HackerNews Readings
40,000 HackerNews book recommendations identified using NLP and deep learning

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The Soul of A New Machine

Tracy Kidder

4.6 on Amazon

177 HN comments

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Center for Environmental Structure Series)

Christopher Alexander , Sara Ishikawa , et al.

4.7 on Amazon

176 HN comments

Meditations: A New Translation

Marcus Aurelius and Gregory Hays

4.8 on Amazon

172 HN comments

The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail

Clayton M. Christensen, L.J. Ganser, et al.

4.5 on Amazon

168 HN comments

The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy

Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko

4.6 on Amazon

166 HN comments

Infinite Jest: Part I With a Foreword by Dave Eggers

Sean Pratt, David Foster Wallace, et al.

4.3 on Amazon

166 HN comments

The Elements of Style: Annotated Edition

William Strunk Jr. and James McGill

4.7 on Amazon

155 HN comments

Outliers: The Story of Success

Malcolm Gladwell

4.7 on Amazon

152 HN comments

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

William B. Irvine

4.6 on Amazon

151 HN comments

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Neil Postman and Andrew Postman

4.6 on Amazon

151 HN comments

Stranger in a Strange Land

Robert A. Heinlein, Christopher Hurt, et al.

4.4 on Amazon

151 HN comments

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Joe Ochman, et al.

4.5 on Amazon

150 HN comments

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Charles Duhigg, Mike Chamberlain, et al.

4.6 on Amazon

149 HN comments

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Jonathan Haidt and Gildan Media, LLC

4.6 on Amazon

144 HN comments

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

Roger Fisher , William L. Ury, et al.

4.6 on Amazon

143 HN comments

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Sorted by relevance

skaplunonAug 8, 2016

I, robot would probably be easier to get into than foundation :)

also "stranger in a strange land" by Heinlein makes for a great gift

JSigonNov 3, 2010

Stranger In A Strange Land is probably my favorite book. Vonnegut is my favorite author. By the way, if I had the money I would love to buy one of the screen prints here http://www.vonnegut.com/art.asp

fnid2onMay 6, 2010

Nice quote. I loved "Stranger in a Strange Land." Recommended reading for all...

jfonJuly 30, 2010

For shame! It makes perfect sense if you've read "Stranger in a Strange Land"

jacquesmonOct 25, 2019

> Did you pick up the word "grok" from reading Stranger in a Strange Land or from somewhere else?

Absolutely. Using it wasn't an accident either. The word is used illustratively only in the text, it is never explained.

JetSpiegelonApr 11, 2018

To adapt Stranger in a Strange Land, the rating would need to be Adults Only. What a ridiculous segway that book does half way through.

Who would play Jubal? Kevin Spacey would be perfect, for meta-reasons even.

jfoutzonJan 12, 2012

hugo and nebula winner. was a great book. Apparently Heinlein was pretty crazy too... but stranger in a strange land is a good book.

You, of course, need to work within your own set of ethics. This story is iconic sci fi. Even if you don't like it, it's a classic.

tlynchpinonFeb 4, 2019

Heinlein explored this idea of Fair Witness as a profession in his 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land.


colechristensenonNov 20, 2018

Stranger in a Strange Land was my first Heinlein novel and I finished just a week or two ago. I am not sure if I loved it or hated it, but the direction it went was certainly unexpected. Unsettled, is I think the primary response.

gostsamoonJune 14, 2021

Dune (first book only), The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur Clark, Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Stranger in a Strange Land), Uplift Series by David Brim, The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanly Robinson, Ann Leckies books are really interesting new sf.

mattivconNov 18, 2014

A great one that haven't already been mentioned is "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert Heinlein.


It's one of those books that just takes a while to digest after you are done reading it. I highly recommend it.

michael_dorfmanonAug 10, 2009

I think the author of this article is insane.

In Stranger in a Strange Land, perhaps Heinlein’s most famous work, he pre-empted or perhaps even caused much of the sexual enfranchisement of the 1960’s and 1970’s [...]

gao8aonFeb 5, 2019

How to win friends and influence people: It's a book of common sense; and made me realize how little common sense I had.

Stranger in a Strange land: "Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own."

baddoxonApr 21, 2015

Interesting to see Stranger in a Strange Land on his list. It shows up quite often on top lists of sci-fi books and Heinlein books. I'm halfway through it, after reading The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Stranger in a Strange Land is certainly the weaker book so far in my opinion.

lhnnonJune 7, 2011

I can read a wikipedia article on Libertarianism, or I can read "Stranger in a Strange Land". I can read about the dangers of absolute power and lack of free will, or I can read "1984".

The lessons learned from classics are constantly quoted, and it's beneficial for people to read and learn.

murftownonJan 20, 2018

I wonder how many people know/use that word. I hear it a lot in my circles, and not just (nor mostly) from technical people.

Stranger in a Strange Land (where "grok" comes from) is a great book btw for those who haven't read it.

MrHetzneronJan 24, 2018

The only other Heinlein book I would recommend beside Starship Troopers (which everyone reads different than Heinlein intended I guess) is "Stranger in a Strange Land".

columboonAug 12, 2012

I'm curious, Why? I have no problem with grok as long as anyone that uses the term has actually read 'Stranger in a Strange Land'. Honestly if there ever was a word that needed to be tossed out with the bathwater I believe it would be hacker.

hinkleyonOct 4, 2018


Have you read Stranger in a Strange Land? I suspect someone else has taught you that word and they did it badly. To grok is to understand something at a profound, visceral level.

s2r2onAug 7, 2011

It's anecdotal at best, "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert A. Heinlein and Dawkin's "The Selfish Gene", based on quotes from Torvalds.

Too bad, a real list from Torvalds could have been interesting.

walrus01onDec 23, 2018

I read Stranger in a Strange Land when I was 14 years old and it was blindingly obvious, even then, with my incredible lack of life experience, that heterosexual relationships did not actually work like that.

meltedonJan 9, 2016

To properly grok the word "grok", you need to read "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert Heinlein. Quite possibly the best sci-fi book ever written.

maverick_icemanonJan 20, 2017

I think the right pole is Robert Heinlein's novels like Stranger In A Strange Land or Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.

chernevikonApr 20, 2015

"Stranger in a Strange Land" was published in 1961, blasting established religion and conventional sexual morality. It wasn't a YA book but it certainly refutes the idea of the cultural censorship you assert.

mumblemumbleonJuly 13, 2020

Written, not by the author of Clan of the Cave Bear, but by the author of Stranger in a Strange Land.


flyingfencesonJuly 28, 2021

> Heinlein wrote a book in favor of polyamory ("Stranger in a Strange Land")

See also: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

rodrionSep 14, 2018

"Stranger in a Strange Land"by Robert A. Heinlein.

It's a science fiction book, but it made me question everything, made me change my way of thinking towards a lot of concepts, and integrate those new concepts it in my life. I can definitely say it changed my life.

mannyonJune 27, 2008

Atlas Shrugged,

The Fountainhead,

Stranger in a Strange Land,

The Rules of Life,



Brave New World, and

An Introduction to Mathematical Reasoning (by Peter Eccles)

stevekemponMay 14, 2014

I reread Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Amber, and Dune, at least once a year. I guess that I've read each of them at least 20 times each.

The only other book that I've read more than ten times has to be Stranger in a Strange Land.

hudathunonDec 15, 2014

I had the same same thing with the much less erudite Stranger in a Strange Land. Re-read it 20 years later and was disappointed. On the positive side, I should consider how much I've moved forward in that time :) or sideways :-S

tmalyonJuly 14, 2018

I finished Never Split the Difference a month back. Fantastic read.

I am almost finished with Thinking Fast and Slow. I kinda wish I had read it years back given all the useful insights.

I just bought a copy of the 1961 version of Stranger in a Strange land.

GMWANGonAug 6, 2021

I have a hard time persuading myself to like money, it's just not intuitive to me. Fame freaks me out too. I always meant to read Strangers in a Strange Land. Let's see!

merpnderponDec 11, 2018

I still reread Stranger in a Strange land and think I learn something new every time.

opwieurposiuonOct 25, 2019

Semi related question: Did you pick up the word "grok" from reading Stranger in a Strange Land or from somewhere else?

That book was so much about the importance of the martian language and how language shapes perception.

pasbesoinonSep 28, 2017

Makes me think of Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land". Although arguably, they really had something going for them.

