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Ask HN: Please name two of your most favorite books.
105 points by vips 2988 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 227 comments
Mine are Pixar Touch and IWOZ

The Story of Civilization; 11 volumes of pure joy. Will and Ariel Durant will make you fall in love with mankind. The most humanist take on history I have read. I read them over 6 years and I still live under the Durants' spell. Exquisite and delightful read.

Muqadimat Ibn Khaldun. History, Sociology, Political Science, Scientific Empiricism, Theology, Superstition, Gossip, Leadership, Trivia .. it's everything. It feels like a collaboration between the Grim brothers, Karl Marx, Douglas Adams and Plato. People well versed in Islamic history will get the most out of it. It's a book written by a scientist for a religious and superstitious audience. You can see him walk the fine line, appeasing his princely sponsors while speaking his mind. It's full of code-language written for a better enlightened generation while accommodating the religious and cultural beliefs of his era. Read his biography and you should see bits and pieces of Rousseau; a hypocritical, pan-handling snob who makes his living saying one thing, and living his life doing another .. while still being a fucking genius :-D

Muqadimat Ibn Khaldun. You make this book seem very interesting. Based on your description and explanation of it, I think many people from outside the Islamic culture might find this book fascinating (buy a copy) if it came with a running dialog inserted into the text as needed that explained the history and cultural beliefs of that time. Might be a best seller in the west.

The unequaled Franz Rosenthal did a translation of the Muqadima (Prolegomena in Greek) in English:


My copy of it is Arabic but heavily annotated by researchers. A translation of that would be great, I know.

Short bio:


Longer bio (PDF):


N.B: This is a medieval personality and the text is ancient. Please read it under that light. He lived 1332 - 1406 CE.

Interesting cultural material, thank you.

Albert Hourani's History of the Arab Peoples cites Ibn Khaldun and covers much the same territory of Islamic history. A read I would highly recomment to anyone.

you should probably try guns germs and steel by jared diamond, it also is a different way to look at history and how and why it has spanned the way it has over different geographies.

I only read technical and business material, I love this type of stuff.

1. The Windows 3.1 manual. A hardcopy in a small grey ring binder that shipped with the operating system when I bought it new. I read it cover to cover to cover 3 times because I wanted to know everything about it. I kept thinking this is a lot like UNIX but nicer to use except for the fact that it had less features than UNIX. Every time I re-read the manual I would think of new things I wished it would do! Which lead me to examine--every--file in the operating system looking for a way to make it better, until Windows 95 came out, lol.

2. EMC Retrospect for Windows Users Guide. I read it cover to cover twice (it’s a 300 page pdf). It is my absolute favorite. If you ever want to learn about backup, this is a great read. Pure tech stuff, no fluff. Here is link if anyone is interested, it’s free: http://www.retrospect.com/assets/en_rug_win75.pdf

Seriously hardcore

'Elements of Style', Strunk & White.

It has changed my life. For the last two years I have endeavoured to simplify my thoughts/ideas, so they can be communicated precisely. It's hard, painful work.

That aim has recoloured my being: music; literature; art. Philip Glass. Hemingway. Mondrian.

I am not the same person.

Elements of Style, is well written and thoughtful, but it should not be taken as an prescriptive authority - as it commonly is - on grammatical minutiae. Or in other words Strunk & White, a.k.a Drunken Shite (only when discussing grammar rules!!).

Exactly. Regarding the "passive voice" see Victims of Page 18:


For a rant on language, that's amazingly unreadable.

Francis from Francis and the Lights actually cites this book as his main musical influence.

House of Leaves - What literature should be. Innovative both in design and in prose. It's very long but you can finish it in a maddening evening, it's hilarious, it's terrifying. Along with Steven King's It, one of two books to give me nightmares. Incredibly complex. It's a puzzle I still haven't fully solved. I consider it the first modern-era novel, and expect others will come like it. When I wrote a novel a year and a half ago, its design was my greatest inspiration.

Finnegans Wake - This book can't be explained until you've seen it. The pinnacle of the English language.

Unalone's enjoyment of Finnegans Wake notwithstanding, deciphering the footnotes and expository ultimately doesn't have the upside that learning the English of Shakespeare and Chaucer do.

I'd suggest readers try Joyce's wonderful short stories, then making an assault on Ulysses. Nabokov, a Joyce admirer, called Wake, "that petrified superpun."

Beckett, on the other hand, who was Nabakov's moral and intellectual superior, developed his style as an antithesis to Finnegans Wake and cited it as his greatest inspiration.

