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Old Culture War Thread: Your good books list

There was a culture war post several years ago where users contributed their favourite books, including many out of print. I have looked for it in vain, can we maintain a Motte book thread?

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Going to repost the list I made in the other thread. Mostly obscure epic fantasy and space opera, with a lot of 'grimdark' esque series, but not all. All of these series are completed.

If you have questions about a specific one feel free to comment and I'll explain it a bit.

  • Malazan - Steven Erikson

  • The Traitor Son Cycle - Miles Cameron

  • The Black Company - Glen Cook

  • The Second Apocalypse - Scott R. Bakker

  • The Inda Quartet - Sherwood Smith

  • Chronicles of the Black Gate - J. P. Ashman

  • Mother of Learning - Domagoi Kurmaic

  • Commonwealth Saga - Peter F. Hamilton

  • Night's Dawn Trilogy - Peter F. Hamilton

  • The Void Trilogy - Peter F. Hamilton

  • Diaspora - Greg Egan

  • Aching God Series - Mike Shel

  • Annihilation - Jeff VanderMeer

  • The Broken Earth - N. K. Jeminsen

  • Memory, Sorrow, Thorn - Tad Williams

  • Book of the New Sun - Gene Wolfe

  • Otherland - Tad Williams

  • Gravity Dreams - L. E. Modesit Jr.

  • Chronicles of Thomas Covenant - Stephen R. Donaldson

  • Magician series - Raymond Feist

I'm quite a fan of many of these.

Malazan and Second Apocalypse are particularly excellent.

Haven't read a few of the others, and the only one which really left me lukewarm was Thomas Covenant.

I may add my own top-level, but you've covered some chunk of it.

For search purposes, would you be willing to add authors to your listings?

Annihilation is a bit hard to distinguish.

Yep, Malazan and Second Apocalypse are some of the best fiction ever written IMO. Traitor Son Cycle is very similar to those in scope, length and tone if you're looking for a new series.

I agree that Thomas Convenant wasn't the best - I added it in because it fits well with the kind of theme I like. Execution was sadly a bit lacking.

I'll go ahead and add the authors I know off the top of my head, may get to all of them at some point.

Haha, I'm currently swamped.

Reading an Elric anthology just for some historic value.

After that it's probably Jonathan Strange... since my girlfriend wants book club. Or possible the Locke Lamora sequel, or these Vorkosigan books, or...

I like Vorkosigan. Definitely struggles to make sense in the context of modern day technology, but if you like sci-fi from that era it's very well written.

In the sci-fi theme, Diaspora by Greg Egan is probably my favorite book. It's a complete standalone story too, so not a huge time investment.

The Night lords trilogy - set in the 40k universe it is a series written from the perspective of the bad guys. I think it is a good study in seeing how you end up rooting for the bad guy if you see the story from their perspective even though they are doing terrible things. Makes ya think about human nature and how strong in-group out-group bias honestly is.

Made me realize if you were born in a tribe of torturers or cannibals 9/10 you would end up okay with torture or cannibalism as another aspect of life.

The book I've probably most re-read is Swords Against Death, part of the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series by Fritz Leiber, I probably started reading him because of playing Dungeons & Dragons, and since I actually have some of my 1970's D&D rule books under my desk at work FWLIW here's Gygax on what tales helped inspire Arneson and Gygax to create Dungeons & Dragons

"....those who don't care for Burroughs'

Martian adventures where John Carter is groping through black pits, who feel no thrill upon reading Howard's Conan saga, who do not enjoy the de Camp & Pratt fantasies or Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser pitting their swords against evil sorceries will not be likely to find Dungeons & Dragons to their taste."

-E. Gary Gygax

Tactical Studies Rules Editor

1 November 1973

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

"The most immediate influences upon AD&D were probably de Camp & Pratt, REH, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, HPL, and A. Merritt."

-Gygax

16 May 1979

I was really impressed by the tales in Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others, especially by Hell Is the Absence of God

I quite enjoyed The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics by Daniel Abraham, which I've read many times and is in a few anthologies I've bought, Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories is the one I keep near.

After more than a century I still think The Time Machine

An Invention by H. G. Wells holds up.

Susanna Clarke's short stories collected in The Ladies of Grace Adieu, I've re-read many times, her long novel Jonathan Strange & Mr.Norrell waa good and probably worth a re-read.

Larry Niven's The Flight of the Horse was great and others of his short story collections are usually fun.

