notes about Inventing PowerPoint[1]. Written by Robert Gaskins, inventor of PowerPoint, I found it enjoyable and interesting to learn the history and design decisions behind a product most take for granted, and some object to the overuse of.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Sweating-Bullets-Notes-Inventing-Powe...

Spinoza's "Ethics". It was one of the first efforts to apply mathematical logic to philosophy (Wittgenstein borrowed a lot from it), and to provide an axiomatic model of emotion. Very roughly, it took a two pronged approach to illustrate there is no objective logical foundation for differentiating between "me" and "not me": firstly, by showing that, given determinism, everyone/thing is part of a single unalterable process, and secondly, by showing that there is no single objective standard for drawing the line between a thing and the things around it. (He doesn't deal with nondeterminism, but most of the conclusions could be mapped directly to a system containing a mix of nondeterminism and determinism, as adding nondeterminism cannot "increase" moral responsibility or "self-causation").

In that sense it gave a (comparatively) rigorous argument for the nebulous eastern concept of "oneness". Using this foundation he then makes a logical argument (given his axiomatisation of emotion) for why we should be happy.

It's also the book that made me realise that, even if the jealous Abrahamic God exists, He is not moral. Because due to determinism every action can be traced back to the initial cause, so it doesn't make sense for Him who created the universe to punish or reward people for actions that were ultimately predictable consequences of the universe's creation, which if omniscient he should have foreseen. (And if some things are nondeterministic, this still applies, because somebody cannot gain moral responsibility through decreased determinism).

> there is no objective logical foundation for differentiating between "me" and "not me": firstly, by showing that, given determinism, everyone/thing is part of a single unalterable process, and secondly, by showing that there is no single objective standard for drawing the line between a thing and the things around it.

I don’t see it. Does he address the fact that dozens of other philosophers over the years have argued the opposite?

> ultimately predictable consequences of the universe's creation, which if omniscient he should have foreseen.

Isn’t this just free will? Is that the nondeterminism that the author is ignoring?

>I don’t see it. Does he address the fact that dozens of other philosophers over the years have argued the opposite?

He creates an axiomatic foundation out of definitions that most philosophers of the time would have found reasonable (nowadays they're also reasonable, just takes a bit of work to get past the language choices he made, as mathematical logic didn't exist then so it's phrased in terms of geometric and theological language). He then uses this foundation to show that there's no objective measure for dividing individualness (what is me, what is not me) and responsibility (what was caused by me, what was not caused by me), essentially a proof that given the axioms no such measure can exist. Similar to how one might give a proof that e.g. there is no way to assign a Lebesgue measure to every subset of the real number line. Note this is just a very rough summary; his actual proof is long and dense.

>Isn’t this just free will?

Spinoza essentially shows that if free will is defined as "being 100% the cause of some action", then free will does not exist. Because any action we take, is determined by who we are at that moment, and who we are at that moment depends on actions we took in the past, and this causal chain can be traced backwards to who we were as a baby, when we could not make decisions.

Another way to look at it. If the universe was deterministic, and I had unlimited computing power and storage for simulation, then I could exactly predict someone's actions in life (assuming consistent laws of physics). If it was nondeterministic, then there are some things I couldn't predict, but these things would all be the product of chance, so how could they increase the degree to which any particularly individual is the cause of some action? They would just increase the degree to which randomness was the cause of some actions.

Assume non-determinism - this is just pure pragmatism because if the universe is conpletely deterministic, what is the point of even this conversation? It would be immoral for god to create us without free will. If we have free will, we must be able to act immorally, else it's not really free will. So god is in a bind - he has to imbue us with the power to go against his wishes, morally speaking. Immorality in humans is a direct consequence of a moral creator.

What Spinoza shows is that, given a set of noncontroversial axioms, free will is essentially undefined. E.g., if you take an action, it is either caused by you, someone/something else, or chance, reasonable assumption? For free will, we would say the action is caused by you. Okay, then why did you take that action? Because of the person you are at that time. Why are you that person? Something at time t-1 made you that person. Either that thing was you, something else, or chance. For the original action at time t to be caused by you, who you are at time t also has to be caused by you, meaning the action at time t-1 that made you who you are also has to be caused by you.

