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Ask HN: Great fiction books that have had a positive impact on your life?
679 points by sondog on March 29, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 584 comments
It seems like most book recommendation threads end up being filled with a load of self improvement type books. Do you have any fiction book recommendations that have positively impacted your life? Maybe a book that helped you through tough times or made you change your outlook on life?

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

My best friend in 7th grade had older siblings and they had all read Ender’s Game. He read it and told me I had to read it. Being the impressionable 7th grader (2006-7) that I was I gladly obliged.

I found the book to be deeply fascinating. It opened my eyes to ‘new’ technology like ‘ansible’ (can communicate anywhere in the universe instantaneously) and really opened up my imagination to what I could do with my life.

Growing up in rural South Carolina with dreams of being an explorer or an astronaut seemed kinda far fetched. Most people just wanted you to be a Dr. or Lawyer or get a job at BMW. Ender’s Game showed me that it was ok to be different. It was ok to love to read books and to think that one day I too could have an impact on society.

For what it’s worth: Mark Zuckerberg also had Ender’s Game listed in his books section on FB. But truthfully back in ‘07 I was busy writing poems on MySpace (FB wasn’t rural yet) hoping that I would one day be as influential as the Demosthenes character in Ender’s Game

It is one of the great mysteries of life how an author can write a couple of books (this and Speaker for the Dead) that are literally all about loving the 'other' and still be homophobic.


It's no mystery at all if you believe people when they say things, and exercise the principle of charity.

Card is a believing Latter-Say Saint, and believes that a loving God has declared gay sex is forbidden. Someone who loves you would want good things to happen, ergo there must be a reason.

One can dig into the whys, but if this is really a "mystery," it's solved now.

It's a phenomenon dubbed the "Brain Eater" by author James Nicoll on Usenet[0]. I don't know what it is about science fiction and fantasy authors in particular - maybe it happens in other fiction genres too and I'm just not aware because I don't read them as much, but a lot of them seem to succumb to extremist (usually right-wing authoritarian) politics, fringe science, conspiracy theory or other such crackpottery at some point in their careers, with their writing sometimes suffering as a result of these beliefs seeping in and taking over.


>I don't know what it is about science fiction and fantasy authors in particular - maybe it happens in other fiction genres too and I'm just not aware because I don't read them as much, but a lot of them seem to succumb to extremist (usually right-wing authoritarian) politics

i don't know about fantasy but for sci-fi i think it's obvious: it's because a technocracy inevitably becomes a fascist dictatorship. that's why the nazis were heavy on industry and eugenics ("science" is the ultimate moral authority and all that). it's also for example why the mcguffin in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is so plausible (it was hydra whose aim was to use an ai to a-priori adjudicate who was guilty etc).

why writers in particular? not sure. probably having something to do with feeling confident in their ability to create fictional worlds and translating that into some kind of presumption of ability to govern real worlds.

Edit: lol no responses only downvotes. Don't point out flaws in technology ideology or else people will get bad. Lol

I can see how an obsessive focus on science and technology as ends in themselves could lead to their promotion over other values. An overt emphasis on science and technology could lead to the dismissal of other human emotional needs, or to downplaying the importance of emotional skills or interpersonal relationships.

It could also be that personality traits that correlate with obsession with science or technology could also correlate with obsession on rigour, rules and control in other aspects of life.

So I think I understand where the connection comes from, and it probably wouldn't be difficult to find examples of individuals in whom there is a connection.

However, I think you're somewhat off about technocracy inevitably leading to fascist dictatorship, and especially regarding your example of the nazis.

Focus on technology and industry fit the nazi agenda well, of course. They needed both as means for their war machine. The emphasis of economical power in general probably wasn't bad for their agenda either, because economical security has a lot of power in the minds of people. (That's true even generally, but especially in Germany at the time; there was huge economical turmoil in Germany prior to the nazi regime, so emphasizing industry and economical stability would have been very useful for getting popular support.)

I think authoritarian governments and leadership like to turn the tools they need to extend and maintain their power into virtues or moral duties. This can be work, industry, or anything that promotes social pressure towards obedience and respect for the ruling authority. The same goes for anything they can use to get what they want, but power and control are a great part of that.

The means may thus be presented as morally desirable ends, along with any personal obsessions of the leadership, of course. The leadership itself may even like to believe in the virtuousness of their means; if, for example, science or parts thereof (e.g. genetics, or at least a selective understanding of it) can be seen as support for something they want either as personal obsessions or as a means for control (e.g. eugenics could be both), you can be pretty sure that support is going to be turned into a part of the ideology even if the true motives come from elsewhere.

So while technocracy might be one very useful tool for an authoritarian dictatorship, there are many other dynamics in play. I'm not really sure fascist dictatorship is an inevitable outcome of a technocratic mindset when that outcome also has so many other necessary constituents (which generally have to do with group dynamics and other social psychological stuff) and actual causes.

Among the technocratic, there are also lots of people who are very individually minded, and certainly not in favour of an authoritarian dictatorship. Whether individualism taken to an extreme is pro-social either is another thing, but I'm not at all surprised if drawing a direct line between technocracy and the nazis yields downvotes at HN.

>In an August 2013 essay Card presented as an experiment in fiction-writing called "The Game of Unlikely Events",[173] Card described an alternative future in which President Barack Obama ruled as a "Hitler- or Stalin-style dictator" with his own national police force of young unemployed men; Obama and his wife Michelle would have amended the U.S. Constitution to allow presidents to remain in power for life, as in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Hitler's Germany.[174][175] Card's essay drew extensive criticism, especially for its allusions to Obama's race and its reference to "urban gangs

Further down in this comment chain I posted a link to a literary essay that enders game is about fascism. I got heavy downvotes. I'm sure that by quoting this paragraph from wiki I will get more downvotes. People are in denial about their heroes.

> "national police force of young unemployed men"

How can members of a police force be unemployed?

> "I'm sure that by quoting this paragraph from wiki I will get more downvotes."

I normally downvote comments that complain about downvotes, but not for quoting well-sourced interesting/concerning background facts about relevant authors.

>I normally downvote comments that complain about downvotes, but not for quoting well-sourced interesting/concerning background facts about relevant authors.

Below I linked to a published literary essay and I got downvoted.

Not by me, though. I think that comment could have used a bit more explanation beyond calling it "nazi apologia" with a link. Like a bit more explanation of what exactly makes it nazi apologia.

Look at the length and substance of that comment of mine and the one that started this subthread. They are similar in length, similar in glibness. I don't know what the score of gop is but it's not grayed out so I'll assume it's higher than the score for mine. What is the difference in the two? Maybe homophobia is more palatable than nazism. Maybe mine accused the reader instead the author (but almost everyone that responded defended card). Maybe Wikipedia is more authoritative than a literary journal.

I don't know. I don't speak for other commenters. Card's homophobia is pretty well documented, however, and from some of the comments to your other posts, I get the impression that the argument that it's nazi apologia is pretty thin. I haven't read the article, though.

I never thought of it like that before, that reading sci-fi at an early age opens up your imagination to what's possible, in your life and in the world. It definitely had that effect on me now that I think about it.

Bezos and Musk also were heavy sci-fi readers in their youth.

I remember reading this is part of the reason China has encouraged Science Fiction writing recently (and been a little more lenient on censoring it).

And now both are building rockets!

whenever someone mentions ender's game in a positive light i worry about that person


tldr; orson scott card is a bigot and ender's game is nazi apologia. if you don't want to read the above it's been written about in numerous places (google "ender's game book fascism").

When I read

> ender's game is nazi apologia

in your comment, I was pretty sure that there would be a point in the quoted article where the author went from reasonable background/description, to instantly jumping to a completely nonsensical argument, and I was not disappointed.

> The difference between Peter and Ender is not in what they do, but in what they are

What? That's incredibly dumb.

This like saying a serial killer, and someone who shot a person who shot at them first, are the same thing. You can't just ignore context because it's convenient to your argument. By this reasoning, anyone who's not an avowed pacifist -- who wouldn't even fight back against naked aggression -- is equivalent to the worst murderer.

Maybe Ender went too far, but he did act in self-defense, against other kids who tried to maim or even kill him. Peter killed animals because he wanted to. That is nowhere close to the same thing.

Like, does the author of this piece seriously believe that self defense is never justified or something?

> Ender is “kind” and “good” even when his actions seem to belie that characterization.

Ender is ruthless against those who go out of their way to threaten him, that's true enough, but in the context of the story he has an awful lot of threats to his life for a little kid! Brutally fighting back is completely understandable. What else would you even expect him to do, in that situation?

If you're gonna find fault with the story here, pointing out that the adults are all complicit in letting Ender be abused, sure that's bad and dumb. But given that they're doing that, blaming Ender for desperately fighting back is utter nonsense.

I don’t know. What Ender does always seems fairly reasonable to me.

>Maybe Ender went too far, but he did act in self-defense

the book is literally about a kid committing genocide and the reasons why he should feel okay about it (ie a pretext). or did you not read it through to the end?

The final battle scene in the book, at least in the old polish release I had, stuck with me for a long time.

Because Ender did the suicide strike thinking it was simulation, and thus he would be finally released from the program as dangerous.

It's literally an attempt to get released from service on medical discharge. He was only told he was operating real world warships after the fact. Before that scene, he assumed (and while there were possible hints, at that point he is increasingly getting less mentally stable) that it was graduate school equivalent of Battle School - as that's what everyone excluding Bean (and that is AFAIK only in the retconny later novels) was told.

Did you read the sequel?

He literally spends the rest of his life making up for that mistake as speaker for the dead.

And he literally does the final genocide in hope that it would grant him expulsion on medical grounds - because he didn't know the battles were real.

Speaker for the Dead is the book that the author originally wanted to write. Ender's Game was written as a prequel for it.

To clarify, yes, Speaker for the Dead is the book Card wanted to write, but he found he had to write Ender's Game first to lay the groundwork. And he did. He wrote them in that order (Ender, Speaker). A prequel usually refers to a work produced later that comes chronologically before.

I see, thanks for clarifying.

Seriously? I have read them in exactly that order. In comparison with Speaker for the Dead, the Ender's Game seems little childish...

Maye because Ender is a child there and the other books are him growing up and being wise.

I read through to what I quoted.

What an author starts spouting completely nonsense arguments, why would I waste my time continuing further?

The author apparently thinks self defense is as bad as killing for the heck of it, if they're that dumb, why would I be interested in their moral judgment for anything else?

Tbh, I think it shows that you went into the link looking for something to fail it over. I don't think the author makes the claim you think they are making.

Yes, I expected that it would make a nonsense argument based on the description of the person linking to it, and that's what happened.

Look, it's them that made the argument. I even quoted the relevant parts. They're clearly arguing that Ender is aggressive and bad because he's violent in response to violence against him. Self defense apparently doesn't count.

If they want to make an argument that makes sense instead, they should do that.

Yes, you quoted a section that describes how the characters in the book view (and struggle with) the fact that the main character kills violently and how that is justified by the different circumstances. And then somehow claimed that the author describing that means the author thinks circumstances don't ever matter.

Uhh, no. You can even look at other parts of it and see:

> Card thus labors long and hard in Ender’s Game to create a situation where we are not allowed to judge any of his defined-as-good characters’ morality by their actions. The same destructive act that would condemn a bad person, when performed by a good person, does not implicate the actor, and in fact may be read as a sign of that person’s virtue.

"The same destructive act"? Notice again how the author apparently thinks fighting in self defense is the same 'act' as fighting because you want to hurt somebody.

Maybe next up they can argue that target shooting is the same as shooting a person in the face, because either way you're shooting a gun!

> even when his actions seem to belie that characterization.

This isn't just the author asserting how the characters see Ender, it's also clear that the author thinks that "[Ender's] actions belie that characterization". But that's only true if you view fighting back against bullies as not good, if you view self defense as unkind.

Thus, the author's argument is clear: self defense is not acceptable. They won't come out and say it explicitly, because that would make it obvious how dumb the argument is, but that is nevertheless what they're asserting. Instead, they argue it while pretending not to.

Are you sure you're reading the same article? Their argument of "context doesn't matter, only the bare literal act" is quite clear.

Reasons why he should feel Okay with it? He was Tricked into committing genocide, and the story goes on to show that the aliens weren't bad and how the entire war stemmed from the type of misunderstandings that come from interacting with an alien consciousness.

It's far from being a book that advocates for or otherwise encourages genocide

By this reasoning, if tomorrow we found out that the violent video games we've been playing controlled robots somewhere killing real people, that would make everyone who played those games ruthless killers who should at the very least be imprisoned for life, if not executed.

The whole point is that genocide is such a horrible act that while all of the adults are pushing for it, none of them are willing to actually make the call. Ender was manipulated into committing genocide so that the adults could all tell themselves that it was someone else who did it.

And he never feels okay about it. He reaches a sense of peace with the overwhelming guilt, but only by giving his life entirely to that purpose.

> or did you not read it through to the end?

Have you asked why he should feel okay about it?

The parent comment explicitly says context was ignored. He committed genocide/xenocide because he was literally being deceived and then spends the next 2 books regretting and making up for a move he wasn't responsible for.

The literal example here would be playing any video game but instead of it just being a game you were literally killing whatever the game is about.

In that case, wouldn't you feel that you were wrongly deceived? That you're not truly a killer? But in your eyes and the article's... you absolutely are a killer. 100% responsible and the book is wrong for teaching otherwise.

Pretty obtuse to think hold such a belief.

To me Ender's Game is about how it is almost impossible to not start to love something you know deeply. He couldn't both understand and wipe out the buggers, because understanding them meant seeing their beauty, so he had to be tricked. This touched me deeply.

That's collegiate literary analysis.

Not everything Google-able is true.

Many authors are difficult.

Ender's Game is a great story.

I found this particular work to be quite balanced. You need to read Ender's Game as a prequel to the Speaker for the Dead where Ender actually grows up.

lol you "worry about that person" because they aren't aware that the author happens to be a bigot.

I think that's reading a little too far into Ender's Game for the average 7th grader... It is a fantastic novel.

The author of the article you posted (who was basing the nazi thing on another author's work) stated this in regards to the "Ender is Hitler" argument, "...Radford’s essay says many things with which I do not agree, and its tone is often intemperate..."

So your bias against Ender's Game is based on a guy who was biased against the very argument that has led to me writing this comment.

Can we as a society please stop ruining stuff just because the author had bad opinions or whatever?

Agreed. It’s a great story. I remember when the movie was coming out, that the fact that Orson is a bigot came out.

Changed my opinion about the man, but the books he wrote ar e still good.

so you think propagandist literature has no effect on its reader?

I agree. However as someone who read Enders Game as a kid but didn’t know any better I get some folks emotional attachment. I have fond memories though if I read it now there’s a good chance I’d hate it.

Yet I’d recommend those folks who are now adults and cite it as their most influential piece of fiction to go out and read more fiction! :).

Just to be snobby I’ll throw out Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. Beautiful and contemplative.

Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, aka Three Body Problem. Explored existential topics in a way I've never encountered anywhere else. I truly believe that decades from now this series will be viewed as the LOTR of our time.

I've recently been reading the Foundation series, and have found the concept of The Mule character to be incredibly eye opening. I can't say directly it's had a positive impact on my life but it's definitely changing my outlook and I feel its expanded my horizons.

I found all 3 books to be vastly overrated and mediocre at best. I would bet money that in 10 years, few will even remember them.

The translation doesn't help, but the issues with the books go beyond it. It's obvious that Cixin Liu is not a good writer. The characters in TBP are cardboard cutouts and his pacing and framing of ideas awful. I feel that there is merit in his imagination but it'd be better presented in a different format than science fiction.

To truly see how bad he is as a writer, compare him to the greats:

Stanislaw Lem, Gene Wolfe, Iain Banks (Culture Series), Strugatsky brothers, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Heinlein, J.G. Ballard, Ursula Le Guin, William Gibson ...

Since Dune was mentioned in this thread, I find the first two books to be absolutely in a different league than TBP as they're complex socio-political SciFi masterpieces that have stood the test of time. I've read Dune more than 9-10 times already (as I've read and re-read most of the books by the greats I previously mentioned). Can you imagine doing that with any of the TBP books?

Oh my god, Stanisław Lem.

I have read Summa Technologiae and everything is in there. And I mean everything. I have yet to see any new horizons for humanity he hasn't covered back in the sixties.

For me the single most distressing idea is that we might want to limit the speed of research in order to be able to integrate it, because the exponential growth would otherwise beat humanity's ability to adapt, leading to very turbulent situations.

May I recommend Futurological Congress? Everything is in there, too.

> The characters in TBP are cardboard cutouts

Try to read this as Chinese literature and not apply Western standards. TBP is not about individual people but civilizations. Similarly, if you read Tale of Genji expecting a plot, you will be disappointed. But that doesn't mean it will be forgotten in 10 years.

Yep. Individual character development isn't Liu's strongest suit. His characters are mostly just allegories to prove a point. (Wenje - bitterness, Luo Ji - logic, etc.) But Liu is brilliant in his deception of mass psychology--the various ways in which large groups react to hopelessness.

Interestingly, I see a lot of parallels between Liu and Thomas Hardy. They both wrote sweeping tales that use individuals to represent abstract ideas. So, it's not just an Eastern thing.

This perspective helps a bit with the Foundation trilogy too, honestly. Asimov was not a good character writer.

Counterpoint: I can absolutely imagine myself re-reading TBP series multiple times; I've already re-read it once since reading it a year and a bit ago.

