Why is book recommendation considered off topic in History SE? It seems so snobbish. Many most vibrant SE's like Mathematics have book recommendations. Can we have too please? It encourages personal reading, the exact venue from which all answers from wherever, to wherever come. So if we stimulate further interest or knowledge, what's wrong guys?

  • 1
    My sentiments exactly..
    – seeker
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 13:53
  • Duplicate. Not snobbish; it is an attempt to avoid questions with ephemeral answers.
    – MCW Mod
    Commented Feb 7, 2015 at 22:17
  • @MarkC.Wallace Similar, would be the word.
    – Rohit
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 10:24

4 Answers 4


I could see where it might seem weird at first blush, but I'm not real sure how it comes off as "snobbish". Presumably everyone here loves history books and reads rather a lot of them.

The issue is that such questions just don't fit our format. Questions here need to be capable of having a single answer worthy of receiving an "Accept". If someone asks "What are good books on Topic X", and I answer with 3 good books and someone else answers with 3 other good books, which answer should be accepted? How do you judge one better than the others?

I suppose we could try to answer such questions with a single Wiki answer (what does everyone else think?), but only convention would keep someone from spoiling the system by adding extra answers, and contributors to a Wiki answer can not receive any reputation reward for their good work. The StackExchange software isn't set up well to help us out there.

I went over to the Math exchange to see how their system works. The results seem kind of mixed. On the one hand, they do seem to be accepting book recommendation questions without their entire stack burning down or anything. On the other hand, I can't say I find any of the results particularly useful. Recommendation answers typically seem to get no more than one or two upvotes, and acceptances seem random on the rare occasions where they happen at all.

  • In a post asking for book recommendation, even if there is no accepted answer, OP gets his books to read,; the answerers, wanted to help the OP, they too got that; so, everyone gets what they want, while, no one loses anything, unless we seek homogeneity, and consider upholding the format more important than that,. ......Sir
    – Rohit
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 16:07
  • I like the idea of single wiki post. Has there been any progress on this?
    – taninamdar
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 5:09
  • Well, I only got 3 upvotes on this idea, which doesn't seem to me like something I can claim as "consensus".
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 14:06
  • 1
    If we pester OP to convert the question to a wiki, then all additional answers will automatically be made into wikis. I prefer this to one big wiki answer, because then each recommendation remains associated with a user. Voting is uninformative on one big Wiki answer, and the comments would also quickly get out of hand.
    – two sheds
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 22:05
  • 1
    @twosheds Well, the concept I was getting at was that the accepted answer would be the only "wiki", and we'd keep it up to date with edits to be a summation of the separate (non-wiki) answers. People could then go check the scores of the better answers to see what the community thinks of individual book recommendations (and the contributors of same would still get rep for them). If everything is a wiki, there's not much point in making more than one answer, and that loses the utility of the community judgement on individual works.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 22:25
  • @twosheds I'll try to make a separate meta question for this later today. I can see my simple explanation in my answer here is inadequate, and I probably shouldn't totally hijack this question by expanding it greatly and asking for input here. People might want/need to make answer-length responses.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 22:28
  • I've created a fleshed out version of the proposed idea for how I think this might work into this meta question for comment.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 2:01
  • I'm active on math.stackexchange and I find the book recommendation questions to be quite useful. For what it's worth. I actually came to the history stackexchange looking to see what are the most popular book recommendations here.
    – littleO
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 9:29
  • I don't know if I agree that recommendation answers typically get no more than one or two upvotes on math.stackexchange. Just google for "math.stackexchange book recommendation" and you find plenty of counterexamples: math.stackexchange.com/questions/31058/… ; math.stackexchange.com/questions/11626/… ; math.stackexchange.com/questions/34442/… ; math.stackexchange.com/questions/62212/…
    – littleO
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 9:35

A great way to understand waht good book / reference requests look like is to review the questions asked on Mathematics.SE, under the reference-request tag. Even the book-recommendations tag has questions that are specific in their learning aim.

Above all else, questions are specific to a facet of the topic. They do not engage broad enquiry or foundations learning.


Other than the problem of selecting an accepted answer, another issue with book recommendation requests is that they often tend to be quite broad because the OP is looking for an introduction or overview of a period/event rather than having a specific question.

When a request for a book recommendation is quite specific then it can usually be rewritten as a question (to match the SE format). The best responses should not only answer the question but should also include references and sources. So History SE gets a suitable question and answer and the OP will get some reading recommendations as a by-product.

However, when the request is, for example, for an overview of the Middle Ages, it's not possible to render it as a suitable question because it would be too broad for the History SE format.

  • , lets assume, that, guys won't be as ignorant, as to ask , overview of middleages. Your assumption that book recommendation answers are too broad necessarily, is i feel not correct. If it comes such, we still have our "Put on hold as too broad" right?
    – Rohit
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 13:21

The problem with book requests is that they are not asking a question. They are basically asking you to do research for you. Petty research, but nevertheless research. Also, speaking of pettiness, 95% of such requests are trivial to fulfill. OPs should be finding their own books, which is easy to do in most cases. History.SE is for hard questions that cannot be answered by trivial Google searches. Most book searches fall into that category.

That said, if a question involves a very rare book or source, that an easy web search would not reveal, then I think it is legitimate, but as above this is a 1% situation.

  • 1
    Your assumptions are wrong, about book recommendations being trivial
    – Rohit
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 8:43
  • Also, your mindset about answering questions is inappropriate.
    – Rohit
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 8:44
  • History Stack Exchange, is a forum. That means, when a question is put foward, it is not to you individually, that tell me this after finding it out. It is asked to the multitude. i.e "This is my question; if any of you can answer suitably, please do"
    – Rohit
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 8:48
  • 1
    So, if i ask " What are some good scholarly works on colonial policies of Pitt, The Elder ?", it is not, "everyone! Find this out and tell it to me!" Its -"Hey, if anybody knows this, <already> help me out"
    – Rohit
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 8:52

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