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Ask HN: What book changed your life in 2014?
329 points by petecooper on Dec 8, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 284 comments
I debated whether it was too early in December to ask this, but I'm interested in what book(s) changed your life in 2014. I ask because I'm going through something of a personal and professional renaissance and my book of the year was the same as fraqed's when s/he asked the same question in December 2013 [1].

My reading list for 1H15 is a bit vague and wooly right now, so I'm interested in your responses.

For completeness, this could be considered an extension to a previous post of mine [2], but I'm not looking to solve any problem, either perceived or otherwise.

Thank you in advance.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6975638

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8673576

(Edited for typo and formatting)

For the mind:


A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy - William B. Irvine

Not only a description of the Stoic philosophy, which is, unfortunately, not very well known today, but also a great practical guide to a variety of techniques that can be included into daily activities easily, and will increase happiness.

For the body:


Overcoming Gravity: A Systematic Approach to Gymnastics and Bodyweight Strength - Steven Low

As I'm growing older (turned 40 last year), I'm no longer inclined to exercise with very heavy weights and was looking into replacing most of the barbell/dumbell exercises in my routine with bodyweight exercise. The book is a great encyclopedia of exercise that can be performed without or with minimal equipment. There are progressions, advice on creating routines, on injury prevention and management and a lot more. There is also a subreddit for those who follow the book http://www.reddit.com/r/overcominggravity

> A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy - William B. Irvine

I read this, and have nothing bad to say about it per se. I think Stoicism in the classic sense is very under-appreciated these days, and it's good to have a book to serve as an introduction. But I personally found it to be very repetitive. The historical context part is worth reading in my opinion, but apart from that you'd be better off reading something like Marcus Aurelius' Meditations instead, or some of the other classics.

Edit: Or if you're interested in a contemporary overview, I found AC Grayling's What is Good? to be much more insightful. Its central theme is also a search for some form of "philosophy of life", like Irvine's book, but it doesn't cover just Stoicism. Instead it covers many more philosophies, and I think it's a much richer book because of it since it gives you a much broader context, even if you end up adopting a Stoic outlook.

you'd be better off reading something like Marcus Aurelius' Meditations instead, or some of the other classics.

Incidentally, I'm trying to read Meditations now, but it's not an easy reading and it goes very slowly. Maybe I'll be able to put in on my 2015 list of influential books?

I think the particular translation you have makes a big difference, as with a lot of these older texts. I found it very readable because the sections were so short and the language pretty clear, but I was reading the Martin Hammond translation.

e.g. just compare the first few lines from the version on Project Gutenberg:

"Of my grandfather Verus I have learned to be gentle and meek, and to refrain from all anger and passion. From the fame and memory of him that begot me I have learned both shamefastness and manlike behaviour."

and the same lines from the Hammond translation:

"From my grandfather Verus: decency and a mild temper.

From what they say and I remember of my natural father: integrity and manliness."

Obviously a matter of personal preference though, but it's worth shopping around for a translation before you start reading, and the Gutenberg versions tend to be the most archaic (which doesn't necessarily even mean they're more accurate, I think it was just the fashion back then to translate classic texts into a more formal prose).

In the last year I replaced my copy of Meditations, which I didn't like very much, and surveyed most of the existing translations in the process, comparing them to each other and to the original Greek.

Maxwell Staniforth's was my favorite, being both faithful to the original and easy to read. Hammond plays too loosely with the material, IMO.

The only hardcover I know of:


A paperback:


I definitely started the Project Gutenberg version, I think this is the link that was posted most on HN. Will try to get the other translation.

Meditations is not a book you read cover to cover. It's rather repetitive, and says the same things in different ways, hence the name: meditations.

It's a book you dip into. I was once introduced to the esoteric art of bibliomancy; and as much as I can't take such a practice seriously, it does seem to work on books that are simply fantastic. Open up meditations, at any page, read it for 10 minutes and put it down. The chances are the passage will be highly pertinent and insightful.

The certainty is that you will feel nice, deep feelings of enlightenment, but that has very little to do with the content of the book used in your enlightenment-ritual.

The first time I read Meditations I read the Gregory Hays translation. It's written with very colloquial language and makes for a great entrance to the book.

I'm interested to read the Hammond translation and compare it to Hays's - I was very pleased with Hays's work.

This is a fantastic translation of Meditations: http://www.amazon.com/The-Emperors-Handbook-Translation-Medi...

Have you read any other translations and can you say in what way this translation is better than them?

Marcus Aurelius is an overrated bad philosopher. a) he takes a high moral position but persecuted christians in his kingdom (he is just a fascist in modern terms)

b) he should have chosen to write in his native tongue instead he chose greek (according to jean-luc marion, wrote in bad greek), which makes me think he was just a pretentious guy who wanted to join the ranks of the great greek philosophers.

And yes, I've read Meditations.

If you want to understand Meditations and Marcus Aurelius, you should read The Inner Citadel by Pierre Hadot. For instance, there are good reasons for his writing in Greek, for the format of the book, for the repetitiveness, etc.

You can read some samples from Irvine's book "A Guide to the Good Life" on Boing Boing.


The five dysfunctions of a team.

This book is now required reading for everyone I work with. Not only is the content some of the most important I've ever read, but 80% of the book is written like a novel, making it a VERY easy read.

It's worth noting that much of what Irvine lays out in this book is closer to Epicureanism than Stoicism, per say. For a better treatment of Stoicism, I'd recommend The Inner Citadel by Pierre Hadot.

You're definitely going to like The Obstacle Is The Way if you want to go deeper into stoicism.

It is based on that line from Marcus Aurelius's Meditations and it's about turning obstacles upside down.

Capital in the Twenty First Century, Thomas Piketty


I've always been a bit embarrassed for the economics profession; it's always seemed to me that it could be where math meets sociology and psychology, but is instead where politics meets unfounded conjecture.

Piketty changed that for me. He does true science here. I read it because I noticed that it has received every superlative you could confer on such a tome. It deserves them all. If you haven't read it yet, start now.

I think you may be doing economics somewhat of an injustice. There is certainly a lot of politics and some unfounded conjecture too, but in many cases it is the social "science" that manages to use formalization to reach real conclusions. Macroeconomics concepts such as "stimulus" are usually the example of the bad kind. But a lot of economics, especially microeconomics isn't.

There are real usable conclusions that have come out of economics too. For example, the idea that trade is good for both parties has been largely adopted thanks to the formal arguments that eventually won over the majority of economists. This goes back to Adam Smith and David Ricardo. The idea of floating exchange rates comes from economics departments and it has prevented a lot of currency catastrophes.

It's still social science and it's asked to provide answers for questions that it can't answer.

Pickety's ideas are interesting and so his his data. But, they are still new and in debate. Perhaps they hold some lasting insight into long term changes in wealth disparities, but the jury is still out from an academic perspective.

Microeconomics is mostly mathematical poetry with a thin spread of real world applicability. You just try to make beautiful proofs and then give your axioms funny named like "free disposal" or such that are clearly not real life concepts. Very enlightening though if one likes math, which I do.

Somewhat related is "Enlightenment 2.0" - Joseph Heath Politics professor explains why contemporary politics is becoming irrational by showing how certain cognitive biases in the political atmosphere make political deliberation more difficult.

If you are interested in economics, cognitive biases, and why governance is so bad, it is a must read.

So capitalism has problems, he failed to determine the cause (the state) and failed to propose efficient solutions (more taxes, austerity for the people, more interventionism) and you praise it as true science? That book is a marxist pamphlet in a thousand pages.

For the love of god, never read Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt or you would consider him the bastard son of Einstein when he was fifteen.

Marxist Pamphlet? What non-sense. It's a book written by an avowed defender of capitalism, worried about its excesses in the age of slowing growth. Piketty is a social-democrat from the mainstream of European politics, not a marxist in any way or shape. Bill Gates gave the book a mixed review with many positive points, and he's not particularly known for being a marxist sympathizer.

And here's me thinking Piketty was all about blaming capitalism for wealth inequality. Care to correct me, and explain why you think he's an "avowed defender of capitalism"?

Because he's not actually proposing to move to an alternative system.

He is proposing increased state control and taxation.

