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Ask HN: What are your favorite books? I'm bored
38 points by shire on July 30, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 75 comments
I like HackerNews, I feel like there are a lot of smart people on here and I find it a creditable source for knowledge and information.

Anyways lately I'm bored and have time to do stuff I want to read stuff that makes me smarter. Anything interesting about life, religion preferably Buddhism. But anything that's life changing and eye opening I'm willing to read. Plus I like to know what other folks are reading to stay sharp and on edge. Or the top most popular or must read or whatever works.

just throw some suggestions at me.

Bertrand Russel – A History of Western Philosophy.

Easily my most favorite non-fiction book. Even though there are some flaws in the treatment of some philosophers (and their models) here and there (esp. 19th Century ones – but it might just be that I'm more familiar with these myself), it's a great read: Well written, thorough, and never shy with his own opinion. The chapter on scholastic philosophy was an eye-opener for me, as was the part about the 11th-Century church reforms.

Before I read this book, I rarely cared about pre-Kantian philosophy, as I thought it to be outdated and not really relevant anymore. Russel encouraged me to re-discover the philosophical models from a cultural-historical point of view – something that sounds obvious to me now, but at the time I discovered the book (in my early twenties) it was not.

Catch-22. In a similar vibe (but a fair bit shorter), Slaughterhouse 5. Both cover the hell of war by examining its absurdity. Catch-22 is also the funniest book you'll ever read.

If you're into engineering books, the best I've read is Skunk Works (Ben R Rich). It's an account of the work of Lockheed's legendary skunk works division - behind the U2 spy plane, stealth fighter and the blackbird sr-17.

"Perfume" by Patrick Suskind, and the movie is great as well. The main character is a horrible person but so is everyone else. Possibly the funniest nihilist book ever written.

Also interesting to those of us with no sense of smell.

- Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance was a real eye-opener to me.

- Last year, I read both Das Kapital by Karl Marx and The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes.

- Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Note that these are classic works (Zen is the newest, from 1974), but they haven't lost their relevance yet. Zen is a journey in your mind, disguised as a journey by motorcycle by a father and his son. Das Kapital and GToEIM offer deeper insight in why our economy works the way it does, and I especially liked the contrast between the two books. Walden is difficult to classify. It changed the way I look at things, but I can't say exactly how. Sometimes I encounter a situation and a quote or scene from the book pops up in my head. Highly recommended!

Just got done reading Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, most if it was pretty insightful, especially the stories in the beginning. The executive management parts I skimmed over in the middle and some parts were really irrelevant for early stage companies but overall it was a good read and informative.

Peter Thiel's book Zero To One is on pre-order, but you can pre-order and then get a pre-print edition mailed to you. It's based around the class notes in his Stanford startup class. I don't agree with everything but it's a very good perspective. It really helped me get out of the perspective of shitty ideas and to think bigger.

Edit: Ops, got Marc and Ben confused. ;)

The hard thing about hard things is by Ben Horowitz :)

Ha, my bad. Fixed.

Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano (the one Chavez gave to Obama in 2009), from 1971.

"In the book Galeano analyzes the history of Latin America as a whole, from the time period of the European settlement of the New World to contemporary Latin America, describing the effects of European and later United States economic exploitation and political dominance over the region."

The main takeaway (I'm not finished yet), as stated early on, seems to be that for a country/region to lose out economically/developmentally, another country/region has to win. It made me think about cause and effect historically, but also in general.

Somewhat relatedly, at least in terms of cause and effect, and with a historical basis in exploitation, is a question I read that was posed by philosopher Peter Singer, also in 1971, based on a paper he wrote called Famine, Affluence, and Morality. In it, an analogy is made where a drowning child in a pond (in the US) needs saving but at the cost of ruining your new shoes. At the same time, an equally in-need child (in Africa) is starving to death and he/she could be saved by foregoing the purchase of the new shoes. Most people would help the drowning child but not the starving one.

You can see Mr. Singer discuss it here (2 min) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCgmPRxUYDY

Singer on this question and others (9 min) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVViICWs4dM

A university professor exploring it in more detail (14 min) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pyzv2UWzaos

Even Eduardo Galeano himself dismisses that book as shortsighted.


If you want a good view of the matter, please read Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond.

Just listing books that have had a big impact on me:

* The Now Habit - http://www.amazon.com/dp/1585425524

* Getting Things Done - http://www.amazon.com/dp/0142000280

* Simply Christian - http://www.amazon.com/dp/0061920622

* Surprised by Hope - http://www.amazon.com/dp/0061551821

* The Great Divorce - http://www.amazon.com/dp/0060652950

* Mere Christianity - http://www.amazon.com/dp/0060652926

* The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - http://www.amazon.com/dp/048629823X

* Tao Te Ching - http://www.amazon.com/dp/0060812451

Books from the Bible that I like:

* Genesis

* Judges

* Ruth

* Tobit

* Job

* Psalms

* Ecclesiastes

* Sirach/Ecclesiasticus

* Everything written by John

I binge-read Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. If you're looking for something religious-y, start with the brilliant Small Gods.

Small Gods is a wonderful little book, and it's a great introduction the the humor of the series since it pretty much stands by itself.

Hah, relevant username!

I just finished Masters Of Doom (http://www.amazon.com/Masters-Doom-Created-Transformed-Cultu...). I read it almost non-stop. I highly recommand it to anyone who has gone through the early days of ID Software games Wolf3D / Doom.

For fun half-technical reads, books by Michael Abrash are very good. http://www.gamedev.net/page/resources/_/technical/graphics-p...

See also "Racing the beam" about the Atari 2600; part sociology, part very accessible deep technical explanation.

I really enjoyed "The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles".

I've have it recommended a few times but the title sounded a bit self help-like so I avoided it. Eventually I did ready and it's pretty great. It covers how people manage to get work done, which is pretty important for everyone.

Last year I read The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt. It's non-fiction, though I believe the central premise is a little tongue in cheek. An ancient Roman manuscript that's rediscovered and helps set off the enlightenment and our modern culture.

For Buddhism I enjoyed Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps, mainly a collection of translated koans. If you've never it I recommend Godel Escher Bach : An Eternal Golden Braid, as it also likes to play with Buddhism. It's a book that tends to get a bit of hate but I found it quite fun and playful.

Non-fiction for sci-fi and fantasy: Robin Hobb and Vernor Vinge.

Vernor Vinge is fantastic. If you can read True Names before any other cyberpunk book, do it.

And read it before watching 'Her'. It's worth it.

Arthur C. Clarke - Rendezvous with Rama is one of the most imaginative and inspiring books I've ever read.

Dive into the classics.

John Cowper Powys may help you to plan a great journey :


(Despite a few bizarre choices. Paul Bourget, seriously ?)

If I had to choose myself : Homer (The Iliad and the Odyssey), the Bible (David's psalms and Job's book), Augustine, Dante, Saint Simon, Shakespeare, Rousseau, Dostoievsky, Proust, Céline.

Aparté :

If you like ambitious history with economic insights, I would strongly suggest to read Fernand Braudel works. He wrote three fantastic triptychs :

- The Mediterranean: And the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (his thesis)

- Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century (the best history books I've ever read)

- The Identity of France

"The Coming of the Third Reich" from Richard J. Evans

I read it recently and it did changed the way I look at the politics and government now. It made me fully understand that things like separation/accumulation of powers are really important. As in when activists of all kinds complained about such set-ups before, I treated it only abstract theoretical problems. Not anymore, I see the point now. The Third Reich did not happen overnight as it seemed from high school version of it, it was made possible by thousands tiny steps by varying parties.

There were other things to learn from that book too, but the above was the most important. It is a first part of a trilogy and whole of it is worth reading. That first part was the most eye opening to me through.

Come summer, my recommendation for best book I ever read shifts to Asimov's Foundation series. Light, fast paced, brilliant in the use of sci-fi to raise interesting sociological questions. It makes a great vacation read.

Ask again in four months for the serious stuff...

Disturbing the Universe, by Freeman Dyson. http://www.amazon.com/Disturbing-Universe-Foundation-Science...

I just finished this: http://www.amazon.com/The-Antidote-Happiness-Positive-Thinki...

I think you will like it. It paints Buddhism and Stoicism in a very pragmatic light.

I second the Discworld recomendation. The series is fantastic. Read everything Pratchett has written, it is worth it.

Also: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn: the only book to truly explain the genesis scripture.

The prophet by Khalil Gibran: One of the most beautiful books I've read.

And please ignore Paulo Coelho books. Paulo Coelho is to Richard Bach what Dan Brown is to Humberto Eco.

I'm currently reading "Godel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter

That's a great book. I've just started reading I Am A Strange Loop by Hofstadter and it's promising.

Also by Hofstadter: Le Ton beau de Marot was a good read.

GEB is the big one, but if you like his style - probably worth checking out some of the others. Best to get print books for this particular author though.

How can there be 71 comments and not one mention of G. K. Chesterton? Go out, right now, and check out The Everlasting Man and Orthodoxy from your local library.

I would also throw out there Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford, as something to inspire makers & engineers without being a technical book. If you like history, David McCullough's biography John Adams is a masterpiece (also see 1776 by the same author).

I can't think of anything else that hasn't already been mentioned.

If you're interested in ycombinator, how about this one "The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, Silicon Valley's Most Exclusive School for Startups" ( http://www.amazon.com/Launch-Pad-Combinator-Exclusive-Startu... )

I like understanding where I am located in space and time, that is why I love reading about science & science fiction ; it is indirectly related to religion in the sense that it makes you think about your world, about yourself.

Buddhism / Religion / ... :

- Siddartha - Hermann Hesse

- The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho


- A brief history of time - Stephen Hawking (space, time)

- The Blind Watchmaker - Richard Dawkins (evolution)

- Le cerveau intime - Marc Jeannerod (in french only)


- The Road - Cormack Mc Carthy

- City - Clifford D. Simack

- Time is the simplest thing - Clifford D. Simack

- Ringworld - Larry Niven

I recently read Tingworld for the first time and honestly I found it pretty painfully outdated. I mean obviously the imagination involved was significant at the time but I don't feel like it has aged well.

have you read Siddhartha? did you like it.

It's an amazing book. Apparently, the author had to stop writing it for a few years, since he needed to reach another level of "enlightenment" before he could accurately describe the last part of the book.

I loved it, it is concise, deep and enlightening! I highly recommand it.

I just finished reading The Martian recently, inspired to write a review: http://www.alphadevx.com/a/453-Review-of-The-Martian

Currently reading Flash Boys by Michael Lewis, which is about High Frequency Trading in Wall Street which is interesting for the technology involved.

Favorite book of all time is Frank Herbert's Dune, the six books are great in fact.

Buddhism: Not Always So, and anything else by Shunryu Suzuki, What Buddha Taught, by Rahula

Smarter: A Mathematical Bridge by Stephen Hewson, it will make you grok the real structure of mathematics even if you're starting with fairly basic undergraduate level math, and it will make it immensely easier to tackle new areas of mathematics.

Pattern recognition and machine learning by Bishop

Popular: Coders at Work, Founders at Work, Behind the Cloud


(from Wikipedia) Ishmael is a 1992 philosophical novel by Daniel Quinn. It examines the mythological thinking at the heart of modern civilization, its effect on ethics, and how this relates to sustainability and societal collapse on the global scale.


I'm currently reading 1491 by Charles C. Mann, excellent book about the Americas before Columbus and how much of what we have been taught is either incorrect or misinformed. A follow up to this is 1943, what happened in the Americas after the arrival of Columbus. A great pair of books.

I'll also say Ishmael by Daniel Quinn and The Story of B are two of my favourite books.

Poor Economics - Abhijit Banerjee & Esther Duflo

Thinking, Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman

The Signal and The Noise - Nate Silver

Predictably Irrational - Dan Ariely

This Time is Different - Carmen Reinhart & Kenneth Rogoff

Subliminal - Leonard Mlodinow

Fooled by Randomness - Nassim Taleb

For something more lighthearted, I also enjoyed:

An Economist Gets Lunch - Tyler Cowen

Inside Jokes - Matthew Hurley & others (mostly skipped the dense parts)

When there's nothing on my reading list from other sources, I go to the Project Gutenberg most popular downloads list:


A Song of Ice and Fire and I don't even like fantasy.

