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Ask HN: What are the books that changed the perspective of your life?
88 points by arjitkp on Apr 9, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 118 comments



The Bible.

No wait, don't go. I'm serious here.

Read Proverbs -- from a purely atheistic mindset if you must. Very practical business and life advice if you're willing to hear it.

Read Ecclesiastes. Don't spend your life chasing after the wind -- you can't take it with you.

Read Romans 12:9-21. Do what it says for a week.

Read about Jesus washing His servant's feet (John 13:1-17). Serve your team/family, put them first.

It's confirmation bias, but I'm continually amazed how the "next new business/life strategy" was already written ~2-5 thousand years ago.

(edit: Romans reference fixed, thanks)


I'm agnostic and I agree with you. I'm not a big fan of anything outside of the Gospel, but Jesus Christ's teachings are truly timeless and revolutionary, even today. Real of fake, his philosophy is the backbone of a modern, empathetic society.


I'm agnostic and I don't agree with you. Sure, there are without any doubt some wise statements to be found in the Bible.

But each and every of those thoughts have been presented and discussed in other books in a more concise, clear, less ambiguous and more applicable fashion.

Additionally, the Bible is full of rather tasteless anecdotes - judging from a modern perspective.


I have a similar answer but wasn't sure how well it would be received on HN.

I come from a diverse background and generally found myself between extreme ideologies all around. From the hardline Islamic beliefs I encountered in the Middle East, Christian Evangelicals in America and the New Atheist movement in Europe and America.

I found solace in the Jap Ji Sahib [1], viewing it from a deist perspective. It helped me develop a regular meditation practice.

[1] Jap Ji Sahib is the first 40 verses of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy text. Here is a version: https://granth.co/


Is Romans 9:12-21 the right reference? I might not be looking into it enough, but it doesn't seem like "do what it says for a week" material. That being said, I wholeheartedly agree with your suggestion.


Try Romans 12: 9-21


That makes much more sense.

"Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."


The issue is that good advice, surrounded by thousands of pages of irrelevant advice, isn't a good source to be relying on.


The Bible, definitely

PS: Proverbs 22:29 is a motivation for me to always improve my craft

Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.


I don't think this is that amazing given the fact that our whole society is based on this book.

Also one can argue that this is common sense and build in into (most) humans, or life for that matters, plenty of animals try to protect their families too without any bible or god.


LOL, you're brainwashed by a single book.


Meditations by Marcus Aurelius - a wonderfully simple explanation of what is truly important in life.

The Order of Things or Madness and Civilisation by Michel Foucault - a look at how our culture and time limit the horizons of our world view.

Anna Karenina by Tolstoy - a complicated set of love stories set in 19C Russia - brilliantly observed.

Godel, Escher, Bach by Hofstadter - an exhilarating skip through the wonderland of western maths, art, music and philosophy.

Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston - a great insight into the first computer revolution - interviews with a lot of very interesting people.


Meditations: Read this thinking about the power held by the hand writing it. Absolute control of the Mediterranean world! Incredible!


It's also good to think /why/ Marcus wrote the things he did, why they meant so much to him that he felt it necessary to do so.


I also read Anna Karenina (I am a big fan of Russian literature) - but none the less (or maybe rather b/c of that) I am curious to learn how this book did change your perspective on your life?


I first read it when quite young, so probably it provided an emotional education, but also a lesson that literature can be more than just a clever plot - it's full of wonderful observations of human character, even characters that Tolstoy was not particularly sympathetic to (e.g. Stiva, who chooses his opinions as he chooses his hat, from the selection available, or Anna, the tragic focal point of the novel) - there are no villains and no heroes, only bumbling humans dealing with problems entirely of their own creation.

I also liked Madame Bovary from the same period, another riff on doomed attempts to escape unhappy circumstances - perhaps all happy novels are alike, whereas every unhappy novel is unhappy in its own interesting way?


I literally jumped in my chair and facepalmed myself when I saw you'd included Meditations and I'd left it out. Damn. Thank you for reminding me how great that was. Putting it in now :)


Meditations (Marcus Aurelius) - incredibly clear ideas probably clear-up 80% of issues you have with everyday life

The Bible (& The Gnostic Gospels) - I love the idea that Jesus was a real guy who (literally) petrified his childhood playmates because they "vexed" him by dispersing his anti-gravity water :)

Atlas Shrugged - no excuses

Self and Others - personal pyschology

Seth Speaks - a lady channels an interdimensional being

The Road Less Travelled - a psychoanalyst's memoirs

Letters to a Young Artist - encouragement for going your own way, a series of letters

The Alchemist - help you read the signs from the heart of the World for your own path

An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, et al (T. Suzuki) - really interesting, non-duality, higher third unification of opposites

Hear the Wind Sing (Murakami) - really bizarre and pure, his first one written late nights at kitchen table after working in a bar, before he became famous

Rich Dad Poor Dad - solid advice

Discrete Maths (Rosen) - interesting and very learnable, a great reference

An Imaginary Life (Malouf) - great clarity of writing

The Solid Mandala (Patrick White) - amazing observation of people


> Discrete Maths (Rosen)

This is a required textbook for my Discrete Mathematics course. I also recommend it! Although I wish there was more visuals in the book, it is a great textbook.


