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Pleasure-reading for the technology-minded

By Sax Maniac in Culture
Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 10:49:58 PM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)

I've seen lots of stories about particular books recommendations when it comes to programming. However, I'm interested in your recommendations for pleasure reading. What kind of books would you recommend to other friends with similar taste- even if they hated computers with a passion?

Chances are, if you're a hacker, your professional interests overlap a little with your choice of books: you might enjoy reading the lines of code in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, or stretching your mind's boundaries with Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.

I must admit that I'm enough of a geek that, in my free time, I even sit at home and read technical books The C++ Programming Language from end to end. However, for the purposes of this discussion, I'd like to avoid such things. Please, no recommendations for (albeit great) books like Advanced Programming in the UNIX Environment. I want to hear about books that you'd even recommend to non-programmers.

Though I'm loathe to stereotype all hackers, there seems to be a few very popular genres of books that appeal to the techonolgy-minded. No scientific evidence, of course, just what I've seen from my friends both off-line and on:

  1. Science Fiction (Asimov, etc.)
  2. Technological Thriller (Crichton, Preston & Child)
  3. Fantasy (Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Weis & Hickman)
Why I'm Asking

I've always had my own preference for reading, which aligns very closely to what I've written here. When Cryptonomicon first came out, I heard enough press on it on that other site, and in general, so I decided to check it out. Of course, I loved it, and wanted to read more.

Recalling Stephenson's name on the book list at the end of the Jargon File, I started reading from there, beginning with Hofstadter's magnum opus. So far, I've been very pleased with each of the books on the list. If you like any of the books that you've seen so far, chances are you'll like the books on their list.

By posing this question to the community, I hope we can assemble a much larger list of fiction and non-fiction for everyone to try. I'm going to run out of books on the Jargon File's list soon!

Personal Recommendations

I've read plenty of books in the thriller genre, but I'm just getting started to get into fantasy and sci-fi. I'm going to stick to what I know best and recommend the best thrillers I've read so far:

Stephen King's The Stand. Considered by many of his fans the be his finest work. If you think all of King's work is B-grade horror-- ghosts and ghoulies and blood and guts, you're in for a great surprise. This book is very unusual compared to his other books, as it leans firmly towards the science-fiction side, rather than horror. Witness the apocalypse caused by a super-flu, and the aftermath of those immune.

For an encore, try The Dark Tower. Though incomplete at four volumes of a planned six or seven, it's an amazing read at a much larger (!) scope. If you're patient with it, it even begins to dovetail with plot of The Stand; one might even loosely consider it a sequel. King also starts to branch into the fantasy realm with this work. Describing this one is difficult- the Dark Tower itself, stands at the nexus of all the parallel universes, the story details one man's quest to reach and understand it.

Probably the best techo-thrillers I've ever read is Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's Relic. (If you saw the movie, that doesn't count--it was awful.) Computers, DNA sequencing, viruses, musems, and the tunnels underneath New York City all provide for a great monster story.

For an encore, try Riptide which is probably the closest legal alternative to crack there is. Everyone who I've lent it to had their life stop for a few days until finished. It's a modern tale of pirate treasure, computers, cryptanalysis, and mechanical engineering, patterned after the legend of Oak Island.

All of Preston and Child's book are this good, and along similar themes. If you like one, you'll like them all (which is not true for King!) So now, to you: what do you recommend?


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


What's your preferred pleasure reading?
o Sci-fi 37%
o Fantasy 12%
o Thriller 3%
o Other 28%
o Stuff like the ISO C89 standard so I can flame newbies on comp.lang.c 13%
o I'd rather watch reruns of Gilligan's Island than read 3%

Votes: 80
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Neal Stephenson
o Cryptonomi con
o Douglas Hofstadter's
o Gödel , Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.
o Advanced Programming in the UNIX Environment
o that other site
o book list at the end of the Jargon File
o Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
o Relic
o Riptide
o legend of Oak Island
o Also by Sax Maniac

Display: Sort:
Pleasure-reading for the technology-minded | 114 comments (106 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
Banks. (none / 0) (#2)
by pwhysall on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 05:13:59 PM EST

In his Iain M. incarnation, I particularly recommend Excession and The Player Of Games.

