TED Conversations

Seth Godin

Entrepreneur, Squidoo


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What's the overlooked gem, the book I haven't read that I must?

Every reader has at least one, that book that never caught on, or is out of print, but that resonates so much with people that they can't forget it. I still remember reading "The Republic of Tea" on the Sunday it came out years ago. And of course, Steve Pressfield's "The War of Art" which I've purchased and handed out a dozen times so far...

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    Feb 17 2011: Please read the engaging and beautiful novels by Kim Stanley Robinson on the progress of civilisation towards stability and peace by the quest for worship of nature and knowledge. Wish he would be given a chance to speak at TED and promote hs world view of science as the most self-critical, progressive, revisionist and peaceful 'religion' one could have:

    Kim Stanley Robinson:

    The Years of Rice and Salt
    Mars Trilogy
    Galileo's Dream
    (much more)

    Please give his amazing work a chance, you will not be dissapointed.

    Also the following writers have taught me a great deal about the world and being human:

    Peter Singer (Animal Liberation, How to Eat, The Life You can Save)
    Jared Diamons (Collapse, Guns, Germs and Stee, Guns, Germs and Steel, The Third Chimpanzee letc)
    Richard Dawkins (Unweaving the Rainbow, River out of Eden, The Selfish Gene)
    Sam Harris (The Moral Landscape)
    Jeremy Rifkin (Entropy, Empathy)
    Richard Wiseman (59 Seconds, Quirkology)
    Noam Chomsky (Rogue States, Hegemony of Survival)
    Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, Outliers, etc.)
    Daniel Dennett (Consciousness Explained, Freedom Evolves, etc)
    Steven Pinker (The Blank Slate, How the Mind Works, etc)
    Barry Schwartz (The Paradox of Choice)
    Dan Ariely (Predictably Irrational)
    Stephen J. Gould (Life's Grandeur)
    A.C. Grayling (What is Good, etc.)
    Matt Ridley (The Rational Optimist)

    As for fiction:

    Kim Stanley Robinson (Years of Rice and Salt, Galileo's Dream, Mars Trilogy)
    Peter Watts (Blindsight)
    Richard Morgan (Altered Carbon, Thirteen/Black Man)
    Paulo Bacigalupi (Windup Girl)
    Anthony Huso (The Last Page)
    Dan Simmons (Hyperion)

    I mostly enjoy science-fiction. But that is literature (if you read the right kind) that says the most about the world, our past and our future,if you ask me. It discovers humanity or how to attain it.
    • Feb 17 2011: Robinson's Mars trilogy stands as some of the best science fiction I've ever read. Delving into extremely complex scientific methods and questions surrounding the terraforming of Mars, mega projects such as a space elevator, and genetic engineering. All of these scientific themes are played out with the social consequences of each affecting the characters and the world at large. Questions of politics, romance , and philosophy abound. I found it very easy to imagine that this would be a plausible window to our future, and how actual settlement on Mars might unfold. All of this unfolds with a compelling story that rolls forward throughout the trilogy. A great read, which I return to again and again through the years.
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        Feb 19 2011: Perfect summary, sir. Feel the same, it has such a 'It could darn well happen exactly like this'-feeling to it. Plausability level infinite.
    • Feb 17 2011: Mirik:

      Great calls on your fiction list.

      Given your taste, if you haven't read the following, you should definitely check them out:

      China Mieville: Perdido St. Station (and all of his other works!)

      Charles Stross: Again, everything, but definitely check out Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise to start, then Glasshouse.

      Peter F. Hamilton: the Night's Dawn Trilogy
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        Feb 19 2011: Thanks sir, Mieville is on my to read list. So many good sci-fi writers, hard to know where to start and what is the best...
    • Feb 17 2011: Great call with KSR. The Memory of Whiteness may be his best, though out of print. Red Mars is a grand place to start.

      And as good as that is, yes, Dan Simmons' Hyperion is even better.
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        Feb 17 2011: China Melville rocks. City in the City is magic with all its 'unseeing' but he's also the nicest man you'll ever meet. Which is important to me, but suspect will be of no importance to everyone else ;O)
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        Feb 20 2011: Thank you sir, I have The Memory of Whiteness, but did not read that yet (so much to read, so little time!) Also look forward to his "Sience in the Capital" trilogy.

