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What one book could give me a new, useful superpower? (metafilter.com)
466 points by kareemm 482 days ago | comments


crntaylor 481 days ago | link

The book that has changed my life the most, so far, has been The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs by Abelson and Sussman.

In 2010 I started a job that was far, far ahead of my skillset. I'd written fewer than 10,000 lines of code in my life, and I was completely ill-prepared for the work I was supposed to be doing. I picked up SICP about a month or two into that job.

Fast forward a year, and I felt that I knew more about programming than half the people I worked with, and I'd moved to a smaller, more awesome company doing work that I think is much more fun.

A year since then and I've picked up half a dozen new languages, given talks at user groups on some of them. Next year I'm aiming for conferences.

Pick up this book. It gives you superpowers.

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FireBeyond 481 days ago | link

"A year since then and I've picked up half a dozen new languages"

Definitely not an attack or a skeptic, indeed, it may play into your assessment of the worth of the book...

But 12 months, 6 languages - how well do you feel you've mastered any/all of those?

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crntaylor 481 days ago | link

I certainly don't think I've mastered any of them - even the languages that I use every day. But I can write real-world, useful programs in all of them.

The 'superpower' that the book gave me was a set of tools to think about computation in a language-independent way. Once I had that, then every new language was "oh, here's a nice syntax for doing something I already know how to do in Scheme".

The new languages I learned were from a variety of paradigms - functional (Haskell, OCaml, R), object-oriented (Java, Python) and array-based (Q, Matlab). I haven't learned a logic-based language yet, but I've written an evaluator for one (section 4.4 of SICP) so I don't expect picking up Prolog to be difficult, if I ever choose to do it.

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rikthevik 481 days ago | link

"...here's a nice syntax for doing something I already know how to do in Scheme..."

That's a very nice line. I like that very much.

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gcr 481 days ago | link

This book won't make you into a wizard like the one you see on the cover. What it will do is open your eyes.

I mean, it teaches scheme for Pete's sake. Playing Devil's advocate here, who honestly uses that in pratcital everyday systems? Nobody reads the book and immediately goes "Wow! Now that I learned Scheme, which is totally the best language, I'll use my Scheme powers to create the coolest software in the world!"

The reason why this book is so cherished is because it treats scheme as a building block for implementing the most interesting ideas and patterns from systems you use every day.

Rusty on recursion? That's chapter one. You'll be thinking with recursion and will understand most of its implications by the first few dozen pages.

Think you know about OO? Build your own object-orientation system in Chapter 2. Yes, on top of scheme.

Write your own programming language (well, implement eval anyway) in a few short pages in Chapter 4. (The result is about thirty lines).

How do Von Neuman register machines work? If you don't already know, you'll be writing a simple compiler in Chapter 5.

This up-close-and-personal whirlwind tour of these important CS concepts was very enlightening to me when I read it. This book isn't about how to learn languages; rather, it's about working with ideas: why abstractions are important, how to reason with them, and how to implement them using whatever bare tools you've got.

(Schemers: before commenting, realize that i wasn't poking fun at our favorite language; rather, i'm merely asserting that scheme isn't the point of the book)

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adam74 481 days ago | link

http://mitpress.mit.edu/sicp/full-text/book/book.html

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fredoliveira 481 days ago | link

A kindle-ready version:

https://github.com/twcamper/sicp-kindle

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mikevm 481 days ago | link

And here's a re-typeset version in PDF format: http://sicpebook.wordpress.com/

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Bootvis 481 days ago | link

This PDF looks really great, thank you for mentioning it!

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telemachos 480 days ago | link

And an epub for anyone with Nook or other epub-friendly device: https://github.com/ieure/sicp. Check the pull requests for a few updates as well.

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baddox 481 days ago | link

Interestingly, the book jokingly uses sorcery as an ongoing analogy for computing. Programs and algorithms are "spells," computational processes are "spirits" which are conjured and controlled by spells, programming languages are the arcane symbols and runes wizards use to compose their spells, and software bugs are the flawed spells which novice sorcerers often cast (sometimes with disastrous consequences).

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ctdonath 481 days ago | link

I keep promising/threatening to make up business cards with the title "Angel Choreographer". I don't just know how many can dance on the head of a pin, I direct their steps on a regular basis.

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jamestc 481 days ago | link

This is exactly what gets me through my chemistry classes.

It's pretty ridiculous, but I think it puts the person back into the comfortable mindset of control. Rather than learning a big, scary thing that is beyond you, you are merely manipulating the world with your powers to accomplish tasks. For whatever reason, that paradigm is more intuitive for certain people.

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wallflower 479 days ago | link

Thanks, my sister egged me on to cleaning out our childhood closets at our parent's house this past weekend. Lots of old stuff, unused for years, sat there gathering insignificance. Looking at the pile of junk and stuff that was still salvageable and donateable, I saw SICP in a box of textbooks. And rescued it.

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pm 481 days ago | link

What work did you end up doing, and what work did you come from?

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mailshanx 481 days ago | link

Could you please elaborate on your programming journey? I'd be very interested to know.

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AlexMuir 481 days ago | link

Funny how a chain of thought goes:

1. I read a few titles and thought "Hmm, I'll go and buy a few of these on Amazon."

2. Then I thought: "I already have some of these books that I never read, I could gift them to others."

3. Perhaps I could set up some sort of book exchange where HN users can share books.

4. It would barely be worth the hassle and cost of postage.

5. Couldn't we share digital copies and avoid the postage?

6. That's PIRACY. The idea is dead.

It seems to me that a future where books cost a maximum of $2.99 is inevitable. I would unhesitatingly have bought 10 of these books, and there'd be almost no point in 'pirating' them, or even in sharing physical copies.

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hooande 481 days ago | link

Fear not, Ben Franklin already went down this thought path. An old fashioned library will stock most of these titles, and might order the others on request.

I'm fortunate enough to live in a city where the library does home delivery ("It's like amazon, but without the money"). Having to physically return the books can be daunting, but it's a small price to pay for eclectic reading habits with no buyer's remorse. I'd recommend that more people look into using the local library. Now that all of my books are free, I have more reading to do than I have time.

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lesterbuck 480 days ago | link

I've never heard of a public library offering delivery. Could you tell us where you live? Will they take back the old books if they are delivering new?

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rdl 481 days ago | link

There is a surprisingly large amount of bookwarez out there. I pretty much buy on amazon (kindle), but if it isn't available on kindle, bookwarez seems the easiest way to get an ebook.

I have bought a bunch of Audible audiobooks too, but their DRM is so annoying that I rip them to mp3, and if I can bookwarez the audiobook, would just do that to avoid wasting 3h running the conversion and encoding.

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Kerrick 481 days ago | link

> 5. Couldn't we share digital copies and avoid the postage?

You can. There's a service called "Lendle" that facilitates sharing (lending) Kindle books. http://lendle.me/

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subsystem 481 days ago | link

A good book on piracy from a cultural and business perspective is The Pirate's Dilemma. It used to be "pay what you want" but the payment system seems broken.

http://thepiratesdilemma.com/about-the-book

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kqr2 481 days ago | link

Also check out http://www.bookcrossing.com/

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SatvikBeri 481 days ago | link

paperbackswap.com is a decent book exchange. The major advantage is not that you save money on books, but that you can find a lot of obscure older books.

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at-fates-hands 481 days ago | link

Good call. I noticed they have a lot of the older Executioner (Mack Bolan) books (the original 1-50 series) which I'd like to check out.

I still have the first printings of the first five books in the series.

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zmonkeyz 481 days ago | link

Talk about a blast from the past, my dad used to read all those Mack Bolan books. :) I swear there was one where he was on a tractor shooting someone on the cover...

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mindcrime 481 days ago | link

Talk about a blast from the past, I used to read all those Mack Bolan books. Back in the 80's / early 90's, I devoured those things. Haven't seen or read one in years now though. It might be fun to go back and re-read some of them.

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gcr 481 days ago | link

Most books used to cost a maximum of $2.99.

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davej 481 days ago | link

The 4-Hour Chef is probably not a surprising choice since it's a recent release and Amazon has been pushing it heavily (Amazon are also the publisher). I'm just over 60% through the book so I don't want to give it a ringing endorsement just yet but it fits the category of "developing a new superpower" quite nicely and it's definitely worth a particular mention on HN for two reasons.

1. Ferriss, the author, is very much a hacker in his approach to trying new things and drawing conclusions. This is also very evident in his previous book, The 4-Hour Body.

2. The 4-Hour Chef not only teaches the reader how to cook (which is a superpower in itself). He also delves into the _meta_ and spends a large portion of the book, discussing the framework he uses for learning these techniques and how he has applied it to learning (and excelling in) other skill sets like judo, tango dancing and learning new languages.

Edit: This sounds like a bit of a marketing message, which it definitely is not, so I'll add a negative.

I find his books to be a bit scattered and although they're centered on an over-arching theme he doesn't always tie the threads together very convincingly. Whole chapters can seem like lightly-edited crib notes. Personally, I don't mind this style of writing and it does make his books very easy to scan and skip chapters without losing the books narrative but at times I've also found it difficult to follow.

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technotony 481 days ago | link

This is a function of the way he writes the book. If you read four-hour work week he basically describes his process, which is that he develops the headline structure for the book and each chapter and then outsources the actual writing online via elance or equivalent. Presumably the writers read a bunch of stuff on the topic and essentially write crib notes. Quite a clever way for Ferris to make money, but not the highest quality product.

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malloreon 481 days ago | link

I've read Work Week and Body, and I know he advocates outsourcing, but did he ever actually mention that the books themselves were outsourced?

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maneesh 481 days ago | link

I know for a fact that he didn't outsource the writing of his books

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tome 481 days ago | link

You know that for a fact? But it would have been perfectly consistent with his own advice if he did outsource at least parts of the writing process.

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maneesh 481 days ago | link

Yes, I worked with Tim during the 4-Hour Chef, and we are very good friends. He did not outsource it

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josephagoss 481 days ago | link

I think that was a joke: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2008/03/31/the-grand-il...

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MaybiusStrip 481 days ago | link

When you actually know anything about the subject Ferris is writing about, his books come off as superficial, sloppy, and stunningly self absorbed.

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isalmon 481 days ago | link

I agree with that reading Ferriss could change your life and the way you think about learning, earning money and taking care of your body. I don't think, however, that 4-Hour Chef is really a life changing book. 4HWW definitely is, at least it changed my life.