In his Iain (no M) incarnation, The Wasp Factory is an astonishing, gripping book - but you'll need a strong stomach. I mean it.

For the less bloodthirsty, Espedaire Street and The Bridge are marvellous; the first a rockumentary, told from the perspective of the band's songwriter, the second a marvellous flight of fancy, worthy of mention in the same sentence as Titus Groan.
K5 Editors
I'm going to wager that the story keeps getting dumped because it is a steaming pile of badly formatted fool-meme.

The Bridge (4.00 / 1) (#18)
by itsbruce on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 06:16:42 PM EST

Is a rather better book than the dirgeful Ghormenghast trilogy, IMO. Much more imaginative, way more vibrant (not hard, that last one). Titus Alone is the only book that wakes up - and then doesn't know where to go.


It is impolite to tell a man who is carrying you on his shoulders that his head smells.
[ Parent ]
In the non-fiction category: (none / 0) (#3)
by Mawbid on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 05:24:47 PM EST

'Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!' is a great read.

Been there, done that (4.00 / 1) (#4)
by kaboom on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 05:26:24 PM EST

I voted -1 because, as has already been mentioned (yes, my post is also from the department of redundancy department ;-), this is a dead horse that's already been flogged.

Besides which, not every geek fits into your neat categories. I almost never read sci-fi, fantasy, technothrillers, or the other usual suspects. I read a lot, and the 5 books I've most recently read are:

Dave Eggers, _A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius_
Jostein Gaarder, _Sophie's World_
Fagle's translation of the _Odyssey_
Andre Dubus, _The Times are Never So Bad_ (I think; one of his story collections, at any rate)
Salman Rushdie, _Shame_

it's very typical of the kind of books that are always on my "most recently read" list....

Gaarder... (none / 0) (#22)
by driph on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 07:08:03 PM EST

Sophie's World was clever and well thought out. If I were to ever teach a philosophy class, that book would be one of the texts I'd use. For anyone who hasn't read it, the book pretty much weaves together the history of philosophy while telling the story of a small girl and a mysterious person. Excellent read.

Gaarder's other book I've read, The Solitaire Mystery, while not quite up to Sophie's World, was enjoyable as well...

Vegas isn't a liberal stronghold. It's the place where the rich and powerful gamble away their company's pension fund and strangle call girls in their hotel rooms. - Psycho Dave
[ Parent ]
Sophie's World and my recommendations (none / 0) (#82)
by eofpi on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 10:02:51 PM EST

I had to read Sophie's World for IB Theory of Knowledge earlier this year. It served as a great introduction to and history of philosophy. It is also one of the few books I've had to read for school that I liked. On my list, its second only to Albert Camus' The Stranger.

    My recommendations:
  • Fiction:
    • Albert Camus: The Stranger and The Fall
    • George Orwell: 1984
    • John Knowles: A Separate Peace
    • Jostein Gaardner: Sophie's World
    • John Nance : Pandora's Clock
  • nonfiction:
    • Robert Zubrin: The Case For Mars, Islands in the Sky, and Entering Space
    • Lawrence Krauss: The Physics of Star Trek
    • Susan and Robert Jenkins: The Biology of Star Trek
    • David Koerner and Simon LeVay: Here Be Dragons: The Scientific Quest for Extraterrestrial Life

I realize now that many of these (particularly nonfiction) border on the day jobs of some hackers, but I have no day job per se (just a high school student taking the equivalent of about 17 hours of classes), so they are pleasure reading for me.

[ Parent ]

forgot one... (3.00 / 1) (#84)
by eofpi on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 11:05:58 PM EST

Alexander Solzhenitsyn(sp?): A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch

[ Parent ]
Robertson Davies (3.00 / 1) (#5)
by ana on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 05:31:38 PM EST

His novels tend to be more literature than sci-fi or whatever. But there are a couple rather geeky ones: World of Wonders (the third of the Deptford Trilogy) and The Cunning Man (2nd member of his final, alas, unfinished trilogy) come to mind. Also perhaps The Lyre of Orpheus whose main character is a very geeky music grad student (this is the 3rd member of the Cornish Trilogy; another book there involves art-forgery, another geeky persuit).