If we follow this recursion far backwards enough, we eventually get to the point where you were a baby, incapable of making your own decisions. This shows that any causal chain can ultimately be traced backwards to something outside "your" control. In which case, how can one sensibly assign responsibility to yourself?

Perhaps another abstract way to put it: Spinoza shows that God creating some kind of free will that made actions unpredictable to him is equivalent to the idea of God creating a rock so heavy that he himself cannot lift; it's incompatible with the idea of omnipotence. Undefined in the sense that the set of all sets that are not members of themselves is undefined.

Andy Kessler's How We Got Here.

Only a few hundred people have rated it on GoodReads, but if you wanted to trace a march of technological progress from swords to the Internet, it does a good job. There are definitely other stories you could tell about this accelerating sweep of technological change, but this one was a solid rapid overview and really stuck some ideas with me about how changes compound (or completely swerve to a new goal) over time.

The original tweet is more about how domain experts would rely on books nobody outside that domain has heard of, so maybe I should be thinking more about textbooks that stuck with me. Sources of Chinese Tradition, the Tractatus, and A Mathematical Theory of Computation all left pretty lasting influences in one way or another.

Sources of Japanese Tradition discusses the origins of Tendai Zen Buddhism, with some bits on Dogen, who once wrote something like, "If you want to achieve a certain thing, you must first become a certain person. After becoming a certain person, you no longer want that certain thing."

That's a pretty good tie in to Kessler's view of the last several hundred years of human progress. We were repeatedly solving some other problem, which once we had the tools to solve that, it became nearly irrelevant compared to what else we could do now.

FWIW I read most of How We Got Here book last year after having it in my reading list for something like 15 years :-/ Somehow it popped up after all that time.

I thought it was a great concept for a book, and the author has a unique viewpoint and knows his stuff, but it wasn't very well written. There seemed to be a lot of detail without defining terms, but it was also "breezy" and fast. Just my opinion.

Yeah, it's admittedly more along the lines of an insightful blog post or a really good bar conversation than some kind of Rise and Fall, expectations management is probably due here.

But it kind came on this crest of technological advancement nonfiction, like Brilliant or Salt, and gets some of the key implications across in a fast and digestible way.

Hmm..reviews on Goodreads seem kind of mixed. Some make it sound like it's a bit of an idiosyncratic editing mess with disconnected chapters, etc.

Probably fair, I found it insightful, and held my expectations to something self published by someone in their spare time, but may not hold up to someone expecting a more professional work.

The books I liked with more consistently higher ratings tended to be much better known.

We could crowdsource the search for unknown greats of course. If you glance through GoodReads' highest rated books and filter down to the titles with the fewest ratings you get a mix of Austrian poetry (Rilke and Trakl), lectures by Feynman, and a volume of Love and Rockets.

That's honestly not a bad place to start...


Potential prequel to Dartnell's The Knowledge I suppose

I'll venture "The Third Policeman" for comic surrealism.


One of my favorites, if you couldn’t guess from my user name. At-Swim-Two-Birds is also wonderful. Flann O’Brien isn’t completely obscure, but not very well known in the US.

Created an account just to upvote this, Work of pure genius!

Electrons and Valence: Development of the Theory, 1900-1925[1] by Anthony N. Stranges I picked this up at a Texas A&M (It is published by A&M) book sale for cheap. This book caught my eye as it was one of the few actual books on any form of science I had seen there (many of the books were history, and often specifically about Texas, which did not interest me). As the title suggests it is a part History, part Chemistry, book about the development of theory of electrons and the steps it took to get there. It explains various theories, and state of the Chemistry world at certain times in History. It often quotes and references older books, and provides the citation at the bottom. While my Chemistry knowledge is really lacking, it was still quite an interesting read. I haven't yet completed it, but I'm slowly working my way through it, and it's reinvigorated some of my interest in Chemistry that I had lost in schooling.

[1]: https://www.amazon.com/Electrons-Valence-Development-Theory-...

I did enjoy The Transylvania (or Writing on the Wall) Trilogy by Bánffy. It has similar feeling to Tolstoy (Anna Kareina, War and Peace) but bit less high-concept and more grounded to reality, maybe bit closer to Il Gattopardo by Lampedusa. One nice thing about Bánffy is that it gives insight on a period and setting that was so important, but not that well understood, in (European) history; the just before fall of Austro-Hungarian empire that eventually then led to triggering first world war. The books are fictional, but the author was an actual count from that era which lends certain degree of authenticity to it. Of course it also means that there are some nostalgic elements to it, but that just gives it bit more charm imho.

