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?)
  • 8
    I love book recommendation questions, I bookmark a lot of those.
    – Marcelo
    Commented Jul 27, 2011 at 19:02
  • 2
    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
    Commented Jul 27, 2011 at 22:42
  • Possible duplicate of What should our predefined off-topic reasons be?
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 8:35

2 Answers 2


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: (from 2011, not valid under the current scope rules any more!)

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.

  • 5
    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
    Commented Jul 27, 2011 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
    Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 1:18
  • @Aaronaught - good idea. I'll update the answer
    – ChrisF Mod
    Commented Jul 28, 2011 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
    Commented Jul 30, 2011 at 18:50
  • @Mark - I must admit I haven't looked myself either - will do later.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Commented Jul 30, 2011 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
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 10:49
  • 1
    @gnat - thanks for reminding me. I've updated the answer to reflect the current situation.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 10:56
  • I think that overall this meta discussion has been superseded with later one: What should our predefined off-topic reasons be? which plainly stated that any off-site resource recommendations - books or anything else - are now covered by a dedicated close reason
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 8:39

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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