Best books for teaching yourself a new skill?
August 23, 2013 2:19 PM   Subscribe

What are the absolute best books for teaching yourself a new and interesting skill starting from scratch?

I'm thinking about things like languages (Latin, Spanish, etc.), instruments (piano?), etc., and I'm looking for books that you have actually used and had great success with. I'm not looking for general books or methods on teaching yourself; I'm looking for books that do a great job of teaching you one fun skill.
posted by pracowity to Education (21 answers total) 154 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is probably an odd thing to lead with, but Robert Byrne penned the definitive book on teaching oneself pool and billiards: Byrne's New Standard Book of Pool and Billiards. He explains everything, from how to break to how to sink a ball that's stuck to the rail or shoot a massé shot. This book was like a Bible to me in college, and I studied it harder than any textbook I ever owned. He takes complicated concepts and explains them simply and effectively, with clearly illustrated drawings that show you exactly how to do the skill he's describing, and with drills to reinforce that skill. Really top shelf stuff.
posted by mosk at 2:29 PM on August 23, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Bread, By Jeffrey Hamelman. Honestly, this book will take you from amateur to at least semi-professional. It is easily the best bread baking book I have ever read (and I've read a lot!).
posted by smoke at 3:17 PM on August 23, 2013 [12 favorites]

Best answer: The Four-Hour Chef is specifically about that. More than just cooking, it's about how to gain "mastery" over any skill in the shortest amount of time possible. I love Tim's books and his general approach to life, and Chef is a fun read. I'm not sure if you'll find the depth in it that you're looking for, but he does go from very basic to somewhat masterful (in the kitchen) throughout the book.
posted by ToucanDoug at 4:03 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It is perhaps absurdly specific, but The Art of Kiltmaking by Barbara Tewksbury and Elsie Stuehmeyer is really excellent. If you've ever wandered into a Scottish import shop and had a heart attack at the price of a quality hand-made kilt, reading or working your way through this book will give you a much better appreciation of how much work goes into one. I used it with good success to make a traditionally made, hand-sewn 8 yard kilt.
posted by usonian at 4:03 PM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: (I might add that I had never sewn a garment before picking up that book. Making a kilt is not so much working from a pattern as it it following a set of instructions based on a few measurements.)
posted by usonian at 4:05 PM on August 23, 2013

Best answer: The Embroiderer's Handbook. It starts with the most basic information about supplies and prep work. It has tons of stitches, good pictures and very clear directions.
posted by 1066 at 4:07 PM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Juggling for the Complete Klutz. The book comes with juggling balls!
posted by Marky at 4:35 PM on August 23, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Ha, I, too come in to recommend Juggling for the Complete Klutz, but Marky beat me to it. I read it more than 20 years ago and it is certainly the best, 'to learn x skill, read this book' that I have read on any topic. If you want to learn to juggle, this is The book.
posted by zyxwvut at 5:03 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Thirding the juggling book. 12-year-old me got it as an Xmas gift. It's short, so you won't waste a lot of time reading it, and it's a fun read.
posted by Wild_Eep at 7:05 PM on August 23, 2013

Best answer: Make Your Own Shoes by Mary Wales Loomis. Seriously, I have plans to take plaster casts of my feet and start making my own shoes based on this book.

The Gingery Press Build Your Own Metal Working Shop From Scrap books. You start by building a charcoal foundry, which enables you to build a metal lathe, which makes possible a metal shaper, which lead to a milling machine, a drill press, a dividing head and other accessories, a sheet metal brake, and a gas-fired crucible furnace. I so, so yearn for a place with the appropriate space to work through these books. *mournful sigh*
posted by Lexica at 8:38 PM on August 23, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Bob Miller's "For The Clueless" series of math books, starting with basic math through trig. (They go further than that, but they were all that I had use for.) I was attempting to teach myself math for the GRE and found them to be very easy to follow. I wish someone had given them to me instead of the elementary and high school math classes I had instead. Did about 40% better on the GRE practice tests I was doing, too (from getting literally two correct answers on the first try.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 9:35 PM on August 23, 2013