"Godel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hopfstadter. I was in high school when it came out, and it really opened my eyes up to the field of computability. The philosophy was interesting, too.

"Holy the Firm" by Annie Dillard. Not really about religion, more about our relationship to the world. A beautifully written little book.

"The Making of the Atomic Bomb" by Richard Rhodes. This one works on me at several levels: The physics (which are explained well), the sheer titanic scope of the Manhattan project, and the meta-knowledge that someone was able to write a book this good.

"The C Programming Language", by Kernighan and Ritchie. Probably the single most influential book on programming that I've read.


- Losing my Virginity, by Richard Branson and Edward Whitley. It made me realize I've never really hustled in my life. Reading it was a humbling experience. When I finished the book I was on the verge of tears, an odd mix of shame and wonder.

- Impro, by Keith Johnstone. It's about theatre, human flaws and taking back your self-expression. I'd gift it to anyone I know, if I could.

  'What's for supper?' a bad improviser will desperately try to think up 
  something original. Whatever he says he'll be too slow. He'll finally 
  drag up some idea like 'fried mermaid'. If he'd just said 'fish' the 
  audience would have been delighted. No two people are exactly alike, 
  and the more obvious an improviser is, the more himself he appears. 
  If he wants to impress us with his originality, then he'll search out 
  ideas that are actually commoner and less interesting. [...]
  People trying to be original always arrive at the same boring old 
  answers. [...]

  An artist who is inspired is being obvious. He's not making any 
  decisions, he's not weighing one idea against another. He's accepting 
  his first thoughts. [...]

  Striving after originality takes you far away from your 
  true self, and makes your work mediocre.


What do you mean you realized you'd never "really hustled in your life"? Explain.


In the past I had ideas I didn't act on because of I was afraid of failure. I told myself that it just couldn't be done because [insert bullshit].

In that regard, Richard Branson is like the fool of folklore culture: "he didn't know it was impossible, so he did it". He started a business before turning 20 and made incredibly heavy decisions without much self-doubt. He was a Just-do-it machine.

The book inspired me to stop making excuses and be more confident.


"It made me realize I've never really hustled in my life. Reading it was a humbling experience. When I finished the book I was on the verge of tears, an odd mix of shame and wonder."

There is a lot of survivor bias in that.


Thinking, fast and slow - Daniel Kahneman

A stunningly good book about cognitive biases, with fairly understated claims and backed up with studies. Excellent advice for life and it's changed how I view decisions and interactions. [edit - if you want it and can't afford it, get in touch and I might be able to buy you a copy]

The Evolution of Cooperation - Robert Axelrod

Rather hammers the prisoners dilemma a lot, but it does feel justified. It's been maybe 9 years since I read this and it was the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw this question. How does co-operation work? What properties are required for co-operation? If I recall correctly it examines these questions from the scale of bacteria to nation states.


> Thinking, fast and slow

Definitely one of the most mind blowing book I ever read. Loved it.This could be summarised in : "I know that I know nothing". It's incredible how our mind is biased in so many way to the point of being untrustworthy.


What I particularly love about it is that it makes quite reasonable claims, and explains the data behind them. Often it comes from him doing an experiment and finding something odd, then trying to eliminate the effect by reducing more and more parts before being left with incredible results.

It is not a self help book, it's not a "10 crazy things your doctor won't tell you!" book, it's a story about the more interesting findings of a Nobel Prize winner (Nobel Memorial Prize apparently, after checking wikipedia) extremely well explained.

I think the only book that's left me stopping every few pages and going "huh... so that's why..." or prodding someone near to explain a cool new thing is a Brief History of Time when I was younger (also a thoroughly good read if you've not done so, having being reminded now).


"How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie

A classic, but it has really helped change the way I deal with people.


"The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind"– Julian Jaynes

http://www.amazon.com/Origin-Consciousness-Breakdown-Bicamer...

Either the theory is crazy or it's one of the most groundbreaking discoveries in newer history.