I read and reread a lot of books, largely scifi. My favorite is probably Dune, and I've reread it maybe 6 times. Thing is, I also really like TBP, and am actually reading it for the 4th or so time right now.

Read some better fiction and you'll lose that urge quickly enough.

Dune is soft sci fi. TBP is hard sci fi. They're very different formats of stories. Good hard SF generally doesn't have character development. In fact character development is a kind of subgenre called bildungsroman. I don't know why ppl these days expect characters to change as though it's some inherent part of a book. Some books are thought experiments or about world building. Part of reading for me is to try experiencing something novel. But on your hate for TBP, I'd say the huge fanbase, the Hugo committee and Obama would disagree with you on that one.

I don't "hate" TBP, so not sure why you chose this characterization. I just find it overrated. When I finished the trilogy, I wished I'd have gotten back the hours I spent reading it. That's neither the mark of a good book nor a good writer. And let's not pretend that the Hugo committee is some sort of arbiter of truth. Plenty of real stinkers (N. K. Jemisin anyone?) have won it.

Also, If I'm in the mood for hard sci-fi, I'll read Peter Watts who is (again) on a different league. Blindsight and Echopraxia navigate similar (but not only!) themes to TBP in a much more intelligent, thought-provoking and cohesive way.

I'm considering start reading TBP. So my question to you is why did you progress through the trilogy if you find it kind of substandard? Meaning, once you are done with first or even the second book what made you consider reading the next books in the trilogy?

This is an honest question as someone who is seriously considering reading TBP in near future.

Because enough people I know were raving and kept telling me it starts slow / payoff comes later. Well, I won't be listening to these folks again re: books that's for sure!

If you're dead-set on reading it, read the first book and if you don't like it cut your losses short right there. I say skip the whole mess and read Watts instead.

I'm glad to know I'm not alone. I genuinely can't figure out the enthusiasm for TBP.

I didn’t like the three body problem either, but I also didn’t like the culture series and found it disappointing in a similar type of way.

I really don't see anything special about Iain M. Banks' Cultute books. Consider Phlebas was the more interesting to me, but not great.

I bounced pretty hard off that trilogy. I couldn't get past the weird motivations and interactions between characters, and usually I don't mind books by authors who focus more on the situation than the people in it. I thought the novels had a dreamlike quality to them, with people behaving in ways that don't make entirely sense, but approximate a semblence of normality that can be accepted if you don't look too closely.

Oh interesting, I didn't have that experience at all. Can you give some examples of what you mean?

It's been a while since I read it, and I only completed the first two books, but there are a few issues I recall having. Spoilers ahead, obviously.

The most glaring issue I remember was how the countries of Earth were essentially a united front for 450 years. They came up with a single plan - and a very strange one at that - and then carried it out for the next half-millenia with little dissent or deviation. Given the author of the book is Chinese, this struck like a plot element that's ideological in nature - the ruling class can't be seen as bickering or divided.

The only people opposed to this were effectively a death cult dedicated to wiping out humanity in the strange hope that a race of genocidal aliens would somehow be better custodians of our planet. While I imagine that there would be some people who felt this way, it strained belief that the alien sympathisers would be so organised and competant.

I'm usually pretty forgiving of novels with weak characterisation but interesting situations, but I didn't think the Three Body Problem succeeded in this aspect either. Obvious solutions were passed up or not discussed, for example, if there are only a few sophons on Earth and they can't travel faster than the speed of light, why not build many particle accelerators and perform experiments simultaneously? The final twist was also pretty heavily hinted at throughout the novels, so the latter half of the second book was just a case of waiting when it would be revealed. Frankly it could have been carried a lot sooner as well - why wait a century for verification when it costs nothing to call the alien's bluff immediately?

The books felt like the author had an idea that would have worked well for a short story that was expanded to the length of two novels. In a short story a lot of the details could have been glossed over, but when expanded out the author was forced to explain the intermediate steps.

I've re-read it recently, and I think you should give it another go; I agree that the two first books kinda complete an arc, but (minor spoiler) the third book totally throws a wrench into the happy ending of the second book.

> the countries of Earth were essentially a united front for 450 years.

That's not how it happens at all. (spoilers ahead!) The UN originally comes up with the Wallfacer plan in the first year or so after they learn of the fleet that's coming, in a time of utter despair. This is also a back-up plan, in case the "classical" space war fleet plan doesn't pan out. The first three Wallfacer end up thinking up heinous plans and spending a ton of resources, so the plan is essentially dismantled shortly after Luo Ji sends out his "spell" on that other star. They also mention the "great ravine", a very dark period of history, but we never get that much detail on that part.

Regarding your Sophons hypothesis, at speed of light you can go 7 times around the earth in 1 second; you'd have to be pretty precise with your timing to make your plan work. Moreover, Trisolaris was constantly building new ones, so by the time we'd build enough particle accelerators, there would be even more sophons on Earth.

And as for your last point, I think Luo Ji had only an hypothesis at this point, and wanted to be 100% sure before calling the bluff (and besides, he had time).

I agree with you that the characters don't have much depth, but this is a book you read for the concepts & ideas presented in it, not for the character interaction.

> I've re-read it recently, and I think you should give it another go

I'm afraid found it to be one of the worst books I've ever read. As I said, I bounced off this one hard.

> Regarding your Sophons hypothesis, at speed of light you can go 7 times around the earth in 1 second; you'd have to be pretty precise with your timing to make your plan work.

A second is a huge amount of time by the standards of modern physics. We wouldn't even need to separate out the colliders by any great distance; even a foot of separation would take a whole nanosecond for a sophon to cover.

Another approach would be to design a collider that could measure many collisions at once. Can the Trisolarans produce a thousand sophons on short notice? What about a million, or a billion? And given the latency the Trisolarans have to work with, they'd have to plan at least four years in advance.

Now maybe the Trisolarans have ways to prevent this, but the idea is never discussed, despite it being an obvious thing to try first.

For that matter, there's very few things that are tried. The idea that all the countries in the world would band together and try only one or two things over the course of 400 years is just bizarre.

> And as for your last point, I think Luo Ji had only an hypothesis at this point, and wanted to be 100% sure before calling the bluff (and besides, he had time).

He had time because he implemented a backup plan after the Trisolarans prevented the Sun from being used as a broadcasting station. But why take the risk? What does he have to lose? Either he's right and the Trisolarans will bargain with him, or he's wrong and nothing will happen. Given that Earth is doomed anyway, there's no reason not to try immediately before the Trisolarans are in a position where they can stop him.

Also it seems bizarre that in 400 years no-one once considered calling for help.

"Pretty sure" is not a good position to bluff from. Especially given the events of the third book, it's obvious that it wouldn't have worked unless the Trisolarans knew you knew.

I haven't read the third book, but I have read the Wikipedia synopsis. My understanding is that in the third book there's a new swordholder who the Trisolarans think won't go through with MAD, so they call Earth's bluff and turn out to be correct.

However, the swordholder doesn't need to be certain of the consequences in order for the scheme to work. All that's required is that the Trisolarans are certain of the consequences, and they believe that the swordholder will push the proverbial button.

If Luo Ji said, "Look, I'm like 60% sure that if I broadcast our location we'll all be killed, but I will do it if you continue." What could the Trisolarans do? Call his bluff? Then he'd say, "Okay then. I'm actually more likely to do this while I'm unsure, since there's a 40% chance nothing will happen. My being unsure has only made it more likely I'll press the button. Here we go..."

The Trisolarans would need to respect the threat regardless, which would confirm Luo Ji's theory without the need to wait a century to get results.

Lol nvm. I thought you were talking about the Foundation series. I've never read the trilogy you're talking about. Thanks for the thoughtful answer though. Hope others find it interesting.

It makes me sad that I can't read these books for the first time again. I reread them often. Surprisingly enough, my favorite book of the series was The Redemption of Time, a fourth book written by a fan with the blessing of Liu Cixin. If you haven't read it yet and you enjoyed TBP then you're one lucky sumbitch.

Thanks for the recommendation, I just bought it on Audible. I really enjoyed the Three Body Problem trilogy, haven't listened to them a second time yet, but I plan on it.

I really like to travel, really the only material thing I care about is being able to travel. Sometimes reading great literature from other countries gives me the same feeling that the earth is a small place and we are all in this together.

Cool. The ending to Cixin's trilogy was a little disappointing, compared to the rest of the story. (I thought the best book was the second one.)


I don't put it on-par with Dune, but there are definitely concepts in the TBP trilogy that are simultaneously difficult and mind-opening. Some of them are quite haunting, actually.

Most of the deeper exploration of these ideas takes place in the third book.

Dune was my favorite series until TBP. Dune degrades quickly after the first book while I thought each TBP was better than the last.

Dune holds up way better if you pretend it's just one book (the first one). It stands alone very well and IMO is completely worthy of its status in the classic sci-fi pantheon.

On the other hand, I finished TBP, but I disliked it enough that I didn't go back to the other two volumes. What makes them better than the first, in your opinion? (purely for my own curiosity re: whether I should go back and read them)

The first book is more character driven and the plot moves slowly, glacially compared to the next two. I don’t want to ruin the plot, but I‘d say they exceed Dune’s vastness without the long grinds.

The author described how he approached the series as wanting to write about the “the worst possible universe”.

I recommend you read books 2 and 3 in the REP series. TBP is comparatively really slow (IMO necessarily), but the series really picks up in 2 and 3 in a way that makes you appreciate the foundation that book 1 laid.

After reading all three, I often think back on book-2, sometimes on book-3, never on book-1.

The first book’s the best one but there’s an arc that carries through to its conclusion in God Emperor that kinda completes the whole thing.

I did read 5 and got about a third of the way through 6 before stopping and I still don’t know why either book exists. The previous story was over, and the new stuff’s muddled and not compelling.

5 and 6 are bizarre; not only do they read like action thrillers, they almost seem to contradict the whole message behind the Golden Path. The series should absolutely have ended with God Emperor (my personal favorite, followed by the original)

I'm amazed these are being spoken of in the same breath. IMO Dune is vastly overrated

Ok, but I'm also amazed, because I found TBP to be vastly overrated...

To each his/her/their own.

And I love both of them.

I read it for my bookclub together with a bunch of physicists. While I thought it was quite entertaining (but not more than that) they were all dismayed because of the amount of technobabble. Also, not to spoil it, but the title is wrong. It's a four body problem.

> It's a four body problem.

I don't think so, Trisolaris's mass is negligble relative to its suns ; they were only trying to model the motion of the suns.

I read all three of those books, plus Ball Lightning by the same author. I found them very difficult reading, partly because I wasn't familiar with Chinese names and had trouble keeping them straight. Also, the material was dense and required a lot of background. But the ideas and some of the images stand out more than dozens of other books I've read over the time period. For each book, it took me about 3 months to get through the first 40%, then 3 days to get through the other 60%, once I had bootstrapped enough to get into them. Not easy, but highly recommended.

What specific existential topics? I did find not TBP particularly deep. It felt like a Hollywood movie, but set in China.

The Little Prince. It’s beautiful and helps me re evaluate / question priorities.

Vonnegut impacted me to be a bit more fatalistic (“among the things he could not change were the past, present, and future”) and nihilistic in a positive way. Although not sure this is a positive overall for my personality. More sort of forgiving, e.g. the idea that people’s mistakes are due to their bad chemicals or faulty wiring. Suggest Cats Cradle, Slaughterhouse 5, maybe Galapagos for starters.

Once A Runner, as a runner myself, crystallized for me a philosophy of striving for excellence at something that may not matter to anybody else. And I find it fun.

What I liked about Neal Stephenson’s Anathem was the “this too shall pass” perspective on human societies and civilizations outside the wall of the maths. Whatever the current government or technology levels or wars happen to be, blend together. It reminds me of the feeling you get in Jerusalem of being in a moment of history that is no more important than other times and is of one piece with them, rises and falls included. This probably connects to the nihilism again. Anyway.

I almost exclusively read fiction but I’ll mention Working by Studs Terkel, not fiction but certainly not self help or technical. Just helped me feel connected to parts of society I don’t experience.

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.

This book changed my life. I read this book when I was maybe 17? And read it again last year, a decade and a half later.

The most powerful lesson I learned here is what anthropologists call cultural relativism. This book also taught me that everyone is under the influence of Mother Culture and her stories. I think internalizing this can help a lot with understanding other people, building self awareness, understanding politics in general, and also history in general.

There's a narrative here about ecology and generally making the world a less shitty place which is nice too, but not the primary value-add IMO (although it's unique in proposing cultural transformation as the solution).

Nevada by Imogen Binnie was another. I read it when I was working through questions about my gender. It's dark, funny, beautiful, and brutally candid account of the (a) trans experience.

Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea series follows these closely.

I'm surprised that this book, which is as about as heavy handed and nuanced as Atlas Shrugged, seems to have such positive consensus. Reading it at a similarly impressionable age I found it to be a typical luddite philosophy presented by a condescending pseudo-intellectual gorilla. It presented some obvious truths about human culture and its effects on the environment, but insidiously twisted everything to support his notion that we have destroyed some grand 'natural' order and need to stop being a culture of 'takers'. Did I mention that to Quinn all cultures are either 'givers' or 'takers'? You can probably guess which one he spent the majority of the book demonizing.

The book aside, in what world are we not a culture of takers or have not destroyed the natural equillibrium(s) of our own biosphere?

I don't believe the concept of some 'natural order' the book seemed happy to worship. Nature is always in a state of flux, and species will always compete and alter their environments. Limited resources means all species are 'takers'. I would argue that it is even more 'unnatural' for a dominant species to deliberately cede dominance.

There is plenty of evidence suggesting we are currently on an unsustainable path with regard to the continuation of our own current lifestyle. I doubt it will lead to the end of life on Earth, and (regarding the book) I'm not quite convinced that a return to hunter gatherer societies is the proper solution.

I see where you’re coming from.

I never thought the book in any way presented returning to hunter-gatherer societies as a solution.

I saw it as a commentary on slaving to infinite greed and thus prioritizing the wrong things. A commentary on the madness of “normalcy”.

> The most powerful lesson I learned here is what anthropologists call cultural relativism. This book also taught me that everyone is under the influence of Mother Culture and her stories. I think internalizing this can help a lot with understanding other people, building self awareness, understanding politics in general, and also history in general.

Apart from that this appears to be the purpose of history, Sapiens contributed to that for me. However, it is clearly non-fiction.

+1. I was gonna write Ishmael too. Definitely one of the best books I've ever read.

Same. When I think of my self development, reading this book was a large milestone for me.

+1 It is a short and easy read, but leaves a lot to ponder over.

+1 for changed my life.

The sequels are great too!

Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, for a coming of age story, using nanotechnology as a futuristic concept for understanding the differences of being fed one's needs and being given the tools for meeting them.

Steinbeck's East of Eden for coming to grips with a fundamental moral struggle of what is good and what is choice.

Anything ever written by Kurt Vonnegut for the proper cynicism needed to live in this world.

Oscar Wilde for that same cynicism minus the science fiction, plus more witty one liners.

I could have written the same. Would also include The Name of the Rose, The Remains of the Day, Dune, the Master and Margarita, Candide. Probably others.

not GR? your name is, uh, evocative

I read a fair amount of Pynchon, but neither GR or the others jump out as having a "positive impact" on me. It's been too long, and I guess I'm not really clear on what that means. With some books I walk away with positive affirmations or a sense of better understanding. I suppose there was some of the latter, but not the same sort of catharsis. The world is dark and disgusting and confusing. I'd be lying if I said it didn't impact me though, which I'll grant, probably for the better.

I find Gravity's Rainbow to be, in it's ugly way, somehow life affirming. It's also very funny at times, which is always helpful, and very long which might help people right now.

Right now I think maybe people will appreciate being in a zone where the normal rules have ceased to apply (Allied occupied Europe in the novel), and where there is a lot of wrangling about who the winners and losers in the new world will be.

Re: Vonnegut, I think he was great at larger themes of Existential Angst, but using a cynical tone in his main characters. (And I do agree with you, the cynicism is healthy.) If I can make an extension, Bill Murray takes that same Angst but is a master at applying comedy. Vonnegut and Murray for life coaching.

I never finished that book, because about two-thirds of the way through the narrative thread seemed to be coming apart (to me, anyway). But I did find the themes of educational philosophy and social organization intriguing. Yesterday, it occurred to me to give it a second try: specifically, because Stephenson's theme of social organization in "clans" (or whatever he called them) seem to me to maybe give some insight into today's identity politics.

Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse


This book resonated at a perfect time for me, opened my eyes to what peace in human mind could be, peace through acceptance, and above all the rejection of strict god-judging religions. This was important because instead of chasing "happiness" I began to work towards "contentness" which has lead to minor emotional improvements in my life.

In my late teenage years, I was fond of Hesse's novels. Demian was interesting enough to get me started. Narziss und Goldmund was by far my favorite. Siddhartha was also a good read, but at this point it was getting repetitive with its other works, and I didn't share the author's fascination for Indian religion and philosophy. Der Steppenwolf was a disappointment.

A few years later, a friend lent me Das Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game). I was deeply surprised, because it was so different from his previous works. It's a dystopia, but the focus is elsewhere. The book is much less romantic than usual, more subtle and intriguing. Twenty years later , I remember it fondly, and I can't think of any similar book. If you like Hesse, you really should try his last novel.

Just finished reading this and found it incredible how one book could reveal so much of myself to myself.

