I’m always looking for good books, so I sorted through other people’s lists of 10 most influential books and consolidated them. The notes I included are mostly notes from the original lists.
Philosophy & Political philosophy
The Federalist Papers, by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.
Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville.
The Open Society and its Enemies by Karl Popper.
John Stuart Mill, Autobiography. (This got me thinking about how one’s ideas change, and should change, over the course of a lifetime. Plus Mill is a brilliant thinker and writer more generally.)
Bertrand Russell (my addition, not on anyone’s list)
Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War.
The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Hay’s translation).
Letters from a Stoic by Seneca.
NiccolÃ² Machiavell’s The Prince.
The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico by Bernal Diaz del Castillo.
On War by Carl Von Clausewitz.
more George Orwell–Homage to Catalonia, The Road to Wigan Pier.
Churchill’s history of the Second World War.
The Art of Memory by Frances A. Yates. (History of an ancient mental technique for orators, up to its graphical importance for pre-science in the early modern period.)
Battle Cry Of Freedom by James MacPherson.
Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America by Garry Wills. (Presented a way of thinking about “liberalism” and “conservatism” in the American context that I don’t think anyone has yet been able to refute. More than that, it’s also a tour de force, linking the history of America, the nature of rhetoric, and the meaning of democracy and constitutionalism together into a single, succinct argument.)
The Presence of the Past: Essays on the State and the Constitution by Sheldon S. Wolin. (Like a deeply planted time bomb, this book’s various observations and arguments (mostly about Tocqueville and the Federalists and Anti-Federalists) kept coming to me, suddenly making sense, while thinking about community or politics or government or religion or philosophy or just about anything else, years and years after my advisor first recommended it to me.)
The Power Broker by Robert Caro.
Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, by Hunter S. Thompson.
Before the Storm, by Rick Perlstein. (The rise of Barry Goldwater and movement conservatism in the early 60s).
Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx.
The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money by John Maynard Keynes. (Keynes is one of the greatest thinkers of economics and there are new ideas on virtually every page.)
Micromotives and Macrobehavior by Thomas Schelling.
The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford.
The Incredible Bread Machine, by Susan Love Brown, et.al.
A Farewell to Alms by Gregory Clark.
Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt.
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. (There is not much that needs to be said about this book other than it defines current net economics. There’s the head of the tail which is the stuff you find in Borders, and the tail, which is the infinite inventory on Amazon.)
How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff.
Mathematics in the Modern World: Readings from Scientific American by Morris Kline
Visualizing Data by William S. Cleveland. (This book presents a set of graphical methods for displaying data. Does it ever. Cleveland shows you how it’s done in practice and wrote the software that lets you code it yourself.)
The Quark and the Jaguar by Murray Gell-Mann. (QM and modern physics).
Why Buildings Fall Down by Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori.
How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand.
Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs.
Rebel Without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player by Robert Rodriguez.
Code Complete by Steve McConnell.
The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by Eric S Raymond. (me–I might have already read this, and certainly absorbed the ideas.)
Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts.
Life’s Devices by Steven Vogel. (This is a book about biomechanics but also, and more importantly, a terrific introduction to what is means to do science.)
Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich. (Heinrich follows ravens around in Vermont, trying to figure out why the hell they would share carrion they find. I’d recommend this book to anyone.)
The Chimpanzees of Gombe, In the Shadow of Man, by Jane Goodall.
Plagues and Peoples by William McNeill.
Boyd: The Fight Pilot who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram.
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. (me–Heard enough about it, and it’s been absorbed into the culture, that it doesn’t feel urgent to read it. But seeing the details and situation when she wrote would be interesting.)
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson.
My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.
Thomas Moody by Michael Davitt (Biography of an Irish patriot).
The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss.
The Ropes to Skip and the Ropes to Know by Richard Ritti and G. Ray Funkhouser.
How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie. (It’s a timeless classic–highly recommend it.)
One Thousand and One Nights.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.
Dracula by Bram Stoker.
Jonathan Swift. (me–Not sure which book.)
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.
Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov.
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller.
The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman.
Not mentioned but on my to read list:
A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792).
Studs Terkel, The Good War: An Oral History of World War Two (Detailed ordinary peoples’ accounts of the country’s involvement in World War II). Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.
The New Science of Strong Materials: Or why you don’t fall through the floor by J E Gordon.
War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage by Lawrence H. Keeley.
Houdini!!! by Ken Silverman.
Military Blunders: The how and why of military failure by Saul David.
Skipped on most/all lists:
Dewey, anarchists, science, Renaissance writers, biographies, Malthus, The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.
On multiple lists but unappealing to me:
Analects of Confucius
Sigmund Freud (me–a pseudoscientific fraud interesting today mainly as a historical and curtural oddity).
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon.
Milton and Rose Friedman, Free to Choose.
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.
The Structure of Scientific Revolution by Thomas Kuhn. (me–Heard the thumbnail version).
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.
Animal Liberation by Peter Singer.
Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (me–Heard the thumbnail version, suffered through all six Star Wars movies).
Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve. (me–Instead I read Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man).
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes. (me–wrong).
everything else written before 1800.
(5/10) How to Solve It (1945) by George PÃ³lya. Mathematician explains how to solve problems.