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
My copy of it is Arabic but heavily annotated by researchers. A translation of that would be great, I know.
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.
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
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.
Finnegans Wake - This book can't be explained until you've seen it. The pinnacle of the English language.
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."
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.
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.
- Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy
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.
The Brother's Karamazov. Pleasantly surprised to see Dostoyevsky mentioned a few times in other comments.
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.
Dragons Of Eden -- Carl Sagan
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.
PK Dick, Stanislaw Lem, Vonnegut (some of Bradburry's work may join this group but be careful not all of his stuff is brilliant)
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).
Nonfiction: So many good ones, but I think Surely your joking, Mr. Feynman! is probably the top.
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.
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
Fiasco - Stanislaw Lem
If I had to name only one other book, for this audience I'd have to go with Code Complete.
So the book opened up new worlds for me. It changed the way I think.
So I'd say skip it.
If the writing engages you then you and presents interesting ideas, to you, in a non-obvious way, then it is worth reading.
That pretty much sums it up.
Medieval Technology and Social Change
Not so sure HN type adults will enjoy Gerald Durrell as much :).
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
The Design of Everyday Things
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. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
And, sorry, but I have 3 "number 1 fav" books:
1. 1984 by George Orwell
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
These books are worth reading immediately:
1. Lord of the Rings
2. All the King’s Men
3. High Fidelity
4. Get Shorty
6. Almost anything by Robertson Davies, though I recommend starting with The Deptford Trilogy and skipping The Salterton Trilogy
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.
The first should be read by everyone though http://www.gutenberg.org/files/600/600.txt
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.
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies; Jared Diamond.
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.
Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson
. . . and really, basically anything else by either of them.
Fiction: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Rise and Decline of Nations by Mancur Olson
Catch-22 by Josepf Heller
What makes you list it as one of your top two?
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.
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...
"The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
War And Peace (Pevear & Volokhonsky translation)
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
Asterix in Britain - Goscinny, Uderzo
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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 :)
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
"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.
Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
The Nature of Paleolithic Art by R. Dale Guthrie
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.
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.
One of the best fiction books I've ever read: http://www.amazon.com/Piano-Tuner-Daniel-Mason/dp/0375414657
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.
Michael Ondaajte: In the Skin of a Lion <-- a modern retelling of the Epic of Gilgamesh via immigrant settlers in early 20th century Toronto.
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.
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!
Second is a tossup between Hyperspace (Michio Kaku) and Made to Stick (Chip & Dan Heath)
Hitchhiker's Guide to the galaxy and The adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
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 Inmates Are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper
my recs: "Godel Escher Bach", as previously mentioned, and "The Fifth Head of Cerebus" by Gene Wolfe (or any Gene Wolfe).
Douglas Hofstadter's "Gödel, Escher and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid".
Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies".
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
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.
_Moby-Dick_ --Herman Melville
and Shogun, by James Clavell
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.
Sirens of Titan - Vonnegut. Not my favorite of his but my first. I've been hooked since then!
Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
The Life and Death of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Masters of Doom: The story of Carmack, Romero, and id Software
Dave Thomas & Andy Hunt - Pragmatic Programmer
Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien
Candide - Voltaire
The Raw Shark Texts - Steven Hall
Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
I read those when I was 12... then everything I could find by Lem and Huxley too.
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
The first is insanely superior. The second just really really good.
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.
Keith Johnstone, Impro
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.
Love and Exile by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Firestar, Michael Flynn
Post Captain (well, basically all of the Patrick O'Brian series)
2. Hackers and Painters (expected to see this more here)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Pirsig
"When Bad Things Happen to Good People" by Harold Kushner
The Power of Now
All Quiet on the Western Front - Remarque
Leave it to Psmith, P.G. Wodehouse
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
Sun Tzu -- The Art of War
Lao Tzu -- Tao Te Ching
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?
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
From Beirut to Jerusalem (not done yet).
Both from Thomas Friedman.
Roald Dahl - James and the giant peach
An Equal Music by Vikram Seth
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Zodiac by Neal Stephenson
Anything from Elmore Leonard
Hackers and painters
The Dragon's Birthday by Margaret Mahy
both are treatsies on the human condition.
Glasshouse by Charles Stross
Lives - Hendrik van Loon
The diamond age
edit: this thread is going to seriously mess with my productivity in the next couple of weeks.
Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
"White Noise" by Don DeLillo
I recommend a non-fiction book for a different read: The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank.
Fooled by Randomness
Day of the Triffids
the floating opera - barth
stephen king, the dark tower
Brave New World
(I don't read much)
PS:My English is not that good