I like these posts as much as everyone else, but this is literally at least the third one this week. Maybe it could become a recurring monthly thing like the hiring posts.

Walden: "Society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new value for each other. We meet at meals three times a day, and give each other a new taste of that old musty cheese that we are. We have had to agree on a certain set of rules, called etiquette and politeness, to make this frequent meeting tolerable and that we need not come to open war. We meet at the post-office, and at the sociable, and about the fireside every night; we live thick and are in each other's way, and stumble over one another, and I think that we thus lose some respect for one another. Certainly less frequency would suffice for all important and hearty communications."

Part of the reason I'm off fb.


"Orthodoxy" - GK Chesterton

"The Abolition of Man" - CS Lewis

"The Master and Margarita" - Mikhail Bulgakov

"The Brothers Karamazov" - Fyodor Dostoyevsky


The Abolition of Man is a great essay. It's short and still relevant. Consideration of the "men without chests" is particularly interesting.


I second "The Abolition of Man". Also "The God Who Is There" or "Escape From Reason" by Francis Schaeffer.


I thought the same of Orthodoxy. Chesterton just has a way with words and thoughts.


I find these threads are often very interesting, but can we please make sure to include something about the book or about how it changed your perspective? If I just see a title it doesn't add much value to the discussion. Thanks for taking the time, y'all.


Excellent idea! The minute I saw the thread I knew that it was going to pan out this way: first, there will be three or four threads and I will be excited about books I hadn't heard of before. But soon it will turn into 20 and then 100 lists of books, overwhelming me and ultimately leading me to do nothing.

However, if people could write (and some of you have) little excerpts and details about what is significant about a book, I'd love it. More than "shows you what is truly important" please, I believe that it might but I will also assume that it concludes that love is more important than money, or some variation of that idea. And I really don't want to read another book that tells me that unless it will make me realize it on some new level through a specific perspective.


"You Can Negotiate Anything", by Herb Cohen.

By taking the point of view that "negotiation" is not "convincing morons to do what I want" but "let's try and solve this together", the author introduces a couple points about how to deal with all sorts of conflicts and difficult situations. I read it several years ago, and yet there's not a month in which I don't put at least one of its lessons in use.

I found it a lot more useful and honest than the famed "How to influence friends and win people" but, somewhat ironically, I never used it in any negotiation involving money.


Interesting. I hate books that teach you how to negotiate like a scumbag (ie most trial attorneys and car salesmen) so this is a refreshing change of pace. I will put this on my to-read list. A book in similar vein is "Getting to Yes". which influenced me greatly in how to handle disputes. It was recommended by Charlie Munger, in his book "Poor Charlie's Almanack" (antoher great book).

Also, check out "Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger". Both that and Poor Charlie's Almanack are two books that describe the Warren Buffett/Charlie Munger way of thinking. In fact, I found out about "Getting to Yes" through those two books. Read them, these three books changed my outlook on life in a big way.

A summary of these books is here: http://sivers.org/book/SeekingWisdom


Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson, Illuminatus!

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World.

Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained.

T.H. White, The Once and Future King.

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia.


"How to Win Friends and Influence People", Dale Carnegie

"The Black Swan", Taleb

"How To Be Idle: A Loafer's Manifesto", Tom Hodgkinson

"The Tao Is Not Silent", Raymond Smullyan

In that order.


Franny and Zooey -- Salinger

Mostly by introducing me to the Stoics (Aurelius especially) and a variety of Eastern, especially Zen Buddhist, works.

Revolutionary Road -- Yates

Yay, mentioned that one in two threads today and it's not even noon yet!

A History of Western Philosophy -- Russell

Vonnegut in general. Bluebeard serves as a good overview of his major themes and ideas, to pick just one book. The part about how people with small talents who were once valued by their communities have been rendered eccentrics of no special value to anyone by easy, cheap, global distribution of media is always near the front of my mind.

How to Read a Book -- Adler


Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. I recommend it to everybody that asks for a life-changing book. Truly a piece of art.


"Ich kann denken. Ich kann warten. Ich kann fasten."


Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco.


Upon completion of the book I was left with the feeling that there was no book in the universe too complex or erudite that I couldn't tackle.

It also gave everyone who read it a valid excuse not to read anything by Dan Brown.


The only reason anyone needs to never read anything by Dan Brown is Dan Brown's writing.

I'm terrible at random-access, on-demand list building like this, but I strongly agree about a few of the other things mentioned here:

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Godel, Escher, Bach by Hofstadter

Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton

The Abolition of Man by CS Lewis

Walden by Thoreau

A few of the better and more philosophical bits out of the bible (especially in a good modern translation), including Ecclesiastes and 1 Corinthians 13

To this list, I would also add Ralph Waldo Emerson's classic essays, including Self-Reliance and Experience


This is embarrassing. I grew up with sorta fundie parents (they got better) and dropped out of school early (religious schools...), so it might be different for HNers that had a solid mental upbringing.