This is the article that introduced it to me; I don't know it counts as "unknown" if it has a Guardian story written about it.. https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2011/aug/05/writ...

How to get lucky by Gunther. Based on the premise that luck is very useful for getting what you want, and that there are very practical techniques you can follow for generating results that look like “luck”. Absolutely excellent book.

Radio Gaga: A Mixtape for the End of Humanity, by Stefani Bulsara.

An off-kilter, hilarious, inventive, and cutting apocalyptic sci fi novel about pop music. Writing style is like Douglas Adams meets Tom Robbins, through the lens of Top 40 radio and tabloids.


Ohhh emmm geee! Thanks for posting about my book! I'm so honored and appreciative! And as an author of an unknown book, where did you find it?!?

The most interesting unknown book I've read was Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible by Russell E. Gmirkin. It'a an academic thesis and not really written for readability by the general public, but the ideas it presents are mind blowing. The gist is a theory that the Hebrew Bible was written by pre-Jewish scholars and politicians who studied Plato's works at the Library at Alexandria with the goal of uniting (12) disparate pre-Jewish tribes into one nation modeled after Plato's Republic. It's interesting both as a challenge to the mainstream theory that Plato's works were inspired by the Hebrew Bible, and as a look at an ancient social engineering project that still has huge implications thousands of years later. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32183185-plato-and-the-c...

Unflattening by Nick Sousanis. It was originally the first PhD theses written in a form of a comic book. It is a study on how we gather, communicate and invent knowledge using images.

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2015/07/20/thinking-thro... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unflattening https://www.amazon.com/Unflattening-Nick-Sousanis/dp/0674744...

"A girl among the anarchists" by Isabel Meredith (pseudonym) - found it on Project Gutenberg somehow, it's a contemporary (fictionalized) account of anarchist activism in late 19th-century Britain and I found it to be a fascinating description of fanaticism.

Very recently: Spillworthy, by Johanna Harness (https://www.amazon.com/Spillworthy-Johanna-Harness/dp/099138...).

Might be targeted at a teen audience, but I enjoyed it very much, as relaxing, clean, light fiction that makes the reader want to be a better person while they enjoy themselves. Very thoughtful and enjoyable, hard to put down. Shows a hard situation be resolved, from the perspective of the youths involved, and I thought it shows a lot of kind thoughtfulness over many years, by the author. (Some years ago I knew the author's husband.)

Gog by Giovanni Papini.

I read it in Spanish, and apparently it's not the easiest book to find in English, but if you do, it's definitely different.


That site alone deserves its own mention in this context?

At least for me it was worthy of bookmarking.

I thoroughly enjoyed “Constellation Games” by Leonard Richardson who coincidentally also wrote BeautifulSoup, the python HTML parser.

It's about first contact with aliens, who turn out to have a really good version of the Internet Archive's software preservation project.

Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp which appears to recently have received a reprinting, my copy is from the 40s.

Deathworld by Harry Harrison. I've been waiting for some screenplay writer to stumble across this one, and if I had to guess James Cameron probably did, but just didn't tell anyone.

SLAN by A. E. van Vogt.

The Witches of Karres by James H. Schmitz.

Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, and Paratime by H. Beam Piper.

However the best of all, is maybe only slightly less know, since the author is certainly extremely well known: Tuf Voyaging by George R. R. Martin. An absolutely fantastic collection of stories about an ecological engineer.

Is SLAN unknown now? It's a great book, along with Null A, and the Weapon shops of Isher.

Here's SLAN online its out of copyright now apparently https://www.prosperosisle.org/spip.php?article260

Not exactly unknown but rarely mentioned these days:

Psycho-Cybernetics, A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life (1960) by Dr Maxwell Maltz, MD.

A foundational work in the field of self-image and more generally self-growth. Sort of the missing link between Hill-Carnegie and Covey, it's the first of its kind to shatter the body/mind duality and show facts in hand the power of the whole. A positively enriching read, containing a few invaluable ideas.

If you're a Zen or Stoic like me, you'll find the traces of these roots in there, the lineage of ideas.

I really liked most of this book. But near the beginning, he cites some parapsychology research findings that really haven't aged well.

