My Top 5 Most Influential Books (2017)

I wasn’t asked, but I’ll answer it anyway.


Like Emil Kirkegaard, I would also like to preface this by noting that the order in which I read any particular book is also very important in terms of its “influence” by me. For instance, Arthur Jensen’s The g Factor and Steven Pinker’s Blank Slate are both brilliant, but I read both of them after exposure to the Bell Curve and the HBDsphere, respectively, so neither can make the top 5 in terms of influence.

Moreover, this list is one of non fiction books. While there are several creative works that left a lasting impression on me – Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Camus’ The Stranger, and Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz come to mind – I find that I am more prone to be influenced by books densely populated with arguments and numbers.

So without further ado…


1. Charles Murray & Richard Herrnstein – Bell Curve

This blockbuster of a book establishes the validity of g, its sociological relevance, the B/W gap in the US and its apparent intractability, and social consequences thereof.

As Steve Sailer and Charles Murray himself point out, twenty years on, the predictions made in Bell Curve have all panned out and the trends identified in it I don’t think it’s possible to conscientiously read this text and come away with the impression that IQ is an invalid or irrelevant concept, which is what the book is ultimately mainly about (even though the race/IQ chapter is what it has become infamous for, regardless of Murray & Herrnstein’s dozens of pages of disclaimers about it).

Quite apart from the IQ/sociology nexus, it is also my opinion that this is one of the key books you need to understand American society, along with David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed.


  1. Ray Kurzweil – The Singularity is Near

The necessary disclaimers: Yes, I think Kurzweil’s method of willy-nilly exponential extrapolations are weak. Actually my criticisms go even deeper, since I view technological progress as being driven primarily by literate “smart fractions,” whereas Kurzweil models it as a function of existing technology.

Moreover, the reality test: As of 2017, it is clear that he was overoptimistic on timelines.

Still, when I read this in 2006 (straight out of high school), this was all extremely new and interesting to me.

And ultimately I remain a “singularitarian,” in the sense that I view the concept of a “technological singularity” and “transhumanism’ as both feasible and something that it worth striving towards (not least because the alternates are grim).


  1. Paul Kennedy – The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers

Covering 500 years of history in 500 pages, the historian Paul Kennedy exhaustively argues that the root of military and geopolitical power is heavily dependent on economic power, which supports the munitioning potential to equip gunpowder armies. From the Third Years War to the Cold War, it has been deeper pockets, not military elan or morale, that have won.

This seems pretty obvious and self-explanatory, but many people don’t seem to get it. Although there are now many things I would quibble with it – I read it sometime around 2004 – its basic framework is still one I use when thinking about Great Power geopolitics.

I can also say that this book formed the wellspring of my interest in economic history. Statistics about pig iron production in 1910 seem pretty boring until you start imagining it going into Dreadnoughts and Krupp guns.


  1. Andrey Korotayev, Artemy Malkov, and Daria Khaltourina – Introduction to Social Macrodynamics

Most people think of history as a narrative of names and dates interlinked with “happenings” that historians try to explain and contextualize. But there has been very little progress on the methods of history since Thucydides.

The cliodynamicists are to history what Alfred Marshall was to economics – they want to start modeling history.

Although the best known name in this field is Peter Turchin’s, I was more influenced by Korotayev et al’s Introduction to Social Macrodynamics, a very short but formula heavy book that laid the framework for how I have thought about pre-industrial Malthusian societies ever since. Here is my review of it.

One of my very long-term ambitions is to try to integrate psychometrics with cliodynamics models.


  1. J. Philippe Rushton – Race, Evolution, and Behavior

This is still, perhaps, the book about the validity of HBD theory.

In this book, a huge mass of data (the endnotes comprise a substantial percentage of the overall text) is marshalled in support of r/K selection theory applied to the three great races of mankind.

When I read it sometime around I was already somewhat “redpilled” on this issue, but this book raised my confidence in the HBD view of reality from “likely” to “almost certain.”

There are several other good essentially “HBD” books – The 10,000 Year Explosion by Cochran and Harpending, or Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance for those hesitating about… wading into this subject, but this is the book I read first so as it’s the most influential so far as I’m concerned.

Here are some books that were close but missed out on the Top 5:

  • Charles Murray – Human Accomplishment
  • Samuel Huntington – The Clash of Civilizations
  • Kenneth Pomeranz – The Great Divergence
  • Yuri Slezkine – The Jewish Century
  • Nick Bostrom – Superintelligence, and his articles in general
  • Gregory Clark – A Farewell to Alms
  • Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs, and Steel
  • Donella Meadows et al. – Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update
  • Jonathan Adair Turner – Just Capital

You might be asking why there are no Russia books, considering my repertoire ever since I started blogging.