What did it reveal? I found it to be the most overrated book I've encountered so far. I'm positively inclined towards Buddhism but it was just cheap mysticism whenever it was time to say something meaningful. A trope of Hesse's in general...

> A trope of Hesse's in general...

Though I did enjoy Siddhartha, you touch on a point I agree with: Hesse recycles many of the same themes in all of his works, and Siddhartha just takes those themes a different geographic setting (which was intentional - Hesse's relationship with Germany had deteriorated, and he felt that any book set in Germany would be seen as commentary on the country). It seems that Siddhartha is often read in isolation from his other works and thus seen as primarily a commentary on Buddhism. While Hesse was very familiar with India (his grandfather had been a missionary there, and Hesse had traveled there), and he certainly had an affinity for the Indian spirituality that comes through in the book, the primary themes are very similar to the themes in Narcissus and Goldmund, Demian, Beneath the Wheel, Peter Camenzind, and of course the Glass Bead Game.

I'm a huge fan of Hesse and have read almost all of his works, and I think Siddhartha is quite a good one, but it's not a book about Buddhism; it's a coming of age tale with a protagonist navigating the tension between intellectual learning and experiential learning, and finding happiness from within. Which could describe many of Hesse's works...

For me it was less of a commentary on Buddhism and other actual teachings and more of a way to understand and feel okay about leaving paradigms you were raised by that don’t fill “the cup.” Maybe that’s not the takeaway most people want to hear, but I found that the way that topic is approached in this book refreshing. Does that make sense? As far as actual, less “meta” books, I’ve certainly found more helpful. But this one helped me feel less guilty about searching.

I read the book around 4 years ago I think, and I don't find it refreshing at all. One possible reason is that I grew up a Hindu and have found this baseless mysticism just tiring. And it is quite baseless, at no point in the book does the exalted one ever question himself, maybe once but it took him half a page to pat himself on the back and move on. He was born with the knowledge of exactly what his purpose is, never quite learns anything from anybody and quite frankly is condescending to the max.

It must say something about a person which among Hesse's work resonates the most. I read Demian which has a more ruthless Randian will-to-power tone to it, and the Glass Bead Game. Haven't yet touched Siddhartha.

I read all three of these in college and I know Demian and Glass Bead Game meant a lot to me. You should check out Siddhartha.

Yeah I'll have to

Just finished it last week, it made me revisit the idea of "What it means to have meaning in life?" and how personal that is, and have a wholesome view of my personality without any prejudice.

Depends on how old you are, or for me it did. Some books resonate at different points in a person's life. The fiction that's had the most impact on me as an adult was all stuff I read in my early 30s.

* Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller — Perfect for a single man in his 30s. Very solipsistic and hedonistic, which is a great way to explore that decade. Each of the books in the series is a novel length prose poem. Absolutely beautiful

* Journey to the End of The Night by Louis Ferdinand Celine — my favorite book in the world. Very misanthropic, set in WWI. The protagonist finds himself drafted into the war and does his best to survive while the brave people around him die like idiots, it escalates from there. The most beautiful line I've ever read is from a part of the book where the protagonist is hanging out at a brothel: "Toward one of the beautiful girls there I soon developed an uncommon feeling of trust, which in frightened people takes the place of love." there are jaw-droppers like that on every other page

* Crime and Punishment — a cautionary tale about exactly the kind of solipsism and misanthropy that can take us over in our 30s. Fast paced and beautifully written, it reads like a modern crime thriller.

For fun conceptual stuff

* Ficciones by Borges — short stories that will twist your mind up, each are more puzzle than narrative, but tremendously engaging nonetheless. Ted Chiang is the modern writer that I would identify as the most similar in spirit to Borges.

As a note—I'm a speculative fiction author. Most of what I read these days is sff and nerdy lit fic. The value in fiction is the same as the value in philosophy, it exposes you to the inside of peoples' minds in a way that other forms of narrative entertainment do not, and the real good stuff acts as fuel for concept creation.

If you like Henry Miller, you'll probably enjoy his favorite books. Check out "The Books In My Life" and "The Wisdom of the Heart." I had the good fortune to visit his cabin in Big Sur a couple of years ago and it was very inspiring.

I've read pretty much everything he's written, up to and including the less common stuff like To Paint is to Love Again, etc. In fact, not long after I had burned through the Tropics I went on a deep dive into his influences and used Books In My Life as a guide, which is how I found Blaise Cendrars (as well as Céline)

Always nice to meet another Henry Miller fan! Jealous about that trip to Big Sur, I'll have to make it out there one of these days.

if you haven't, you will love barth's "the floating opera". my guess is that you won't be able to put it down.

also, "the sun also rises", "the stranger", "death in venice".

For a lover of Borges, what would you recommend first from Chiang?

He only has two collections published so far. I thought the first one (Stories of Your Life and Others) was slightly better than the second (Exhalation), but both are good.

fellow fan of borges and chiang. start with exhalation

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy + all parts.

It's a common recommendation for exactly that - but I'm amazed by how much it's in the back of my head and gives me support. Especially in the current time.

I can't point to an exact quote.. but I'm listening to all audio books(as background noise) by Douglass Adam's for the last weeks and it just feels like there is a part in the books for almost every weird situation in life....

And it's not like it gives a solution for every weird situation... it's more like it supports to feel however you feel about it...

So hitchhikers guide I can certainly agree with, but the rest of the series is pretty inconsistent. Restaurant was pretty terrible in my opinion, but then Life is almost as good as the original. I'd say the quality of the series is downhill from there. The follow up books didn't introduce many interesting situations or ideas that weren't already presented and so it just felt like it was dragging on.

I like So Long and Thanks for all the Fish, in part because of how sweet and optimistic it was. After finishing I then was shocked by how dark and depressing Mostly Harmless was.

One of the greater modern literary tragedies is the way Adam's said he wrote Mostly Harmless when he was in a very bad place mentally. He said he intended to write a followup to cap the series off in a lighter way but then died before he was able to.

There are some pretty good challenges to one's perspective in there, but it gets monotonous after the second book. It was a chore to finish the third book; I don't know if I'll ever get around to reading the fourth book.

The fourth is actually the best, in my opinion. One of the most impactful statements I've ever read about being a scientist is delivered by Wonko the Sane.

I had no use for the foray into soft pornography mid-way through, but otherwise it was well worth the read.

On the mention of audio books, it's worth bearing in mind for anybody unaware, the wonderful BBC radio series was the original format, the books came later.

Does “all parts” include “...And Another Thing”?

I would say no. Eoin Colfer has written some great books, but that is not one of them.

Re-reading Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle after being in Silicon Valley after a while really illuminated the character-type I found myself surrounded by: emotionally detached geniuses absentmindedly ruining the world.

His style of storytelling is just great. He leaves so much off the page with his short style that at the end you get that feeling you’ve experienced something profound that can’t quiet be put into words.

Player Piano is a great read for that as well

I came to "Player Piano" after having read a half dozen other Vonnegut books. It clearly shows him at his earliest — trying to find his voice.

Anything by Vonnegut is worth a look

There are a bunch of short earlier works when he was writing for something like Women's Home Journal to pay the bills that one wouldn't go wrong skipping IMHO.

Haha. Ok - probably some of his primary school poetry isn't required reading either ;)

Player Piano is such a good read today - puts all of automation fears and UBI arguments in the context of these are the same fears we have with every new technology.

Love all his work. Mother Night might be my favorite

"You are what you pretend to be"

Timequake is also amazing.

"Life is just for farting around and don't let anyone tell you different"

Sirens of Titan, and will echo Cat's Cradle.

In hindsight, it was such an odd realization to me, after being forced to read Slaughterhouse Five (and hated it) in high school, but then independently discovering and loving his other sci-fi/Absurdity heavy novels and how refreshing they were. And I might have missed them completely if I had been too stubborn.

I finally read Frank Herbert's "Dune" this year and I'm so happy about the decision to finish the book. In the book are several references to what is known as the "Litany Against Fear". You may have come across references to it in pop culture, where the beginning is often cited. For instance, Elon Musk references it often.

The Litany in its entirety:

> "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

Learning how to manage fear is something I think we can all benefit by.

Someone put the Litany Against Fear to the steps to wash your hands, in order to do all steps for 20-30 seconds in total:


"Dune" taught me to evaluate what people don't say as much as what they do. The italics in Dune were brilliant.

Scrolling through this conversation has been interesting, but I have to resonate with your comment.

After reading Dune, what they do mattered much more to me, and it's changed how I appreciate dialog in film. When it's done right, and the actors do things in resonance, it's like you can see right into the soul of a character.

I just read 1Q84, and decided that it was the worst book I've ever read.

Now reading Dune, for the first time since high school 20 years ago. There is a solid argument to only read classic scifi until the reviews are so good that you can't ignore it, or if you learn to trust the author.

Dune is an incredibly textured far future. Ecology, waves of anti-technology, post-humanism, politics, and nuanced characters.

Apples and oranges though. Murakami writes symbolic surrealism. A far-cry from down-to-earth (rome?), politically driven scifi. I think 1Q84 is possibly his worst work. He aimed for the moon and the rocket blew up on the launch pad. Normally I really like his works, but reading 1Q84 revealed his plot mechanisms for what they are e.g. loosely connected rabbit holes with no resolution. I think I ignored that fact in most of his other books because there was emotional closure paving over the plot cracks, but it just didn't happen for 1Q.

1Q84 was the only novel that I've had to "speed read". It was several hundred pages too long.

My least favorite book of all time has to be The Physiognomy by Jeffrey Ford.

I'm a fan of Murakami and hated that book. Though if you dislike magical realism most of his others won't do it for you either.

I loved Dune, the second book less so (lack of Muad'Dib, I guess). What else can I read that is at that level of quality?

Has anyone listened to Dune as an audiobook and would you recommend it?

Brothers Karamotzov by Dostoevsky. Helped me see the relationship between suffering and happiness, between pain and pleasure. Made me realize that government is an exercise in making the best of a bad thing, given that so few people can handle power. Taught me ways that government can goad or torture people into submission. Confirmed my opinion that pseudointellectuals can fool quite a sizable audience. If this author spent so many years in the salt mines, I wonder how much of Russia's brain trust was decimated.

I’ve been a scifi and fantasy nerd for my whole life but Dostoevsky’s and Mika Waltari’s books have been more influential in understanding humans, their motivations and emotions than most of the fiction. Wish I could find more of something similar.

I would recommend short stories by Anton Chekhov, any "Selected Stories" collection is fine. His characters are just normal people from >100 years ago but they feel very real and relatable. He makes you feel as if you're inside their head, the topics are generally very tragic though and it can get a bit depressing.

I think late imperial Russians had a special talent for understanding the power of mumbo jumbo intellectualism.

I think this stems from enduring the continued existence of a courtly intelligentsia that sought to philosophically justify feudalism. This while the feudal institution had long collapsed elsewhere laying bare the preposterousness.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance :)

Favorite quote from the book —

“Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.”

Other influential books: 1984, The Fountainhead, and Siddhartha

I finally got around to reading it about a year ago and the line that hooked me was right in the beginning. "We want to make good time, but for us now this is measured with emphasis on 'good' rather than 'time' and when you make that shift in emphasis the whole approach changes."

Robert Anton Wilson's "Illuminatus! Trilogy". I read it as an arrogantly close-minded teenager, and it shocked my brain open, planting seeds of heretical ideas and omni-directional agnosticism that blossomed over the course of years.


I was an arrogantly agnostic and intellectual young adult when I read it. It had similar results.

I think the appendices may have been most important to me, ultimately. Some more than others of course.

Every now and then I return to it and the painfully sixties parts get even more painfully so - I suppose I shouldn’t expect an subtle treatment of women from a couple of guys who were working at Playboy when putting it together, but it’s still grating, and makes it harder and harder to recommend to the next generation.

Also it inoculated me against Ayn Rand with its parody of her extended paeans to the joys of being fucked in every possible way by rich assholes who value money over morals, and after seeing the damage done to society and people by libertarianism, I cannot thank Wilson and Shea enough for that.

The collected short stories of Jorge Luis Borges. Particularly: "The Library of Babel", "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" and "The Immortal".

Italo Calvino's, "If on a Winter's Night a Traveller".

Melville's "Moby Dick" (I do not think this is a good book but it had a significant impact.)

Cormac McCarthy's, "Blood Meridian".

Together these works revealed a vanity in traditional intellectualism that is propped upon a facade of 19th century values which are easy to idolize. These works also made me keenly aware of the folly of of reactionary anti-intlectualism (which is easy to fall into once the shine has come off the collegiate apple). I know a lot of my contemporary peers did not need this same transition of values but I very much did.

It has become my life's philosophy to revel in the power of intellectual activity to reveal and rejoice in the beauty and complexity of life but to shun any intellectualism that will not connect itself to life in a fundamental way.

Curious why you think Moby Dick is not a good book. I thought it was going to be a long drag, but found the writing extremely enjoyable. Apart from the obvious "literary merit", reading this book feels like being at sea, isolated from the world, where life is subject to the rhythms of much more powerful forces, and you can look around and study deeply the rich detail present even in a closed system like a ship.

To those skeptical that "old books" can have aesthetic relevance even today, I highly recommend reading the first chapter or even the first paragraph:

> Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

The language is great. Melville is definitely one of those 19th century Americans who could work the run-on sentence for good. My complaints are almost purely structural. I really enjoy the begining of the book which establishes the unlikely relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg. I especially enjoyed the speech that gets the Quakers to allow the pagan Queequeg to join the voyage.

But around page 200 the book diverts for hundreds of pages to discuss historical whaling voyages, whaling implements, whale anatomy and whale processing methods. The book ramshackle bounces back into the narrative and kind of takes for granted that you'll still be invested in the characters.

I enjoyed all this content and am not at all opposed to a 19th century diversion or two. But the book just really drops the thread from Ishmael and kind of comes back in hard on Ahab.

Les Miserables has quite the diversions (80 pages or so describing the battle of Waterloo) but it returns consistently to the characters and resumes their previous connections.

I just really felt that I was introduced to a great character driven narrative then the book switched to become a technicalnmanual for several hundred pages and then jumped back in to a wow finish presuming upon the fact that my previous engagement with the characters would automatically resume.

Anyway, sorry to drag a book you clearly really enjoy.

I'm with you on Moby Dick, though I always feel guilty about that. I was loving that book, up until the whaling and "whiteness" chapters. I never got past that. Les Miserables, by contrast, I absolutely loved — even the essay-digressions. Hugo is an absolutely genius at dropping what seems at the time like the most inconsequential seed into the plot and then having it flourish into a great reveal a hundred or so pages later.

Hunter x Hunter by Yoshihiro Togashi - I recently started reading manga again and had heard about the series. It's an amazing feat of visual storytelling, jumping genres all the time, an incredible and vast world, and complex characters you can't help but love or hate. On the surface it looks fun and lighthearted but that facade is quickly thrown out to explore mature themes, ultimately culminating in an exploration of the morality of humanity and depression.

Others would include:

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series - I read this when I was a kid, even got all of the books autographed by the author! It was the first series I read that I remember deeply moving me. The books subvert the traditional "chosen one" protagonist, and even the hero questions this. It's fun reading, he has a huge ego that constantly gets taken down. As a kid reading along wanting him to be this epic hero, almost self inserting myself into the fantasy, I fell in love with all the Greek mythology and characters. It's been a long time since I re read them, but I still think back with nostalgic glasses. It probably won't hold up as well going back, but I think they're timeless enough.

Sherlock Holmes - I've always been a fan of mysteries and well...it's Sherlock Holmes. Between all the copies and collections I own I either have them all or multiple copies of the same stories. I know I definitely have duplicates from different publishers with slight variations. But loved it as a kid and made me interested in science.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

For those who are not up to reading manga, the 2011 anime version is an amazing adaptation and a decent introduction to anime in general.

By the way, it’s on Netflix and Hulu.

Glad to see another manga fan.

One Piece, Monster and of course HxH have all impacted me.

For books, most people have already mentioned Dune, HHGTTG and The Culture series, so I'll have to add Flowers for Algernon.

Monster is magnificent. It’s a psychological thriller set in pre-unification Germany that tells the story of how a talented Japanese neurosurgeon deals with the repercussions of saving one human life over another. It’s a study of morality, human nature, and the origin of evil.

The anime is a bit dated now, but still holds up. Planning to rewatch it soon!

Have you watched the Jeremy Brett Holmes Series? Highly recommended if anyone likes the genre.

The HunterxHunter anime is (in my humble opinion) one of the finest stories ever told, right up there with Dostoevsky and Isaac Asimov.

The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hašek - this book is pee-in-your-pants funny. A Czech satire about WWI. Definitely shines a light on the absurdity of war and various institutions - a lot still applies today. There is profundity in the dark humor, and at the same time it is a great mood-lifter. The character Svejk stays with you as a sort of idiot-genius-rebel, a cool archetype

This is a fantastic book, unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a good English translation. I've read it in Polish, which is close enough to Czech to stay much closer to the original. The English translation loses a lot of the cultural character.

Interesting - I read in Polish but not as well as English. I imagine there could be a lot of good wordplay that is missing. Maybe one day I’ll try and pick up the Polish version

I don't know if I can give justice to it but there are scenes, like the pub owner explaining that he had to remove the portrait of the emperor, because the flies were crapping on it. There's just something that's missing in the translation. Many jokes rely on language and cultural references. This book is like that.

