I've read quite a few of the books on the list, the ones that have stayed with me and actually changed my life are, in order of impact:
1. The Art of Learning - I'll never think about practice the same way.
2. Getting Things Done - Enough has been said about this elsewhere, but the whole concept of "what's the next action" has really worked for me.
3. E-Myth Revisited - This was my MBA in one book. It came at the right time for me and really changed the way I think about creating businesses as assets. I wasn't a fan the cheesy example of the pie shop, but the advice has been invaluable.
Others that I found interesting, and that changed the way I think were:
4-hour Work Week. Yes, there is a ton of hype around this book, but I'd be surprised if anyone read it with an open mind and didn't learn anything or come away motivated to experiment with their lifestyle.
Outliers. This one probably stands out to me since I read it so recently. Gladwell gets a lot of hype as well, but I think he deserves at least some of it.
The Culture Code drastically changed the way I think about marketing.
And, a few random notes on the others I've read:
I found Predictably Irrational, Brain Rules and The 48 Laws of Power to be mostly garbage.
The Wisdom of Crowds, Wikinomics and Made to Stick are decent essays in book form.
Stumbling on Happiness is not nearly as good as Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis which would be in the first list I made above if it were on Siver's list.
Seth Godin's books are good for motivation and for changing the way you think about marketing, especially if you've been doing it for a long time (I haven't). They're quick and fun, I think they're worth reading.
Fooled By Randomness is worth reading if nothing else because Taleb is such an entertaining writer.
What exactly are you saying? I'm saying the pyschology behind that title makes it more likely to sell. The person who wouldn't want to read it is not a "smart person"; hence an idiot. That's what the title says.
I'm a bit skeptical about some of the books (I don't know much about Seth Godin for example), but at least some some of them are good. James Surowiecki, Nicholas Nassim Taleb, Dan Ariely are all well worth the read (though I would have chosen Black Swan instead of Fooled by Randomness), and I already ordered the first one on the list - Philip Zimbardo is an impressive name. Oh, and Barry Schwartz too, haven't read the book but I've seen him on TED.
IMHO, this list contains only BS books. Tim Ferriss? Seth Godin? Malcolm Gladwell? Please. This is a list for those who need self-help and "motivation" books. Only exception is Livingston's F@W. The rest is pretty much junk.
Please allow me to write down my personal list for those who love to learn:
- The Art of Computer Programming
- Algorithms (by Dasgupta, Papadimitriou, and Vazirani)
- Algorithm Design (by Kleinberg and Tardos)
- Feynman Lectures on Physics
- Landau & Lifschitz's series
- Vladimir Arnold's books on ODEs and Classical Mechanics
- Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays (by Berlekamp et al.)
- Elements of Information Theory (by Cover & Thomas)
- Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms (by MacKay)
- Network Optimization (by Bertsekas)
- Convex Optimization (by Boyd & Vandenberghe)
- Nonlinear Control Systems (by Isidori)
- Visual Complex Analysis (by Needham)
- Lasers (by Siegman)
- Game Theory (by Fudenberg & Tirole)
- Trading and Exchanges (by Harris)
Plus a bunch of books on Classical Mechanics, Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Differential Geometry, Real Analysis, Algebra, Theoretical CS, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Evolution, Game Theory, Mechanism Design, Auction Theory, Economics, Finance, etc. That would be a reading list worth considering! It would also take a lifetime to read all the books...
With all due respect, what are 99 percent of people gaining from a book on, say, convex optimization? Yes, these are great choices if you're looking to become an expert on, say, physics. But not everyone is a physicist, nor does everyone need to be.
The point of the books on that list is that they are applicable to _many_ situations. You're not going to get oodles of "hard knowledge" from them, and I think people who go into them with that expectation are setting themselves up for disappointment.
Rather, they present some anecdotes -- some interesting, and some not -- and say "Okay, now think about these, and see if any of them can affect the way you do things." If you read a business book and don't bother to do the thinking/applying afterwards, you are, indeed, wasting your time.
The books on your list are ones that you go through, finish (though honestly, if you're just reading those books cover to cover and enjoying yourself, you're a better person than me... I'd use them as a reference at best) and can say "okay, I've learned something." The books on the original article's list are ones where once you've finished the book, you've only started learning.
"With all due respect, what are 99 percent of people gaining from a book on, say, convex optimization?"