Ulysses is similarly a masterpiece, but if I could only pick one it would be the Wake. It's a testament to the power of language. I've always seen Lolita as a lesser Wake, actually. It does nothing as original or quite as beautiful, though it comes close with its opening passage.

Also great fun to read on crowded trains here in japan - a lot of curious stares when you have to start turning the book sideways and upside down to read it :)

I would argue that Stephen King's 'It' should also have the status of a great novel.

One French critic wrote of 'It':

«Ça» fonctionne parce que «Ça» fait peur. Pendant plus de mille pages – Jean-Pierre Dufreigne, L'Express

Translation: 'It' works because "It" scares. Throughout over one thousand pages.

How wrong can a critic be?

Yes the horror element is great but it's not why 'It' works at all, not for me anyway. For me 'It' works because of its insights into human nature – it's use of fantasy to look unflinchingly at human nature at it's worst and it's most beautiful, to do justice to a world that is full of both evil and goodness, because every story overlaps with other stories overlapping with other stories, just like real life, because it's a morally uncompromising book which presents no hard and fast rules of morality, because it portrays children and childhood accurately, because it shows us a world where abuse, neglect and apathy are rife, come in many forms, and can be perpetrated by people for all kinds of reasons, sometimes wilfully, sometimes from neediness, sometimes from a self-deluded sense of righteousness, sometimes from lack of knowing anything better. Because it also writes about the power of love and the deep bonds people share without a shred of sentimentality. Because it's a fantasy, and yet it shows our world perhaps more accurately than any story I've ever read, watched or heard.

I particularly loved the theme of standing up to oppressors. Many stories have this element, but 'It' is so true to reality that the standing-up is more inspiring and powerful than in other works. Typically however, King has the wisdom to have a side-plot which shows how standing up to oppressors can go wrong, by way of brutal vigilantism and bloody revenge. It's this steadfast refusal to accept clichés and black-and-white worldviews of any kind which I particularly appreciate in King.

I don't know, maybe the best thing about it is that makes a giant telepathic space turtle seem like a perfectly plausible part of a novel characterized by gritty realism.

My second, not entirely unrelated, nomination is 'Psychology is About People' by HJ Eysenck. This is half a century old so I am sure there are now many better books saying much the same thing. But for me it was the culmination of a train of thought, which started when I came across the quote "wisest is she who knows she does not know" in Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World , which made me realize how little I know and how important it is to identify and question my own assumptions.

Psychology is About People is an attack on fuzzy thinking in the fields of public policy-making, social science and, above all, psychology (Eysenck was himself a psychologist). He demonstrates that pyschotherapy, at least in his time, was little more than storytelling which, when held up to the hard light of the experimental method, was almost always proven false. Likewise, he attacks governments for basing their social policies on similarly unexamined assumptions. These fields, especially psychology have all come a long way since Eysenck's time but it's still very easy to spot the kind of fuzzy thinking and refusal-to-question-assumptions everywhere you look.

I disagree with Eysenk in some of the conclusions he makes from his own research, but I think his general approach to knowledge and truth is fantastic. It certainly changed the way I think and has effected in me a permanent distaste for 'meta-narratives' of all kinds.

- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

- Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy

I bought Hackers thinking it was about crackers (which my 16 year old script kiddie self was very interested in) but ended up reading it cover to cover and it helped me realize that real programming and hacking was much cooler than cracking some system ever would be.

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

The Man Who was Thursday by GK Chesterton....very well written allegorical spy novel.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas... I'm a sucker for a good plot and this has always been a favorite of mine since I first read it in 5th grade.

Shogun, James Clavell - read it when I was 9 or so, put me on the course to live and work in Japan. Has obvious faults but changed my life at an early age.

The Brother's Karamazov. Pleasantly surprised to see Dostoyevsky mentioned a few times in other comments.

It's hard to name only two. I'll choose two that deserve to be more famous than they are, in my opinion.

Helen DeWitt's _The Last Samurai_ (no relation to the Tom Cruise movie) is the best novel I've read in years, a brilliant tale of an absurdly precocious childhood, with several more rich tales of their own value nested inside. Anyone who finds curiosity and love of knowledge one of their defining qualities should read this book.

Vikram Seth's _The Golden Gate_ is a smart, funny and moving novel set in the Silicon Valley of the early 80ies. Astonishingly, it's written in verse, in the rhyme scheme of the classic Russian masterpiece _Eugene Onegin_ by Pushkin, which Seth read in translation and loved so much he decided to write a modern American novel in verse. His execution of this unorthodox idea is terrific.

