The Top 5 Books On Everything

Good books are of course far better than almost anything you can read in a magazine or find on the Internet. They are also of double the benefit when the reader actually interacts with them, e.g. by writing a review. I have about 25 of these on my two blogs, but they still come very far from encompassing all the best stuff I’ve read.

The problem with writing a review is that they are very time-consuming. A post on on current affairs, in which I can find quotes and links to material on the click of a button, takes far less time and effort than leafing through a tome or trying to locate some important passage in a Kindle book. Reader response rates tend to be fairly modest too. It goes without mention that one is expected to actually read the book too.

So, books reviews are very useful. Both for personal development, to better internalize its lessons through rephrase and summary, as well as for the benefit of laypersons who may be inspired to read the book too – or at least to correctly quote its arguments, while pretending to have read it, and not come off as a fool or a fraud. (For instance, I am personally convinced that 95% of The Bell Curve’s confident critics have never even touched it). But they’re taxing on time and stamina. How to resolve this?

I think I have a solution. Henceforth, instead of reviewing books individually – as I tended to do beforehand – I will review them in taxonomic bunches. I will also only review the best books in their class as reviewing bad books is the most horrid of chores, and useless to boot. After all, going by Pareto, probably something like 80% of the more useful and relevant information on any subject is contained in 20% of the books on it; there is thus an inherent advantage in only focusing on the top 5 or so.

To this end, I have compiled a list of “top books” on various subjects, theories, and themes that will hopefully appear as blog posts in the not too distant future. If they are in italics, it means I have yet to read the book in question. Note that only English language books or books with more or less accessible English language translations cay be included. Please feel free to provide suggestions for the ?’s, to suggest alternatives for any book on the lists you think unworthy, and to suggest lists of books on topics of your own expertise.

Hacking Life

Top 5 Books Every (American) Man Has To Read

  1. The Lucifer Principle (Howard Bloom)
  2. The Game (Neil Strauss)
  3. The Bell Curve (Charles Murray & Richard Herrnstein)
  4. The Black Swan (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)
  5. The 48 Laws of Power (Robert Greene), OR The Prince (Niccolò Machiavelli)

Comment: If you are a pasty-faced nerd who doesn’t get laid and doesn’t have much money, these books will open your ideas to what’s wrong with you like few others. They will not tell you how to “get big, get rich, get chicks” – for that, see below – but they will quickly set you on the straight and narrow.

(1) explains why you live in a social hierarchy and always will; the only question is where you’ll be on the pyramid. (2) explains why being a nice guy won’t get you laid, despite what your mom and beta friends tell you. While (3) is most (in)famous for exposing some inconvenient racial realities, its even more fascinating findings are that IQ more than anything else determines your life chances, and its theory of “cognitive stratification” is simply the most cogent and elegant explanation for the path US society is on. (4) is brimming with insights on how to act under capitalism. (5) are the right attitudes to keep in mind when politicking, regardless of whether you’re office plankton or a Congressman.

Top 5 Books Every American Man Has To Takes Notes On

  1. The Four Hour Workweek (Tim Ferriss)
  2. Starting Strength (Mark Rippetoe), OR Power to the People! (Pavel Tsasouline), OR The Four Hour Body (Tim Ferriss)
  3. Bang! (Roosh V), AND Day Bang (Roosh V), OR The Layguide (anon.)
  4. The Paleo Solution (Robb Wolf), OR The Four Hour Body (Tim Ferriss)
  5. ? – How to improve IQ? It is largely set by genetics, but can surely be tweaked upwards with mental exercises and nootropic drugs. I do not know of a good book on this subject, most likely because I’ve never experienced serious limiting factors in this area.

Comment: Not everyone is has the genetics or intuitive understandings necessary to succeed in life. These guides show how it is done. Online, follow Life Hacker.

The Lucky Gods

It is considered that wealth, health, and love are all vital towards a fulfilling life. Some power and a sense of spiritual purpose wouldn’t go amiss either. How do you go about acquiring these?

Top 5 Books on Wealth

  1. The Four Hour Workweek (Tim Ferriss)
  2. The $100 Start-up (Chris Guillebeau)
  3. The Black Swan (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)
  4. ?
  5. ?

Comment: I think (1) contains virtually all the basics on how to become a member of the “New Rich”: Improving efficiency via exploitation of the 80/20 Principle and Parkinson’s Law; Creating “muses”, i.e. automated revenue streams; Exploiting geoarbitrage; Going on permanent semi-retirement. Excellent! (3) will show you how to NOT lose money, e.g. by ignoring financial “experts”.

Top 5 Books on Health

  1. The Four Hour Body (Tim Ferriss)
  2. The Paleo Solution (Robb Wolf)
  3. Starting Strength (Mark Rippetoe), OR, Power to the People! (Pavel Tsasouline), OR Convict Conditioning (Paul Wade)
  4. Fantastic Voyage (Ray Kurzweil & Terry Grossman)
  5. Emergency! (Neil Strauss)

Comment: The first three books are about how to stay in excellent physical form (once you get fit enough check out Crossfit). (4) is about increasing longevity, while (5) may lower the chances your life is cut short during some disaster. Useful online resources include Bodybuilding, Longecity.

Top 5 Books on Game

  1. The Game (Style)
  2. Bang! (Roosh V), AND Day Bang (Roosh V)
  3. Rules of the Game (Style)
  4. The Layguide (anon.)
  5. The Mystery Method (Mystery)

Comment: (1) is the classic that popularized game. (2) are detailed, no-nonsense guides to its application; I would recommend reading them immediately after The Game. (3) is more of an all-round self-improvement exercise book, with tips on stuff like posture and voice. (4) has a ton of information on patterns. (5) is a description of real social dynamics as per its inventor. Online, read Heartiste and Roosh.

Top 5 Books on Power

  1. The Prince (Niccolò Machiavelli)
  2. The 48 Laws of Power (Robert Greene)
  3. ? Influence (Robert B. Cialdini)
  4. ? Art of Seduction (Robert Greene)
  5. ?