I agree. I read it in English and even though I felt some of the punchlines, for the most part I had no idea why they were supposed to be funny. I assume a lot of it is cultural references.

Catch-22 is great though. Dystopic and hilarious at the same time.

Along the same lines, Catch-22 had a huge influence on me, growing up. (Not necessarily entirely positive, though.)

It is very much like Catch-22 - which I have to say i don’t think I ever finished (was too young to really get it). I do remember some of the absurdities making me chuckle.

My family has told me stories about people like the main character, running his rackets in Catch 22. It must have been a truly crazy time

Me too.

It really does capture the absurdity of big organisations brilliantly.

Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently books are not nearly as well known as his Hitchhiker's Guide "trilogy", but they are better books.

The Lord of the Rings is spectacular. The movies were remarkable feats, but they missed the trilogy's heart (and ruined some great characters). It's dense reading, but the prequel The Silmarillion is perhaps the only successful epic mythology written in modern times.

C. S. Lewis' "Till We Have Faces" is a remarkable adaptation of the Cupid and Psyche myth, from the perspective of Psyche's sister.

I loved Spider Robinson's Variable Star, based on an unfinished outline by Robert Heinlein.

If you haven't seen it, the new Dirk Gently tv adaptation is awesome. Not super connected to the books though.

I feel many if not most responses are missing the latter, key part of the question, namely "had a positive impact on your life". Everyone is piling up to list their favorite novels, but very few explain how it has impacted their life.


Surprised I haven't seen it mentioned yet, as it normally is in book threads on HN.

The reason that it had, and still has, such a positive influence on my life is the plethora of literary tools which it possesses. It allows for infinite play and imagination, while still being the apparent product of extreme dedication and earned mastery.

In fact, I prefer Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man as a novel, and I'm sure that the Wake is a perfect encyclopedia of language, cryptography, history, et al. But Ulysses takes it as an (humerous, profound, tricky, psychoanalytic, poetic, radical) example of the process of artistic experiment, the practically infinite range of the possible, and the unforgiving merit of deep study and eclectic knowledge.

I go back every so often to bounce my own ideas and troubling sentences off of it, more often than not just to get a little bit of validation.

Next would be Hesiod - Theogany, a 900 line 'epic' poem from the dawn of written literature. He is considered to be the first economist, though at that point of course it is simply philosophy. It explained for me the concept of emergent consciousness in a very biblical way, and let me realise the notion that religious works are just misunderstood metaphors; products of an imperfect language. It's unsurprising I suppose that something so short, that was written almost 3000 years ago, has such incredible lessons and timeless human value.

see my nick, but in addition to stephenson, the books i come back to over and over again for comfort and wisdom include:

- Lord of the Rings: The other bible. Not even the very wise can see all ends; be of good cheer.

- A Wrinkle In Time: 9 year old me, there is such a thing as a tesseract, and there is also Mrs. Beast.

- The Master and Margarita: apocalyptic reading from someone who knew, and a cat who always pays his way.

- the Discworld series: Sir Terry knew our hearts better than most, and sin, young feller, is treatin’ people as things.

- If On A Winter’s Night, A Traveler: a perfect joke that you can tell once, plus a love story.

- Good Omens: Gaiman and Pratchett team up, what’s not to love?

- Moby Dick: And so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other’s shoulder-blades, and be content.

- Lucky Jim: grad school, a survival guide. Come in on the fa la la las, there’s a good chap.

This doesn’t include poetry, which is also in my head constantly.

> Good Omens: Gaiman and Pratchett team up, what’s not to love?

It's a good book, but aesthetically it suffers in my mind because it's a rewrite of Pratchett's earlier book Sourcery.

Damnit. I had somehow missed that for years, but you are right.

we do not speak of early discworld.

i like the gaiman/pratchett teamup. They balance each other out very nicely.

This guy samurai sword fights. Your list includes Moby dick, which stands out to me as pretty different (much more intense read) than the rest. What'd you get out of it?

I think a lot of people overestimate Moby Dick. It's actually a pretty funny book in many places. There's a fart joke in the first 3 pages!

Still, melville had a lot to say about human nature, abolitionism, philosophy, xenophobia... name a pressing concern of american life in the modern age and you'll find echoes of it here, too.

Not to mentioned the prose ...

"For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blankets between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal. "

HBO better not disappoint us with their Snow Crash series. This was such a fun book.

I’m not keen to watch it. It’s probably unfilmable; all the exposition text is hard.

If you’re going to try, I think the visual style that would work the best would be animated. The real world could be done in Heavy Metal style, and the ‘verse done like ReBoot — or maybe akira or something. I’m not at all excited about a live action version.

Seconded. Look at Altered Carbon -- they even released an anime season on Netflix. Ghost In The Shell also comes to mind as a good cyberpunk treatment in anime.

I agree and considered this as well. An anime Snowcrash could be great.

Lucky Jim is wonderful: "the strangely neglected topic"

"Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way."

- Anna Karenina: Tolstoy knows people better than they know themselves

- Brave New World: Aldous Huxley is a genius and a wordsmith

- Dune: a sci-fi masterpiece, highly recommended to anyone into sci-fi

- Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: not purely fiction but an amazing book I will surely re-read during my lifetime

Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is really a perspective expanding book. It just took a lot of persistence to get through as, at times, it was quite frustrating to read.

Perhaps I should read it again to get a deeper appreciation for it

Same for me, I loved it for the lessons I learned and I've gifted that book to friends but boy it is a slog to read through.

Zen is worth a read to acquire a label for gumption traps alone. But I must admit I've probably never actually read the entire thing, whenever chapters went deep into Phaedrus land I probably skipped a few pages here and there.

Lila, the sequel to Zen... had an even bigger impact on me.

I also found some of the ideas easier to take away and hold onto.

Karenina is amazing all these decades later.

Zen and The Art...is like a boomer bible.

I don't really see why book recommendations can't just be "books you enjoy".

But if you're specifically looking for "books that affect your outlook on life", you might try reading through Peanuts. It's a comic strip, but there's a lot going on in there.

Agreed. No specific book has every "changed my life", or specifically been the source of positive impacts.

But reading stories is fun, and something I do constantly. Currently I'm re-reading Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive. Every year or two I re-read Dune, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Amber, and Steven Brust's Taltos series. Always a pleasure.

My recommendations would probably echo those already posted, with the addition of small random stories that I remember fondly because they were just fun, interesting, or surprising (e.g. H. G. Wells: The Door in the Wall, or the original Mary Poppins books recently completed after finishing the Dresden Files for the first time.)

Anything by Sanderson and The Chronicles of Amber are horrible. Sanderson has no understanding of real life. Zelazny does, but CoA were a grind.

The Door in the Wall! Huh, yes, I haven’t read that one for many years but it still sticks with me vividly. The next time I see that door, I swear...

Your comment changed my life!

"East of Eden." Steinbeck draws beautiful vignettes of human life and emotion, and I think the book's main idea about human motivation is largely correct and explains a wide variety of behavior. It helped me see both myself and others with more clarity.

I consider Steinbeck's way of creating a multi-character narrative that so completely encompasses human nature in as many ways as he does one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had reading. I would compare the satirical cynicism of the multifaceted characters of Catch-22 (a recommendation) to the rich characters of EoE.

Greatest book I’ve ever read. Timshel.

Funny coincidence - I'm just rereading this book now, and I think I like it more than the first time (~11 years ago). Getting older makes me appreciate Steinbeck even more.

But I'm not entirely sure about his discussion of the word "timshel" in the original Bible. I'm a native Hebrew speaker, and I don't read any "may" into it - it's more of a declaration of the future like "you will rule/control it" rather than "you may rul/control it".

That's interesting. Steinbeck researched his books extremely thoroughly, so you'd expect for something so central it'd be correct. Would be good to follow this up with experts now that we have the luxury of the internet.

Agreed, same here. When I finished it I felt that I had witnessed something profound and ancient and true. No other book has done what it did to me, though I'm not sure I can even describe it.

My personal favorite.

A lot of friends that I respect and people on HN recommended "Master and margarita". I have only got back into reading ~4 years ago, so I haven't gone through all the great literature, but this felt different right after its midway point (starting with Satan's ball). My advice is to look for a translation with plenty of footnotes, because historical context plays a big part.

It's different to anything I've ever read, and definitely stays with you.

The burgin and o’connor translation is by far the most excellent english version.

chapter end-notes that tell you all the soviet jokes you missed.

Any familiarity with the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation? It's the only one available at my library, but if the Burgin/O'Connor translation is truly superior I'll just get it on Amazon.

my russian relatives and peers swear up and down that the burgin is the only one that’s even close to accurate in tone. So it’s the only one i've read.

there’s a kindle version too.

wow, that sounds worthy of a re-read in english just for that. thanks!

just in case there are other Romanians around, the best translation I've found is the one by Antoaneta Olteanu (from Corint).

it's a fantastic book, philosophical and silly, beautiful and funny and sad, & arguably made more moving by the fact that bulgakov left it in a drawer when he died, broke and obscure. it's one of my all time favorite books and perfect for rn. sidenote, here's a pretty (non-spoiler-y) animation that someone made about it: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BrA-XHXZ07E

Kurt Vonnegut's works: The Sirens of Titan, Mother Night, Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five, Player Piano, Jailbird, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater...

Find the time to read Vonnegut.

Cat’s Cradle has been my favorite book of all time since I found it in high school.

I liked the "Mother Night" movie with Nick Nolte. I'll have to finally get around to reading the book this year.

My favorite Vonnegut was Bluebeard.

That and Deadeye Dick are the two outside his big, famous works (Slaughterhouse 5 and Cat’s Cradle being the big two, followed probably by Breakfast of Champions) that I like best. Bluebeard in particular manages to cover most of the themes and ideas from the rest of his books all in one, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better than the rest but does make it interesting.

I read Galapagos and it was freaking awful. One of the worst books I've ever read.

I am a huge Vonnegut fan and just read Galápagos last month. It wasn’t one of his best, but I still really enjoyed it.

Part of my enjoyment of Vonnegut comes from his writing style. I just love how he writes, no matter the story.

I really enjoyed the Martian and have found it to be a nice distraction if I'm bored - it's not too heavy and short enough to read in one sitting, but has plenty of entertainment nonetheless.

Otherwise, the Hitchhiker's Guide is always a great read.

Anything by Dostoevsky.

I loved "The Martian". Self-reliance and ingenuity. A great read!

"Anything by Dostoevsky" and Camus.

Remains of the Day.

Here's a quote for the OP's original question.

> He chose a certain path in life, it proved to be a misguided one, but there, he chose it, he can say that at least. As for myself, I cannot even claim that. You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lordship’s wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really – one has to ask oneself – what dignity is there in that?’

Remains of the Day is incredible, but I will say I think ishiguro's best work is Never Let Me Go.

The story line is enrapturing but ultimately not what the book is about. I'll leave two quotes.

> We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we've lived through, or feel we've had enough time.

> All children have to be deceived if they are to grow up without trauma

"The Mysterious Island". It was my first book by Jules Verne, and it striked me with it's utter realism. Most his other books, like "20000 leagues under sea" or "Journey to the center of the Earth" are based on a fictional devices or exceptional characters, but Cyrus Smith became for me a realistic exemplar of a man using his engineering skills and knowledge to change his life and world around him.

When I read the mysterious island for the first time, I thought of Jules Verne in terms of Journey to the Center of the Earth, or Around the World in 80 Days. The Mysterious Island absolutely bowled me over with the science and engineering.

Zorba the Greek - this book is an enjoyable, seemingly light read but a beautiful contrast of intellectual understanding, and wisdom that's made manifest through living. Thought vs action.

The author is a "philosopher" who finds the company of Zorba and sees in this simple man the result of the philosophy in everyday living.

Zorba is uneducated and is unable to explain the why in meta physical arguments but to the author he seems to be effortlessly living the truth that the author is an "expert" in but unable to emulate.

It affected me because I identified with being a "seeker" and a "philosopher" and this made me realize that understanding something intellectually is very different than being able to use/live it. That I wasn't somehow "superior" because of the thoughts in my head.

> [...] made me realize that understanding something intellectually is very different than being able to use/live it. That I wasn't somehow "superior" because of the thoughts in my head.

Out of all the reviews, this one exemplifies the power of fiction (and books) the best. Your candid thoughts will stick with me.

Some Heinlein book mentioned a minor medical procedure that helped me resolve a very painful minor medical issue when medical staff sort of shrugged and moved on.

I'm sure there's lots more, but that's particularly memorable.

If you don't mind sharing, what was the procedure?

Nothing of any relevance to the mostly male audience here, but, sure, I'll bite.

I was breastfeeding my newborn and one breast was hurting like a bitch. A nurse checked me, which involved looking at my breast, announced I didn't have an infection and shrugged and walked off.

I was in my twenties and had a lot of baggage from being molested as a child. I felt humiliated showing her my tits and then got zero help.

But Heinlein had written something about blocked milk ducts and opening them with a needle. The book description sounds pretty dreadful, but that's not what I did. I sterilized a needle and used it to gently brush dead skin from my nipple, clearing away the blockage from the milk duct.

Problem solved. In like five minutes.

My sister also had some breastfeeding challenges. I don't think I was actually helpful in terms of telling her how to fix it, but I told her my story and encouraged her to keep looking for a solution because the medical establishment not knowing fuck all about supporting breastfeeding moms isn't evidence that it can't be solved. She did find solutions and successfully breastfed instead of throwing in the towel and bottle feeding.

The US completely sucks at supporting breastfeeding. It's awful.

How long ago was that? I had my son three years ago, and breastfeeding was pushed pretty heavily at the hospital, with lactation consultants galore.

Long ago and far away.

Glad you have seen better.

I have a list here with a lot that I like (some with links that are free to read online): https://zalberico.com/about/

To pick a couple though:

- The Nix (best novel I’ve read in a long time): https://www.npr.org/2016/08/31/490101821/the-nix-is-a-viciou...

- Lake Success

- Permutation City

- Harry Potter and The Methods of Rationality (https://www.hpmor.com/)

- True Names

- Any of the stories by Ted Chiang, but specifically “Liking what you See: A documentary” and “The life cycle of software objects”

HP&TMOR is kind of terrible on many levels but it may have saved my life; I was mindlessly reading it in the depths of a long, gloomy Seattle winter when something it said about the way the Dementors work made me look up from my tablet and go find a garden shop, from which I got a two foot square sun lamp that kept the suicidal urges at bay for most of the rest of my winters in that grey, gloomy town.

I also really liked that scene you're talking about.

Not sure you think it's terrible though, I really liked it all the way through.

For people that don't know about it, it started off as a blog post on less wrong so the first chapter or so is a little different in style.

If you want to see if you'd like it I suggest people read Chapter 10 (the sorting hat chapter) and if that appeals to you to go back and start from the beginning.

[Edit] * Not sure why

+1 for Ted Chiang

The Count of Monte Cristo (unabridged of course), it really rose my bar for great storytelling.

Also the sandwich is pretty good.

I came here to just recommend 'The Count of Monte Cristo'. Such a profound, breathtaking novel.

Three Musketeers is my favorite but Monte Cristo is definitely the best one

Have you read The Stars My Destination?

Any particular translation or original French?

I have the English translation from Robin Buss/Penguin Classics, I think that’s the one you want in English.

Idk if the original French is much better, though I’ve heard it uses archaic language so if you’re reading for plot it might not be great. That also reminds me of something I think is really neat:

Dumas originally published the book as a series of volumes in a French newspaper over 2 years!

2 years! Can you imagine? I could barely put the book down when I first read it, that much suspense would kill me.. Also interesting how similar that is to the TV dramas of today.

I'm picky about translations, and the Buss translation is very good.

Whatever you do, just don't read a "Public Domain" translation. A lot of Victorian-era translations of 19th Century French literature are... crap.

Dickens did the same. Suspense!

- Hobbit, followed by Lord of the Rings.

The selection might seem trite, but I suspect that there wasn't a book with bigger impact on me than Hobbit, for very simple reason. It made me into voracious reader, put me on a path of reading, actually reading. All because my father prodded me to read out loud first few pages so that I could show off how well I read. That was enough to get me hooked and probably nothing compares in impact. Then there was LOTR, later on Silmarillion, and to this day I remember sometimes surprising amounts of trivia from them. A definitive positive impact.

- Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. Had an impact mostly unrelated to its sci-fi content but related to more down to earth things mentioned. Whether it was positive impact remains an unanswered question, over 18 years later.

- Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. A book series that, now that I think of it, fed probably disturbing amounts of growth of my personal morals. Unclear on how positive that impact was, but I think it was? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The Hobbit was important for me too. I wouldn't have read it without the C64 adventure game (same with Color of Magic). I was probably only around 7 years old so it was a big book and took me a while to get through and kicked off a love of reading. Around the same time I read the whole Narnia series. Then next came the Lord of the Rings which was a multi-year epic for me.

Strangely, the Fighting Fantasy series was also a big influence - a cousin gave me Citadel of Chaos just after it came out and it really pushed my interesting in books and a an only child I tracked down almost every solo roleplaying booking I could find.

I also loved Eric the Viking ( the Terry Jones version ), which I now read to my children and The Odysseus books that Tony Robinson wrote that kicked off an interest in mythology.

Heh, we were close in age when we read The Hobbit then :)

I don't remember exact age, but I think I was 6yo, and I think I was already in first year of primary school, very early into it.