        And to Louise; you just fancy him, admit it! :-) Noone will blame you, he IS quite the erudite, intelligent and handsome manly man that does write brilliant books (from what I heard)!
        • Feb 22 2011: I would definitely recommend prioritizing Memory of Whiteness above the Science trilogy. I wish I could go back and read that anew.

    • Feb 19 2011: Certainly these are the seminal works and required reading for all who belong to the Church of Scientific Materialism. As a religion however, it is weak, angry and reactionary. If you have to belong to a club and don't like thinking for yourself, I can think of more positive religions. But of course if you want tenure or need to belong to the intellectual establishment then this is the stuff for you.
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        Feb 20 2011: Please read your own reply while pondering the question of who here, is actually expressing any form of anger. :-)

        I regret to bring offence, but I fail to see how I have addressed the issues you deal with or caused you to feel to need to express your cynicism. As you see I use 'religion' rather broadly as a form of world view, not in the dogmatic sense we all know it as today.

        To me it has been tremendously positive, falling from one into the other amazing discovery via science and the enjoying the beauty and nifty workings of nature. It has not been a cause for anger to witness how a bumblebee flies, or to explore the almost artistic complexity of the mind boggling Large Hadron Collider.

        Please answer me how the worship of knowledge and nature represents an 'angry and reactionary' world view, I would be interested to see your point of view. Much thanks, next time with some more concise arguments and less angry randomness, I would beg of you, sir!

        It's possible other people would find more traction for discussion in your words when you actually pretend they can't read your mind and just put forth the arguments you wish to present and don't just put their contribution down without an apparent valid (or even relevant) basis.

        Also, please reccomend us a book (after all, what this is about).
    • Feb 24 2011: Mirik, a fantastic humanist reading selection. Guns, Germs & Steel one of the all-time best. I'd also suggest Bryson's Short History, Jacoby's Age of American Unreason, Taverne's March of Unreason and prety much anything by Hitchens or Stenger
  • Feb 17 2011: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

    No knowledge of physics is required. If you appreciate intellect and science you will reread this book many times.
    • Feb 17 2011: If you are curious about life, you will reread this book many times. It's a real gem - beautifully simple.
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      Feb 17 2011: I agree, a thoroughly enbjoyable book. I bought a copy just to lend it to people.
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    Feb 16 2011: Le Petit Prince. Yes - a children's book - but one full of philosophical grandeurs, simplified. Every time I read this book I get a new takeaway that resonates with the current events of my life.

    "Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
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    Feb 17 2011: In 1971 I found a copy of The Universal Traveler (http://www.amazon.com/Crisp-Universal-Traveler-Don-Koberg/dp/1560526793/ref=dp_ob_title_bk) that I marked up and is dog-earred from so much use. I recently brought it out in a discussion with a speaker we had at our TEDxAmericanRiviera event. Seems that my friend had taken a class in 1970 with Don at Cal Poly while the book was being written - he didn't know that anyone had ever read it. If you are a problem solver and are looking for new ways to think about how you do your work, this is an amazing book.
    • Feb 18 2011: Wow! And Thanks!
      Totally forgotten about this one until you jogged the memory.... I'll have to do a search to see if I can locate it in the stacks for a re-read; as I do recall its a completeley different approach to that taken in many of today's pablum consistency offerings.
  • Feb 16 2011: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig helped to place for me Quality and Caring (2 sides of the same coin) at the core of my life. Over the years since first reading that book when it was initially published I have occasionally noticed how what seems to be the default way I look at and interpret things turns out, on reflection, to have been rooted in my reading of, and responses to, that modern masterpiece.
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    Feb 15 2011: Mihail Bulgakov "The Master and Margarita", Dostoevski's "Idiot".
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      Feb 16 2011: I just stated reading that Dostoevski's! thanks! now I'm psyched.
    • Feb 18 2011: Yeah - The Master and Margarita is excellent - What Happens when the Devil and his entourage comes to 1920s Moscow combined with a Passion Play - fantastical and amazing.

      Two other early 20th century Russian novels I'd add:

      St. Petersburg by Andrei Biely - super modern prose about a Father and Son in revolutionary times.