A Brief History of Time because it pretty much slapped any thoughts I had of a supernatural universe/god right out of my mind. I know it's not highly regarded, but for a rather ignorant guy, it woke me up.

The Selfish Gene (inc The Extended Phenotype). This is one I think is the most powerful, even for people that had OK education. Showing how life could possibly evolve, just with random mutations and non-random survival made it real to me that we live in a natural world. And not just that, but that since it's so obviously a natural world, it's up to us to decide what is right, what our purpose is. The earth and nature aren't going to help us there - it's our call, full stop. That is huge, and many otherwise seemingly well educated people don't seem to get it.

Heuristics and Biases. (Though Thinking Fast and Slow might be more approachable.) This book opened me up to the fact that I'm running on busted hardware. That I've got serious, unfixable, biases built into my brain. That a lot of what I do is a fast but inaccurate parallel system at work. (Interestingly, this is the essence of Taoism, wu wei).

Lately, LessWrong. (Available as a book called Rationality: From AI to Zombies). These sequences have helped me, well, get less wrong, slowly, at making decisions and general thinking. I try to be aware of when I'm being biased and incorrect. I make better predictions and actively try to update my priors, instead of just confirming my previous beliefs. As I get older (34) I find I'm unwittingly acting close minded on occasion, and need to actively work against it.


> I know it's not highly regarded

Really? I've only heard good things about it. Would you mind elaborating?


I just remember reading comments from other physicists along the lines of that they didn't even know what Hawking was talking about because the descriptions were so far off.

But now I cannot find the quote, so perhaps I imagined it or it was referring to something else.


Man's Search for Meaning-- There is no finer book for perspective setting than Viktor Frankl's classic work> http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4069.Man_s_Search_for_Mea...


This was the book that shook me to core. After this I realised no matter how much problems you face, there is always hope. Excellent book.


Indeed - I pick up this book every few months for quick refresher. Always good food for thought.


Atlas Shrugged.

I found out that the people who claim it changed their lives mostly think that they are the smartest, most important people in the country. Beware of the elite who think that the country is there to serve them and that it is criminal how the government demands taxes to help those who were not born into wealth and privilege.


Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance


I use the book's definition of "quality" (or one of them) as my to-go mechanism whenever I have to explain why I think something is bad art.

It's a shame that not even the author seems to like the definition.


I read this book a few years back and while I found it quite interesting as a story, I did not glean any major insights from it.

It most likely has to do with my own ignorance about philosophy, but all I got from the book was that the author hates Aristotle and rigorous classification. And that quality is a more important property than morality.


I liked the part where he talks about gumption traps. Very relevant if you've worked on a big project.


IMHO to really change your whole life perspective, you must experience a traumatic event, not reading a book.

Anyway I would say that a book can trigger a change of perspective on a particular aspect of your life:

'4-hour workweek' - Tim Ferriss (on lifestyle)

'Get Things Done' - David Allen (on organization and productivity)

'The Way of the Superior Man' - David Deida (on relationships)

'The prince' - Machiavelli' (on business and strategy)

'The little prince' - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (on meaning of life)

'The Feynman Lectures on Physics' - Richard Feynman' (to remember you to be humble)

A lot of other books had broaden my perspective of life even if they weren't enough to trigger a change. That list would be immense.


"Zorba the Greek" by Nikos Kazantzakis

It's a novel which makes you think about how you want to spend your everyday life. It's a book about appreciating what you have, about friendship, about love. It's very pure.

I'd recommend it.


It's on my reading list. Have read "Report to Greco" by Nikos Kazantzakis, and it's my favorite book of all time. Very deep, very touching, very thought provoking, and at the same time very simple, easy, and accessible.


Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain" has always stuck with me. I read it during my lunch break for about 6 months. The book animates the ideas that brought about the modern world.


"On becoming a person" by Carl R. Rogers.

He defines Psychotherapy as merely a special case of any relationship, where the relationship will help you grow by allowing you to overcome built up incongruence. Many technical books made me change my perspective, but few were as valuable as this. Although it is easy to read, it can be quite hard to understand. It comes along as non-scientific, but many of his ideas and findings have been substantiated by empirical studies in the past.


"Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" by Eliezer Yudkowsky - the most brilliant book I've read this year. I wish I'd read it 10 years ago.