Anyway, always interesting to hold Heinlein's writing up to contemporary society. Or rather, to have comparisons spontaneously appear in one's thinking as one surveys circumstances.

danpatonJuly 14, 2013

Ditto. I first encountered "grok" in the early 1990s. I read Stranger in a Strange Land for the first time this year.

nandemoonSep 27, 2010

Another possibility is that -- regardless of their technological level -- they'll have completely different values and won't be interested in earthlings at all.

For instance, in Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land" the Martians ponder destroying the Earth "for aesthetic reasons".

duskwuffonDec 6, 2018

An interesting aside not mentioned in the article: an initial patent application for the waterbed was rejected due to prior art by Robert Heinlein. He described a (fictional) waterbed in his 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land.

gknoyonJuly 14, 2013

I encountered it in the Jargon file first, and that was part of what prompted me to read Stranger in a Strange Land.

IgorPartolaonMar 16, 2021

I saw the movie more as a campy adaptation than satire. In either case, while most people are familiar with the movie, the book is much more significant. I believe it’s still required reading in the Marine Corp for example.

TANSTAAFL is from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, basically a libertarian manifesto. Heinlein had range. Add Stranger in a Strange Land, the hippie manifesto, and you have the trifecta.

shawn-furyanonFeb 26, 2014

Hah! I just finished Stranger in a Strange Land this weekend :)

It was my introduction to Heinlein. I'd avoided older scifi because I'd wondered whether I would relate to it, and felt confirmed in that suspicion with Stranger. It's not that I'm not glad that I read it, and if I consider the context that it was written in circa the 1950s, then I can definitely appreciate how radical it must have been. But to my sensibilities, it feels tawdry and cheap, and thus insincere. It's in no way a fair criticism since it seems to have been part of the zeitgeist that led to the free love of the 60s and subsequent over-indulgence and exploitation of the 70s (and thus the dominance of the idea that sex sells and so on). And from what I gather it was rather sincere in so far as Heinlein was supremely interested in challenging prevailing mores of the time. But outside of that context, to me, it feels, again, cheap and tawdry, and just kind of stale.

michaelfeathersonAug 23, 2011

It can certainly happen before patents are approved. A description in Robert Heinlein's book, 'Stranger in a Strange Land' was used as prior art to prevent a patent on water beds.

sevensoronOct 19, 2018

Also, if you don't read A Stranger in a Strange Land, you'll never know what grok really means.

forapurposeonDec 23, 2018

In the two Heinlein books I remember, Stranger in a Strange Land and Job, the protagonist is a middle-aged man who has beautiful young women throw themselves at him. The women have no needs or agendas of their own; their only motivation is to please this man. Job seemed so much like the author's personal fantasy that I had to put it down.

6502nerdfaceonOct 30, 2015

> What do you suggest to dispose of human cadavers other than burying them...[?]

Have you read Stranger in a Strange Land?

checkyoursudoonFeb 5, 2019

My worldview-changing book was probably Stranger in a Strange Land, when I was maybe 15. I also ready Brave New World around then.

I was raised in a super religious house; for whatever reason, that one or two books started my down a path of materialism/skepticism and away from religiosity/dualism/spiritualism. It was just the start, mind you. I was probably already primed and heading that way anyway, and that just happened to be the spark. I don't mean that there were any huge insights or great revelations for me there.

bawolffonJuly 29, 2021

Stranger in a strange land is socially conservative?? (and i don't just mean the pro-poly parts - that book was generally very influential to the hippie movement)

Like there's a lot i disagree with about the views expressed in his novels, but social conservatism is not something i would accuse him of.

YuriNiyazovonJune 14, 2021

"Stranger in a strange land" and "Starship Troopers" by Heinlein.

lsiebertonOct 17, 2012

Hmm... Favorite is hard. Maybe Cryptonomicon Because it was funny, meditative, and the research into WWII crypto was interesting. Or Maybe Stranger in a Strange Land, for the insights into correct action, the nature of humor, love, and understanding, and for giving us 'grok'. Or Maybe the Illuminatus Trilogy, for crazy awesomeness insight into the 1970's. I've loaned out all three, and I couldn't consider a book a favorite unless I'd tried to get people to read it.

waterhouseonSep 15, 2013

Isaac Asimov's robot series (start with "I, Robot" and "The Caves of Steel") is good, as is his Foundation series. Ender's Game is also good; I've heard other people complain about the other novels in that universe (Speaker for the Dead and sequels, Ender's Shadow and sequels), but I liked them fine. Cryptonomicon is rich, fascinating, and entertaining. Dune is rich and pretty fascinating. Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land" and "Time Enough for Love" are somewhat scandalous, but I thoroughly enjoyed them.

Outside science fiction: P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster novels, as well as what of his other books I've read, are hilarious and brilliant; I would suggest "Right Ho, Jeeves" as a starting point.

mprevonFeb 7, 2019

Stranger in a Strange Land has self-piloting flying cabs.

Not that I'd recommend it as a novel.

citilifeonFeb 5, 2019

I always viewed reading a book as collecting a soul. If you fully grok a book, you grok the authors thoughts. Being able to put yourself in another persons mindset is crucial.

Speaking of "groking", Stranger in a Strange Land, Time Enough for Love and The Fountain Head have probably had the most impact on my mindset.

Each book is rather different, but in general the idea of all three is

> You have to be in life for yourself, and only you can define who you are / want to be.

That doesn't necessarily mean you need to be mean, but the idea that "greed is good", or that it's okay to be selfish, provided you think long term. It's about coming to terms and accepting you are greedy. But with that insight you can do introspection and learn about what drives you and make decisions yourself.

It's almost as if another layer of consciousness, learning about ones self.

jonathleeonJuly 30, 2019

That was a reference to Robert Heinlein's book, "Stranger in a Strange Land".

walrus01onDec 23, 2018

"he was a bit weird" doesn't even begin to describe things... If you read the original unabridged version of Stranger in a Strange Land it's obvious how it's a product of its time in the 1960s, and Heinlein's own fascination with polyamorous relationship ideas.

In the me-too era much of Heinlein's work is problematic, to say the least.

packetpirateonJuly 2, 2019

Here are a few recommendations based on things I've read this year and last:

- Infinite by Jeremy Robinson

- The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (this series is a rabbit hole)

- Scythe by Neal Shusterman

- Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

- Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

sam_goodyonNov 23, 2020

There's a oft-repeated (and possibly true) story that Isaac Asimov, L. Ron Hubbard, and Robert Heinlein made a bar bet in the late 30's about who could make a book that could better form the basis of religion.

L. Ron Hubbard used his offing to create the Church of Scientology.

Asimov's Foundation (the omnipotent and all knowing moon) was eventually the inspiration for Musk's SpaceX and Tesla, which (no matter what you think of him or his companies) has definitely moved the bar on electric cars etc, self driving, space development, satellite deployment etc. - no knowing where the influence of that will end.

Heinlein, with "Stranger in a strange land" was more reserved, and included tracings of the actual work of Hubbard. It becoming famous when it was quoted in some court case as the blueprint for using religion to milk the system - don't recall the details now.

Point is, sometimes the darndest of things will change the world. Make every minute count.

eyegoronMar 29, 2020

Stranger in a strange land, by Robert Heinlein.

gao8aonJune 10, 2020

Stranger in a strange land - Robert Heinlein

TimMeadeonDec 11, 2018

As someone who grew up in the 70's I completely agree with Dr. Sagan. I believe I have read everyone of these stories mentioned. I found it astounding he continually mentions Heinlein as he is my favorite author to this day. He taught a young moldable mind (mine) to think outside of societal norms and to believe that things can be done. His stories no longer seem to fit what the PC world we live in. The one book I was surprised to not see mentioned was Stranger in a Strange Land. Maybe Dr Sagan never groked it. I have read it more than 10 times and still wonder if I grok.

petemconJuly 24, 2010

Heinlein covered this subject in his book 'Stranger in a strange land'

FargrenonNov 13, 2011

A Game of Thrones and A Hitchhikers guide to teh galaxy. I've been using this past few months to read up a few things that I shyould have read long ago. Next up is Stranger in a Strange Land

CalChrisonMay 29, 2021

My goodness, the name of the leading character in "Stranger in a Strange Land" is as familiar to millions of literate persons as Oliver Twist or Holden Caulfield.

Not reading the next sentence, I thought it was Jubal Hershaw, the author-avatar character but it was Michael Smith and damned if I could remember that. Vonnegut is simply wrong about that. No one remembers Michael Smith by name.

