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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

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