The rest is history, Hobbit was a big book and now I devour million-word epics for light weekend reading.

I also encountered the 8bit game, but much, much later, during my first forays into retrocomputing as 12yo :)

In sixth grade, back in the '70s, my English textbook had Chapter Five ("Riddles in the Dark") as a selection. It turned out my teacher was a huge LotR fan. She gave the class a choice—we could either continue on with the textbook or each purchase a copy of The Hobbit (which was 1 dollar for the paperback) and read that instead. We opted for The Hobbit. I don't even remember her name anymore, but I would say that that decision of hers was monumental for my life. I liked reading before that, but this was something completely different.

I went through what I suspect is a common experience in that I had The Hobbit read to me at school at about 8, then read LOTR to get more hobbits. Even though the vocabulary was far too difficult for me, the experience of getting through a 1000 page book at that age, gave a massive boost to my reading and writing ability.

The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway.

You'll finish it in an evening. I didn't get how it impacted me at first, but I knew that I was deeply affected by it.

It was what made me internalise the idea that struggle doesn't necessarily lead to external reward.

I don't get that book. He couldn't get the fish in the boat because it was too big, right? But then sharks started to eat it. They were making the fish smaller. At some point before it was completely eaten it could have fit in the boat! At least then he would have had something to sell.

You are thinking about it wrong. Suspend your disbelief about the practicalities of what he did (pretend he was tired and not thinking at all). The story is a metaphor about life, the struggle, and a cruel world. Every person will interpret it differently. Think about how his story is a metaphor for some part of your life, and you might get the emotional import of it.

The guy was a professional fisherman... but didn't know how to fish? I get the point of the story and what the author was trying to do. It just seems silly to have such a huge flaw in the plot. It's like Lord of the Rings - the eagles could have flown the ring over to Mordor. I just can't enjoy books (or films for that matter) which require a suspension of, I dunno, basic reasoning.

How many could face the Eye of Sauron and be themselves still..

Aragorn? Some of the council maybe. Great Eagle, quite likely not.

They come to save ringbearer once Sauron is overthrown. If they tried to do it when he was bending his whole being on finding the ring and possessing it they would fail and deliver it straight to him.

It's discussed that the eagles would not mingle in those affairs during the crisis, being unable to help in the most difficult times. I know it's hard to accept this and move on, but otherwise the movie would have like 2 or 3 pages, right

On a tangible level, the old man had been at sea for days fighting this thing. He had nothing left to be able to pull these ragged bits of fish in to possibly sell on the market.

And as he got closer to shore, perhaps he realized it didn't matter.

> I just can't enjoy books (or films for that matter) which require a suspension of, I dunno, basic reasoning.

I have found all fiction requires such suspension.

Aw man, Mordor had air support though (nazgul). It's like saying the allies could have just assassinated Hitler. Not a plot hole in my opinion.

'Suspension of basic reasoning' is a common theme in literature (i.e., the limitations of logos).

Even better is The Sun Also Rises (which I've currently just been re-reading over and over). Hemingway's short stories also are astonishing, but The Sun Also Rises seems be the best example of the power of understatement (which is Hemingway's lyrical genius).

Hemingway's short stories are incredible. I particularly enjoy the Nick Adams collection.

Surprised how no one mentioned Little Brother[1] by Cory Doctorow and the sequel Homeland[2]

It's near-future Sci-Fi and since it was written in 2008, it's more or less present now. It dives into a lot of topics that are relevant nowadays

1. https://craphound.com/littlebrother/

2. https://craphound.com/homeland/

Thanks, that's awfully kind of you. The third Little Brother book, Attack Surface, is out on Oct 12. We're recording the audiobook this week (fully remote - I'm in my garage, the director is in her house, and the actor, Amber Benson, is in her basement studio and we're all vtc'ed together -- Amber's amazing, but the process is...weird).


There's also a new edition of LB/Homeland coming on July 7 with an introduction by Ed Snowden.

how I didn't see this, I am so happy right now! You're my favorite writer this is an honor, I'll definitely recommend it to everyone

I'm looking forward for the new book and editions, especially the introduction. Since seeing a copy of Homeland on Ed's mattress in the documentary is what got me to read the books!

Best of luck on the recording process and publishing ^^

I read it when I was 16 and it really changed my views

A couple years later I witnessed a lot of similar events to those in the novel, especially the protests and the government's reactions to them

I absolutely love Walkaway by Cory Doctorow.

Thank you!

I don't know if or when you will see this. But I wish I had made a more extensive comment. Walkaway is so relevant in the current crises, in so many ways.

Today, we grapple with the issues of what work is essential and what work is bullshit, what gifts we should give to others in society, whether surveillance is the answer to stopping the infection. Many of the imaginary technology in the book, such as small maker machines, have been shown to be essential to survival. And so many of the cultural components of the walkaway society have come to the forefront of our own thoughts and cultures.

Most importantly, the death rate is high enough, not from war, but from an invisible entity, that the usual hyperbolic discounting of death has disappeared, even if temporarily.

So thank you for writing such a powerful book, the provides answers to many of today's challenges, even if they are dreams of a better tomorrow.

Accelerando by Charles Stross. It's an early work and not his best book, but it came at turning point in my life. It made me reconsider my definition of success, and is probably the one book that's had the most impact on my life.

Catch 22 (resisting the system), Ayn Rand books (role of self-interest, role of Elon Musks in society), Asimov's Foundation books (predicting the future with integrals), Ishmael (man vs world), Dragon's Egg (best hard scifi book, how our environment shapes us)

“The Things They Carried” a haunting book about American soldiers in the Vietnam war. It’s helped me understand the horrors of war and life, the significance of a person’s perception of an event rather than pure facts, and appreciate life in general.

Great book - I took away a great appreciation for empathy or when it may be impossible.

How does it compare to Dispatches?

Never read it, sorry :/

John Fowles, French Lieutenants Women, really gets the details of how society has changed from the 19th century to the twentieth century.

I would recommend 19the century great novels, that really was a golden age of literature, so many great works came out in the period near the mid of the century.

Also George Eliot, in the current context, would recommend her novel Romola, set in Florence, perhaps the finest treatment of Savanarola in the whole of fiction.

Most definitely read Flaubert's "Sentimental Education." The ending still gets to me.

Thumbs way up! I could not agree more with your recommendations.

The Culture Series by Iain Banks, quite a good scifi series in my opinion.

One of my favourite series of books. In many ways quite dark, but with a thread of ironic optimism rarely found in other sci fi books.

Player of Games is amazing.

Serious question, what is so amazing about it?

Based on recommendations (I'm a scifi fan) I bought it and read it. It was an OK read, not boring or anything, but also hardly extraordinary. For me easily forgettable. I don't have the feeling I missed some important part since it wasn't really very complex.

So I'm curious why people think it's so good.

Not sure, I'm not really a literary critic. I guess Banks does a good job of setting up the bad guys to be real arseholes, then knocks them down. The pacing had me reading this book in just two days, which is unusual for me.

This sprinkled with cool ideas like the giant brush fire, the whole empire being based on a game, the ship names. I also like board games which probably doesn't hurt the book.

I like most of the Culture books. My other favorite is Use of Weapons which is very different from Player of Games, much slower.

It's a great allegory for classist society, and the arbitrary and self-serving nature of the processes by which class hierarchies maintain themselves.

I don't care for any book in particular (except maybe Excession). I more just enjoy the Culture universe.

esp this week, vernor vinge's 'fire upon the deep'

it perfectly captures the weird information environment surrounding a global crisis

(people communicating via letter, people closer & farther from the crisis having different skews and perspectives and beliefs)

and the house of cards effects around collapsing civilizations

His other book A Deepness in the Sky is amazing as well

Those two books of his, and in addition his earlier books The Peace War and Marooned in Real Time, have all had a huge influence on me.

I enjoyed Marooned in Real Time so much. A great murder mystery set in an anarcho-libertarian far future society.

Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath - really spoke to me about what 'poverty' means and how it affects people and perceptions of people.

Hemingway: The Old Man and the Sea - a gorgeous tale that brings to life the beauty of struggle and suffering.

Though not my life per se, I find the fiction in the USMC's reading list to be very .. interesting. It's a strange mix of more popular titles and super niche books. It's all focused on war-fighting, but it gives a great look into the Marines:


STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert A. Heinlein

ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card

READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline



The whole 2019 reading list is great stuff, top notch reading for any hacker or c-suite, especially the discussion guides: https://grc-usmcu.libguides.com/usmc-reading-list/discussion...

Ready Player One? Why?

It's one of my favorite books. Totally explains why Facebook would buy Oculus for $2 Billion. Ready Player One shows virtual reality's potential to infinitely expand our world. It's also just a really fun book with a ton of interesting pop culture references.

In a word, Nostalgia.

Sure. But my question had less to do with why it was popular generally, and more with why it's on the USMC commandant's reading list specifically.

That said, the USMC Research Library [1] places it in, among other categories, "Regression (Civilization)", which may cast a glimmer of light on why it's where it is.

[1] https://usmc.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/discovery/fulldisplay?d...

Nearly every time the USMC list goes up on HN, the reaction is the same: Why the heck is Ready Player One on the list?

Thanks for diving a bit deeper into the selection.

To add a bit more context, the USMCRL has this in addition to the categorization:

"2044. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets..."

As the selection is in the 'Primary Level - Enlisted' alongside Ender's Game and Rifleman Dodd, I think it is there to showcase initiative and intelligence for young enlisted marines.

Still, I'll admit, it is a strange choice.

Speaker for the Dead (sequel to Ender's Game) was magnificent

- War and Peace - Life changing book for me. Tolstoy is a genius. You'll find a piece of yourself in every character, and maybe even get an answer to some profound questions.

- Dune - Came for the sci-fi, stayed for the politics.

- A Song of Ice and Fire series - You know GoT. The books are better.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace has been the most impactful, but due to the length of the book it's hard for others to compete on the impact-per-page metric. I wrote about it in detail here https://speak.sh/posts/infinite-jest

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera showed me another perspective of love I had never considered. Gave me insight into vulnerability.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes showed me how by looking through the world via a lens of intellect, you can often miss the point.

The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God by Etgar Keret a collection of some of my favourite short stories. Highly recommend.

Calvino, Invisible Cities — human life is so rich in complexity and detail that an infinite number of projections can be constructed to study slices of it, that are each worthy of their own story

Hesse, Steppenwolf — read this at an angst-filled time; the way this book builds and reconciles the conflict between two personalities that goes on within the main dude's head was extremely cathartic to my own life

Adams, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy — introduced me to the inherent absurdity present in the modern world, technology, the scale of the universe, the condition of our own existence, etc, and how making light of it helps you grapple with it and live with it

+1 for Invisible Cities, and just about everything else by Calvino. Also, is your HN name a Borges reference?

Young Adult

* _The Chronicles of Prydain_ (https://www.goodreads.com/series/40371-the-chronicles-of-pry...)

* _The Chronicles of Narnia_

* _The Hobbit_

* _John MacNab_ (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/161001.John_MacNab / http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300621.txt)

* _The Postman_ (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/889284.The_Postman)


* _The Napoleon of Notting Hill_ (https://www.gutenberg.org/files/20058/20058-h/20058-h.htm) - what is the right size for things in this world? A gentle introduction to the romance of the small and distributism.

* _A Leaf, by Nigel_ (http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Leaf_by_Niggle) - Tolkien's allegory.

* _The Space Trilogy_ by C. S. Lewis - the adult version of _The Chronicles of Narnia_

* _All Hallow's Eve_ (https://openroadmedia.com/ebook/All-Hallows-Eve/978150400668... / http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks04/0400061.txt)

* _The Eschaton Sequence_ (https://us.macmillan.com/series/theeschatonsequence/) - if you like Neal Stephenson's imagination of future society, if you are amazed by Iain Banks' scope, if you think that Asimov is brilliant ... you'll want to read this 6-book sequence.

Excellent, recommend by others in this thread already:

* _The Lord of the Rings_

> _The Chronicles of Prydain_

Always happy to see Lloyd Alexander get a mention these days -- somehow it seems in the recent YA explosion he's gotten almost criminally neglected.

Yeah, his books were my favorite in junior high. It's so rare for him to get mentioned anymore.

Much of Neal Stephenson's work provides me inspiration, similar to William Gibson's work. It envisions future tech/life that stirs me to see if I can create some of it.

I’ve loved every book of his I’ve read. SevenEves is my favourite book of any I’ve read (I actually loved part 3) but for a series nothing beats the Baroque Cycle

I kind of fell in love with the Anathem's monastic world.

Stephenson is awesome, I love some of his books, but others are for completely lost on me.

I loved Anathem, too, though I've only read it once (several books of his I've read many times.)

He is, perhaps, my favorite contemporary author.

I have a fairly predictable "best novels ever written" list which includes _War and Peace_, _Anna Karinina_, _Brothers Karamazov_ and _Dune_ ... but I would also place _SevenEves_ on that list.

I found _Fall Or: Dodge in Hell_ to be terrible, however.

I also didn't love Fall Or: Dodge in Hell as a book, but found the concepts within it interesting (especially around the media curation each person has as I'm advising a startup that monitors disinformation campaigns)

Stories of your life and others - Ted Chiang, this book taught me about compassion.

Animal Farm - George Orwell The character Boxer made me rethink about authority, change in view for the better.

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - Adams Discworld series - Pratchett Foundation - Asimov American Gods - Gaiman Snow Crash - Stephenson Next - Crichton 1984 - Orwell

+1 1984 especially around modern political times and doublespeak

also +1 Foundation

I've really enjoyed lurking through the comments and seeing everyone's suggestions (thanks! my reading list just increased by 25 books, lol!). Out of fiction, I read mainly fantasy/sci-fi. Here are a few of my picks (which I don't think have been mentioned yet).

- The Worlds of Chrestomanci and _everything_ else by Diana Wynne Jones; it was this and 'Chronicles of Narnia' which first introduced me to fantasy as a child. Really great fun, have re-read most of her books over the years. There's something there for everyone.

- Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix; read this in my youth, deals a lot with death, undead things, and magics concerning death. Its not depressing, rather it gave me the feeling of being life re-affirming!

- The Riddle-Master trilogy Patricia McKlippet; refined high fantasy series, lacks the prosaic good v. evil, instead focuses on rationality and chaos.

- The Incal series by Alexandro Jodorowsky; when I first read this, I kept finding all these crazy parallels with other stories (books, film, tv, etc.) and then I realized that this was the source (e.g. The Fifth Element is based on this). An absolutely mouth dropping, eye-popping, mind-bending tale! Great pencil/ink to boot as well.

- The World of Edena by Moebius (because of course!); amazing, along the same vain as 'The Incal', but much 'finer' - less mind-bending, more more contemplative.

- The Dark Knight trilogy by Frank Miller; an epic right up there with Beowulf IMHO.

- Watchmen by Moore and Gibbson; genre setting with an amazing story; and 'Before Watchmen' omnibus adds to it as a modern contrast.

I feel you should be giving credit to Moebius for L’Incal as well! IMHO the prequels Jodo did with other artists suffered greatly for the lack of Gir’s delicately crystalline transcendence in both art and script, no matter how beautifully they were drawn.

I've been striking out with my fiction lately with one dud after another. Thanks for these excellent suggestions. I'm ready to dive back in.

Three books that I haven't seen listed, but were impactful on my life:

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita -- Incredible writing, maybe the best ever. And english was Nabokov's second language. Don't miss this just because of the creepy subject matter or because you saw one of the movies. This is an incredible read and one of the English languages greatest books.

Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses -- I initially put off reading this by McCarthy's singular use of punctuation and his long, spare sentences. But I picked up the audiobook from Books on Tape (pre Audible) and fell into it. When read by a talented narrator its like poetry (and I mean that in a good way). When I finished it I immediatly rewound the tapes and listened to it again.

Rudy Rucker, White Light -- I read this 38 years ago and still think of it often. Think Alice in Wonderland written by William Burroughs and Kurt Godel. Giant cockroaches, absolute infinite, the devil harvesting souls, Albert Einstein, the Banach–Tarski paradox: its a wild ride. Hard to find but available on Kindle.

I've gotten rid of most of all my paper books a long time ago, I had too many and was always tempted to buy more. I even got rid of my beloved Austen anthology that's how seriously I was paring down. I figured I can get everything I love on e-format. I kept three physical books I'll never be without: Lolita, Madame Bovary, Les Misérables. Merely looking at the words does something to me.

"-- and I looked and looked at her, and knew as clearly as I know I am to die, that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth, or hoped for anywhere else. She was only the faint violet whiff and dead leaf echo of the nymphet I had rolled myself upon with such cries in the past, an echo on the brink of a russet ravine, with a far wood under a white sky, and brown leaves choking the brook, and one last cricket in the crisp weeds ... but thank God it was not that echo alone that I worshiped (...) I insist the world know how much I loved my Lolita, this Lolita, pale and polluted, and big with another's child, but still gray-eyed, still sooty-lashed, still auburn and almond, still Carmencita, still mine;"

I read Lolita because I was really curious about the unreliable narrator aspect. The writing was incredible. I tried to get my friends to read it, but the subject matter really put them off.

I've been thinking a lot about Camus's The Plague lately, for obvious reasons:


I read it years ago (in translation). I didn't especially enjoy it. But it made an impression and insofar it's stuck with me, I'd say the impact was positive. Or maybe "profound" is a better way to put it.

Stranger in a strange land, by Robert Heinlein.