For the sake of Jesus, read this posts and use your brain:

"There is No Steady State Economy (except at a very basic level)" http://ourfiniteworld.com/2011/02/21/there-is-no-steady-stat...

Limits to Growth–At our doorstep, but not recognized http://www.resilience.org/stories/2014-02-12/limits-to-growt...

Wealth And Energy Consumption Are Inseparable http://www.declineoftheempire.com/2012/01/wealth-and-energy-...

Galactic-Scale Energy http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/07/galactic-scale-e...

I have not read "Economics in One Lesson" but if I remember right, it is Austrian and takes ideas from good ol' Ludwing van. Today I must say, Mises views were often very short sighted, he had little understanding of money and in the end also a limited understanding what capitalism is (and why it will end).

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

It's written for writers but is relevant broadly. The message is pretty simple and you don't really need to read the whole book to get it. It's one of those keep-driving-the-message self help-ish books.

Basically the point is to name and shame "resistance," a catch all term for procrastination, fear and everything else that prevents a writer from writing a book. It also applies to starting a startup, a career, a family, an exercise regime… Like I said, the point is simple and the information could be conveyed in a short essay.

The reason for the repetition is to actually realize how big a demonic bottleneck this resistance is and that overcoming it will take effort and more importantly, strategy. It's probably going to derail your plans unless you plan for it. Personifying (or demonifying) it is part of the approach.

This is getting further from the book's actual content but the analogy for me is addiction. Say you are an alcoholic. It's not enough to decide to stop drinking, this is a fight. You need to realize that addiction will probably win if you fight stupid. You need a plan to beat addiction. It will fight back. You need to put time and resources into it. Everyone knows this and former alcoholics will start pushing you straight into two things, making sure you realize the scale of the problem and making sure you have a plan. They'll probably recommend AA which gives you a formulaic strategy.

Resistance might not be the bottleneck for everyone, but it is for many. For us, we need to make war on it

I read this as well. The author bundles up most problems into something called "resistance" and then encourages you to fight "resistance." To me, this was pseudo religious nonsense, and I could never fully buy the concept.

I love that book. I read it all the time, especially on those weeks when I feel burnt out. It pairs well with one of his other books called The Warrior Ethos.

So glad to see this book mentioned. The follow-up, Turning Pro, which is effectively the second half of the same book, is also golden.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber.

I'm cautious to say it changed my life, but it definitely changed my view on many things. I'm more aware of the ubiquity and power of debt, and I can no longer take those for granted.

It's an extremely interesting read and has a broader intellectual appeal, elucidating the roots of money, morality, and the roles of markets, nations, and friends with regard to those.

I definitely think of that book is life changing - it changed how I understand the very concept of money.

What I really liked was that he put the development of money (and markets, morality, nations etc) in a great historical context so you can see why things happened the way they did.

Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright. A great historical look at Jesus and 1st Century Judaism.

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller. Made me stop and think a lot about how I interact with family and friends that have gone through struggles.

Coders at Work by Peter Seibel. I enjoy learning from the experienced, and Coders At Work is a fantastic walk through the recent history of computing, as told by those who walked through it. I wish there were a true coding focused sequel.

nice :) i've been meaning on reading a historically written book about Jesus (was looking at Richard Bauckham's "Jesus: A Very Short Introduction") and Tim Keller is solid indeed.

I just finished reading Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan and found it quite fascinating.

Every review of this I've seen by an actual historian says that it's basically fanciful nonsense.

I would be interested in reading these reviews. If you have a link that would be great.

Here's one such review by Andrew le Donne. http://historicaljesusresearch.blogspot.com/2013/07/a-usuall...

I would say that there is some value in Mr. Aslan's book, but while it is presented as unbiased, there as just as much bias in his book as in Wright's that I noted above.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey.

It describes the daily schedule of almost every famous creative person you can think of in a few paragraphs, from Bach to Tesla to Ayn Rand. Peering into the day to day lives of well known people was fascinating, but I was most interested in how efficient they were with their time. Many of the people featured in the book, especially the writers, sat down and worked for only two or three hours a day and often produced only several pages. It really changed my perspective on how creative work gets done. Especially when considering the hn culture of hyperproductivity. it was revealing to see how some of the greatest creative minds of all time respected the limits of their quality mental output.

I've tried to adapt my personal schedule to match some of their habits, and have generally felt better about being able to get a limited amount of creative work done in 24 hours. Come to see a new side of people who's work you know well, stay to get a better understanding of how they created great things.

If you write one page a day, you would write a ~400-page book every year.

Not really, when I write a page per day, I end up with 20 pages in a year. At least for me, rewriting is a very important part of the process.

You would still end up writing 400 pages, your workstyle caused you to delete 380 pages... :)

Introduction to Systems Biology - Design Principles of Biological Circuits, by Uri Alon.

It opened my eyes to a whole new field that will become a massive industry over the coming decades. Much like a Systems course in engineering covers recurring design patterns in physical systems (feedback loops, noise filters, pulse generators, etc), this book uses the same approach for biological systems. It is written from an engineer's perspective using engineering language, which for me makes biology much easier to understand.

This sounds a really interesting read. Though system biologists seem to disagree: http://www.amazon.com/gp/review/R1JC09V3NPULY3

Any thoughts on that?

It's perhaps more precise to say that some biologists disagree (as is perhaps inevitable). Alon's book is was the required textbook for the Systems Bioengineering (III) class at Johns Hopkins as of 5 years ago (which is when I took it). It's definitely well within the mainstream of the field.

The Bogleheads' Guide to Investing.

Learning about the financial system really changed my perspective on how to deal with money in the long term. It has had immediate effects on my life.

I learned about taxation in detail, opened an account on a discount brokerage, changed saving patterns, and have made a portfolio for the next 10 years.

I have a spreadsheet of how much I can spend and componentize my bank cards. One is for bills, another for spending, and the rest are investing accounts. When I get a paycheque, I put how much I need for bills directly into the bill account, the allocated amount for investing in investment accounts, and the rest in my spending account. I know exactly how much I can spend at restaurants and I don't need to do any mental math.

I really feel like learning this at age 22 was life changing and I will be thanking my self in the future.

"Invest early and often" - Jack Bogle

Agreed - came to this thread specifically to mention this book. This book is enormously valuable to me, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone (friends, family, colleagues). In fact, the related forum (http://www.bogleheads.org/) is one of the most helpful, welcoming, professional, and well-moderated forums I have come across, and is a great "next step" after reading the book, and developing/executing a plan. I know there are several HN frequenters there as well.

I also recommend accompanying Bogleheads Guide it with A Random Walk Down Wall Street (http://www.amazon.com/Random-Walk-Down-Wall-Street/dp/039333...). It ranks with me as another "life changing" book. Enjoy.

I read this book a little while ago, and it prompted me to make several important changes in my life: start saving for retirement, get life and disability insurance, set up college funds for the kids. I keep it close as it's a great reference, in addition to giving a fantastic overview of what is available for you to do with your money. I recommend it to anyone who asks.

Would this book be helpful for those who live in the UK? Or is it very US specific?

I would say, no. There's tons of practical advice, but in general it covers principles of sound personal finance, such as how to be savvy with your personal savings.

Starting Strength - because this time I actually started lifting instead of just reading it :)

The Pragmatic Programmer - It has been recommended to me by a good developer that is self-taught like me. So far so good. Some things are a bit dated though.

Pragmatic Programmer is pretty good, but even better are Steve McConnell's books from the late 90's, "Rapid Development" and "Code Complete".

They're both big and both published by Microsoft. Two strikes, yes, but don't be fooled. These books have so many nuggets that I've gone back to again and again as a programmer. "Code Complete", in particular.

Neither book is a cover-to-cover read. They're both books you dip into for a tip, a skill, some perspective. But they've held up amazingly well, and for my money and time, they're both a step up from the Pragmatic Programmer. If you like what you found in "Pragmatic", you'll love "Code Complete".

I just wish it wasn't from MS, at the peak of MS evil in the 90's.

I think I started Code Complete some time ago, I need to get back to it.

Starting Strength stands out for me too. Starting a strength training routine has been a wonderful experience that I would highly encourage to everyone.