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hndude 481 days ago | link

I would have to agree with you on the disorganization part. I read the 4-Hour Body and that felt like a magazine in the way that it skipped over different subjects and areas of the body at different parts of the book.

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tikhonj 481 days ago | link

I would nominate some book on abstract mathematics. The superpower is knowing that advanced math is not completely impossible to follow. After a while, the superpower becomes actually knowing some advanced math. I won't say it's easy, but nothing fun really is.

In short: math is not scary! It also really changes how you think and view the world.

Lately I've been having some fun with universal algebra, but I think any advanced mathematics would be great. I've heard categories are ripe this time of year :).

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biscarch 481 days ago | link

Any suggestions on what books? I've been looking to go further with mathematics.

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fferen 481 days ago | link

I'll take this opportunity to once again plug Strang's excellent linear algebra series [1] with associated textbook [2]. Also right now I'm working through some Cornell lecture notes [3] (that read a lot like a textbook) on manifolds and differential forms. It's meant for college sophomores and juniors who have taken linear algebra and vector calculus, though it provides a very good calculus supplement in the appendix. For me, it's perfect: the tone is informal enough to provide motivation to continue, but the definitions and proofs are fairly rigorous. It's about the only self-study math text that I think I might finish.

Hope this helps, not sure if it's over/under your level.

[1]: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/mathematics/18-06-linear-algebra-...

[2]: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0980232716/ref=nosim/...

[3]: http://www.math.cornell.edu/~sjamaar/papers/manifold.pdf

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biscarch 481 days ago | link

Thanks for the suggestions.

I self-taught my way from single variable calc to somewhere around linear algebra/multivariate calc. I'm not sure how to proceed but the manifolds looks interesting.

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wging 481 days ago | link

Might be fun (depending on your temperament! but you asked...) to go through Principles of Mathematical Analysis by Walter Rudin (RIP). Also known as 'Baby Rudin.' (Try to forget that there's a 'Big Rudin'; it will only depress you.)

Baby Rudin is a tough book if you're not used to a spare definition-theorem-proof style. It's many people's first experience with real math. It demands a lot from you--when people say reading mathematics is entirely different from reading an ordinary book, they mean reading a book like this. But if you want superpowers, and you don't favor being bitten by radioactive spiders...

See this Amazon review: http://www.amazon.com/review/R23MC2PCAJYHCB/ref=cm_cr_dp_tit... Ignore the fact that he spells "chapter" as "chaptor", he's still on point.

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biscarch 481 days ago | link

I did ask, and you didn't disappoint. A review worthy of a purchase.

I haven't read anything in this style before (gotta love download speeds). I'll be working my way through this for awhile.

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sharmi 481 days ago | link

How about "Concrete Mathematics: A Foundation for Computer Science", by Ronald Graham, Donald Knuth, and Oren Patashnik.

I have not finished it. Just starting out, but seems like an enlightening text.

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biscarch 481 days ago | link

Awesome, thanks.

I'm working my way through taocp so this is a great addition.

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polskibus 481 days ago | link

I don't have a title for you, but I loved quantum computing course I took during my software engineering studies. Flexes your brain muscle in new and refreshing ways!

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jakubp 481 days ago | link

What use/benefit will a person have from knowing advanced mathematics? I.e. how is it a superpower?

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dkarl 481 days ago | link

I was looking through these titles rather cynically, and wondering if it would be pretentious of me to recommend The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha or the Discourses of Epictetus, and then I saw it:

The Inner Game of Tennis, by Timothy Gallwey

Yes... yes! I'll gladly recommend this over any book of philosophy. (Different philosophers click with different people.) Granted, I was thirteen and a tennis player when I first read it, but I haven't played tennis seriously in over twenty years, and I still use the lessons in this book any time I practice anything physical. Dancing, chopping onions, running, lifting weights, you name it. I use it anytime I need to do something where the real intelligence at work is not part of my conscious mind, including controlling my emotions, but it works best with physical skills.

Gallwey wrote some other "Inner Game" books, but he was a Division I college tennis player, and this was his first book. This is the book he wrote about the sport he knew, without knowing it would be a best-seller. I don't know if the others were written to the same level of quality.

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konstruktor 480 days ago | link

I would absolutely recommend the Roman Stoics. The privileged ones lived like kings, but were prone to lose everything if the political climate changed. Their lives were absolutely unpredictable and they found ways of dealing with it in their heads. One can read advice from a philosopher/teacher who was later killed by his disciple (Seneca, forced to commit suicide by Nero), maybe the best Roman emperor ever (Marcus Aurelius) or a slave who was freed only later in life (Epicetus). Those guys knew that nothing was theirs forever but dealt with it in a graceful way.

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wipt 473 days ago | link

Having gone though Epictetus's Enchiridion several times, it's certainly something you have to pick through. There is a balance between emotions and objectivity that is lost in stoicism.

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Joeri 481 days ago | link

Books that actually caused changes in my life:

Yes Man ( http://www.amazon.com/Yes-Man-Danny-Wallace/dp/1416918345 )

This book made me realize that I was defaulting to "no" in many aspects of my life. After this book I changed many things in my life, and ended up meeting and dating my future (now present) wife. Overall my life has been much improved by defaulting to "yes".

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work ( http://www.amazon.com/Pleasures-Sorrows-Work-Alain-Botton/dp... )

Gave me insight into how there is a huge invisible fabric of society that we take for granted, and how I consistently underrated many categories of jobs. One change I made after reading this book is to respect the jobs that I took for granted, like the clerk at the checkout counter. I now give attention and respect to people that I used to treat like furniture before.

Books that would have changed my life had I read them sooner (and not have to learn their lessons the long/hard way.)

The Happiness Hypothesis ( http://www.amazon.com/Happiness-Hypothesis-Finding-Modern-An... )

The notion this book puts forward of the subconscious as a powerful but stubborn elephant and the conscious as its well-meaning but often impotent handler provides much insight into why people act against their own interests, and why they tell lies about themselves and their own actions. One of the things I had realized beforehand (through many years of struggling with social interaction) that the book also covers is how we all tell a story of our life in which we are the hero, and how we rationalize our actions to fit the story instead of adapting the story to fit the facts.

Peopleware ( http://www.amazon.com/Peopleware-Productive-Projects-Teams-S... )

The book covers why building software is primarily a people problem, not a technical problem. Again, I had already realized this, but it would have been nice to learn it sooner. Some stuff is outdated, but it's still one of the top books on building software in my opinion.

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thenomad 480 days ago | link

I'd second the 1st, 3rd and 4th of these. Peopleware is awesome - obviously - and The Happiness Hypothesis has had plenty of press.

However, don't underestimate Yes Man. It's by a comedian, but it's still a very powerful and interesting read.

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endtime 481 days ago | link

I recommend The Way of the Superior Man (http://www.amazon.com/Way-Superior-Man-Spiritual-Challenges/...). My roommate lent it to me after an ugly breakup. The title is a little silly (I certainly wouldn't describe myself as "spiritual") and I don't agree with every word of it, but after reading this book I finally felt like I understood women and relationships, and I met my now-wife a few months after reading it. I doubt I would have gotten her without it.

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Herring 481 days ago | link

I've just read half of it & I'll probably end up finishing it because it's so interesting. But I really dislike the implication that leadership skills (purpose, reliability, equanimity) are intrinsically male, while childishness is intrinsically female. At least now I know what type of women to avoid.

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WA 481 days ago | link

It is a bit more complicated than that, which doesn't become clear in Way of the Superior Man. I read almost all of Deida's books and liked them a lot, but they all have the downside of too much spiritual babble and being a bit too abstract like "giving your deepest gift". What does that even mean?

Thing is - and this becomes more clear in his other books - men and women both have similar skills, but both have a TENDENCY to feel more comfortable in a specific skill set.

So, on the one hand I love Deida's advice. It is oftentimes on the spot. Very clear and even actionable at times. But on the other hand, it oftentimes is also too abstract, too simple, or too black-and-white. It almost feels like he's describing his favorite action movie star and if you read it that way, you can get the impression that he describes film heroes (super clear purpose, cannot be distracted, live on your edge). While a film hero can be an inspiration, it is oftentimes still a heavily simplified character.

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hndude 481 days ago | link

I have to second this book. It helped put me back together like no one's advice could, after I went through a bad breakup.

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drunkpotato 481 days ago | link

Just code.

Seriously, just write code.

You will come across a lot of books that influence your thoughts, behaviors, patterns. I have, everyone does. But the only thing that actually has any effect on your psyche is doing, whatever the doing is. So you want to learn how to build a better body, great, read books on building muscle.

It won't have nearly as much effect as going to the gym and swimming for a half hour three times a week. Obviously you won't get a bodybuilder physique this way, but it'll make you stronger, faster, better, and smarter.

You want to code better.

Great, read SICP, On Lisp, Learn You a Haskell. It will make you think differently. They'll make you smarter, faster, better. They will, seriously, but they will have a negligible effect relative to just sitting down and coding up your idea. You probably won't do it better or smarter than you've done it before, but you will learn the problems. Then you read the books, find out how you could do it better.

I've been in the position of trying to figure out what to read, the best way to write code, the perfect test framework. All of it pales in comparison to just doing. Reading, agonizing over "the best", all of that seems to be the sugar that the mind gravitates to when it avoids doing. The spinach is sitting down, doing the activity, or thinking through the hard details.

Slash soapbox.

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danenania 481 days ago | link

Meh, writing code is the easy part, the fun part. Every programmer loves to sit down and bash out features. Even if they do so in ways that they know (or don't know) are perilous, ugly, or inefficient, there is still that beautiful rush of progress, and people will still pay for the service.

The discipline to step back, reevaluate, and think conceptually rather than pragmatically is much more difficult to accomplish when there's always so much lying around that needs doing.

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vog 481 days ago | link

I fully agree. So the advice should be not merely be "code", but:

Code long-term on a real-world project, cooperating with other coders. (ideally, on a Free Software project)

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canttestthis 480 days ago | link

Why must it be a free software project?

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thezoid 480 days ago | link

Free software never dies.

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sillysaurus 480 days ago | link

It's important for budding programmers to build confidence in themselves. Forcing them to work with other programmers at the very beginning destroys confidence and makes them hate the work.

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thezoid 479 days ago | link

How exactly would programming for themselves in a vacuum build any sort of positive confidence?

Open source builds up that portfolio everyone wants to see, and working on a project provides mentors to help give new developers guidance.

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sillysaurus 479 days ago | link

How exactly would programming for themselves in a vacuum build any sort of positive confidence?