I did more research on this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Banks_Rhine, and it's really quite fascinating that JB Rhine was doing parapyschology research at Harvard and Duke University.

Still, the book is great

Very interesting to know!

> parapsychology research at Harvard and Duke

Takes us back a ways away, huh? Different world, but don't get too comfy in this one, things have a cyclic tendency IME. ;-)

I'll tell you this: I can see why they went there, Maxwell and Rhine and so many others. All of my research into such topics¹ shows that the mind-body connection and its manifestations (consciousness, "soul", etc) have always been such "hard problems" that they've always been met with supra- or para-normal solutions — whether in myths, in philosophies ancient and recent, in the generally benevolent groups (spiritual, friendly, etc). And it's still very much an open question, thus lending itself to beliefs.

I think there are also metaphors, images that were so good and are now so old that they became their own thing, and lost almost all connection to the things they described. "Magic" is a good example of that — the power of the word, and behind that knowledge. Magic as a concept is "old speak" (pre-recorded history) for power, very human and very real power.

I find it actually fascinating that we hold such beliefs about possible superpowers, I can't help but think this ability to image (imagine) more is what actually drives civilization at the lowest level.

[1]: I mean self-development/help/growth, philosophy in the pre-20th century common meaning of a "practice", "recipes for good living", not the "science" or study thereof we made it out later and to this day.

The Union Station (EarthCent Ambassador) series by E. M. Foner[1]. They are fun lighthearted sci-fi about the characters and their lives. But under the lighthearted fun hides thought provoking commentary on society and people. The books are included with Kindle Unlimited so if you are a member of that you can read the books at no additional cost.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K4I391A

House of Leaves. I've literally never read anything like it.

I never finished House of Leaves. I found the house aspects of the story really interesting, but all the parts outside it (the tattoo artist guy) I found insufferably boring. Does it ever actually have any point to his side of the story? It felt like half the book was a waste of time, but maybe it pays off in the end?

This is exactly how I felt reading the book. If the innermost story were extracted into a standalone work, it would be excellent, even more so if it were expanded upon. All the outer frame stories were painfully uninteresting to me. I'd suggest finishing the house story and just skipping the rest, as I felt similarly to you and got nothing out of the rest, but really enjoyed the house stuff.

by Danielewski?


Half of a Yellow Sun[1] by Chimamanda Ngozi.

If you want to sample probably a different style and culture, I would highly recommend this book. This is a 2006 novel by a prolific African writer and is set in the late 1960s Biafran times in Nigeria. There is a lot in it and is richly written.

[1]: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18749.Half_of_a_Yellow_S...

This is a thread after my own heart! I love finding out and reading old, less well-known and thought provoking books on a variety of subject matters. I have come to the conclusion that "popular" almost always equals "lowest common denominator" and "fad of the month" particularly given today's media hype cycles. Moreover one has to guard against having ones mental models bounded within a box. By actively seeking out lesser known and out of the way viewpoints one truly grows. Some books from my collection which i have not seen mentioned here (in no particular order or categorization);

* The Natural History of Nonsense by Bergan Evans

* Programming on Purpose, Essays on Software Design by P. J. Plauger

* Management: A Political Activity by Ted Stephenson

* The Energy of Life: The Science of What Makes Our Minds and Bodies Work by Guy Brown

* Patterns for Time-Triggered Embedded Systems: Building Reliable Applications with the 8051 Family of Microcontrollers by Michael Pont.

* UNIX Systems for Modern Architectures: Symmetric Multiprocessing and Caching for Kernel Programmers by Curt Schimmel.

* Maxims and Reflections (Ricordi) by Francesco Guicciardini

There are a bunch more i have to root around for :-)

Fiction: Voice Net by Shinichi Hoshi

An eerie look into the future from before the age of computers. The number of things about our lives now he got essentially right in 1969 is frankly stunning. Twelve interwoven short stories explore various residents in the Honeydew Condomiminium: how a computer managed network of telephone based services has affected their daily lives in sometimes nefarious ways. The novella's availability is limited in English, but there's a link to the Kindle store from the late author's webpage[1].

Non-Fiction: The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer

I think this book remains the most useful and concise guide to understanding mass movements and fanaticism I've ever read. It pairs nicely with Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. Hoffer's book is more expository and cautionary where Alinsky's book is more enthusiastic and encouraging, while both books have a healthy dose of cynicism about mass movements themselves.