I once astonished myself and my interlocutor by saying, ``If Robertson Davies could write as fast as I read, I'd never rean anything else.''


Years go by; will I still be waiting
for somebody else to understand?
--Tori Amos

different strokes for different folks ;-) (none / 0) (#33)
by klamath on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 09:19:45 PM EST

I recently read Davies' Fifth Business for school, and I did not enjoy it. I found the writing style to be mediocre. The characters are fairly boring, without anything remarkable or interesting about them. The plot begins slowly, and the initial setting (a small town in Canada) is described in too much detail. The main catalyst in the plot is far from profound, and the way the plot unfolds seems simply far-fetched, rather than profound or revealing a 'greater truth'. Some characters seem to be one-dimensional (Boy, Leola, his parents) while I would have liked others to have been described in more detail (Father Blazon and Liesl).

I admit that Fifth Business is the only book by Davies that I've read -- are his other works better, or at least different?

[ Parent ]

Other Davies books (none / 0) (#48)
by eleftheroi on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 02:04:31 AM EST

I liked both of his trilogies that I read, but Salterton seemed to be a little bit more engaging. If you're looking for more development of some of the peripheral characters in Fifth Business, especially Liesl, then check out World of Wonders, the third book in that trilogy.

[ Parent ]
So you want recommendations? (4.00 / 1) (#6)
by Osiris on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 05:35:53 PM EST

I would not guess that you'll get any consistency in the books we recommend. Besides an interest in discussion forums, our interests in pleasure reading are likely to be extremely varied.

You like Crighton? I do too, and have found Tom Clancy's books too be similarly interesting. Other people despise them, but you really can't go wrong with _Hunt for Red October_ or _Red Storm Rising_. Avoid the OpCenter and Power Plays books, they generally suck, and are ghostwritten by other people anyway.

I read some history type books. _Tides of War_ and _Gates of Fire_, by Steven Pressfield, deal with the Peloponnesian War and Thermopylae, respectively, and are both amazing novels. _What If?_, edited by Robert Cowley, is a collection of essays on important historical military campaigns, and how the world might have been changed had they ended differently. Speaking of alternative history, Harry Turtledove writes some amazing books, but the best have to be the original Worldwar Tetrology, about aliens invading during WWII :)

I study martial arts, so my reading tends towards those topics, too. _Living the Martial Way_ by Forrest Morgan is an interesting modern one, and you can't go wrong with _A Book of Five Rings_ (Musashi) or _The Art of War_ (Sun Tzu).

Will you like any of these? How the heck should I know, but I enjoyed them.

And, as a side note, the allowed HTML includes [i], [em], and [strong], but not underlining? That's obnoxious.

If you like dystopian fiction (none / 0) (#8)
by eLuddite on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 05:48:26 PM EST

I dislike scifi but A Scientific Romance bowled me over.

God hates human rights.

Good Books (none / 0) (#9)
by Bad Harmony on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 05:49:52 PM EST

Here are some of the better books that I have read recently:

Salman Rushdie (Fantasy)

  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories
Terry Pratchett (Fantasy)
  • Small Gods
  • Interesting Times
  • Johnny and the Bomb
Aaron Elkins (Mystery)
  • Twenty Blue Devils

54ş40' or Fight!

I almost never read SF these days (4.40 / 5) (#12)
by itsbruce on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 06:04:47 PM EST

Same goes for Fantasy. Read a lot of it when I was a kid. Now most of it just seems childish.

There is good writing in SF but it's rare. As with most genre fiction, the fans are predominantly deeply conservative and want the formula. Authors who don't serve it up are asking to be in a niche within a niche.

When I was a kid I never wanted a series to end. Now I prefer a book or series to come to a fitting end (having developed satisfyingly on the way there) and not drag on colourlessly - you have to have a *really* good excuse to go beyond book 3 (or even book 1) IMO.