Because there's no one to criticize you, and figuring something out on your own is a rewarding experience which gives you confidence.

Open source builds up that portfolio everyone wants to see

If you're into programming for the reason of "building a portfolio", then you're not into programming. You're into making money.

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vog 468 days ago | link

> Forcing them to work with other programmers at the very beginning destroys confidence and makes them hate the work.

In a Free Software project, nobody forces you to cooperate with anyone. If you want, you can just release your program (or patch) and ignore all feedback. However, often enough you'll receive some very valuable feedback.

Also, you'll receive different kind of feedback depending on whether you start your own Free Software project, or contribute to an existing one. So I suggest to do both.

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danabramov 477 days ago | link

“programming is rather thankless. u see your works become replaced by superior ones in a year. unable to run at all in a few more.”

_why

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prisonguard 481 days ago | link

seconded, the proof is in the pudding, you have to try it!

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kriro 481 days ago | link

My candidates (not in order):

Getting Things Done (Superpower: Time Management)

Bargaining for Advantage (Superpower: Negotiation)

The Art of Learning (Superpower: Learning)

Telling Lies (Superpower: Facial expressions etc...somewhat of a cheat since you'll probably need to read more on the topic)

Economics in One Lesson (Superpower: Understanding the fundamentals of economics...and wandering down the dark,Austrian path eventually)

Edit: An even better superpower is learning a new language and understanding the corresponding culture. I usually suggest that over anything else for anyone that knows <3 languages well

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eli_gottlieb 481 days ago | link

Economics in One Lesson (Superpower: Understanding the fundamentals of economics...and wandering down the dark,Austrian path eventually)

Austrian economics is the opposite of a superpower. It's a mental device for rationalizing the present state of the world so that you never have to act.

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jdreaver 481 days ago | link

It's a mental device for rationalizing the present state of the world so that you never have to act.

Well, except for the fact that an Austrian economist would change almost everything about how most Western governments handle economic policy. That's a cute sentence though.

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dimitar 481 days ago | link

I'd second that. This book gives you a lot of wrong ideas (for example how banking works), a lot of moralizing and nothing at all about useful new concepts like monopolistic competition and externalities.

You will learn much more about mainstream economics from about.com for example.

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kriro 480 days ago | link

It gives you an interesting perspective on things which is always good.

You will see a lot of the subchapter type arguments mentioned in the news and the like and at least now you have one perspective on the issues which even if you don't agree with it forces you to articulate your own side better.

It's a really good book for a layperson to start thinking about the economics section of the news. It's written well, too.

I have given away ~20 copies of this book so far and have gotten nothing but praise even from Marxists.

I don't know why I even bother to make this long post since Austrians in general are very,very far removed from being status quo-ists so your comment doesn't even make sense. The book is also not overly Austrian apart from the recommended reading.

Feel free to recommend a better "basics of economics" book.

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eli_gottlieb 479 days ago | link

Whether Austrians are happy with the status quo is an entirely political/class matter.

When banks get bailed-out by government, they're unhappy. When trade agreements and refusal to enforce labor laws pushes down wages and lengthens hours, that's "the free market".

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shmulkey18 480 days ago | link

Sowell's "Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy" is also good.

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shmulkey18 480 days ago | link

No, Austrians are generally pretty unhappy with the present economic state of the world.

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bennesvig 481 days ago | link

The Art of Learning is one of the best books I read this year. If you liked that, you'd also probably enjoy The Inner Game of Tennis and Mastery by Robert Greene.

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stephen 481 days ago | link

I read The Art of Learning a few years ago, and remember it being basically an autobiography, and not anything like a manual that explains how one could actually attain any sort of super learning.

It's just personal stories that are basically "hey, this guy is awesome at a lot of stuff."

Hm. Well, I do remember how OCD he was about his subjects--reviewing videotapes of himself doing martial arts, studying moves, etc.

So, in that regard, I guess his approach, if you could infer one, was basically getting in his 10,000 hours in 1/4-1/3 of the time of most people.

Please correct me if my recollection is wrong though.

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bennesvig 481 days ago | link

You're right. It's definitely not a manual with a step by step plan to take like a lot of self-help type books. It's subtly brilliant.

Some of the concepts I picked up from it:

- Practice something enough to get to the point where you can perform the act/task without thinking. Your brain will then be freed up to focus on higher level things. Picture yourself moving up different levels of a pyramid.

This is also how you can slow things down in your mind. Because you've experienced something so much, your brain doesn't have to do as much processing. He talks about this in depth, The Inner Game of Tennis talks about it, and one or two other books I read this year mentioned this concept.

- Invest in loss. Most entrepreneurs have heard this 1,000 times, but it was still great to read his take on it. He couldn't get better without experiencing a little pain in practice.

- Don't fight, avoid, or deny negative forces. Instead, you should look to channel what's coming at you into something positive. He talks about the chess player who would play mental tricks on him or kick him under the table. It through him off at first, but he learned to embrace it and overcome it.

- Find a trigger zone. Develop a routine that will get you ready for peak performance. It could be for Tai Chi or a business meeting (which he gives an example of).

There is a lot more to the book, but those are a few of the main concepts he talks about.

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nelsonweiss 481 days ago | link

The Art of Learning is less about learning things than it is about becoming very, very good at the things you learn.

While the book is highly autobiographical, the author does goes into a lot of detail about how he got really good at chess and tai chi.

What a lot of people seem to forget to mention about the 10,000 hour theory is that it's 10,000 hours of purposeful, focused practice. The Art of Learning is all about doing that kind of practice.

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kriro 481 days ago | link

"Inner Game of Tennis" is excellent. I have also heard good things about "Learn to Draw: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" but haven't read it (yet)

Actually "Pragmatic Thinking & Learning" is excellent and I totally forgot about it. I'd probably swap that into my list.

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law 481 days ago | link

I don't think I saw The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte (available at http://www.amazon.com/The-Visual-Display-Quantitative-Inform... ) on the list. The Boston Globe's review is 100% correct: it's a visual Strunk and White.

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TallboyOne 481 days ago | link

Absolutely hands down this: http://www.amazon.com/Memory-Book-Classic-Improving-School/d...

Within a day I was memorizing lists of 75 items forwards AND backwards. Completely random items as well.

It makes remembering names a joke, you will remember them for years.

I gave the book to my 15 year old brother and explained to him how much the book meant to me and that it was a very quick read (most of the good stuff is in the first 2 chapters anyway)

Keep in mind hes 15.. 24 hours later he comes back to me with a list of 100 items (to outdo me).. lists them forwards and backwards. That's my boy.

I distinctly remember going to a salon one time and they had tons and tons and tons of bottles of gel, shampoo, hair products lined up in a styled fashion along the middle of the wall going across the wall. by the time my haircut was done I turned around and listed off every shampoo bottle in order and the hair stylist was just like "WTF!!". She probably felt like i was a freak, but I felt really good.

Trust me, its great going to the grocery store and not needing a list, and coming up with all 35 items... makes you feel like a boss.

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mitchi 481 days ago | link

You are not using the loci method are you? (The memory palace) It takes me 10 minutes to memorize a deck of cards right now. It took a lot of time to assign characters to my cards and considerable time to set up mental journeys to store the characters. It's a mental algorithm but the setup is not trivial. Maybe you are just gifted but I'll say it for the others, it's not that easy.

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TallboyOne 481 days ago | link

Not gifted, but I have a very good imagination. So does my brother, and that's what the method he uses in the book I read is based off of, so perhaps that's it.

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martinced 481 days ago | link

Oh, these memory tricks... Not unlike the ones waiters and martial arts practitioners do use.

You hardly need a book for that: I saw a waiter talking on TV about what he was doing. I heard two or three sentences or so.

And, hacker way, I devised my own memory trick to remember items.

No book needed for that ; )

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vikramhaer 481 days ago | link

Mind sharing what it was that the waiter was talking about? As well as the way you devised? Would be great to get some insight!

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louthy 480 days ago | link

He's forgotten ;)

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keiferski 481 days ago | link

It gets suggested all the time, but How to Win Friends and Influence People is my answer. No other single book will help you out more in life.

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mwetzler 481 days ago | link

Seconding "How to Win Friends and Influence People". Took me a while to read it because the title was a big turn-off, but it's not as manipulative as it sounds. The audio book is great if you commute to work. Sometimes I would listen to a chapter on the way to work and then apply the lesson that very same day. Amazing. It will change the way you think about your interactions with other people.

Another book I love, in a similar category, is "Crucial Conversations". Very useful for improving your communication skills in work and personal life.

Also, "Strengths Finder 2.0". It will tell you what superpowers you already have.

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TeMPOraL 480 days ago | link

I also second "How to Win Friends and Influence People". I'm just about to start another iteration of re-reading it. I know I still have a lot to work on, but I have already changed things in my life for better thanks to it. The best recommendation I read so far was on LessWrong. To quote,

"An excellent collection of the deeper and most subtle forms of this practice of this sort can be found in Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of the only self-help books I've read that was truly useful and not a regurgitation of cliches and applause lights. Carnegie's thesis is basically that being nice is the most powerful of the Dark Arts, and that a master of the Art of Niceness can use it to take over the world. It works better than you'd think."

http://lesswrong.com/lw/3k/how_to_not_lose_an_argument/

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dade_ 481 days ago | link

Wow, two recommendations for Starting Strength on HN in one week. I have already taken started incorporating the advice at the gym and it seems barbells might be my friend after all.

The Easy Way to Stop Smoking worked for me 7 years ago and I can't recommend it enough. I'll never forget scanning the table of contents and flipping to chapter 21, it sold me on the book.

I've started Drawing on the right Side of the Brain, which is basically self paced training. Really insightful so far.

Looks like a promising book list.

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rquantz 481 days ago | link

I've really gone down the rabbit hole with barbell lifting in the past year. Yes, read starting strength, and also practical programming for strength training (rip's other big book). Read Fit, which Kilgore contributed to, and then find some good blogs (I recommend 70sbig).

Barbell lifting can be the nerdiest way to work out.

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elorant 481 days ago | link

Zen in the art of archery

Best book about Zen I've ever read. It doesn't relate to anything about computers but if you get into the Zen philosophy your whole life will be more satisfactory and thus you'll become more productive.

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kapilash 480 days ago | link

> Best book about Zen I've ever read.

Perhaps you might like to look at a seemingly well-informed critique[0] of the book

[0] http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/CriticalZen/The_Myth_of_...

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edw519 481 days ago | link

The Ultimate Secret to Getting Absolutely Everything You Want by Mike Hernacki

There are many inputs that affect success: intelligence, hard work, work ethic, emotional balance, determination, and even luck.