All the good things in Prag Prog have become commonplace in today's development world.

* Tests - check

* Version control - check

* Code generation - check

* Decoupling, refactoring, metaprogramming, power editing.

It's still worth reading but it needs a second edition...

> Starting Strength - because this time I actually started lifting instead of just reading it :)

For me it's High-Intensity Training the Mike Mentzer Way. Frankly I don't care about strength, and am focusing instead on bodybuilding.

I used to spend a lot of hours in the gym not really knowing what I'm doing (no plan, no goals). After this book I now have a good plan and clear, predictable goals.

Starting strength is better for natural strength training.

Mike Mentzer is well known to have abused steroids to get his physique which is something I wouldn't be willing to do.

Which 1970s bodybuilder isn't? Besides, he perfected his programme on his clients, not himself. Anyway, it works perfectly well for me, I couldn't be more satisfied with my progress and thus have no reason to change my plan. I'm glad SS works for you.

Also read Starting Strength. I'd been lifting before I read it but my technique was very poor. The most I got out of the book was cues (such as actively push legs out when squatting to avoid cave in). Would definitely recommend!

Getting a trainer is going to be better than trying to DIY from a book, at least to 'show you the ropes'. It's not like following a recipe or something where it's obvious if you have the right amount of ingredients; you might think you are doing it right when you are doing it wrong and have no way to tell.

I disagree about the trainer unless the user is a novice or is okay spending a lot of money on a trainer. In my experience all personal trainers are not created equal. The chapter on doing squats in Starting Strength is 80 pages long. Odds are it would cost you a couple of hundred dollars and many session to get that much information from a good trainer. Reading the book, watching the DVD and working with light weights to focus on correct form would be a better approach that hiring a trainer. After those steps are done it would be useful to hire a trainer to check your form and give you tips.

I agree, as long as you find a good trainer. Most personal trainers are teaching extremely poor form.

The problem is getting a good trainer. Sure if you can get Rippetoe .. :) The one at my gym is not great.

I think I would prefer a gym buddy who has read the book, watched the dvd or is a good lifter, because filming myself to check my form gets old quickly.

You are your own gym, for me.

Yup, me too on SS. Started in Jan, changed my life.

`Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance`

The book looks at what it means to say something has 'quality'.

It didn't teach me any new philosophical methods or theories, but it did make me look at my own work differently and start asking: how can I make something with the highest quality? What compromises that quality? What is a method that leads to the highest quality?

Translating that to my business life: in the startup scene I've scene a lot of startups treat lean as gospel (myself included at one point), and as a result they compromise on the quality that both themselves and their customers are happy with. So I certainly found it useful to have a book that made me think about this.

I haven't read the book, but isn't quality something of a continuum dictated mostly by economics? In other words, if you put huge efforts into making quality products that are really more than most customers need, and it costs you do to so, you're likely going to go out of business. That, or you'd do best to find a niche where people really do need that kind of quality.

Yes, the "quality" referred to in the book is a spiritual, metaphysical quality that does not exist in reality, but makes for decent reading.

I've read the book and I think it was crap. It didn't have a good story and it didn't have a good message. It was so bad I've forgotten entirely why I didn't like it, because I've forgotten the whole thing.

I'm sure this will get downvoted; it seems that HN has gotten pretty religious lately. I guess it's the effect of coders getting old and searching for order in a chaotic world.

Read the book.

If you haven't read this book, do. Absolutely and without question life-changing.

Also contains the best description and explanation of the scientific method I've ever read - so good that I put the book on the curriculum of a course on online advertising I ran this year!

This book deeply influenced me last year. I think it is one of the best books I've read among 500+ other.

"Do you teach students quality?" is a question I'll remember forever.

Highly recommended.

I'd definitely n+1-th this recommendation, if only because I strongly dislike dualistic thinking and have an enormous soft spot for anything that picks it apart.

I'm 46 and have read it 3 times over the past 25 years. Definitely a book that changed my life!

I'm 28 and I've read it 3-4 times now. It's a truly an inspired work. I think that it would appeal to the HN community because the author, Robert Persig, arguably reaches a statement of enlightenment entirely through deductive reasoning. The story is essentially Persig's attempt to piece this whole event together after having undergone electric shock therapy. The story unfolds as Persig and his son travel across the US by motorcycle and is complemented by intermediary "chautauquas" (philosophical monologues) and technical monologues about motorcycle maintenance. The book is an enigma (unlike its sequel "Lila" which is not), and there isn't any other book that I've read that is like it.

Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

The book hit me at a particularly receptive moment. I was on an airplane headed to a meeting that easily could have done remotely just as effectively without the excessive time and money cost. Ironically, I read the entire book on the plane.

The book is great at illustrating what types of meetings need to be in person and what types don't, dispelling common myths along the way with solid research.

They concluded that our current default of a compulsory office presence with only occasional remote work permitted is exactly backwards. It should be the opposite. The types of meetings that require you to be in the same room to be collaborative are the exception, not the rule.

It's a truly great book and I recommend all creative professionals read it.

I second this.

I've been a remote worker on and off for a long time, and have long sung the virtues (whilst objectively recognizing the drawbacks).

This book goes a long way to helping articulate my findings.

This. While it didn't change my life, it was one of the books I most enjoyed this year. Really great book.

Ulysses by James Joyce: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulysses_%28novel%29

For most of my life, I focused on the logical, external, left-brain side of life. I saw little value in art (and even spurned it as something pretentious people did to seem more cultured). And so, I defined myself as “logical”, “left-brain”, “scientist”, etc and rejected the tags: “right-brain”, “artist”, etc.

Leading up to reading Ulysses, I had been growing in artistic appreciation, but Ulysses really pushed me over the edge. Prior to Ulysses, I felt I could only admire art as an outsider (because again, I was a “left-brainer” - I felt that I didn’t belong). Ulysses helped me change my very self-image. I am not a “left-brainer”; I am a human, and art is how we can express and share ourselves with each other.

I really enjoyed Ulysses also. The book has a reputation for being a little opaque, but I read it lightly (i.e., just enjoyed the words going by and didn't worry if I didn't understand everything).

If you enjoyed that you really need to give A la recherche de temps perdu a go. Another challenge.

I wasn't a massive fan of either in terms of readability though - would much prefer to read Moby Dick, Don Quioxte or a good translation of the Odyssey. All felt more rewarding but more readable to me.

Great to see James Joyce mentioned on HN!

So Good They Can't Ignore You - Cal Newport

He's a CS prof at Georgetown now and wrote this while finishing up his Phd. Gives great and contrarian advice on career strategy snd path - focus on getting good at something (eg protramming. You'll grow to become passionate about it - most likely the things you're passionate about before your career can't be a career (eg sports, gaming). Also talks about deliberate practice and mission oriented careers.

Looks like it's my turn to provide the cliche hipster answer:

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruku Murakami:


If you're familiar with Murakami, it's par for the course and considered one of his pivotal novels. If you're not: surrealist, dreamlike modern fiction often centering around ideas of masculinity, post-war fallout, and urban ennui. Incredibly strange and beautiful stuff.

I've read more in 2014 than I have in the past five or so years, but Wind Up Bird Chronicle is the one that has stuck with me the most. Even if it didn't exactly change my morning routine or lead me on the path to riches, I wake up most mornings and its taste is still in my mouth.

(A comparison, if you're familiar with it: Earthbound, less in terms of tone and more in terms of setting. Shigesato Itoi, the writer of Earthbound, actually published a bunch of short stories with Murakami and they've been translated into English: http://letsmeetinadream.blogspot.com/)

If you haven't read it yet I'd recommend Kafka on the Shore by Murakami. I have read The Wind Up Bird Chronicles twice but I still think Kafka on the shore is my favorite Murakami work.

Doesn't seem hipsterish at all to me.

FWIW, I wouldn't really say that any book in 2014 changed my life, but... if I had to name my favorite book of 2014 there's a good chance that I'd pick After Dark by Murakami. It was my first Murakami and I thought it was very good.

Murakami rocks.

Wind up was very good - 1Q84 had some nice moments but too long imho

After Dark is next on my list (finishing up Colorless Tsukuru Tasaki now). I'm super excited for it.

