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Ask Slashdot: What Are the Books Everyone Should Read? 796

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-loved-that-one-with-the-plot-and-the-characters dept.
dpu writes "Part of my New Year's resolution is to encourage reading as a hobby in those around me — especially my friends' children (ages 2 to 22), but my wife and I as well. There is a lot of 'classic' literature out there I'm familiar with, and will be promoting to the short masses here (Fahrenheit 451, To Kill A Mockingbird, In The Heat of the Night, Huckleberry Finn, Cryptonomicon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, A Wrinkle In Time, When Rabbit Howls, etc.), but I know many of you are much better read than I am. What recommendations would you make? What are the books that everyone should read? I don't care if it's been banned by schools, burned by communists, or illuminated by 15th century monks. If you think everyone around you should read it, I'd love to know about it."
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Ask Slashdot: What Are the Books Everyone Should Read?

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  • The Bible (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @06:23PM (#45840053)

    Start with the Gospel of John and then Romans.

  • by thegameiam (671961) <thegameiam&yahoo,com> on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @06:24PM (#45840057) Homepage

    But really, make sure The Bible is on the list. Actually having read it opens up a tremendous world of understanding of other art and literature, regardless of one's religion.

  • What to read (Score:1, Insightful)

    by jodido (1052890) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @06:24PM (#45840065)
    Communist Manifesto--might seem dated but it's going to be big in the not too distant future. What other solution is out there?
  • Cryptonomicon? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @06:26PM (#45840091) Homepage Journal

    Sure, if you think that reading should be an exercise in excruciating drudgery.
    That book bored me to tears, resulting in my finally giving up and throwing it in the trash.

  • GEB (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gbjbaanb (229885) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @06:28PM (#45840105)

    GÃdel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid []

    Godel, Escher, Bach is not a simple read. The ideas are complex and the logic subtle. But it is a completely satisfying book, and reading it is one of those rare experiences when you leave feeling smarter than when you started.

    its true, though I felt like a complete simpleton after reading it - its an awesome piece of writing. Its not something to read casually though, you're gonna have to think, a lot.

  • Orwell (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hellebore (993500) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @06:28PM (#45840113)
    Animal Farm
  • by whoever57 (658626) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @06:29PM (#45840129) Journal
    Just as relevent now.
  • Just have a couple (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dugancent (2616577) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @06:30PM (#45840139)

    Michael Pollan - The Omnivore's Dilemma
    Christopher McDougall - Born to Run

  • by redmid17 (1217076) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @06:34PM (#45840201)
    What you listed: Fahrenheit 451, To Kill A Mockingbird, In The Heat of the Night, Huckleberry Finn, Cryptonomicon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, A Wrinkle In Time, When Rabbit Howls

    All good stuff here. I'd add on the Bible, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (or On the Road), Animal Farm, Brave New World, 1984.

    I'd also add some books *not* to read: Catcher in the Rye, Girl of the Limberlost

    If someone recommend CitR to you, you can question their taste from then until they die. If someone tells you it changed their life, I'd just stop talking to them.

  • Watership Down (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reliable Windmill (2932227) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @06:37PM (#45840231)
    by Richard Adams. I truly believe it helps people build empathy, and sympathize with animals and understand how frail and exposed they really are.
  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @06:40PM (#45840253)

    "Put aside the Ranger, and become who you were born to be."

    "It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end⦠because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing... this shadow. Even darkness must pass."

    "I don't know how to say it, but after last night I feel different. I seem to see ahead, in a kind of way. I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness; but I know I can't turn back. It isn't right to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want - I don't rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through, sir, if you understand me."

    You want your kids to have a positive outlook, be confident in their ability to solve challenges, read them good, hero fiction.

  • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @06:45PM (#45840309)

    And then read Christopher Hitchens' "God is Not Great" for an opposing point of view

  • by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @06:45PM (#45840315) Journal

    If someone tells you it changed their life, I'd just stop talking to them.

    If someone told me any book changed their life, I'd start talking to them to find out more. If anything, such an event always makes for great conversation.

  • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @06:50PM (#45840389) Journal

    8: Atlas Shrugged (one should sometimes read stuff just to show the errors in thought to boost critical thinking.) 9: Communist Manifesto (same as #8) 10: Wealth of Nations (same as #8 and #9)

    I'd recommend those to any young person. Not just to show errors, but also to be exposed to ideas that one rarely encounters in the classroom (YYMV per country). This can help to translate "deep down feelings" into a set of core values, which helps one to think critically about ones own convictions.

  • Re:The Bible (Score:4, Insightful)

    by clarkkent09 (1104833) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @07:01PM (#45840475)

    You cannot understand a lot of the modern Western society's norms, customs and even laws, never mind art, music, architecture and so much more without being familiar with the stories of the Bible. It is a matter of basic education about the society you live in which, thank God, was not created by militant atheists like some others I could mention.

  • Re:What to read (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @07:03PM (#45840503)

    I think Marx's Capital has aged somewhat better, in part because it's less a proposal of what to do, and more just a detailed analysis of how capitalism works. You can take that analysis and do whatever you want with it (embrace it, oppose it, etc.), but as an analysis it has a lot of interesting stuff.

    The Communist Manifesto is interesting as history and rhetoric, but it's from a completely different context. Some of the stuff in it no longer makes much sense, e.g. even most modern Marxists are puzzled by the parts where it calls for a reversal of urbanization and a re-spreading of the population across the country. Other parts of it are now so mainstream that they're no longer seen as radical or communist, e.g. the part of the manifesto where it calls for abolition of child labor and introduction of free public schools.

  • by #HashTagDeals (3395531) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @07:05PM (#45840525)
    I'd say the opposite, the dictionary is the combination of all books and writings in to a single entity. The dictionary never introduces a new word.
  • by kruach aum (1934852) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @07:19PM (#45840621)

    As I read a lot of books, I've heard this question asked a couple of times before, so I've thought about it for a while and come to the conclusion that there's not really one book everyone should read. People are different, and they take different things from what they read. There are few books I've enjoyed as much as The Name of the Rose, but I also understand that that's because I love both Sherlock Holmes and the debate over realism/nominalism concerning universals in the middle ages -- I wouldn't recommend it to anyone in my immediate family, because I know they would probably die of boredom before even finishing the introduction. They wouldn't get why the revelation at the end is so great, any of the philosophy, or even the Burgos-Borges link. The Name of the Rose's embeddedness in several different contexts contribute hugely to why I think it's such a good book, but if you lack those contexts it's really nothing more than an entropically extravagant piece of firewood. So perhaps "books I enjoyed" is not the right interpretation of "books everyone should read".

    So perhaps non-fiction then. I'd love it if more people looked at the world scientifically, and there are definitely books that can teach you to do that. However, you can't teach someone who doesn't want to learn. You can make The Demon-Haunted World required reading, but you can't make someone actually think about what it says. Thinking is something you have to do by yourself, and if you don't want to think about something being forced to read a book isn't going to make you. So perhaps "books I think people should think like, or at least about" is not a proper interpretation of "books everyone should read" either.

    What book someone should read depends on what they're interested in, what they already know, and what they've already read. If they like sci-fi they should read The Cyberiad, Neuromancer, Ted Chiang's short stories. If they like fantasy and have already read LotR, they should read Bridge of Birds and Perdido Street Station, to see what else can be done in that genre. If they like horror they should read Poe and Lovecraft. If they like thinking just because they should read Borges.

    For every reader there's a book that they should read, but there's no book that everyone should read.

  • by TheloniousToady (3343045) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @07:27PM (#45840677)

    Here's one that may not exactly be literature but certainly is a classic: "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. Among secular books, this is one that can truly change your life. You can read the free condensed version [] if you must, but instead, I recommend you skip that and get the actual book, which is available at your local public library. Read it, understand it, live it.

    Basically, social skills are essential to success in nearly any sphere of life, and if you're truly a nerd, you may be lacking in that department. Even if you do have some basic social skills, the book will help you improve them and, most importantly, will help you really understand where you've been going wrong. Winning friends and influencing people isn't all that complicated, but it may not be obvious to nerds like you and me.

    For example, one simple prescription from the book that most folks could benefit from is, "Become genuinely interested in other people." What's so mysterious about that? But how many of us know someone who wants you to be interested in them, but doesn't show any interest in you? (I seem to be surrounded by them.) With that little bit of wisdom, though, you can either become more likeable to people by showing an interest in them, or you can understand why you don't much like someone who's self-absorbed - if you don't already.

  • by hey! (33014) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @07:34PM (#45840739) Homepage Journal

    I care more about *how much* and *how often* you read, than *what* you read. If you read more than 50 books a year that tells me a lot more about you than the titles you read. I think everyone should read at least 20 books a year, with two or three genres of fiction and non-fiction represented. Once we get to that point, THEN we can argue what titles should be in the "canon".

    This is not the middle ages, where a gentleman could return from university with a library of fifty or so books that'd do him for the rest of his life. There's just too much information in the world and entering the world to rely exclusively on a canonical list of titles. It's more important to be a habitual knowledge seeker who can take pleasure in reading.

    And we need some kind of antidote to the 24 hour news cycle, in which the more people read or watch the less informed they become. That antidote is books, in large quantities.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @07:42PM (#45840809)

    A Brave New World describes the current world much better than 1984 ever could. 1984 and Animal Farm are about Stalinism and control through fear. A Brave New World is about control through entertainment. The first is much easier to convince people to fight against; the latter is, apparently, impossible.