The headline doesn't say "reading list for 99% of people." It says "Highly recommended reading list for those who love to learn." If you love to learn, then (I haven't read the book, so grain of salt) you're getting a well-written introduction to an interesting field of study.
You have some good points, but many of those books on that list help people learn to truly think deeply, not just read and briefly consider anecdotes. It is that deep, rigorous, logical thought that is valuable to virtually everyone (and certainly everyone who claims to love to learn) that is more important than the contents of those books.
Also, some of them (game theory in particular) are broadly applicable to and by most people who put the time and effort in to properly learning them.
Most of those books are from the Jibber Jabber industry with a couple exceptions, perhaps "Don't Make Me Think." I agree with another commenter that the title is about books for those who love learning not books that would be applicable to many situations if you what you need are vacuous anecdotes. Vacuous anecdotes don't build bridges, solve concurrency problems, enrich anyone's philosophical depth or anything like that.
"With all due respect, what are 99 percent of people gaining from a book on, say, convex optimization? Yes, these are great choices if you're looking to become an expert on, say, physics. But not everyone is a physicist, nor does everyone need to be."
Convex Optimization for physicists??? Whaaaat? OK, consider Game Theory, Machine Learning, Operations Research. All have practical value and all require optimization. In fact, Machine Learning is mostly applied optimization theory. The Simplex algorithm is used all the time, in the most various industries. Yet once again, the need to know a bit of optimization theory is made evident.
Physicists don't really require the kind of optimization on Boyd's book. Unless one is an experimental physicist and needs to analyze data sets. Theoretical physicists usually work with infinite-dimensional optimization, i.e., variational analysis. I entirely agree that not everyone is a physicist, nor does everyone need to be... but picking Convex Optimization as an example was a poor choice.
The list is my personal list. It's a personal thing, and as such, it is non-transmissible. I am not trying to preach. I couldn't care less if the masses read junk...
This seems to be a trend in our society. Hard knowledge is too often considered secondary to "metaknowledge": motivation, time management, self-help (like Billy Connolly said, it's not self-help if someone else wrote the book to help you, it's just help).
Or maybe this was just a ploy by OP to squeeze some money out of that Amazon Associates Program ;)
In Derek's defense, several of the books he listed do have specific, harder knowledge, such as "Predictably Irrational" (written for the lay person, but cites many high quality studies), "Stumbling on Happiness" (same, covers much good research), "The Innovator's Solution", which contains a lot of high quality thought about how industries change, Bernstein's "The Four Pillars of Investing" (again, backed by good financial theory), and "Fooled by Randomness" (less original than it proclaims, but its fundamental perspective of the outcome of chaotic processes is useful for people not familiar with stats).
Yes, there are fluff books in there (Gladwell, Godin, etc) but you seem to be dismissing a lot of quality work just because you feel everyone should be reading hard theoretical material.
However, I do agree that it's easy to read only books such as those on Sivers' list and ignore those on your list, which is a mistake. A mix is healthy.
"Innovator's Solution" is okay, but Christensen's first one "The Innovator's Dilemma" was better. Also Surowiecki's "Wisdom of Crowds" provides a better survey of the field than any of the more technical books I've read.
It's interesting that he read all the books on his list (he has notes about each one) and was still a success. Most of the people I know who have reading lists like this are a personal and professional mess.
On the other hand, I've never met any rich person with a reading list like yours, but quite a few of my professors had bookshelves like that. Whether or not they actually read any of those books I'll never know. I know I've never gotten through more than about 50 pages of The Art of Computer Programming.
My first boss (who was pretty good in forth hacking) told me not to spend too much time to read Knuth's books. He said those books are great, but people who read them tends to not able to write great programs. He advised me to try to finish some stuffs that works and learn from it.
I thought he was joking. but later I know any one can learn a lot when doing a significant project of his/her own! In reality. Knuth had to learn to program computers by himself then because few was programming computers then, he can only rely on his own mind, logic and experiment to write better programs and later he tried to summarize what he had learned in "textbook" and deliver them to us, and we know most of time, it takes more text to say it clear than do it.
Of course Knuth is not ignorant of fundamental stuffs. But probably the only way to gain knowledge in any unknown territory is to explore them directly. It maybe dangerous but it is the only way.
I am intensely curious about your point. Is it that you think reading is a not-terribly-productive use of effort, or do you take issue with the specific books? If it's the latter, which books do you recommend?