Colorless Tsukuru Tasaki

I enjoyed that one a lot as well. My next Murakami will probably be either 1Q84 or Norwegian Wood.

Murakami is great, his prose really touched me in a creative/imaginative sense. I get this surreal and whimsical sensation while reading his fiction.

If you're lining up possible other books to read by him, I suggest Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

My wife is Japanese. We chose "Haruki" as the middle name for our son.

The Road to Reality, by Roger Penrose:


This has been a really refreshing book for me to read. I studied mathematics in college but haven't really exercised that part of my brain since graduating and working as a programmer. Although this book is probably inaccessible to someone without some formal mathematical training, it's still one-of-a-kind. Nobody else of Penrose's stature has ever attempted to go from zero to string theory in a single volume, with all the physics and mathematics explained and very little left out.

For me, it's really been nice to finally satisfy a lifetime of curiosity that had built up about quantum theory. My fascination with it has never been enough to drive me to be a physicist, but it was enough for me to feel uneasy about not really knowing the underlying mathematics.

Did you get through the book? I've tried twice so far in my life, I've stalled out each time. Any tricks?

I finished it but certainly can't claim to have understood everything in it. I read it on and off for several weeks so it definitely took some effort for me.

It's an incredibly dense book. There's nothing else out there quite like it. Penrose also has a pretty idiosyncratic method of presenting ideas. This means that sometimes you can't cross-reference his explanations even if you want to. He covers some exotic and nonstandard topics as well. I haven't personally seen his diagrammatic notation for tensor algebra anywhere else, for instance. And the book was my first and only exposure to hyperfunctions.

The "trick", honestly, is to already have some prior exposure to most of the tricky mathematical ideas, like differential forms and fiber bundles. I was by no means an expert on differential geometry but I'd been exposed to it a few times as an undergraduate.

The other "trick" is simply not to skip around. I was tempted at first to browse and read whatever topics interested me; this book is not structured that way. He constantly references backwards in the book, and even if you know the mathematical material some of his references can be confusing. This is probably the greatest weakness of the book. For instance, gauge connections aren't really covered fully in any single section of the book. They're discussed briefly in the chapter on fiber bundles, and then again in the chapter on electromagnetism, and then again I believe in the chapter on quantum mechanics, and none of these discussions is complete, but they are if taken together.

One trick is to stop worring about completely understanding the maths on your first pass through the material. Instead make note of what you were confused about and continue on.

If for instance you find that you need a refresher on complex integration, don't stop reading and do quarter's worth of review of complex analysis. Don't expect to complete a year of differential geometry in the few chapters that lead to Gravity.

After you finish through the a first pass, definitely go back to sections that you want to understand better and do the necessary work to improve your understanding.


1)Antifragile by Taleb. It has given me a whole new framework with which to think about the world. He is consistently one of the only "modern thinkers" that I trust, and who delivers no b.s.

2)Confessions of an Economic Hitman by Perkins. Not a new book, and I didn't read it this year, but when I did read it, it made me realize that the world works much differently than I understood it to on the surface, and that you should never trust any business or government at face value.

+1 for Taleb's books. His Black Swan book actually inspired me to pursue a startup. However, his ideas are not actually that original (which is not a bad thing). One might get similar level of knowledge(albeit takes more time) from reading stoic philosophy, Popper's philosophy of science, tacit knowledge (Michael Polanyi) and complex system sciences.

One might, but how many books to read is that? Taleb compresses these ideas very concisely and in a relatively easy-to-read manner.

+1 for complex system sciences. I guess that's where most of today's lean/simple/ecosystem things come from.

I was a voracious reader of programming books prior to reading Stewart Brand's "How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built." However, it was this book that made me (finally) realize that some of the best programming books are not about programming at all. As a result I've cut back drastically on my "language-specific" programming books[1] and have sought programming-relevant books instead.

[1]: And I've made it a personal goal to limit the "language-specific" books to those written before 1995.

Armstrong's book on Erlang (2007) is a great read, so you're missing that. (Erlang itself I haven't really used much, but I like some of the concepts).

Alexandrescu's Modern C++ Design (2001) is a real eye-opener (though I wouldn't use most of the stuff from the latter half of book in real production).

Herb Sutter's books on Exception C++ (1999) are must-reads if you intend to use exceptions. at. all. [Whereupon, these books will convince you not to use exceptions in C++ :-) ]

This looks very interesting, and the applicability to software maintenance seems obvious. Just ordered a used copy with Amazon prime shipping; so thanks for the recommendation.

What other programming-relevant books would you recommend?

Having a 30 minute subway commute I'm looking forward to seeing what suggestions come out of this thread. My two suggestions:

1. Thinking fast and slow - Understanding how we actually think as opposed to how we think we think is a critical skill, especially in a startup. Having a Nobel prize winner explain how the two systems of your brain work together (and can sabotage you) was enlightening and enjoyable. This book helped me understand many aspects of design and sales that had been black boxes for me


2. Art and Fear - This is a book nominally about the relationship between artists and how they go about making art but it is useful for anyone creative. It's about how to go about making when you have errands to run, a deadline, or just don't feel like it. As a dev I found it inspiring


"Thinking Fast and Slow", was definitely the most impacting book for me last year. Highly recommended.

Caesar's Commentaries, by Julius Gaius Caesar

Teaches that while technology will change and political systems will be distinct and nuanced, the human animal is just about the same.

When I see something that people did then that they still do today, I find that I can predict what a group of people is likely to do in a given situation in the future.

This both blows my mind as things "click" and makes me sad. In either case, I'm better prepared.

I read a good part of this a few years ago, but stopped reading. Interesting read to understand Caesar, but after finishing about half the book I felt like I was not getting anything more out of it.

And about 300 years before him, Thucydides

Dungeon World rulebook - http://www.dungeon-world.com/ and Vornheim city kit - http://www.lotfp.com/RPG/products/vornheim

Mostly because I always wanted to run a pen&paper rpg, even though I am fairly busy, and this provided a rule-light enough framework to just do that. Especially Vornheim, that shows how to do randomize world building in under a minute :-)

I love Dungeon World with all my heart. I'm a newbie GM as well, and it's the first game I ever ran (like a year and a half ago).

I love the philosophical approach it takes to the game --a rules-light, minimal-prep collaboration between the GM and the players. One of the core principles for the GM is "Ask questions, use the answers", which is wonderful to me. In a couple different games I ran of DW, we started with just the player's character choices, and the questions I decided to ask, and got rolling from there.

For anyone interested--the rules are free on their website, and there's a thriving G+ community, "Dungeon World Tavern" (can't link it at work) with very creative people. Also, the "Indigo Galleon" adventure, from the DW website, is my favorite, and a good place to start. It was the first thing I GM'd, and I'll be running it for a third time next Wednesday.

If anyone's looking at it and has questions, let me know --I love seeing people get into this game (or pen-and-paper RPGs in general).

Decrypting Rita, the graphic novel I've been working on since April 2011. http://egypt.urnash.com/rita/

I made a major mistake in the prepress process and had to eat it, losing all profits from the Kickstarter from the second volume. It has also gotten kind words from more than one Hugo winner. On a productive month, its Patreon is starting to pay about half of my rent; I feel like the push of publicity for the final volume (somewhere around April 2014 if all goes well) will do some pretty interesting things to my career as a comics creator, with my bills quite possibly being paid entirely by the fraction of my fan base that chooses to support me on Patreon somewhere around next winter. Assuming they don't vanish en masse when I start the next project, which will be very different in tone and subject matter...

I know you were mostly looking for books to read. But none of the fiction or non-fiction I've read this year has really done much of anything to my worldview. I think the last one that did that was probably Robert Anton Wilson's Prometheus Rising, which basically turned me into an occasional magician.

These actually took me most of 2013 and 2014 to get through:

How To See Color And Paint It - http://www.amazon.com/How-Color-Paint-Arthur-Stern/dp/082302... Taught me how to paint what I see accurately.

Secret Knowledge - http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Knowledge-New-Expanded-Rediscov... Taught me that painters have been using projection for hundreds of years so I'm allowed to use any technology I can get my hands on to make art.

