Methodology and Criteria for Building Reading Lists

What is the easiest way to find the best books on any subject? In an ideal world there would a website where you could type in the subject you were interested in and instantly find the best books on that subject. As far as I’m aware, this website does not yet exist, and for good reason; in order to properly judge the value of a book on a specialized topic, you need to be an expert on that topic. It’s impossible to be an expert on every topic, so it’s impossible for any one person to reliably recommend the best books on every topic. The best solution to this problem is to crowdsource recommendations from experts. But even if crowdsourcing recommendations from experts were easy, there is another problem: when someone asks “what is the best book on X?”, they could mean several different things:

  • What is the most entertaining book on X?
  • What is the best book for a layman to understand X?
  • What is the best book on X for someone who wants to seriously study X?
  • What book on X will change the way I think about the world/some part of the world?

As an example: a fantastic 700 page textbook on psychology is probably useless to someone who wants a short, easy and fun pop-psychology book. Most reading lists fail to make this distinction.

This website aims to solve both of these problems. Recommendations are crowdsourced from university course syllabi, community recommendations, and expert reviews, then they are classified into the following categories:

  • Pop-Nonfiction – short, easy and entertaining books aimed at a mass audience.
  • Short Textbooks – textbooks that favor clarity and readability over detail and depth, usually quite easy.
  • Comprehensive Textbooks – longer textbooks that go into greater depth and detail, usually more difficult.
  • Classics – Older books that had a large influence on the subject.
  • Biographies – Self explanatory
  • Histories – Self Explanatory
  • Anthologies – Collections of important readings on the subject
  • Contemporary – Recent books that tackle a contemporary issue from that subject’s perspective.

By compiling recommendations from around the web, I hope to make it as easy as possible for anyone to find the best books on any topic. At the end of each list I will leave links to the most useful resources I came across so you can easily find more information and make a more informed decision. This method isn’t perfect but I hope it makes finding good books easier. If you have any feedback, please let me know in the comments below.