I don't want to read enless rehashes of the last 10 books warmed up again. I'm not minded to forgive sloppy writing because there's an original idea buried under the sludge. Wondering what twist the author is going to work into an overdone formula isn't a thrill (and isn't usually a surprise either). That cuts out at least 90% of most genre fiction - and because I'm more familiar with the cliches of the SF and Fantasy genres, I'm even less forgiving of them.


It is impolite to tell a man who is carrying you on his shoulders that his head smells.
yeah. (none / 0) (#30)
by fuzzrock on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 09:16:06 PM EST

I used to be able to read crappy scifi and be happy with it. For hours and hours. Recently I get bored if there aren't interesting characters, interesting premises, and interesting discussion. Ah for those halcyon days of youth... Anyway, the last couple pleasing books I've read:

The Cassini Division
by Ken MacLeod

Some vaguely interesting discussion of the merits of political and economic systems, from an unusual perspective. Also some fairly shallow investigation of silicate and formerly-human intelligence. The main character is not the main character you expect, which is kinda cool.

by Wil McCarthy

I saw the first chapter of this in the back of 3001, a book which I did not buy. I was sufficiently fascinated by the first chapter to buy the book, and sufficiently amused by the book that I went on Amazon after I finished it and order all the other paperbacks by McCarthy they had. It hasn't gotten here yet. Whole bunch of stuff about the dangers of nanotech gone wrong. Also good characters, passable plot, and a good understanding of basic AI. The plot is merely passable, what carries the book is everything else about it. Nanotech has gone out of control, and has taken control of the inner solar system. Humanity only survives in the asteroid belt and the moons of Jupiter, protected by cold, ekeing (sp?) out an existence under constant threat of nanite attack. The book begins with rumors of cold-temperature adaptations of the nanites. Highly recommended.

[ Parent ]

The Cassini Division (none / 0) (#56)
by Gully Foyle on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 07:58:33 AM EST

The Cassini Division is the third part of a series of four books. The previous book (The Stone Canal) went into more depth about the post human stuff, and imho was a better read; possibly just because the main characters were more interesting. The first book (The Star Fraction) is great too...

If you weren't picked on in school you were doing something wrong - kableh
[ Parent ]

The SF formula? (none / 0) (#51)
by Per Abrahamsen on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 05:41:18 AM EST

> As with most genre fiction, the fans are
> predominantly deeply conservative and want the
> formula.

What is the SF formula? I haven't been able to find one. Mainstream fiction seem much more formulalistic to me.

[ Parent ]
There are a range of formula plots (none / 0) (#74)
by itsbruce on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 02:49:09 PM EST

for SF novels but it's probably more accurate to say that there are formulaic ways of dealing with specific elements (robots, impenetrable alien technology or whatever).

Mainstream fiction seem much more formulalistic to me.

Doesn't match my experience at all.


It is impolite to tell a man who is carrying you on his shoulders that his head smells.
[ Parent ]
Mainstream formula (none / 0) (#104)
by Per Abrahamsen on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 12:11:27 PM EST

Much mainstream fiction follows the formula:

1. Protagonist has come to a standstill in life.
2. Some kind of crises (internal or external) make the current situation unacceptable.
3. Protagonist come out as a changed man.

[ Parent ]
Well, one of them... (none / 0) (#75)
by error 404 on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 03:17:52 PM EST

that I read maybe 10 variations on in a row, causing me to take a couple years off SF:

Protagonist would be all-poweful but for one thing. That one thing causes the protagonist (and All That Is Good) to be enslaved and threatened with extinction.
Protagonist overcomes the one thing.
Protagonist becomes the Emperoror of Everything.

I'm not saying all SF is like that. Just way too much.

And then there were the interminably grim post-apocalyptic urban distopias. Those seem to have gone away, or at least been reduced.

Don't get me wrong - I love some SF. It's probably what I read the most. But Sturgeon's Law (%90 of SF is crap. %90 of everything is crap.) was written about SF for a reason.

Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

I never seen that parituclar formula. (none / 0) (#88)
by Per Abrahamsen on Tue Mar 13, 2001 at 05:14:55 AM EST

Have any examples?