Van Gogh: The Life -- http://www.amazon.com/Van-Gogh-Life-Steven-Naifeh/dp/0375758... Hated this book because the authors (two obnoxious lawyers who happen to be good at research) write about him with zero compassion like he deserved the abuse he received for being different. However, Van Gogh's story is fantastic and inspiring even if it is very tragic.

There's a whole ton of others, but those stand out.

"Impro" by Keith Johnstone. It may seem like a book on improvisational theater, but is more a collection of notes on interaction between people. Quite eye-opening and empowering. Would recommend to anyone. http://www.amazon.com/Impro-Improvisation-Theatre-Keith-John...

"How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk" - by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

This book has been life-changing with regards to my relationship with my 3-year-old.

It also changed the way I communicate with adults.


What kind of things did it change for you? I read it and didn't get that much out of it? My kids didn't seem to respond to the techniques.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Finally got around to reading it and I'm kicking myself for not doing it earlier. I'm honestly considering staying in school and going for a masters or PhD in computer science after reading it(about to graduate and have job in industry lined up).

Hofstadter is a wonderful writer and illuminates his topics with much creativity and wonderful analogy. I highly suggest you look into his more recent books, especially Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking.

He is also incredibly receptive to emails; as a first semester freshman he responded in depth to my email to him.

Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality - by Edward Frenkel http://www.amazon.com/Love-Math-Heart-Hidden-Reality/dp/0465...

Such a great book for people who love math. The end of the book gets a little bit hairy with more complex subjects but it is a great story from Mr Frenkel of going from school to working on the Langlands Project - toted as the rosetta stone for math. Defiantly a must read for anyone who wants to get into mathematics as a career

Permutation City by Greg Egan takes the cake this year in fiction. Although a very close second would be the Hardcover Penguin Classic's edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley mainly for it's deftly abridged version and preface which gave a new dimension to the story for me.

Non-fiction would either be Mortality by the late Christopher Hitchens or "On Numbers and Games" by John H. Conway.

Stoner, by John Williams

The story of an average, not very successful literary professor, told with great humanity and tenderness. This does not seem much of a story line, yet I believe this book is so good it will still be read in one hundred years.


Thank you for this. I am going to search this one out.

I tend to think that the average fiction book is less interesting that the average non-fiction book, but that the best fiction books are much, much better than the best non-fiction ones (and teach you more, and deeper things).

This one is up there with the very best. It is exquisitely well written (John Williams was a literature professor, directing a creative writing program), and despite the plainness of the plot(or maybe because of it?) it offers a remarkable view of what gives meaning to life (IMHO of course. Your millage may vary).

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Enchiridion of Epictetus

Parallel Lives by Plutarch ( Favorites are Cato the Younger and Julius Caesar)

As a dev ultimately wanting to do bigger things:

Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup by Rob Walling


As a human with a curiosity:

Decoding the Universe: How the New Science of Information Is Explaining Everything in the Cosmos, from Our Brains to Black Holes by Charles Seife


I can't recommend that first book enough. It's still the best thing I've read for bootstrappers. Sooner or later, it'll date itself, as it's got lots of practical ideas and numbers and things that don't make for a "timeless classic". But then again, you wanted to start a business rather than have a book to show off on your bookshelf, right?

The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/130610.The_Divided_Mind?...

This book helped me get rid of the wrist tendinitis I had for four years prior, in four weeks. It also changed the way I view many of the chronic physical ailments many of us face.

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1963638.The_Untethered_S...

A great book about consciousness and awareness that isn't too "froo froo"-y. It definitely has had a profound impact on my relationship to myself and my surroundings.

To Soften the Blow https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16209280-to-soften-the-b...

It's hard to define the impact this book had on me, but it was also profound. It's an autobiography of Lynnie Vessels who's father shot her mother with a shotgun across their dining room table. As depressing as that sounds, it's actually a very inspiring and strangely uplifting book.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky and the related sequences.

I also wanted to say HPMoR :) if you want to start, I'd suggest listening to the excellent podcast: http://www.hpmorpodcast.com - the first 10 episodes are slightly amateurish, but after that it's really, really well done.

I would say HPMoR is like Gödel Escher Bach, but slightly simpler and more approachable, and looks at stuff from a different angle. And Eliezer is an excellent writer, just like D. Hofstadter -- and his style is even more fun!

If you're on HN, then you'll enjoy this book immensely.

This is what I thought about posting. I've read a lot of books this year (45 books totaling 22,000 pages), the most important being: History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Silent Spring, The Feminine Mystique, The Grapes of Wrath, The Price of Inequality, The Happiness Hypothesis.

But, out of all that (which I had to go look up on my Goodreads), HPMOR is what came to mind, both an engaging story, thought provoking ideas, and a lot of pages to work with :).

What are the related sequences?

I didn't see anything related to Harry Potter there?

It's related in the sense that the book draws a lot from the sequences, and they are mentioned in it (see http://hpmor.com/chapter/64, for example.)

For me it's: quiet the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking

Fantastic book. If you are an introvert (and many here likely are) you should really consider this book an investment in understanding yourself. I can't count the number of times I was nodding my head in agreement, thinking I had been the only one to feel a certain way.

The Great Bridge is a phenomenal engineering story (and so much more). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was chilling but I'd read it again. Simply fascinating, written by a western reporter who was actually there.

I second Rise and Fall of third reich. I was fairly knoweable of the overall history but this book contains very pertinent insights to so many mechanisms at work when germany transitioned into third reich and how the war progressed. The only downside was that the author issues quite deragatory comments of the nazi subjects of the book which, while perhaps warranted, are stylistically awkward in a history book.

Inspired to do: Connected http://www.amazon.com/Connected-Surprising-Networks-Friends-...

I was utterly amazed by the concept of Social Network Analysis, how emotion travels through a network, how the 6 degrees thing works. Did you know someone you have never met can affect your weight? I was so amazed I started a company building a CRM from the ground up using graph theory. We launch in Q1 2015.

Inspired to be: The seven habits of highly effective people. A great book, which many read and sight. Forcing myself to write about my values and behaviours means you have to live up to them :) I read it once and now I am reading it again with my girlfriend actually doing all the exercises. You can read it in a week but to really take it all in you need to work on it over a lifetime. http://www.wikiwand.com/en/The_Seven_Habits_of_Highly_Effect...

Connected is on my audible that I'm planning to listen to. I'm also interested in networks, 6 degrees..etc.

May I ask how you apply what you learned from the book to your startup? I'm quite curious.

A lot of it is encapsulated in my talk at a neo4j meetup: https://skillsmatter.com/skillscasts/5179-private-social-net...

Which was a while ago (April), I'll be doing a new one soon with what we have learnt since then. My main learning is around Mark Granovetter works on "the strength of weak ties" when it comes to job hunting and recruitment. That and the concept of triadic closure are really useful when trying to build technology that maps the recruitment process from first principles.

Antifragile - This book change my ways of thinking about life. Also this year I've read Black Swan, another great book by the same author.

I was going to say Black Swan, which I would say has changed how I think about myself, knowledge and the mechanics of society and the world this year.

I've got Antifragile queued up next.

Fooled by Randomness is excellent also; they all have the same message but it's the most direct

I haven't read the Black Swan. I skimmed a few places and know a Taleb fan who has read both Fooled by Randomness and Black Swan. With moderate confidence I'd say FbR is the better book - Black Swan seems to be much of the same material presented for a wider audience. I thought FbR was excellently written, regardless of the content.

The Open Focus Brain. http://www.amazon.com/The-Open-Focus-Brain-Harnessing-Attent...

"According to Dr. Les Fehmi, a clinical psychologist and researcher, many of us have become stuck in “narrow-focus attention”: a tense, constricted, survival mode of attention that holds us in a state of chronic stress—and which lies at the root of common ailments including anxiety, depression, ADD, stress-related migraines, and more. To improve these conditions, Dr. Fehmi explains that we must learn to return to a relaxed, diffuse, and creative form of attention, which he calls 'Open Focus.'

This highly readable and empowering book offers straightforward explanations and simple exercises on how to shift into a more calm, open style of attention that reduces stress, improves health, and enhances performance."