Comment: (1) is the oldest classic, and (2) is standard throughout business schools. Suggestions for other books welcome.

Top 5 Books on Conversation

  1. Frogs into Princes (Richard Bandler & John Grinder)
  2. Conversationally Speaking (Alan Garner)
  3. How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie)
  4. ? The Art of Seduction (Robert Greene)
  5. ? Something on motivational speaking, tones, etc

Comment: This is a priority development area, tying in as it does with both Power and Game. (1) is NLP. (3) is a classic.

Top 5 Books on Spirit

  1. The Secret (Rhonda Byrne)
  2. San Manuel Bueno, Martyr (Miguel de Unamuno)
  3. ?
  4. ?
  5. ?

Comment: Not an expert on this yet, and not high priority. Online, Zen Habits.

Understanding the World

Top 5 Books on HBD and Evolutionary Biology

  1. Mean Genes (Terry Burnham)
  2. The Bell Curve (Charles Murray & Richard Herrnstein)
  3. The Selfish Gene (Richard Dawkins)
  4. The G Factor (Arthur Jensen)
  5. Race, Evolution, and Behavior (Philippe Rushton)

Comment: These books cover a huge percentage of the most relevant findings on gender and racial differences, how they came to be, and why they are important.

Top 10 Books for Understanding the Future

  1. Secular Cycles (Peter Turchin), OR Introduction to Social Macrodynamics (Andrei Korotayev, Artemy Malkov, & Daria Khaltourina)
  2. Limits to Growth (Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, & Dennis Meadows)
  3. Beyond Oil (Kenneth Deffeyes)
  4. Six Degrees (Mark Lynas)
  5. The Singularity is Near (Ray Kurzweil)
  6. Race, Evolution, and Behavior (Philippe Rushton)
  7. The Clash of Civilizations (Samuel Huntington)
  8. The End of History (Francis Fukuyama)
  9. ? Future Shock (Alvin Toffler)
  10. The Black Swan (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)

Comment: To appreciate the future, one needs a sense of the forces that drive historical processes such as war, prosperity, civil strife… (1) is perhaps the best guide, introducing us to cliodynamics – the mathematical modeling of history. This transitions smoothly into (2), the mathematical modeling of future ecological and social processes. (3)-(6) are concise introductions to four major realities of today without which accurate predictions are impossible: Energy depletion; Anthropogenic climate change; Accelerating technological change; Human Biodiversity. (7)-(9) are different paradigms through which to view political and social developments; they may have legions of critics, but all of them have been hugely influential. (10) is a cautionary reminder that your predictions will be wrong, so don’t bank on them.

Top 5 Futurist Books

  1. Preparing for the 21st century (Paul Kennedy)
  2. Global Catastrophes and Trends (Vaclav Smil)
  3. The World in 2050 (Laurence S. Smith)
  4. ? The Next 100 Years (George Friedman), The Meaning of the 21st century (James Martin), Our Final Hour (Martin Rees)
  5. ?

Comment: These are the brave souls who tried to gather the strands and predict what the next century will look like. (1)-(3) are well-thought out and excellent; and suggestions in (4) are rather slapdash efforts best avoided.

Top 10 Books on “Big History”

  1. Secular Cycles (Peter Turchin)
  2. The Decline of the West (Oswald Spengler)
  3. A History of the World (John Roberts)
  4. Maps of Time (David Christian)
  5. A Short History of Nearly Everything (Bill Bryson)
  6. Guns, Germs, and Steel (Jared Diamond)
  7. Capitalism and Material Life, 1400–1800 (Fernand Braudel)
  8. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Paul Kennedy)
  9. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (David Landes)
  10. The Great Divergence (Kenneth Pomeranz)

Comment: (1) asserts that history can be modeled; (2), the reverse. The next three books are the biggest big picture histories, from the very beginnings of humanity (5) or even the Big Bang (3), (4) to the present day. (6)-(10) are influential accounts dealing with the question of why some countries became rich and powerful, while others remained poor and got colonized.

Top 5 Peak Oil Books

  1. Beyond Oil (Kenneth Deffeyes)
  2. Oil 101 (Morgan Downey)
  3. Twilight in the Desert (Matt Simmons)
  4. The Party’s Over (Richard Heinberg)
  5. The Last Oil Shock (David Strahan)


Top 5 Books on Global Energetics

  1. Energy at the Crossroads (Vaclav Smil)
  2. ?
  3. ?
  4. ?
  5. ?


Top 10 AGW Books

  1. The Ages of Gaia (James Lovelock)
  2. Six Degrees (Mark Lynas)
  3. The Last Generation (Fred Pierce)
  4. ? Under A Green Sky (Peter Ward)
  5. ? Something about geoengineering, maybe…
  6. ? Alternate view?
  7. ?
  8. ?
  9. ?
  10. ?


Top 5 Collapse Books

  1. The Collapse of Civilizations (Joseph Tainter)
  2. Limits to Growth (Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, & Dennis Meadows)
  3. Collapse (Jared Diamond)
  4. The Long Descent (John Michael Greer), OR Our Ecotechnic Future (John Michael Greer)
  5. The World Without Us (Alan Weisman)


Top 5

  1. ?


