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.
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
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!!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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).
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 :).
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. 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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 -).
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.