It wasn't a good book at all. If it were a first book by an unknown author, it would never have been published. It was just Heinlein trying to do what he thought was a book for adults rather than his usual young adult sci-fi. Aside from grok, there's nothing memorable. The sex cult stuff is just weird. Indeed if you use grok in a sentence today it marks you as a boomer or maybe a techie. I rarely see this book mentioned at all and never by the kidz.

Speaking of the kidz, Overly Sarcastic Productions does a good piece on it.


RBerenguelonFeb 9, 2014

Dune is more profound, but as far as predictability goes, it's almost a one-way street as a book. Which is not to detract that it is very good, and that Stranger in a Strange Land is similar, once the "church" is formed. I found SiaSL as giving interesting insights into what a completely weird alien species might be (much like Asimov's The God Themselves, a personal favourite.) I think that since these two are good, classic books picking one over the other is just a matter of preference, although Dune will be in far more antologies and SiaSL will be more an underdog. Do you have any SciFi recommendation, by the way?

ZannionJan 20, 2021

Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others is the best, single-author collection of short stories I've ever read. If you like that, you might also enjoy The Lifecycle of Software Objects, an absolutely heartbreaking novella about simulated children, and his follow-up collection Exhalation.

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game is fantastic, and it's follow-up, Speaker for the Dead is even better, and my favorite science fiction novel of all time. They won back to back Hugo and Nebula awards. Card is a polarizing figure for his outspoken political opinions, but if ever the art should be separated from the artist, it's Speaker, which is an incredible exploration of empathy and responsibility, in addition to being a gripping, action-packed, science-literate read. Many more in this series, if you get into it.

John Scalzi's Old Man's War series is fantastic, if you're into military science-fiction, or even if you're not. Smart, funny, engaging and accessible, and reminiscent of Heinlein at his prime, minus the weird incest fetish. Redshirts, a Star Trek parody, rivals Galaxy Quest and only falls short because Galaxy Quest is so goddamn brilliant. Agent to the Stars is less appreciated, but in my opinion his finest novel, rising way above its goofy premise by taking it seriously, exploring the consequences and treating the characters with empathy and respect. Also hilarious.

Seconding Dune, which is a classic for a reason, and Stranger in a Strange Land (though I think The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a better place to start with Heinlein). Also Neal Stephenson, though I'd suggest Cryptonomicon over Diamond Age.

jobuonSep 9, 2011

I read Stranger in a Strange land for a literature course in college, and what really helped my understand the book was when the prof explained some of the political and cultural climate that influenced the book.

BlahahonMar 11, 2014

PioneerOne plot sounds a lot like Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.

KlunyonNov 20, 2018

You say it's an ignorant statement, then you support that with an entirely personal opinion? Okay, here's mine: I loved Starship Troopers, read every other book he's written and loved them as well, with the exception of Stranger in a Strange Land, which is most people's favourite for some reason.

But almost all of my favourite modern sci-fi authors list Heinlein as a major influence, and he has more Hugo awards than anyone else (Hugo is the major award for science fiction). I feel like he gets a lot of recognition.

bb101onFeb 23, 2017

If anyone is interested in kinetic bombardment, read Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". Much like how the Fosterites in his "Stranger in a Strange Land" were a blueprint for Scientology, TMiaHM is a guide on how to plan and conduct a revolution, although in this case it was the Moon against Earth.

joshkleinonNov 20, 2018

Stranger in a Strange Land was always one of my favorite pieces of science fiction, but I never knew he was the author of Starship Troopers (1959) until a few weeks ago. Of course, I knew Starship Troopers (1997) as a goofy action flick when I was a teenager, but I just finished reading the novel this past weekend. The two works share little in common besides setting.

The novel is as relevant to geopolitics today as it must have been in 1959. It poses challenging questions about whom within a society deserves authority over others.

tastefulwordsonMar 17, 2011

Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

Flatland, by Edwin Abbott

Gang Leader for a Day, by Sudhir Venkatesh

The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan

m0zgonDec 23, 2018

"Stranger in a Strange Land" is probably the best sci-fi novel I've ever read. It must have been very daring at the time to discuss the topics he touches on there (religion, polygamy, homosexuality, cannibalism), the ending especially. He's no stranger to controversy, though. Another great novel by him, "Time enough for love" likewise ventures into such a taboo subject as incest. "Ventures" isn't quite the word, actually, more like "jumps into it headlong". "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" explores families in which there are multiple wives and husbands, and as a result the familial relationships get very complicated, and the family can exist for hundreds of years. What's more, families are dominated by women, because they're in short supply on the moon. Pretty thought provoking stuff, I like that in sci-fi.

packetpirateonDec 13, 2018

So far this year, I've read the following:

- Revelation Space

- Armada

- I, Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire

- The Sleeping Dragon

- Wizardry: The League of the Crimson Crescent

- Snow Crash

- Scythe

- Off to Be The Wizard

- Spell or High Water

- An Unwelcome Quest

- Thunderhead

- Everlost

- Replay

- Stranger in a Strange Land

- The Amulet of Samarkand

- Everwild.

I'm currently reading A Conjuring of Light and The Way of Kings.

I was able to read so much more than I usually can because of audiobooks. I had a long commute for a couple months, so that helped me knock a book every week or so off my list.

Of the books I've already read this year, I think I would recommend Scythe and Thunderhead the most, but Snow Crash is a must-read, and Stranger in a Strange Land is pretty interesting, but I think a lot of it was lost on me because of the time period-specific language used throughout; it made it hard to understand the interactions between people.

As far as what surprised me? Probably Snow Crash. For some reason, I read somewhere that Ready Player One ripped off Snow Crash and while reading it, I just couldn't understand why they would think that... the two are really nothing alike. Pretty much the only common ground is a virtual world...

philangistonSep 2, 2014

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

mmastraconJune 1, 2011

Yes, although it's a mixed bag. I've found all of the Asimov stuff to hold up well.

Heinlein is hit or miss. I loved Heinlein's "The Moon is Harsh Mistress" (one of my favorites), but I found "Stranger in a Strange Land" to be utterly full of sexist behaviour that I struggled through it.

I can say for sure: definitely Clarke and definitely Asimov.

capisceonFeb 9, 2014

Stranger in a Strange Land was a bit too predictable for my taste although it was an entertaining read to some degree - but I found Dune much more interesting and worthy of praise.

First time I tried to read Catcher in the Rye I found it dull and didn't get far, but the second time I got into it and really enjoyed it. I ended up feeling a lot of sympathy for the main character.

scottyallenonNov 3, 2010

- Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

- Zodiac by Neal Stephenson (rereading for the nth time)

- The E-Myth by Michael Gerber

djmonJune 27, 2008

I read Brave New World when I was in college. I didn't find it a particularly good read to be honest but I liked the very direct way Huxley categorizes humans in his alpha to epsilon system and how everyone knew where they stood.

In the real world everyone rates themselves in comparison to other people too, but most of the time the process is not very open. In the workplace people are prevented from saying what they think about other people by office politics, employment law, and HR policies against this and that. Probably the only place it is really transparent is in school (If memory servers correct there is a PG essay about this).

Stranger in a strange land is definitely a great book and Heinlein has to be one of the greats of SF writing. Read 'the moon is a harsh mistress' too if you get the chance.

sudofailonOct 19, 2018

It's definitely an apocryphal anecdote, but I'd believe it. I was a Scientologist for many years, and the number of similarities between a Dianetic Clear Valentine Michael Smith from A Stranger in a Strange Land is quite uncanny. No doubt Heinlein was very familiar with Hubbard's religious ideas.

There are numerous lectures and books where Hubbard talks about his close friendship with Heinlein. But it's hard to tell if he's just name-dropping, or if they were indeed close friends.

The legendary John W. Campbell, who both Hubbard and Heinlein wrote for, was very active with Dianetics early on as well.

tjlonApr 21, 2015

My problem with Stranger in a Strange Land is it kind of falls apart around halfway to 2/3rds of the way through the book. The ending is pretty weak (as is most of Heinlein's endings). But, I found the first half of Stranger in a Strange Land to be excellent. In contrast, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a solid book all the way through. Also, a later book has a nice, little tie-in to it.

arsonJuly 29, 2010

It was coined in the book Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein.

jseligeronSep 2, 2012

Have you read Stranger in a Strange Land?

aharrisononOct 12, 2009

Stranger in a Strange Land - Heinlein

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Pirsig

Alexqw85onNov 18, 2016

Neither are new books, but this year I both read and subsequently gifted

* 1491 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1491:_New_Revelations_of_the_A...