Specialized Subjects

Top 15 Books of Classical Political Economy

  1. The Prince (Niccolò Machiavelli)
  2. Leviathan (Thomas Hobbes)
  3. Two Treatises on Government (John Locke)
  4. The Wealth of Nations (Adam Smith)
  5. Discourse on Inequality (Jean-Jacques Rousseau), AND On Social Contract (Jean-Jacques Rousseau)
  6. Democracy in America (Alexis de Tocqueville)
  7. National System of Political Economy (Friedrich List)
  8. Essay On Population (Thomas Malthus)
  9. Principles of Political Economy (David Ricardo)
  10. The Communist Manifesto (Karl Marx), AND The Marx-Engels Reader (Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels) OR Das Kapital (Karl Marx)
  11. Theory of the Leisure Class (Thorstein Veblen)
  12. Imperialism (John Hobson)
  13. Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism (Vladimir Lenin)
  14. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Max Weber)
  15. The Worldly Philosophers (Richard Heilbroner)


Top 15 Books of Modern Political Economy

  1. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (John Maynard Keynes)
  2. The Prison Notebooks (Antonio Gramsci)
  3. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (Joseph Schumpeter)
  4. The Great Transformation (Karl Polanyi)
  5. The Road to Serfdom (Friedrich Hayek)
  6. Imagined Communities (Benedict Arnold)
  7. The Rise and Decline of Nations (Mancur Olson)
  8. The End of History (Francis Fukuyama)
  9. The Clash of Civilizations (Samuel Huntington)
  10. ?
  11. ?
  12. ?
  13. ?
  14. ?
  15. ?

Comment: Much harder to identify great books by modern political economists… much of their stuff is in articles, journals, etc…

Top 5 Books on Economics

  1. Just Capital (Adair Turner)
  2. Wealth of Nations (Adam Smith)
  3. micro/macroeconomics textbook…
  4. ? Liar’s Poker (Michael Lewis)
  5. The Black Swan (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)
  6. ? Peddling Prosperity (Paul Krugman)
  7. ? The Second Law of Economics (Reiner Kummel)
  8. ? IQ and the Wealth of Nations (Richard Lynn & Tatu Vanhanen)
  9. ? The Ascent of Money (Niall Ferguson)
  10. ?

Top 5 Books of Western Civilization

  1. Odyssey
  2. Aeneid
  3. Holy Bible
  4. Faust (Goethe), OR Doctor Faustus (Christopher Marlowe)
  5. ? Don Quixote


Top 5 Books of Russian Civilization

  1. Medieval Russia’s Epics, Chronicles, and Tales (ed. Serge A. Zenkovsky)
  2. The Brothers Karamazov (Fedor Dostoevsky)
  3. ? Fathers and Sons, Oblomov, Woe from Wit, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, War and Peace, Dead Souls, Dr. Zhivago, Eugene Onegin, The Gulag Archipelago, A Hero of our Time, The Master and Margarita, Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina – hard to decide which of these to include…
  4. ?
  5. ?

Comment: One wishes to include Pushkin’s poems, e.g. Ruslan and Ludmila, but it just doesn’t translate…

Top 5 Books of Children’s Fantasy

  1. His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman)
  2. Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling)
  3. Redwall (Brian Jacques)
  4. The Deptford Mice (Robin Jarvis)
  5. ?


Top 15 Fantasy Series

  1. Cthulhu Mythos (H. P. Lovecraft)
  2. Lord of the Rings (J. R. R. Tolkien)
  3. Earthsea (Ursula Le Guin)
  4. The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan)
  5. A Song of Ice and Fire (George R. R. Martin)
  6. The Dark Tower (Stephen King)
  7. The First Law (Joe Abercrombie)
  8. Mistborn (Brandon Sanderson)
  9. ?
  10. ?
  11. ?
  12. ?
  13. ?
  14. ?
  15. ?

Comment: Always looking for more recommendations here. Also Sublime Oblivion (Anatoly Karlin), not yet written.

Top 5 Cyberpunk Books

  1. Neuromancer
  2. True Names
  3. ?
  4. ?
  5. ?


Top 5 Sci-Fi Books

  1. Dune (Frank Herbert)
  2. ? A Fire Upon the Deep
  3. Solaris (Stanislaw Lem)
  4. ?
  5. ?


Top 5 Victorian Sci-fi

  1. The Time Machine
  2. Journey to the Center of the Earth
  3. ?
  4. ?
  5. ?

Comment: Separate section for Jules Verne and Wells and others, to be filled in later.

Top 5 Books on the Post-Apocalypse

  1. A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller)
  2. The Stand (Stephen King)
  3. The Road (Cormac McCarthy)
  4. Metro 2033 (Dmitry Glukhovsky)
  5. ?


Top 5 Existentialist Books

  1. Labyrinths (Jorge Luis Borges), OR Ficciones  (Jorge Luis Borges)
  2. The Stranger (Albert Camus), OR The Plague (Albert Camus)
  3. Brothers Karamazov (Fedor Dostoevsky)
  4. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera)
  5. Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr (Miguel de Unamuno)


Top 5 Books on the Eastern Front

  1. Absolute War (Chris Bellamy)
  2. The Road to Stalingrad (John Erickson), AND The Road to Berlin (John Erickson)
  3. When Titans Clashed (David Glantz)
  4. Russia and the USSR In the Wars of the 20th Century (Grigory Krivosheev)
  5. Russia’s War (Richard Overy)

Comment: Rüdiger Overmans unfortunately not available in translation. Avoid Anthony Beevor.

Top 5 Books on Eurasianism

  1. Europe and Mankind (Nikolay Trubetzkoy)
  2. Ancient Rus and the Great Steppe (Lev Gumilev)
  3. ?
  4. ?
  5. Foundations of Geopolitics (Alexander Dugin)

Comment: Frankly, almost none of the key works on Eurasianism are available in English, so that rule is dropped here.

Top 5 Dystopia Books

  1. We (Yevgeny Zamyatin)
  2. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
  3. 1984 (George Orwell)
  4. ? Fahrenheit 451, The Time Machine – Wells?
  5. ?


Top 5 Books about children killing each other

  1. Lord of the Flies (William Golding)
  2. Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
  3. Knights of the 40 Islands (Sergey Lukyanenko)
  4. The Running Man (Richard Bachman)
  5. The Maze Runner (James Dashner)

Comment: Note that (3) doesn’t yet have an English translation.

Top 5 Books on the Arctic

  1. The World in 2050 (Laurence C. Smith)
  2. The Future History of the Arctic (Charles Emmerson)
  3. Red Arctic (John McCannon)
  4. ?
  5. ?