[ Parent ]
It was a memorable wave of forgettable SF (none / 0) (#93)
by error 404 on Tue Mar 13, 2001 at 12:15:59 PM EST

The last straw was Macroscope, by Piers Anthony. Which isn't a real good example - it is a pretty good story, although once the team starts up the machine, they are pretty much omnipotent.

Had it not been the latest of a long string of less well-done stories that ended that way, it would not have bothered me.

The rest of the books were forgettable, and unfortunately, I can't remember the titles.

But the "Emperor of Everything" is a shorthand in SF criticism for a kind of power-fantasy story that is fun once in a while, but tends to be shallow and gets tedious fast.
Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

Powerful protagonists (none / 0) (#94)
by Per Abrahamsen on Tue Mar 13, 2001 at 12:55:43 PM EST

Cart: _Enders Game_, Herbert: _Dune_ and Hamilton: _Night's Dawn_ are novels (or series) I can remember where the protagonist gets very powerful at some point near the end. But they don't start powerful, so they don't follow your formula. The power in the two first aren't very appealing, so I don't think they coun't as power fantasies. The protagonist in _Night's Dawn_ is so much a pulp fiction cliche that it have to be deliberate.

I haven't read Piers Anthony, I tend to choose books from authors suggested by people whose taste is close to mine, and these always claim they despite Piers Anthony.

[ Parent ]
An SF formula (none / 0) (#97)
by error 404 on Tue Mar 13, 2001 at 04:21:46 PM EST

Well, I'm not familiar with _Night's Dawn_, but _Enders Game_ and _Dune_ are exceptional stories with a great deal of depth. They clearly don't fit the pattern I was talking about.

Also, the protagonists don't suddenly end up with the power to resolve all the conflicts that arose in the course of the story. The protagonist ends up very powerful, but still limited. By contrast, in _Macroscope_, for example, the team is able to access any technology in use anywhere in the galaxy, and thus is able to solve every problem easily. (The indexing question - how to find and identify the relevant technology which may or may not be located somewhere in the galaxy - is never addressed.)

Piers Anthony is not particualrly my speed either.

I guess I wasn't real clear about the pattern I noticed. The protagonist tends to have all but one thing he needs for ultimate power. The lack of the one thing renders him either normal or less.

Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

SF is too diverse (none / 0) (#103)
by Per Abrahamsen on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 12:08:20 PM EST

I understand the formula, I just haven't seen it.

I think the problem is that sf is such a large and diverse field, that different people might have totally different impressions of it, depending on what areas of the field they see.

There are (or was) people who believe SF is about heroic male juveniles with spaceships and laserpistols, who rescue beautiful scantly clad women from bug-eyed space monsters. What they knew of SF was from the 40'ties pulp fiction.

A school teacher of mine defined SF basically as dystopia, because books like 1984 was what she had (had to) read at the university.

[ Parent ]
Absolutely (none / 0) (#110)
by error 404 on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 11:10:16 AM EST

SF is very, very diverse. Over time and if you look hard enough.

But when you just subscribe to a magazine (Asimov's, in my case, but I cancelled that a few years ago) and browse the bookstore occasionaly, you often get an overdose of whatever the current trend is.

I had high hopes that web publishing would make a wider variety of stories easily accessible. I haven't seen it though, and I'm starting to think it won't happen.

At the moment, between working full time and keeping up with technology and becoming an artist and helping my wife start a business, and dealing with four kids, I'm lucky if I find the time and energy to read a book or magazine for fun every two or three months. So I'm not having a problem getting tired of trendy stuff - by the time I read it, it's old.

Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

Fandom (none / 0) (#111)
by Per Abrahamsen on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 11:27:11 AM EST

Well, I don't read magazines or go to conventions, so I probably miss any trends. There is so much good stuff written years ago, that I see no reason to rush out for the latest. Maybe it is different or people who are part of the fan community, and need to be able to talk about the latest stuff.

[ Parent ]
Lists (4.00 / 1) (#16)
by mystic on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 06:11:07 PM EST

I have been trying to compile a list of books I have read, at my website. This was inspired by the book list that Matt Michie keeps on his website.