The reason there are none is part of why I started blogging about Russia.

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. Russia book from the given trend:
    Mironov B. N.. A Social History of Imperial Russia, 1700—1917

  2. Two of my top five would be the same: The Bell Curve and The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. I haven’t read two of the other three, and I read Rushton after The Bell Curve.

    In place of Kurzweil, I would put Drexler’s Engines of Creation, the 1986 book which popularized the concept of “nanotechnology” and its possible implications for radical life extension, post-scarcity society, AI, etc (which was also, at best, much too optimistic on timelines).

    I don’t know what the other two books would be. Maybe Guns, Germs, and Steel. Or possibly Atlas of World Population History, which was written in the 1970s, but as far as I know is still the best resource on the subject.

    I read a lot of stuff by Angus Maddison, regarding his calculations of GDP (PPP) for various nation-states dating back to the Roman Empire and Han China, but no particular one of his books stands out in my memory.

  3. Loveofknowledge says

    One that was significant for me as far as understanding racial/ethnic issues was World on Fire by Amy Chua. It seems to have been written as a sort of wonkish book about IMF globalization policy circa 2000, but really has much broader application.

    It really drives home the points that:
    * Different groups within a country often succeed (professionally/economically) at drastically different rates
    * It’s not necessarily the case that “minorities” are under-performing, it’s actually very often (maybe more often) the case that certain minority groups do wildly disproportionately well.
    * This leads to resentment by the less successful majority group.
    * Who then use democracy to elect demagogue leaders who promise to use political power to redistribute wealth away from the rich minority.
    * The rich minority then may try to undermine majoritarian democracy to keep power.
    * There can also be violence against the resented rich minority.

    This dynamic seems to apply to an astounding range of countries past and present:
    * White people in South Africa
    * Chinese in Southeast Asia
    * Lebanese in West Africa
    * Jews in Russia (Germany too)
    * Ibo in Nigeria
    * Lighter-skinned Venezuelans
    * White people in the Southern U.S. during Reconstruction
    * There are more examples

    She doesn’t really talk about genetic differences that I recall, explaining the differences in terms of either cultural traits (ambition, work ethic, value of education, etc.) or historical circumstances (conquest, colonialism, etc.). But whatever the cause, you could have the same problems.

  4. Paul Kennedy – The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers

    I liked it seemed so obvious.

    John J. Mearsheimer –The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

    Maps 7.1 (North America, 1800) and 7.2 (Westward Expansion 1853) explain most of the US Civil War. To my satisfaction, anyway.

  5. I regard her framework as incredibly important not just for understanding the past but the future as well. While Huntington gives a similar ethno-cultural framework for understanding inter-civilizational struggle hers give a intra-civilizational. From that perspective it is much easier to understand what is going to happen in W.Europe and America in the next couple of decades.

  6. TheJester says

    Thanks for the list, Anatoly. I ordered ebook editions of most of them. It’s going to be a “heady” summer.

  7. Anonymous says

    Some of these you can find on audio on YouTube. E.g., Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near. And you can download a free app called YouTube to MP3 from CNET and convert and play if you don’t have unlimited data.

    A few of the books Karlin mentioned can be found on audio on YouTube.

  8. From the Third Years War to the Cold War, it has been deeper pockets, not military elan or morale, that have won.

    Did you mean Thirty Years War? Boy, how’s this “deeper pockets” theory works now in Kennedy’s “theory”? Obviously Kennedy, and I can make a bet on it, misses on operational aspect of this whole thing. Cold War, apart from proxies, was not what most US contemporary sources try to portray it to be. Nor is WW II. Considering the year of Kennedy’s book publication in 1988–I doubt this book’s real value. As per admission of none other than Sir Michael Howard (right about that time in 1980s) combined West strategists were never good at considering a social dimension of strategy. Overwhelming empirical evidence supports this point in 2017.

  9. John J. Mearsheimer –The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

    I would be extremely cautious when considering American POVs on conflict. Mearsheimer, despite being a graduate of West Point, how to put it politely–is more of a political “scientist” than serious military thinker. Without one being very erudite on this issue (Mearsheimer is not), the rest becomes merely a doctrine mongering based on very shaky assumptions. Political (and Power) “theory” as preached by the West is bunk. American “realism” is fractured (into myriad of sub-currents–a first sign of internal weakness) and is also bunk. Why it is so–that could be a great basis for a large number of Ph.Ds theses on strategy and real power.

  10. I will think about it.

  11. Philip Owen says

    Or indeed, 500 years ago, the Welsh in London.

