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Ask Slashdot: What Books Have Had a Significant Impact On Your Life? 700

gspec writes "A little background about me: 36-year-old computer engineer working in the Bay Area. While I bring in a comfortable salary, I consider myself an underachiever, and my career is stagnant (I have only been promoted four times in my 12-year career). I have led a couple projects, but I am not in any sort of leadership/management position. I realize I need to do something to enhance my career, and unfortunately, going back to school is not an option. One thing I can do is to read more quality books. My question: which books, of any type or genre, have had a significant impact on your life?"
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Ask Slashdot: What Books Have Had a Significant Impact On Your Life?

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  • by Niris ( 1443675 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:30PM (#41635165)
    How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie. Great pointers for talking to people. Also I loved the art of war.
  • by BMOC ( 2478408 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:34PM (#41635227)

    "The Case For Mars" Robert Zubrin

    When humanity stops looking towards a viable future of expansion, it always stagnates. This book puts humanity's future in perspective

  • Everything I've read from Packt rates 8/10+ in my book.
  • I've read most all of his books, starting in high school. I doubt I would have half the imagination or curiosity about space as I do now without some of his ideas.
  • by ISoldat53 ( 977164 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:35PM (#41635261)
    by Bowditch
  • Ouch (Score:3, Funny)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:37PM (#41635297) Journal

    I dropped a phone book on my foot once.

  • Easy list (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sparticus789 ( 2625955 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:39PM (#41635323) Journal

    The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov is and will always be my favorite series of books. Those are the first real science fiction books I read, they were welcome reprieve from those terrible books I had to read in high school.

    Dune by Frank Herbert. The sheer scope of events which take place in this sage showed me how insignificant daily events really were. While it was fictional, the way the Shaddam, the Baron Harkonnen, and Muad'Dib feel about their subjects/followers/slaves gave me a hard dose of reality. There are a lot of people out there, and most of them have no idea that you just got picked on walking to class, dropped some spaghetti on your shirt, or had a really crappy day.

    • What about when I choked on a pretzel?
    • Maybe it's just me, but we read some truly awesome stuff in high school. Here's a list just to name a few.

      Lord Of The Flies
      The Chrysalids
      To Kill a Mockingbird
      Wuthering Heights
      Cue For Treason
      The Hobbit
      Brave New World*

      It's been a while so I don't remember all the assigned books, but I only really remember one which was really bad, plus all the Shakespeare, which I never really cared for. Most of my classmates didn't like Wuthering Heights, but I think a lot of that was just prejudice agains
    • by JWW ( 79176 )

      Agree on Dune.

      But, unlike you I did not read the Foundation books until later in life and frankly I think they're a little overrated.

  • The life changer for me was George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones. Actually I like the HBO version better because of the nudity.

  • Heh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by ( 245670 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:39PM (#41635337)

    The Penthouse Letters. It was very informative.

  • ...I love Black Art of 3D Game Programming: Writing Your Own High-Speed 3D Polygon Video Games in C []
  • Moneyball (Score:4, Informative)

    by alen ( 225700 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:41PM (#41635363)

    It's amazing what billy beanne has done on a tiny budget and going against what all the experts said

    In the end it's about using data rather than hunches and old wives' tales to make business decisions

  • Two golfers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BaverBud ( 610218 ) <baver@the[ ] ['bee' in gap]> on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:41PM (#41635371) Homepage Journal
    (This is not my joke/story, just paraphrasing what I remember)

    Two golfers had been meeting weekly for years - lets call them Joe and Bob. Joe started to notice one day that Bob was getting a lot better. So Joe asked Bob what he was doing, and Bob replied that he was taking some golf classes on the weekends.

    Joe, not wanting to be outdone, bought a golf self-improvement book. And gave it to Bob, complimenting him on his desire to improve.

    A few weeks later, Bob was back to his old self, and Joe was happily able to compete again.