I believe that the single most important of these over which we have the most control is determination. This book is provides a pretty good recipe to cultivate your own determination.

I'm even going to tell you the secret below.

Spoiler Alert:

  .
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  .
  . 
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The secret is: "I am willing to do whatever it takes to get what I want."

Now that you know the secret, read the book anyway.

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kolektiv 481 days ago | link

I should never comment after a fine and bibulous meal, but... I'm not sure how appealing I find the idea of a society where people thought in that way. Perhaps Bacchus is distracting me from the nuance of that point however.

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orangethirty 481 days ago | link

You are misisng the point by analyzing it from a negative perspective. Read it again but as a positive.

"I am willing to do whatever it takes to get what I want."

Doing whatever it takes means getting a minimum wage job to be able to pay for college. Finish college and work your way into a good starting job. Then working your way up to a good position.

Doing whatever it takes to get what you want is the right attitude to have. Do you want to lose weight? Then run 3 miles 3 times a week. That is a whatever it takes approach. Need to make more money? Get a second job, a side gig selling whatever, or donate blood. Whatever it takes.

Though whatever it takes does not imply illegal or immoral approaches. It just implies that you will not put bullshit excuses to get to where you want to be.

:)

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anthonyb 481 days ago | link

> Though whatever it takes does not imply illegal or immoral approaches.

Yes it does, and that's often what's lost when people start applying mantras like that.

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vog 481 days ago | link

Indeed. So the advice should rather be:

"I won't put bullshit excuses to get to where I want."

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anthonyb 481 days ago | link

And what's a "bullshit excuse"? I don't think you'll find an easy criteria for that, either. Is "someone else's happiness" a bullshit excuse?

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tarabukka 481 days ago | link

This is my problem with self-help books... you must try to replace years of your own learning, rationalizing and understanding with someone else's ideas, absorbed only through a few hours of reading. Naturally, it falls apart quickly.

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jakubp 481 days ago | link

Interesting. Why do you think it falls apart? Is there something a book author can do to make it "stick"?

Is there something the book _reader_ might do (e.g. before / during reading the book) to be more receptive?

What other medium would work better in your opinion for the kind of life change that self help usually tries to create?

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hluska 481 days ago | link

My experience with self help books is quite similar to my experience with people who read "Learn how to program" books. Some people go into the book with a head full of steam, but they give up as soon as things get hard. Other people start with the same enthusiasm, but they push through the difficult parts and (eventually) become great programmers.

The best educational materials I've ever read always start from the perspective that what you're about to learn is freakishly hard and it will take hard work to gain even a modicum of skill. Tragically, writing that on the cover of a book would likely kill sales.

As a reader though, I like to remind myself that I'm embarking on a voyage of learning, not one of already knowing. I remind myself that this is going to take a whole lot of work and that I will be frustrated many times. As long as I'm willing to do the homework, I can learn how to do almost anything.

As for your third question, you'll find tremendous variance as people have a number of different learning styles. I'd argue that any kind of personal change would work similarly to expert performance, so I suspect that the best medium is whatever medium does the best job of encouraging deliberate practice.

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jakubp 481 days ago | link

You write that people have a number of different learning styles. What do you mean by learning styles? What kinds are there?

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ampersandy 480 days ago | link

VAK(T): Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, (Tactile). It's been argued that tactile and kinesthetic learners can be lumped into the same group, hence the parentheses. It's also hard to define exactly what the differences between the two are.

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jakubp 480 days ago | link

[this is a digression on learning styles]

Ah. The VAK model. I looked briefly for scientific support for this "theory" on the Internet, but I couldn't really find any. Wikipedia suggested it's a theory with little to no support, and other locations didn't show ANYTHING that would convince me such a thing as "visual" or "auditory" learners exist. Below is a bit of my thinking on the subject.

I am inclined to think that these "learning styles" are bogus, that every person can and will learn in many different "styles" depending on the situation, specifically it's been shown that every normal (and even very young) human can learn just by observing other people's behavior. (One of the classics - Bandura: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observational_learning)

I met many people (mostly in the soft skills training circles, same people who tend to work in psychodynamic therapy systems but went to business training for the money) who claim that "there are people of different learning styles and you should take that into account when instructing them/teaching them", but when I ask about details, nobody can explain what's the difference between these learning styles, and what is the belief that they even exist based on (e.g. a "source" :).

I could go on, but I think you get the point :)

While I do understand people may consciously prefer certain learning _settings_ (much more than a "style"), I doubt it's the categorization of a learner that makes or breakes such a complicated topic as "changing a habit" or "making a change in life" [based on a book / other 'intervention'].

[edit: read up the Criticism section on this Wikipedia page if you are interested in the validity of auditory/visual/kinesthetic model - VAK: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_styles]

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groby_b 477 days ago | link

I can definitely confirm the existence of visual/kinesthetic learners (in the limited realm of dancing). I've worked as a dance coach, and there's a distinct grouping into people who need to see steps demonstrated, and people who need to be guided through steps.

I can also confirm that people communicate in a way that describes the world in visual/auditory/kinesthetic terms, and people often have a preferred mode of communication. As a result, it is often helpful to choose a similar mode of communication. (My personal speculation: Not because that's their learning style, but because it is a more familiar kind of speech. What you say becomes more relatable)

But I certainly do agree with you that the "learning style" model is oversimplified, and can't be applied as such in many settings. (How on earth do you teach computer science in a kinesthetic way? ;)

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jakubp 477 days ago | link

Very interesting information about dancing, thanks for sharing that!

I can see how people have _preferences_. If something is new & hard (a possible definition for learning), I would imagine we instinctively look for ways to make progress with minimum amount of effort. So in that sense we may have learning styles, but that wouldn't mean permantent or exclusive style. Other ways could work for us, too, but over the years we practiced certain style more than others and so we choose whenever we can (it's efficient/pleasant).

So perhaps simple familiarity of a way to learn might be the source of the whole idea and its appeal.

I can see how poorly designed scientific research would even validate learning styles in that sense without uncovering that everyone can actually learn in every way, they just choose not to for local efficiency.

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tarabukka 481 days ago | link

I think it's more on the part of the reader. A lot of willpower is needed to fundamentally change yourself, especially based on just one person's ideas. It's up to the reader to put the ideas into action, and I think that for a lot of people that's difficult without a motivating environment.

For example, hanging out with people that are into fitness does a lot more for you than going it alone. Working a service job and having to speak to people to make money does more for your confidence than any motivating words. It's different for different people, of course.

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icelancer 481 days ago | link

Perhaps my favorite line from a physical training author is: "I said it was simple. Not easy."

Applies to many things in life.

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dsirijus 481 days ago | link

Most, even. Nice quote.

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icelancer 481 days ago | link

Dan John, for those wondering. An excellent author.

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aufreak3 481 days ago | link

Spot on. And to those arguing that it necessarily implies violation of morals, if happiness and a clear conscience are also what I want, where does the trouble lie? Consider your utility function in its entirety and not just a local optimization like "I want to succeed with my business".

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reinhardt 481 days ago | link

Too bad most such catch-the-carrot self help books don't address "I have no idea what I want" situations, let alone "I don't really want anything" or worse.

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jrajav 481 days ago | link

> "I don't really want anything"

Congratulations. You won.

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reinhardt 481 days ago | link

Not wanting anything does not necessarily imply a Zen-like state of being one with the universe staring at the sky in eternal bliss. It may mean feeling empty, directionless, amotivated, detached from everything, a modern Sisyphus rolling boulders in a meaningless, absurd universe. So be careful what you wish for.

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cgag 480 days ago | link

Sounds about right.

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FuzzyDunlop 481 days ago | link

Unless you get that feeling because you, say, suffer from depression (as I do), where that might progress to "I don't even want to be alive."

But even before that, the feeling isn't one of having everything you need already. It's one of almost crippling apathy.

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hilko 481 days ago | link

Hehe. It's very true though. I think one of the primary reasons I feel happier now than when I was younger, is that I want much less. Or maybe my ambitions have become more realistic. Either way, I like it.

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bennesvig 481 days ago | link

That seems like the biggest hurdle for most people to get over. Few people know what they want.

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huherto 479 days ago | link

In my opinion "Be so good they can't ignore you" is helpful with the first question.

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neumann_alfred 481 days ago | link

"I am willing to do whatever it takes to get what I want."

Yeah, Mao wrote about that too. You can't get being a decent person that way though.

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shantanubala 481 days ago | link

Revising it to "I am willing to do whatever it takes within my existing system of values to get what I want" makes it less pithy.

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neumann_alfred 481 days ago | link

I mean this tongue-in-cheek, but.. that is still compatible with Mao:

I am everything. Everything exists for me. I have only an obligation towards myself, not towards others. I am only responsible for my own reality, not for past or future. I am only responsible for that which I know. I have my needs and I follow them. This is the way great heroes live.

-- Mao Tse Tung in an essay he wrote as student (describing his system of values I guess)

I don't mean to say everybody who wants something is evil. But I think by definition we always think what we want is justified, that the wanting itself is justification enough.

Therefore I want to know why I want things, and what to want, if anything.. I am willing to think 24/7 to achieve that. Beyond that, it depends..

Some of the things in life I wanted the most I'm now really really glad I didn't get. Growth is a slow process that never ends, and even at age 90 I might want things that might seem bad 20 years later.

So yeah, go for it, but take it with a grain of salt as you do.. winners never quit; but only a rock never changes or expands goals, and that ain't quitting. Sometimes you can achieve 100% success by not wanting something anymore and actually be better off for it.

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Volpe 481 days ago | link

Wait... Are you saying Mao is evil?

Are you summing up all his actions, and written works with one quote from one essay... He wrote when he was young?

And some how it's evil?

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neumann_alfred 481 days ago | link

Evil being subjective, my answer is "fuck yeah". Stalin and him were full of it.

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pretoriusB 481 days ago | link

Evil is a BS theological notion. I wish people would stop perpetuating it.

People act. Sometimes they do things that hurt other people.

But they are not "evil". Including serial killers: they can be mentally ill (physiologically), or have severe psychological problems because of childhood abuse and such.

Hitler, for example, was the elected leader of a huge country, with a grassroots following for years. Millions of people agreed with his actions, and thousands in upper echelons helped him execute his ideas. From the persecution of the Jews to the invasion to other countries, all of those ideas were quite popular in German thinking and public dialogue for decades before Hitler. It's not as if he was some evil creature emerged from nowhere and fooled everybody.