I read it far to early in my life. About 14 or so. definitely loved it.

Funny you mention this–my dad bought me this book at that age. I read it over a couple of days and loved it, but I don't think I really "got it" until I re-read it in my 20s. I've read it three or four times since then. Some beautiful concepts in this book if you can get past the sexism typical of sci-fi novels from this era.

Yeah, it had a big impact on my adolescence, too, and not really in a good way.

The first fiction that I remember really changed my outlook of life was The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King. It's a fantasy novel that I read as a young teenager.

The king in the book has the head of a dragon mounted on his wall as a trophy, and one of his sons finds out that he can enter the wall and look out through the eyes into the throne room. I don't want to spoil the main thing that he sees, but before that he watches his father pick his nose and eat it when he thinks he is alone.

It made me realize that adults are people too, and that you shouldn't idolize anyone to the level of imagining them without any negative traits. It's a bit like realizing that even the most beautiful people in your life or in the media have to sit down and poop like everyone else, and that we all have sides that we don't want others to see. It made me feel more equal to everyone else, and made me feel sympathy with every other human.


Harry Potter!! The writing is simple but the wisdom is profound. Everytime I have reread one of the books in the series, I discovered something new.

One particular scene made such a strong impression on me about being calm in difficult situations. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, when Harry is flinging Dumbledore's precious instruments around, Dumbledore remains monk-like still.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

If you like Harry Potter, and you read HN, chances are you'll love HPMOR.

The premise is that Harry Potter was raised by people who cared and taught him the Scientific Method. He then uses that approach to solve and understand things.

I never thought I would like fan fiction until I came across HPMOR being recommended so many times elsewhere.

I loved HPMOR even though I have a difficult time reading fiction generally. And I have no familiarity with the Harry Potter universe.

Thanks for this! It's quite enjoyable and I already found ways to improve experimentation at my current startup.

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. This is a book for children but I don’t think I fully appreciated the second half until I was an adult.

Also, there’s a cute attempt at a stack overflow crash in the middle :)

This is my favorite book and I'm so excited to see someone else mention it!

A Wizard of Earthsea is still one of the wisest books I've ever read. Mostly because it cares enough to want to be.

Isaac Asimov's Profession (1957) with the "House for the Feeble-Minded". The surprise conclusion has shades of China Meiville's The City and the City, about two virtual cities inhabiting one physical city. Our modern world includes public, non-public, national, extra-national, cyber and fictional worlds overlaying geographical spaces.


> For most of the first eighteen years of his life, George Platen had headed firmly in one direction, that of Registered Computer Programmer. There were those in his crowd who spoke wisely of Spationautics, Refrigeration Technology, Transportation Control, and even Administration. But George held firm. He argued relative merits as vigorously as any of them, and why not? Education Day loomed ahead of them and was the great fact of their existence.

The World of Null-A: A. E. van Vogt


Reading that as a kid definitely helped give me my image of what a master of the Art should be able to do.

Riverworld by Philip José Farmer. It was a magnificent adventure and exploration of different philosophical ideas, especially for a teenager. It left me with the impression that even simple things can be mysterious and part of a bigger plan.

The star rover by Jack London. It helped me put in perspective some difficult moments and be a little bit more resilient. I also liked how much humanity and dignity the main character has, despite being held in jail in horrible conditions. I can say the same things about Papillon by Henri Charrière.

Neuromancer by William Gibson. Fueled my imagination and even gave me a semi-fantastical narrative to live by.

Ficciones by Borges. Like others said was mind opening.

Poésies by Arthur Rimbaud. A bit to play it off - and get laid - but on a more serious note I liked the rebelliousness and the romantic sense of infinite in his poems. I can still recall some bits of that "infinite".

Lord of the Rings. My mother bought first two books(translated into Russian) randomly because she heard it was good(it was one of the books that Party did not approve of before the Perestroika). I saw it lying around when I was 14. I proceeded to read both first and second basically non-stop skipping school next day. Then figured out that we could not find the third as it was not printed in Russian yet(at least could not find it where we lived), had to wait couple month to read Return of the King. I read it in English about 7-8 times since and as I became fluent the book only became better.

Besy/Demons, Dostoevsky. I read it after I finished Archipelago Gulag I was 15. It is potent stuff, the most powerful thing I ever read by far. Highly recommended. The more you know and read about Russian revolution and what followed the better.

In highschool, John Fowles' The Magus [1.] really hit me: its twisting plot and content really opened up the world of fiction and writing for me. Great departure from the typical books in highschool English/Literature classes.

William Gibson's Neuromancer [2.] was excellent in providing an escape from reality, very engrossing, and fascinatingly prescient of the some societal trends extrapolated into the future.

1. The Magus - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magus_(novel)

2. Neuromancer - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuromancer

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed - not strictly fiction but it could be read as such. Opened my mind to areas of society I wasn't aware of.

Flowers for Algernon is an incredible book. I read a lot of it on a flight and cried my eyes out.

Likewise (also the flight part). I'd also add Canticle for Leibowitz on that "bucket".

Read it in one go, couldn't put it down. Profound.

William Gibson. The Bridge trilogy and the Sprawl trilogy, at a minimum. They still feel like maps to the future even now. You have to work at it, the map is not the territory after all, but the realisations about the impact of technology, progress, and the choices we make when we let society work a certain way have been profound, for me at least.

Also The Peripheral, and Gibson’s essay in Wired about undersea cables, and... yeah. Having read Gibson feels like a superpower.

As others have said:

- The Hitch Hiker’s Guide

- Stepehnson’s Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, Seveneves, Anathem (aside: totally surprised how much love there is for Anathem, I remember it not being received very kindly at the time by people around me, though I liked it.)

- The Culture series (special shout out to The Player of Games.)

I think the essay about undersea cables is actually by Stephenson, not Gibson (unless he happened to write one too)

You are 100% right! I remembered that essay right at the end of writing the reply and wanted to mention it, because it’s excellent. Got that totally wrong!

I ran into it in my printing of Cryptonomicon at the end of the book... indeed extremely excellent!

Seveneves until the fast forward was engaging but I stopped reading shortly after.

It's interesting seeing how many of my touchstone books turn up in other people's lists. Here are some I didn't see yet:

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness. My favorite Le Guin (the Dispossessed is pretty good too). Shockingly original when it was published in 1969; the portrait of the society and culture on Gethen still feels unique. A slow burn at the beginning, but builds to a dramatic conclusion.

Patrick O'Brian, Aubrey-Maturin series. Probably the best historical fiction ever written. Rich tapestry of life during the Napoleonic Wars. Set in the Royal Navy during the Age of Sail, but that description doesn't do it justice; O'Brian's great inspiration was Jane Austen, and the focus is on characters and people, particularly the brilliantly contrasting personalities of the two main characters.

Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate. Like Tolstoy's War and Peace, but set in Russia during WWII. Explores the dark heart of the 20th century (the Battle of Stalingrad, concentration camps, the gulag) through the eyes of a wide cast of characters from different walks of life. Grossman wrote about Stalingrad from firsthand experience as a war journalist, and is able to uncover moments of hope and human kindness amid horrifying world-historical events.

Books others have already mentioned:

* Tolstoy, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. * Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita (interesting how several people mention this one; I used to think it was my own private discovery). * Neal Stephenson, especially Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle

And the obligatory Tolkien and Douglas Adams that I read and re-read as a teenager.

All of the above, Life and Fate is essential, but also add Middlemarch: George Eliot - grown up problems, don't lie, be careful around money Bleak House: Charles Dickens - avoid lawyers, don't let money get to you

More left field - Killing Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend - consistency is over-rated; any Houllebecq - keep thinking; Quartered safe out here - George McDonald Fraser - generation close to ours, but war-time experience like soldiers for the last 2000 years.

+1 to both Middlemarch and Bleak House - I generally go for the Russians over the Brits when it comes to 19th century fiction, but those two are the exception. And both Eliot and Dickens certainly influenced Tolstoy, at least according to this list of books he himself compiled: http://www.openculture.com/2014/07/leo-tolstoy-creates-a-lis...

> Patrick O'Brian, Aubrey-Maturin series.

Wonderful, wonderful books. I didn’t even like historical fiction as a concept before these. It takes a while to get over the “culture shock” and learn the vocabulary of seafaring life, but it easily pays off with twenty-and-one-half (!) excellent stories. Someone also made a companion glossary called “A Sea of Words” which is a big help.

Yes, that whole series is terrific! I keep meaning to re-read the whole thing but get sidetracked around book 2 or 3. I should make time for it.

Besides the wit and the beautiful language, I’m fascinated by the depiction of societies (and micro-societies, when at sea) where people are the most valuable resource, for brainpower, highly specialized skills and sheer brawn in equal proportions; and the arbitrary nature of command and rank, where the best person for the job may or may not be in charge.

Happy to find a fellow Aubreyite (and also agree on the LeGuin). Just wanted to put in a mention for the superlative reading of Patrick Tull of the Aubrey series for the audiobooks). He is head and shoulders above most other narrators.

How would you describe your experience with the Baroque cycle?

It's been over 10 years since I read it, but it was very influential at the time - got me hooked on 17th century history. I'm sympathetic to people who say it's too long or "needs an editor", but I actually liked how the book was packed with random digressions geeking out about episodes from the history of science or economics or alchemy or 17th-century political machinations. It's probably the ultimate example of Stephenson's "maximalist" style and, if you look at Baroque or Rococo art, that style kind of matches the spirit of the age.

He needed an editor. Those books had a lot of fat which should have been cut.

Surprised no one mentioned any of Haruki Murakami's books. Norwegian Wood made a big impression on me as a young man in my late teens. Kafka on the shore and the Wind-up Bird Chronicle are both trips. A Wild Sheep Chase is hilarious.

I greatly enjoyed "Norwegian Wood" - and even more (the much shorter) "South of the border". I read some newer books, stopping, I think, with "Hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world"... They didn't give me much.

His non-fiction book with interview of victims, witnesses and perpetrators of the Tokyo underground gas attack ("Underground") made a strong impression. Absolutely recommend - it's not fiction, but it does speak to the human condition in an understated and profound way.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki was also quite interesting, it's all about the feeling of detached loneliness and trying to rectify it, in this case due to some catastrophic incident, but loneliness nonetheless.

I also liked his What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, it's more philosophical and about the progress of art, the nature of creation.

Three body problem. I couldn’t recommend this trilogy enough.

Probably the worst novel I've ever read. The author has no feel for character development, dialogue, pacing, etc. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but anyone who thinks this is a decent novel has never read anything good.

beautiful story - grand scale and the ideas expressed, even though very pessimistic, make sense.

Totally agree, was just about to post the same.

Anything from Salinger. Go beyond Catcher in the Rye. Nine Stories; Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters; Franny and Zooey.

Hemingway's short fiction really kicked off a lot of reading for me. Men Without Women is a nice little collection.

A couple others to go deeper on ... Stephen Kind and Roald Dahl. King has many incredible novelas: The Body (Stand By Me); Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (Shawshank Redemption); Hearts in Atlantis. Likewise, Dahl, known more for his children's books wrote some adult fiction, short stories.

I think it is less about the book and more about when in your life you pick it up.

I can't avoid mentioned Boccaccio's Decameron here. A group of young men and women flee to the countryside during the bubonic plague (it was written contemporary to the plague), and begins with an introduction where the author describes his experience (read the intro if nothing else).

From there, it's got a variety of stories that interact with a framing story of the people playing a story telling game. I find it a very relaxing book, the stories feel low stakes somehow, and are a mix between familiar chestnuts and others that are very strange for a modern reader.

The Millennial Project, Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Millennial_Project

Not a fiction book as such, but the subject matter border on science fiction.

It did make me think of how to start contributing to humanity in better ways than I was doing. It took some time for me to change my trajectory, but eventually I did.

Through several steps partially parallel to step one in the book I ended up doing what I do today.

"So You Want To Be A Wizard". I don't know if it's too late to read it as an adult, but make sure any kid you know has a chance to read it early.

In life's name, and for life's sake.

None really. I've tried to read all the "must reads" and classics, searching for something that added some meaning to life.

100 Years of Solitude is my favorite modern classic (had to read it twice to get it), and Middlemarch is my favorite classic. I'm happy to recommend reading them. But even these I cannot call life-impacting.

Interestingly the fiction books I'm reading to my first grader may ironically have more punch that anything written for grown-ups. But, they're all lessons grown-ups already generally know.

Asimov's Foundation series helped me to think on longer timelines.

White Noise, by Don Delillo. It's a great story in general and reading it helped me acknowledge my fear of death and how it affected me.

Edit: oh, and since I don't think anyone else has mentioned them yet ... Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban, and Grendel by John Gardner. Their impact on me was less specific so harder to explain, but they're great books that get mentioned on HN now and then. Another one that kind of blew my mind is The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffmann by Angela Carter.

It’s interesting— I would say white noise had a positive effect on my life, but I’m not sure i would recommend the book. Part of the reason it was good for me was how powerfully I disliked it— and needing to question the reasons for that dislike at the time.

Some things I'd mentioned are already mentioned, so I upvoted these instead of double mention.

I'd like to add if you like SF and Star Wars, you'll enjoy The Thrawn Trilogy [1]. I read them as kid, somewhere in the 90s. Not sure if they're still relevant.

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/series/42348-star-wars-the-thrawn-...

Zenn and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance -- It was the first time I'd heard someone speak about values that mattered to me personally.

The Diamond Age: Or, A Ladies Young Primer -- A fantastic book about a future where computation and construction of devices is nearly free. It was about 25 years ago but predicted so many things. The story meanders a little but is full of amazing ideas and revolutionary thoughts.

I try to read both these books once a year.

Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient. It's the first book I read that left me awestruck with an author's ability to write beautiful, meaningful prose about wonderful characters doing fascinating things. Up until that point I knew some writers were very efficient with their words, but Ondaatje's words held so much beauty.

I'm tempted to read it again to see if the impact is the same now that I'm 25 years older.

Soldier of a Great War, Mark Helprin: "a lush, literary epic about love, beauty, and the world at war" -- an incredible, life-changing read. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Soldier_of_the_Great_War

The Cornerstone and The World is Not Enough, by Zoe Oldenbourg -- an epic duology (?) about the life a Norman knight. I've never read a more vivid (even that's too weak a word) historical novel. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zo%C3%A9_Oldenbourg

The Master of Hestviken by Sigrid Unset -- the most moving account of one man's life struggles I've ever read. Unset was a Nobel prize-winning author of the 30's/40's who has been nearly forgotten. I read this tetrology straight through without stopping (about 18 hours). Couldn't stop. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Master_of_Hestviken

Howard's End, EM Forster, is one, along with all of Forster.

Arcadia, a play by Tom Stoppard, is fantastic. Good for many re-reads (and re-watches).

Ursula Le Guin (maybe The Left Hand of Darkness is my favorite?) might be the best sci-fi/fantasy ever written, as much as I love Lois McMaster Bujold (three worlds to choose from, each offering many more or less independent novels and novellas), who is also great.

A few more:

Sometimes a Great Notion, Ken Kesey.

My Antonia, Willa Cather.

Bluebeard, Kurt Vonnegut.

Am intrigued by the mention of "re-watches" for Arcadia. Is there some filmed production of the play which is available on video? Have never been able to find one ...

Not that I know of. I just keep an eye out for nearby theaters performing it.

"Kokoro" by Soseki Natsume. (What is inside you matters above all things)

"The Accidental Tourist" by Anne Tyler. (There is a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in)

"Dom Casmurro" by Machado de Assis (also his "Epitaph of a Small Winner") (The narrower the life, the more intense the obsessions)

"The Count of Monte Cristo" (get the Robin Buss translation from Penguin) ("Wait and hope")

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

It gives a glimpse in the mindset of how the Spartans viewed life and how disciplined they were. Its a really inspiring book in the sense that it gives you a view of how they (supposedly) viewed life while knowing they will probably die in battle.

edit: I should note that while the battle of Thermopylae is real the characters and the story is fictional hence this is categorised under historical fiction.

I already knew a lot about the Spartan philosophy and outlook on life before I started reading it (both from 300, comics and movie, and non-fiction books), but I was really surprised how well he described the combat scenes, with all the feet churning in the dirt of shield wall, and so on. It had the risk of becoming repetitive due to the static nature of the combat situation, but the book always felt like it was moving forward quickly. I really liked it!

I've read both good and bad things about The War of Art by Pressfield, but I'm at least very curious to some day read it.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Eriksen

The entire series is an amazing meld of epic fantasy and philosophy that delves deep into topics surrounding human nature and human existence. We had a similar discussion on reddit[0] a few months ago and i'll summarize it here. You'll find topics like violence and its relation to power,civilization as violence against nature, phenomenology, existentialism versus essentialism. Arguments for anarcho-primitivism, arguments against anarcho-primitivism. Mutualism versus individualism versus collectivism. Class struggle and class consciousness.

The entire series is a piece of art. It also happens have a myriad of badass characters appearing and disappearing throughout the novels, so there's always something to look forward to in the next book.


Legend by David Gemmell. If you live your life by the morale code embodied in this (and other) Gemmell books you won't go far wrong in life.

Cryptonomicon got me interested in programming and engineering when I was young.

Yeah, this had a huge impact on me in my twenties/early thirties.