      Hadji Murad by Tolstoy - I believe the last piece of prose he wrote - beautifully written and is basically 'War and Peace' in 122 pages.
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    Feb 21 2011: I have a question for Seth Godin. This thread has been enriched with more than 300 posts. Which of the books mentioned are you tempted to actually read in the near future?
  • Feb 17 2011: Bill Bryson's 'A Short History of Nearly Everything'
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      Feb 17 2011: I totally second this. While most of the facts this book covers are heard here and there, Bill Bryson has managed very effectively to herd them together and in very clear structure. Not to mention the smart, humoristic text style, the brand of Bryson. Absolutely a must for every modern individual who wants to be updated about what science is today, and what it is not.
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    Feb 17 2011: For me, it is Henry David Thourea's Walden. I stumbled upon it seven years ago in a bookstore, bought it, read it and it has since changed my life.
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      Feb 17 2011: My favourite book all time..what better read is there in this time of too much work, too much connectivity and too much stress. Everyone should read this.
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    Feb 13 2011: A diverse set of titles, but these have affected me and the paradigms I use for different part of life

    Man’s search for meaning
    Viktor Frankl

    In the name of Identity
    Amin Maalouf

    Seven Day Weekend
    Ricardo Semler

    Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood
    A.S. Neill
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      Feb 17 2011: wow! I am so glad to see a book by A. S. Neill on this list! His books have been inspiring me since I was 15 and they are still useful as I think of my children's education. He was an incredible education visionary.
    • Feb 18 2011: This is the book I was going to mention. It changed my outlook on what "I" am, and what all these others are as well - and giving the best scientific basis for compassion and consciousness I've ever encountered.
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    Feb 19 2011: Fritjof Capra - The Tao of Physics and The turning Point
    Stanislav Grof - Beyond the Brain, The cosmic Game and The ultimate Journey
    and of course, Aldous Huxley, all of them, specially brave new world, the island and perennial philosophy
    • Feb 21 2011: I recommended Grof's Beyond the Brain to someone just today, in the context of explaining Grof's proposition that there exist "basic perinatal matrices" -- womb experiences of distinct character -- which influence later, post-natal experience.

      I got quite a bit out of the compendia edited by Peter Titelman on Bowen Family Systems Theory, especially the volume entitled Emotional Cutoff.

      I also quite enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, which was not only a great read, but also a book which freed me up to trust my own, rapidly apprehended, intuition about many things.

      I found a valuable read Kathryn Schultz's recent book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.

      Also recommended: The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad. A series of interconnected, essays, pre-web hypertext, if you like, on various subjects including a very insightful power analysis of cults.
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    Feb 17 2011: Definitely the Black Swan! If you have not read it you are missing out! But books are personal taste. After I read this book I completely changed my life!
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    Feb 16 2011: As a teenager, "Ecce Homo" by Friedrich Nietzsche - it opened my eyes to living a life as the liver sees fit to and accepting the consequences good and bad.

    As a 20-something, "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - which opened my eyes to living a human life in inhuman circumstances, the power of the spirit.

    As a 50-something, "The Invisible Dragon, Essays on Beauty" by Dave Hickey - for reminding me that art is revolutionary, and this is why the instituion of art has become so boring during my lifetime.
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    Feb 16 2011: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
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    Feb 15 2011: maybe not that overlooked, but certainly less than optimal people read: fahrenheit 451

    for those who like philosophy: ludwig von mises - theory and history
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    Feb 15 2011: ashamed to say that only recently i started No Logo (2000) by Naomi Klein. Before that i read hers The Shock Doctrine (2007). i guess u must've read them, but right now i can't think of any other books that are more important to our world & future.
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    Feb 15 2011: Robert Pirsig: "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values"
    Michel Houellebecq: "Atomised" and "Platform"
  • Feb 18 2011: Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofsteader. One of the best books (iMHO) ever written.
  • Feb 18 2011: The Man Who Had N Idea - Thomas M Disch. Have yet to see such skill in prose elsewhere. Science-fiction in the loosest of definitions.
  • Feb 18 2011: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. This one will live a very long life.
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    Feb 17 2011: If you haven't read anything by Borges yet, that'd be an overlooked Author.
    His poems are great, his conferences and talks could easily be TEDs, his essays and short stories more often than not are mind blowing.
    • Feb 21 2011: Borges' short stories are exquisite. So magical, so dense with meaning, one dare not skip a word. The collection titled Labyrinths is extraordinary. Some have argued that his fantastical concepts, such as the encyclopedia that continually changed itself, was actualized in the form of wikipedia, and the internet generally. See "Borges and the Foreseeable Future," www.nytimes.com/2008/01/06/books/06cohenintro.html.
    • Feb 22 2011: "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" is the first I'd recommend. The title actually says it all.
      • Feb 22 2011: "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" is part of the Labyrinths collection.
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      Feb 23 2011: I totally agree with you guys. I like all his works but I'd recommend "Death and the Compass" and since he uses lot of underlying connections to this other short story I'd also recommend "The Garden of Forking Paths".
  • Feb 17 2011: Interaction Ritual Chains by Randall Collins
    -- Everything runs on Emotional Energy. How is it created? Through Interaction Rituals. Fascinating stuff. Eminently readable.