Siddhartha -- Hermann Hesse

Dragons Of Eden -- Carl Sagan

I would Second ANYTHING by Hesse, not got round to a thorough read of Siddhartha yet, but Damien is most excellent and The Glass Bead Games is a revelation for anyone who feels there is something just a little bit ill with the mind and motion of our modern age.

Oh, and something along the lines of The Neverending Story (The Silmarillion/LotR), because it's something to lose yourself in with kids and doesn't even have to be read.

Sagan wins you a cookie.

Ok I read a lot so I will just give you my favourite authors just in case someone is looking for new writers to explore. I have read the majority of books written by each of the ones below, and really cannot choose a favourite. So here they are:

sci fi: PK Dick, Stanislaw Lem, Vonnegut (some of Bradburry's work may join this group but be careful not all of his stuff is brilliant)

crime: raymond chandler, dashiel hammett

russian lang lit: dostoevsky, bulgakov

english lang lit: vladimir nabakov, joseph heller, evelyn waugh, joseph conrad

All of the above writers are absolutely brilliant and you will not be wasting your time picking up any of their books (except for bradbury, make sure you only get martian chronicles or farenheit 451).

Fiction: I am fan of The Fountainhead, though I still have fond memories of The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe from when I was younger.

Nonfiction: So many good ones, but I think Surely your joking, Mr. Feynman! is probably the top.

"Cat's Cradle" Kurt Vonnegut "Frankenstein" Mary Shelley

Everytime I read a very good fiction book (or series) like Asimov's Foundation, Simmons' Hyperion Cantos or (currently reading) Stephenson's Cryptonomicon I think 'hey, this one is going to be my favorite'.

Whoa. I just finished Cryptonomicon and am currently on Hyperion.


The Prize - Daniel Yergin. Siddhartha - Herman Hesse

The first is a fantastic history of oil. It brings out the politics, economics and personalities that have lit up the history of oil very well. Especially relevant in this day and age, when oil is behind so many geo-political conflicts.

The second is a bit more personal. I could write an entire essay about this book, but suffice it to say that it was exactly the right book at the right time for me. Sometimes, a book just comes along and changes your perspective and way of thinking. This was one of those books for me.

Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan - Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The (Mis)behavior of Markets - Benoit Mandelbrot

The Stuff of Thought - Steven Pinker

The Logic of Scientific Discovery - Karl Popper

The Four Steps to Epiphany - Steven G. Blank

Godel, Escher, Bach - Douglas Hofstadter

Fiasco - Stanislaw Lem

When I was in grad school I noticed that Gödel, Escher, Bach was the book about mathematics that non-mathematicians had on their coffee table. The one that the mathematicians had was The Mathematical Experience.

If I had to name only one other book, for this audience I'd have to go with Code Complete.

Been wanting to read "Godel ..." for years. Care to elaborate a bit on why it's a favorite?

I first read it years ago, 1979 or 1980. It was the first time I ever thought about how math related to music, art and nature. I had never heard of recursion or self-reference, never programmed a machine to do anything, never thought about how it could be done, or why I might want to do it.

So the book opened up new worlds for me. It changed the way I think.

How do you think you'd rate it today, already knowing about all those things? It's sitting on my table in my to read stack but I haven't managed to get to it yet.

My (potentially unpopular) feeling about GEB is that it's a book that explores some very interesting areas but that doesn't say all that much of interest itself. Reading it I felt like different sections could be put into two categories: (good and somewhat romantic) exposition about something interesting, and observations that seem profound until you think about them and realize that they're stupid (e.g. Hofstadter spends some time discussing how a Bach piece that ends up one semitone higher than it starts [and can therefore be repeated to form an infinite ascension] embodies self-referentiality and that this is the critical component of self-awareness, and that therefore the two are connected; of course, this is all just more-or-less meaningless fluff).

So I'd say skip it.

I have to agree. I found the dialouges mind numbing.

Yeah - I much preferred "The Emperors New Mind" Which covers many of the same themes without the pretentiousness.

Yeah - I much preferred "The Emperors New Mind" Which covers many of the same themes without the pretentiousness.

To give an alternate opinion. You should read through the first dialogue and the following chapter, then decide for yourself. Maybe skip ahead a bit. I read half of it sitting in a library when I didn't really have time to read it, it presented ideas I hadn't thought before. I hadn't heard of figure and ground, at least not generalized, so I enjoyed noticing that my conversations jumped around the subject rather than being on the subject. I also hadn't heard about recursion before, so...

If the writing engages you then you and presents interesting ideas, to you, in a non-obvious way, then it is worth reading.