I agree. It is my personal list, and I make no claims that the list is suitable to other people, let alone to a wider audience.
However, I believe that not all of these books are for the hardcore mathematician / scientist. For example, I think everyone would benefit from reading Fudenberg & Tirole's book on Game Theory, which allows one to understand strategic interactions (which are abundant in Economics and Public and Foreign Policy, for instance). Moreover, the Simplex algorithm is used by many people who don't know how the algorithm works or why. A couple of chapters of Convex Optimization would be educational.
Both the OPs list and your list, and everyone else’s list for that matter seem, for lack of a better term, white collar.
What about books not for the academic but for the eminently practical? Books on gardening, needlecraft, cooking or auto mechanics, for example? Do people who work with their hands not like to learn? Or do they just not hang out at HN?
For each, his own. I like working with my hands. Personally, I am into carpentry. It's relaxing and I like to see stuff being build. It just happens that carpentry is learned by doing (especially from someone who knows more), not by reading. Science and Math is fun. Building stuff is also fun. I see no contradiction...
Certainly there are carpenters out there who like to read (I'm a librarian and connect people with materials on their hobbies often), but perhaps gardening is a better example. Much more suited to study about planting, pest control, etc. I am certainly a gardener who reads extensively on the subject.
My observation is more directed at the fact that, as a group, "learning" seems to involve math, science and, to a lesser extent, philosophy, economics or psychology. It does not involve "trades" or "crafts". But perhaps it is as you say and those topics just are not interesting to read about.
My reading list is biased towards the "why". Funny that I left out the "how" and only noticed it now. I have read a bit on carpentry, but like I said before arts & crafts can be learned from someone who knows more, in a sort of master and apprentice relationship. This is fun because learning carpentry can then be a social experience as well. It provides a good balance to, say, Math or Theoretical Physics, which require endless hours of reading and solitude.
Actually, I have read a bunch of them. They're good airport reads. I can't read Feynman during a flight with the babies crying and the roar of the engines, but I can read Godin, Taleb, etc for entertainment. Those books teach nothing deep, but I never said they didn't have entertaining value. Fluffy, non-nutritious, yet entertaining...
That's interesting, because I liked a bunch on the original list but I'd probably consider most of the books you listed to be junk. To me this looks like the kind of list you'd put together if you wanted to look intelligent, but weren't actually intellectually curious. The only common thread among the books you've listed is that they're all hard to understand, but the questions most of them answer are rather banal.
My good sir, if you do think Feynman, Knuth, Cover, Isidori, etc are junk, then you are a monster. What you have just said is equivalent to saying that van Gogh's works are just boring blobs of paint, or that Lord Byron didn't know how to write.
These books are the finest examples of condensed knowledge mankind has ever been able to produce. Sure, they are VERY hard to read, but 1000s and 1000s of years of accumulated scientific and intellectual progress should not be easy to absorb. These books are enough for a lifetime of reading.
My list of books will still be relevant in 1000 years, while the OP's reading list will be worthless in less than a 100 years. Deep knowledge does not get stale. Don't you see the common thread among the books I have listed? Here it is: they are all "bibles" in their respective fields.
"My list of books will still be relevant in 1000 years, while the OP's reading list will be worthless in less than a 100 years. Deep knowledge does not get stale. Don't you see the common thread among the books I have listed? Here it is: they are all "bibles" in their respective fields."
I guess to me the worth-readingness of a book comes from the quality of the questions it asks rather than from the finishedness of the answers. If you actually spent a lifetime reading those books I don't think you'd really get any closer to understanding the core of the human experience.
"If you actually spent a lifetime reading those books I don't think you'd really get any closer to understanding the core of the human experience."
True. But I might understand Nature herself. I would like to have a solid grasp of the basics of Physics, Chemistry and Math before I get to 40.
Human experience is better understood through literature and art. It's not "deep knowledge" because it's too personal (as opposed to universal), but that does not mean it does not lead to deep thinking.
Ah, blow me (and I say that in the friendliest way possible :). I'm of the personal (key word) opinion that Vonnegut NEEDS to be on anybody's learning list. The point, however, is that people who love to learn need nothing more than a heightened sense of curiosity, not some bullshit reading list that attempts to validate how smart they are.
