Definitive books for newcomers and interested laymen?
May 16, 2014 8:02 PM   Subscribe

I am in a "Learn ALL the things!" mode, and also in the mood to collect books to put on shelves. I am looking for clear-consensus best introductory guides to, well, everything. I've just finished "Bobby Fisher Teaches Chess" and am now knee deep into K&R's "C Programming Language", and have Mark Rippetoe's "Starting Strength" and "Zinn and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance" under my belt. Which introductory guides to your areas of interest are the most informative and accurate and engaging?
posted by Slap*Happy to Education (20 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
There was a great thread about this a few years ago, focusing more on academic subjects than on practical subjects like bike repair: What is the best intro to your field for laypeople?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:05 PM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Principles of Knitting. That, plus some Barbara Walker stitch treasuries and you have 90% of all knitting information.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:07 PM on May 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Came in to say the same thing as LobsterMitten, and to also mention a similar-but-different thread that came up last year around books that teach specific skills.
posted by kovacs at 8:08 PM on May 16, 2014

I am most definitely not focussing on academic or practical subjects, but the books themselves. Introductory guides that are readable and enlightening and hands-down winners for newcomers to this particular niche of knowledge, no matter how obscure.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:21 PM on May 16, 2014

Bread, by Jeffrey Hamelman. I have read a disturbingly titillating number of bread books, and this is, by far, the best - much better than the Reinhart books which are more frequently recommended.

Film Art: An Introduction by Bordwell and Thompson. Without peer.

On Camera Flash Techniques for Wedding and Digital Portrait Photoraphy Niekerk is an excellent writer, and his pics illustrate his principles perfectly. Will change the way you think about using your flash, without getting into technical off-camera and strobist stuff.

Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible - this book isn't ultimate in the sense that it has ALL the curries (eg, Dakshin is much better for purely south Indian dals), but Jaffrey has an historian's enthusiasms, a keen eye for story, and a very nice variety of curries both Indian, and expat Indian. An excellent global survey.

I presume you want "vocational" knowledge. If we're doing straight history books or whatever, we could be here for a while.
posted by smoke at 8:26 PM on May 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you've already got the computer science field covered with K&R, but for a broader overview, Code is a wonderfully engaging book that leads you all the way through the logic of a modern computer from the ground up, from binary to boolean logic all the way through CPUs.
posted by mekily at 8:33 PM on May 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

I honestly think one of the most interesting general history books in the entire world is The Timetables of History.

I tend to be anti-general philosophy books, but The Great Conversation is a pretty awesome book.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:39 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

How To Make Men's Clothes by Jane Rhinehart
posted by carsonb at 8:42 PM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

If we're doing straight history books or whatever, we could be here for a while.

Depends on the history, depends on the book. To give another example, "On War" by Von Clauswitz - does NOT qualify, because goddamn, that book was a slog.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:47 PM on May 16, 2014

A Guide Book of United States Coins or the "Red Book" is what any coin dealer would recommend you read if you want to get started in collecting American coins. It lists every coin issued by the US Mint, along with important exonumia, with a history and life-size color pictures.
posted by Small Dollar at 9:09 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Daniel Cay Johnston's Perfectly Legal

Everything you need to understand the historic Wild West and the insane legacy of governmental corruption in the state of California (Polanski's Chinatown!) plus how farming & factory farming took over our national economy if you draw a long enough bow... LA Times journalists Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman's The King Of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of A Secret American Empire.

Bonus points for Confessions of an Economic Hitman, by John Perkins.

I think it is impossible to understand the main stream news and current geopolitics without having these three fairly current books under your belt. A wise consumer of current events can use these non- fiction tomes as a road map to understanding patterns and history.

posted by jbenben at 11:21 PM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz.
posted by coleboptera at 3:05 AM on May 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

Proficient Motorcycling by David Hough
Motorcycle Design & Technology by Gaetano Cocco
posted by workerant at 6:07 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Definitely Clicker Training for Cats. Short, gets results, written by a former dolphin trainer, potential to impress many people.

Some results here (the hurdles and tunnels, not so much the hoop jumping).
posted by amtho at 7:59 AM on May 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Worst Case Survival Handbook Series by Joshua Piven. These books are funny and informative.
posted by okieangel at 8:50 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Secret Guide to Computers by Russ Walters is loaded with useful and hilarious trivia about CS. That's where I first learned Herman Hollerith and Grace Hopper's names.

Metamagical Themas is a collection of interesting columns by Doug Hofstadter from his Scientific American gig.

Feynman's Lectures on Physics by Richard Feynman is pretty terrific.

Debugging by David J. Agans is a great book on troubleshooting software and loads of other things.

On Writing by Stephen King.
posted by ostranenie at 9:29 PM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lin Yutang's The Importance of Living.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:43 PM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

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