Best answer: A previous, similar thread on AskMeFi.
posted by pont at 2:10 AM on August 24, 2013

Best answer: I can vouch for:

The Way To Cook (Julia Child)

Zraly's Windows on the World Complete Wine Course

From Metal to Mozart: The Rock-n-Roll Guide to Classical Music (good for the recommended listening course, you might not agree with the A-Z guide pairings)

Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance / Mountain Bike Maintenance

The Curtis Creek Manifesto: A Fully Illustrated Guide to the Stategy, Finesse, Tactics, and Paraphernalia of Fly Fishing

Free online at The Predator at the Chessboard, and by the same author, Classical English Rhetoric.

Wilderness Basics (though there may be better available today)

Botany for Gardners

How to Make A Journal of Your Life, the Portable MFA in Creative Writing, The Ode Less Travelled

Socrates to Sartre and Beyond (effectively a short course in the high points of Western philosophy)

Audio in Media

Typestyle, Logo Design Workbook, Logo Font & Lettering Bible

TDLP's Introduction to Linux and BASH for Beginners (for scripting), then the UNIX and Linux Administration Handbook, and free training materials from IBM for LPI certification

PADI: Open Water Dive Manual (note that you can't get certified just by reading this)

ARRL Ham Radio License Manual

How to Read a Financial Report

A Primer on Intellectual Property Licensing -- one of the few legal books I'd recommend to lay people working in creative areas. Probably requires at least a general business-level familiarity with IP concepts.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:48 AM on August 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: (Chessmaster: Grand Master Edition is also good for learning chess, with good texts included, and a voiced intro course by Josh Waitzkin)
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:56 AM on August 24, 2013

Best answer: A great book for learning some basic magic tricks, and just a great book in general, is Magic and Showmanship: A Handbook for Conjurers by Henning Nelms. It has step-by-step instructions for simple tricks, wonderful hand drawn illustrations, and explanations for the how and why of the tricks.
posted by codacorolla at 8:25 AM on August 24, 2013

Best answer: Another +1 for the Klutz Juggling book. I learned to juggle 3 balls from it as a teenager. Here are some other books that I think are great at teaching their subjects. Many of these books are as much about teaching as they are about learning.

Head First Java or any of the Head First books for programming. The author, Kathy Sierra, is a top-notch teacher.

One of Kathy Sierra's recommendations is Pat Parelli's Natural Horsemanship, to learn about training horses. He is also a great teacher.

Karen Pryor's Don't Shoot the Dog will teach you how to train animals (humans included) to do your bidding.

Mastery by George Leonard is about the skill of acquiring skills. His Aikido book is supposed to be great too.

Other ones I like: Beginning Blues Guitar by Jerry Silverman, Problem Solving 101 by Ken Watanabe, The Big Nerd Ranch Objective C and iOS Programming books, The Phonics Handbook by Jolly Phonics.
posted by nevan at 9:12 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: How to Read a Book - Sounds silly, but great guide for progressing as a reader.

Fun With a Pencil - Andrew Loomis' books are great guides for learning how to draw. A lot people seem to recommend this book, too, although I haven't read it: Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain.
posted by agog at 11:29 PM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For piano: Alfred's Basic Adult Piano Course

My grandmother bought me a piano a few years ago, along with these books. They build skills in a natural and fun way, and you're playing recognizable tunes almost right away. Awesome!
posted by huckit at 10:45 AM on August 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Cartoon Animation by Preston Blair
posted by overeducated_alligator at 4:23 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm having a pretty good start with You Can Teach Yourself Banjo by Janet Davis. A few lessons with a proper banjo musician are helping to have proper form.
posted by dog food sugar at 2:43 PM on August 29, 2013

Best answer: The Non-Designer's Design Book : Robin Williams

If you have to lay out text and pictures on a document, whether a poster, newsletter, leaflet, menu, webpage, business card, etc etc etc - and most people do at some point - this is the first stop in having it look not-crap.
It won't turn you into a good designer, but it should knock you into not-hideous.
posted by Elysum at 7:19 PM on August 29, 2013

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