Yes, this work should get more attention (no pun intended). I still can't believe how clear Dr. Fehmi's writings are on types of attention, particularly this Open Focus... good stuff: imagine the distance between your eyes (gets me everytime even though i've practiced different types of meditation)

I have largely been out of fiction the last few years, but in 2014, I made a point of getting back into fiction. Consequently, my 'most important' list of 2014 will be rather heavily weighted towards fiction.

1) Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

Not only the best written account of the action in World War I's trenches but also a wonderful account of race in Canada, this book is absolutely beautiful.

2) The Winds of War/War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk

If you want to learn the most minute history of WW2, this series is a great way to boost your knowledge. This not only covers the War, but also gives enough background that the rest of the 20th century's history makes more sense.

3) Deep Currents by Valerie Haig-Brown

I read this book on Vancouver Island just a few km from the Haig-Brown house and it changed my views on conservation, the pacific fisheries, and Campbell River (which is where my Dad spent his teenaged years).

* Edited because of fat fingers.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami


Hard to do it justice, but here is Patti Smith:


I changed my attitude toward all of my old friends after reading this book. I started calling them more, and trying to be more in their lives. It's amazing how centering books can be, if they catch you in the right mindset. I'll pass on a warning that this book deals with some heavy, serious depression.

I also came here to share Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki.

I can't recommend it enough.

I'm a huge Murakami fan. Did not had the chance to read it. I'll now.

Blindsight. (Spoiler alert!) Not because it's a great fiction story (it is), but because it introduced me to the concept of Unconscious Intelligence. We take it for granted that "sleeping on a problem" or "going for a walk" can lead us to great ideas and breakthroughs. That's great, ideas do just pop into the mind. But... what created those ideas?

This might be the key to explaining a lot of things. For instance, I read a terrible book about why RSI isn't real, how it's just in my head, by an author that loved Freud. I put it down in disgust. But somehow, that seed of doubt, that explanation that RSI was an unconscious response to other pain... My RSI went away.

(Apologies if this is well known, but it is a novel enough to this 33 yr old that it sends chills down my spine.)

There is quite a few books by that title, are you talking of the Peter Watts book?

For me it was 1.Influence: http://www.amazon.com/Influence-Psychology-Persuasion-Robert... It talks about how the brain has certain preprogrammed sequences for situations. 2.Predictably Irrational http://www.amazon.com/Predictably-Irrational-Hidden-Forces-D... Again about the hidden mechanisms with which we make decisions and our reptile brain.

Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West - Cormac McCarthy

Not sure I can explain in an HN post...

Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller. To be honest, I re-read it, but it had a much more significant impact the second time (I originally considered it to be weaker than "Black Spring" and "Tropic of Cancer", but this time round, due to certain personal circumstances, it resonated with me in a very powerful way – his ruminations concerning compassion, interacting with other people, the meaning and value of work and creativity). nfortunately, the only new book I read this year was "The Great Mortality", a pretty interesting but a tad too un-academic account of the Black Plague in Europe. Hopefully, I'll have a lot more time to read in 2015.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande


A progression of books on high altitude climbing. Have read Into thin air, the climb, dark summit in the past month or two, currently reading no way down and have Annapurna: The first conquest of a 8000m peak and The will to climb out from the library.

Reason, finally have the motivation to loose weight and get fit, and am planing to do some climbing locally.

http://www.amazon.com/Into-Thin-Air-Personal-Disaster/dp/038... http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Summit-Everests-Controversial-Sea... http://www.amazon.com/No-Way-Down-Life-Death/dp/0061834793/r... http://www.amazon.com/Annapurna-First-Conquest-000-Meter-Pea... http://www.amazon.com/The-Will-Climb-Commitment-Annapurna/dp...

I'd recommend The Happiness Advantage. Really changed my outlook on life for the positive.

Author also did a TED talk on the subject called "The Happy Secret To Better Work".



Limits to Growth - the 30 year update


An introduction to systems theory and a look at why the authors think our system is already in "overshoot" (living beyond what is sustainable) and whether this will lead to collapse, or a smoother transition to a more sustainable and equitable society. Written by 3 scientists from MIT.

A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Conflict_of_Visions http://www.amazon.com/Conflict-Visions-Ideological-Political...

Really good read, though a bit longish. But that could be due to the fact that I listened to an audio-book of it.

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20203/20203-h/20203-h.htm

Franklin was the equivalent of an open source purist. He was determined to uncover truth, better himself, and inform the world.

"I had form'd most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which was called the Junto;… every member, in his turn, should produce ... queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss'd by the company;”

Hacker News might benefit from Junto policy, making members pay money for encouraging and destructive comments that are not in the spirit of inquiry.

"Our debates were ... conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute, or desire of victory; and, to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties."

Discussion in his Junto meetings led to volunteer fire departments, America’s first circulating library, and a school that became the Univ. of Pennsylvania. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junto_(club)

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

If you want to harness your own habitual behavior you should check out Minihabits. Using some of the techniques in the book got me writing every day


Just looking through my read category on my kindle and realised I haven't read any life changing books in 2014.

Currently reading Javascript and Jquery by Jon Duckett and find his visual style and clear, concise writing perfectly fits how I learn. Could not recommend it enough to any other programming learners.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi is a very simple, straightforward book on personal finance. He advocates having your money automatically distributed into fixed costs, investments and spending money rather than getting bogged down in budgets.

An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson is the first in a trilogy that chronicles America's entrance into World War II in North Africa, all the way to the downfall of the Third Reich. His style is both minutely researched and totally readable. He nails the violence and horror at the front, as well as the incredible scale and logistics of the whole enterprise. I'm now on the second in the trilogy, The Day of Battle.

Last year Thinking Fast and Slow and Antifragile were my highlights - they compliment each other well and both changed my outlook on how the world is organised and how I perceive it.

Thanks to all the other posters, I've added lots of the suggested books to my kindle.

"The Score Takes Care of Itself" by Bill Walsh: http://www.amazon.com/The-Score-Takes-Care-Itself/dp/1591843...

Jack Dorsey recommended this title at Startup School 2013 and I got around to reading it in 2014. It's also one of the readings for YC's "How to Start a Startup" class: http://startupclass.samaltman.com/lists/readings/

I didn't think the leadership notes from a highly successful NFL (American professional football) coach would have much application in the world of technology, but Walsh's insights and discipline can be applied to many different fields. It's changed the way I work as I lead teams and I realize I have a lot more to learn and apply in my day-to-day duties.

"The Score Takes Care of Itself" does get a bit behind-the-scenes in the football world, but if the reader is willing to get past those parts, or better, learn the lessons in some of the stories, there is a lot to be gained.

Oh jeez, this'll be tough. I'll start by saying that Tom Robbins "Still Life with Woodpecker" inspired me in the post-undergraduate world greatly.


Leaving college with such powerful to convictions of social evolution, scientific pragmatism, and the power of Art as a mental practice left me with some hard facets of reality to contend with. This is the struggle of one of the the main characters, Leigh-Cheri. She is a wide eyed idealist who is thoroughly disenfranchised with the way the systems in the world abuse and exploit people.

She meets a mad-bomber outlaw named Woodpecker, a revolutionary with bordering mythical aspirations. Their affair is a wild journey of growth as characters and citizens, not of a royal bloodline or America, but of Earth and the ideas, and actions, which make this world a vibrantly beautiful place. Most important book of the year for me, with close runners up:

"The Nature of Code" by Daniel Shiffman. Excellent book on simulation of the natural, chaotic world in the Processing programming language. http://natureofcode.com/book/

"Nine Kinds of Naked" by Tony Vigorito, which deals with the primacy of synchronicity and numeric harmony in the lives of twirling, interrelated characters. http://www.amazon.com/Nine-Kinds-Naked-Tony-Vigorito/dp/0156...

Good reads everyone!

Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, by Jonathan Rauch (http://www.amazon.com/Kindly-Inquisitors-Attacks-Thought-Exp...)