You're not being humble, you're being arrogant. Did you not notice that the list was overwhelmingly about business and marketing? Did it not occur to you that it was targeted at people other than you? Was it really humble of you to dismiss all but one of them as "junk" and "BS" without considering that context?
Business and marketing are learned by doing. I have never heard of Jobs reading marketing books. Godin, Gladwell, etc are for the sheep. I remember reading that Jurvetson read poetry and philosophy books instead of business books. Draw your own conclusions.
My list is personal. I don't claim it's for everyone. It's what interests me, period. It's the stuff worth learning. There are other great books I could include there, from Byron to Vonnegut, but literature is not deep knowledge, it's art.
The list was supposed to be for "those who love to learn". Well, if it's learning one cares about, then anything that is not deep knowledge is suspicious. Truth be told, the OP did not sell his reading list as one for "those who love to learn".
A book that can be read during a flight cannot be deep. OK, I agree that my choice of words was not the most fortunate, and that "BS" and "junk" were distasteful... but on the other hand, compared to the monumental works of Feynman and Vladimir Arnold (the kind of books that take years and years to grasp), I can't help thinking that the OP's list pales by comparison. There are books of this time, and there are books of all time. Just like Homer and Marcus Aurelius or Euclid, some great thinkers' words shall be cherished for centuries and centuries to come.
As for me, I am a mere mortal. I am not of the caliber required to write such great books, but I would be very happy if I could live long enough to read all the great books I want to read. Life's too short to read bad books.
Don't read Popper without also reading 'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions' by Thomas Kuhn and 'Against Method' by Paul Feyerabend. Those critiques of Popper put his philosophy in a much clearer light. Both contain extremely pertinent historical facts about the Galilean, Newtonian and Einsteinian revolutions.
Kuhn scored a hit because he provided the first major challenge to positivism/empiricism/logical empiricism that people in the US noticed.
However the question has to be asked, what was really new, true and what actually represented a criticism of Popper?
I don't know enough about the field to know how much of Kuhn's research was truly new, but the book is meritorious solely because it gained such widespread recognition both in and out of the scientific community. The previous challenges to Popper's falsifiability (if there were any) failed to launch.
A previous challenge to Popper's falsifiability was justificationism (of which induction is a major variety). This did not fail to launch, it was hugely influential since around Aristotle and remains influential today. (Popper says we should prefer theories that can be better tested and possibly falsified. Justificationism says we should prefer theories that are better justified, e.g. by inductive support.)
Could you give more detail about how you see Kuhn challenging falsifiability?
Justificationism doesn't even have its own Wikipedia page, what more do I need to say :) I know, inductive reasoning does. My point is just that regardless of what other challenges to Popper are out there, Kuhns' is possibly the most well known.
As far as details on how Kuhn challenges Popper, I'd recommend you read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions to find out--specifically chapter 8 where he addresses falsification and chapter 12 where he mentions Popper by name. Popper is also mentioned in the postscript.
In chapter 12 Kuhn mistakenly says that Popper is seeking falsifications that necessitate the rejection of a theory. He then points out that falsifications are imperfect, so that is problematic. That criticism would be correct, but Popper is not seeking to necessitate the rejection of any theory. Popper is a fallibilist who does not seek perfect or final falsifications, nor does he seek to justify or prove falsifications. So in short, Kuhn says there are certain difficulties, which he is correct about, and he says Popper's theory faces them, which he has wrong on account of misunderstanding Popper's theory. BTW Popper was aware of the same difficulties Kuhn brings up, and sometimes uses them in his arguments (they are not problematic for Popper's conjectural knowledge approach, but they are problematic for many other approaches).
In the postscript section 5, Kuhn says communication is always partial, so in a debate we can never prove the other guy is wrong in a way he must accept. This is the same sort of thing as before, and it is basically correct, but Popper is aware of it and his theories are compatible with it. One way Popper and Kuhn do contradict in this arena is about how valuable partial communication is. Kuhn is pessimistic about partial communication across paradigms, but Popper is more optimistic and says by an effort we can learn from each other even across paradigms/cultures/frameworks (see Popper's _The Myth of the Framework_, title essay).
I looked through ch8 also, but didn't spot any criticism of Popper's falsificationism. If you are still convinced it is there, please explain it in your own words or site specific paragraphs.
PS regarding justificationism, the prevailing idea of knowledge is that it is justified true belief. This can be found in the dictionary or any intro philosophy textbook.