A relatively unconventional choice but the highest-rated visual novel of all time, Muv-Luv Alternative, is insane. It is without any exaggeration the only piece of actually "life-changing" media that I've consumed. I felt myself to be mentally much more mature and tougher afterwards, and able to face challenges head-on instead of procrastinating or shirking away. It really is something that shakes you from your soul and leaves an everlasting emotional impact, which is very different from the non-fiction books (which are also indispensable of course).

I would summarize core ideas as "To live is to suffer, but you have to carry on no matter what. This is what everybody does." and "an ode to humanity", but it really is so hard to put the experience into words. You have to feel it yourself.

Link on VNDB: https://vndb.org/v92 There are also various streamers who streamed the whole story on Twitch after its popularity blew up.

1. A patchwork Planet: A Patchwork Planet is a novel by Anne Tyler. Published in 1998, it tells the story of Barnaby Gaitlin, anti-hero and failure who suffers from more than the usual quota of misfortune. The book is noted for its complement of old people and eccentrics, and its sharply ironic humor.

As a teenager/young adult (can't remember), the ending left me puzzled until someone older tipped me about what was going on.


edit (this was my first answer before I could remember the title of two other books which aren't as famous but left a mark on me):

Steppenwolf could be a good candidate.

Wind, sand and stars. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind,_Sand_and_Stars

There's something in it about going on.

I can't say they had a significantly positive impact on my life though.

I think reflecting back on events, trying to put things and traumas into perspective has had a positive impact.

What I am trying to say without knowing where you are coming from: there's no magic pill and books are not magic pills either.

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. One reviewer wrote there are two types of books: those you read before reading Ishmael, and those you read after.

- Underworld, Don Delilo

- A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James

- NW, Zadie Smith

- The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

Multiple narrators, sweeping plot, not always easy to follow, not too postmodern.

Illusions Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

An amazing book about choices. And what you can and cannot control in your life. I read it in college and have re-read it over the years.


Jonathan Livingston seagull by the same author is also an amazing book

Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke.

It helped me understand that all things must end eventually, and that it is okay. I must admit I was pretty depressed for a few days after finishing it though.

The City and the Stars, also by Clarke.

This one encouraged me to explore as much as possible, and also that people sometimes cognitively isolate themselves, and only come out of this isolation if they personally want to. They cannot be externally motivated, e.g. you cannot convince a truly zealous religious person that their religion is flawed, they need to realise it themselves.

There is also a curious anecdote involving this novel - as Clarke had rewritten the story some years after the inital publishing. The anecdote involves two people discussing the novel without realising that each had read a different version of the story [0].

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_City_and_the_Stars

I really liked Animal Farm. Phrasing things you already 'know' in way simpler forms, made me understand it way better.

We just read “Where the Mountain Meets The Moon”, by Grace Lin, to our kindergartener. We all enjoyed it. Despite being a kids book, it had some really great themes — lifted my spirits and changed my outlook.

I realize the question was targeting adult books, but with everyone at home with their families right now I figured I’d throw this out there.

Several have mentioned Terry Pratchett's discworld books, which are awesome, but I have a special place in my heart for one of his non-discworld books, Nation. Inspiring story about survival, helping others, finding truth, breaking down barriers, and with some great humor too of course. "Does not happen!"

The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein and many of the stories by Greg Egan and Hal Clement. They show people who are curious about the world, care about the fate of others and try to be open-minded. They also show (perhaps somewhat idealizedly) how patient adherence to such principles can spread in a society.

Yeah, Greg Egan had a huge influence on me, too.

"Hard to be a God" of Strugatsky Brothers.

"Monday Begins on Saturday", circa 1965, of the same authors. That is a satiric story full of brilliant humor about programmer (main hero) in Scientific Research Institute of Sorcery and Wizardry. This book is literally the reason why I am a programmer now.

I started reading R.A Salvatore's Forgotten Realms books when I was around 12 or 13, starting with the Crystal Shard and eventually working my way through the next dozen or so as they came out.

Growing up in rural Texas, I perceived themes related to stoicism, equality, and racism, that, while probably not intended by the author, still made me think about the way I'd seen people treated, and how I wanted to treat people in the future.

In addition, there were a few quotes in some of the chapter titles that stuck with me for whatever reason: "Joy multiplies when it is shared among friends, but grief diminishes with every division. That is life.”

I doubt I would see the same things in those books if I read them now, but perhaps for the right audience at the right time there might be something there.

A couple immediately come to mind: “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving and “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin. When I first encountered “A Prayer for Owen Meany” I was struggling with my religious faith and my identity. A lot of the relationships and events in the book mirrored people and experiences in my own life. Beyond being a great work of literary fiction, it helped me work through what I was dealing with and has been cathartic to return to in the years since.

“The Awakening” has been one of the more empathy expanding things I’ve read. The protagonist’s perspective and plight are resonant today. The tragedy of that story - both in its specific outcome and as generalizable for society at large - affected me a lot and has stayed with me for decades.

I'm an old man now, so I'm especially interested in books about getting complete with life. I'm also into amusing and distracting.

Top on my list are William S. Burroughs' last trilogy (especially Place of Dead Roads and The Western Lands) and Matthew Stover's Caine series (especially Caine Black Knife and Caine's Law). Burroughs published that trilogy when he was about my age, and there's some amazing stuff about how memory shows up. The Caine series is basically a contemplation of "What if you could undo the worst thing that you've ever done?".

I could go on about many other authors whom I've loved, over the years, but there's other stuff that I gotta do now.

NK Jemisin's Broken Earth Trilogy, which has won a hugo for every book in the trilogy.

Nnedi Okorafor's Lagoon and Who Fears Death are also excellent books.

I also highly recommend Jeff Vandermeer's Sourthern Reach trilogy, of which the first book Annihilation was adapted into a movie.

"Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet" is a children's book I read when I was about ten years old that had a huge impact on me. It opened my eyes to the whole genre of science fiction and kindled a life-long love of space and science in general.

The Color of Distance by Amy Thomson. I read it in middle school, although they later removed it from our library as it had some explicit themes. It was an amazing escape into an alien world, and an amazing alien species/civilization that I could not have imagined had I not read about it here. A human crash lands on this planet and is forced to live with and adapt to this bizarre species and their way of life. Reading this in my mind was more like living it. Eventually I bought a copy second hand for myself. It was one of only two books that I brought with me when I moved to the other side of the world years ago and now I have trouble finding it. I wish there was a Kindle version.

All my others have been posted already, except:

Shadows of the Empire [0]

When I read it the intriguing parts were that it took place between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Also, I still play and love the game on N64 (also on PC and on GOG). I never thought I would read and actually enjoy a Star Wars book. Dash Rendar is eternally burned into my memory and my favorite Star Wars character of all time now. I think I need to read this again after typing this. Even my dad liked it and he is not into Star Wars.

[0] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9549.Shadows_of_the_Empi...

The original short stories of Conan the Barbarian. First, I liked the high energy way they were written. I was raised to write long and eloquent in school, and Conan proved how short writing can be fun to read.

They're a little philosophical - the author hated civilization and possibly committed suicide over it. I wouldn't say I agree entirely with it, but there is a point that civilized society is unhappier because people can no longer be beheaded for being rude. It made me question whether order and civilization are great end points and whether we might just be happiest somewhere with a mix of chaos and order, like Thailand.

The novel that imprinted itself on me the most when I was a teenager was described by Publisher's Weekly as follows: (though I didn't run across this until recently)

"Writing with a pretentious, almost adolescent sensibility and a bad case of logorrhea, --- whines unremittingly in a single-pitched, overwrought stream of consciousness that will probably alienate most readers...

...premise is interesting enough, her characters are one-dimensional monomaniacs engaged in a disturbingly simple-minded, voyeuristic search for altered states in bona fide pathology"

Or, as some reviewer on Amazon said, this book sucks because the characters are all losers.

Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire - captures the beauty and importance of our natural world. Reminds us we can live simply and the idiocracy of trashing our own planet. (often compared Thoreau's Walden - also a must read)

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card.

The movie didn't even come close to doing it justice, the book presents so many cool problems and solutions that it just failed to convey. The book is phenomenal for sparking out of the box thinking.

I will add Ender's Shadow, by the same author. It is a parallel novel -- the same story retold from the perspective of a different character (Bean). They are very well integrated: both books stand alone (I read Shadow first), but are not repetitive when read together.

I read both books in my childhood, and they have shaped my view of children. Specifically, I think children are mostly just small humans, who appreciate being treated as such. Please note that I do not recommend the later books in each of the series'.

Aside, it has always surprised me that someone as homophobic as Orson Scott-Card was able to write those two books, that have strong themes of compassion/understanding for those different than you (intentionally vague here to avoid spoilers).

If you read that one, also read Ender's Shadow which tells the same story from a different characters' perspective and really adds to the out-of-the-box element.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse

The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Hands down: Papillon by Henri Charrière. If you think you are going through a difficult period. If you don't know what resilience means. If you really want to change the way you see life. Read this book. Really.

Wasn't this book proven to be completely made up and the author was never actually in prison?

In my opinion, even if it was invented in some parts, this does not detract from the great power of this book. Apart from this, I have read that some events have been invented and, it is said, but it is not proven, that some events have not happened to the protagonist but to his fellow prisoners. Even if it were true I would still suggest reading this great adventure.

Amazing, check out "The star rover" by Jack London, you may like it

Hai wait. Did I mention that it is an autobiography?

How does the movie compare?

I think it is not possible to compare. The book is an epic experience and a teaching (that also takes time). The film is a good film. I saw it after reading the book. The effect is the same as reading Mario Puzo and after seeing the movie The Godfather (great movie but the book is another story)

I saw Siddhartha recommended a couple times here. It's a good one. If you like Siddhartha, I highly recommend reading Hermann Hesse's other books as well. My favorites are The Glass Bead Game (Nobel-winner) and Narcissus and Goldmund.

What I love about HH's books is that I feel as if I've lived the lives of his characters vicariously, passing through their struggles with them and coming out with hard-won wisdom and character. I feel like a better, wiser person for those books, with the kind of perspective on life that otherwise would have taken me a lifetime to achieve.

Naoki Urasawa's work if we are allowed to include japanese comics. Monster being probably my favorite work of his with Pluto being close second. I especially recommend Pluto if you like Asimov's robot series.

Urusawa is quite famous for character development and most of his characters are _good_ - sometimes even the villains. It kinda helped me appreciate human contact more even if it's something completely simple or fleeting. You don't need to be best friends with someone to appreciate them or go on an adventure.

Island by Aldous Huxley

It's basically the opposite of his better-known Brave New World. It offers a fresh take on how a small isolated society can live, largely inspired (as I see it) by indigenous culture.

Siddartha by Hermann Hesse

Lord of Light - Zelazy

Dosadi Experiment - Frank Herbert

Also a vote for Lord of Light, I re-read it (or Chronicles of Amber) yearly after my first read some years back.

Round the world in 80 days.

I moved countries and schools abruptly in '94 and the new place was too different from what I was used to. This really caused a lot of damage. I got a copy of the Verne classic from my school library and read through it. I was already a Sherlock Holmes fan by then but Phogg gave me the idea of imposition of order in my life as a way to create a semblance of control and to manage the chaos. I didn't think of it in those terms then but that's really what happened.

Winter of our discontent - Steinbeck

Amazing piece of work, specifically the book he won the nobel prize for literature. Great story of a normal man trying to be good in the face of great temptation.

It is a bit newer than many of these suggestions, but the Broken Earth trilogy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N._K._Jemisin) is a really compelling fantasy and tells a really human story amidst an inspired though familiar world. If you’ve felt like you’re reading the same fantasy story over and over, I highly recommend giving this one a try.

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges. Especially great if you enjoy seeing mathematical concepts kind of bent into the background texture of rigorous yet fancicful stories.

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone. It's a biographical novel about Michelangelo. It made a profound statement to me when I was young that "an artist must leave a body of work" - it's not enough to just do one thing one time, but devote your life to being continuously creative and never be satisfied. I've tried to do that in everything I've done, whether as a programmer, musician, writer, or lately, artist.

LeGuin's _The Lathe Of Heaven_ and _The Left Hand Of Darkness_. Both taught me there are more ways of knowing (and being) than my scientific brain had realized.

Grendel by John Gardner - The epic of Beowulf from the perspective of the monster. A Clockwork Orange - Dystopian novel following a twisted youth named Alex.

Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathy, Second book - Secrets of Nagas. I read about the cycle of life and why it's important to keep moving. It talks about the water cycle, water starts from Ocean and ultimately meets the ocean, but it's movement from clouds to rain to mountains to river and then to ocean generates and nurtures life. Nothing else came close to simplifying why one should keep moving for me. It is simply beautiful.

Philip K Dick. Everything he wrote

I find his works a mixed bag. I thought “A Scanner Darkly” was quite good. I really liked the crazy, out-there nature of “Ubik”. But then I found “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”, and some short story collection I read, to be pretty ordinary.

His ideas were good, but his writing style did not really click with me.

Completely agree. As a stylist he is crude and clunky. But his plots and ideas are transcendental and have been mined by others for decades since he developed them.

He's sort of like punk rock or Van Gogh. He's definitely not about the polish.

Interesting biographical note. He wanted to be a serious novelist, and wrote an unreadable Tome I think called Confessions of a crap artist.

Meanwhile, the science fiction novels he dashed off to make a little money were becoming popular. When he was in dire straits financially, he would agree to write another book for a few thousand dollars to make the rent.

He would drink himself into a Fugue State and dash another novel or story off in a couple of weeks. He never took that part of his career very seriously, except maybe towards the end of his life when he integrated more of his novelistic ideas into books such as Valis and the Stigmata book.

He died before his name had anywhere near the status it has today.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov — that book has reignited my passion and intrigue for life every time I read it and had a fundamental impact on how I view my existence.

The Wheel of Time series. I came to identify with the three main male characters (Perrin, Mat and Rand) at different periods of my life, and the story of them tackling their own personal struggles really inspired me.

The female characters in that series are also fantastic, and there's a lot to learn from them.

One quote that has stayed with me for a long time: "There is one rule, above all others, for being a man. Whatever comes, face it on your feet."

The Mote in God's Eye (sci-fi, first contact story) helped me accept sudden and drastic changes in my life and the impermanence of the world around me.

Neal Stephenson's Anathem I found mind-expanding.

Gotta second where it's been said before: - Middlemarch by George Eliot - War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy

I read both of these aloud with my partner over long nights of bringing up our small children and it was the best bonding experience I could hope for. Both are packed full of observations about life and wit and wisdom, both pull for kindness and sincerity, and are unexpectedly funny in many ways.

I read "The Rosie Project"[1] and the sequel and it made me realize I have a number of similar patterns to the main character.

Made me more aware of how I should act in a relationship.

[1]: https://www.amazon.com/Rosie-Project-Novel-Graeme-Simsion/dp...

- Harry Potter and methods of rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky Great intro to rationality, so fun to see a different take on a world you likely already know.

- Kindred by Octavia Butler Such an interesting perspective on the psychology of what it takes to break a human being. In the worst way possible.

- The Humans by Matt Haig Being outside of the human race, the language is so jarring and alien.

- Brave New World

- 1984

- Fahrenheit 451

Basic kit to understand the world today.

OK, bear with me here. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Yes, it’s a fan fiction, and yes, it’s silly at times, but it does a great job of putting cognitive biases in a digestible format. It’s really a great piece of literature that stands up with its own merits.


Roberto Bolaños, any of his books will blow your mind and make you see unexpected corners of yourself.

2666 and The Savage Detectives are must reads.

Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine. Changed my eight year old life in 1962. I wanted to work with computers and electronics from that moment.

Oh, and all the Tom Swift Jr series.


"The Ruler of the World" by Alexander Belyaev talks about the future where everyone can be controlled by radio waves.

Blindsight by Peter Watts

I loved this book too - curious how it impacted you?

It made me reconsider my previous assumptions about the nature of human mind and consciousness. It also helped me realize that many of the things we think we perceive through our senses are in fact the the objective reality, but our brain's reconstruction of it, and the brain can sometimes lie "for our own good".

Great points, thanks! I also appreciated considering alternate forms of intelligence and communication.

Harry Potter and methods of rationality. Great read on applied rational thinking. Smart and fun - one of my favorites

There are so many. Just a few.

- Flatland - An old book, but opened up the other dimension idea for me a lot. - The Mote in Gods Eye - The idea that you can't always count on your preconceptions to be true, and some people will always look out for themselves first. - Dune - For all the reasons others have mentioned.

Who has time for books nowadays? Some lovely tales so short u can read'em over coffee:

- Asimov's Profession, his best short story IMHO

- Mimsy Were the Borogoves - just reread it, it's as great as it was when I was a teen!

- Flowers to Algernon is sad, but a must

- Everything from Lem's Cyberiad

- Everything from Borjes` Fictions

>> Who has time for books nowadays?

Leaving aside the fact that right now, a lot of people have a lot more time to read... my answer is: Everyone. Just depends on what your priorities are.

For those who enjoyed Good Omens try Demonology and the Tri-Phasic Model of Trauma https://archiveofourown.org/works/20177950/chapters/47807593

I loved Josep Philip Farmer saga "The Riverworld". Amazing story. Each book i just ate it in days.

Robert Heinlein's character Friday uses something akin to the internet to do her research (this book came out in 1982).

While the internet comes with its problems (toxic communities, digital addiction), I'm reminded of that book and how it can be a wonderful for self education when used properly.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson. It raised the bar 2 or 3 times higher than it was previously. Brilliant novel.