You may want to look at these two.

tom clancy (2.50 / 2) (#17)
by rebelcool on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 06:14:02 PM EST

i usually find myself reading tom clancy books, though unless you've read the earlier ones some parts of the later books dont make much sense (i wouldnt recommend reading The Bear and the Dragon until after you've read Debt of Honor and Executive Orders)

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

My suggestions (4.00 / 4) (#20)
by Skippy on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 06:35:14 PM EST

  • Beggars in Spain - Nancy Kress
  • Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
  • Hyperion - Dan Simmons
  • Starship Troopers - Robert Heinlien
    The first 3 have sequels of lesser, but still good, quality.


  • Anything by Steven Brust
  • Most stuff by Charles De Lint
    The Vlad Taltos books by Brust are sort of like the Stainless Steel Rat books in a sci-fi setting with much better character development. De Lint's stuff is modern urban-setting fantasy heavy on the damaged characters.


  • Tao Te Ching
  • I Ching
  • The Conference of Birds - A Sufi Fable
    Get the Ellen Chen translation of the Tao Te Ching and avoid ALL philosophical translations by Thomas Cleary.


  • William Blake (RULES!!!)
  • John Keats
    As I mentioned above, William Blake is the shit!

    # I am now finished talking out my ass about things that I am not qualified to discuss. #
  • Philosophy (4.00 / 3) (#21)
    by klamath on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 06:41:00 PM EST

    Do any other K5ers enjoy reading philosophy? I personally have become interested in libertarianism, so I've been reading philosophy related to that. In particular, I've enjoyed Ayn Rand's works, such as The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. I've also started reading some of her non-fiction (The Virtue of Selfishness, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, etc). I'd highly recommend any of her books (although if you're new to her ideas, her fiction books are more easily digestable). Whether you agree with Rand or not, it's very interesting reading. I've also heard "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do" and "The Great Libertarian Offer" are good, but I haven't read either of them yet. They do seem to be lighter reading than Rand.

    I own a copy of Cryptonomicon, but I've never been able to get more than 100 pages into it before I lose interest. I'll try again soon, but maybe I just don't "get it". Did anyone else not immediately enjoy it? Are his other books (Snow Crash, The Diamond Age) more approachable?

    I used to be into fantasy (D&D, etc), and I thought R. A. Salvatore's books were fantastic. On the other hand, I found Tolkien's work to be somewhat over-hyped. Yes, it was groundbreaking and founded an entire new genre of literature (and culture), but as a work of art by itself, I wasn't too impressed.

    Stephenson (4.00 / 1) (#23)
    by Demona on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 07:20:27 PM EST

    I found Snow Crash to be poppy yet smart, with characters I could understand and emphathize with but which never got me to care about them as people. Cryptonomicon had a lot of good ideas but hardly ever "grabbed" me except for the part where the protagonist is in jail. The Diamond Age, however, is a perfect blend of great ideas, great writing and great characters -- the last being most important to me because if I don't care about the people, everything else is mostly going to waste. In fact, Diamond Age and Clive Barker's Weaveworld are the only fiction books written after my adolescence that made me cry.

    [ Parent ]
    Ayn Rand was good when I was in high-school ... (5.00 / 3) (#25)
    by istevens on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 07:41:02 PM EST

    Ayn Rand was fine when I was in high-school but her ideas are too black and white for my current tastes. (ie. it's either capitalism or communism in her books - no middle ground) The same goes for her characters: they are either good or evil, in support of the protagonist or against him. I loved Ayn Rand's fiction when I was too young to know any better but reading them now I find them hopelessly naive. Mind you, Rand's books are OK reading but if you ignore all her obvious attempts to ram her blend of idealism down your throat (with speeches that drone on for dozens of pages) then all you're left with is a mediocre romance genre.

