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You can’t recommend books without context

There’s a great tool called stack.app, which I use to keep track of book I’ve read. It’s like Goodreads but without the bloat. I made a rule for myself that I would only list books that I would recommend to others, so that keeping track of the books wouldn’t become a chore.

I thought about the context in which I read these books, and how these books seem amazing to me, full of insight. This context, however, only makes sense for a small subset of the entire population of people that I could recommend books to. People who are not looking to build new technology products might find that Peter Thiel’s Zero to One is not applicable to them. They might learn about another person’s perspective, but it wouldn’t be the greatest book they have ever read.

Even within a narrow field, it might do you well to dismiss some recommendations. Like computer programming, for example. Maybe there’s a technique for software development that a friend thinks you should learn about. But what if you’re already a step ahead, having actually used that technique at your previous job? It might tempt you to read a formal book about the technique, but reading a book is a considerable investment of your time. Spending an hour discussing the book with the friend, before reading it, might save you from ten hours of reading if you discover during the discussion that you’ve already learned the technique.

If, after the discussion, you find that this book will potentially be useful, there’s no harm done. You gave your friend a chance to explain what they have learned, and you can read the book afterwards.

Even with my effort to only keep a list of books to recommend, some of those books, to some people, I cannot recommend at all.

Book recommendations therefore only make sense when also considering the context of who you’re recommending to.