We had our first question today: https://chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/404/books-on-chemistry

Now that one in particular is slightly too broad and gets a CV(yes, I chose the wrong category) from me (anyone agrees?), but I'm talking about questions in general. They don't have definite answers and really should be CW--but CW for list-type questions is discouraged nowadays.

I personally am OK with specific book recommendation questions--eg "what books are good for <topic> at <level>?". These generate a few answers, but not a whole bunch--and need not be CW.

Additionally, if we do allow book questions, should we do something similar to this? (I say we do that only once we have enough book questions)

What say?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I have a fear of these extraordinarily open-ended questions, they just encourage people to drop some links on top of pages and pages of answers. I am much more open towards a narrowly focused request. $\endgroup$
    – Nick T
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ Why not move all those requests and recommendations into a new section, something like a FAQ? I would love to see such a thing to use it myself. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 15:07

2 Answers 2


Such questions are problematic for the Q&A format, but they can work under certain restrictions.

The possible problems that those questions have are:

  • All answers are equally valid to some degree, upvoting becomes a popularity contest of the books themselves.
  • There might be too many possible answers for broad topics, nobody ever reads the second page of answers
  • They tend to rot and become obsolete, especially if there are lots of answers. Users don't check all of them and post duplicate answers.

But those questions can still work if you formulate them to avoid those pitfalls.

  • The questions should be reasonably scoped, all of chemistry is certainly too broad.
  • The answers should be required to elaborate on why the book is a good fit to the requirements of the user asking the question, answers that just drop a link or book title should be deleted.

Using Community Wiki is not necessary for those questions, though it might make sense for some of them.


Discouraged != forbidden. I think a list similar to this:

List of freely available physics books

Would be an asset to the site, though perhaps it should be combined with a list of commercially available books. The list should be stratified in much the same way Helder's answer has done.

  • $\begingroup$ Well, we can't use it as a precedent since the rules about CW have changed. IMO, the question I mentioned on chem.SE needs closing, but not other books questions. Then we maintain a list of links. $\endgroup$ Commented May 16, 2012 at 5:44

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