Josie and the Elevator by Thomas Disch is a short story that I read as a child and then again at 21, and it's haunted my imagination for decades, it’s in the collection The Man Who Had No Idea

The Mabinogion (a collection of Welsh myths translated into English by Gwyn and Thomas Jones I've read from a few times.

Grimm's Fairy Tales I've read from a bunch of times.

British (and to a lesser extent Irish) fairy and folk tale collections I've read many of, probably the two I've most re-read are British Folktales and The Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, & Other Supernatural Creatures both collected by Katharine M. Briggs

I've read many different collections of Greek Myths, the one I have nearest on hand is The Penguin Book of Classical Myths by Jenny March.

I've tried reading Norse myths and the Bible a few times, but just couldn't get into them, the exception is The Book of Job from The Bible, The Book of Job : a biography by Larrimore, Mark J. was a good commentary on it.

For longer form works there's

The War Hound and the World's Pain by Michael Moorcock is probably the novel I've most re-read, it's about a German mercenary soldier in the thirty years war who finds that Lucifer and Hell are real, he is damned, but Lucifer wishes to be reconciled with God and believes that possession of the Holy Grail may allow this, and he promises the soldier his soul (which Lucifer already has claim of) in return for the soldier bringing him the Grail, which the soldier agrees to if Lucifer also free's the soul of a witch the soldier has fallen in love with. The Dukes of Hell aren't keen on this and rebel, hijinks ensue. I've also read and re-read many of Moorcock's other works.

The Broken Sword, and Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson I've re-read

Equal Rites, Lords & Ladies, and Mort by Terry Pratchett I've all read more than once.

The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury I re-read decades apart.

And like most here I've re-read Tolkien's The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings.

For non-fantasy fiction there's In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck,  The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, and (most recently) Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (1900) [a novel of a coward sailor’s quest for lost honor and redemption] that are all novels I've re-read.

Stoner (1965) by John Williams [a “mainstream literature” novel, once-upon-a-time I would have ignored this as a story of an “adulterous academic”, but I found it incredibly moving, relatable, and sad]

For non-fiction there's

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford that I dip into from time-to-time to remind myself that all is not rosier in the white-collar world.

The Big Strike by "Mike Quin" (Paul William Ryan), an account of the 1934 San Francisco general strike that I've read twice,

plus there's

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England and The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer which I re-read now and then.

Some other interesting/useful books that I’ve read these last two years:

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment And How It Can Help You Find-And Keep-Love by Amir Levine, M.D and Rachel S. F. Heller, M.A. (2010) [Recommended by both my lovely roommate, my therapist, and a woman who walked by my table in a restaurant, recognized the book cover, said “That’s my favorite book!”, then sat down at a nearby table with a gentleman, and then loudly told him a long list of details about her life, including her sleeping with a co-worker, which was followed by her much quieter lunch companion asked her “Isn’t he married?”, and then they left! Such a cliffhanger!]

Love Signs: A New Approach to the Human Heart by Linda Goodman (1978) [This is vintage 1970’s (when more people actually coupled) astrology, which has no logical basis, supposedly in it’s “system” birthtimes may show why a ‘Gemini’ acts more like an ‘Aries’ (or whatever), just ignore that and ignore birthdates and times and regard it as a description of 24 different personality types (12 different types of men and 12 different types of women) regardless of nominal “signs” and how they interact, works pretty good that way and it’s kinda a poetic way of describing the relationships of different couples)

The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman (1992) [marriage advice from a counselor and pastor]

The Re-marriage manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around by Terry Gaspard (2020) [nothing new covered here but a great collation of other authors advice/findings plus some couples therapy anecdotes, I find this very worthwhile reading]

Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Decide Whether to Stay In or Get Out of Your Relationship by Mira Kirshenbaum (1996)

Untrue: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust, and Infidelity Is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free by Wednesday Martin (2018) [basically tells of how it’s very unlikely for a woman to stay romantic in-love with a long-term monogamous partner, especially one she’s legally married to, even if she still loves their partner it will be as a sibling, no longer a lover, and how much more than men do women crave a variety of lovers]

Here's a list heavily biased towards the last fifty years:

  • In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall. Discovery coupled with novelistic drama among our closest relatives. Over the years, Jane Goodall's power over me has attenuated as she's embraced expansive, unfocused activism, but her early research on Chimpanzees is astonishing. I can't think of anyone that can match her powers of observation. Mid way through the book, it develops a novelistic density that made me laugh and cry. I think the follow-up is even better, "Through a Window: Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe", but it hardly makes sense to read it on its own. Don't let anyone tell you that Bonobos are the sexually adventurous primates.

