We get a lot of book recommendation questions, so much so that it's hard to keep up with them.

We've been closing them as off-topic, not a real question, and not constructive based on a few different points of guidance:

However, due to the sheer number of these questions we get, I wonder if we should revisit this and see where we as a community stands on book recommendations.

Are book recommendations on-topic? If so, why? What preconditions need to be met for a good book recommendation question?

If not, do we need to add a new line under What about other programming-related questions? to make it explicitly clear they're not allowed? Something like:

  • Book recommendations (e.g. What's the best book to learn Python?)
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I love book recommendation questions, I bookmark a lot of those. –  Marcelo Jul 27 '11 at 19:02
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Or, is it more appropriate to have a new Area51 site for "Continuing Education for Software Professionals" and move book recommendations there? Or maybe an "educational" tag which includes "tutorials", "books", "self-improvement" etc. –  rwong Jul 27 '11 at 22:42
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2 Answers

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Book requests fall into the "outside resources" close reason and should be closed:

Questions asking us to recommend a tool, library or favorite off-site resource are off-topic for Programmers as they tend to attract opinionated answers and spam. Instead, describe the problem and what has been done so far to solve it.

However, if you are asking for a critique of a book or other resource then that might be on topic, but would probably fall into the "primarily opinion based" close reason unless you were very specific as to what you were looking for.


Original answer:

I would say that like "what language should I learn" questions, questions that effectively ask for a list of books on X should be closed as "not constructive".

However, like programming language questions, if you have specialised requirements (you want to go into LINQ, or networking, or.. in great depth) then perhaps those should be allowed. They should inspire answers that explain why a book is good for this topic and shouldn't just produce a list of everyone's favourite.

So - in short - if your question will produce a list of everyone's favourite book - don't post, but if it will elicit the title of the book on a topic then go for it.

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Tentative +1 but I would prefer the word specialized over specific, which not surprisingly goes hand-in-hand with expert. "Python for Dummies" books are a dime a dozen; books on device driver programming, slightly more interesting; books on real-time process scheduling or massively-distributed F@H-type projects, that's the level we should be expecting. –  Aaronaught Jul 27 '11 at 23:28
    
Yeah, the majority of questions I see are ones for "I want to learn Python. Can you recommend me a thin book for it?" –  user8 Jul 28 '11 at 1:18
    
@Aaronaught - good idea. I'll update the answer –  ChrisF Jul 28 '11 at 7:39
    
After thinking about this for a couple of days, I'm having a hard time thinking a book recommendation question asked here that has produced a canonical book for a particular topic. Do you have any examples of a question that would meet this criterion? –  user8 Jul 30 '11 at 18:50
    
@Mark - I must admit I haven't looked myself either - will do later. –  ChrisF Jul 30 '11 at 19:35
    
FWIW, this answer has been recently used to justify that closure is unfair: deleted question - 10K link: "According to the help and this top-answer to a programmers.se-meta-question, book-requests (or resource requests) are not off-topic on programmers.se..." –  gnat Apr 1 at 10:49
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@gnat - thanks for reminding me. I've updated the answer to reflect the current situation. –  ChrisF Apr 1 at 10:56
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I'll summarize my answer over on SO Meta here:

I started out believing that SE could support a recommend X... In the end these questions can only ever be considered subjective, and therefore not a good fit for the SE format.

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