[1]: https://shinichihoshi.com/voice_net.html

Lila by Robert Pirsig.

Everyone knows about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM). Lila is not as well known, but it's fun to read if you really enjoyed ZMM. https://www.amazon.com/Lila-Inquiry-Robert-M-Pirsig/dp/05532...

Does it talk about the same thing as ZMM?

Lila delves further in the Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ) which is quite fascinating. His dialogues on static vs dynamic quality coloured my view of the world for years.

Sounds great, I can not hesitate to read it.


Mordecai Roshwald, Level 7

Alexander Dewdney, The Planiverse

Joseph Heller, God Knows

Alan Lightman, Einstein's Dreams


Jane Goodall, In the Shadow of Man

Gian-Carlo Rota, Indiscrete Thoughts

C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image

Michael E. Brown, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

Robert Kegan, In Over Our Heads

Michael Harris, The Atomic Times

I may add guilty pleasures like the Legacy of the Force series, but I don't think this is what people here are looking for.

"once upon an ice age" by Roy Lewis (sometimes sold as "how we ate father" or "the evolution man", I think).

It's a first person narration of some Pleistocene hominid, somewhat educational but mostly just hilarious, in the sense of a Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett book.

I know 3 or 4 People who read it, they all loved it, but it's virtually unknown.

A Reverence for Wood by Eric Sloane.

Accomplished its eponymous goal in a brief 110 pages, many of which are beautiful lithographic sketches.

“Huey Long” by T. Harry Williams. The politician who very well could have defeated Roosevelt and the loose inspiration behind Upton Sinclair’s “It Can’t Happen Here”.

“Reminisces of a Stock Operator” by Edwin Lefevre. Thinly veiled autobiography of Jesse Livermore, a 1920/30’s trader and his experiences, including foreseeing the crash of 1929.

"All The King's Men," Robert Penn Warren's fictionalized treatment of Huey Long, is magnificent.

The Bachelors by de Montherlant. About two socially isolated impoverished turn-of-the-century aristocrats. The plot is very bitter and the main characters are awful people so you'd expect it to be fairly cynical, but it isn't at all, really sympathetic in fact. The narration is insightful and hilarious.

Two books on improving your thinking skills:

1. Super Thinking - Lauren McCann and Gabriel Weinberg (DuckDuckGo)

2. Thinking Strategically - Avinash Dixit

"Neurospeak" by Robert Masters

A psychoactive book, science-based (YMMV).


- - - -

Gurdjieff's "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson"

Impossible to categorize, incredibly challenging. Gurdjieff was a genius on the level of Leonardo da Vinci, but where Leonardo studied the outer world, Gurdjieff studied the inner world. This three-volume tome is his effort to encode and transmit his particular school of thought.

Gurdjieff has had a deep and obscure influence on Western culture. For example, in the Monty Python's Flying Circus movie "The Meaning of Life" an abridged description of his philosophy is given in the boardroom scene about the meaning of life, right before Terry Jones asks, "What was that about hats?"

Gurdjieff the cult leader / charlatan? Who used to paint birds in yellow to sell them as canaries? https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Gurdjieff

I agree he is brilliant but at the same level as the founder of the Scientology or other cult leaders who became awfully rich

Talking about a good book to read on cults / religion :


He wasn't a cult leader nor did he become rich (his fortunes waxed and waned) despite being able to fleece people apparently at will.

The fake canary caper is assumed to be autobiographical, as is the brazen theft of the "IP" of the plaster statue-maker, but the time he almost initiated an orgy and then shook everyone down for donations was reported by a (sympathetic!) eye-witness. It's not included in "Beelzebub's Tales" at any rate.

You don't think L. Ron Hubbard is brilliant do you? I mean "Battlefield Earth" is pretty good (the book not the movie.) To me, comparing Hubbard to Gurdjieff is like comparing Nicholas Taleb to Isaac Newton.

IMHO it doesn't matter much who the author of a book was and what other things did he do if you can extract useful information from the book. What if Charles Ponzi himself would have personally invented a (real) cure for cancer or something before he died? Would we dismiss it just because he was a professional charlatan? I believe we would rather rest it to actually find out whether it works or doesn't.

> What if Charles Ponzi himself would have personally invented a (real) cure for cancer or something before he died?