Top 10 Books on Russian Politics & Society

  1. The Return (Daniel Treisman)
  2. From The First Person (Vladimir Putin, transl. Catherine Fitzpatrick)
  3. After Putin’s Russia (Stephen Wegren Dale Herspring)
  4. Godfather of the Kremlin (Paul Khlebnikov)
  5. Werewolf Problem in Central Russia and Other Stories (Viktor Pelevin, transl. Andrew Bromfield)
  6. Armageddon Averted (Stephen Kotkin)
  7. Virtual Politics (Andrew Wilson)
  8. The Exile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia (Mark Ames)
  9. The Oligarchs (David Hoffman)
  10. ?

Comment: Also Putin: A Biography (Anatoly Karlin), not yet written.

Top 5 Zombie Books

  1. The Zombie Survival Guide (Max Brooks)
  2. Cell (Stephen King)
  3. ?
  4. ?
  5. ?

Comment: Pretty much it, AFAIK. Zombies are only good on film.

Useful Skillz

Top 5 Books on Writing

  1. On Writing (Stephen King)
  2. The Elements of Style (Strunk & White)
  3. ?
  4. ?
  5. ?


Top 5 Resources on Language Learning

  1. ?
  2. ?
  3. ?
  4. ?
  5. ?

Comment: Online, Fluent in 3 Months.

Top 5 Survivalism Books

  1. Emergency! (Neil Strauss)
  2. SAS Survival Handbook
  3. Surviving in Argentina
  4. Reinventing Collapse (Dmitry Orlov)
  5. ?


Top 5 Resources on “Rambling”

  1. conversationally speaking
  2. Cracked
  3. Guinness Book of Records
  4. Everyone misses you when you’re dead
  5. ?


Top 5 Resources for Learning Chinese

  1. ?
  2. ?
  3. ?
  4. ?
  5. ?


Top 5 Poker Books

  1. The Theory of Poker (David Sklansky)
  2. No Limit Hold’Em (David Sklansky)
  3. The Little Green Book (Phil Gordon)
  4. Poker Tells Essentials (Joe Navarro)
  5. Harrington on Tournaments Vol. 1-3 (Dan Harrington)


Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. I recommend A Song of Ice and Fire (George R. R. Martin) for your list of fantasy series

  2. This reminded me of all the oceans of books that I haven’t read and would like to read some day. If I wasn’t so lazy and didn’t have a 9 to 5 job…

    “So, books reviews are very useful. Both for personal development…”

    Very true. “How am I supposed to know what I think about a topic until I’ve tried writing about it?” – I don’t know who said that first, but it conforms to my experiences.


    I’d add Chekhov’s short stories to the Russian literature section. I’ve always liked them for the subtle humor, the lack of pretentiousness, the wisdom about human nature. Also on Russia, I’d add the great 19th century histories – Karamzin, Solovyov, Kliutchevsky. I read parts of the latter two many years ago and remember finding them fascinating.

    I don’t know if you’ve read Nietzsche’s “Geneaology of Morals”. I was very impressed. It changed my outlook on some things, plus the style was beautiful. The man could write. I still don’t know what to think about some of the things there. I may well re-read it some day, and I really should read his other stuff.

    English lit: my favorite author here is Kingsley Amis. I’ve read about a dozen of his novels, his memoires, a book of his book reviews, and it was all brilliant. His son’s stuff is to be avoided. “Lucky Jim” was K. Amis’s first and most commercially-successful book, and it’s a good place to start with him, though it’s neither better nor worse than most of the others. “One Fat Englishman” was pure genius.

    Evelyn Waugh’s early comic novels are some of my favorite books ever. I haven’t read his later stuff though, and I should.

    World history: I have a little book about the world’s demographic history by McEvedy and Jones which I love. Great graphs and maps, a thourough explanation of where they got their data and estimates, well-written.

    Books on how to succeed in business, how to be liked by people, game: I think that the people who are really, really good at that stuff act entirely on instinct. I don’t think they’ve processed any of these rules consciously. Can someone who lacks those instincts (and I do) profit from reading these rules? I’m skeptical. Roissy is great fun to read, and his portrait of the female psyche is true to life, but parts of his message sound like the MBA scam – they’re going to teach you how to be a good businessman. I have an extremely distant relative who did succeed in business decades ago, and the idea of him ever having opened a book on that topic or ever having taken a business class sounds preposterous to me. I CAN imagine him trying to fool others into thinking that he can teach them to become millionaires for a fee, however – that wouldn’t be out of character at all.

  3. Wow, this is quite a list. Thanks for posting. I’ll definitely have to check out that Metro 2033, as it looks fantastic.

    For books on writing, I’d recommend William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. I read it and I thought it was pretty useful.

    Are you still learning Chinese?

  4. Mark Sleboda says

    SO much here. Take them one at a time in spurts. Scifi and Cyberpunk today
    Scifi you just NEED way more than ten.

    The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
    Ringworld – Larry Niven
    The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell
    Greg Bear – anything really, say Eon, Forge of God, Moving Mars, or Queen of Angels
    The Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, 2312) – Kim Stanley Robinson (a must)
    The Fall Revolution Series – Ken Mcleod
    The Uplift Series – David Brin
    Bruce Sterling – everything. Schismatrix would be my first choice, The Caryatids, The Artificial Kid
    Robert Heinlein – Stranger in a Strange Land, Starship Troopers, and the Moon is a Harsh Mistress
    The Culture Novels – Ian M Banks
    Philip K Dick – take your pick
    2001 – Arthur C. Clarke

    Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson if you inlude nanopunk then The Diamond Age as well
    Bruce Sterling – nearly anything say Holy Fire, Islands in the Net, Heavy Weather (Sterling buries Gibson, hands down)
    Rudy Rucker – Ware Tetralogy

  5. Mark Sleboda says

    Oh sci fi missed one

    David Wingrove – Chung Kuo (The whole world becomes the Middle Kingdom)

  6. Mark Sleboda says

    Enders Game – orson Scott Card (sci fi again)

  7. Jennifer Hor says

    Dear Anatoly,

    Would like to recommend “The Trial” by Franz Kafka for the existentialist section. Another book I just thought of now, written in 1937, about how an individual’s identity is influenced by history, time and circumstances is Witold Gombrowicz’s “Ferdydurke”: probably not strictly existentialist but close. Karel Capek’s “War with the Newts”, also written in the 1930s, is an excellent SF novel though not well known now.