    Moral of the story: When Joe bought Bob the book, Bob stopped practicing and started reading. Don't substitute reading for doing.
    • Re:Two golfers (Score:4, Insightful)

      by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @05:04PM (#41635803) Homepage
      This is very true. I like cycling and one thing that always comes up on cycling forums when people ask how they can improve, is to spend more time in the saddle. There's very little training alternates forms of training (or reading) can do to compare to spending 5 hours straight on a real ride. I know a lot of people in university did well in all their classes, learned everything they were supposed to, but couldn't actually program that well. Books are a good starting off point, to let you know what's possible, but you always have to follow up with using whatever you have learned for a real life project.
  • Some... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:43PM (#41635397)

    The C Programming Language - Kernighan and Ritchie
    The Design of the Unix Operating System - Bach
    Computer Networks - Tannenbaum
    The Art Of Computer Programming - Knuth
    Security Engineering - Anderson
    Godel Escher and Bach - Hofstader
    The Demon Haunted World - Sagan
    The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy - Adams
    Adolph Hitler, My Part In His Downfall - Milligan

    • Goedel Escher Bach is the reason I picked this handle. That was 25 years ago; has it really been that long?

    • I was going to suggest many of those. My few additions:

      Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. No explanation, just go read it.

      Milgram Obedience Studies - Groupthink. For obvious reasons.

      The Fountainhead - individualism to a limited extent is a positive thing, but Atlas Shrugged just punches the idea into the ground repeatedly. Roark is still an inspiration in my programming. Bag the ideology and all the idiots who reply based on ideology. I stopped reading for a few years after that one.

      Fierce Inv

  • The Bible. Except for atheists and agnostics, most people should insert their favorite holy book [] here.

    My college calculus book. Naturally. []

    Half a bookshelf full of Dr. Seuss [] books from my school library that I read as a kid.

  • More books... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JDAustin ( 468180 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:44PM (#41635413)

    Most of Heinlein's work, although my personal favorite is Job:A Comedy of Justice (I'd swear the South Park guys got their idea of Heaven and Hell from their).

    I'd add in Atlas Shrugged also, I didnt read until I was 35+.

  • Great book that teaches you that you have to live your life for yourself and not let rules or other people try to keep you down.

  • by Grayhand ( 2610049 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:47PM (#41635447)
    HG Wells, Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, Edgar Rice Burroughs, HP Lovecraft, and Robert E Howard. Lovecraft and Howard had the biggest influence. I read a lot of scifi like A Mote In God's Eye and Robert Heinlein but Howard and Lovecraft had the biggest influence.
  • My favorites (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MetricT ( 128876 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:48PM (#41635473)

    Why Societies Need Dissent - Cass Sunstein
    The Road to Reality - Roger Penrose
    Liars and Outliers - Bruce Schneier
    Diplomacy - Henry Kissenger
    Last Chance to See - Douglas Adams
    Free to Choose - Milton Friedman
    Cosmos - Carl Sagan
    Guns, Germs, and Steel - Jared Diamond
    Black Swan - Nassim Nicholas Taleb
    Meditations - Marcus Aurelius

  • by 1000101 ( 584896 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:49PM (#41635485)
  • Lots of them. Here are a few pulled from my Goodreads list, in no particular order

    His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman - these are kids books, but when I reread them recently I realized that they had a profound effect on my adolescent mind.

    Neal Stephenson - his science fiction gave me a taste of what the world could be.

    Born to Run by Christopher McDougall - It's kind of silly, but a few years ago this book planted the seeds that got me running -- and not just running but running almost daily and LOV

  • Reading these two novels by Conrad really shook me up and made me realise I was wasting my life as a chef. Now i'm doing a PhD after finishing my under with 1st class honours.
  • PHIKAL and THIKAL (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mindcandy ( 1252124 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:52PM (#41635557)
    Not the books themselves, per se.
  • by roninmagus ( 721889 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:52PM (#41635563)
    I remember reading it when I was a kid
  • All science fiction, but I've read quite a few of his books. Most of his novels are based around now or in the near future, and I often have some eye-opening experiences about how life & the world could be so much different if a few circumstances were changed.
  • A marriage of heaven and hell - William Blake.

    All of Blake's works are amazing and frankly transformative in my life; I don't know why but for some reason hearing points made that I had to unravel to understand just made them stick more and all of it is written with a beauty in language that really drives his values in passion and joy across as being significant for more reasons than just the words but because there is meaning in those words that can cause affect.

    Just my strange and abnormal two cents
  • by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:54PM (#41635597)

    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. It can help you to look at life in a different way...

    • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @05:09PM (#41635865)

      Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. It can help you to look at life in a different way...

      Read it once .. read it twice .. then read The Tao Of Poo [] and realized that this small book managed to capture and impart all of the same concepts in something that could be easily read in an afternoon.

