A book so good I had to put it down

“I couldn’t put it down.”  “A real page-turner.” That’s how you might describe a good novel to take on vacation. But for more serious reading, a good book is one you have to put down. Thoreau put it this way:

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence to living on its hint.

Some books take a long time to read, not because they are dull, but because they are exciting. You have to put them down frequently to think about what you’ve read before reading more. It may not be the content of the book per se but the thoughts the book sparks that make you have to put it down.

What are some books you had to put down frequently because they stirred your thinking?

Related posts:

C. S. Lewis on reading old books
Why are bad guys so interesting in novels?
Worthless technical books
Tim Bray’s high-tech monastic cell

29 thoughts on “A book so good I had to put it down

  1. 1. The first time I read Perelandra, I had to put it down. The intensity of the choice was too great.
    2. Trust Agents
    3. Eat this book by Eugene Peterson

  2. I do that when I read a Kindaichi detective comic book. It takes me about 2 hours to finish, because I’m reeling over the clues and revelations.

  3. This happened to mostly with poetry, where a good book makes you to stop while you hold it in your hands. It doesn’t happen often though. I would also stress that books change readers based on the state of the reader, so timing is essential. I couldn’t put down Dante, Rimbaud, Kavafis, Montale, Auden, Brodsky and Szymborska, not because they are great poets, although they are, but because I read them at the right time. I couldn’t really appreciate Rimbaud if I were over 20 when I read him for the first time. And I got Montale and Kavafis only post-30.

  4. Euler’s Gem, by Dave Richeson, is what I’m reading now. I stop because I want to think about the math.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone mention this before, and it is so true for me. I’m not sure which books fit in this category, but probably all the great math exposition books I’ve been reading lately – Euclid in the Rainforest, by Mazur, The Man Who Knew Infinity, about Ramanujan, Schoenfeld, Boaler, …

  5. As unpopular as it is, I was very impressed by _Atlas Shrugged_ and took quite a long time to read it. Not only for putting it down, but partially. More recently, John Derbyshire’s _Unknown Quantity_ made me stop to think frequently.

  6. The shock doctrine.

    Whenever I read ten pages, I have put to put it down. Too much anger. While there are certainly parts that are so-so quality-wise, the book puts together all these pieces and connects dots in a way I never did. I wonder if the anger comes from me saying “duh” or from retrospectively judging myself for having been too naive all these years.

  7. There are probably too many to list, but what comes to mind as recent examples are Malcom Gladwell’s articles, just about anything on wood and metalworking, knifemaking, low barrier-to-entry science demonstrations, and Tesla coiling and high V stuff generally. I almost can’t read them, but I can’t resist them.

    I agree about poetry in some cases — when it hits you it is like a sledgehammer. I don’t make a habit of reading it, but it crops up here and there. I’d include song lyrics in this group in a very few cases.

    Literature-wise, Gravity’s Rainbow jumps out. Pynchon’s other stuff is wonderful, particularly Vineland, but only Gravity’s Rainbow had that effect on me.

    I agree with gappy that it makes a big difference when you read them, especially as concerns poetry and literature generally.

    When I read some philosophy I sometimes have a hard time because I am so compelled to argue and discuss it with the author, who is typically difficult to contact.

    I think I’ve heard of the shock doctrine, but I don’t recall in what context or anything about it. It sounds interesting though.

  8. Good question. One that springs to mind is Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. After every chapter I wanted to leap up and write a manifesto!

  9. I’m like Sue, in that many math books fall into this category for me. Two of my favorites are:

    Geometry and the Imagination by Hilbert and Cohn-Vossen
    Visual Complex Analysis by Tristan Needham

  10. The Forest People by Colin Turnbull, which is an ethnography about pygmies in the Congo written in 1961. It was assigned reading during an introductory Anthropology course, I probably would have never run across it otherwise.

  11. Two I have been reading recently that made me stop and think:

    Maths: Probability Theory, The Logic of Science by E.T. Jaynes

    Literature: The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

  12. Principles of Quantum Mechanics by P.A.M. Dirac has been like that so far. I have read several intro QM books before, but some of the examples Dirac uses leave me reeling to the point where I have to put the book down for days.

  13. In search of the Indo-Europeans: language, archaeology and myth‎ by J.P. Mallory had me running to the OED after nearly every page.

  14. The Robber by Robert Walser .. Initially I found the first page or so to be impenetrable junk and the book wound up tossed under my bed. Six months later I found it, and spent the next two or so years with it. As someone above said, timing is crucial…

  15. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
    The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
    Frames of Mind by Howard Gardner
    The Black Swan
    Freakonomics

  16. The 48 Laws of Power. Stopped at the second, yet to resume.
    Outliers.
    The Art of War
    The book of 5 rings.
    The Virtue of Selfishness
    All of Ayn Rand actually…

  17. Molecular Biology of the Cell by Alberts, et al.

    It was like total O. M. G. to this math nerd.

    Fred

  18. Fred: I tried reading Molecular Biology of the Cell. Then I realized that it has several authors because no single person could write the book. If no single biologist groks all that material, it’s hopeless for me.

  19. Godel, Escher and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter
    Took me 5 years to finish and is one of my favourite books

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