PPS It is unfortunate that PG's nested thread rate limiting is hiding the reply link on this comment. I think this is a perfectly good, respectful thread. So it's collateral damage? :(
You can find a criticism of _The Structure of Scientific Revolutions_ in _The Fabric of Reality_. I think that book is (significantly but not entirely) mistaken. One reason is the book can be seen as offering historical laws like Marx, which certainly aren't laws of physics, and don't follow from the laws of physics, and aren't scientific, and have no good reason that they must always be the case in all cultures. BTW Popper criticizes historical laws in _The Poverty of Historicism_ as well as more briefly in other books including C&R.
This is something of a side note in any case. tSoSR says people are prejudiced and emphasized new generations of people as important to progress. Popper mostly talks about how knowledge is created, not who creates it. So, his focus is different, and less psychological. If only the younger people are creating knowledge, that's perfectly compatible with most of what Popper says about how (anyone) can create knowledge (via fallible, tentative guesses, and criticism and subjecting ideas to severe tests).
I really like Derek Sivers' blog but I have an issue about affiliate linking. Maybe it's just my issue but when I see Amazon affiliate links for all of the books on this list, it makes me hesitant to click them. Call me crazy perhaps.
Fully agree - a one liner at the top of the page saying 'you can help support this blog by buying from this link' or so takes only a moment and fully informs the visitor.
I did think the list of books would be better described as 'how-to' rather than educational. There are some great choices (and I own a few of them) but educational suggests something a little more intellectual and less of the moment.
Re: 'The Obsolete Employee'
Very instructive, but also good perspective like how until the industrial revolution, there were no employees: everyone was freelance.
Really! Who knew feudal Europe was such an entrepreneurial paradise :)
It doesn't affect your experience in any way if there's an affiliate link
Perhaps it is not meant to, but when a scientist has affiliation with say the tobacco industry, I would take his research about the effect of smoking on health with a very suspicious hat on. In fact, I would dismiss it completely.
I think the same logic applies here, it may seem like the list is made for the bucks hence eroding goodwill and by buying a book in such a way you might feel cheated at worst or perhaps simply do not want to encourage such conflict of interest at best.
But books aren't commodity goods, like tobacco. When a blogger recommends a book (or a list of them) he's recommending specific books to read, usually on a narrow topic that his audience is interested. His interest lies in recommending books that his audience will enjoy (or learn from, in this case), so that they trust his recommendations in the future.
I was a bit disappointed seeing this list tbh. I thought wow cool before getting there and once I landed I was like, gee dude, love to learn?
I think the people who love to learn have a big problem, that is there is so many interesting things that we would love to learn, hence a list like this, although to start with was met with, well why should I have this guy tell me what to read, but I thought I might get some cool book, you know one of those which changes the way you think.
For me, there have been a few books which have changed the way I think, as they were at different stages of my life, their difficulty rating varies.
The first book to change my way of thinking is "a beginners guide to ideas". I suggest this book as a present for smart, but deeply devoted religious people. This is a very "basic" book and mostly introduces a beginner to the history of philosophy.
The second book, in a time line order, would be (I do not remember the title exactly) something like WWI and why it happened. This book undercovered the deeper reasons and explained how the surface stories connect with them.
I think the winner would have to be a book about Nitzches works, the different way that this guy saw reality, I think shed some light on our nature and some deeper hidden reasons for things like morality.
A designers book for non designers was just superb, simple, yet deep.
Now am reading ancient rhetorics for contemporary students which is helpful for me right now for its emphasise on thoroughness which I had ignored.
Another book was about the complete history of human beings, which taught me that we prefer to improve what we have, therefore lay layer upon layer, and by association create immense complexity, when there are much more simple ways of doing things. The examples were the ancient calendars and their numerical systems.
I could go on, however what I think these books have in common is one, they introduce you to a completely new field of study, two they are written by people who taught the subject for years, hence they know how to teach, how many and which basic things to include and at what pace to progress to complexity. Another thing they have in common is that these books get lost haha, even their titles, however they do remain in my memory and what I have learned from them will probably be taken to the grave.
An egocentred opinion may follow, however I would suggest that the people who love to learn love to learn many things, yet not necessarily in great detail, that is what specialism and our job is for. Therefore I was enthusiastic by this list, yet very disappointed by it content.