  • Chimpanzee Politics by Franz de Waal. What can I say? I chose my username for good reason. This is a retrospective analysis of the author's years studying a chimpanzee colony in a Dutch zoo. I read it fifteen or twenty years ago, browsing Amazon's recommendations for good science writing, before reading Jane Goodall, and it changed my life. The backbone of the story is a contest for political supremacy among the chimps, but that hardly describes what it offers. It covers many other aspects of their lives: the way they play, how they deceive each other, juvenile sexual development, how they comfort each other, and much much more.

  • The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. I *really *love cities. Jacobs carefully builds an argument for what enables their greatness, based on common-sense observations.

  • The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen. Funny, sad, and deeply intertwined with the fabric of America.

  • Wolf Hall, by Hillary Mantel. This is a staggering work of imagination that constructs a plausible version of history that more or less inverts the very popular conception of the good Thomas (More) and bad Thomas (Cromwell). One reviewer wrote something along the lines of "I know every twist and turn of this story from high school history and I still can't wait to find out what happens next."

  • The Body in Pain by Elaine Scarry. This is an account of why humans torture, go to war (instead of, e.g., settle disputes via chess), and create things. I can't think of many better examples of how to build an argument. In retrospect, it shares a lot with the best of Scott's writings and the best of the Motte.

Add to those, authors I love, whose work I cannot narrow down to a single recommendation: Nietzsche, David Mitchell, P.G. Woodhouse (especially the Wooster and Jeeves stories).

Jacques Barzun - From Dawn To Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life. Interesting in its own right (I posted some excerps on /r/slowhistory), and as a jumping off point for further learning on the intellectual and artistic products of the West.

Assuming webfics count, Erogamer. Not sure how to describe it; maybe metaphysics / nature-of-reality porn. Also literal porn (which is why it's behind registration-wall). Here's the first post.

I think it'd be nice to share media-lists (like myanimelist/anilist goodreads etc.). Since I brought this up, here's my anilist[1]. Currently I don't maintain anything else.

can we maintain a Motte book thread?

I'd extend that to 'media' in general. Maybe apart from people sharing stuff individually, we could vote to watch/read specific things and discuss?

[1] Completed contains, generally, one entry per series - no sequels etc.

One more!

-Flatland: It's not a mathematical novel, it's a philosophy book. Nothing groundbreaking, but it's fun, and written in the most splendidly ornate style. And it's short!

The Design of Everyday Things

The Three Body Problem trilogy. The Infinite and the Divine: cool 40K book.

The Wildbow classics: Worm, Pact and Twig. All with somewhat slow starts but well-written and gripping.

Reverend Insanity, very long, somewhat edgy xianxia. Really logical, thoughtful plot and worldbuilding. Definitely meets the definition of rational fiction. It does some literary stuff with internal fables that was pretty cool, adds some philosophical weight to it.

Rather like Mearsheimer's publications, Tragedy of Great Power Politics, The Israel Lobby & The Great Delusion. Fairly approachable and highly persuasive international relations, though I already agreed with his ideas before I started reading him.

I second the Three Body Problem Trilogy, best piece of science fiction to exist currently.

If you enjoyed Reverend Insanity, I think you might enjoy 40 Milleniums of Cultivation. Similar sort of guile and cunning-driven plot, but with a more altruistic main character concerned about the wellbeing and freedom of human beings - a definition he eventually expands to things that share human values, not just human DNA and bodies.

I'll give it a look, it's just that I heard it's one of those ones that only get good a few hundred chapters in.

Perhaps I should be embarrassed to admit that I haven't read an actual book in years. I satisfy that particular urge with youtube lectures and wikibinging.

the feminist by tony tulathimutte -- a short story, brutal analysis of a certain kind of incel mindset

story of your life and others by ted chiang -- great light sci-fi short story collection. "hell is the abscence of god" in particular is an amazing thought experiment on morality and religion

animorphs: the reckoning by duncan sabien -- addictive page turner, constantly chewing on questions on ethics and consciousness. gets at a lot of what HPMOR was saying without having one of the characters stop and recite the sequences to another character. fun to read even if you have no familiarity with the original animorphs series

I don't think the incels are necessarily wrong, I just think they came to the wrong conclusions with the data available.