This is a pretty strained argument. The much more likely scenario would have been Ponzi claiming that he had invented a cure for cancer and, given his history of gross fraudulent behaviour, would rightfully be ignored as a sensational claim being made by a known huckster.

It seems to me that ignoring the claim would be irrational unless checking it is not extremely hard. The fact a claim is made by a known huckster affects our perception but says nothing about whether it is true or false. Outside purely theoretical exercises in logic, there are no liars who are guaranteed to lie in every single claim they make.

I've read a portion of Gurdjieff's "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson" and found it boring. Perhaps it would get interesting if I read more.

But now I'm reading "the fourth way" by Peter Ouspensky, the most famous (if we don't count Joseph Stalin) of his students and find it awesome. Very rational, explaining everything in an exciting, easy to grok way. It feels like a book I would recommend to everyone.

Beelzebub's Tales was intentionally boring for the first 50 pages in order to scare people off. Gurdjieff famously wanted only the first 50 pages pre-cut (this was during the period when new books would have their pages stuck together & the reader would use a book-knife to separate them) in order to encourage people who were turned off by the beginning to return it. He did a lot of stuff to try to weed out insufficiently dedicated people.

BT is very challenging, allegorical and for a very select group.

In less time, I'd bet on Ouspensky's Tertium Organum or Fourth Way (or both in that order). Ousp. is more pragmatic/Western, and "self-remembering" can be a valuable exercise anywhere/when.

White by Kenya Hara [1]

A brain reboot. If you're into design or a minimal lifestyle or want to be inspired before creating a new thing. Easy to read.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/White-Kenya-Hara/dp/3037781831

Sleight of Mouth.

It's an NLP book unlike any other. It presents 12 (if I recall correctly) patterns of speech that are highly effective at changing people's perception of something. It's just super practical and really helped me out when I read it close to a decade ago. Never heard anyone else bring mention it.

Some of my favorite obscure books are

-What Not by Rose MACAULAY (all caps just because I pasted it). It's a dystopian future book written during WW1. I've read that it's a inspiration for clockwork orange, 1984, and brave new world but much less well known. To be honest I find that it's the most relatable of all those dystopian books.

-The Story of B By Daniel Quinn (also My Ishmael and Ishmael but less well known then those). They represent a fundamentally different way of viewing the world we inhabit.

-The Foxes Of Harrow By Frank Yerby (Idk how well known it is though). This one is like those classic English lit books but focused on an enterprising Irish charlatan who goes down to New Orleans to build a life in the years leading up to the civil war.

Bill Harvey: Mind Magic ⌘ https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3573948-mind-magic

Make sure you get one of the older editions with mind drills in it.

Jaron Lanier's You are not a Gadget. It really changes your ideas about software and I really wish people would read it. Especially regarding Open source and regarding design.

Keep in mind It isn't a programming book though and it really shouldn't be read as one.

An alternate history novel by Kim Stanley Robinson:

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

Wherin the plague eliminates almost everyone in medieval Europe, thereby eliminating 'colonisation'.

Painting development of the world from there, up until around now. Showing to me how arbitrary much of the world as we know it is.

Not necessarily better, just like: 'Same shit, but different.'

(Even a little educational for real world history and geographic knowledge, because i've read it with maps and wikipedia open, and learned more of all the '*stans' that way.)

Bad Boy of Music by George Anthiel. You know how Hedy Lamarr invented spread spectrum radio in the 1940s? George Anthiel was the avant-garde composer she did it with. This is an amazing book, full of incredible stories but very hard to find.

“Finite and infinite games” by James Carse. Philosophy and hugely thought provoking.

I'm hearing this advice so often that it's pissing me off.

The book is BS. (I've read it.) There, I said it. It's always "this book is hugely thought provoking" (pointing at you Daniel Gross), and never ever and expansion on why or what insights it actually contains that's interesting. It has mildly interesting sentences that feels deep (mostly because they're confusing). The book has developed into some BS signalling device like Infinite Jest used to be. Everyone has read it, no one understands it. Everyone goes "oh yes, that's such a deep book, nothing has changed my mind like it since sapiens", and then we're all supposed to go silent to independently ponder it's many layered-ness, but in reality that's just what we do because we wouldn't come up anything remotely insightful if pushed into a corner. Frankly, the fact that this book is pushed so much makes me totally reconsider oft-repeated meme that "tech is low virtue signalling" (or low corruption). Clearly not.