And Atlas Shrugged - controversial, I know, a lot of people here hate it for some reason, but it was incredibly influential on me, inspired my passion for entrepreneurship and science and philosophy. Still is one of the best books I am aware of.

If I could send 2 books back in time to the 14-year-old me - these would be it.


Tiny beautiful things by Cheryl Strayed. Out of the overcrowded self-help world this book will challenge you and get to your heart. There's something to learn in every story.

Another one is "The power of vulnerability" by Brene Brown, actually it's an audiobook, I think the book has no equivalent written version but it might be something on the line of "Daring greatly" (same author).

These books will challenge you in many ways.


In order of appearance:

"Fables for Robots" by Stanislaw Lem - it shaped my love for SF for the rest of my life

"Mindwatching: Why We Behave the Way We Do" by Hans and Michael Eysenck - it influenced my choice of studies

"The social animal" by Elliot Aronson - it helped me to understand people a bit better :)

"Rich dad, poor dad" by Robert Kiyosaki - it really helped me in the transition from the corporate world to own business


Vagabonding by Rolf Potts.

Talks about minimalistic long term travel.


Alan Watts - The Wisdom of Insecurity

An exploration of man's quest for psychological security and spiritual certainty in religion and philosophy.


"Out of your mind" audio lectures by Alan Watts completely changed my perception of world and myself.


The Prophet - By Kahlil Gibran.

Beautifully written prose. A co-worker lend it to me and I kept it in my desk until I was clearing up before leaving the company. Decided to read it before giving it back to him... it had an impact on me (more compassionate and considerate).

Sounds silly, but I still look back fondly at my decision to read it before giving it back - it meant that much to me!!


The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (1983) by Lewis Hyde.

It is not only a powerful deconstruction of the creative process, but it details the history of relationships between gift/craft and acquisition/capital. A valuable read for anyone who has ever wanted to put more into their projects than what is asked or required.


"The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield (good read if you want to learn how to quit procrastinating!)

"The Greatest Salesman on Earth" by Og Mandino

"The Zahir" by Paolo Coelho is about challenging tradition, highly recommend.

"How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie

When I was in high school- "The Alchemist" by Paolo Coelho


Guy Davenport is the writer who resonates with me the most. If I had to choose one work it would be "Wo es war, soll ich werden."

Kenneth Goldsmith's work, probably epitomized in the book Day, is what challenged me the most. It shook my ideas about what it means to be original and create art in the world today.


Bhagavad Gita. Mahatma Gandhi once said that he reads Gita whenever he can't find the solution of any problem.


There are many, but the one off the top of my head is "The Alchemist".

I have read it at least ten times (it only takes about two hours). It's something like meditation in a book for me, it allows me to reset my mind and gain perspective whenever I am overly stressed or anxious.

Edit: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho


By whom?

Google gives me numerous books with that title.


Paulo Coelho, edited the post to include that.


From Sex to Superconsciousness - Osho A great stress reliever for an Indian who was feeling guilty all the time waking or sleeping.

Many articles by rationalist and reformer Periyar E.V.Ramasamy http://Periyar.org


Hume - An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

Quine - Two Dogmas of Empiricism

Stirner - The Ego and its Own

Nietzche - All of them, really

Metzinger - The Ego Tunnel


A lot of good suggestions. To try to avoid repeating what others have said too much, here are some from a different perspective.

# "JPod" by Douglas Coupland helped me realize that it was corporatism, not me, that was broken.

# Benjamin Franklin's autobiography showed me a history that was made of people, a people no different than me and mine, and that success comes from standing up and going your own way.

# "Time Enough for Love" by Robert Heinlein taught me that, while culture is arbitrary and we should be free to try to make it what we wish, that doesn't make it fake or ignorable.

# "Sherlock Holmes" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, re-read as an adult, taught me the importance of formula in consistency and how much a market of fans love predictability.

# "Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin taught me that the movie can be a lot better than the book and that there is a problem with modern generations making an affectation out of book reading.


Maverick: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maverick_%28book%29

Read it when I was 17 and it shaped what I expected from work in the future.


"The Ultimate Secret to Getting Absolutely Everything You Want" by Mike Hernacki

The title sounds hokey, but it's one of the few self-help books that ever made much difference for me.

The secret is simple but for most people, elusive. We talk about it all the time here on HN.

http://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Secret-Getting-Absolutely-Eve...

SPOILER below

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"I am willing to do whatever it takes to get what I want."

(My spoiler doesn't do it justice. Take an hour and read the book.


One of my favorite articles on this topic is http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-ways-youre-sabotaging-your-own...