As an engineer raised by a doctor and a nurse, I've never been into art, but somehow I found "My Name is Asher Lev" by Chaim Potok and that totally helped me understand art and artists better. Also a very interesting look into Judiasm and Jewish culture for me.

The Culture Novels, though that may not come as a surprise, given my username.

Obviously the Culture is not the total ideal to strive for, but it did give me a vision of where we could go culture-wise (with a lowercase 'c') which was notably brighter than what I had maintained prior.

The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse, it probably one of the easiest Nobel Literature winners to read.

Yes I came here to post this one as well, together with Narziss and Goldmund and Steppenwolf - I read all of them in a pretty short period. There is a sort of common theme where Hesse explores the trade-offs between a life of thinking vs a life of feeling (most obviously in Narziss and Goldmund) which at that time meant a lot to me. I can't think of another author whose work resonated in the same way, though I'm not sure I would have the same experience rereading the books now.

YMMV. I'm a big Hesse fan, and I tried reading The Glass Bead Game twice; couldn't get past 30-40% of it in either try, it was just too boring.

Same here. I was surprised, because Siddhartha was very easy reading, but I couldn't get past 60% of The Glass Bead Game either, because it was so dry.

I wonder if this is a pre-Internet generation / post-Internet generation assessment of story pace. Because I, born in '64, do not find the prose dry or slow at all. Other readers I've discussed the novel, I've noticed people born after the "jump cut edit" revolution that refaced entertainment media (basically MTV) have a harder time getting into the flow of earlier entertainment.

I don't think so, at least not for this case.

I'm a sucker for slow burns in cinematography and books, but you can't just have no pace or structure and then say "yeah, these kids have no patience".

My completely uneducated opinion of the glass bead game was that Hesse was describing what could be a very interesting concept in a very poor manner, always high-level, and abstract enough that at times I thought he didn't flesh it out in his mind either and couldn't convey it properly.

Anything by Tolstoy.

Red Mars Trilogy - Kim Stanley Robinson

These books gave me a very hopeful outlook for humanity's future.

They also explore many political systems.

I thought they were quite good at learning to not demonise politics that are not yours.

JM Coetzee - all, but Disgrace and Waiting for the Barbarians are good starting points.

Same. Disgrace sticks with me to this day.

Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman

It's _based_ on a true story (but added to it), but the concepts of living in the moment and philosophy for how to treat loss and our reaction to it has made both the movie and book one of my favorites.

Illusions - adventures of a reluctant messiah by Richard Bach

Jonathan Livingston seagull. Same author

The Awakening by Kate Chopin.

It’s one of the few books I can read over and over again without feeling bored.

I’m not sure why I like it. I wish I could give some kind of all-encompassing philosophy about it. I just read it and feel understood.

And that’s more than enough for me.

If by positive impact you mean most enjoyable, then:

The Godfather, Mario Puzo (Film good, Novel excellent) Anna Karenin, Leo Tolstoy (Best novelist ever IMO) Rendezvous With Rama Series, Arthur Clarke (Great) Replay, Ken Grimley? (Cool story)

Crime and Punishment. So many others over here have already recommended Dostoevsky, but he deserves even more praise. Taught me the meaning of "sin" in the modern world. Taught me to find love in suffering.

The Paul Street Boys by Ferenc Molnár - it's a classic tale about honor, brotherhood and loyalty.

It made a great impression on me as a boy and, later in life, helped choose what kind of people I want to associate with.

lately I've been reminded that The Plague by Albert Camus had an influence on me. I was unfamiliar with existentialist philosophy before reading that (in translation, for a high school English class).

The Count of Monte Cristo

If you find yourself HOPELESS (which whole world is experiencing right now), just read this. Because this book is all about HOPE.

Edit: Go for the 'unabridged' version to truly experience this novel.

The way Edmond escapes the prison was the best thing I've ever read.

I read this book at a coffee shop and have never had so many people asking me what I was reading! Although I must admit, I switched to the abridged version because I was so impatient reading through the serial filler...

hope, and vengeance...

Sanderson - Mistborn series, not only is an extremely entertaining author, but the end of the series really changes your mind forever, I'm not really sure how to portray this without spoilers.

When I was young, the Wilbur Smith novels dealing with the Courtney's, especially When The Lion Feeds. Also around that time, the WWII novel series by Sven Hassel. Great adventure stories.

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust and the short stories of Borges

Dubliners by James Joyce

A collection of short stories united by the fact that characters have epiphanies.

Often my life has changed not gradually but in moments of epiphay and this book made me more aware of such occasions.

The Bible (Old and New Testaments), An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, The Constitution of the United States of America and Jonathan Livingstone Seagull.

Read Ecclesiastes, and you'll wonder what such a seemingly modern/timeless take on reality is doing among the other books. It's a bit hard to parse, but read a paraphrase to get started.

(Also recommend Heinlein's short story Ordeal in Space, on the subject of fear/phobia/duty.)

Blood Music by Greg Bear

Read a _long_ time ago, but I recall it being a very interesting thought experiment about "nano tech" before nano tech was a thing (?)

The metaphysical aspects were also intriguing.

The Martian Chronicles is worth reading, especially as an allegory.

Strongly recommend “Rant” by Chuck Palahniuk. It takes a little effort to get into the testimonial style writing but unfolds into an epic tale of dystopia, time travel and traffic.

Loved that book! The car salesman gave plausible description of sales techniques. I don't know how effective they are, but Chuck goes to great lengths to absorb little "professional" hacks in the real world to give life to his characters.

Roadside Picnic. The third part, where the main character has grown old and his young practical cynicism has turned into cynicism by habit, and is upturned, really got to me.

I started in the world of sci-fi books with Nightfall from Asimov, short but extremely interesting. Then I followed with Ubik from Philip Dick, I recommend it 100%.

> I suspect that it doesn’t very much matter what one reads in the early years once one has acquired the essential ability to read for pleasure alone.

— Christopher Hitchens

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera taught me that every person is really a construct of many other people. We are all one and I am everyone.

The Discovery of Slowness Its not necesseraly a fictious book, but pleas give it a try. It really helped me understand myself and also other people better.

"Horn of Africa" by Philip Caputo. Story of an accidental mercenary in the deserts of Ethiopia. I now will have to re-read it, thanks to the OP.

Very influential in my teens:

Absalom, Absalom by Faulkner

USA by John Dos Passos

Cache Lake Country by Rowlands

First adult book I read all the way through (I was fascinated! Re-read it recently and enjoyed it.):

The Mysterious Island by Verne

Hermann Hesse: The Glass Bead Game

Robert M. Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Robert M. Pirsig: Lila - An Inquiry Into Morals

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

Pirsig has a way of writing that appeals to people of an engineering mind. Don't know much about the others.

It is a series, but Killer of Men by Christian Cameron. Just helped me understand a lot of things about myself and how I grew over the last 20+ years.

When They Cry novels by Ryukishi07 have taught me the importance of truth and trust, plus countless other minor observations on miscellaneous topics.

Demian by Herman Hesse.

Taught me to not rely on logic/rationality alone. Sometimes you have to trust in intuition and the unconscious to guide your decisions.

Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

I read it first as a teenager. I would say it helped me learn more about race, empty, systems, terrorism and young love.

The Alchemist hits right when you need encouragement.

Siddhartha, Hesse

Foundation, Asimov

1984, Orwell

Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky

Enders Game, Card

Jurassic Park, Crichton

Still waking up, so not going justify beyond saying these all changed how I see the world in some way at the time I read them.

All of Terry Pratchett's books, but especially "Reaper Man".

Read it at a young age, and it has informed my general life philosophy ever since.

Man's Search for Meaning - Viktor E. Frankl

Written from a psychologist who survived the concentration camps. A wholly unique perspective on human life.

The Hannibal Lector series. I’ve found the world building Thomas Harris did to have a lot of parallels to real life (especially now).

I'm surprised that anybody talks about Magic Mountain (Thomas Mann). It's an incredible book. It changed my life (really).

Ah, I'm of two minds about this, because I felt like there maybe 30-50 pages of amazing, incredibly deep discussions, but then so many hundreds of pages where it felt like nothing was going on and I was just masochistically slogging through it. I actually feel this about quite a number of classics, especially those considered more "novels of ideas" (The Brothers Karamazov and War and Peace come to mind). But even more so with Magic Mountain. I think Mann was trolling people when he said one has to read it a second time to "get" it. ;)

This novel completely changed my perception of time. Very much worth the effort.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull: no limits

Accelerando: open source, open ideas, as a way of life

Silmarillion: shout at the gates of hell, if that's what it takes

Harry Potter series.

Albus Dumbledore changed my Outlook on life.

Cory Doctorow's Little Brother

Still my favorite book of all time. I ended up spending a few years doing crypto research after reading it.

The Gulag Archpelago Brave New World 1984

All the fiction books that have left a lasting impact on me have been long...

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22822858-a-little-life)

It is emotionally intense, beautifully written, and is a hypnotic read. Larger than life characters centered around one enigmatic protagonist, Jude. It's about pain, friendship, love, and the brutality of memory and experience.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33600.Shantaram)

An Australian gangster escaping his home country and falling in love with India (Mumbai). Lots of philosophy. A moral tale. Plenty of drama. And a love story with deep, dark characters.

Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2122.The_Fountainhead)

A novel on idealism for the irrational, real world we live in. Centered around an ideal man, Roark, who struggles to survive despite being a brilliant architect; he doesn't give up on his principles and never conforms. Not a typical novel, disliked by many.

the feed: A Novel had a big impact on me as a teen, it's a relatively short read

Amazon has turned it into a Prime Video Original, which I have yet to watch since Episode 1 didn't strike me as great.

Edit: I think the best sci-fi fiction book I have ever read is Red Rising, it is a newer book.

There's a lot of better stuff out there than Red Rising. It's very stilted, the characters are flat, and the story is predictable.

Man, the negativity in this thread is hilarious

Kallocain scared me shitless as a child. I'm sure it has influenced how I view technology.

Dubliners by James Joyce

A collection of short stories united by the fact that characters have epiphanies.

In today’s times I can not recommend The Fifth Sacred Thing enough.

Lilith’s Brood - nothing like it.

Les Misérables was one for me.

For sure! My favorite "epic" novel.

By Irvin Yalom. Great if you also want to learn bit of philosophy:

- When Nietzsche Wept

- The Schopenhauer Cure

- The Spinoza Problem

Someone I know really liked The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton.

The Alchemist. Positive impact because I’m reminded to pay it forward.

The Library of Babel

Voltaire's Candide

Thus Spoke Zarathustra


Orwell's 1984

Lem's Solaris

The Once and Future King - TH White

In particular, his telling of the story of Lancelot

1) The Pilgrim's Progress, and 2) The Holy War - John Bunyan

Portnoy's Complaint taught me certain...skills...

- Ringworld - Larry Niven

- Robot and Foundation series - Asimov

- 1984 - George Orwell

Dispossessed. le guin.

Mon. Grass by the wayside. And then. Soseki.

I loved The Dispossessed, as a teenager. Had a huge influence on me.

"The Magic Mountain" by Thomas Mann.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

It makes you feel like you have an innate duty to do productive work.

i learn from Dune to never ever trust blindly any kind of leaders.

Great leaders should be come with a warning on attach to their heads.

similarly from dune re leadership... it's just a simple thing but the idea that once you tell a group of people under your leadership to do something once, you have to tell them to do the thing every time. Thus good leaders give as few commands as possible. I've found this broadly applicable any time i have to tell more than one human at a time what to do and in assessing leadership in other people (mostly bosses I've had. The best ones have been hands off but approachable when what needs to be done is obvious and very hands on when teaching/introducing something new until everything is clear, then back to hands off). It even works when you're trying to train a dog.

Einstein's Dreams - Alan Lightman

Cordwainer Smith, Norstrilla and his short fiction. The Dead Lady of Clown Town especially, as well as Scanners live in Vain.

He's an amazing writer. He actually criticized transhumanism before it existed. What good is it to have a 300 year old perfect body when you feel middle-aged and unwanted on the inside, and man secretly being taken care of by the animal-humans that he made is so poignant. His works were startling to me, really not like a lot of science fiction of the time.

east of eden.

The Futurological Congress by Lem.

What did you get out of it?

I read "His Master's Voice" as a teenager and was deeply touched by it. Every other Lem Book was downhill from then.

The main character being cast into diferent bodies over the course of the story making me contemplate what makes us the person we are and the final monologue at the end, reflecting on whether it is ethical to betray people even if it makes them happier. The value and importance of being honest and true to yourself, even if the truth is hard and hurts.


Doorways in the Sand

Man's Search for Meaning.

The Alchemist of course!

I'd have to say The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand! The books taught me to stand up for my ideas and vision and not agree on inferior outcomes or decisions.

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged was wonderful for me as a young adult. It helped me break free of a religious upbringing that was filled with guilt.

And then it was good for me in my middle age when I realized how flawed other parts of Rand's philosophy are and how much I disagreed with them and why, and got to move past it to even better places. :D

People always talk about the flaws in her philosophy but no one has ever actually pointed them out to me. I'm a young adult now so maybe I don't have the perspective to see these flaws, but please do enlighten me.

the course of love - alain de botton

The Alchemist

I'm surprised no one mentioned "Atlas Shrugged" by "Ayn Rand". It's not a typical fiction book but really made me think

Great? Well, I'm not going to suggest _all_ of these are masterpieces of social/personal observation. I'm going to error on the side of entertainment--books which were moving and memorable to me on the drop of a hat (or HN post :^)

(here are a few in no particular order)


Palahniuk, Chuck. Diary (2003).

Horror genre. Artist in a community conspiracy--not the 'social machine' sort of conspiracy, but the more personal and creepier 'family horror'. EWWW.


Stephenson, Neal. The Baroque Cycle (2003, 2004).

This is a story of the dawn of science through the network of scientists surrounding the Royal Society of London. I read these non-fiction books around the same time, so the total effect was very moving:

- Berlinski, David. Newton's gift : how Sir Isaac Newton unlocked the system of the world (2000) [its surprising just how many books have the same theme of 'the system of the world']

- Aczel, Amir D. Mystery of the aleph : mathematics, the kabbalah, and the search for infinity (2000) [this largely concerns Georg Cantor]

- Swetz, Frank J. From five fingers to infinity : a journey through the history of mathematics (1994) [This is a collection of short essays, primarily for and by teachers. I don't have formal training (past some college courses) in mathematics, so YMMV].


Jong, Erica. Fear of Flying (1973).

From Wikipedia: "Fear of Flying is a 1973 novel by Erica Jong which became famously controversial for its portrayal of female sexuality and figured in the development of second-wave feminism." (thanks to my GF Martina for that recommendation back in the day).


The entire works of Willian Shakespeare. When I don't feel like suffering anything too personal or too timely, Bill just connects.


PLUS1 Not fiction, but frack it. They're good

- Bourdain, Anthony. Kitchen Confidential (2000)

- Buford, Bill. Heat. (2006)


PLUS2. I read an article (New Yorker? 2005?) by a retired professor who had the habit of writing a brief review/book report after finishing each book (and he would grading it, too!).

I adopted a similar practice, because I wanted to remember my thoughts of each book in more specific terms. And I was practicing my touch-typing skills. I can say after 15 years I have a good collection of grep searchable text files and much better typing skills.


Plus3. Astronaut Scott Kelly recommends keeping a journal as a means of wellbeing during this time of self-isolation [1].

I can't think of a better way to start than writing a few sentences about a moving reading experience.

[1]: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/21/opinion/scott-kelly-coron...

- Qur'an

- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The fountainhead - Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

Hyperion by Dan Simmons (the whole cantos, all books).

The finale in the last book really touched my heart and let me think about love and how much to value the time you have with each other.

--- no spoilers ---

I never thought to find this in a science fiction space opera - I was shocked.

The idea in the book I am talking about is crazy and I cannot fathom how one would feel if something like this really happened. It is wonderful and sad at the same time.

That said and totally apart from it, the whole thing is a masterpiece. You have to read all books of the canon, even if the first book with the unique stories seems strange - I could not put it down though. Apart from that it also has great storytelling, wonderful language, crazy ideas (a house with rooms on different... no spoiler :) and more.

Just re-read the entire cantos after 10 years. Totally agree, it's one of my favorite epics and the ending was extremely touching.

If you haven't I recommend Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons. It's a completely different kind of book, but it's a really good horror thriller that shows his range.

Thank you for the recommendation, will look into it.

Do you know of any epics close to Hyperion? I have been searching for a long time and have not found anything on par with it.

Dune (often named) and The Expanse were not meant for me and have been ruined for me by the movies/TV shows. The old Asimov stories are... old.

I read many larger volumes such as the Commonwealth Saga, Three Body Problem etc. but nothing caught the way Hyperion did for me.

Funnily, from the many books and series I read, the ones I remember most fondly were on the other end of the spectrum of Hyperion: Bobiverse and The Murderbot Diaries - both short, much less beautiful language and more on the funny side but original and thought provoking.

LOTR, Narnia series, Planet Trilogy, Back of the North Wind.

LOTR and Narnia awaken my imagination to something beautiful beyond this world, which set the course of my life. Back of the North Wind's meditation on death somehow put me at ease during a very depressed time of my life, that in the worst of my pits everything will be ok.

Planet Trilogy helped me understand the modern worldview.

The fountainhead

Someone already said Vonnegut, so I’ll offer Kerouac.

Also, Oscar Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray is something beyond.

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