I picked this book up shortly after the Brendan Eich incident earlier this year. This book was written over 20 years ago but it could very well have been written yesterday. It lays out an excellent argument about why all free speech, even hateful speech, much be unrestricted. It's also very good at rebutting what Rauch calls the "humanitarian" attack on free speech, which seems to be the preferred method of attack in the last few years (in Western countries anyway). Perhaps saying that it "changed my life" is an overstatement as I've always held the belief that unrestricted free speech is the ultimate freedom, but it's allowed me to express exactly why I believe that way.

Antifragile or The Obstacle Is The Way - are probably the most influential

The Book - Alan Watts http://www.amazon.com/The-Book-Taboo-Against-Knowing/dp/0679...

I sometimes get stuck in a loop of existential questions, and even though I still do, that book taught me how to deal with them better.

Shop Class As Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford completely changed and focused how I think about work and mental healthy.

The Accidental Creative and Die Empty by Todd Henry provide excellent tools and background for adding practical discipline to creative work and life in general. As of now I can't prioritize one over the other. Either or both are well worth the time invested.

Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton takes a critical look at how charitable giving and service are done by the modern church and provides a better plan distilled from decades of experience helping troubled neighborhoods in Atlanta.

The Permanent Portfolio by Rowland and Lawson preaches Harry Browne's Permanent Portfolio but fills in all the implementation gaps left in Harry's rather thin original.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. This classic on what Christians believe cuts as deep today as it did in Lewis's day.

"Lord of the Rings" by Tolkien. Tried to read it for years, but always got distracted by other books (e.g. "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" by Richard Rhodes - found in a HN). Lo! This year, after I purchased a e-book version I finally concluded the quest and cast the ... I mean I read it.

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. The story gradually unfurls itself from the first few pages and new layers are constantly being added. It was written a few years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki but seems even more relevant today. It's very short and can be read in a single sitting if one is determined.

I didn't have any life changers, but I throughly enjoyed The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Horowitz. I've been turned off by the soft and cuddly management book industry because it only focuses on the bright side. Real work is hard and dirty, and Horowitz captured it.

When my company was faced with a sudden 40% drop in revenue I saw a way to make a turnaround in "from worst to first" by Gordon Bethune, a book about a $400m turnaround done in 12 months : http://www.amazon.com/From-Worst-First-Continentals-Remarkab...

After getting out on top after my turnaround, Simon Sinek's "Start with why" helped me figure out why I am running my business the way I am, and how I can use that to do even better : http://www.amazon.com/Start-Why-Leaders-Inspire-Everyone/dp/...

Spark, by John J. Ratey, one of the pioneers of studying ADHD and the impact of exercise on the brain.


Work - The Hard Things about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. I'm not a startup founder, but I've been in a couple startups. It's really easy to say what the founders should have done (especially in hindsight). This book helped me understand the burden a bit more.

Not Work - River of Time by Jon Swain. It's about Vietnam & Cambodia, and really reminds me to put things in perspective. Change the location from those countries to Syria & Iraq, that's effectively whats going on today. It boggles my mind to think we're here debating container technology and js frameworks when people are dieing in droves around the world. It's cliche, but if you seriously think about it, it's hard to reconcile.

If it's any consolation (probably not), per capita fewer people are dying due to warfare than at any time in human history. To further reduce conflict and death, consider the fact that no democratic nation has ever attacked another.

Pulse: Understanding the Vital Signs of Your Business

This is a great book for anyone running a bootstrapped business. It is based on the Corelytics software product, which is a financial analysis tool that syncs with Quickbooks to provide trendline, progress against goals, and other real time financial metrics for startups. This gives you a view of where things are headed rather than a "too late" picture in your financials.


The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win


Functional Programming in Scala: I would say that this changed my professional life.

This book covers lot's of FP concepts in a very simple way, and I bet that anyone that struggles daily with hard-to-maintain OO projects would fall in love with it FP.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North - Richard Flanagan

I've been negligent towards fiction lately, but I wanted to change that because it's always been my first love. So to do that, I started reading Flanagan's novel. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It's the Man Booker Prize winner for 2014, which is more or less the British equivalent to the Pulitzer Prize.

I never thought I'd have any books that could crack into my top 3 or 5 for a while, but this one has done it.

The basis of the book is Australian POWs working on the Death Railway during WWII. The book isn't exclusively told in this setting, but much of the book stems from it.

Mastery - Robert Greene

Gives you a guide on how to attain a level of mastery in a domain of knowledge.

An unusually thought-provoking book that's impacted my approach to work & daily habits this year-- The Way of The SEAL, by Mark Divine > http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17465530-the-way-of-seal

If you read nothing else, Chapter 2: Develop Front-Sight Focus. Solid, practical advice on directing the win in your mind. Here's a good interview with the author> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_bDMEUF7F8

Programming related: Perl cookbook (helped me to setup my first online business and do what i do today)

Life related: The Power of Habit (didn't skip a single day at gym for 3 months non stop because of what i learned from this book)

I looked up "The Power of Habit" and came away with a few books, which one are you referring to?

Presumably the one by Charles Duhigg [1]. It was very popular last year.

[1]: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Power-Habit-What-Change/dp/18479...

Thinking Fast and Slow

Thinking in Systems - Donella H. Meadows, Diana Wright


I just finished The Art Of Profitability and it would be a strong contender for my choice as well. Probably the only reason it isn't a shoe in, is because I haven't really had time to try putting the ideas into practice yet.

Edward DeBono! I love him! Alan kay listed a couple of his books on his recommended reading list: http://www.squeakland.org/resources/books/readingList.jsp

If you want to watch a good video version of the book, watch his PBS special: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFFZ0XSfCRw&list=PL_N6UbeInh...

Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

Interested in knowing how this changed your life. I have a two year old that loves this story, but can't think of a way it has changed my life.

The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are Alan Watts http://www.amazon.com/The-Book-Taboo-Against-Knowing/dp/0679...

It has been a while since a book from even 10 pages in breaks my model of reality a bit.

Just saying "I have a body" as a separation, instead of "I /am/ body" etc.

Very interesting, fun (witty) succinct.

Its my first Alan Watts book, so that could be part of why it hit me nicely.

Wonderful book. Try "The Wisdom of Insecurity" next. And to anyone considering either of these, I think TWoI is a slightly better intro to Watts' work.

I've re-read How To Be A Programmer ( http://samizdat.mines.edu/howto/HowToBeAProgrammer.html ) every year since it came out. It's been over a decade but every year it makes me a better programmer, something I can't say about any other writing on programming. I don't think it's ever been published as a book but its structure and length basically makes it one I feel.

[plug] We made our site http://favoriteof.com - exactly for this! To figure out what to read next based on recommendations by celebrities (Executives, politicians, actors). For example check out recommendations by Richard Branson, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg here: http://favoriteof.com/entrepreneurs/books/

Looking forward to feedback, and requests!

Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy by Bill Janeway blew my mind.

It's a tough read, because it assumes a lot of prior knowledge of academic econ and finance. Also, what I would regard as lackluster editing makes comprehension a challenge beyond that. But the content is one of the best descriptions of our economic system, steeped in historical analysis, and finishing with some strong advice on how to address the public vs private enterprise dilemma to address the challenges of tomorrow.

‘The Circle’ written by David Eggers and published this year, is a modern day twist on 1984 but it seemed so real and so close to where we are heading as a digital society. I recommend it, especially for those in the tech space. It was a fun fictional page turner and I couldn’t put it down for the week. http://www.amazon.com/The-Circle-Dave-Eggers/dp/0345807294

It's not a published book but this year I took on Unqualified Reservations seriously and found it a rewarding read. There is a lot to it, some material more morally objectionable than other, but the main effect of reading it for me was something I would not have thought possible. It opened my mind to alternatives to democracy and questions like whether democratic representation is even in the best interest of the governed.

Two books that aren't mentioned, surprisingly, are:

The Power of Now - Eckhart Tolle

The Four Agreements - Don Miguel Ruiz

In my humble opinion, these two books alone, have the ability to change one's life.

Eckhart Tolle was a quite divisive author for me. On the other hand he had very usefull visualizations on the nature of pain that were really valuable to me in difficult times.

The painbody visualization was especially therapeutic to me and helped me to cope in better ways than I would have otherwise.

But on the other hand I find most of his philosophy just bonkers.