    Focusing by Eugene T. Gendlin
    -- Focusing is seeing what is truly at the root of what swims through our mind, especially issues that nag, wear us down, and affect us without our ever substantively knowing what they are.

    The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos by Gaston Bachelard
    -- Reverie is the dream awake, oneirism that lingers, and something to not only cherish but build upon.

    Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren
    -- A vision of the world as a sprout emerging from a stone. First the stone had to be split. As L Cohen said: 'there's a crack, a crack in everything -- that's how the light gets in'.

    The Tao of Zen by Ray Grigg
    -- A masterful historical linking of the two truly timeless eastern genres of thought. Delicate and thoughtful.

    Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields
    -- 500 little pieces that argue for a new vision of artistic construction.

    Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility by James P. Carse
    -- Games aren't just out on the playing field. The truly infinite games are forever ongoing around us.

    Metaphysics of Natural Complexes by Justus Buchler
    -- Builds on the idea that there are no 'simples', only 'complexes', with elements spread across many orders in the universe (imaginary, real, past, present, future, accessible, queryable).

    Gitanjali: Offerings of Song and Art by Rabindranath Tagore
    -- Tagore's masterwork of poetic companionship with the ever-elusive, ever-arriving, ever-departing You.

    The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change by Randall Collins
    -- The grand tour of philosophies throughout time -- why they appeared, thrived, inspired later schools (or didn't), disappeared, and remain eternal.

    • Feb 19 2011: Focusing by Gendlin and another book on focusing by Ann Weiser Cornell are excellent. If you don't know about focusing already, find out!

      Grigg's Tao book is also excellent
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    Feb 17 2011: The Hacker Crackdown by Bruce Sterling. Niche, yes. Out of print, yes. Despite focusing on events in the late 80's/early 90's provides an allegory and nine lessons for modern times, yes. Everyone with a passing interest in digital should read it. If you can get a copy of it, I think it's in e-book format...somewhere.
  • Feb 17 2011: I've recently finished Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, and it is one of the most iconoclastic books I've read, while remaining very clear and understandable - I had to get the following book, The Story of B, immediately, and I'm reading it now.
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      Feb 17 2011: I read Ismael, followed by My Ishmael and The Story of B as young adult many years ago. Until this day I'm sure that this trilogy changed my life profoundly. Back then it was the first really different way of seeing and thinking about the world I have encountered. Now, many years later, these books still hold a place of honour in my living room as they remind me that there are always differnt ways to look at the world. This is a recommended read for adults and kids as well.
  • Feb 17 2011: A slight twist: a terribly overlooked book that I've read a hundred times, but that everyone should--must read, at least once a year is Strunk & White's The Elements of Style. Regardless of who you are, no matter how good a writer I think I am, I reread this book. Again and again. To remind myself that I am not nearly as good a writer as I think I am.
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    Feb 16 2011: Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly and Presence, Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, Betty Sue Flowers - these books give me inspiration when I need one.
  • Feb 16 2011: THE VARIETIES OF SCIENTIFIC EXPERIENCE by Carl Sagan (edited by his wife Ann Druyan) has provided me with a phenomenal level of insight from the mind of unbounded genius. Carl's clarity and generosity of spirit shines through his writing, speaking, and especially his interaction with those participating in the audience at The Gifford Lectures. I have passed this book on to a dozen friends. Please enjoy the EXPERIENCE.
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    Feb 16 2011: I'm always amazed when someone hasn't hear of Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. It's a most profound and simple tale and it's the book that changed my life. Whenever I'm struggling in my life, it's the book that reminds me that we're all just vulnerable souls on a journey to discover ourselves.