these are the books I would force you to read
One philosophy book
If I could force you to read a philosophy book, it would be Beyond Good and Evil. Yes, Nietzsche was that influential. Yes, parts of this book suck. Maxims and Interludes and Peoples and Fatherlands are the worst chapters in the book. We all hate them. We all skip them when we read it. Even college professors do. It’s ok. The rest of the book is still so good that, in my mind, if you haven’t read this book, you don’t know shit about shit.
(If I could force you to read The Archaeology of Knowledge, I would, but it’s too hard a book to expect people to read. I feel like if you haven’t read The Archaeology of Knowledge, then we can’t converse. And I don’t know anyone else who’s read it. So I feel I can’t converse with anyone.)
If I could force you to read one book—just one in all the world—it would be The Little Prince. It’s more important than the Bible (in the context of this list). If you disagree with that last statement you are insane—get yourself to a mental hospital tonight. If you had to show one film to aliens to make them understand our culture, you would show them Pulp Fiction. If they preferred to read, you would give them The Little Prince.
If I had to pick one novel to force you to read, it would be The Secret History. It’s not as good as some of the classics, but fuck the classics. This is the best novel of the current age. Hear me? This doesn’t mean it’s my favorite novel, it just means I think if you had to read one novel to understand what a novel is now, it would be this one.
If I had to pick one art book, I would force you to look at H. R. Giger’s Necronomicon II. Fields of cocks and cunts dripping, fucking, covered in warts. Almost-abstract cityscapes. If you don’t get Giger, then you honestly don’t belong on planet Earth. Move to a different planet.
My favorite artists are Basquiat, Twombly, Botticelli—but I would never force you to look at them. This isn’t a list about my favorites. It’s a list about contemporary cultural necessities.
The only other visual art I would force you to look at is M. C. Escher.
One general science book
For a long time I would have said Silent Spring for a science book but Silent Spring is old news. Everybody knows that we fucked up the planet so it doesn’t have the punch it used to. Guess I gotta be hypocritical and go with Gleick’s Chaos. Like with Silent Spring, the science here is old news—five year olds understand it intrinsically. But as a story of scientific discovery, this is one of the most exciting books ever written.
I am well aware for a science book the largest majority of you would have picked Gödel, Escher, Bach. Consider your complaints noted without comment.
Semi-technical books (accessible to anyone)
For a semi-technical book, I would force each and every one of you to read A New Kind of Science (main text, not the endnotes). I’m sorry, but if you haven’t read this book, you are clueless in like a thousand ways.
For another semi-technical book, Applied Cryptography (the concepts sections, not the detailed algorithm sections). It’s embarrassing that almost no one knows what digital cash is, or a cryptographic digital signature. Embarrassing. The general concepts in this book should be known by a fifth grader. No hyperbole: if you don’t know what a digital signature is, you should be ashamed to live.
It would go against the concept of this list to pick one biography.
One children’s book
Children’s books are the most important to read. Where the Wild Things Are is the king of these. If you can’t get lost in this book, I am sorry to tell you that a piece of you is missing. And I don’t consider The Little Prince a children’s book.
I could recommend a million books—and I’d love to—but this list isn’t about recommendations. These are the nine books that I wish I could force you to read so that you would have the bare minimal framework upon which we could have a semblance of a conversation. Absent that, it is my distinct opinion that you and I reside in disconnected worlds.