More to the point, nobody calls the leaders of the allies evil, despite they having done equally abominable actions, like killing 250.000 civillians (men, women, elderly, children, babies, kittens et al) with two nuclear bombs, or bombing hundreds of thousands of civillians in Dresden to shreds. But they are not called "evil", because they were on "our" side, and because they won and so official history (never far away from state sponsoring) accepted their justifications.

How about the bloodshed that was the colonial era? European powers killed, enslaved and exploited a BILLION people, in their countries that they invaded and conquerer. Were they "evil"? That would make every leader of those countries at the time to be equal to Hitler * 10.

Not to mention socially established wrong-doing, like people in the South having millions of blacks as slaves, abducted from their villages in Africa. Were the thousands of South slave owners "evil"?

Stalin and Mao are another kind of thing. Their rule led to millions of deaths, but it's not like they enjoyed killing people (as is probably the understanding of naive people calling them 'evil'). Part of the massacres were result of the inevitable power plays in huge countries with hundreds of millions population under a revolution (or regime change) -- the same way that 50.000 people were executed in the French Revolution.

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bokonist 481 days ago | link

Evil is a BS theological notion.

The origin of the term evil is theological. But the word and concept of "evil" still is useful in a secular world.

My definition of evil: "A person is evil if they repeatedly cause large amounts of unnecessary suffering to innocent people, as a result of a correctable character deficiency." If someone repeatedly causes net increases in suffering due to greed, pride, vanity, callousness, self-serving ignorance, desire for power, lust, sadism, then I think that person can be accurately characterized as evil.

Hitler was evil because he caused a tremendous amount of suffering that would not have happened otherwise, due to his greed and lust for power. Large numbers of the German population at the time were also evil because they supported Hitler out of greed or self-serving ignorance.

Harry Truman was not evil. He dropped the A-Bomb on Japan because he honestly believed that it would bring the war to a conclusion in the fastest way possible. Even if he may have been incorrect in this analysis, from my knowledge of Truman's thought process, the mistake would have been an honest, tragic mistake, not a mistake due to a severe deficiency in character. Also, Japanese civilians were not innocents, World War II was a total war in which all rules of war had been violated and all parts of Japanese society were active contributors to the machinery of war. If Truman's generals had presented alternative military options for ending the war that would not have cost vast numbers American lives, and Truman had ignored these options due to callousness to the lives of the Japanese, then I would agree that Truman was evil. But I do not think this was the case.

Stalin and Mao were evil because they created vast amounts of suffering due to a combination of pride, will to power, and willful ignorance. They had a desire to rewrite the nature of society whole-cloth and did not make the effort to discover how their experiments were actually turning out in practice.

The captain of a slave ship enslaving Africans in the 17th century was certainly evil. He was creating enormous net suffering due to his own greed. A Rhodesian settler who wiped out the natives and stole their land would also classify as evil.

Was the Governor-General of the Belgian Congo in 1955 evil? And by proxy, were the Belgian politicians the people who elected them evil? I do not think so. He did not enslave the native or wage violent war against innocents. The colonial situation was inherited from his ancestors, and from what I have read, he did his best to make the situation quite a bit better.

Andrew Jackson was evil. He stole land from the Cherokee out of greed and will to dominate, and sent them on the trail of tears.

Was George Washington evil for being a slaveholder? That's an interesting question. I would argue no. His plantation was inherited, he did not net increase the suffering from slavery via his own character flaws. Instead, his virtues helped set in motion events which would ultimately rid I might concede that he was evil relative to the average American of modern times, but that he should still be celebrated for being so much less evil than the average person of his time period.

Was the average American colonial settler evil for stealing land from the Indians? That's also tricky. The vast majority of the deaths to the Indians were due to old world disease, and cannot be reasonable blamed on settlers. At the time, the new world was incredibly underpopulated, and meanwhile the old world was quite overpopulated with most people living in poverty and deprivation. So I don't think that the settlers were evil for settling the new world. I think the situation is more tragic that the two populations could not find a way to share the land. (And contrary to the politically correct histories, this failure to share was not just the fault of the white settlers, the violence was a two-way street with fault going both ways).

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TeMPOraL 481 days ago | link

> The vast majority of the deaths to the Indians were due to old world disease, and cannot be reasonable blamed on settlers.

As far as I know, the settlers at least tried to use what is in fact a biological weapon on Indians on numerous occasions.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_biological_warfare#N...

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bokonist 481 days ago | link

That is true, but that type of tactic was rare and came much later on. The vast majority of the deaths came via disease that was introduced completely unwittingly by the settlers, and spread on its own far beyond the points of contact.

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neumann_alfred 481 days ago | link

Evil is a BS theological notion. I wish people would stop perpetuating it.

You can call it by other names, and you do; mentally ill for example. Yet, there is no rational objective reason to declare anything wrong, evil or whatever; not even the extinction of all life in the universe, or torture for all. There is no "objective evil" any human could declare, it boils down to opinions; so I make up my own mind. Deal with that, not with strawmen.

More to the point, nobody calls the leaders of the allies evil, despite they having done equally abominable actions, like killing 250.000 civillians (men, women, elderly, children, babies, kittens et al) with two nuclear bombs, or bombing hundreds of thousands of civillians in Dresden to shreds. But they are not called "evil", because they were on "our" side

No, because that was in response to a huge campaign to conquer Europe (let's ignore the death camps and whatnot for a moment). I am German, and I would laugh into the face of any German crying about Dresden. All things considered, Germany was treated a thousand times better than it deserved during and after the war. You haven't been to a whole lot of historical museums dealing with the topic, have you? Or seen movies, that kind of thing? Anyone who murdered and ultimately defeated Nazis was on my side, no quotes needed. I know the allies were and are full of crap as well, and did and do plenty of evil (my subjective idea of it, get it?) things, but in the case of the Nazis, no response could have been too brutal. I would not say this about other dictators, but "as a German" that's how I feel about the Nazis, who weren't just horrible to Germans and German Jews, but to all of Europe. But that doesn't mean I buy into any dichotomy making the Allies holy or something. Just that I'm glad they were stopped somehow, seeing how shamefully Germany handled herself.

it's not like they enjoyed killing people (as is probably the understanding of naive people calling them 'evil')

No, that's just a strawman. Fact is, they didn't mind. In my books that's enough.

Part of the massacres were result of the inevitable power plays in huge countries with hundreds of millions population under a revolution

Let's grant that; what about the other parts? The personality cults? How convenient to tell me what I think and then refute it.. and I feel kinda bad because all of this is off-topic to begin, but I couldn't let this slide.

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powertower 481 days ago | link

I'm curious about your view as a German who has formed a strong opinion on WW2...

Someone once said the following, what do you think of it?

Quote -

History is always written by the victors.

Considering the absolute defeat of Germany during WW2 (and complete victor control of it afterwards), I would argue that the last place you'll find an accurate, unbiased, and neutral depiction of what really caused and transpired during WW2 would be in Germany - due to the total absorption of the Allied P.O.V. thrust into the country, into movies, into the news, and into the collective mind-set of the world.

No, I'm not denying the Holocaust or embracing Neo-Nazism, or whatever it is that people first think when they read the above. Bad and terrible things did happen.

But what I am doing is questioning History itself when it's so polluted with agendas, revisionism, redactions, and downright lies.

Hitler's War - First WW2 Documentary Ever From German Perspective http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBIoJc4k1uE

- End Quote

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neumann_alfred 481 days ago | link

I never absorbed the allied POV. IBM greatly helped with the logistics of the death camps, Hitler was Time magazine man of the year, Pearl Harbour was basically sacrificing a few ships to be able to enter the war, and the result is America was the superpower of the world, also having gained Nazi rocket scientists and "experts in fighting communism". I don't mean to make a clear point with all this, just throwing out some stuff to point out I'm cynical 360°.

But that doesn't change and doesn't undo what the Nazis did, and how they went about it. And I really just mean reading THEIR material, watching THEIR footage, listening to THEIR speeches. Goebbels screaming for total war, and denouncing pacifists as the worst enemy right after the Jews... I also possess a 4th grade history book that was printed in 1942 I think, and it's so whiny and revisionistic.. basically the whole world is evil and brutish and the Germans try to make it all better and struggle for peace blah di blah, in such a plump fashion that it's hard to believe a lot of Germans really fell for all that. And yes, it's for kids, but still. The grown-up propaganda wasn't exactly more sophisticated.

These were a bunch of crippled and/or ugly people, the leader being an Austrian, talking about The German Master Race. Nuff said? And the conceit to think once they got going, the Brits might join in, being white and whatnot. That dude flying over the channel behind Hitler's back, I forgot his name, probably being disappointed by his welcome. Silly Nazi with bad English and a dumb grin. I really, really wish they wouldn't have killed so many people, or I would find them kinda funny.

And then there's Neonazis. No revisionism needed, they're generally dumb as doorknobs. I could prove that to myself whenever I should forget by interacting with them.

Ironically, that youtube video is blocked in Germany. So I can't speak to that. I doubt that title though. Germany did a lot of reflection and introspection, what does "from a German perspective" even mean? German filmmakers, German research, German witnesses -- there are lots of documentaries that consist of that, so what is "from a German perspective"? I'm not sure if I want to fire up a proxy to watch something that could turn out to be some kind of revisionistic BS.

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powertower 481 days ago | link

> so what is "from a German perspective"?

The video details the world events at that time that question if Germany was really the aggressor the Allies made it out to be, or if it was instead provoked into a war step-by-step.

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neumann_alfred 481 days ago | link

I think I'll pass. As I said, I already kinda have that in a history book written and printed by actual Nazis during their reign.

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pretoriusB 481 days ago | link

>There is no "objective evil" any human could declare, it boils down to opinions; so I make up my own mind. Deal with that, not with strawmen.

People don't have to stand for anybody "making up his own mind", the same way that people don't have to respect your opinion if you believe in creationism for example. Even if you are in the majority, there is one correct way to look at the thing, and there are no two ways about it.

Especially since the words and notions we opt to use has consequences to what we perceive and how we treat other people. It's important to choose the correct ones, or the less wrong ones.

The notion of harm (and the common-sense ethical notion of good) are well understood. The notion of evil, OTOH, is theological bullshit, and only helps to obscure the matters at hand (by making it difficult to get to the actual reasoning and motivations of the person, for example).

>No, because that was in response to a huge campaign to conquer Europe

And Hitler's rise to power and actions was a response to the "treaty of Versailles", which was considered unfair, humiliating and suffocating the Germans. See how it works both ways?