The money quote to me is near the end of page 2:

'And I'm starting to think that the world really is divided between those who have a clear idea of what it means to want something -- including the total cost and sacrifices it will take to get it -- and those who are just content to leave it as an airy "wouldn't it be nice" fantasy. The former group hones in on what they want and goes zooming after it like a shark. The latter looks at them, shakes their head and says, "How do they do it?" As if they have a cheat code, or a secret technique.'



Voltaire's Bastards by John Ralston Saul and SICP (Structural Interpretation Of Computer Programs) because at the time I had no idea wizardry could be performed and was banging out boring scripts for a living.


Altruism - Mathieu Ricard

Search Inside Yourself - Chade-Meng Tan

Bible - several authors

Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse

Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk

Eléments de Philosophie Angélique - Denis Marquet (french)

Au coeur de l'instant - Jean Bouchart d'Orval (french)


The one book that I first thought of when I read the OP's original question was Mathieu Ricard's L'Art de la Méditation (an English translation aptly named The Art of Meditation is available).

At some point in my life, while I was going through severe depression, I got interested (by the folks on HN) into looking more into Buddhist philosophy and meditation. This little book, quick to read, made me realize that our selves are not what we think they are, and that our emotions are impermanent, that we can deal with them by simply acknowledging them instead of letting them overthrow us. It's a brilliant simple idea, though it is harder to put into practice. (I am still not quite managing to be a regular meditator to this day)

This little book changed my life, and I've now bought it or lent it to several people from my friends or family in the hope that it may have the same impact on them as it had on me.


I forgot to list this book but it is changing at the moment my way of managing thoughts and feelings, especially strong ones. Thanks !


"Who Moved My Cheese" by Spencer Johnson.

It's only a short tale, but it changed my approach to more or less everything. I am eternally grateful to my good friend who showed it to me in about 2000/2001 ish.


The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I had to read it back in high as part of my AP Lit course. It's not a very long book but it is very well written and teaches you to enjoy life and live out your dreams.


I got the impression from reviews on Amazon that it might have to do with "the law of attraction" (which I dislike), because a lesson in the book is about the universe conspiring to help you when you want something badly enough. Is "the law of attraction" a major theme?


Permutation City by Greg Egan really changed my personal cosmology


L'etranger - Albert Camus Le mythe de sisyphe - Albert Camus


Heinlein: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Robert Coram: Boyd Mark Donohue (w/Paul Van Valkenburgh): The Unfair Advantage Carroll Smith: XXX To Win (its a series of books)


Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell helped me understand why some people are successful and while others are not (despite superior intelligence).


The Masks of the Illuminati, by Robert Anton Wilson


Say what you want about ESR, but if I had never read "The Art of Unix Programming", my life would be unrecognisable and sad.


the hard thing about hard things, horowitz.

it gave me a significant confidence boost about the startup i'm doing.


"Letting Go: The Pathway To Surrender" by David R. Hawkins

A well written pragmatic guide to spirituality.


Naked Lunch -- William S. Borroughs


How did it change the perspective on your life?


Nick Cave - And the Ass Saw the Angel Gary Jennings - Aztec Gary Jennings - The Journeyor


The Glass Bead Game - Herman Hesse

Read when I was about 14. I just remember the way it excited my mind.


"The 4-Hour Workweek", no doubt


The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius


Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman


Rich Dad, Poor Dad - Robert Kiyosaki


Das Kapital


Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer


be here now by ram dass


Good suggestions already ITT, so I'm not gonna repeat.

All of Enderverse by Orson Scot Card is simply excellent. Ender's game is a nice peak into what goes on in the whole series. A mash between true strategy, relationships, personal development, philosophy and is very engaging.

However the rest of the Ender series deal mainly with philosophy. Plenty of nuggets there. Additionally Shadow's saga is situated on Earth and is about strategy and competing. Highly recommended too.


I'm sorry, this isn't meant as an attack on you, but I thought Ender's Game was a rather terrible piece of over-indulgent nerd fantasy with a heaping helping of apologia for "preemptive" warfare. My wife also loved the book and I just don't see it. Well, I sort of see it, it's appealing to anyone who felt like an outsider in school. But its treatment of that feeling all seems very dangerous. It resorts to a weird sort of ego-stroking to explain away why the reader cum Ender was an outcast, then justifies all of the hyperviolence against all offenders under the age-old abuser's excuse "I didn't know my own strength." I don't think people read enough into the book and treat it too much as light, throw-away fiction.


The best one is Speaker for the Dead. Also, Ender's Shadow attempts to address some of the flaws you mention.

I don't think the book justifies pre-emptive war at all:

The problem of a potential alien attack is relevant (in an ironic way) b/c many human political decisions are framed by leaders as a choice between action and annihilation. In the original short, that framing is intended to get the reader on board with the rest of the story without extensive justification.