  • Re:The Bible (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tsingi (870990) <> on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @08:09PM (#45841019)

    created by militant atheists

    You mean the atheists runing around killing abortion doctors on the command of no god whatsoever, or the atheists blowing themselves up in the name of no higher order?

    Or do you mean that the bad things that were not done in the name of a god are the fault of all people that don't believe in gods?

    There is no such thing as atheist dogma, so there is nothing for militant atheists to be militant about. There are non-religious dogmas, such as Stalinism. Please explain how all atheists are responsible for, or support these. You know, like how all Catholics support bigotry because they subscribe to Catholocism.

  • by 605dave (722736) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @08:15PM (#45841063) Homepage

    I rarely see Player Piano mentioned, but I think it is as prescient as 1984 or Brave New World.

  • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CrudPuppy (33870) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @08:16PM (#45841075) Homepage

    First, I don't see why Ayn is expected to not create fantastical characters in a work of fiction. Nobody would read it if it were just a mirror image of society.

    Next, the book was not meant to be just a story that entertains. She felt very strongly about certain ideals since she transitioned from Communism to Capitalism, and she writes at the very edge of the continuum. You read it, you analyze it, you adopt the ideals that make sense to you and reject those that don't. Not sure why this concept is so foreign nowadays. I don't share her atheism, but I certainly share her ideals on capitalism.

    I found the book very entertaining and highly thought-provoking. It's the only book I have read since university where I have taken copious notes whilst reading it.

  • Re:The Bible (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ranton (36917) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:24PM (#45841711)

    There are a number of failed societies: The USSR and North Korea come to mind. Also the PRC.

    Doing something in the name of non-religious dogma such as Communism is not the same thing as doing something in the name of Atheism. When I root for my favorite football team I am not doing it in the name of Atheism just because I happen to be an atheist. But when I root for the US team in the Olympics I am doing it in the name of patriotism or nationalism.

    What matters is why someone is doing what they are doing. My atheism is only responsible for things I do in the name of atheism, not everything I do just because I have no religion. And just about the only thing I do in the name of atheism is defend why it is the only rational viewpoint to have, or advocate why organized religion is no longer necessary (not trying to start that debate in this thread, just pointing out some actions I perform because of my atheist beliefs). These are the only things you can blame my atheism for.

  • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:48PM (#45841911) Homepage Journal

    Of course you are right. I see precious little evidence that the Bible has influenced society much at all, except to give people stuff to fight about. Part 1 is about making sure your enemy is smote and placed beneath you and don't eat pork or have buttsex and Part 2 is all about, "forget Part 1".

    And as soon as some Christian leader starts to actually take the Christ stuff seriously, like Pope Francis, all the Christians start getting mad at him for being a commie. Go figure.

  • by zippthorne (748122) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @11:59PM (#45842737) Journal

    Hang on. Your new year's resolution is to tell other people to do something that you believe will improve their lives?

  • Re:Well... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by IICV (652597) on Thursday January 02, 2014 @02:02AM (#45843315)

    First, I don't see why Ayn is expected to not create fantastical characters in a work of fiction. Nobody would read it if it were just a mirror image of society.

    Do you really not see the difference between Frodo Baggins and Dagny Taggart? Frodo is a fantastical character - he's a short-statured member of a race of hairy-footed little men who live in hills, have eleventy-first birthday parties and possess a strange resistance to magic. But despite all this, he's understandable as a person: he hopes and struggles, he gives up and sometimes he wins. The actions he takes are ones we could see ourselves taking, if we happened to be in his fantastical situation and under the stresses he's under.

    Dagny Taggart is a fantastical caricature - she's a human, but not as we know it Jim. Everything she ever wanted sort of just happened to her, and she just does random insane shit because that's what the author needs her to do in order to move the plot along. It's really hard for an actual human being to identify with her, because she's the barest sketch of one.

  • by coder111 (912060) <{coder} {at} {}> on Thursday January 02, 2014 @03:21AM (#45843597)
    Before you start reading anything, do read Sagan's Demon-Haunted World first. It's a good introduction into telling lies and bullshit apart from stuff you can believe. I think scepticism and logic and scientific method are very lacking from today's education and peoples minds. This book takes a small step in fixing that.

    As for other books worth reading- other comments have plenty of good suggestions.

  • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by canadian_right (410687) <> on Thursday January 02, 2014 @11:12AM (#45845723) Homepage

    As an atheist I often recommend that my religious friend read the bible. Most haven't read the "good book", and most find actually reading it a much better argument against being religious than anything I could tell them.

There is hardly a thing in the world that some man can not make a little worse and sell a little cheaper.