And who said that killing civillians with nuclear bombs is an acceptable "response to a huge campaign to conquer Europe"?

>I am German, and I would laugh into the face of any German crying about Dresden.

You might, but millions of other people, German or not German, would not. Civillians are civillians and people killed by bombs are still people, whether German or not. And I'm talking as a citizen of a country that suffered much under German rule in WWII.

>You haven't been to a whole lot of historical museums dealing with the topic, have you? Or seen movies, that kind of thing?

Well, you guys have bombed my city, destroyed some of it's more important monuments, --and killed my grandmother's brother. I don't have to visit "a lot of historical museums". Which I have, plus read tons of books on the matter.

>No, that's just a strawman. Fact is, they didn't mind. In my books that's enough.

Well, fact is Truman didn't mind dropping two big bombs on civillians either. Or France didn't mind slaughtering 50.000 Algerians protesting to get their freedom back. Just two examples...

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neumann_alfred 481 days ago | link

Even if you are in the majority, there is one correct way to look at the thing

Where did I claim otherwise? Nowhere! I actually said "seeing how it's subjective". Yet you just won't stop with your strawmen. Consider yourself ignored, this is useless, especially your "oh yeah? X was bad too!" stuff, which I never denied either.

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pretoriusB 481 days ago | link

>Where did I claim otherwise? Nowhere! I actually said "seeing how it's subjective".

Wait what? All your reply is based on the notion that it's ok to have this subjective use of "evil".

I say the opposite: it's not OK, and we are better to use more objective ways to describe reality.

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neumann_alfred 481 days ago | link

You can delude yourself into being more objective, but you can't actually be so. I therefore submit it's best to be aware of it being subjective.

Objectively, the heat death of the universe trumps any and all considerations, ever.

Also you are now claiming the exact opposite of what you said earlier:

Evil is a BS theological notion. ( http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4982366 )

But now you want to tell me what is objectively wrong? I dare you go ahead and try, haha..

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pretoriusB 481 days ago | link

>Also you are now claiming the exact opposite of what you said earlier: "Evil is a BS theological notion". But now you want to tell me what is objectively wrong? I dare you go ahead and try, haha..

For one, I fail to see where I claim the "exact opposite". Throughout the discourse I maintain that "evil is a theological notion" and one that doesn't describe reality (the two go hand in hand).

I also fail to see the "dare" in wanting me to say what is "objectively wrong".

That the Earth is flat is "objectively wrong" for example.

That Cleopatra was in fact a guy from Bronx is "objectively wrong".

And that theological terms such as "evil" explain what people are in objective reality is "objectively wrong".

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neumann_alfred 481 days ago | link

Throughout the discourse I maintain that "evil is a theological notion" and one that doesn't describe reality (the two go hand in hand).

You cannot tell me what I mean by the word "evil". You can tell me how you interpret it, and I can tell you, and did so a lot of times, that you got it wrong. But then the ball just kinda flops around in your half of the court, repeating the same initial false claim about what I said.

That the Earth is flat is "objectively wrong" for example.

Wow? I was obviously talking about moral judgement, not factual correctness. I asked for an apple, you gave me an orange.

And that theological terms such as "evil" explain what people are in objective reality is "objectively wrong".

You must be some kind of masochist, because you STILL keep going on about that strawman. I told you, over and over again, I have my own compass for what I consider "good" or "evil", and anyone who isn't trying to be dense would know what that means. I never used to explain behaviour, but to describe.

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pretoriusB 479 days ago | link

>You must be some kind of masochist, because you STILL keep going on about that strawman. I told you, over and over again, I have my own compass for what I consider "good" or "evil", and anyone who isn't trying to be dense would know what that means. I never used to explain behaviour, but to describe.

And you must be dense because I'm not interested in what YOU do with "evil", but in what people do in general. I don't even know you, so it should be _obvious_ that I did not start this thread with _your_ usage of "evil" in mind.

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Dylan16807 481 days ago | link

So you can be objectively 'ill' but not 'evil'? Sounds like you're handling your own pile of BS. 'severe psychological problems' that cause people to deeply hurt others for their own happiness is within spitting distance of a definition of evil.

Also I'm not going to get deep into your halfassed retelling of history but (per capita) genocide is worse than murder is worse than bombing cities is worse than bombing armies is worse than enslaving people is worse than exploiting people. So stop trying to fucking godwin with incomparable numbers. Some of those people were evil but I am not going to go point-by-point with that mess.

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pretoriusB 481 days ago | link

>So you can be objectively 'ill' but not 'evil'?

Yes. Mental illness is something that can be objectively examined and testified by medical experts.

"Evil" is a BS non medical pulp journalism term that takes us back to the witch-hunting days...

>'severe psychological problems' that cause people to deeply hurt others for their own happiness is within spitting distance of a definition of evil.

Only one is a SPECIFIC case of an actual mental evaluation by a professional and the other is a word that can used to mean anything.

>Also I'm not going to get deep into your halfassed retelling of history but (per capita) genocide is worse than murder is worse than bombing cities is worse than bombing armies is worse than enslaving people is worse than exploiting people. So stop trying to fucking godwin with incomparable numbers.

Really? Do you want to go tell the victims of slavery that they were better off than the victims of German's genocide? Including the tens of millions of people that died under slavery? And that their suffering is somewhat "not comparable" to Germany's victims. Let's see how they'll take your fair and balanced ordering of what's better and what's worse.

Oh, and that "per capita genocide"? Plenty of it in the hands of European powers too. Check this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocides_in_history

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Dylan16807 481 days ago | link

I meant that everything was per capita, sorry for being unclear there. As in: kill two million people as part of genocide and it's worse than having two million slaves. And yes I'll tell standard slaves they have it better than far worse treatment combined with starvation and followed by execution. You really think they'll disagree? Slavery may kill you early but it's no death camp.

Also I don't know why you're acting like giving more examples of evil acts is going to make me decide the word evil is useless.

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pretoriusB 481 days ago | link

>I meant that everything was per capita, sorry for being unclear there. As in: kill two million people as part of genocide and it's worse than having two million slaves.

OK, got it now. In that case, European colonialism has killed far more people than Hitler's camps. Heck, the death toll for the native populations of the Americas alone is in the tens of millions. And execution, mass killins, genocide and starvation was not at all of the table for colonial powers either. Here's an example: http://www.thehobgoblin.co.uk/journal/h32002_RC_Leopold.htm

>Also I don't know why you're acting like giving more examples of evil acts is going to make me decide the word evil is useless.

What I said is that "evil" is useless in the sense that it doesn't have any explanatory power. That is, "Why did he do that? Because he was evil" is BS.

Perhaps this book might convince you:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eichmann_in_Jerusalem

In it Hannah Arendt describes how what we perceive as "the great evils in history" like the Holocaust, were not executed by "evil" people (fanatics, etc), but by ordinary folks who "accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal".

So, even some of the greatest of evils, like the Holocaust, can be explained by observing their underlying mechanisms, the societal pressure, ideology and such, and not by some mystical "evil" quality in people.

In the same vein there is the Milgram experiment, which showed how anyone can be a torturer without having any "evil" quality in them:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

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neumann_alfred 481 days ago | link

What I said is that "evil" is useless in the sense that it doesn't have any explanatory power. That is, "Why did he do that? Because he was evil" is BS.

Yeah, here we go with the strawmen again. I never said "someone did X because they were evil". I said they were evil, implying what they did is evil in my books. But then you wouldn't have anything to whine about, would you.

In it Hannah Arendt describes how what we perceive as "the great evils in history" like the Holocaust, were not executed by "evil" people (fanatics, etc), but by ordinary folks who "accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal".

What makes you think that not questioning enough isn't already enough to be considered evil by me? Someone asked ME if I consider Mao evil, I said yes. Which wasn't even to say "as opposed to me or anybody else".

Oh, and I saw videos of the Eichmann process and I saw no love in that man, no awareness, no nothing. And to me lack of love is already evil enough. Someone who mindlessly, coldly carries out orders is evil in my opinion, yes; that is, they are to be fought and not remembered once overcome. I DON'T CARE ABOUT THEIR MOTIVATIONS. I only care for how cancer grows in so far as it helps to excise it more efficiently better.

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domador 481 days ago | link

I'd be interested in knowing what your definition of "evil" is, to better understand why you consider it BS.

To me it seems like your argue that the label "evil" has been applied inconsistently, which is a different matter (though a valid point, I believe).

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pretoriusB 481 days ago | link

>I'd be interested in knowing what your definition of "evil" is, to better understand why you consider it BS.

Evil doesn't mean anything. It's just a label which amounts to "enjoys to doing bad things", which is a non-explanation. If anything, it's just a quick condemnation, without wanting to _understand_ or hear more on the issue.

As such, it acts as stop sign: it stops examination of what actually went on (which, besides hurting our understanding of history, it also hurts our chances of fixing it in the future).

E.g: "Hitler did so and so because he was evil". Err, no. For one, he didn't do it alone, second, lots of leaders all around the world did equally bad things (e.g Japan and Manchuria), third, the motivations and reasons behind Germany's actions are long, historical and sociological (you could find precursors to Nazi ideology 50 and 100 years before they appeared).

Second, "evil" has theological origin and connotations (whereas good and bad, harmful and beneficial and such are well known in any kind of society, including civic ones).

I think the "evil" tag is popular in the US, because of the countries long theological tradition and huge influence of religion on culture. Nobody is content to call even Hitler or a serial killer "evil" in Europe and leave it at that.

We always want to go deeper into the root of the issues.

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Dylan16807 481 days ago | link

"evil" isn't an explanation, it's a label given in disgust to someone that is beyond redemption. To focus on something smaller and simpler, I would say that most serial killers, as in separate premeditated incidents over an extended period, are "evil". The reason why is probably some warped mentality likely tied into mental illness, but mental illness is not an excuse either. And it's possible you could cure them, make then a fundamentally different person, and they would no longer be evil. But in the end the word evil is a label, not a reason to stop analysing.

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pretoriusB 481 days ago | link

>"evil" isn't an explanation, it's a label given in disgust to someone that is beyond redemption.

I've seen it far too many times used as an explanation thought. Like, somehow, WWII can be explained away because "Hitler was evil", or complex events involving millions of people, like the USSR History can be explained by the "evil of Stalin".

(Lots of times "paranoid" is used in the same vein, despite having an actual medical meaning).

>To focus on something smaller and simpler, I would say that most serial killers, as in separate premeditated incidents over an extended period, are "evil".