Some fun ones:

  • The Three Body Problem trilogy by Liu Cixin, though the third book isn't nearly as good as the first two. These consumed a week of my life as I was unable to put them down.

  • Conspiracy by Ryan Holiday. Nonfiction story of how Peter Thiel took down Gawker through Hulk Hogan. You can probably finish this in a single sitting or day.

  • There is No Antimemetics Division by qntm. Webfiction, though I think you can buy it as a physical book now. If you're into rational fiction you've probably heard of or read this one.

  • God-Shaped Hole and The Gig Economy by Zero HP Lovecraft. I'd put this in a similar genre to the Antimemetics series, though the authors are on opposite poles of the ideological spectrum. God-Shaped Hole is quite NFSW, just a warning.

lowkey bragging about reading 3k pages in a week

"Fun" is certainly not the way I'd describe the works of Zero HP Lovecraft. His "The Green New Deal" is the only time I've ever thought a conspicuous suicide hotline link was appropriate.

That one is brutal. Gig Economy is certainly fun but I'll agree with you that it's not the best word to describe God-Shaped Hole. I had to include it because I think it's his best work. I've seen the never-ending rabbit hole of schizo links and tangents it includes criticized before but I loved them. Some are from actual news articles, some are made up, and you wind up clicking on random links and reading until you don't know what's real, what's fake, or how you got here.

Not a "favorite books" list, but here is what I have been thinking about or reading recently:

  • "Borges: Selected Non-Fictions" - fun, interesting, often hilarious essays

  • Will Wight's "Cradle" series - addictive xianxia-style popcorn fiction

  • Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" - classic of libertarian scifi

  • Taiyō Matsumoto's "Ping Pong" - a sports manga. Good characters. Short.

  • Marcus Aurelius's "Meditations" - mostly a collection of aphorisms, but the philosophy espoused is interesting. Also worked surprisingly well as a character study of the author.

  • Alexander Wales's "Worth the Candle" - a remarkably touching isekai

  • Augustine's "Confessions" - interesting both theologically and for the background setting of the 4th century Mediterranean.

  • Haruki Murakami's "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" - short stories, my enjoyment varied wildly, but good overall.

"Borges: Selected Non-Fictions"

I have a copy of Ficciones which permanently lives in my backseat, against being stuck anywhere with nothing to do. I can always read Borges again and find more.

Have any of the Borges essays stood out to you? I've had that on my bookshelf for years, but I didn't ever get into it like I do his short stories. (I've read straight through Ficciones several times...)

A few essays that I remember distinctly after flipping through again: The Homeric Versions (pg. 69), The Translators of The Thousand and one Nights (pg. 92), The Doctrine of Cycles (pg. 115), Pascal's Sphere (pg. 351), The Innocence of Layamon (pg. 357), Forms of a Legend (pg. 372).

I also remember greatly enjoying the literary biographies and book/film reviews. They gave me a lot to add to my reading list, at least!

All right, I'm going to dig back in when I get a minute! Thanks for the recommendations.

Bad Blood, by John Carreyrou - the hard-to-believe but afaik completely true story of the rise and fall of Theranos - a company poised to completely revolutionize blood testing, with only one problem - they had none of the technological capability they claimed they did. The whole thing was incredible and amazing. Truth really is stranger than fiction sometimes.

I read this book a few years ago. And it was impossible for me to put down. Something about knowing it was real and still survived for as long as it did was shocking.

I've been going down the "cons" rabbit hole lately (mostly with podcasts), and it surprises me how long it takes for some of the simple scams to really get people in trouble.

One of the (many) amazing things is how she fired the CFO... in like 2011. Even back then, she was straight-up lying and doctoring numbers, and the CFO questioned it. She said he "wasn't a team player" and asked him to leave.

Now he proudly puts Theranos on his resume hahaha

This is the official story - bright young white woman ousmarting bunch of old crusty white men. If Elizabeth Holmes suddenly discovered she is person of color, she would be the perfect heroine for our time.

For more tinfoil hatty take on this event, check this.

https://thenakedhedgie.com/2021/10/02/the-theranos-scandal-the-real-story-1-3/

https://mmabeuf.medium.com/reconsidering-some-things-i-wrote-about-theranos-last-year-cb9f32b833df

I wanted to ask about Farewell to Alms. It's about how Britain escaped the malthusian trap through industrialization. The idea is that it took centuries of selective pressure to shape culture (and possibly biology) to create the kind of people capable of doing so. Also, inheritance laws among nobles meant that the first born son got everything, and the other sons were pushed to the middle/upper middle class, bringing elite culture with them. Apparently, the author thinks we're fucked and that we're running on momentum. Was curious is anyone knew anything. It's the kind of book that I'm surprised Scott hasn't reviewed

Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek - Annie Dillard's masterful contemplation of nature and man's place in it.