    I’ve only read one cyberpunk novel and that was William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s “The Difference Engine”. I’m amazed I still remember it at least ten years after reading it.

    @ Mark Sleboda: you should try reading J G Ballard, his short stories are the best.

    • Great recs, Jennifer! The Kafka of course is a world-famous classic, but Gombrowicz and Capek are also great writers. I think Capek’s greatest achievement is his philosophical (sometimes called “epistemological”) trilogy: the 3 novels “Hordubal,” “Meteor” and “An Ordinary Life.”

      Ballard is indeed a great short-story writer.

      • Jennifer Hor says


        Another book you might find interesting is Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz’s “Insatiability” which I read ages ago. This is incredibly long (over 1,000 pages I think) and very intense. Written in 1930, it takes place in a future world where China / Mongolia (the author didn’t distinguish between the two) conquers Eurasia and forces all conquered peoples to take Murti Bing tablets which turn them into mindless slaves. The main character is a young guy who is seduced by a much older woman who keeps him as her sex toy. The book is not well known outside Poland but English translations do exist.

        Witkiewicz was experimenting with a number of drugs (cocaine, morphine, peyote I think) at the time which explains the intense and delirious tone of the book.

        A great Czech classic (and a long book too) is Jaroslav Hasek’s “The Good Soldier Svejk” which I never tire of reading, funny and critical of Austro-Hungarian bureaucracy and military bungling. Is Svejk really as dumb as he appears or is he manipulating the people around him to get out of fighting and to have as good a time as he can?

        I’ve also read Gombrowicz’s “Cosmos” and “Pornografia” which he wrote in the 1950s while living in Argentina. Funny that two great writers, Jorge Luis Borges and Witold Gombrowicz, should have been living in the same city (Buenos Aires)far away from the major cultural centres of the world and must have known of each other yet their paths never seem to have crossed. Instead Borges was writing his famous short stories and collaborating with Adolfo Bioy Casares. I’ve read some of Casares’s own fiction and his sci-fi short story “The Invention of Morel” is a good read. There was another one he wrote about a pilot who, every time he flies his light plane, goes from one parallel universe to another and ends up alternating between two versions of Buenos Aires.

        The fact that so many Latin-American writers like Borges, Casares and Julio Cortazar were writing magic realism probably explains why 20th century Latin-American literature is weak on science fiction. Cortazar’s short story “The Axolotl” is about as close as he gets to sci-fi.

        • Yes, I’ve read “Insatiability” too. Like probably most non-Polish readers, I found out about it because it was analyzed in Milosz’s “The Captive Mind.” Witkiewicz was an incredible figure in general – primarily a playwright who pioneered the Theatre of the Absurd long before Beckett and Ionesco, but also a painter, philosopher and novelist. Unfortunately his work is very difficult to translate and highly Polish-specific, so it doesn’t transfer well to other cultures. Still, anyone interested in catastrophic visions of the future should read him.

        • I read Svejk as a kid in Russian translation and found it very funny. Years later, when I first encountered a description of the Alpine racial type, I though “that’s Svejk, isn’t it?” I’m sure I would have thought that even if there were no illustrations in that book – based on his personality he couldn’t have looked any other way.

  8. This has some relation to Big History and to HBD: “Human Accomplishment” by Charles Murray.

  9. Victor Hugo, “Les Miserables” = greatest novel ever written in ANY European language. Forget about the Broadway musical, go back to THE BOOK.
    “Nibelungenlied” = greatest epic EVER. Structured like a medieval soap opera, with a few fantasy elements but mostly solid human psychology, and deeply rooted in Burgundian culture.
    Where is English-language literature: where is Shakespeare, Dickens, Melville? My personal favorite = “Billy Budd” (explores the nature of good and evil in humans).
    Victorian sci-fi: You could add “20,000 leagues under the sea” (Captain Nemo = suavest villain ever).
    For British high-class humorous lit, there is nobody superior to P.G. Wodehouse, any one of his stories will have you laughing your ass off.
    Top books on Russian civilization:
    “Slovo o pluku Igoreve”? Oh, okay, it’s untranslatable. Check.
    Greatest works of Russian literature: MOST of the ones you listed (“Gulag” – really??), plus Saltykov-Shchedrin “The Goloviov Family” = best dysfunctional family ever, and a good antidote to anybody who seeks to glamorize Russian rural life of the 19th century!

    • Brother Karamazov says

      There should be some clarification of the selection criteria. E.g. “Slovo o polku Igoreve” is a milestone of Russian literature indeed, but primitive by today standards. So, what is the purpose of the list? Collect the milestones or a guide for today reading by lay people? If the former, the list should dive deep into the history and, I bet, was compiled a few times already. Otherwise, almost all story lines of milestones are rewritten in modern terms and language and are much easier to read with even deeper final effect for the reader.

      I am wondering if all literature story lines can be reduced to a very small set of scenarios. E.g. type “love triangle” 2M1F (2 men 1 woman) or 1M2F, subtype
      M->M (man kills another man), or M->F, etc. For example, 2M1F(M->F) for “Idiot” by Dostoevskii. Then, the list can include the best representative of every scenario. This is the rationale I would favour most.

      Cannot but do agree about Gulag – neither novel nor history. If Solzhenitsin is to make it to the list, it should be “One day of life of Ivan Denisovich”. On the other hand, why not Sholohov’s “Destiny of a Man”?