What I take offense with is the way this puts all the blame in the persons itself (which might be abused in childhood, mentally ill, etc), and acts as a pseudo-explanation which justifies medieval punishments like the death penalty (after all, if one is "evil", what can you do? Just kill that "evil" guy).

I'm OK with using it as a label, as you say, but most people don't stop there -- they believe in the label's actual exegetical power.

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neumann_alfred 481 days ago | link

I'm OK with using it as a label, as you say, but most people don't stop there -- they believe in the label's actual exegetical power.

And even if they don't, there's someone like you around to claim they do, which is the whole cause of this thread ballooning into such crap with lots of noise and no signal. Good luck with all that I guess.

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Dylan16807 481 days ago | link

I can agree with that being a problem.

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powertower 481 days ago | link

> Evil is a BS theological notion. I wish people would stop perpetuating it.

History is written by the victors.

This is a plain-and-simple fact, and the only fact you'll find in History.

Everything gets re-written to fit the winner's point-of-view.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_history#History_a...

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pretoriusB 481 days ago | link

>It's sickening watch leftists like you defend Mao and Stalin...and yes, you are.

Emm, who told you I'm a leftist in the first place?

The fact that I "defended" Hitler against the same accusation of ebing "Evil", shouldn't have rang a few alarm bells that I'm actually NOT a leftist?

Or is it because I wrote that Mao and Stalin wasn't "evil"?

That just makes me a realist -- or if you want it somebody that refuses to use religious terminology for historical affairs.

My guess is, your understanding of Mao and Stalin (or Hitler, for that matter and non-US history in general) cames from pulp books, popular documentaries, some internet articles and a couple of movies. Maybe the high school history class. Am I close?

Please, share your sources with us, because you'll find that you can substantiate what I wrote by reading almost all scholarly sources and definitive academic biographies of said historical figures.

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neumann_alfred 481 days ago | link

Or is it because I wrote that Mao and Stalin wasn't "evil"?

That just makes me a realist

If you respond to my claim that they are evil in my subjective opinion, which I clearly labeled as such, that they're not "objectively, absolutely evil", that doesn't make you a realist, that makes someone who is talking to himself and his strawmen. You say you wished people would drop a notion you introduced into all of this to begin with. Stop being a clown.

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pretoriusB 481 days ago | link

You keep using this word, "strawmen". I don't think it means what you think it means.

The thing is, we're describing historical figures. Our "subjective opinions" are not really helpful guides. Or, to be more accurate, they don't matter at all.

You keep repeating it's your "subjective opinion" as if that somehow makes it OK. A subjective opinion can be wrong. It's not like one can get away with saying "In my subjective opinion gravity doesn't exist".

Or, to be more accurate, it's one thing to say that you find what Hitler DID was evil or that he was an evil-doer (as a substitute for "bad") and leave it at that.

And it's totally another thing to say "Hitler was evil", as if that is some kind of explanation of his actions.

The first is mighty fine. The second is not. And I'm concerned with the latter mistake here which is a BS non explanation, analogous to "cargo cult programming", and it doesn't matter if one means it as his subjective opinion or as an objective observation.

In both cases, it hinders further and real understanding.

To get to why Hitler was like that and why he did what he did you go for the underlying causes. For the person it's his history, his ideological influences, experiences, mental issues, abuses, etc. For the German society in general the causes are historical, sociological, economical, cultural, etc.

Nowhere in those cases does "evil" come into play at all.

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bokonist 481 days ago | link

I agree that it is very important to understand the context and history behind awful events.

But the concept of "evil" is still very useful. The point of defining evil is so that you can teach people not to be evil. Humans may not have a "conscience" that comes from God, but our brains have evolved for a sense of conscience that can be cultivated via the social pressure of parents, family, friends, teachers, and leaders. The point of calling a person evil is to tell people, "Do not be like this person! This person was evil! If you are acting like this person act, you are a bad human being, and you should feel very bad about yourself and stop immediately."

In the case of the rise of Hitler, yes, there were events that led to his rise. But the rise of Hitler was not inevitable. Had Hitler been raised with a stronger, better moral compass, had the people who enabled his rise possessed a better moral compass, the war and the Holocaust would not have happened. After the war, the American occupiers rebuilt the education system to teach people that what Hitler did is evil, in order to install a moral compass that would prevent a repeat of the Holocaust from happening again. The Holocaust was not a tragic accident, it was not a necessary proportional response needed to prevent some other acts of suffering, the Holocaust was an act of evil. It should be labeled as such so that people's consciences will work to prevent it from happening again.

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pretoriusB 479 days ago | link

>But the concept of "evil" is still very useful. The point of defining evil is so that you can teach people not to be evil.

>But the rise of Hitler was not inevitable. Had Hitler been raised with a stronger, better moral compass, had the people who enabled his rise possessed a better moral compass, the war and the Holocaust would not have happened.

Things could have happened differently, but the war was more or less unavoidable due to the Versaille treaty. Hilter was just one man -- millions of Germans wanted "war" and were enraged with the treaty even before Hitler became known.

>After the war, the American occupiers rebuilt the education system to teach people that what Hitler did is evil, in order to install a moral compass that would prevent a repeat of the Holocaust from happening again.

What? This is extremely condescending to the German people. They knew very well what they did, and the rebuilding of the educational system has nothing to do with their "moral compass". You really believe that they needed ...Americans to instill a "moral system" onto them?!!! As if Americans are ...morally superior people?!!!

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bokonist 476 days ago | link

Things could have happened differently, but the war was more or less unavoidable due to the Versaille treaty.

Had the Versailles treaty actually been enforced, had the winning powers actually declared war on Germany early in the 1930's when Germany violated the treaty, and before Germany had significantly rearmed, Hitler would have been quickly defeated.

Hilter was just one man -- millions of Germans wanted "war" and were enraged with the treaty even before Hitler became known.

Yes, but Hitler was a genius at using that hate and at giving the Germans a renewed sense of their latent power. The desire to rearm and invade eastern europe to steel their land was the great brainchild of Hitler, no other German leaders at the time had anything close Hitler's level of megalomania.

What? This is extremely condescending to the German people.

To be clear, it was not just Americans who rebuilt the education system. It was the Americans in conjunction with the leaders of the German resistance (who were now promoted into power) and the general population who were disillusioned with war. The prestige of victory is such that the Americans did need to use all that repressive methods to wipe out Nazi ideology.

You really believe that they needed ...Americans to instill a "moral system" onto them?!!!

Well, the Germans sure did not do it themselves in the 1930's before the American occupation! Germans had an ethical system then, but it was the ethics of Jenger's Storm of Steel - "Time only strengthens my conviction that it was a good and strenuous life, and that the war, for all its destructiveness, was an incomparable schooling of the heart..". The American victory taught Germans that the way of evil conquest was not an acceptable path, that it led only to ruin. The Nuremberg trials, the new German constitution, de-Nazification, a rebuilt education systen, etc, all ensured that German morals would be much more pacifist in the future.

As if Americans are ...morally superior people?!!!

The Americans of 1940 were morally superior to the Germans of 1940. Is there really any argument about this? Now, whether the Americans of 1835 were more moral than the Germans of 1940 is a different question. (It is striking how similar the concept of Lebensraum is to the concept of Manifest Destiny)

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neumann_alfred 481 days ago | link

You keep using this word, "strawmen". I don't think it means what you think it means.

It means you make up stuff about my position and respond to that, instead of responding to my actual position. And now you just Dunning-Kruger on and on about generalities in a shallow way, as if I didn't know all of that and more of what you post. WTF.

it's totally another thing to say "Hitler was evil"

No, it's a shorthand for saying "I disapprove of his actions". It's stupid enough to outright claim what I mean by that, but now that I told you OVER AND OVER, to simply ignore it and bang on about your strawman instead is just pathetic. Cut your losses dude.

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pretoriusB 479 days ago | link

>No, it's a shorthand for saying "I disapprove of his actions".

It's the worst possible way to say that you "disapprove of his actions".

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Roybatty 481 days ago | link

Stalin and Mao are another kind of thing. Their rule led to millions of deaths, but it's not like they enjoyed killing people (as is probably the understanding of naive people calling them 'evil'). Part of the massacres were result of the inevitable power plays in huge countries with hundreds of millions population under a revolution (or regime change) -- the same way that 50.000 people were executed in the French Revolution.

It's sickening watch leftists like you defend Mao and Stalin...and yes, you are.

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Dylan16807 481 days ago | link

lef...tist? Are you just trying to make things worse now

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eli_gottlieb 481 days ago | link

Mao killed millions of people. That's evil. Period.

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tatsuke95 480 days ago | link

No, the bad policies of a government, with Mao at the helm, led to the deaths of millions of people. Ted Bundy killed people. There's a difference.

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derleth 481 days ago | link

> Are you saying Mao is evil?

Mao is evil to roughly the same extent Hitler is evil.

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tatsuke95 480 days ago | link

Where do you slot the various members of the American or British political administrations into that line-up? Does it go by how many people they killed? Or is killing one person enough?

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derleth 480 days ago | link

> Does it go by how many people they killed?

A combination of number and method. Death camps, for example, count very heavily, as do things like deliberate starvation.

The intent to exterminate should also be factored in, but that's frequently difficult to determine after the fact.

Of course, none of this matters to people who simply want to make a moral equivalence between every leader of every country through history; my rule of thumb is, when you're feeling morally conflicted about who 'should have' won the Normandy invasion in 1944, your morality is a bit off-kilter.

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tatsuke95 480 days ago | link

>"do things like deliberate starvation."

So putting pressure on international bodies to enforce crippling sanctions should count, right?

>my rule of thumb is, when you're feeling morally conflicted about who 'should have' won the Normandy invasion in 1944, your morality is a bit off-kilter.

My rule of thumb is: when you assume that all "our" killing is for "good" and "their's" is for "evil" your morality (as well as your knowledge of history) is off-kilter.

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derleth 480 days ago | link

> So putting pressure on international bodies to enforce crippling sanctions should count, right?

You really want that moral equivalence, don't you? OK, OK, Bill Clinton is Literally Stalin. Next, we equate Gandhi and Pol Pot. Happy?

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tatsuke95 479 days ago | link

>"You really want that moral equivalence"

Strawman.

>"as do things like deliberate starvation."

How do you think economic sanctions have affected populations in Cuba, Iran and Iraq over the years? Why do you think the rest of the world sees the US as a bully?

People like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot are easy. But when people trot around on their moral high horse like "our" own countries haven't done despicable (read: "evil") things is where the real problem lies.