"This sentence is a lie"

That pretty much sums it up.

>Been wanting to read "Godel ..." for years... Me too. I have the book but every time I try to read it I go to sleep. (May be I just get in an infinite loop)

My Family and Other Animals

Medieval Technology and Social Change

Recommendation from me: Have your child read a Gerald Durrell book (My Family and Other Animals is one of his best) when they are 12-15. It will be a fantastic read and will make them dream about pursuing something of their own, most likely animals at first, but other things later.

Not so sure HN type adults will enjoy Gerald Durrell as much :).

'Civilisation ~Kenneth Clark' comes #3 or later?

The OP shrewdly asked for two of your favorite books. Had it asked for #1 and #2, I for one couldn't have replied. A sort requires an ordering function, which is a category error here.

Ah! Got it now.

Two good books I read recently:

1) Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos by Michio Kaku

2) The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (I haven't read Atlas Shrugged yet. So cannot compare them.)

Yesterday I finished Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and it is a very good book too.

Currently reading: What They Teach you at Harvard Business School: My Two Years Inside the Cauldron of Capitalism by Philip Delves Broughton

Lately I've been staring at the Codex Seriphinianus quite a bit. Worth finding a copy if you haven't seen it before.

From a technical point of view, The Elements of Statistical Learning, by Tibshirani, Friedman, and Hastie. Far and away the most illuminating demonstration that so many ML / AI techniques have a long-standing statistical foundation, and, essentially, everything boils down to the linear model.

1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

And, sorry, but I have 3 "number 1 fav" books:

1. 1984 by George Orwell

Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Um, awesome!!?! What kind of hacking do you do?

I listed six here: http://jseliger.com/top-five-books :

These books are worth reading immediately:

1. Lord of the Rings 2. All the King’s Men 3. High Fidelity 4. Get Shorty 5. Cryptonomicon 6. Almost anything by Robertson Davies, though I recommend starting with The Deptford Trilogy and skipping The Salterton Trilogy

The Fabric of the Cosmos - Brian Greene. The mind boggling science of the very big and very small laced with small doses of humor and philosophy.

The Power of Now - Eckhart Tolle. I haven't ever read a single other new age book in my life but this one really changed me. I feel consistently happier and more peaceful since reading it more than a year ago. YMMV.

I don't have any favorites, but the books I've read the most are "Notes from the Underground" and Walden. The last time I read Walden I didn't enjoy it much, so maybe I shouldn't mention it...

The first should be read by everyone though http://www.gutenberg.org/files/600/600.txt

1. The Count of Monte Cristo 2. The Great Gatsby

And yet I read mostly non-fiction... :)

It's hard to say these are my absolute top two (that's probably an eight-way tie in reality), but Gatsby definitely hit me at a pivotal time and became a subtle but big influence, and Monte Cristo was just a brilliantly entertaining yet very deep and touching story.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid; Douglas Hofstadter.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies; Jared Diamond.

1) The Way Things Work, by David Macaulay, first edition, first read when I was, maybe 12. Taught me half-adders. Degrees in physics and medicine, and I still refer to this cartoon book.

2) The House of God by Samuel Shem. It's about a medical intern 30 years ago. Raunchy, smart, and, now that I'm an intern, all too true.

Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky

Lolita, Nabokov

The Windup Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami

Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson

. . . and really, basically anything else by either of them.

Technical: Paradigms Of Artificial Intelligence Programming by Peter Norvig

Fiction: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Rise and Decline of Nations by Mancur Olson

"House of Leaves" by Mark Z Danielewski


Catch-22 by Josepf Heller

Catch-22? That book drove me absolutely insane. I think I could appreciate the point but after awhile it was like the same joke(?) about the absurdity of the world being told 222 times in a row.

What makes you list it as one of your top two?

Sometimes a work is best appreciated as a meditation on a particular feeling, and the evolution thereof. Catch-22 was like that for me.

It is the same humor, told over and over, but at the beginning of the book you're laughing while at the end of the book you're crying because the humor in the situation has turned to horror at the inhumanity of it.

Words that work: It's not what you say...it's what they hear - by Frank Luntz (awesome book about the power of language and linguistics - a must read for anyone that wants to know the power of communicating)

Predictably Irrational - Dan Ariely - haven't finished but pretty interesting so far.

Oh...I have been consumed by life recently and want to start slowing down...looking forward to digging into this book when I get a chance:

In praise of Slowness - http://www.amazon.com/Praise-Slowness-Challenging-Cult-Speed...

"Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes (the short story, not the novel)

"The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton

Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

The Brothers Karamazov

Gravity's Rainbow

Tough to pick just two. For now I would say:

War And Peace (Pevear & Volokhonsky translation)


Herbert or Heinlein ... a tough pick


The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

Nice. Hadn't heard of Tristan Shandy, starting vol. 1 tonight.

Gödel, Escher, Bach

Infinite Jest

throw_away: he who can withstand exceptionally long, dense books.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Pirsig

Asterix in Britain - Goscinny, Uderzo

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of the few books I've ever read where I practically celebrated when I finished because I didn't have to read it anymore. I read it (and forced myself to finish it) because so many people seem to absolutely love it, but I found myself having to force myself to pick it back up like a job.

So, if I may ask someone who cites it as his/her favorite book: would you mind writing up a comment with why you found it so profound and enjoyable?

I'm really curious because I feel like I'm in the minority for not appreciating it.

>> would you mind writing up a comment with why you found it so profound and enjoyable?

It's been many years since I read it, but I can still remember the terror of identifying with its hero and his struggle against insanity and alienation. His struggle to create a connection with his son, his deep sense of caring for him and yet not being able to fully reach him.

Pirsig's genius was to get us to identify with its hero Phaedrus, a deeply damaged human being fighting to make sense of his world. Phaedrus is rather clearly an INTP/INTJ personality type, which should only deepen the identification with him by HN readers.

His clear explanations of the scientific method in terms of motorcycle maintenance are a big plus as well, especially for me. I worked for several years repairing electronics and, being a philosophical type, was often struck by how similar the process was to scientific experimentation and theory formation. Great read.

My books:

The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand -- A sharp, bitter, and ultimately soaring defense of the individual against the conformity of the compact majority, without the didacticism and moralizing that marred Rand's later novel, Atlas Shrugged.

Ecce Homo, Nietzsche (Kaufmann translation). Nietzsche's last full work, completed days before his descent into insanity. Shatteringly beautiful prose that will rearrange your soul, from one of history's most original (and misunderstood) thinkers. One of history's great fighters against political and cultural correctness. This boy could write.

I can definitely imagine that it is not for everyone. Books are like that.

I have purchased about 5 copies of it over the last 25 years, and I only have one left. The others have been lent out and never returned. I have read it many times. Hence it was a candidate for the list of 2.

For me, I think that I read it at young age (I think around 13) and it had a significant effect on me at an influential time. Re-reading it over the years has recaptured some of the feelings I had when I first read it.

I loved the way that he separated someone who loves what they do and someone who is just twirling spanners. I loved how he dismissed the snobbery of considering things such as programming or technical writing as not creative. For me, it was the only thing I had ever read that said something like that - all around me were people who considered only painting to be creative, and working on a motorcycle to be something that didn't require conscious thought. At the time I was a programmer, and I had a motorcycle that needed maintenance.

Those things may now be self-evident to all, maybe in part due to Pirsig's influence. His book is probably less relevant and harder work to enjoy than it was at the time, like an old movie, but it is an old friend to me.

Some people (many people on this website, I suspect) have a hard time doing a crap job on anything that deserves a good job. They won't allow themselves to iron a shirt badly, or catch and discard an important exception, or park askew. There's things they consider to be important and they do them right every time. When I was young I (wrongly) imagined myself to be one of the few, looking at my peers, so it had a big impact that someone could put this stuff into words.

His refusal to define Quality and his split between Romantic and Classic realities still come back to me when I see large software projects attempting to ensure Quality. They do it by enforcing naming standards and implementing checklists and reviews, but they don't work yet we all know quality when we see it. You can follow CMM to the last letter and still produce crap. CMM (and others) tried to define quality to make it reproducible, but it only comes from the individual and collective minds of the good and great programmers out there. Pirsig was right.

Oh good, so I'm not the only one. I cringed reading that book, especially the bits where he is being highly condescending and un-understanding (can't think of a better word) to a 10-year old.

Maybe it's because I had read enough of the "eastern mysticism" nonsense that I just didn't get that book. I still don't understand why so many people love it.

Didn't like it either. The story about traveling in the bike with your son and the past with insanity is OK but I found the "philosophy" part terrible ("we cannot define quality, so quality is everything" or something like that - rolls eyes -).

Right now, Anathem by Neal Stephenson is my favorite.

I read through the comments before adding my 2 cents. I saw a lot of my favorite books, including a few by Neal Stephenson. But I did not see Anathem. Hmmm...

I also saw a few references to James Clavell's Shogan. Excellent book. But I liked Tai Pan more, and in fact, I would say that this is my second favorite.

