15 Books

shoulder cat sees farther

Recently I got nailed with the following note on Facebook or Myspace or some other damn thing:

“Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Copy the instructions into your own note, and be sure to tag the person who tagged you.”

Well, neo-Luddite that I am, I don’t want to encourage this whole walled-garden social networking thing, so I’m not going to post a note there until I can effortlessly crosspost with my blog and everywhere else. But I can come up with 15 books:

  • Godel, Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter
    Convinced me to get into Artificial Intelligence. I’ve probably read it half a dozen times. Has a fantastic layered structure that Hofstadter uses to great effect.
  • The Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky
    Opened my mind to new ways of thinking about thinking and AI. Also read it several times. Has a fantastic one-chapter-per-page format that really works well to communicate complicated ideas very simply.
  • The Feynman Lectures on Physics by Feynman, Leighton and Sands
    Taught me more about physics than the half-dozen classes I took at Georgia Tech. I’ve read it now about four times, once on paper (trying to work out as many derivations as I could as I went) and three times on audiobook.
  • Programming Pearls by Jon Bentley
    Opened my mind to new ways about both thinking and programming. The chapter on estimation blew my mind.
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
    A true epic, though it’s probably better to start with the Virtue of Selfishness if you want to understand her philosophy. Every time I think some of Atlas Shrugged’s characters are ridiculous parodies, I meet someone like them in real life.
  • Decision at Doona by Anne McCaffrey
    I must have read this a dozen times as a child. I still remember two characters: a child who was so enamored of the catlike aliens he started wearing a tail, and a hard-nosed military type who refused to eat local food so he could not develop cravings for the foods of (or attachments to the cultures of) the worlds he visited.
  • The Belgariad by David Eddings
    A great fantasy epic, with all of the scale but none of the bad writing and pointless digressions of The Lord of the Rings. I’ve heard someone dismiss Eddings as “third carbon Tolkien” but, you know what? Get over yourselves. Tolkien wasn’t the first person to write in the genre, and he won’t be the last.
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
    All of the adventure of the Lord of the Rings, but none of its flaws. The long journey through the great dark forest and the Battle of Five Armies still stick in my mind. I like this the best out of what Tolkien I’ve read (which includes The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, and the Silmarillion, and some other darn thing I can’t remember).
  • The Dragon Circle by Stephen Krensky
    Loved it as a child. Still have a stuffed dragon named “Shortflight” after this book.
  • Elfquest by Wendy and Richard Pini
    Another true epic, this time a graphic novel. Resonates with me in a way that few other fantasy epics do. I have the first 20-issue series in a massive hardbound volume which is now apparently worth a shitload of money. Out of my cold dead fingers, pry it will you.
  • Paradigms of Artificial Intelligence Programming: Case Studies in Common Lisp by Peter Norvig
    Yes, your programming can kick ass. Let Peter show you how.
  • Reason in Human Affairs by Herbert Simon
    Helped me understand the powers and the limits of human reason, and why we need emotion to survive in this complicated world.
  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
    More than anything, I appreciate this book for a few key vignettes that made me realize how important it was to understand other people and where they are coming from, and not to impose my own preconceptions upon them.
  • The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers by Ayn Rand
    Straight talk about fiction from one of its most effective writers. You don’t have to agree with Ayn Rand’s personal philosophy or even like her fiction books to learn from this book; half her examples are drawn from authors she personally doesn’t agree with.
  • In the Arena by Richard Nixon
    Straight talk about surviving in politics from one of its most flawed yet effective masters. A glimpse into the workings of a brilliant mind, broken down into different sections on different aspects of life. Don’t bother reading this if you feel you owe a debt to your personal political leanings to say something nasty about Richard Nixon in every sentence in which you mention him simply because Nixon did some bad things. (Note: I think that Nixon’s alleged crimes are the worst of any President, because they attacked his political opponents, undermining our democracy. However, his political philosophy, once divorced from his personal paranoia, is something very important people need to understand).

What did I forget? The Bible, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Das Energi by Paul Wilson, The Celestine Prophecies by James Redfield, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, One Two Three Infinity by George Gamow, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Unfinished Synthesis by Niles Eldredge, Neutron Star by Larry Niven, The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov, the collected works of Martin Gardner, Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai, Albedo Anthropomorphics by Steven Galacci, and of course, Van Nostrand’s Scientific Encyclopedia, the Volume Library, and before that, back in the dawn of time, the World Book Encyclopedia. Read into that list what you will.

Blogosphere, consider yourselves tagged – your turn.

-the Centaur

Cost of a taxi from SFO to MTV: ~$90. Cost of BART+Caltrain: $5.75. Hm … this green thing has more advantages than just feeling good about "saving the environment". Of course, it takes way the heck longer and many of the trains aren't full, so I need to add public transit to my things to study.