      • by raddan ( 519638 ) * on Friday October 12, 2012 @06:14PM (#41636881)
        While ZMM certainly borrows some ideas from eastern philosophy, this is not the central point of the book. Eastern thinking is mainly used as a counterpoint to the classical Western way of thinking.

        I've read ZMM about seven times. I get something different out of it on every read. It is an attempt to apply rational thinking to the idea of rationality itself, in addition to just being a great story. The section on 'gumption traps' is worth the price of admission alone.

        Definitely my favorite book.
  • The God Delusion (Score:3, Insightful)

    by na1led ( 1030470 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:55PM (#41635625)
    by Richard Dawkins, a sure Eye Opener!
    • Re:The God Delusion (Score:4, Informative)

      by Pseudonym ( 62607 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @05:57PM (#41636649)

      Definitely! It's the second-greatest lesson you'll ever get on why you should only write non-fiction books on topics you know know something about. (The best, of course, being God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens.)

      If this stuff interests you, you're far better off reading Breaking the Spell by Dan Dennett. It's a far better book in every respect. Or anything by Robert Ingersoll.

  • Your Money or Your Life by Robin & Dominguez. This is one to read sooner rather than later. If I had read it years ago I would probably not now be living paycheck to paycheck & working in a job I hate.
  • Silly question (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FridayBob ( 619244 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:57PM (#41635667) Homepage
    My impression is that only people who have read very few books are likely to say that any one book has had a "significant impact on their lives." No one book has all the answers, but people who read enough of them do tend to become wiser. Anyway, if you're looking for a good book, first find a good author.
  • Humbly suggest that you explore career options - WCYP? provides a good way in, there are plenty of other options too. When you find a career that inspires you, growing in your capabilities, responsibilities, rank, and salary will seem like the most natural thing in the world, and not the epic struggle it is when you're stuck in a place/career/situation you don't like.

    Other suggestions: (1) Make sure you are dating, meeting people (or talking to your gf/bf/spouse if you are attached). The right partner can b

  • by justfred ( 63412 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @04:59PM (#41635709) Homepage

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

    This book taught me more about coding (and recursion, and all sorts of other concepts) than any language-specific book I've read. I carried it around for a couple of years, making my way through as I could. Highly recommended.

  • Particularly the Idiot and Crime and Punishment.

    I don't think any of them will help you with your career, though - unless you plan to kill someone with an axe and are looking for advise for or against it.

    • Two-volume biography of Edison.
    • Berkeley, "Giant Brains, or Machines That Think" "The Scientific American Book of Projects for the Amateur Scientist"
    • Organik, "Fortran IV"
    • Heilbroner, "The Worldly Philosophers"
    • Plunkett, "Plunkitt of Tammany Hall"
    • Knuth, "Fundamental Algorithms"
    • Horowitz and Hill, "The Art of Electronics"
    • Ernest, "Chapters on Machinery and Labor"
    • Russell, "Why I am not a Christian"
    • Malkiel, "A Random Walk Down Wall Street"
    • Graham, "The Intelligent Investor"
    • Mackay, "Extraordin
  • After reading Dune, I could no longer accept religion at face value.

  • Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. A must read if you are interested in artificial intelligence and/or information theory.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    While there are other great books (Dune was mentioned earlier), I have found Time Enough for Love has had more long term affects on my thinking than any other. In large part because it is so darn quotable:

    Also it is about the wisdom of a man who has lived for thousands of years, so I think the idea that it is a man's attempt to condense as much wisdom in one book as possible. Let me just reference my favorite quote:

    Do not confu

  • The TI-994a Extended Basic manual and "Cosmos" when I was a kid.

    No books really stick out from college, I'd say it was more of a cumulative effect from the individual books.

    "UNIX in a Nutshell" in the early 90's - sure it's just a dump of man pages, but I think I memorized everything between the pages and it got me started in UNIX.

    "Learning Perl" - perl has paid the bills and let me go home at a decent hour. Thanks Larry!

  • All of them... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by frank_adrian314159 ( 469671 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @05:08PM (#41635849) Homepage

    Well, except for the ones by Ayn Rand - those made me more stupid. So I had to read some Chomsky and Borges to fix that.