In subsequent books, the fictitious society comes to view the decision made to kill the aliens as having been a terrible atrocity.


I tend to think of that more as Orson Scott Card backpedalling after the various backlashes against his personal values. Books are reflections of the people who write them. Every violent encounter in the book is "it's really too bad how everything turned out, but nobody knew, so that makes it okay!" On several occasions, Ender commits what amounts to manslaughter at best, 2nd degree murder at worst, and it's all just washed away as "well, but they hate him because he's so freaking good." It's absurd.


So assume that Ender's response was proportional considering the bullying he underwent. His fear of being attacked at first sounds like a child's paranoia, but when he kills his tormentors the reader sees that this scared little kid is quite lethal.

We're left to wonder why he's lethal and soon we realize that he's innately good at executing force in a strategic way. We question his judgment a bit -- should he have avoided killing the bullies at all cost? But we realize that his judgment is no worse than that of any other kid, only his execution (no pun intended) is far, far better. He would have been devastated if he'd known the bullies died.

I think this aspect of Ender was conceived as a great short story angle, but as the plot develops it gets a bit two dimensional. Card counters this by framing Ender as the embodiment of human ability -- justice, self-awareness, compassion.

Further into the book we find that Ender's ability is a function of his empathy -- much like someone who empathizes with us may find just the right words to hurt us, Ender empathizes with his enemy allowing him to vanquish it. Though because of his kind, compassionate disposition, he must be deceived into fighting an actual war.

I will admit that revelations about Card's homophobia are a bit concerning, but I try hard to separate the creator from the product of creation in all areas...


I not sure I see any point in separating them. Wagner's operas can't be separated from the notion of German exceptionalism that laid the groundwork for Nazi ideology. Ender's Game does not exist other than as an expression of Card's worldview. And he had expressed, through it (at least at the time that he wrote it. I am at least willing to grant the rare occurrence of change in people), that ignorance of the consequences excuses such violence, even violence that was executed under incorrect assumptions.

In the real world, Ender not knowing that the kids are being killed would not excuse his behavior. It merely changes 2nd degree murder into manslaughter. With the number of times he repeats this behavior, we'd maybe even try him as an adult, discarding even the basic notion within our culture that children are generally not yet to be held responsible for all of their actions. When we try children as children, we are not saying the crime was not their fault, we are saying they are not going to be punished for the crime in the same way as an adult. We still punish them.

But according to Card, nothing is ever Ender's fault. Ender doesn't kill them because he is so good. Ender is so good so that he can kill them. The causality in fiction is reversed from reality because there is a distinct narrative to portray, but reality doesn't have a narrative, it emerges. He wrote Ender to have misapplied violence on several occasions, so that he can then be excused for it. The aliens aren't destroyed because they invaded, the aliens invade so that they can be destroyed. They are aliens so that they immediately have the inhuman status that all genocidal maniacs need to assert before trying to cleans the universe of them.

To me, not only the revelation of Card's homophobia, but the vociferous manner in which he defended it, is just a corroboration of what Ender's Game tells us about who he is: an extremely rabid right-wing ideologue. We see in Card the beginnings of the Neoconservative movement with all of its contradictions nearly fully formed: the claimed reverence for both God and war, the clashing support for small government and large military.

And for the life of me, I just can't read it as 8 to 10 year old children. I have several nephews spread from 2 through 10 years old and there is an extremely distinct difference in basic maturity level between them all. Ender portrays qualities more like a late teenager and he yet is on the young end of the book's spectrum. I just don't see 10-year-olds having the capacity to hate someone else "because they are the best". Mostly because the concept itself is alien to me. I know of it only through its portrayal in the media.

It's one of the more dangerous ideas we teach kids. It tells them, "if you could just change, it will get better." And either the kid can change and tries, which is awful, or the kid can't and is stuck thinking life will always be like this, which is also awful. Real bullies are just jockeying for acceptance within their peer group and it has little to nothing to do with the victim. Bullying only ends when it's made to no longer be entertaining for the bully, a shockingly easy thing to achieve, if you just know that that is what needs to happen.

But also because that sort of hate takes fear. That's why we use the "phobia" ending on homophobia. Children don't know that kind of fear yet. You have to start to become aware of your own limitations, and the accompanying fear that someone else's success could have a detrimental impact on your own. Kids that age are only a few years into realizing the ball doesn't just dematerialize when you hide it behind your back, say nothing that there are limits on what they will be able to achieve.