The Fall - Camus turns on Sarte, heralding the turn of europe against communism. A veritable nesting doll of allegory.

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber - Hemmingway does battle of the sexes in short-story form!

I read[1] Pilgrim at Time Creek during freshman year of high school - and boy did I not get it hahaha. Thanks for reminding me of it, sounds worth another go.

[1] I did actually read the words, but everything above the surface-level meanings flew right over my head

Was it assigned? That's way over the heads of the vast majority of high schoolers. Hell, it's over the heads of most university professors, but that's not saying much.

The Captive Mind - Czeslaw Milosz

Imo criminally underrated communist dissident literature. You may have heard of it first from that Moldbug post about Scott.

It started as a collection of essays which center on the theme of how an artist reacts in the face of a totalitarian system which demands he submit his talents to the whims of the party.

The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker

Cynical Theories by Helen Pluckrose

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

Victor Frankl is a gem, that book was useful to me when I wasn't in a great place. Feels a lot more grounded and practical than a lot of the pop psych fluff floating around our culture

-Pensées, by Blaise Pascal gets poo-pooed because the stock objection to the Wager is easy to understand, but it's a good trip through the mind of someone honestly grappling with religious questions.

-Notes From the Underground should be required reading for every teenaged boy who suspects he is smarter than other people (this means you, probably, if you're here)

-Alexandria, by Paul Kingsnorth is the best post-apocalyptic story I've ever read, and I've read all the canonical ones.

-Religion and the Decline of Magic is an excellent history of ideas about magic. Academic enough to be serious, but popular enough to be readable.

A friend I knew in school declared that notes from the underground was required reading for any educated person. I’ve read it and while I appreciated it, I didn’t quite have that reaction.

Can you justify the recommendation some? I’ve been thinking of giving it a reread

Maybe it's more useful for adults who thought they were smarter than everyone else, but it offers what was, to me, an unsettling look at the sort of self-destructive martyr-in-the-name-of-authenticity complex that a lot of intelligent young men fall into. The main character delights in dropping truth-bombs on other people's willfully ignorant illusions, and revels in the hostility this provokes in the sheeple, but is blind to the fact that this is all just a means of shoring up his own identity as the only person who REALLY gets it. He has glimpses of his many defects, but in the face of these he doubles down on the identity he has created for himself, which is pretty much divorced from any action he has taken. If TLP was a novel, it'd be NFTU.

I endorse that message, something that I identified with to a skin-crawling extent, and would add: it's fascinating listening to NFTU read from my magic box I carry everywhere through my wireless earbuds, and hearing the narrator decry how the people of his age were so artificial because they were just copying what they read in books in the same way that his modern equivalents love to accuse people of being sheeple just listening to twitter/tiktok/youtube whatever.

Peter Watts - Blindsight

Great Sci-Fi book touching on consciousness, truly alien aliens, firs contact, mental disorders, etc. Pretty good, tho the writing could be better.

The Martian

Got a movie, haven't watched it. It's near future, about a guy trying to survive alone on Mars after his colleagues though him dead. Has a solid grounding in real science.

Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947

I'm curious about governments which were/are outliers, and thus wanted to learn more about Prussia which united Germany, and was famed for the quality of it's armies. It was readable for a layman, though some jumps across dates were a little jarring for me. I enjoyed, though couldn't read more than 2 chapters a day.

Na Drini ćuprija/The Bridge on the Drina

The one book I really enjoyed reading in Highschool. It was written by Ivo Andrić, a Nobel prize winner, diplomat, and a lover of history. This book depicts a small town on a river that divides modern day Bosnia and Serbia. Though most of the events in the book are fictional, it presents the reader with a rich and colorful picture of life in the town around the bridge (and through it the events in the surrounding lands) from the bridges construction in 16th century, to it's partial destruction in World War 1.

Blood Meridian Or The Evening Redness In The West, by Cormarc McCarthy.

Best book I ever read.

That's a dark read. It literally threw me into a noticeable sadness, a kind of grim fog of pessimism, as I was reading it the first time. I also found the end frustratingly vague. That said, I did read it twice.

What did you perceive as dark or pessimistic about it? Sincere question.