The Millenium series by Stieg Larsson are very good as well.

I bought Labyrinths of Reason many years ago, and I still love dipping into it every now and then. I always seem to find something new in it (one benefit of a failing memory)

Labyrinths of Reason: Paradox, Puzzles, and the Frailty of Knowledge by William Poundstone

Anything by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Someone made a website listing books which are often recommended on HN: www.hn-books.com

Buddhism (and better living): Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Siddhartha (by Hermann Hesse), The Way of Zen (by Alan Watts - I learned a lot about meditation and satori).

Also: Think and Grow Rich (by Napoleon Hill, the original self-improvement book)

India: A History. Revised and Updated by John Keay

Url : http://www.amazon.com/India-A-History-Revised-Updated/dp/080...

Soil and Soul by Alastair Mcintosh - http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/soilandsoul.htm

'Enron: The smartest guys in the room' by Bethany McLean. Be warned, it is difficult to read (a lot of jargon and the pages are too packed with new informations).

Quantum Computing since Democritus http://www.scottaaronson.com/democritus/

Read a kids book, seriously — http://www.rotub.me/blog/kids-books.html

Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (9 vols. , English) https://db.tt/3sGQNzs1

I really liked the Wool series, Wool, Shift, Dust.

The Expanse series is fast paced, hollywood-style action, sci-fi but gets sort of repetitive in the 4th book.

Quantum Thief trilogy by Hannu Rajaniemi.

Brasyl by Ian McDonald. Quantum physics, lots of colour, and a Cloud Atlas-like mixing of time threads.

Insanely Simple The Obsession That Drives Apple's Success by Ken Segall is quite good

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. One of my favourite books ever!

ayn rand, the fountainhead jean jacques rousseau, the confessions sterling seagrave, dragon lady knights of king arthur's court romance of the three kingdoms

Herman Hesse - Steppenwolf. Actually everything by Hesse.

Hesse is timeless, there's a reason he resonated with so many people in the 60s movements.

Siddhartha is a great meditation on life in its entirety. For startup-focused professionals it can be hard to imagine satisfaction with a life lacking "accomplishment" but Hesse paints a thoughtful picture.

hmm Herman Hesse sounds interesting have you read most of his stuff?

* Anything by Cortázar.

* Trainspotting,

* Fight Club

* Anything by Carl Sagan, specially Contact

* Lord of the Rings

* The Hobbit

* And finally:

Anything by Michael Ende:

The Neverending Story,

Momo (one of my faves).

The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton Christensen

The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

re: buddhism: read Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It's not about motorcycles. ;)

Thinking, fast and slow by Kahnemann.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

also check out bill gates' reading list, he reads a book a week

All from Isaac Asimov

Some titles I've recently read or at least have placed on my reading list.



Letters from a Stoic: Epistulae Morales Ad Lucilium - Seneca

Meditations - Marcus Aurelius (must read)

The Republic - Plato



Five Chimneys - Olga Lengyel

The Gulag Archipelago - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (must read)

The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank



(particularly dystopian) 1984, Brave New World, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451

(crime/action) Child 44, The Secret Speech, Agent 6 - Tom Rob Smith



Capital in the Twenty-First Century - Thomas Piketty

Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty - Banerjee, Duflo

Why Nations Fail - Robinson


Economics/Decision making/Psychology

Undercover Economist, Freakonomics, Nudge, Thinking Fast and Slow


Random titles

The Selfish Gene, Self-Reliance, The Elements of Style (about writing), Slaughterhouse-Five


Some links to inspire your reading (though you may want to checkout the websites first to get an idea of the topics they cover)





I’m just a working-class guy trying to take part in the conversation that all the smart people are having. What books should I read? - http://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2013/03/im-just-a-working-cl...

Qur'an by God Almighty.

Not really interested by this in particular sorry. Nothing against it but just more towards Buddhism.

No problem :)

Great stuff considering my brand new Kindle! :)

Awesome, thanks a lot.

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