  • My List (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bodhammer ( 559311 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @05:09PM (#41635863)
    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
    Atlas Shrugged
    Three Pillars of Zen
    The Bible
    The Art of Happiness, The Art of Happiness at Work
    Most of Robert Heinlein's books and short stories. (man who sold the moon is still a favorite)
    An introduction to microcomputers, Volume 1
    Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
  • By James P. Carse

    Although written by a religious scholar, this is not a book on religion, per se.

  • two books:

    left brain — rudolf steiner — philosophy of freedom: []

    right brain — george macDonald — phantastes: []

    desert island keepers

  • by boristdog ( 133725 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @05:17PM (#41635993)

    And all the subsequent Robert Caro LBJ books, especially the third book on the Senate. Very well researched and written. Five book series (BIG books, too) that he started writing in the 1970's. The last one isn't even out yet.

    Not specifically for the LBJ content, though it is interesting, but for showing how the US government (especially congress) REALLY works from the inside. And showing what types of people become politicians and how megalomaniacal they tend to be.

  • First, let me second some earlier suggestions: Flatland, and Godel, Escher, Bach (or the much more concise semi-sequel, I Am a Strange Loop.)

    But one I'd suggest, which I pretty much never see anyone else mention, is The Day the Universe Changed (companion to the BBC miniseries, now available on YouTube [].) It's sort of about the history of science, but more so it's about how our discoveries about the world changed (and continue to change) our perception of it.

  • The Last Lecture (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JustinKSU ( 517405 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @05:21PM (#41636081)
    The Last Lecture [] by Randy Pausch.

    A touching story about focusing one what matters in life from the point of view of a nerdy geek with months to live.
  • by N1AK ( 864906 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @05:25PM (#41636131) Homepage
    Personally I'd be tempted to consider subscriptions to some business magazines. Personally I quite like Fortune and Harvard Business Review. They won't give you the depth of books focused on specific subjects but they give you a broader understanding of what is happening and can help direct you towards subjects you think are important and wish to investigate further.

    I would however also suggest reading Robert Cialdini: Influence and Bruce Patton: Difficult Conversations. Neither are about business strategy or leadership instead they both focus on how to consider other peoples positions, how to interact effectively and build productive relationships.
  • by vinn ( 4370 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @05:29PM (#41636195) Homepage Journal

    If enhancing your career is your goal, I'm not entirely sure reading books is going to do it for ya. It's not like you can leave a copy of "The Question Behind the Question" on your desk and your boss is suddenly going to think, 'Hey, I need to promote that guy.' Ain't gonna happen. So here's some specific career enhancing techniques:

    1. Quit your job and get a different one. Oh, I know that's easier said than done, and you probably have some nice benefits you've accumulated by now. The sad fact is, that is the quickest way to a management level and on to a C-level if that's your goal. If you look around and you rarely see people promoted within your company, guess what - you're not going to get promoted. That means it's time to pad your resume (yes, stretch the truth to the breaking point so it's obvious you've managed people) and apply for management jobs elsewhere. If you get offered a job, negotiate a higher salary and better benefits.

    2. Learn accounting and marketing. Try to get on the job experience in both of those areas working with those individuals. Accounting is important to understand if you want to become a manager because budgeting comes into play and you can do some creative GL accounting within your department to get what you need accomplished. Marketing is important to get experience in because that's where all the Cool Kids work. Knowing the Cool Kids and hanging out with them will get you bonus points with management.

    3. Kiss people's asses. Or, at least grace your boss's desk with a decent bottle wine or a six pack if he did something you appreciate. In an earlier time this was a concept called "courtesy".

    4. Take some classes outside of work. On a basic level, look for one of those seminars held on weekends at hotels in your area, specifically a class in negotiation. We all negotiate every day of our lives and it is immensely helpful to understand when and how to do it properly. If anything, it'll help your marriage. Maybe it's worth taking a management class as well. Here's some Fred Pryor seminars in your area: []

    5. See the above about learning accounting and marketing. Maybe you could take a class at a local community college.

    6. Ask your boss for a promotion. Surprisingly enough, it could be that simple. Don't wait for an opening to appear, just go directly to your manager or his manager (if you know him well) and ask. Maybe your company never knew you were interested in a promotion. Maybe they just thought you're happy doing what you're doing. If there isn't a job open, it's completely possible they've been thinking of creating a new job and just didn't have the right person available to do it, nor did they think they could hire the person externally. Maybe that guy is you.