Just to add another title that nobody here is likely mention, the first book that I read that blew my mind (admittedly in my very young days) was "When the Lion feeds" by Wilbur Smith.

Brother in the Land, Danny Swindells

That needs explaining. It's a teenagers book I read about when I was 16. Of all the books I've ever read it is the one that sticks with me most strongly - it is about passion, anger, compassion and loss. I always think it captured humanity really well. EDIT: for the plot think "Day of the Triffids" style end of the world, but bleaker and more realistic.

I suspect it was just my age and I have given the book more weight than it deserves - but it affected me strongly.

The other book is probably 1984, Orwell

Ha Shu'al B'Lool Hatarnagolot - Ephraim Kishon. funny from page one & my first contact with the strange world, rules and absurdities of political systems (couldn't find the english title, sorry)

The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering - Fred Brooks. introduced the concept of an essays to me, and that the software wolrd is really as strange as i always felt

of my favorite books, those are probably the two best fitting into HN, since they enlighten in some way :)

Here's a list we maintain at work: http://blog.greenmountainengineering.com/greenmountain_engin...

I contributed Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder and Desert Solitaire by Ed Abbey, among others.

For nonfiction: Creating the Twentieth Century: Technical Innovations of 1867-1914 and Their Lasting Impact by Vaclav Smil

"Les Miserables", I hated Thenardier, Javert too until I learned to pity him... The book rambles a bit, but it's wonderful. In parts uplifting and crushing. I don't communicate well enough to express how much I think of it.

"Where the Red Fern Grows", I believe it was the first book of quality writing and compelling characters I read. A perfect book for a seven or eight year old boy.

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett

Bonfire Of The Vanities by Tom Wolfe

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Accelerando - Charles Stross. Has the fast speed feel of "the flow" coding throughout half the book. Really good for keeping motivated.

Much agreed. Thinking of a second favourite is much less certain. Possibly 'The Selfish Gene' for me.

Fiction: The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin, it made me realize that the things I wanted wouldn't just come to me if I waited around.

Non-fiction: Surely, you're joking, Mr Feynman! It made me realize that even the most highly qualified people are still just people and can just as easily be wrong as anyone else, a fact Feynman appeared to use to his advantage constantly.

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake (first part of the Gormenghast trilogy), because of the wonderful flowing prose.

The Gay Science by Friedrich Nietzsche, because once I truly understood the full text of aphorism 125 (The Madman, with the famous line 'God is dead'), I felt liberated. It's an extremely powerful aphorism and 'God is dead' is a poor summary.

1984 and A Brave New World

Best non-fiction book I've ever read: http://inthelandofinventedlanguages.com/

One of the best fiction books I've ever read: http://www.amazon.com/Piano-Tuner-Daniel-Mason/dp/0375414657

1984 and "the art of war"

These books are both ones I read as a kid and hold in lifelong regard as a result:

The Fellowship of the Ring - long before the movies were a glint in Peter Jackson's eye, this was my introduction to fantasy, a genre I adore.

The Way Things Work - I still remember the frabjous day when I understood how an internal combustion engine worked.

1984, Orwell The Demon-Haunted World, Sagan

Peregrine Worsthorne: In Defence of Aristocracy <-- an examination of the role of aristocracy (both de jure and de facto) in the modern democracies of Britain and America.

Michael Ondaajte: In the Skin of a Lion <-- a modern retelling of the Epic of Gilgamesh via immigrant settlers in early 20th century Toronto.

"Into to Thin Air" by John Krakauer and "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie Ulysses - James Joyce (keep going back to it - to understand it better)

I'm slogging through Ulysses now - it sure ain't easy, but I love it.

I loved Midnight's Children the first half of the book or so, then it became more and more forced and strained to my taste.

Read both the books when I was a teenager. I have read other great books but as two most favorite books, these will stay.

A Story About a Real Man by Boris Polevoi. A wartime russian novel about love and courage told in a simple and endearing style, based on a true story.

Surely, you're joking, Mr Feynman!

Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)

Second is a tossup between Hyperspace (Michio Kaku) and Made to Stick (Chip & Dan Heath)

Just to name two out of the many i love:

Hitchhiker's Guide to the galaxy and The adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne

Even though "The Goal" is a story about process improvement for a factory, I've also used the thinking from it (basically, lean manufacturing) for software development.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper

Nanowrimo (www.nanowrimo.org) is coming up. Try /writing/ a book, it will have a more profound influence on you than any reading could have.

my recs: "Godel Escher Bach", as previously mentioned, and "The Fifth Head of Cerebus" by Gene Wolfe (or any Gene Wolfe).

