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Ask HN: What are some deep, mentality changing books?
53 points by dot1x on March 6, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 29 comments
I am talking about books like:

- The Sovereign Individual by James Dale Davidson

- How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne

- The Bell Curve by Charles A. Murray and Richard Herrnstein

Books that make you go "hum....". It could be about Government, Money, Society, etc. Something very different from the modern-day "4 hour work week" garbage

Some that have impacted my mindset considerable in the last few years:

- Factfulness by Hans Rosling: In the advent of information flowing from everywhere, it changed the way I look that the world and process it. It is fascinating how much influenced we are just by our hardwired biases and the media.

- Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl: Everyone goes through their highs and lows, this account will teach you how to stay put and proceed forward.

- Turn the Ship Around by L. David Marquet: In a world where we are constantly trying to innovate, it is not possible without unlocking the true potential of the workforce. This is not possible without appropiate accountability and autonomy. The book goes through how to achieve enough of both. You do not have to manage anyone to gain its benefits.

Link to recent thread about Frankl having been debunked. "Would you believe he was at Auschwitz for only a few days, performed medical experiments on Jews himself, and it appears his main thesis about attitude mattering above all else for survival in the camps is simply false." (Sorry to keep posting this! but it does seem many of Frankl's readers haven't heard the truth about his life and book.)


A book doesn't guarantee you that dragons are real, but surely teaches you how to kill them.

Thanks you for this.

Basic Economics, Fifth Edition: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy by Thomas Sowell


Voltaire's Bastards by JR Saul is about all those things and many more. Absolutely amazing book, as are most of his others. Kind of a history of rationality since the 18th C, and how it went so wrong. Also a lot about technocrats, politics, etc etc. (About time I read it again!)

Oakeshott's Rationalism in Politics blew my mind. (He sees almost all modern political parties as dominated by this rationalism.) I was embarrassed how much I learnt from this long essay. Even a lot about piano teaching. Worth it for the ancient Chinese anecdote in the footnotes alone.

Richard Sennett The Fall of Public Man is a history of public spaces, living in cities, public politics, political charisma etc, since Paris in the 19th C.

Erving Goffman Presentation of Self in Everyday Life looks at (All these books are very hard to summarise!!) the stages, backstages, performances of life, actual stages, shops, hotels, ranks in organisations, these little worlds with rules and customs, how the rules are subverted, created, evolve.. full of fascinating stories.

EF Schumacher Small is Beautiful - definitely about government, money, society. Economics as if people mattered. When I first read this, I thought the survival of the planet depended on people reading it.

I found Mandeville's Fable of the Bees (1729) extremely funny and just as true. How everything depends on the sins of humanity. If we were all virtuous, economies would fall apart etc. Goes in detail into this argument and he's hard to argue with.

Susan Faludi's STIFFED. I learnt so much about modern work, life, society, and being a man from this. A must read.

p.s. and everything by JK Galbraith and C Wright Mills. Good luck!

Thank you for the list. Recently I was wondering about how we came about to put so much blind trust on rationality when it is only one part of what we are. The first two look interesting in this regards.

Based on your stated preference:

Critical Thinking and Intelligence Analysis by David T. Moore, also available online: https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a481702.pdf

"Black Like Me" by John Howard Griffin [1]

- From Wikipedia [2]: "Griffin was a native of Mansfield, Texas, who had his skin temporarily darkened to pass as a black man. He traveled for six weeks throughout the racially segregated states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia to explore life from the other side of the color line."

1: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0451234219

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

Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I don't know why but I've read it 4 or 5 times and have gotten something different out of it each time.

1) Meditations by Marcus Aurelius:

  "Leave the harm done by the other where it started !!"
  This struck me like lightning. The crux of how to conduct oneself in one sentence.
2) Tao Te Ching: - Feng/English translation for lyrical beauty - Derek lin for accuracy.

   The Complete works of Zhuangzi - Burton Watson
- To meditate on life.

3) The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul

- This is a vaccine for modern life, the red pill. We are surrounded by what Ellul calls a technical milieu. After reading this, you will not look at the processes that operate in the society the same way. Warning, this and it's sibling The Propaganda are scary and depressing read. Perhaps you may want to balance it with something positive.

4) Early Retirement Extreme - Jacob Lund Fisker

- Specialization is for cockroaches. Looking at the first 2 books you named, may be you will like this.They are one his references. The savings rate chart is worth it, to put things in perspective.

The Bell Curve has been thoroughly debunked I believe. Genetics aren't nearly as important as environment for IQ scores, as proven by adopted children.

Mind providing some non-biased links? Every controversial book has been somehow "debunked" all the time... :)

Here's a pretty good summary:


A few things to bear in mind, race is far more of a cultural construct than a genetic one. Compared to other species we don't show much genetic variation, and people of African descent are much more genetically diverse than the rest of humanity. Another is that IQs have been rising steadily around the world, proof that environmental factors such as nutrition and education have a a large effect.

"Evolution" by Stephen Baxter. After you finish the book you know exactly what you are and therefore you can start to be who you are...

Baxter, more than any other author I can think of, requires me to engage the largest section of my brain just to keep up. They are wildly entertaining, well-written and thoughtful. I wish it didn't remind be of an SAT or AP exam. I still read them, but sometimes I require an Excedrin.

Poverty and Progress by Henry George.

"Men like Henry George are rare unfortunately. One cannot imagine a more beautiful combination of intellectual keenness, artistic form and fervent love of justice. Every line is written as if for our generation." - Einstein

For me, several books by Greg Egan fall into this category. Permutation City, Diaspora, Quarantine, and Schild's Ladder have all... changed me.

I was a different person before and after I had read those books, and now I categorise all works of fiction into those that forever alter my way of thinking and those that do not.


Which reminds me, I should finish: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthogonal_(series)

The Culture series by Iain Banks, especially Inversions also satisfy this requirement, as does The City at the End of Time by Greg Bear: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_at_the_End_of_Time -- which is a difficult to consume masterpiece that nonetheless left me permanently horrified in the way that H. P. Lovecraft tried but failed.

For the non-fiction category the CGP Grey video "The Rules for Rulers": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rStL7niR7gs

and Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ig_qpNfXHIU

have totally changed the way I look at all political discourse, and this is coming from someone who has already absorbed The Prince. It's based on the Dictator's Handbook, which I should read also, but the CGP video was an effective summary already!


Last, but not least, if I'm allowed to include lecture videos, then the "Arithmetic, Population and Energy" lecture by Al Bartlett is absolutely amazing. You will never see the news in the same way again after watching it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O133ppiVnWY

Couldn't agree more on Egan's book. Both the topics and scope of his work is mind blowing and will leave marks.

Same goes for the Three body problem by Cixin Liu. The sheer size of both their ideas really forces you to think about the future of humanity and your part in it.

The Slight Edge - It just reinforces how powerful compound interest is in our daily lives, with time as a silent but forceful multiplier of tiny things we do (or not do) in our lives.

Not sure where you're at with philosophy, but "The Problem of Pain" by C.S. Lewis blew me away and changed a lot of my thinking about suffering and reality.

Interesting thread, for me, was Keith Johnstone's Impro.

Anatomy of Peace and Leadership and Self-deception profoundly impacted how I understand others when behaving irrationally.

"A Scanner Darkly" by Philip K. Dick (there is also a nice movie after the book, with the same title)

Discourse on the Method by René Descartes

West Coast Bodybuilding Scene by Dick Tyler

Prometheus Rising by R. A. Wilson.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by M. Twain

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