  10. Hi Anatoly

    Been a long time… but some quick recommends:

    A Clockwork Orange

    I’d wreck and mend Ridley Walker

    The Blind Owl: Sadegh Hedayat
    My Work is Not Yet Done: Thomas Ligotti
    Pedro Paramo: Juan Rulfo

    Victorian Sci-Fi
    The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
    Island of Dr Moreau

    OK, it’s cheating a bit to call it a novel but Herbert West: Re-Animator

    The Fifth Head of Cerberus
    (Should be something by PKD, but he didn’t really have a magnum opus)

    Fantasy Series:
    Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe

    Western Civilisation:
    Prometheus Bound by Aeschylos
    The Orestia
    The Bacchae
    The Republic (agree or disagree with its ethos, it has been influential)

  11. To add to fantasy series – the Witcher (Wiedzmin) by Andrzej Sapkowski
    and Discworld by Terry Pratchett (a parody but it’s just too good to be left out).
    Battle Royale definitely a classic as ‘children killing each other’ goes (“What do they call The Hunger Games in France? Battle Royale with cheese” – in Battle Royal kids have exploding metal rings around their necks, if they rebel, they lose their heads).

  12. This really makes me wish I read more. I’ve a nice pile of books I really need to go through.
    You could have a “best psychology books” list. On the social animal, evolutionary psychology, psychopaths, etc. It would probably have Predictably Irrational (not read it) and Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) (am reading).

    Is Tim Ferris that good? It seems to me he is tapping into the very American get-rich-quick/big-teeth-self-help market. Doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad but makes me suspicious.

    I would recommend Aron’s Progress and Disillusion for modern political economy. It’s a great, encyclopedic introduction to industrial/rational modernity and what it means concretely in human societies.

    I would definitely not have Clash of Civs appear twice. It’s useful as a reference of elite thought. While I think civilizations are important and can’t be ignored, his book was more an attempt to replace one cartoonish caricature of the world (Cold War clash-of-ideologies) with another (clash-of-civs), backed up not by argument, but laundry lists of one-religion-on-another-religion violence (conveniently ignoring all violence within a religion…).

    On modern political economy, I’ve long been fond of the Italian school of elitists (on the limits of democracy and the inevitability of elite rule) and in particular Gaetano Mosca. His The Ruling Class is a great antidote to various idealist utopianisms. Also probably something by C. Wright Mills (e.g. The Power Elite, which I haven’t read).

    On history (either big or modern political economy), there should be Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Extremes (or in fact the whole Age of series since the revolutions).

    Definitely should have The Hobbit under one of the fantasy headings.

    Mishima! Most (e.g. Temple of the Golden Pavillion and Confessions of Mask) would probably fall under “existentialist”. I haven’t read his other works.

    For Sci Fi I really recommend The Ice People (La Nuit des temps) by René Barjavel, about the discovery and self-destruction of a long-dead hypermodern civilization. In the dystopian genre, also by Barjavel, there is Ashes, Ashes (Ravage), a WW2-era novel taking place in the year 2000 (funny) and what would happen if all electricity just stopped… Has quasi-pétainist reactionary overtones.

    If you need another book on power, I recommend having a look at Charles de Gaulle’s The Edge of the Sword on leadership. It was one of Nixon’s favorites.

  13. Jennifer Hor says

    Anyone who is interested in what the UK might be like in a few years’ time (?) ought to read Richard Jefferies’s novel “After London; or Wild England” which was published in 1885, a couple of years before he died from tuberculosis. It may be out of print but it’s not a very long novel and you can read it at this website: Jefferies was a nature writer by profession so much of the novel has lovely descriptions of a green and, um, maybe not very sceptred isle … until the hero reaches London (or whatever passes for it).

    I’ve read Yukio Mishima’s “The Sailor who fell from grace with the sea” which could be considered existentialist in that the main character is torn between a safe life he yearns for and his former life as a sailor which gave him freedom and which he will no longer have if he chooses the safe option. Also if Anatoly decides to make a list of Top 5 Books about children killing ADULTS, this novel would definitely go into the pile as would also J G Ballard’s “Running Wild”. I haven’t read John Marsden’s “Tomorrow, when the War began” or the four sequels that follow it; it’s about a bunch of teenagers who form a guerrilla group when Australia is invaded by a foreign power so they probably take down the odd enemy adult soldier or two.

  14. Albertosaurus says

    Ugh! What a terrible top five books.

    The bell Curve is good but it’s arguably it is only a popularization for the general public. Better to read Jensen or Rushton.

    I haven’t read “The Game” but I have commented on Sailer’s blog about it (unfavorably) for years. My problem is that it seems to overly impress men who have had very little real sexual experience. Bar pick ups are a tiny fraction of the totality of the places where one meets women. Men who like this book are losers- and Betas.

    I have written several long detailed reviews of The Black Swan and his earlier book on Amazon. Taleeb is a miserable dweeb. A smart but misguided fool.

    In my experience only people who seldom read Science Fiction like Dune. It’s so unscientific. It is the kind of goofy soft headed fantasy that a woman might write.

    • You’re thinking of books you’d recommend or not to the choir as opposed to men who have yet to take the red pill.

      That is all.

      On Dune, I didn’t like it either (though I literally lolled at “that a woman might write”; for a start, where are the relationship and love triangles?), but it appears in virtually every Top 5 sci-fi list. It is a classic that has almost the same status in sci-fi as LotR in fantasy. As such its inclusion is eminently justified for the purposes of getting a survey of the genre.

  15. Good children’s/young adult lit:
    I just finished reading Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical Trilogy about Roman-era Britain: “The Eagle of the Ninth”; “The Silver Branch”; and “The Lantern Bearers”. I highly recommend for Anglophiles as well as people who are into Roman stuff (lots of battle scenes, even a gladiator scene or two). Is denoted as “children’s lit”, but requires college-level English-language vocabulary comprehension.

  16. Bookmarked this bitch!

  17. Quite a fascinating range of books. I have only a few points to make or suggestions:

    1. On big history I would add either the Peloponesian War by Thucydides or perhaps the totally brilliant (if impossibly discursive) discussion of it by G.E.M de St. Croix “The Origins of the Peloponesian War”. Thucydides’s book is much more than just an account of a particular war. Rather it is an introduction to the study of international relations and arguably remains unsurpassed.