Thoughts in Prose and Sun Tzu's Art of War are great. To tell you the truth, I rarely read much these days, but back in my prime I would literally stay up for days on end and go years with my nose stuck in a book at every possible chance.

The Hacker Crackdown by Bruce Sterling (non-fiction). Interesting history of hacking.

Frederick Bodmer's "The Loom of Language: An Approach to the Mastery of Many Languages", an oldie but goodie from 1944.

Douglas Hofstadter's "Gödel, Escher and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid".

Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies".

Just one for now:

Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

Haven't read that one yet, but his _All the Pretty Horses_ was one of the highlights of the year.

Haven't got to that one yet, but Blood Meridian was incredible and so I plan on buying the rest of his work. I also really liked The Road - have read it twice, each time in 1-2 days (I normally struggle to make time to read).

That's a really tough question. Narrowing it down to two is almost impossible but I'd definitely name The Stranger. I'm less certain about the second one, maybe Nine Princes to Amber by Zelanzny, or Crime and Punishment.

Gregory Maguire: "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West"

The other would be this 8088 chip reference book I had. I loved that book. Had all the instructions with timings etc etc Blue cover but I forget the exact name.

_Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid_ --Douglas Hofstadter

_Moby-Dick_ --Herman Melville

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (shame on you if you don't know it)

and Shogun, by James Clavell

+1 for Shogun. It's one hell of a book.

This is really tough.

Dune probably had the greatest effect on me as a person.

GED was probably the most thought provoking.

Heart of Darkness influenced basically all 20th century literature.

Tolstoy may have been the most thorough.

Darkness at Noon may have been the best political critique ever.

Don Quixote


Cursed is the Peacemaker - Boykin. Excellent biography/narrative of an American diplomat working in the Middle East.

Sirens of Titan - Vonnegut. Not my favorite of his but my first. I've been hooked since then!

Walden; or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Also by Umberto Eco check out Foucault's Pendulum

I'm not sure I have two most favored books. But, I'll recommend two:

  The Life and Death of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
  Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Burning Chrome, William Gibson

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Ishmael - Daniel Quinn

Atlas Shrugged


Masters of Doom: The story of Carmack, Romero, and id Software

Lao Tzu - Tao Te Ching

Dave Thomas & Andy Hunt - Pragmatic Programmer

The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins

Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien

The unbearable lightness of being - Milan Kundera

Candide - Voltaire

The unbearable lightness of being - fabulous novel with some deep wisdom

House of Leaves - Mark Danielewski

The Raw Shark Texts - Steven Hall

How was Raw Shark? I heard it praised as being an ergodic piece, but the preview I read seemed fairly straightforward.

"Hero With a Thousand Faces" (by Joseph Campbell). On Amazon.com: http://tr.im/hwatf

Star Diaries by Stanislaw Lem

Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Star Diaries +1 (what a surprise that you... :-)) Brave New World.

I read those when I was 12... then everything I could find by Lem and Huxley too.

Me too - also when I was a kid.

The Lost World - Michael Crichton Harry Potter -

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

The Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The first is insanely superior. The second just really really good.

The Great Gatsby and The Book of the New Sun

I've yet to meet another person who's actually read New Sun :-) It's one of my absolute favorites too.

I've read it twice. The first time was because the book was a gift from a friend.

The second time was for a philosophy class at the University of Chicago. I wrote an essay about Severian's memory and Nietzsche's cow.

Gene Wolfe is my favorite sci-fi author by far. I also liked the Wizard-Knight series.

I read it last year and absolutely loved it. It was tough going for a while though, and I might have sated myself with its style, because I couldn't get through _The Urth of the New Sun_, the sequel, immediately afterwards. Maybe I'll give it another try soon.

Maverick - Ricardo Semler (For inspiration) The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemmingway(For enjoying the process)

Dostoevsky, The Double

Keith Johnstone, Impro

interesting, I did improv with a group and then bought Johnstone's book, and couldn't stand it. I think because it was turning something I had been 'trained' to do instinctively into rules and analysis.

Really? I'd have said Johnstone was the last person to turn improv into "rules and analysis". In fact, that's the opposite of what he's known for.

The book is as much about life in general as it is about theatre. But it's really just the first half that's great. The second half, about trance and maskwork, seems like it ought to be more interesting than it is.

Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman and maybe Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

The Notebook, The Proof, The Third Lie: Three Novels by Agota Kristof

Love and Exile by Isaac Bashevis Singer

I really enjoyed recently reading Snow Crash. Watership Down was great back in the day

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

Firestar, Michael Flynn

Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell

Post Captain (well, basically all of the Patrick O'Brian series)

Picture of Dorian Gray and the short story collection of William Hope Hodgson.

1. Guns, Germs, and Steel

2. Hackers and Painters (expected to see this more here)

Time Enough for Love - Robert Heinlein, Small is Beautiful - E.F. Schumacher

Atlas Shrugged American Gods

American Gods is awesome. One of Neil Gaiman's best works, along with the Sandman series.

The Last of the Savages by Jay McInerney Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis

Guerrilla Marketing - Jay Levinson Quantitive Finance - Paul Wilmott

1. One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich 2. The Soul of a new machine

Stranger in a Strange Land - Heinlein

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Pirsig

"The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair

"When Bad Things Happen to Good People" by Harold Kushner

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. Still not sure about the second one. :-)

Quantum Psychology, Robert Anton Wilson Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins

Dune by Frank Herbert and Anathem by Neal Stephenson

"War and Peace" Tolstoy "Wind< Sand and Stars" Saint Exupery

Unforgiven by Kazuo Ishiguro The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne

Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion

The Power of Now

The Brothers Karamazov - Dostoevsky

All Quiet on the Western Front - Remarque

The Elements of Style, Strunk & White.

Leave it to Psmith, P.G. Wodehouse

"Spies" by Michael Frayn, "Words and Music" by Paul Morley.

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

Nassim Nicholas Taleb -- The Black Swan

Sun Tzu -- The Art of War

Lao Tzu -- Tao Te Ching

I found the black swan to be unfinishable. It started very (even extremely) well, but then got a lot worse quite rapidly. His attempt to create a structure around anecdotes from his life (and of his acquaintances) does not really work and at times his writing is ego-centric to the point of vulgarity.

The main problem however is that it would be much better (for the reader) condensed down as a long essay. Although many books in the genre are essentially essays flanneled out into books, the problem is particularly acute in The Black Swan.

Sun Tzu, which edition/translation?

I agree, after reading Fooled by Randomness, black swan was a let down, repetitive and ironically snobbish for a book thats about understanding the unknown

2 == 3 for any sufficiently large value of '2' :)

If you think you understand 2, it is not the true 2

Same question but for the Tao Te Ching. What edition? The Jane English edition is the best I've ever read.

Non Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny The Mating Mind

It's Not News, It's FARK by Drew Curtis

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The world is flat..

From Beirut to Jerusalem (not done yet).

Both from Thomas Friedman.

Understanding Comics and King Rat

Franz Kafka - Metamorposis

Roald Dahl - James and the giant peach

The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger

An Equal Music by Vikram Seth

lord of light and in search of the miraculous

+1 for Lord of Light

I'll pick 2 at random:

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Zodiac by Neal Stephenson

Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco

Anything from Elmore Leonard

among my favorites. Every time you pick a page to read, it's just like watching a sunset; it's never the same.

Hackers and painters


Rocco by Sherryl Jordan

The Dragon's Birthday by Margaret Mahy

fiction: time enough for love - robert heinlein non-fiction: on power - bertrand de jouvenel

both are treatsies on the human condition.

Founders at Work

Me too

All of Sherlock Holmes

Glasshouse by Charles Stross

Sophie's World - Jostein Gaarder

Lives - Hendrik van Loon

only two ? tough!

The diamond age

Manifold: time

edit: this thread is going to seriously mess with my productivity in the next couple of weeks.

Its tough, but choose it to reduce the some of noise

Not meant to hamper your productivity.

Dune. The Soul of a New Machine.

City by Clifford D. Simak

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

"The Mezzanine" by Nicholson Baker


"White Noise" by Don DeLillo



+1 for Neuromancer.

I recommend a non-fiction book for a different read: The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank.

The Analects of Confucius

Dove by Robin Lee Graham

Fuqua and Ugly Americans

Brief History of Time

Fooled by Randomness

Dune, The Rama Series.

Starship Troopers

Day of the Triffids

grendel - john gardner bluebeard - kurt vonnegut

all the kings men - warren

the floating opera - barth

aldous huxley, island

stephen king, the dark tower

Tale of Genji

Brave New World

The Hobbit,

I, Robot


(I don't read much)

Maybe you should use proper grammar. "What are your favorite books?" or "Please name two of your most favorite books."

Maybe you should not snipe about the grammar without at least naming your favorite books ;) ?

Thnx!! Changed it

PS:My English is not that good

So your #1 is The Little Brown Handbook, what's your #2?


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