In case you hadn't heard, we got rid of Hitler. But that took people on the outside to recognize what was happening on the inside.

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shantanubala 481 days ago | link

Agreed. My main point was just that "doing whatever it takes" in this context does not mean sacrificing your values, because your values are definitely part of your original goals to begin with.

If you value being flexible or adaptable, then you will certainly expand your goals and change things along the way. But the one thing that should never change is the vigor with which you pursue your goals (you should take breaks, rest, etc., but breaks and rest are arguably also just ways to optimize the pursuit of a goal).

And I agree with you, Mao was quite evil, and it would require a very twisted set of goals to lead to the death toll of his regime.

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dullcrisp 481 days ago | link

"I am willing to do whatever it takes to get what I want" sounds more like a slogan for cultivating motivation. It doesn't say "I am unwilling to reflect on or revise what it is that I want," just that one is willing to work as hard as it takes to achieve one's goals.

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pretoriusB 481 days ago | link

"within my existing system of values"?

Yes, that would also work well for Charles Manson...

I'd rather hear it like:

"I am willing to do whatever it takes within my society's system of values to live a good life, help people, and get some of the things I want".

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wisty 481 days ago | link

You mean, the guy who raised life expectancies in his country from ~35 (and stagnent for about 100 years) to ~65? Real asshole.

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miked 481 days ago | link

Yes, he means the guy who starved 39 million people to death during his reign of terror. Yes, he means the guy who made my wife spend three years of her childhood in constant hunger. Yes, the guy who sent my father in law to a labor camp for ten years for making a joke about him. At least, that's what his best friend told them when they were torturing him. Yes, * that * Mao.

Still, I'd like to thank him for inventing all those antibiotics and modern surgical techniques.

By the way, who's the source of your "65" number? Oh wait, I think I know.

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SiVal 481 days ago | link

Wow, miked, I'm with you more than you know. We now have at least two of us here on HN whose fathers-in-law were sent to labor camps by Mao. I guess it stands to reason that with Mao's victims as numberless as the stars, there would be victims' relatives everywhere.

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miked 481 days ago | link

As for Mao's great medical advances, I've actually been in a number of medical facilities in China. My wife survived and later became a physician at the second best hospital in Beijing (and presumably one of the best in the country). This was the hospital where the mid-level communist party members go for treatment (no proletarians need apply). All I can say is: Holy crap! I've also been to a medical clinic in the village where my wife's family is from. My advice to travelers: don't get sick in China. Get sick in Taiwan or Hong Kong.

Stalin (who would know) once said that one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. When my wife tells me about her childhood (she only does this when I ask about it) it's the little details that chill me, not the "statistics" of her life. Here's a few:

She and her friends used to want a taste of sweetness so much (the Great Helmsman apparently considered candy a bourgeois excess) that they used to pull the bodies of honeybees apart and suck on them to get at the nectar. (This from a woman who today loves animals more than anyone I know.)

When my wife was in grade school she got so hungry one day that she snuck off into a field near her school and dug up a single sweet potato and ate it raw. She was caught and, for this horrendous crime, her principle put her on limited rations (and she was already hungry all the time) for an indefinite period. She became weaker and weaker as the months went by. Finally, after six months of this constant hunger, one of her teachers became alarmed at her state and went to the principle and asked to have her rations restored to her previous (limited) status. The principle's response? "Oh, I had forgotten she was still on limited rations. I only meant for that to last a month. Yes, restore her food quota." This was the little girl who is now my wife.

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wisty 481 days ago | link

Would you recommend getting sick in the Philippines, or India? I'm sure there's plenty of 50 y.o. Indians with crushing stories about poverty, but nobody blames Ghandi.

The crowd saying "Mao murdered 100 million" are blaming him for everything bad which happened in China, while the "Praise Grandfather Mao" brigade are praising him for everything good which happened in China.

It would be a lot more productive to say: "China started at a low base, and didn't do anything remarkable under Mao or his successors. In terms of health and GDP, it could have been a bit better or a bit worse. He didn't make China poor. He didn't make China rich, either - if he didn't finish off feudalism someone else would have. Chinese guerillas would still have fought the Japanese, and would have won. The only thing (good or bad) that Mao really had any control over was slapping up posters of himself, purging accused rightists, and coloring everything blue and grey."

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neumann_alfred 481 days ago | link

Exactly. Hitler built up Germany (well, before he smashed it, but there's always scapegoats for that) and made the Autobahn we Germans still love so dearly, and there's people still arguing with a straight face Hitler was a great man. Industry is overrated - it's just food, peace and shelter that aren't. Human progress is inevitable, speeding it up while fortifying ruling classes does not impress me, ever.

edit: to be fair, however: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mao_Zedong#Legacy

Mobo Gao in his 2008 book The Battle for China's Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution, credits Mao for raising the average life expectancy from 35 in 1949 to 63 by 1975, bringing "unity and stability to a country that had been plagued by civil wars and foreign invasions"

Still, bleh. My point was that he might as well have done ONLY evil; with the kind of attitude displayed in the essay he wrote as student (it's not like he lived the rest of his live differently) it would have taken a bullet to stop him. Reflection did not enter into it. That's my point.

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Roybatty 481 days ago | link

Another sick leftist defending another leftist that mass-murdered tens of millions of people.

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neumann_alfred 481 days ago | link

To all of HN, I am really sorry I brough Mao up. "Do whatever it takes to get what I want" reminded me of that essay bit, but I had no idea it would devolve into this :/ Consider this a lesson learned. It's just not worth it when that stuff isn't the actual topic.

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j45 481 days ago | link

Building and practicing discipline is the single master skill that I've found. Everything.. learning, work ethic, comes from it. Thanks for the introduction to this.

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klipt 481 days ago | link

But is what I want the same as what I need? Sometimes I worry I'm focusing on the wrong thing.

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davemel37 480 days ago | link

Sounds like a modern adaptation of Napolean Hill's book Think and Grow Rich. Everything is a product of a burning desire. When you having a burning desire for something, you find a way to make it happen. You....Do whatever it Takes.

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abolibibelot 481 days ago | link

Should be called "the sociopath handbook" then.

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eli_gottlieb 481 days ago | link

The secret is not found in a book. It can be spoken and shown, but not written down.

Those of us who know it have a saying. "Who the HELL do you think I am!?"

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nikanj 481 days ago | link

If this was all it took, the slums and housing projects would be a lot emptier than they actually are.

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pretoriusB 481 days ago | link

>The secret is: "I am willing to do whatever it takes to get what I want."

Like step over people? Screw the ones who love me? Be unethical? Ignore other parts of my life?

Plus, who said that (a) I know what I want, (b) what I want is good for me (c) what I want is good for society in general, anyway?

Not to mention that the whole premise is BS. As if by knowing this "secret" will help anybody.

A regression to miracle cures and snake oil medicine for the modern age, if there ever was one.

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return0 481 days ago | link

That probably depends on what one wants to do, but some people do suggest that being ruthless is the ultimate way. Example: http://www.amazon.com/How-Get-Rich-Greatest-Entrepreneurs/dp...

Point is, if one is not willing to do whatever it takes, he probably doesn't really want to do the said thing, but rather tries to live up to social expectations.

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pretoriusB 481 days ago | link

>Point is, if one is not willing to do whatever it takes, he probably doesn't really want to do the said thing, but rather tries to live up to social expectations.

Well, not wanting to, say, sacrifice your loved ones for something or play dirty to get it, doesn't mean you don't want it. It just means you are a moral guy, instead of a ruthless jerk.

I want a new car, but I'm not willing to steal to buy one --even if I have some scheme by which I would not get caught. I'd rather work and find my way to pay for it. That doesn't mean I don't want it.

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rhizome 480 days ago | link

Logically you're asking about putting the cart before the horse, though. You can tell by the way you structure your questions about this that you're putting way too fine a point on it, and that you're combining goals that simply don't occur to most people. Who's goal is to sacrifice their loved ones for any reason? It just doesn't come up when deciding what to do. How many goals would ever require sacrificing loved ones? Sure, "behind every fortune there is a crime," but to start with the 'crime' part? Only criminals and sociopaths (cue CEO vs. psychopath study) do that.

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return0 481 days ago | link

Obviously, working to pay for it counts as "whatever it takes" too. And doing "whatever it takes" doesn't have to involve stepping onto others, but it may require grand personal sacrifice.

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alanning 480 days ago | link

> Like step over people? Screw the ones who love me? Be unethical? Ignore other parts of my life?

You define your 'want'. Based on your comment, you are setting your sights too low.

Instead of 'I want a fancy car', try 'I want to obtain a fancy car in the fastest way legally possible while staying within social bounds and not hurting anyone.'

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Millennium 480 days ago | link

> Like step over people? Screw the ones who love me? Be unethical? Ignore other parts of my life?

To find another, possibly riskier, way if these prove unacceptable (as they should). The point is to not give up.

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w1ntermute 481 days ago | link

> Like step over people? Screw the ones who love me? Be unethical? Ignore other parts of my life?

If that's what it takes. It's a matter of how far you're willing to go for success. For some people, being an honest, loving, and caring person is important. But if you want to succeed like Steve Jobs, you'd better be prepared to do the good and the bad.

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MaybiusStrip 481 days ago | link

Out of the myriad people who are going to take this advice to heart and selfishly wreak havoc in the lives of other people in the name of success, how many do you actually think will actually become as influential and successful as Steve Jobs? How many do you think will just have gone through life destroying personal and professional relationships with not much too show for except maybe a little extra cash in the bank?

You can't ethically defend advice like that. You can be driven and assertive and still maintain boundaries on the morality of your behavior.

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javajosh 480 days ago | link

>Like step over people? Screw the ones who love me? Be unethical? Ignore other parts of my life?

Most people have quite a lot of room for action before these even become options. The point is to stay determined, focused, with unwavering attention. Your morality will tend to take care of itself. If you run into a conflict between getting ahead and doing the right thing, do the right thing.

Morality is fine, but it tends to take care of itself. When you start making moral mistakes that's a whole different problem. Worrying about morality when you're stuck is like worrying about gas mileage when your car doesn't have an engine.

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Roybatty 481 days ago | link

Plus, who said that (a) I know what I want, (b) what I want is good for me (c) what I want is good for society in general, anyway?

Then who is making those decisions for you?

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dscrd 481 days ago | link

One would hope that experts on societal, political and economic issues are, combined with people close to me, and ultimately myself.

There's definitely no reason to believe that any individual is always an expert of his own life.

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