Like most sites of this nature, we keep getting book recommendation questions. Personally, I massively dislike these questions -- they're completely subjective and have almost nothing to do with our actual topic. "How do I do X in Unix" is a question best answered by Unix people; "what book teaches me about X" is a question best answered by a librarian. They also tend to end with my #1 indicator of a subjective question, "1 recommendation per answer please"

I almost closed the latest example, but we've clearly let people get away with them in the past, so I wanted to at least ask for opinions. Should these kinds of questions be on-topic here?

  • in regard to the latest question... don't we have a novice book thread already? to be honest I'd say that's what he needs. – xenoterracide May 22 '11 at 5:42

You are correct that they are subjective. However, I believe they are the good subjective. It can often be difficult to find the right book for your purpose. With such a large variety of books, on various topics, it can be difficult as a novice to avoid the bad books. It is not until you've already learned the knowledge of a book, and gone beyond it, to know whether a book is truly a good book or a bad one. So I vote to keep book recommendations, they help novices, and in some cases even advanced users.

Also I disagree on "best answered by a librarian" because librarian's often know Jack bleep about specialized subject matter. They simply look at what they have in their catalog, and maybe in surrounding library catalogs. Often they have no idea whether a book is good. The only thing I've found recently that librarians are good for is asking, "do you have book X" or "Where in your library can I find book X" or "I can't find it on your shelf, can you help me".

  • a certain number of these are ... tolerated ... on Stack Overflow. I think the key point here is to make sure you don't have too many of these, and of course they need to be community wiki. – Jeff Atwood May 24 '11 at 21:43

I think that it is both understandable and beneficial to the site in the longer term that people would come here to ask other members for recommendations about other quality resources to further their learning about Unix/Linux.

After all, if people can't turn to a self-selecting community of experts and enthusiasts for reliable information about the topic, where would you expect them to go?

There may be some merit in merging threads/questions over time, but ultimately if this site is to be considered an authoritative reference, then a bibliography (or the Internet equivalent) makes a lot of sense.


I have nothing against subjective questions, and neither does Stack Exchange in general. However, I don't like that particular question either. Usually, the problem with this kind of questions is that they're too vague, but this one falls into the other excess: the book must not be too advanced, and it must be advanced enough, and it must be for “lead web developers” (wtf is that?), and it must not be too yellow… I think Kim says it best: “This is like asking for a book that teaches you how to ride a bicycle.” — JW01 is asking the wrong question.

“1 recommendation per answer please” isn't an indicator of a bad question, it's an indicator of bad answers. Fortunately it's easily removed (/status-completed).

  • Re "“I am not so interested in becoming a system administrator, more of a lead web developer” (wtf is that?)" - I put that into my question to give people an indication of my learning goals/reasons for the question. Granted - Perhaps it was superfluous and probably caused more confusion. – JW01 May 22 '11 at 18:38
  • Re: "Usually, the problem with this kind of questions is that they're too vague, but this one falls into the other excess". - You are exaggerating by saying "it must not be too yellow". I do not require that the book must be yellow. Nor do I say that "the book must be for lead developers". Given those corrections. I do not think its too excessive to specify the 'reading level' of the book that I'm after. – JW01 May 22 '11 at 18:49
  • Re: “This is like asking for a book that teaches you how to ride a bicycle.” - If we were to use that analogy the one answer would be "The highway code". Although you might have learned to ride a bike in your backyard, its the kind of book you should read before you go out onto the main roads. It does not require you have had experience of cycling before you read it. And by reading it you avoid the need to run man redtrafficlight as you approach a junction. – JW01 May 22 '11 at 19:03

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