* Stranger in a Strange Land (the "Original, Uncut version") https://www.amazon.com/Stranger-Strange-Land-Robert-Heinlein...

1491 is about the societies in the Americas prior to European contact. And if anyone knows of any books on the topic that have been written since then (and thus are even more up-to-date with the current state of the field), I'm very, very interested.

Stranger in a Strange Land is just... excellent. I really appreciate Heinlein and I like his world view. Though I've never read the traditional "cut" version, I've talked with people who have read both and I'm sold on the unabridged version. As an aside, if you enjoy Heinlein, then I also recommend reading "For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs." It was Heinlein's first book, but was never published (until recently, of course). It's not polished, but it is very interesting to see how he had already formed in the 1930s a lot of the ideas that would dominate his writing for the rest of his career. A good and enjoyable read.


borlakonDec 25, 2012

Mostly scifi and fantasy. I've never been much of a reader, so I'm trying to catch up on classics.

* Hunger games 1-3 -- not bad, would probably recommend

* Hitchiker's guide to the galaxy -- good, surprised how short it was. really liked the style of writing, fun to read. recommended

* Stranger in a Strange Land -- currently reading this one, interesting, but nothing ground breaking. one character seems to dominate the book. don't know if I'd recommend.

* Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep -- interesting, a bit boring. I kept comparing it to the movie, and in the end I like the movie better. they each focus on different subjects, but I like the movie's subject better, and it felt more professional/solid. would recommend.

* Ringworld -- pretty good. the 'Teela problem' is fascinating to me and got me thinking a lot outside of reading, which to me is a sign of a good book. the 'spacey stuff' in the book was not that great. even the ringworld itself was not that interesting. would recommend.

* The Mote in God's Eye -- my favorite book of the year. so much to think about (moral problems/dilemmas). the realistic part of the space travel was new to me (like the consideration of g-forces in constant acceleration), and so that was more to think about. definitely recommend.

* Cryptonomicon -- a close second. Neal Stephenson goes into wicked detail in his books and always blows my mind (never heard of Van Eck Phreaking before this book, how is that possible?). definitely recommend.

falavaonAug 17, 2012

It's from Robert A. Heinlein scifi book "Stranger in a Strange Land".

In the novel native martians do exist and they are very smart. "Grok" it's the martian word for "water" and "to drink". Water is a scarce resource there, and, like here, very important for life.

Drinking is putting water inside you but also occurs that this water becomes part of you.

Then, in that society, drinking is used as the metaphor for understand something in a level that becomes part of you.

I'm a native spanish speaker and I don't know if that word sounds bad in english, but for me the metaphor is so powerful and beautiful that I like it very much.

nieveonJuly 7, 2020

It's not a favorite book and sometimes it's far too heavy-handed, but I wouldn't say that it's completely non-sarcastic. It's mostly pro-military, but there's some definite ambivalence about what that means in execution down to the excessively brutal miltary discipline and the jabs at the way military leaders often waste lives through over-confidence. You can tell it was written in close proximity to the oft-overestimated "Stranger in a Strange Land" if you look a bit more carefully for the cynicism. Large chunks of the first half read as if Heinlein was looking forward to "Full Metal jacket", but couldn't quite pull it together on his own.

hguantonDec 12, 2016

Farnham's Freehold was the book that made me lose a lot of respect for Heinlein. I started reading him as a 13-14 year old - books like "Have Space Suit, Will Travel", "Farmer in the Sky", and "Starman Jones" - and ate them up. I got older and my dad recommended "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and "Starship Troopers"; I really liked reading him alongside Asimov, who did such a great job of going into __how__ people/societies would exist in the future; Heinlein was much better at going into the __why__. The ideas he put forward in "Starship Troopers" and "Stranger in a Strange Land" formed the basis for some of the best conversations I've had with friends.


Farnham's Freehold was just ubermensch porn coupled with some really weird racism. He used more hackneyed "I can do everything" stereotypes than an Ayn Rand novel, which is something he was always guilty of but it really came to a head here. The multiculturalism and openness that was so explicitly prevalent in Starship Troopers, Stranger, and Harsh Mistress (the main character of Starship Troopers is a bisexual South American) vanishes, replaced with this weird fear of black people - "they seem nice, but they'll turn on you when they get the chance" is the message the Joe character imparts.

Just a very weird book.

bostikonJuly 15, 2018

Asimov's original "Foundation" - it's effectively a collection of 4,5 short stories. I recommend to remain at a discreet distance from the rest of the series. While good within the universe, they are ... different.

"Ender's Game" and "Speaker for the Dead" by O.S.Card. (Do not touch Xenocide without a hazmat suit. And if you do, burn it before reading.)

"Snow Crash" by Neil Stephenson.

"Rendez-vouz with Rama" by Arthur C. Clarke.

If you're up for some thought-provoking stuff, "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Heinlein. Not the easiest read but your carve-out basically rules out "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress".

"Embassytown" by China Mieville.

EDIT: I forgot "Hyperion" by Dan Simmons.

cousin_itonMar 25, 2013

Heinlein was large, and contained multitudes :-) I'm still floored by the fact that he wrote Starship Troopers, his ultimate "fascist" book, during a break in the middle of writing Stranger in a Strange Land, his ultimate "hippie" book. From a high enough vantage point, I guess both the left and the right look like amateurs, and you can't resist the temptation to come up with better moves for both sides...

danbmil99onSep 1, 2011

This -- it's not that he's saying you can't be happy. He's saying it's like moving to a distant land, before there was even mail service. Your communication with the people who are emotionally close to you will begin to fray and finally (in most cases) stop altogether. You have to start over -- make new friends, begin a new life. You can't have the happy Truman-show-esque comfort things; they just aren't available to you in a recognizable form (at least not while you are morphing and changing, taking risks, moving around literally and figuratively).

I am reminded of the novel "Stranger In A Strange Land".

kabdibonOct 15, 2020

This is precisely what I do. Pretty much anything that sends my mind off into a cool direction works well. Some narrators are better than others (Stefan Rudnicki has a great voice, and William Dufris does a wonderful job of voicing characters).

I searched high and low for headphones that I can sleep in. I can't sleep on my back, so big cans are right out. I hate earbuds and things that poke into my ear canal, and headband-like arrangements slide around, are hot and compress my ears painfully. I finally found a set of small, disk-like phones that fit flat and in the center of my ear, just outside the ear canal; with a little extra padding these are very, very comfortable.

[The product I liked are Bedphones, from dubslabs.com; they are expensive, but I found them totally worth it. I use the wired version, and they tend to tangle badly unless you take a little care wrapping them up, but I hate having yet another device to charge]


"Really? Doctor, I think your stories are simply divine--"

"Thank you."

"Oh, I really do. I put one of your tapes on my player and let it lull me to sleep almost every night."

"Higher praise a writer cannot expect," Jubal said with a straight face.

- Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

dansoonMar 11, 2013

I thought Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land" had a good attempt at an explanation:

The Martian "Mike" being told what being a human is like:

> ‘And while you are waiting, don’t doubt that you are man. You are. Man born of woman and born to trouble…and some day you will grok its fullness and laugh – because man is the animal that laughs at himself.’

Mike figuring out humor and the human condition:

> “I had thought–I had been told–that a ‘funny’ thing is a thing of goodness. It isn’t. Not ever is it funny to the person it happens to. Like that sheriff without his pants. The goodness is in the laughing. I grok it is a bravery…and a sharing…against pain and sorrow and defeat.”

“But–Mike, it is not a goodness to laugh at people.”

“No. But I was not laughing at the little monkey. I was laughing at us. People. And suddenly I knew I was people and could not stop laughing.” He paused. “This is hard to explain, because you have never lived as a Martian, for all that I’ve told you about it. On Mars there is never anything to laugh at. All the things that are funny to us humans either cannot happen on Mars or are not permitted to happen–sweetheart, what you call ‘freedom’ doesn’t exist on Mars; everything is planned by the Old Ones–or the things that do happen on Mars which we laugh at here on Earth aren’t funny because there is no wrongness about them. Death, for example.”

“Death isn’t funny.”

“Then why are there so many jokes about death? Jill, with us–us humans–death is so sad that we must laugh at it. All those religions–they contradict each other on every other point but each one is filled with ways to help people be brave enough to laugh even though they know they are dying.”

ghaffonNov 20, 2018

>But what bothers me is the snow-clone nature of that statement that Heinlein was not recognized.

