# Recommended Reading

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.

— Jorge Luis Borges

These are my favorite books, ever. I know they’re my favorite because,
while reading each one, first I felt awe. Then I felt
jealously–overwhelming jealousy! Jealousy that such books even exist,
that they *can* exist, and that they were written by
someone-who-is-not-me.

I have zero qualms about recommending any of these. You should read
*all* of them.

The list is in no particular order. If you ask me for my favorite book, the answer is “these ones.” I don’t have one, specific pick. The best one depends on who you are and why you read.

**Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion**

*Influence*
is a brief, easy-to-read review of the different tactics that
advertisers use to influence you. It’s written as a guide to protecting
yourself from manipulators, I mean, “influencers,” but I suspect most
people read it in order to use the tactics on others.

I didn’t like this book when I first read it. It didn’t have enough rigor. I wondered whether any of it was even true. Maybe I was upset about something else. Maybe I’d been burned by believing too many psychology studies that later failed to replicate.

I don’t know.

But then, after a few months passed, I found myself gifting it to people. I’ve given away at least two, maybe three copies.

What changed?

It’s all just so… applicable. I started to see the tactics in the book
everywhere– hell, I even use some of them on the site, and I *know*
they work, because I’ve A/B tested pages with and without them.

**Recommended for:** Anyone who needs to sell, persuade, or influence. So
probably everyone.

* Proofs and Refutations*[[http://amzn.to/2iBwDlo][]]

I like philosophy of math. I’ve liked it ever since reading Wigner’s paper, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in The Natural Science.” This line sums up its main thrust: “the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and that there is no rational explanation for it.”

That is: what, exactly, are these mathematical objects and why is math so effective? This question bugs me. I still have no satisfactory answer beyond the obvious ones. (These are left as an exercise for the reader.)

Thanks to this bothersome itch to know, I’ve since read more philosophy
of math than is strictly useful. (I’m not sure any philosophy of math is
useful.) But this book, *Proofs and
Refutations*, is the greatest of them all.

The book is structured into a dialogue between a teacher and students. These students are fictional but the author, Lakatos, fills their dialogue with points made by the mathematical greats throughout history. One student parrots Euler, another Kepler.

And, trust me, if you’ve ever felt dumb about some explanation you’ve proposed, Kepler posited far worse.

The dialogue attempts to answer the question, “What is mathematical knowledge and the nature of proof?” But I think the lessons of the book can be generalized, providing insight into the nature of all knowledge, not just mathematics.

**Recommended for:** the philosophically and mathematically inclined.

* Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden
Braid*[[http://amzn.to/2iBzHOa][]]

Right. I once saw someone online describe
*Gödel, Escher, Bach* as a logic textbook
disguised as a novel. This sounds about right to me, but this probably
seems hopelessly cryptic to someone who hasn’t read it.

**Try this**: Imagine that you travel back in time, kidnap Lewis
Carrol–the author of
*Alice In
Wonderland*–, transport him to today, and then force him to 1) learn
enough logic to prove both of Godel’s incompleteness theorems, and
*then* write a book explaining it. Along with its connections to M.C.
Escher, the halting problem, Bach’s fugues, DNA, and about a dozen other
topics.

*That’s* what GEB is like.

It is the most creative book I have ever read.

**Recommended for:** Anyone who can read an 824 page book and enjoys logic
puzzles.

* The Little Schemer*[[http://amzn.to/2hui8Uu][]]

I have two favorite programming books. One is
*Why’s (Poignant) Guide to
Ruby*. It’s entertaining, but I don’t know if it will teach you
anything about programming. I mean, it’s supposed to, but I don’t know
if it *will*. You can
download it and read it
for free.

My other favorite programming book is *The
Little Schemer*. It’s entertaining, mind expanding, and it *will*
teach you enough Scheme to be dangerous.

But I mostly like it because it’s entertaining and mind-expanding. The Scheme thing is just a bonus.

The book itself is slim. Amazon says its 216 pages, but it has the heft of a book half that size. But the lessons within take a while to digest. More like a book twice its size. Maybe it cancels out.

The writing itself is in this sort of deranged dialogue format. One Amazon reviewer describers it as, “a little like Sméagol and Gollum discussing fishes.” An apt characterization.

**Recommended for:** Programmers or would-be programmers.

[[http://amzn.to/2i4r1TA][]]/*Thinking and Deciding*/

Okay. I lied. If I had to pick just one book as my favorite, this is the book. It’s a tour de force, pulling from cognitive psychology, economics, decision theory, and psychology. Oh, and ethics.

The book itself is aptly named. It’s on how humans think and decide, and where they deviate from rational choices. That is: how can you, as an individual, make better decisions? The book answers this, in a commendably practical manner.

The emphasis on actionable advice, along with the sheer amount of
research covered–39 pages of references!–is what makes this book so
impressive. It’s the book that *Thinking, Fast and Slow* should have
been. (If someone tries to explain to me again the difference between
system 1 and system 2, I’ll puke all over them.)

**Recommended for:**

- Anyone who wishes to understand how to reason under uncertainty and has read at least one research paper in their life.
- Anyone who identifies as agnostic because “you can’t ever really know, man.”