These fights are fantasies in Card's head, projections of what he thinks makes for righteous cleansing of that which he sees as besetting him from all sides. It's the ol' "'Merica is going to hell in a handbasket". He feels like everyone is out to get him, his way of life, and he is surrounded, so escape isn't an option. And if someone dies in the process, it's not his fault, he was "just" defending himself. Because in his head, he's fighting for survival, and might makes right.

Classic fundamentalism.


> I not sure I see any point in separating them.

Suppose we found out that Gödel or Newton or Maxwell had held abhorrent social views, would that tarnish their obvious achievements? We'd still make just as effective use of their work. Similarly, the short order chef cooking my breakfast might have been an ex-con who did unspeakable things, but I can enjoy the omelette without thinking twice about its full origin story.

> expression of Card's worldview

Is the omelette an expression of the chef's worldview? Where is the line between creation and the so-called "world view" of the creator? A grad student in one of my math classes used to laugh with wicked amusement when a set was proven to be empty, as if its members had been physically and violently eradicated. Who knows what is going through the mind of the creator.

I'd argue that even if you view the Ender series as works of political rhetoric and Card as a card-carrying member of some worldview "team" (which you or I may agree or disagree with), the books may still be harmlessly enjoyed as works of fiction. The same could be said about the fiction of C.S. Lewis, Ayn Rand, Lewis Carroll, etc. It's also possible that authors of books that are indisputably measured and reasonable turn out to have personal quirks that some would find abhorrent.

Disclaimers aside, I'll focus on the gist of your comment. Have you ever seen a kid around junior high age get treated so cruelly you think it's a miracle he doesn't go Columbine on his tormentors and those who allowed it? I've seen that kind of thing and known some friends who were horribly mistreated... worse than Abu Ghraib kinds of acts. They lived in constant fear of the tormentors. Such scenarios are quite common, at least in the US.

That kid who is getting picked on in schools all across the US may have a pet that is diabetic and may fully know that if he were to inject the bully with a syringe full of veterinary insulin the tables would turn and depending on where the injection took place, he might not ever be caught. Perhaps that kid also contemplates arson or other tactics that are every bit as physically brutal. But due to his small size the victim is forced to suffer humiliation and physical pain, or (if he's aware of the ramifications) contemplate the jail time he'd receive.

Card addresses this reader, the person who knows well the day-to-day injustice of the real world, and indulges him/her in a fantasy about a world where the strong really do win -- sadly in our world the kid is likely too sensible to dispense justice with his syringe of veterinary insulin, and the schools too understaffed and teachers too cynical to lift a finger to stop horrible bullying.

So the framing is just as much about a arriving at a definition of strength and justice as it is about turning traditional notions of power on their head. These themes get stronger through the book as Ender beats and earns the respect of the older kids at Battle School and then eventually turns out to be the individual upon whom the future of humanity is gambled, a decision made by older, "stronger" individuals.

Is there a way to connect the notion of Ender's military skill and his ascent to command as a political narrative? Certainly. But consider that when the book was written the US was in the midst of a massive, cold war full of bureaucracy, and the population was subject to tremendous jingoism and fear-mongering. In light of this, the kind of video game, kids battle school that Card invents is utterly sci-fi and imaginable only in the mind of a kid or an adult who empathizes with kids in a unique way.

I think this empathy is why the book has sold so well, and really why the series has sold so well and inspired so many people. Card's expressed views are in my opinion wholly incongruous, almost to the point where I wonder if the Mormon elders have dirt on him and forced him to make those claims... either that or perhaps he's early in the throes of demential.


>These fights are fantasies in Card's head, projections of what he thinks makes for righteous cleansing of that which he sees as besetting him from all sides. It's the ol' "'Merica is going to hell in a handbasket". He feels like everyone is out to get him, his way of life, and he is surrounded, so escape isn't an option. And if someone dies in the process, it's not his fault, he was "just" defending himself. Because in his head, he's fighting for survival, and might makes right.

Any animal is willing to kill the other, said Ender, but the higher being includes more and more in things within their self story, until there is no other. Until at last the needs of others are more important than any private desires. The highest beings of all are the ones who are willing to pay any personal cost for the good of those who need them.

- The classically fundamental, right-wing demagogue Orson Scot Card.

In other words, you are completely full of shit.


In Ender's game they are searching for the perfect specimen to transform into the perfect military commander. Very smart men are making elaborate plans how to entrap him in order to mold him into a lethal machine. They are searching for a commander who can end (not intended) unresolvable conflicts decisively and, above all, permanently. Not for a morally balanced/superior leader.

Anyway, I read Ender's game first when I was young and I loved it for the action, mixed with philosophy. Now I enjoy the rest of the books a lot more then the initial one.




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