It's flat out not true by any meaningful measurement. As the peer comment said, Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke were widely recognized as the big 3 of a certain era of science fiction. Maybe Asimov was the best known of the 3 to the broader public if only because he was so prolific. Clarke basically retired to Sri Lanka and neither wrote nor spoke much after that. (And even many science fiction fans might have trouble remembering one of his book titles today.)

But, as for Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land isn't my favorite but it did have a degree of mainstream success. And he was very well known, if somewhat controversial, in genre circles.

I think a lot of PKD's cachet comes from TV and film adaptations. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of his writing but there have been quite a few popular and/or critical TV shows and movies adapted to greater or lesser degrees from his books and short stories.

bloudermilkonJan 26, 2018

The two books I've read that have shaped my worldview the most:

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein - A classic SciFi novel that digs deep on relationships, politics, and religion. Like a lot of old SciFi, it's filled with blatant sexism. If you can look past that, it has a lot of great lessons.

Island by Aldous Huxley - a beautiful look at alternative societal structures, psychedelics, and the cruelty of the western world overcoming sacred places.

TMWNNonAug 27, 2019

>> Heinlein’s 1959 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, which owned a species of cult-status through the 1970s, can be read today only with vicarious embarrassment.

>The reviewer dislikes this genre. OK. But it's like sending someone who hates horror to review a history of horror movies. The review tends to say more about the reviewer than the subject.

I grew up reading Heinlein. I've read it all; the short stories, the juveniles, the late-period novels, the early and late nonfiction essays, the recently published "lost" works. I consider him and Asimov among my formative influences.

I very much agree that Stranger can only be read with vicarious embarrassment.

jeffpetesonOct 6, 2014

I'm a big Heinlein Fan. I strongly recommend you read his other big famous works, "Starship Troopers" and "Stranger in a Strange Land." After that you can dig deeper into his bibliography, but I'd consider those three to be essential reading.

I recently finished "Roadside Picnic" by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and I loved it. Makes me curious to read other sci fi from the Soviet world.

louisrochalonDec 23, 2015

"Thus Spoke Zarathustra" - Nietzsche (French Translation) - 5/5 An absolute Must read.

"1984" - Orwell - 5/5 French law on surveillance made me want to read it again

"Fahrenheit 451" - Ray Bradbury - 4/5

"La zone du dehors" - Alain Damasio - 4/5

"The name of the wind" - Patrick Rothfuss - 4/5 A great fantasy story. It's a big book, there is a lot of details, but very well written.

"Stranger in a Strange Land" - Robert A. Heinlein - 3/5 Awesome concept, but very slow

"The Inverted World" - Christopher Priest - 4/5 Great short book

pyuser583onJuly 29, 2021

I haven’t got around to Stranger in a Strange Land - which is weird because that’s his most populist book.

I’m thinking of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. It had group marriages, but the marriage practices were ordained by custom and tradition. Not 20th century custom and tradition, but custom and tradition none the less.

smaddoxonJune 3, 2017


"How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie, because it changed my understanding of people for the better.

"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" by Richard Feynman, because it gave me a model for how to enjoy life.

"Models" by Mark Manson, because it helped shape my understanding of heterosexual relationships.

"An Introduction to General Systems Thinking" by Gerald Weinberg, because it illuminates the general laws underlying all systems.


"Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert A Heinlein, because it showed me a philosophy and "spirituality", for lack of a better word, that I could agree with.

"The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand, because they showed me how human systems break, and they provided human models for how to see and live in, through, and past those broken systems.

"Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" by Eliezer Yudkowsky, because it set the bar (high) for all future fiction, especially when it comes to the insightful portrayal of the struggle between good and evil.

VLMonFeb 5, 2017

Two problems in the article analysis

One is the classic hard vs soft sci fi. A classic example in book form is Stranger in a Strange Land reads like a story about 60s boomer hippies from India who meditate and get high and die in an allegory of Jesus, because it is. There's a very thin wrap of search and replace science fiction over that hippie story most famously a giant plot hole where the author wrote in video telephone video conferencing without following up on the hole in the plot generated by being able to see the other party. In comparison, hard sci fi takes into account and weaves a story about the human effects of technology...

The other problem is in the "The authors polled a range of experts". Asking my plumber about theology or my lawyer about physics is obviously dumb, and in pop culture we accept that asking a 50s dude about the 70s is pretty much a waste of time. However in all fields of human activity if you want an intelligent commentary on contemporary computer programming you have to either hatch or grow a contemporary computer programmer. The opinions of a dude in another field from decades ago are only accidentally going to be correct. Regardless who was an expert in automation in the 60s, I'm pretty sure they weren't being asked because they almost certainly didn't have cool authoritarian credentials because the topic wasn't cool enough at that time, so by definition they were talking to the wrong people. The history of many present day trends and concepts shows they were not very cool before they became cool, therefore asking contemporary experts on the topic of cool will mostly not work.

ColinDabritzonJuly 29, 2010


Grok is a term from Robert A. Heinlein's book "Stranger in a strange land."

I can see why finding out that these amazing words are not 'official' English could make you sad, but for me I find it amazing and encouraging, as this is exactly the way that some language is formed! They are so full of future potential.

I look forward to seeing what terms 'make it' into major dictionaries in the future.

TMWNNonJuly 29, 2021

Thanks for the profile; it's one I hadn't read before. I thought the wording of the discussion of Heinlein's previous marriage was hinting at his actual first marriage, which no one knew about until after long after his death, but it doesn't.

I grew up reading Heinlein. I've read it all; the short stories, the juveniles, the late-period novels, the early and late nonfiction essays, the recently published "lost" works. I consider him and Asimov among my formative influences. I disagree with the critics the article cites about the quality of his post-surgery work; Friday is fantastic and Job, the book the profile is putatively about, is also great. They're just different from the Scribner's juveniles. In turn I like the juveniles, but they don't stick with me as much as his short stories, or his late novels like Friday (which did cyberpunk two years earlier and better than Neuromancer did), Job, or (as weird as they are) The Cat Who Walks Through Walls/To Sail Beyond the Sunset.

I very much think, however, that Stranger in a Strange Land can only be read with vicarious embarrassment.

mrmondoonFeb 5, 2019

Probably the two that I find myself thinking back to most often are Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert A. Heinlein), The Phoenix Project (Gene Kim), The Great Shark Hunt (Hunter S Thompson), Several Bukowski short stories and most recently The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe: How to Know What's Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake (Steven Novella, Bob Novella, Cara Santa Maria, Jay Novella, Evan Bernstein).

latchonSep 9, 2011

Dune is great..in fact, the original 6, except maybe God Emperor, are all great.

Hyperion is a good book, as is the 2nd in the series The Fall of Hyperion. However, the two last books are really quite bad. Personally, i found Ilium+Olympos to be his best work.

I found the Culture novels disappointing. Except for Consider Phlebas and maybe Excession, you quickly realize that they are pretty much gods and that there's absolutely 100% no risk...it makes it all quite dull/pointless.

I hated Stranger in a Strange land..maybe I should re-read it. All I remember (and it's been about 10 years)..was that I liked the start, an then it turned really weird...all about drugs and sex and cults.

LyndsySimononMar 27, 2017

Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein

There were many other books that influenced me, but the concept of a "Fair Witness" stuck with me - specifically, the idea that one should be aware of what is known versus what is inferred.

> Fair Witnesses are prohibited from drawing conclusions about what they observe. As a demonstration, Harshaw asks Anne to describe the color of a house in the distance. She responds, "It's white on this side". Harshaw explains that she would not assume knowledge of the color of the other sides of the house without being able to see them. Furthermore, after observing another side of the house would not then assume that any previously seen side was still the same color as last reported, even if only minutes before.

hirundoonAug 27, 2019

> Heinlein’s 1959 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, which owned a species of cult-status through the 1970s, can be read today only with vicarious embarrassment.

The reviewer dislikes this genre. OK. But it's like sending someone who hates horror to review a history of horror movies. The review tends to say more about the reviewer than the subject.

Assigning me to the review would be the opposite mistake. I just love Heinlein's voice and read his old stuff from time to time to hear it again. From me you'd get a hear-no-evil encomium.

I'd rather hear from a fan of hard sci fi that just hasn't had a chance to read the old masters until lately.

DerpDerpDerponMay 3, 2014

The title was better before the edit, since "Stranger in a Strange Land" is a work of fiction, has been borrowed in many contexts, and the additional title material clarified that it was borrowing that title to talk about an experience in a particular field.