    2. I notice that you have omitted the Iliad and prefer the Odyssey and the Aeneid. An interesting choice.

    3. I notice that you have no section on religious/philosophic literature. Whilst I am not at all religious or philosophical in temperament I would add the following

    (1) the Bhagavad Gita
    (2) Plato’s Republic and the Laws
    (3) the Analects by Confucius
    (4) St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans
    (5) the Divine Comedy by Dante
    (6) All of Nietzsche’s later works (Thus Spake Zarathustra, Twilight of the Idols, the Antichrist, Beyond Good and Evil etc)
    (5) possibly more recently Wittgenstein’s Tractatus

    Presumably also works by Kant and Hegel though I must admit to having read nothing of either.

    4. On Russian books I would add The Idiot by Dostoevsky. Unless it is far better in Russian than it is in translation (which is quite possible) I would omit Doctor Zhivago and would add Tikhy Don and possibly Babel’s Red Cavalry.

    5. On existentialist works I would add The Trial, the Castle and Metamorphosis by Kafka (in the corrected versions, not those edited by Jozef Brod), the Eye by Georges Bataille, Nausee, Les Mouches and Huit Clos by Sartre and the 120 days of Sodom by de Sade. I should give advanced warning that some of these works (especially the ones by Bataille by de Sade) require a strong stomach.

    6. I would also try to find somewhere space for a number of books that I judge to be key works in western literature and which explain much about their respective societies. I would include amongst these (1) Manon, Madame Bovary and In search of Lost Time by Proust (2) Wuthering Heights, Middlemarch, Women in Love and Ulysses and (3) Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick (4) The Leopard by Lampedusa. You have already mentioned Goethe’s Faust (both Parts 1 and 2).

    7. Lastly on economics, one of the best (and funniest) books is JK Galbraith’s The Great Crash.

  18. I haven’t read it, but Greg Clark’s ‘A Farewell to Alms’ might be a contender for the ‘big history’ list?

    “In my recent book, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World I argue two things. First that all societies remained in a state I label the “Malthusian economy” up until the onset of the Industrial Revolution around 1800. In that state crucially the economic laws governing all human societies before 1800 were those that govern all animal societies. Second that was thus subject to natural selection throughout the Malthusian era, even after the arrival of settled agrarian societies with the Neolithic Revolution.

    The Darwinian struggle that shaped human nature did not end with the Neolithic Revolution but continued right up until the Industrial Revolution. But the arrival of settled agriculture and stable property rights set natural selection on a very different course. It created an accelerated period of evolution, rewarding with reproductive success a new repertoire of human behaviors – patience, self-control, passivity, and hard work – which consequently spread widely.

    And we see in England, from at least 1250, that the kind of people who succeeded in the economic system – who accumulated assets, got skills, got literacy – increased their representation in each generation. Through the long agrarian passage leading up to the Industrial Revolution man was becoming biologically more adapted to the modern economic world. Modern people are thus in part a creation of the market economies that emerged with the Neolithic Revolution. Just as people shaped economies, the pre-industrial economy shaped people. This has left the people of long settled agrarian societies substantially different now from our hunter gatherer ancestors, in terms of culture, and likely also in terms of biology.”

  19. I can think of a few other big history/hbd books. New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade’s “Before the Dawn: Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors” . Also, Cochran & Harpending’s ‘The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution’. Also, Michael Hart’s “Understanding Human History”.

  20. Here’s a few books that I was suprised not to see mentioned somewhere, considering that the site was previously called Sublime Oblivion…

    The Rifter’s Trilogy, by Peter Watts
    (Starfish, Maelstrom, Behemoth)
    Possibly the darkest piece of SF since Stalker, this series touches on many of the issues explored in this blog. Brilliant ideas explored with a savage integrity, the Rifter’s Trilogy is not for the faint hearted.
    Would fall under either sci-fi or post-apocalyptic…

    Blindsided, by Peter Watts
    Exploration of the role of consciousness in intelligence through the medium of a first contact novel, Watts turns the genre on it’s head in this densely packed novel of ideas, & draws some startling conclusions (likely to be very challenging to any advocates of IQ as a measure of progress). Also has some fun with genres in it – Brilliant stuff.

    Watts, while a major author, allows his books to be downloaded via the creative commons license at
    He’s also a qualified scientist for those who like some real meat in their ideas (former marine biologist). See



    Bas-Lag series, by China Miéville
    (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Iron Council)
    Brilliant, multi-award winning fantasy series with major overlaps with steampunk (& pretty much every genre out there), this is both a major work of ideas & an enormously fun ride.
    Also overlaps many of the ideas explored in this blog.

    Miéville studied social anthropology before picking up both a Masters’ & PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He’s also a Marxist, & ran on the ballot for the Socialist Workers Party (1.2% of the vote!). Very interesting character – see

    Accelerando, by Charles Stross
    The ultimate novel (actually more of a set of interconnected stories) for many of themes explored here, this is an absolute rollercoaster ride of high-octane ideas that may burn the brain of the unwary. Be warned…

    Other great works by Stross –
    The Laundry Files series, consisting of The Atrocity Archives, The Jennifer Morgue, Down on the Farm, The Fuller Memorandum, Overtime, The Apocalypse Codex – Great stuff.

    Also pretty much anything by Stross will be of interest to many here.
    Stross is a tech savvy former programmer who came up in the early 80’s & has one of the more original minds out there..
    Many books made available to be downloaded by Stross via Creative Commons at his antipope site:


    For major sci-fi novels, Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker or Odd John are 2 of the most important ever written, & justifiably so. Stapledon’s works can probably be described as the beginning of evolutionary philosophy explored through the medium & are of astonishing scale..
    Highly recommended.


    In fantasy series, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy (Titus Groan, Gormenghast, Titus Alone) are one of the most important works in fantasy, & one of the great works in any genre.
    Takes a bit of free headspace in order to sink into it, & actually had it sitting on my shelf unread for awhile, then one day I just picked it up & started to read – genuinely astonishing work.