    If you're interested in modern thought along similar lines, John Ralston Saul's books, among others, have done it for me. Try reading his The Unconscious Civilization which talks about our increasingly conformist and corporatist society or Voltaire's Bastards. If you're in the mood for heavier reading then Noam Chomsky fits the bill. You could either go for his books on linguistics (Chomsky hierarchy anyone?) or try his anti-corporatist books.
    Weblog archives
    [ Parent ]

    thanks! (3.33 / 3) (#29)
    by klamath on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 09:01:54 PM EST

    Actually, I am still in high school -- what that says about Rand's ideas, I'm not sure ;-) Thank you for your comments and suggestions: I'll definately take a look at Saul's books.
    Ayn Rand was fine when I was in high-school but her ideas are too black and white for my current tastes. (ie. it's either capitalism or communism in her books - no middle ground)
    One could argue that that's romanticism for you. She isn't writing to portray the architect in the office down the street, the average factory owner, or the typical man. She is describing her vision of the 'ideal' man -- Howard Roarke, John Galt, etc. Man as he could and should be. And in contrast, she shows the reader exactly what she feels man should not be: Peter Keating, Ellsworth Toohey, etc.
    The same goes for her characters: they are either good or evil, in support of the protagonist or against him.
    IMHO, a book dealing with various shades of grey would be more boring than the stark examples of 'good' and 'evil' painted in Rand's works. She is describing a philosophy, and rather than specifying each tenet in detail, she effectively writes this: "Here, this is what I mean". And when she describes those ideals which disagree with her own, she does not bother to describe the mediocre, the everyday case of incompetence and contradiction: she shows us exactly what she thinks is the ultimate conclusion of the ideas she is arguing against. From Rand's notes on The Fountainhead: "Peter Keating -- The exact opposite of Howard Roarke, and everything a man should not be."
    Mind you, Rand's books are OK reading but if you ignore all her obvious attempts to ram her blend of idealism down your throat (with speeches that drone on for dozens of pages)
    Well, I think if you read Rand's books without any interest in her 'blend of idealism', you're probably not going to be very satisfied. I find Rand's books interesting partly because of her visualization of ideals: the ideals of her philosophy. That's why I find her books appealing: not only are they great, well-written stories, they also advocate a greater truth.

    [ Parent ]
    Heh (4.50 / 2) (#40)
    by kaboom on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 11:50:13 PM EST

    That's why I find her books appealing: not only are they great, well-written stories, they also advocate a greater truth.

    But that's exactly the point! Her books are *not* well-written. Real authors can write a book with an ideological slant, yet still manage to spare the reader the agony of slogging through a 50-page tirade inserted randomly into the mouth of the protagonist. Someone like Dostoyevski, for example, (see especially _Crime and Punishment_) will write with a guiding philosophy at least as deep-rooted as Rand's warmed-over rehash of Adam Smith, yet do so without having to beat the reader into submission.

    And then there's the hopeless mess of her actual philosophical system. She claims to hate Kant and disagree with everything he says, yet bases her moral philosophy on Kant's Categorical Imperative (a basis which is fundamentally incompatible with the egoism she claims to derive from it). Basically Aristotelian, she derives from Aristotle the same conceptual view of substance as Leibniz did, but without the essential detail Leibniz showed was necessary for that viewpoint to work (ie, some sort of omniscient being). She claims to avoid the duality of the Aristotelian view of essences, which if it were true would mean that her system is necessarily subjective (exactly what she claims her system isn't). etc.

    [ Parent ]

    Rand != Smith (3.00 / 1) (#41)
    by nads on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 12:10:06 AM EST

    Rand is distinct from Smith. Smith justified capitalism through a variation of utilitarnism and sorta through this humans have inherent moral limits that keep them in check. Rand on the other hand deems selfishness a virtue and abhors 'self-sacrifice'. I agree that 50 page rant by Galt was unnecessary and excessive. In my opinion the book would have been fine without it. Allt he points he made in the speech were basically expressed elsewhere in the book. I guess she wanted to be explicit at teh end for people who missed the message. You could however have easily skipped that chapter and for the most part been ok.