    7. Finally, if you just want to read some books, I liked Jack Welch's autobiography. I also liked "Good to Great". I'm reading Keith Richard's biography right now, "Life"; pretty much a textbook for what not to do to your body.

  • by riverat1 ( 1048260 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @05:32PM (#41636247)

    I'm not sure if it really addresses the asker's needs but Stranger in a Strange Land [] by Heinlein had a profound effect on me when I read it the first time as a young teenager.

  • Discworld (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CCarrot ( 1562079 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @05:32PM (#41636261)

    In my opinion, you can't have a decent quality of life without large doses of humour on a regular basis.

    I have never found a better writer than Sir Terry Pratchett for dry, engaging wit, and the occasional turn of phrase that will still leave you chuckling days later. His Discworld series also provides concise and often cutting criticisms of society and some of our more inane foibles, camouflaged behind the general fantasy setting (the Campaign for Equal Heights [] movement for Dwarves, for example). His characters are engaging and his situational comedy is absolutely stellar!

    Please don't be thrown just because it is situated in a world that is shaped like a disc, perched atop four elephants who in turn are standing on a giant turtle swimming through the deeps of space :) Yes, it's set in a 'silly' world, and populated with fantastic creatures, but the challenges and triumphs his characters face are usually very applicable to this here modern, mundane world. I heartily recommend all of his works, but the Discworld books in particular.

    Happy hunting!

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @05:48PM (#41636507) Homepage

    How to win friends and influence people. Flat out 900X better and more important than ANY other book out there, and should be required reading for most people yearly.

  • by robbo ( 4388 ) <> on Friday October 12, 2012 @05:50PM (#41636557)

    More likely your second because most men have their first one in their 20s, when adulthood turns out to be not at all like what you expected.

    Rather than fish for books, I'd recommend having a look around at your friends, workmates, and acquaintances about your age or a little older and identify three things:
    1. Who is having the most fun?
    2. Who has reasonable job security, to the extent that exists today?
    3. What skills do they have that you don't?

    Use these things to guide your choices for skills to develop- maybe they are technical, or maybe they are people skills, but you'll be working towards filling a deficit that can open new/better opportunities for you.

    Personally, I think there is limited benefit to enhancing coding skills, such as learning a new language or framework- they are a dime a dozen and the industry always has a new fad. On the other hand I think there's a lot of value in learning new analytical skills. Everyone and their dog wants to mine actionable intelligence from their customer data and the ability to scrub, synthesize and model is a key asset. Plus when the data is sufficiently rich it can be a lot of fun compared to setting up yet another web site. If you want to take it all the way to home plate, pick up some machine learning skills, eg by taking one of the Stanford or Udacity online courses and dazzle your employers with your ability to predict that your customer is pregnant... ;-)

    btw, IMO a promo every three years seems about par for the course- not fantastic but nothing to complain about. The real difficulty is that promotion velocity tends to slow over time, since there can only be so many head chefs.


  • by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @05:57PM (#41636641) Homepage

    Diesel Traction - A Manual for Enginemen []

    My late father found a copy of this in an old railway workshop he was converting into a heavy goods vehicle workshop and brought it home, when I was about six or seven years old. I picked it up and read it, fascinated by the cutaway diagrams of the engines and gearboxes that went into the different styles of locomotive, and the circuit diagrams of all the control gear. There were detailed explanations of how the automatic gearboxes in diesel-mechanical locomotives worked, and how the injector pump, fuel rack and injectors worked in a diesel engine.

    At that point, I realised that while I would probably never work on a 1962 diesel railcar, I held in my hand the key to knowing *everything*. All I needed to understand absolutely anything I ever encountered was the right diagram, and the mental toolkit to look at what was in front of me and understand how different parts work together as part of a whole system. From that moment onwards everything else was easy.

    You've just got to look at things and see the exploded diagram in your mind's eye.

  • by johnjaydk ( 584895 ) on Friday October 12, 2012 @06:07PM (#41636797)

    by Peter van der Linden

    A profound influence that made me aware of the depth of programming expertise.

    Unfortunately PvdL's recent books doesn't live up to this awesome tome.

"The Avis WIZARD decides if you get to drive a car. Your head won't touch the pillow of a Sheraton unless their computer says it's okay." -- Arthur Miller