I'm always sad when titles get edited to "match the post" in a way that actually removes clarity as to what the linked material is.

throwaway84742onMay 11, 2018

His essay about machine translation is quite illustrative of the issues of cultural context as well. Even the best translations lose a substantial chunk of meaning, because it’s often not just what the author said, but also how he said it, which particular words were used, and subtle other meanings and gradations attached to that particular choice of words (and, in Russian, the word order as well).

When I was growing up I read a ton of sci-fi. One of my favorite works is “Stranger in a strange land” by Robert Heinlein. I had two different translations of it. One was good, another one was a turd, and neither came anywhere close to living in the US for 15 years and _then_ re-reading the book in its original form. And that’s sci-fi, a relatively “shallow” literary genre.

dalkeonAug 24, 2016

This repeats the story that "Charles Manson ... was captured with the novel "Stranger in a Strange Land" in his backpack".

I thought that was unfounded rumor. http://www.heinleinsociety.org/rah/faqworks.html says "This story apparently got started because of an anonymously published article. When asked, Charles Manson had never heard of the book. Some of the Manson girls had apparently read it but it had no connection to the murders."

Wikipedia only talks about rumors to that effect.

jMylesonMar 27, 2017

I can't immediately find it right now, but if memory serves, the last time this came up, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and "Stranger in a Strange Land" seemed to be the strongest answers.

I have since read, enjoyed, and been influenced by both.

Neither are properly regarded as "non-technology," but I think from your point 2 it's clear that you are just looking to exclude training manual type texts.

Hitchhiker's in particular imparts a lot of great advice for creativity in technical fields, and software in particular, but does it using a fictionalized world with comedic logical oddities.

Another book I'll add, which has some of these properties, is "Jitterbug Perfume" by Tom Robbins (although take note that this book is highly erotic and explicit).

macraelonSep 15, 2013

East of Eden is my favorite book I've read in the last several years. Beautiful end to end and very moral. If you've read it it's totally worth reading Journal of a Novel: a collection of letters Steinbeck wrote to his editor every day as he was writing East of Eden. It's a fascinating window into the mind of a master deliberately creating a masterpiece.

Other favorites: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, In Our Time by Hemingway, The Magus by John Fowles, 100 years of solitude, Moby Dick (perhaps a precursor to all modern fantasy?) Stranger in a Strange Land, and Infinite Jest. I've also loved both of DFW's big essay collections: Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll never Do Again.

sadgaonOct 12, 2012

> the idea of creating a new church that would take everything all the other religions said you could not do and made it OK.

detailed in Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land

Also, Unitarian Universalism (a religion formed because Unitarianism and Universalism weren't broad enough!) is basically the most dilute religion. They have churches and services and community activities but no liturgy beyond a vague spirituality.

bhermsonOct 3, 2010

Haha, I have played Bioshock. Twice. Incredible game in every sense: art, story, gameplay, etc. I still need to try the second. I picked up Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land on recommendation from a good friend, but I've yet to read it. I'll have to check out Bryson as I really enjoy reading about science, especially from different perspectives. You never learn as much about something from a single point of view -- life is 3-d.

sandebertonApr 10, 2015

Just a couple of weeks ago I got back into reading books again, and mainly scifi. It feels great to read again!

I loved The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, recommended previously in this thread, and that got me to Old Man's War by John Scalzi. (It might be interesting to note that Ridley Scott has hold the movie rights to this book for many years now. I can't see it really becoming a mainstream movie without cutting out some themes from the book.)

The theme in Old Man's War are sort of the same as The Forever War, but in such a minor way that it didn't bother me even once. Scalzi then turned that book into a series, all very well worth reading (except Sagan's Diary - give that a miss). After his Old Man's War series I read Redshirts (so and so), Agent to the Stars (good read) and now I'm reading Fuzzy Nation, which is shaping up nicely.

In the afterword to Agent to the Stars Scalzi actually recommends other scifi books, and per his recommendation I tried out Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (of Starship Troopers fame) but that quickly grinded to a halt. Might give it another chance later.

Oh, I also read Haldeman's Camouflage. Seems to be liked by the reviews I find online, but I found it to be a waste of time due to a very weak end chapter.

After this I plan to dive into Rama territory and perhaps Dune also.

Please keep the book recommendations coming, this thread is a goldmine. :)

mhdonDec 27, 2010

Snow Crash is great. Generally I'd recommend some "classics", just to see who treaded some ground first, i.e. who gets copied by everyone.

Isaac Asimov - Foundation (and the rest of the trilogy)

Robert A. Heinlein - Stranger in a Strange Land / Starship Troopers / The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Alfred Bester - The Demolished Man / The Stars My Destination

Jack Vance - The Dying Earth

Philip K. Dick - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep / The Man in the High Castle

Larry Niven - Ringworld

etc. etc.

A list of Hugo Award winners[1] might come in helpful.

Another advantage of having read "the greats" is that if some critic says that new author X writes "in the style of Y" you have a slightly better idea if you might like it.

Tastes vary, of course. Personally I never got what's supposed to be so great about Ender's Game. Teen Mary Sue geek power fantasy with questionable morals. Then again, lots of people said similar things about Heinlein…

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Award_for_Best_Novel

snowwrestleronJan 5, 2015

I don't think it is surprising at all that Turing took the possibility of telepathy seriously. Many scientists and educated people took the possibility seriously in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. This is reflected in the many research projects conducted at the time in academia and government (most infamously, the MKULTRA CIA program).

You can see this belief represented in the "hard" science fiction published at the time, much of which treated telepathy and other ESP subjects seriously--including Bester's The Demolished Man, Asimov's Foundation series, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Clarke's Childhood's End, and Niven's Known Space series.

There was a real and broadly shared sense, for several decades, that psychology and ESP might be the area of the next fundamental scientific breakthrough.

It was not until the 1980s that it became clear ESP was a dead-end, and today it's mostly mocked by the scientific community as a source of scams. But to apply today's mindset to Turing's 1950 paper is a pretty substantial hindsight error.

LazareonNov 13, 2017

> But these visions of a Nazi tech utopia aren’t just provocative settings for pop sci-fi. In fact, such science fiction and anti-fascist alternative histories reveal how those who imagine our future are deeply attracted to fascism.

Wait, what?

> Some of science fiction’s most beloved, canonical writers – Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land), Jerry Pournelle (Lucifer’s Hammer) and, more recently, Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game) — wove their worlds with far-right, reactionary, and even outright fascistic themes and heroes.

False. It may be true that t he later Ender's Game's book have fascistic themes (I haven't read them), and it might even be true that Card has some fascistic beliefs (I'm not familiar with his personal philosophy). But I have read Heinlein and Pournelle in general, those books in specific, and am familiar with their philosophies, and that's simply an incorrect claim to make about Pournelle, and a bizarrely wrong claim to make about Heinlein.

GeekyBearonJuly 29, 2021

> Heinlein wrote a book in favor of polyamory

Heinlein has explicitly said that Stranger in a Strange Land was not an effort to convince people to live in any particular way.

>“I was not giving answers. I was trying to shake the reader loose from some preconceptions and induce him to think for himself, along new and fresh lines. In consequence, each reader gets something different out of that book because he himself supplies the answers... It is an invitation to think -- not to believe.”


Advocating that people should be willing to reconsider their deeply held cultural beliefs was a major theme in Heinlein's later works.

RetriconNov 25, 2008

Try rereading stranger in a strange land or any other book you loved as a teen and it's not going to stand up to what you remember.

Anyway, the amount of open hostility displayed by children shapes how you view the world. As an adult you rarely feel you are surrounded by monsters, but most young people feel this way. I think this is why overt violence is so appealing to young people they live in it's shadow everyday and it becomes what you know.

whichquestiononMay 15, 2020

Grokking being beyond understanding something is central to Valentine Michael Smiths understanding of the world, and therefore the plot, in “Stranger in a Strange Land”.

Grok is not simply understanding or knowing a thing, it’s knowing that thing so well and all the things related to that thing, and understanding all of your feelings associated with that thing, that it becomes a part of you. At least, that was my interpretation of it.

Heinlein’s explanation and exposition is more detailed in the actual book. If you have not read it, highly recommended.