The book is bit like "drawing on the right side of the brain" - great exercises wrapped in non value adding chaff.

I absolutely loathed The Power of Now. However I enjoyed Waking Up by Sam Harris that seems to offer a similar message but without all the mumbo jumbo.

The Power of Now is at the top, for me.

I'll also mention Vagabonding by Rolf Potts -- a great book that's as much about travel as about life.

Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders. Its basically a collection of Buffett's annual reports from 1970 to 2012.

If you invest money directly in the stock market, you must read it. It will teach you investing, accounting, economics, human behavior in a simple words.


The 4-hour-body changed my life. It changed how I look, how I eat, my health, my self esteem/confidence, my mood. I am a completely different person now.

Which parts helped you the most? I didn't get a whole lot from it.

I've always been overweight, and struggled with it. I was unhealthy physically and I think it made me unhealthy mentally in some ways as well. I've always been the geek kind of guy, wasn't much into sports and had no idea how to take care of my own body. And this book made it all clear to me.

Mostly related to mind/happiness/consciousness.

+ Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion - Sam Harris

+ Free Will - Sam Harris

+ Mindfulness in Plain English - Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

Choose Yourself by James Altucher: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CO8D3G4

Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It by Kamal Ravikant: http://www.amazon.com/Love-Yourself-Like-Your-Depends-ebook/...


As a non-physisist I always wanted to understand relativity at least to some basic degree. This book was an eye opener...

"Superintelligence" by Nick Bostrom was the most interesting book I read this year. It provides a comprehensive but accessible summary of the research on the ethics and security aspects of prospective general artificial intelligence.

If you have ever enjoyed reading the Lesswrong wiki or any of the readings from MIRI/SIAI, this book provides a really great summary.

For me it was "What's Best Next" by Matt Perman.

Refreshing take on productivity, very similar to Getting Things Done and co., however this time tackled from a distinctly Christian perspective, so it may not be for everyone. I enjoyed how he laid a foundation of motivation before he gave a bunch of practical thoughts on how to structure tasks, goals, and so on.

Greg Caporaso's Introduction to Applied Bioinformatics. Suddenly saw a huge new way to think about code, especially python, and an accessible path to deep, sound thinking about bioinformatics.


The Beach - Alex Garland ...I'm 42 now, but read this in my late twenties. If you are 18-32 this book will save your life.

The Millionaire Fastlane: Crack the Code to Wealth and Live Rich for a Lifetime - MJ DeMarco


The title sounds cheesy, but it's a really good book in reality.

The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker.

It's about how death shapes life and human society. Completely changed how I view life and the world around me. Also launched me on a path that's resulted in me successfully combating depression and anxiety (and no, it's not a self-help book). It's a fascinating read.

Audiobook: Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry, by Albert Bernstein

Book #1 (Recommended by someone here on HN!) The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

Book #2 Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh

No BS guide to liner algebra --- I'm the author --- in writing about this subject, I had to (re)learn all the details. It is truly a beautiful subject with lots of applications. I recommend anyone interested in math to look into linear algebra as it is the best stepping stone into advanced math.

It's not a new book, but Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh has had a great impact on me.

Fun and easy to read book too. :)

Disciplined Minds by Jeff Schmidt

"Zero to One" by Peter Thiel

I'd second this, though it's from a small sample -- haven't had time to read very many non-fiction books this year.

Not only was it clear and inspiring, but it was also a little vindicating. I've believed for many years that we entered some kind of minor dark age around 1970, and it was great to hear someone else put forward the same idea.

For me, the most useful book this year was Mindset by Carol Dweck. Simply amazing and mind-blowing.


Life and Fate - Vasily Grossman

Russian epic following multiple characters through WW2.

It shows how serious, good people can have very different and legitimate views on life; It characterises some eternal types of criminal or charlatan. It reminds you about fate and about how lucky we are now.

Many think of it like "War and Peace" of 20th century.

'Outliers' [1], by Malcolm Gladwell, was the last book which changed the way I look on the world around me

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outliers_%28book%29

Highly recommended

The Age of Miracles: A novel, Karen Thompson Walker - ever wonder how will homo sapiens survive?

Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman - taught me how to make better decisions

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath - improved my ability to persuade.

I only just finished Amanda Palmer's "The Art of Asking" (read by the author), but I already find it invaluable.

If you're an aspiring freelancer or working on creative projects of your own, in particular, then her story has a lot for you.

Oh, thank you, I was looking for a book like that.

The Fifth Discipline (Senge)

As a systems architect struggling with Conway's Law, this has helped me understand systems-of-people better and given me some simple ways to think about interactions in a more abstract fashion.

I don't know that any one book exactly changed my life, but a handfull of titles do stand out in my mind.

Zero To One by Peter Thiel

The Art Of Profitability by Adrian Slywotzky

The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

These three works have influenced me. These are writings of very creative people and I read them to understand their creative process.

1. Nikola Tesla's autobiography:


2. Swami Vivekananda's complete works: http://www.mystacki.com/#!/binder/45/swami-vivakananda

3. David Bohm on creativity: http://www.amazon.com/Creativity-Routledge-Classics-David-Bo...

I have been reading these three authors for many years, over and over again. In his autobiography, Tesla brings forth many exciting things about his creative process. He could prototype complete machines in his mind before building them. In his mind he could run tests, even see scars and blemishes on his machines. In my coding, I (feebly) try to emulate his method by trying to visualize my coding prototype in my mind. His short autobiography reads like that of a mystic. In there he describes how the idea of AC current came to him, while taking a walk and looking into the Sun. Philosophically, everything in life alternates: the pairs of opposites, ebb and flow-- its seems to be the code of life; and AC current does the same, it alternates. His writings on Electricity are against the established grain: for him electricity (his only love) is the current of life. There cannot be two electricities(positive and negative,) he says, these are only terms for the state of having more or less of the same thing.

David Bohm has important things to say about the creative process. He talks about completeness (wholeness) of thought. He talks about "mental models" that we create to understand reality and how we keep growing out of older models... newtonian physics gives way to relativity etc.

Swami Vivekananda was a contemporary of Tesla and they did actually meet. He was a scholar of the Indian philosophy system called Advaita and Sankhya. As Jung has said about archetypes -- same thoughts occur to people of all ages, the Sankhya philosophy system believed in the equivalence of matter and energy. Vivekananda introduced these ideas to Tesla and expected him to prove them. But the proof came ten years later with Einstein. I have written about this here: http://www.mystacki.com/#!/post/132/vivakanand's-meeting-wit...

1. Body by Science - changed my view about exercising. HIIT for 12 minutes a week seems more doable and fun for a busy life. And it actually works.

2. Mini Habits - the only routine building method that worked for me.

> Body by Science

It's interesting - Body by Science apparently advocates the use of Nautilus machines. This is the polar opposite of that recommended in Starting Strength, which several others in this thread have recommended.

The Time Ships, by Stephen Baxter

The depth of his exploration of the human condition through the continuation of H.G. Wells' classic just floored me. My jaw was dropped practically from page one.

Not in 2014, but I think they are worth reading:

Brad Cox: Superdistribution: Objects as Property on the Electronic Frontier

Brad Cox: Object-Oriented Programming: An Evolutionary Approach

Jason Brennan: Why Not Capitalism?

Leo Brodie: Thinking Forth

Not yet released, but I got to read a preprint of The End of Error: Unum Computing by John L. Gustafson.

There are some slides of his online which introduce the concept of Unums.

It's Steal Like an Artist for me by Austin Kleon. It's such a quick read perfect for my short attention span. It packs so much advice without the fluff.

The Brothers Karamazov

Not really a book but the following post was very insightful, I go back to it frequently


Steal like an Artist by Austin Kleon for me. It's a quick read perfect for my short attention span. It packs a lot of practical advice without the fluff.

http://www.amazon.com/Longing-Know-Esther-Lightcap-Meek/dp/1... Longing To Know - Esther Lightcap Meek

For years I've been stuck with questions like "What does it mean to know?", "What is truth?", "How can I hold an opinion?" and "How can I say what I think is as valid as what somebody else thinks?".

This book does a great job of untangling what it means to know, the limitations of knowing, and doesn't duck the difficult questions.

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