Hackers & Painters
by Paul Graham
With smartphones and cameraphones the first choice of many people, the fact of the matter is that we’re carrying computers in our pockets. We should learn how to make them suit our needs and sometimes that means hacking them so they work in ways to suit us best. Paul Graham understands this and he tells more about it by getting inside the head of hackers.
I first read this book about a year ago. That time, I was using a lot of C++ and Java. And I thought that Graham was being overly biased with Lisp. Then I started learning Ruby, Python and also some Perl. Re-reading some chapters showed me just how true what Graham says. There is an increasing trend toward languages that can indeed be shaped to fit the application. Ruby on Rails is a good example of this. And finally, I am going to take the plunge and see what Lisp is all about.
Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life
by Steven Johnson
Though popular science is writing for the masses, it’s honest and investigative and is teaching a lot about the ever-fascinating subject of the brain. It is a fascinating read with lots of long-decay ideas, in Steven Johnson’s words. He takes a crack at merging neuroscience and subjective experience in a new book.
The Innovator’s Dilemma
by Clayton M. Christensen
It’s often overlooked that innovation is little more than looking at something that already exists, only from a different perspective. Doing so creates the “disruption” that many business folks – particularly marketers strive for. It is the central premise Clayton M. Christensen, and Michael E. Raynor takes in the follow-up to The Innovators Dilemma, The Innovator’s Solution (excerpted here in USA Today). Interestingly, 1981 signaled the end of Sony’s disruptive Odyssey, and for the next eighteen.
Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern
by Douglas R. Hofstadter
It is an excellent description of all kinds of works of genius; Hofstadter, in his Chopin essay in Metamagical Themas points out the same simplicity, inevitability, and surprisingness in the composer’s music. (Was Chopin a homely dude or what?)
I would also like to recommend Metamagical Themas for DRH’s insight on sexism in language. He includes a great satire on sexist language; wherein he replaces all uses of the man with white. The article is from a bigot’s perspective and denigrates those who want to replace these “white” containing words with racially sensitive ones. Shifting the paradigm from sexist language, which seems so normal to us, to racist language, which stirs so many strong emotions is an incredible way to highlight.
Genius : The Life and Science of Richard Feynman
by James Gleick
You get to learn about some of the murky backwaters of quantum mechanics without getting all confused since all of that is sprinkled across the easier to follow life story of Richard Feynman. Surely Feynman is one of the most fun-to-read-about figures in 20th century science, and Gleick is one of the most fun-to-read science writers.
The Futurological Congress: From the Memoirs of Ijon Tichy
by Stanislaw Lem
An unrelenting bombardment of social and technological fragments from an absurd nearer-future “psychemized” society. Masses of great throwaway ideas, with a few highly powerful ones guaranteed to stick, and the lists and lists of highly-specific mood-altering chemicals are glorious.
by Neal Stephenson
Anti-climactic ending notwithstanding, Cryptonomicon is not only a great read, but it’s also a must read for all geeks, particularly those with an (even passing) interest in cryptology. Neal Stephenson doesn’t write short, but he does write well. I’ve given it out as Christmas, birthday presents, etc., more times than I can count. What I loved about that book is that, to me, it described how math-oriented people think, and I have so seldom seen that represented in literature anywhere. Highly recommended.
Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence
by Andy Clark
A very thought-provoking book about the relationships we develop with our technologies and environments. Clark manages to strike that difficult balance between being intellectually serious and accessible.
Blue Mars (Mars Trilogy)
by Kim Stanley Robinson
The third book in the Mars Trilogy. While it is much slower than the other two books, it has a certain maturity and wistfulness, like the wizened characters that have seen so much of the “history” of Mars and the “hypermalthusian” age. It touches on overpopulation, a flooded earth, colonization of the solar system, ecoterrorism, real participatory democracy, writing a new constitution, matriarchy, memory, extended life technology (anti-aging), etc… I wouldn’t call it masterful (Green Mars fit that category, I say), but it was endearing, educational, eye-opening, inspirational, required reading for the new century.
by Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, John Vlissides
A must have for anyone building complex applications. Great concepts, great ideas, and presented in a very appealing manner.
Our Own Devices : The Past and Future of Body Technology
by Edward Tenner
A must-read book if you are interested in human augmentation. The book explores the body parts and the future of bio-mechanical concepts.
Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks
by Mark Buchanan
This book seems to take off where “Linked” ends. It offers a summary of the work of Barbassi and adds some new insights into the Scale-Free conceptualization of networks.
Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace
by Lawrence Lessig
Excellent introduction to Internet legal issues; especially the “Four Puzzles from Cyberspace.”
Apple: The Inside Story of Intrigue, Egomania, and Business Blunders
by Jim Carlton, Jim Apple Carlton
The story of Apple’s first 20 years and the company’s near collapse in 1997. Better than ‘Dallas’.
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
by Edward R. Tufte
Fantastic. You’ll never look at data graphics the same way again. The only downside is that I realized I don’t have enough data in my life ever to merit a graph – everything is better suited for simple tables.
The End of Oil : On the Edge of a Perilous New World
by Paul Roberts
There are lots of books out now about the end of oil. Paul Roberts does a better than average job describing the impacts. This is not a light or happy read. If you want to be scared, read it. If you have already read The Prize or seen the End of Suburbia, you already know everything. Not seminal work, but worth the read.