  12. Philip Owen says

    So far as Russia is concerned, I strongly recommend:

    Russia, by Donald Mackenzie Wallace

    It is free on Amazon Kindle.

    I can’t describe it as influential as I have only just finished it. However, it’s explanatory power is very strong. I have yet to write a review on Amazon, so here is a first draft.

    The book was first written in 1878 to describe the author’s 17 years in Russia. He never uses 5 words where 20 will do. He claims to be a sociologist but that was a descriptive discipline at the time. Certainly the book is long on describing processes and includes anecdotes, which keeps it readable. It starts slowly but picks up speed as you go along and discover the structure of the book. The second edition was written and published in 1905. The Bloody Sunday massacre has occurred. The Japanese are laying siege to Port Arthur but the Russian Baltic Fleet has not yet been sunk. Mackenzie Wallace clearly thinks Russia already has a formidable naval presence in the East but does not dismiss the Japanese challenge.

    The author’s discourses on the clergy, the organisation of peasant life, the failed emancipation of the serfs, the tension between liberals and conservatives are particularly good and resonate with present day Russia. His complaints about the roads have relevance too. To me, the text suggests that we have not been given the full explanation of the collectivization process. Most of my Russian friends belong to families that were attacked by other villagers at the time. They, like most English speaking reports at the time, regard collectivization as a monstrous tragedy. But one can also see why it might also have had great support from the less successful peasants. One can also see why settlements of German and other foreign farmers would have found it an outrage. He discusses these settlements in “South Russia”. He uses the word Ukraine once in the book from memory (might be twice). He does however distinguish Little Russians and Cossacks from Muscovites and writes at length about “Finnish” communities scattered across Russia.

    Desperately long winded but readable and shows that Communism did not penetrate very deeply into Russia. Most attitudes that mark and distinguish modern Russian culture, politics and foreign policy to an English speaker were already in place by 1878.

    My five most influential books were not necessarily the best written or most entertaining. They are mostly about what to do, rather than intellectual reflection. All these triggered a course of action which must be the important criterion for being influential. Here goes.

    The Gospel according to St Luke
    Scouting for Boys, Sir Robert Baden Powell
    The Domesday Book, Gordon Rattray Taylor
    On Liberty, John Stuart Mill
    Priceless, William Poundstone ties with Origins of Virtue by Matt Ridley

    When it comes to moral and intellectual insight, Origins of Virtue is with St Luke.

    I also thought Canticle for Leibowitz was outstanding as a creative work. Decades ago I would have put the late John Brunner’s “Stand on Zanzibar” in a class of its own but his Malthusian predictions (really The Domesday Book in fiction) have not come close to happening.

    Then there was Advanced Engineering Mathematics, Erwin Kreyszig.

    Why is it that I have lent my copies over the years and they haven’t come back?

  13. With an emphasis on the political:

    1.) De Maistre’s collected works;
    2.) Mearsheimer’s Tragedy of Great Powers;
    3.) James Burnham The Machiavellians;
    4.) Carl Schmitt Political Theology;
    5.) Robert Caro’s biographies provide a practical illustration of how power actually works.

    The above neglects a lot of philosophy, pre-Cultural Marxist sociology, economics and literature.

  14. Nice List. Regarding Cairo/Robert Moses — His Nemesis, Jane Jacobs.

    The Death and Life of Great American Cities. After this, we can’t build anything because we can’t tear anything down. It’s why we can’t have high speed passenger rail (as if we really want it). But still. It’s why they have been working on the 2nd avenue subway for 100 years.

    It’s number 1 on my list of the most influential books that contain fundamentally bad ideas.


    The Rules of Sociological Method – Emile Durkheim. Everything is a social construct.
    The Structure of Scientific Revolutions – Science is a social construct. Although it is interesting that ‘Social Sciences’ both aren’t sciences and are social constructs. Mostly. And he mostly didn’t say what is attributed to him.

    Maybe Herbert Marcuse.
    Any and everything regarding NHST. Null Hypothesis Significance Testing.

  15. Anonymous says

    To me, The Color of Crime was a real eyes-opener. Not that I didn’t suspect but as a liberally-leaning citizenist I just never got around to do the research and face the ugly truth on my own.

    The 2005 edition summarized a lot in so few pages and a mere disbelief in some of the claims was instrumental in reading more about it and becoming a convert.

  16. Thank you very much indeed for the link to my article on the The Singularity is Near, I’m glad you found it and enjoyed it!

    A similar book about the future of technology which covers plenty of new ideas Kurzweil didn’t is this one and I’d highly recommend it also: