David Carlton's Go Bibliography, Organized by Difficulty

Note: I'm finding that I don't have as much time as I'd like to read go books these days. If you've recently read a book that you'd like to review, please e-mail your review to me. Please tell me if you would like your name to be linked to a web page, your e-mail address, or neither; also, if you could include your rank, that would be great.

This version of the bibliography lists books according to their difficulty; it starts with books for beginners, and then moves on to elementary, intermediate, and advanced books. Thus, it's designed to help people identify what books they should think about reading at their current skill level; I've added extra commentary to help that.

Some general advice: when you're reading go books, don't worry about understanding everything the first time, and don't worry about giving up on a book halfway through. I find, for example, that whenever I start to read a book on tesuji or life and death that I have to give up after a few weeks because my brain is too sick of reading through those problems. Conversely, you should go back to books that you've read earlier; you'll learn things that you didn't learn the first time through.

First Books.

This section is for books that are designed for people who don't know anything at all about the game. They present and explain the rules, and give a brief introduction to tactics and strategy.

I recommend any of the first seven books listed beneath here. (The other three are good, too, but for various reasons I don't recommend them as strongly.) Learn to Play Go, Vol. 1: A Master's Guide to the Ultimate Game is very well-written and clear, and has the advantage that it's part of a series, so once you're done with it, you can read the other books in the series. Its downside is that volume 1 covers less material than the other books mentioned here and costs more. Iwamoto's Go for Beginners is the book that I learned from; I recommend it happily. It and Matthews's Teach Yourself Go have lots of bang for the buck; so they're cheaper than the others and contain more material, but for some people the presentation may go by a bit too quickly. They're also more likely to be available in a general bookstore than any other good go book, though fortunately Learn to Play Go is also making inroads. Go! More Than a Game does a better job of presenting cultural information surrounding the game than any other introductory book. Cho's Go: A Complete Introduction to the Game is also quite good: it's about as cheap as Go for Beginners, but is easier to read and contains nice cultural information (though not as nice as Go! More Than a Game). You'll have a hard time finding it in a general bookstore, but specialty bookstores carry it, as do web bookstores. It had an earlier incarnation under the title The Magic of Go; there's no real difference between the two editions. And The Book of Go uses the capture game to introduce go, which some people might like.

As a companion for any of these books, I heartily recommend the first volume of Kano Yoshinori's Graded Go Problems for Beginners. I've heard from several people who read it in conjunction with a beginner's book, and got a lot out of it. (Later volumes in the series are also quite good as you get stronger.)

The Game of Go, by Matthew Macfadyen, is also quite good, but I don't recommend it quite as much as the other books. An Introduction to Go, by Davies and Bozulich is good but out of print; and given that Kiseido has Go: A Complete Introduction to the Game to offer, I doubt that they're too likely to bring it back into print any time soon. Kishikawa's Steppingstones to Go is okay, and it may be available in bookstores where other decent go books aren't. Go for Kids, by Milton N. Bradley, presents concepts in an order that seems quite strange to me. John Fairbairn's Invitation to Go is decent. You should on no account start with the books by Korschelt, Smith, or Pecorini and Shu that I have listed in the Arcana section: if they're the only go books that your local bookstore has, it's worth it to go to the effort of special ordering one of the others. (The help desk at your bookstore should be able to tell you how to do that; any bookstore should be able to get Go for Beginners.) Lasker's Go and Go-Moku isn't quite as bad as those three, but I'd recommend against it fairly strongly.

Second Books.

This section is for books that are designed to be the second go book that you read. They assume that you are comfortable with the rules and have played a few times, but that you don't necessarily know anything beyond that.

The first two books that I've listed here are designed to follow the first volume in their series. People who have read other introductory books will probably like them too, they may find that they know some of the material in the second volume already, but the third volume covers lots of stuff that isn't mentioned by other books of this level but that should be.

This next series of books is a great one to read, especially if you're the sort of person who doesn't like learning by reading about the theory of how to play go. Don't be discouraged if the later books in the series seem quite difficult - as you get better, you'll be able to solve the problems in them, but it takes a while. (Also consider the Go Problems for Kyu Level Players, listed in intermediate books, especially the first volume.)

Another possibility is Bruce and Sue Wilcox's EZ-GO: Oriental Strategy in a Nutshell. I've listed it with the intermediate books, but I think that it might well be suitable for some as a second go book. In the opposite direction, Peter Shotwell's Go! More Than a Game is an introductory book, but it contains lots of information (especially cultural information) that people who read other introductory books might not have seen.

The next two books are in the style of a `second go book', but their difficulty would place them in a higher level. I don't really recommend either of them.

Elementary Books.

Once you've learned the rules and learned some basic principles, you should probably read the Elementary Go Series. This is a series designed to introduce you to each of the major aspects to playing go in some depth, and they're a great series. Don't necessarily read them in the order listed (and in particular don't be worried if In the Beginning confuses you; in fact, it's probably a good idea to read Otake's Opening Theory Made Easy before reading it); also, don't memorise joseki. I'd start with Tesuji, probably, and I'd leave 38 Basic Joseki for last; I might even recommend not reading that one for a long time, but just using it as a reference when you're confused about something that happened in a game of yours.