    (Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, already mentioned by Gregor, is the only series I’d put in the same class)

    • Agreed on Stapledon, but is there any reason you didn’t mention his “Last and First Men”? It seems to be his best-known work.

    • Jennifer Hor says

      Re China Mieville: I can recommend a short story anthology “Looking for Jake” which features a mix of horror, fantasy and sci-fi, and includes one original story that is part of the Bas-Lag universe. He also wrote a children’s novel “Un-Lundun” which is set in an alternative mirror version of London, one created by pollution.

      I only read “Iron Council” and found it interesting that in the territory where New Crobuzon is located, there’s an area of radiation similar to the Zone in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film “Stalker” where strange things that don’t conform to the laws of physics happen and can kill people.

      I find Mieville’s approach to writing fiction similar to Thomas Pynchon’s style and it’s possible Mieville might have been influenced by that writer. Both throw everything at you on nearly every page of writing. One difference is I find Mieville’s characters flat compared to Pynchon’s and so I prefer to read Mieville’s short stories, the format being better suited to his style.

      Since I mentioned Pynchon, I suggest people read “The Crying of Lot 49” first to get a feel for his style before they try reading his novels which are usually hundreds of pages long. “Gravity’s Rainbow” is his classic novel about the creation of German V-2 rockets and includes heavy doses of paranoia and (I think – it’s been ages since I read them both) a link to ” … Lot 49″ in the form of the von Thurn und Taxis family and its connection with postal services and couriers.

  21. Actually quite like Mieville’s characters, & thought he comes up with some great ones.
    That said, he’s not really interested in the internal landscape to the extent of a real character writer like Pynchon – more on how they relate to their surrounds. Bit more of a landscape & idea’s man.

    Didn’t mention “Last and First Men” because I last read Stapledon over a decade ago, & the other 2 stuck in my mind, but you’re right, that is the one recognised as his masterwork (even though it does veer off in the last half into a kind of philisophical manifesto/exploration of the complete life of the universe, if I’m recalling correctly…)

    Anyone mentioned Spengler?
    Decline of the West is a pretty important work, & very influential on a lot of thinkers.

  22. Dear Anatoly,
    I am a long time reader of your blog, from way back in 2008. It’s been a while, and you do not know me especially since I never posted any comments. I’ve found your perspectives and inferences to be very diverse and interesting. I do not mean to sound like an advertiser, but the sole reason that I am right now is to invite you to a forum called Iron March:
    I thought you should feel welcome, we are mostly young fascists and nationalists, but the perspective and diversity of views is very worldly. I will leave it to you to decide weather to join or not, but definitely look over the material, the discussions here you cannot find anywhere else (at least on the net.)
    As relevant to reading lists I recommend everyone skim through our reading archives. I will post a more extensive list of materials that some may find interesting later, as for now here are a few complications of links and pdfs. All of these are very relevant.
    As a basic introduction to fascism and national socialism read 100 Questions by Oswald Mosley
    Here are the further links
    Stormchan study group Lots of useful pdfs from history and conspiracy to survivalist and bomb-making, social interaction and HP Lovecraft.
    Julius Evola Archive
    Oswald Spengler Archive
    Everything Hitler and National Socialism

  23. Edward Lucas has a new book coming out about Russia.

    Dark Soldiers of the New Order

    The Soviet Union’s spies haven’t disappeared, they’re just wearing new clothes. An exclusive excerpt from Edward Lucas’s new book, Deception.

  24. What about Sibel Edmonds new book Classified Woman that has details of western support for Chechen terrorism among other things.

  25. Philip Owen says

    I am sure you meant to add Heinlein’s “Start Ship Troopers” but forgot.

    Brian Aldiss’s “Greybeard” is good post apocaplypse and then there are “Day of the Triffids”, “Lord of the Flies” or “On the Beach” (Nevil Shute – Australia after the bomb).

    Big History – Most big history’s are copied from Well’s “A Short History of the World” in some way or another. If he had a predeccessor I don’t know of it. Kim Stanley Robinson’s “The Year of Rice and Salt” is big history in novel form. It is based on Joseph Needham’s work on Chinese technology and other history of technology stuff. For dystopia’s you should read some John Brunner, a descendant of the Brunner in Brunner-Mond, a precusor of ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries). He was a researcher for the BBC programme Horizon in it’s heyday so his science is very good. “Stand on Zanzibar” was the big one but his shorter ones are less mainstream now the mainstream has shifted his way. “The Sheep look up” is good. They are all dark. L P Hartley’s facial justice is different take on a Brave New World.

    The big book that you are missing is “The Origin of Virtue” by Matt Ridley. It’s not popular in the US. He is so contrarian to the zeitgeist and challenging to the religous because his argument present good without god that most people don’t want to take him on board.

    IMNSHO Taleb’s “The Black Swan” is almost total rubbish, unless you have never studied any economics. The best insight was that the City of London recruits 10,000 new entrants a year, fires the below average and hey presto, the survivors of this random process become unsackable gurus after 6 or 7 years. Enter Bob Diamond.

    As an aspiring steampunk, I should read some China Mieville. I am in South Wales, potentially one of the most totally steam punk places on Earth. First – steel wheels on steel rails, steam trains, blast furnace steel, photographs (ok, a few weeks after the French), concrete buildings; domination of non ferrous metal production and Brunel’s steamships were built across the river in Bristol. Silicon Valley beware!

  26. Philip Owen says

    ANd totally endorse Yalensis on Rosemary Sutcliffe.

  27. Philip Owen says

    @ Mark – How did I forget Holy Fire!

  28. Philip Owen says

    Lord of the Files is there. So try The Inheritors, also by Golding.

  29. Long time reader, first time poster.
    I’ve enjoyed the lists and discovered some interesting books, but on Modern Political Economy, you are missing a crucial book: The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein.

    The Enigma of Capital, by David Harvey, is also very good.

  30. For Economics, I recommend Debunking Economics by Steve Keen.