I very much would like to ask a question on books about sustainable living, something like “What are the most influential / canonical / must read books on sustainable living?”. The problem with such a question is that it is a rather subjective one and may lead to list answers, two reasons for which posts may be closed. On the other hand the question is likely to receive a lot of attention and I think the answers will provide a good starting point for people wanting to know more about sustainable living.

What do you think? Should we allow or disallow such a question here? If we allow it in what form?

I did some research on other SE sites:


Locked (allowed for historic significance):


  • Personally I have mixed feelings about whether we should allow it. I understand Robert's concerns but also think it's a loss if we don't allow it. I do think these kind of questions should be community wiki questions (if we decide to try it).
    – THelper
    Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 21:52

3 Answers 3


The problem with most of these "let's create a list" questions is that it becomes really hard to begrudge anyone their entry. Voting on a favorite book/tool/application/website/blog/etc is based on popularity and what you know, and all semblance of expertise is lost. These questions are fine for a roundtable discussion forum; but for a Q&A site, we generally suggest forgoing them completely.

I can appreciate the desire to ask these "getting started primers" — It's just easier to cast a broad net and pick through the random answers to see what suits your particular interests later. But this site will work better if you help users flesh out a question about what specific problem they are encountering and what they are having trouble understanding in their day to day work. Specific, long-tailed questions will work much better than "you guys talk and I'll pick out the good stuff later."

  • All semblance of expertise is not lost. That's why we have things like reputation, badges, and detailed public user profiles. If somebody posts an answer with their favorite book, you can quickly see how much the community trusts them, and what their other answers are, which does help establish the level of expertise of the person providing the answer. This is why SE sites are a better place to ask these kinds of questions than many of the other online forums. If I'm looking for a primer on a topic, I want to ask people who already know more than me, and can give an endorsement.
    – Nate
    Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 21:55

From your selection of similar questions from other SE sites it seems that those are allowed that ask for a book recommendation within a more narrow topic (than the actual SE site) or for those topics in which published books are uncommon yet (Bitcoin, Sharepoint?).

Generally not well perceived are questions asking for books of very broad topics (even if it is more narrow than the focus of the SE site) but well .. every site handles it somewhat different.

In my opinion a question should be allowed if it asks for references of a specific topic or to aid to live in a more sustainable way. For example:

Can you recommend me an easy read to get into composting?

should be allowed because it reflects the motivation (getting started with something) and narrows down specifications somewhat (easy read, not too technical).

With this interpretation

What is the universal book about composting?

should be discouraged because it does not mention the motivation to link it to actions that can be taken to live in a more sustainable way (if that is the only focus of this site which, I guess, is still up for discussion).

To conclude, I'm not really sure. Personally I'm not offended about broad book recommendation questions but to follow the tune of allowed questions on that topic my advice is to ask having a specific topic in mind.


The problem is that such a question does not have a definitive objective answer.

As such, it would not be a good fit for a Q&A site.

Having said that, and building on what's been discussed over on Physics meta, the tag-wikis are the place for subject-specific book recommendations.

  • 1
    I like your suggestion of using the tag-wikis. I recently noticed that some tag-wikis on stackoverflow have book recommendations as well.
    – THelper
    Commented May 10, 2013 at 12:36

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