Another good book to read is Kageyama's Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go. You might even want to read it before reading the books mentioned above. It's a general book, fun to read, with lots of good stuff. And there's also the later volumes in the Graded Go Problems for Beginners series, Go Problems for Kyu Level Players series, and the Learn to Play Go series. The fourth volume of the latter seems suitable for listing here, and I'm sure that later volumes will also fit here as well, once they appear.

There's also Bruce and Sue Wilcox's EZ-GO: Oriental Strategy in a Nutshell. You'll learn a lot from reading it if you can stand the way it's written.

I'm hesitant to give strength ranges for books, but these books might be appropriate for AGA 15-5 kyu players.

Here's the Elementary Go Series. After I'm done with listing those books, I'll list the other three books that I mentioned above.

Next come the elementary books other than the Elementary Go Series.

Intermediate Books.

Once you've read the Elementary Go Series, you have a pretty good framework for understanding go: you know what the important topics are, but you're probably not to good at all of them yet. So what you should do is go and read more advanced books about whatever topics you like; this section contains a listing of such books. If you want a general intermediate book to read, I recommend Wang Runan's Intermediate Level Power Builder series; only one volume of it has been published so far, but I do like it.

There's a lot of books listed here. If you don't know what to read, just pick one at random; also, lean towards areas of the game that you're curious about, confused about, or bad at. For example, I often find that my games have me falling behind in the beginning, holding even in the middle game, and catching up in the late middle game and in the endgame; when I'm in a phase like that, I know that I should read more books on the opening.

I've listed books by subject (with the exception of the Get Strong at Go series). Within each subject I've tried to list books that I think are easier and/or better towards the beginning of this list, but don't read too much into my ordering. Also, you should periodically go back and read books that you've already read, because as you get stronger you'll learn new things from them.

The approximate strengths that these books are targeted towards are perhaps AGA 10kyu - low dan players.

The Get Strong at Go Series.

The first few books are the Get Strong at Go series. They're a quite well-done series of problem books focusing on different aspects of the game. When the series is complete, it will contain volumes on the opening, joseki, invading, tesuji, life and death, the endgame, handicap go, and ko.

General Principles.

These are books that aren't about one particular phase of the game, but rather apply to multiple phases of the game. I also put books here that don't fit neatly into one of my other categories.

The Opening and Joseki.

Cosmic Go could also be listed here.


These are either books about tesuji or non-life-and-death problem books involving reading which you will naturally have to use tesuji to solve.

Life and Death.

The Middle Game.

The Endgame.

Handicap Go.

Collections of Games.

General Collections of Problems.

These are collections of problems that aren't restricted to a single aspect of the game.

Other Intermediate Books.

Advanced Books.

The first few of these books are dictionaries/encyclopedias. You won't want to read them until you're rather advanced (dan-level, say), though it's good to know about them so that you can refer to them if you're curious about some position that occurred in your game. Also, you might want to consider reading the beginning section of Reducing Territorial Frameworks earlier, because it has some general words about reducing.

The later books are advanced problem or instructional books on various subjects. Anybody might find them valuable, so I wouldn't dissuade anybody from reading them, but don't get discouraged if much of them goes over your head and you find the problems too hard for you.

These books are targeted towards dan players, and reasonably strong dan players at that; when in doubt, I've put books in the intermediate section instead. (Unless they are dictionaries/encyclopedias, in which case I've put theme here; there's no reason why a kyu player wouldn't find the dictionaries listed here to be forbidding, though frankly I doubt that they'd actually help a kyu player's game much.) Really, though, there's a lot of randomness involved in my organizational system here...

Here are the dictionaries/encyclopedias:

And here are the non-dictionaries:

Other Books.

This section is for books that aren't designed to teach you to get better at the game, but are instead about other aspects of the game.


This selection contains books that are out of print or out of date or not in English or less important in some other way. I've tried to include notes explaining why they're listed here instead of somewhere else.

This book is impossible to find (except in libraries), but has wonderful pictures, which I've scanned in.

These books are quite good but aren't in English.

This book is of interest only to Korean go fans:

This book is good, but it's self-published and the author is now entirely out of copies.

This is a pretty good out of print beginners' book.

This book is somewhat out of date, and there's no reason to read it instead of a better beginner's book.

The next three books are really out of date; you should certainly read better beginner's books instead.

The next book is a nice introductory pamphlet. If you're looking for an introduction to go to give to people, this might be what you want.

These books are bibliographies, of interest to collectors but not to the general go-reading public.

The next two books are the first non-introductory books published in English; they're long out of print.

These are quite old introductory books.

These entries are decent but unexceptional beginners' books that are out of print.

This book may be the worst beginners' book ever written in English:

Update to the above: I haven't compared the two directly, but I suspect that this next book takes the crown. I had thought that the art of writing bad beginners books was lost, but obviously I'm mistaken.

These books are completely superceded by The Go Player's Almanac 2001.

This entry is a series of yearbooks on amateur go.

This book is more of a vanity press book, and not interesting to anybody who doesn't care quite a bit about different rule systems.

This book is self-published and only for the specialist, though it's quite good if it's what you're looking for.

This book is a bad vanity press book.

This book is uninteresting and on a marginal topic.

david carlton <carlton@bactrian.org>

Last modified: Sun Feb 13 20:10:03 PST 2005