RBerenguelonFeb 9, 2014

Agree with The Hyperion Cantos (commented it as an answer to my post above,) it's been one of the books I've re-read most times. It's a very good book, but somehow a lot of people ignore it, probably due to the fact it's part of a tetralogy (and seems like the last 2 are rubbish... I stopped with the first two: Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, which is what I consider "Hyperion Cantos", though.) I'd rank Altered Carbon higher than Neuromancer. Neuromancer is great and all, but the plot of Altered Carbon was more inspired, almost a nod to classic "noir" writers I like. And I love Stranger in a Strange Land, as pointed above :) Historical note: when the first Spanish translation was commissioned, the publishing firm that did it went bankrupt. Back then (dictatorship) there was a strong censure of books... But editors had to print the books, whole edition and only then the censor would check them. It was deemed as objectionable material.

jacalataonApr 21, 2015

Yea, definitely: I haven't read either of them in a while, but my memory is that The Moon is a Harsh Mistress felt like it had a plot with some philosophizing added on, but Stranger In A Strange Land was political exposition/description of wish-fulfillment orgies with an attempt at forming a plot around it, and that's why it is more like Ayn Rand novels.

gknoyonOct 20, 2013

Have you read "Stranger in a Strange Land"? The word originates there, and has a more nuanced meaning than just "understand". The book is strange and interesting. I didn't pick it up until I'd read (and enjoyed) other of Heinlein's stuff, and after I'd read about the word in the Jargon File. I had always thought of it as a synonym of "understand", when in reality it is more like a superset. As a nerd and an appreciator of language, I am very glad that I read the book and understand the word better, as it really is an interesting idea.

It's as big of a difference as speaking German with an accent is from being fluent (along with thinking and dreaming in the language). Understanding "grok" is like understanding the German concept of "friend"-vs-"acquaintance" and thinking about your own friends in the same way, rather than our American way of "everyone's my friend". (In German culture, most people -- coworkers, teammates, etc -- are not __friends__. They're people you know, and maybe know well, but "friend" is much more similar to an American's concept of a "best friend", or group thereof. (I have about three.)

... none of that explains what "grok" means as well as reading the book. Wikipedia [1] doesn't quite even cover it, but has a good collection of newer uses of it that help.

In the case of this article, "grok" is entirely appropriate. It might even be the best word. As a user, I can figure out commands in vim, I can use a cheat sheet, but until I start thinking about using the tool in a way which fully embraces the tool in the way it was meant to be used (e.g., verbs + marks), I'll always be a poor and dissatisfied user.

1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grok

vannevaronJune 6, 2012

He was the last of the giants, along with Heinlein, Clark and Asimov. As a kid in the 70s, I devoured their novels and stories from the 50s and 60s. Bradbury was probably the most sophisticated writer of the four, though I preferred Asimov's straightforward, techie prose more back then. But we did get to read Bradbury in school, while none of the others was deemed lofty enough for the curriculum (except Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, and that wasn't until college).

groovy2shoesonNov 28, 2019

With regard to that conclusion, I'm reminded of a scene in Heinlein's «Stranger in a Strange Land», near the end of part 2 chapter 13, a conversation between Dr. Jubal Harshaw and Duke:

“To Mike it’s a solemn—but joyful—religious ceremony.”

Duke snorted. “Jubal, you don’t believe that stuff about ghosts. It’s just cannibalism combined with rank superstition.”

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far. I find these ‘Old Ones’ hard to swallow—but Mike speaks of them the way we talk about last Wednesday. As for the rest— Duke, what church were you brought up in?” Duke told him; Jubal went on: “I thought so…. Tell me—how did you feel when you took part in the symbolic cannibalism that plays so paramount a part in your church’s rituals?”

Duke stared. “What the devil are you talking about?”


phlakatononOct 18, 2018

Three books of Heinlein's I will never regret reading: Starship Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Stranger in a Strange Land.

Which is not to say I endorse all of the ideas in those books. Disagreeing vociferously with Heinlein, or just asking "how in the heck would that actually work?!" is part of the fun!

diviaonDec 19, 2008

>I believe there's a quote somewhere in Stranger in a Strange Land, where Jubal Harshaw comments that an author doesn't write because he can, or likes to, or because it's the best way to pay the bills–many can't, few do, and it usually isn't. It's just something that must be done, like breathing or defecating, and it's about as glamorous.

I'd be interested to know which passage you mean. I've read that book many more times than is really necessary and I can't remember Jubal saying that. The closest I can think of is a passage where he says "I want praise from the customer, given in cash because I've reached him--or I don't want anything."

gibspauldingonDec 13, 2018

If you enjoyed Snow Crash, I would definitely encourage you to look into Stephenson's other books if you haven't already.
REAMDE is very good and is also partially set in VR.
Anathem is an interesting exploration of the distant future and alternate universes.
Cryptonomicon has so much going on it's hard to know where to start, but it's a lot of fun.

I was also a big fan of Stranger in a Strange Land! I'll have to check out Scythe and Thunderhead.

jwoah12onMay 29, 2021

I happen to have just finished reading “Stranger in a Strange Land” for the first time a few weeks ago. In addition to having a super thought provoking premise, it coined the term “grok” which is so prevalent in tech circles. I never really questioned its origin, and I guess I assumed it was a borrowed word from Yiddish or something.

ww520onNov 3, 2010

If you like Foundation, you might like the Ringworld series by Larry Niven. Ringworld is a classic.

Robert Heinlein's books are great. Some come to mine are The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Starship Troopers (much better than the movies), Stranger in a Strange Land, Double Stars, and The Puppet Masters.

Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness is amazing. The Earthsea series are fun read if you want to get beyond SciFi.

brudgersonOct 11, 2014

I read just about every Heinlein story I could get my hands on as a teenager. The funny thing is that the one's I thought were sort of stupid - e.g. Have Space Suit Will Travel and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - because they were only about the solar system, I've found to be among my favorites as an adult.

Then again, I couldn't get through Friday back then, but found the description of the role that big data would play in the future prescient a few years ago. Likewise, understanding Stranger in a Strange Land in the context of Heinlien's relationship with Hubbard was beyond me in high-school [Hubbard's BattleField Earth is worth a read or at least a try, even if the movie isn't. He was a talented writer among other things].

ghshephardonJuly 19, 2014

Perhaps my reading behavior is atypical - but "Hyperion", "I Robot", "Ringworld", "Stranger in a Strange Land", "Dune" - none of the books I read were in the Kindle Unlimited List, and they were all in the Vancouver Public Library.

I love the concept - but I need at least a 50% hit rate on the books I read before i'll be willing to pay $120/year to use it.

sketerpotonApr 6, 2009

I'd like to recommend "Startide Rising" and "The Uplift War", by David Brin. Aside from being very enjoyable books, they're a big source of new ideas -- these books singlehandedly made me appreciate the goals of the Internet Archive.

Also, I've never understood the popularity of "Stranger in a Strange Land". I've always been a big Heinlein fan, but Stranger in a Strange Land always struck me as a book that was important and shocking and ground-breaking once upon a time.

mrkstuonJan 26, 2018

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck - great insight into the human condition

One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson - concise and pithy while containing lots of useful pointers

The Divine Center by Steven Covey - the spiritual grounding that informs his later more secular books and much more interesting if you don't mind religious thought mixed in with your motivation

The Foundation trilogy by Issac Asimov - Caused a huge detour in my life. Immersed myself in speculative fiction for decades due to the brain-quake caused by this material.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein - A detour of a different sort. Great introduction to alternative modes of thought to my uncultured religious teen mind.

LDS/Christian Scriptures - regardless of your belief level, the ideas/thoughts/stories/literature encompassed in scripture is enriching to the mind

notahackeronJan 24, 2018

Don't think I've ever been as disappointed in the second half of a book as "Stranger in a Strange Land". Starts off with a very interesting high concept about the awkwardness of interacting with a human who has no idea of human values (as well as a solid stock plot about people trying to control him) and then rapidly turns said vulnerable, weird protagonist into a powerful free love cult-leader promoting all the very human preoccupations and social systems Heinlein happened to find intriguing at the time.

As for Starship Troopers, I think it's very clearly written and generally read as exactly the paean to military discipline Heinlein intended at the time (with Heinlein himself being the one who rowed back on the ideas in it having become more libertarian later in life)

dalkeonMay 28, 2015

I thought this would be about becoming a naturist, like Mick Aston of Time Team fame, or perhaps reference Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land" where the Nest has a sign "did you remember to put clothes on" just inside the door (Spider Robinson says he had the same arrangement in his home).

Instead, it seems vague anti-nudist, by insisting (in its analogy to the Emperor's New Clothes) that having clothes on is better than not having clothes on.