(There, rant over. I'm overplaying how mad I actually am, I just feel like we need a few more rants against this book strewn about whenever this book is mentioned. Please, anyone, prove me wrong and a horrific narrow-minded dimwit by writing something more in-depth about what you think it contains and how it's insightful, I would love you infinitely.)

For me, I’ve found the book useful in understanding activities in a way that reduces my stress and helps me interact with people. Specifically, I don’t take things as seriously and try not to get wound up in arbitrary or not important rules. And that I get that some people get into the rules of an activity when I haven’t and that helps me understand where they are coming from.

I suppose there are many ways to learn that, but, for me, it was this book. The lesson helped me a lot.

And it’s really short book so I don’t feel so guilty recommending it. Brothers Karamazov is amazing, but recommending it is like giving someone a job.

I tend to fall in the "disappointed" set about this one. It is short, but 1/3 into it I realized that the author is basically rephrasing the same concepts over and over and over.

Does it changes abruptly after the second half? I'll probably never know.

Hahaha this is so on-point. Finite and Infinite Games is probably the most intellectually offensive book I've ever read. As much as I hate on the continental philosophy crowd, even those guys are better than Carse. At least their books have tasteful jackets.

From Nut House to Castle: The Eddy Haymour Story


Story of a guy with a dream, screwed over by the government. His cousin storms the Canadian embassy in Beirut, demanding Eddy get his day in court. He does, and prevails.

Crazy story that occurred where I grew up, however it was before my time. I had driven past this "castle" a hundred times before I found this book. Every copy is signed by the author.

Here is a recent article detailing the story: https://www.vancouverisawesome.com/history/eddy-haymour-ratt...

It's made the rounds but The Courage to Be Disliked has been my go-to recommendation for the last year.

It fundamentally changed the way I look at the world and helped me to get unstuck from some serious mental and emotional shortcomings.

Dropping Ashes on the Buddha


Paraphrasing what one reviewer said on GR, it's a good read if you are taking life too seriously, or, the complete opposite.

I didn't get it the first time I read it.

I do find myself going back to the riddles and the poems in the essays now and then when I feel I'm stuck, blocked, or trapped in a loop. It made me ... more humble?

Also a good read if you just want to learn more about Korean Buddhism and Kong-an's in general.

Just an add on: kong-an and koans are similar things. Kong-an is the Chinese and Korean pronunciation of koan.

It means "public question" literally but is traditionally used in contexts of Buddhism

Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants. by John D. Clark

"And even when it was successfully completed, the peroxide would still decompose slowly; not enough to start a runaway chain reaction, but enough to build up an oxygen pressure in a sealed tank, and make packaging impossible. And it is a nerve-wracking experience to put your ear against a propellant tank and hear it go "glub" —long pause — "glub" and so on. After such an experience many people, myself (particularly) included, tended to look dubiously at peroxide and to pass it by on the other side."

Life Beyond Earth by Feinberg & Shapiro. A really interesting examination of what alien life might look like, where and how it could arise. Explores fascinating concepts like life inside of a sun. Made me feel like alien life is most likely unrecognizable to humans as life. I think it's out of print, I got a second hand copy off Amazon (or maybe eBay).

The Manual by Cauty & Drummond. Funny, short, surprisingly insightful. A step-by-step method on making a #1 hit song. The authors had a #1 shortly before writing this book, and a few years afterwards. Can be found on archive.org.

East and West by C. Northcote Parkinson. In fact, anything by Parkinson. It's an alternative view on what causes empires to rise and fall.

The Snow Geese by William Fiennes....just for the sheer perfection of the prose.

"Mating" by Norman Rush. Fiction. I think the Amazon review has it right: "Had Jane Austen been in the Peace Corps in Africa in the 1980s, Mating is the book she might have written."

Also his earlier short story collection "Whites" and his later novel "Mortals", both set in the same part of Africa as "Mating", are excellent.

Superb: beautifully written and unputdownable.

Steal this book, by Abbie Hoffman [0]. Certainly not unknown, but not exactly something you find by accident. It's a book detailing 60s counterculture activities, and took a lot of work to find a publisher. Really interesting look back on history at general creative problem solving, and very entertaining. The most common theme in the book is "how to do x, for free".

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

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