That's seems like needlessly negative views towards an admittedly small portion of the population, when the point is mostly to just start doing real things, and nothing to do with actual clothes.

denovaonNov 8, 2014

There's a novel like this...

Oh yes, Stranger in a Strange Land. I am pleased to find that this Joan Quigley character "was called on by First Lady Nancy Reagan in 1981", twenty years after Heinlein's book was published.

> [Alice Douglas][1] — (sometimes called "Agnes"), wife of Joe Douglas. As the First Lady, she controls her husband, making major economic, political, and staffing decisions. She frequently consults an astrologer, Becky Vesant

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stranger_in_a_Strange_Land#Cha...

edit: Oh, I see other people have posted about this already. Well that's the character's name, anyway.

gibspauldingonJune 20, 2019

I like the idea of fiction "as an exploration into a concept".
I've seen a lot of people complain about Cixin Liu's Remembrances of Earth's Past trilogy because of plot holes or unrealistic elements, but I just appreciated the exploring how humanity might respond to an extra terrestrial threat, or what effects future technology, or disastrous climate change might have on human cultures.
Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and Neal Stephenson's Anathem also come to mind as unique "what if" explorations.

amalcononSep 9, 2011

I've always maintained that there are two types of science fiction. There's the "Star Trek" kind that does social commentary, and tries to get the audience to think about something directly by sidestepping the trappings of modern society. Then, there's the "Star Wars" kind that is basically a far-reaching exercise in world building that only has a plot so that you're not reading a technical description.

Stranger in a Strange Land is perhaps the purest example of the former, because it's very meta: the thing Heinlein wanted you to think about is the very idea of preconceived notions and full understanding. He spends the first half of the book explaining that you can understand something intellectually without understanding it emotionally, and the last half systematically questioning more and more ingrained ideas (at least at the time) so that you think about them intellectually.

Most of the list is the other type. I'll pick on Dune, since it happens to be number one on the list. Herbert introduces you to a universe that's really completely unlike any other conceived: people fly around in spaceships and have enormous mental powers, but there are no computers (they are illegal), people still fight with bladed weapons (all others are rendered either useless or too dangerous), and universal government has become feudal in nature (for various reasons). People send messengers. A bioengineering project and a social engineering project (gray projects by the same faction, no less) collide, and turn the universe upside down.

As far as hard SF goes, I'd originally clustered that with the world-building type, basically because every good example I've read happens to be in that category. Now that I think of it, though, it's not strictly required. It's really just a question of how much effort they put into reasoning out the science.

pragmaticonSep 9, 2011

re Stranger in a Strange land
I think it's a book like Catching in the Rye.

Our (American) culture has changed so much that modern readers think "what's the big deal with this".

The drugs/orgies etc in Stranger in a Strange Land have much less of an impact on a generation that grew up with easy access to hard core drugs and hard core porn.

snowwrestleronMar 9, 2015

I would also highly recommend James Gleick's biography of Newton, which spends quite a bit of time on his alchemical work.

The short story is that we can look back with the filter of 200+ years of science to appreciate Newton's role in the founding of what we know as science today, so we focus on his work in math and physics. But Newton did not have that perspective; he was discovering then, for himself, what we now take for granted. Some of his work produced lasting results, some did not.

A much more recent example of a similar effect is the high levels of interest in ESP and mental powers in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Enormous numbers of very serious and educated scientifically minded people believed that it was possible that we would discover latent powers of the mind. We never did, and today that stuff is largely a punchline among the scientifically minded.

To get a sense of this, read "golden age" sci-fi from these decades and see how often mental powers are included. Asimov's Foundation series, Larry Niven's Known Space series, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, and of course Herbert's Dune series are just a few examples.

neartheplainonJuly 28, 2021

Heinlein wrote a book in favor of polyamory ("Stranger in a Strange Land") and was strongly opposed to religion and theology [0]. I doubt he'd be at home with today's evangelical Christians.

For what it's worth, Soviet intelligence did infiltrate large parts of American society during the Cold War [1]. This historical fact is often obscured by accounts of McCarthyism and the Red Scare. While McCarthy was a liar and an alcoholic with little to no knowledge of actual Soviet spy networks, the networks did in fact exist.

[0] https://www.azquotes.com/author/6509-Robert_A_Heinlein/tag/r...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_espionage_in_the_United...

sid6376onSep 9, 2011

While I am a voracious reader, I have just started reading sci-fi. (Just finished dune, Starting with stranger in a strange land).
Just in case anyone's interested, here's a list of the books mentioned in the article and some famous hackers and entrepreneurs who like the books:

Snow Crash - Sergey Brin

Dune - Michael Arrington

Stranger in a strange land -Michael Arrington ,Linus Torvalds

Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy - Michael Arrington

Ender's Game- Mark Zuckerberg

Anathem - Michael Arrington

Source: my hobby site http://vipreads.com

Links to individual people:





dtbxonSep 9, 2011

The first half of "Stranger in a Strange Land" is wonderful, but the second... God in that novel actually exists.

For a truly atheist like me, sometimes I want to read a fanfiction of the Stranger, but without god and the religion bullshit. Centered in the economics and the power.

In science fiction, the sole purpose of God is to be mocked, criticized or denied.

diviaonMay 18, 2009

"Big money isn't hard to come by. All it costs is a lifetime of singleminded devotion to acquiring it and making it grow into more money, to the utter exclusion of all other interests. They say that the age of opportunity has passed. Nonsense! Seven out of ten of the wealthiest men on this planet started life without a shilling--and there are plenty more such strivers on the way up. Such people are not stopped by high taxation nor even by socialism; they simply adapt themselves to new rules and presently they change the rules. But no premiere ballerina ever works harder, nor more narrowly, than a man who acquires riches."

-A Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

bradleysmithonFeb 11, 2015

This is also the delineator between humans and animals presented in Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land", and I had a knee-jerk reaction against it. It is NOT obvious to me at all.

I've seen my cats play 'jokes' on my dog. I've seen the squirrels tease her too by jumping down in the yard, then laugh-bark for minutes, taunting her from the the trees. Don't even get me started on blue jays.

I've repeatedly seen animals engage in behavior similar enough to laughter to make me doubt this claim or those making it.

russellonMay 8, 2011

I am amused at how wrong SF authors often get the details of every,day future things. In Stranger in a Strange Land, set around 2000(?), one of the characters mentions a mobile phone the size of a brief case. Or in recent David Weber novel, the heroes get through customs, because the agents hadnt received their photos. In the year 4000 something. I will admit that with a 2000 year advance in security the book would have been a lot shorter.

ablealonMay 4, 2014

> since "Stranger in a Strange Land" is a work of fiction

A tad older: "And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land." ( Exodus 2:22, e.g. http://www.bartleby.com/108/02/2.html#S2 )

A good portion of the titles in English are taken either from the KJV Bible or Shakespeare, not that there is much difference.

doorhammeronFeb 26, 2014

I can understand this; I think it depends on what your trying to get out of the book. There are some books I read (for example, I'm reading Stranger in a Strange Land) where I like the book well enough, but I'm not particularly into the prose and/or writing style, so I'm okay missing some things here and there.

I think that happens to me when I do "decompressing," where I'm reading a book to unwind my brain after having read nothing but papers or technical books for a few weeks.

Other times I'm just in the mood to sit down and really experience what the book has to offer. When I'm in that mood, I don't want to sacrifice really taking the time to let a book evoke imagery and mood, in the name of speed. I guess some folks can get that reading a lot faster, but I can't right now.

GeneTrayloronAug 23, 2011

There actually might be a precedent over here.

Heinlein came up with a "waterbed" for a few of his books (it was mentioned quite prominently in Stranger in a strange land) Later on a man called Charles Hall tried to patent his design, and he was denied the patent by the USPO on the grounds that Heinlein's description in Stranger in a strange land, and Double star constituted prior art.

It would be fascinating to see if this precedent is followed...

kragenonAug 29, 2011

In theory, yes; if the invention is "known or used by others in this country [the US]" prior to the date of the invention by the patenting inventor, it counts as prior art.


It's tricky, though, because that's the invention date, not the filing date, and the "inventor" could lie about the date of the invention. The safest approach is to publish my ideas in print in a foreign country, ideally in a small print run in a language spoken by nobody at Intellectual Ventures, and then wait a year before posting to the list.

Prior art does not have to include a reduction to practice; conception of the invention is sufficient. Lore has it that Charles Hall's waterbed patent was narrowed substantially by a reference to Stranger in a Strange Land, which described waterbeds.

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