    [ Parent ]
    re: Heh (3.00 / 1) (#43)
    by klamath on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 12:31:26 AM EST

    I knew mentioning Rand would devolve into an argument... ;-)
    Her books are *not* well-written. Real authors can write a book with an ideological slant, yet still manage to spare the reader the agony of slogging through a 50-page tirade inserted randomly into the mouth of the protagonist.
    Well, I guess it's a question of taste -- I think her books are well written. I agree though, that Galt's speech is a bit overdone, but other than that, I think that the embedded philosophy in Rand's writing makes for good reading.
    Basically Aristotelian, she derives from Aristotle the same conceptual view of substance [...]
    I don't know enough about philosophy yet to be able to comment, except that Rand says that she took one thing from Aristotle (logic), and disagrees with almost everything else. Could you elaborate on how Rand borrows from Aristotle?
    She claims to hate Kant and disagree with everything he says, yet bases her moral philosophy on Kant's Categorical Imperative
    How so? How is Rand's philosophy based on Kant's Categorical Imperative? I've never seen a reference to it in any of her writings, and I personally can't see the connection -- especially given that the obvious implications of the Categorical Imperative disagree with the rest of her philosophy.

    [ Parent ]
    I liked "Atlas Shrugged" (none / 0) (#76)
    by error 404 on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 03:41:50 PM EST

    But then I opened the cover, and read what seemed like 10,000 pages (although it probably wasn't more than 150 before I gave up) of that whiney railroad princess failing to comprehend that her decisions affect people other than herself. I guess I was supposed to be horrified that there are political considerations to take into account even if you inherit a major industry fair and square, and that it isn't enough to be right if you can't be bothered to let the people affected know you are right and how your rightness benefits them.

    I really, really tried to read it. But it was just too slow and full of itself.

    And it's not just that I'm not impressed with the philosophy. Heinlein and several related authors present similar philosophy in stories that work as fiction.

    I'm not a reader that needs a thrill a minute. I read lots of philosophy. Plato (for example) didn't exactly crank out the page-turners, and I didn't have any trouble with his stuff.
    Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
    - Donovan

    [ Parent ]

    Current favorite authors (4.50 / 4) (#24)
    by theboz on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 07:35:50 PM EST

    These are probably too obvious for some people, but I'll go ahead and list them:

    Michael Chrichton (Sci-fi) - Almost anything by this guy is good. The thing is that he has a decent understanding of science and technology so that he can write some books that don't seem that far fetched. The fact that even the movie version of Jurassic Park had the effect of people getting on the news to tell the unwashed masses it's nearly impossible was a good sign of that. Sphere is one of my favorite books by him, although it starts out pretty slow. Basically, you already know the basic plot behind a lot of his books from seeing so many movies made from them, but the books are a whole lot better. If you have ever read Beowulf, read his book "Eaters of the Dead" for a realistic version of Beowulf (the movie "The 13th Warrior" was based on this book, although the movie sucked.)

    Piers Anthony (Fantasy) - I tend to like this guys books for some reason. Sometimes he hits it on the head and has a good books, other times they are boring rehashes of a plot in a previous book. The ones I like the best are from a series I forgot the name of. The books are "On a Pale Horse" which talks about the incarnation of Death, and "For Love of Evil" which talks about Satan. I seem to remember reading a book by him called "Ox" or somethingeranother and it sucked too much for me to read it very long, so I'd avoid that.

    Douglas Addams (Sci-fi/Humor) - This guy is one of the essentials. Read the entire "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" trilogy (warning, it's something like 5 or 6 books, I forgot.) This author has a way of combining sarcasm, scifi, and silliness in a way that can only be described as a combination Monty Python with Star Wars in a book.

    Carl Sagan (Fiction/Philosophy/Science) - This guy was not only a brilliant scientist, he was a great writer and teacher as well. Carl Sagan's books are some of the few that you can enjoy reading and walk away from more intelligent as well. The book "Contact" is a decent place to start I guess. If you saw the movie and thought it was good (I thought it was great), the book is better. Just read it. Also, read some of his books like "Cosmos" and "The Demon-Haunted World." They deal more with history and philosophy than being works of fiction, but they are very interesting reads.

    Also, try some classic literature. If you can get past the old English, Shakespeare has written some really great books. It took me a while before I was able to understand them, but now that I can figure out what the hell the characters are talking about I think they are great.

    Another thing that is a category rather than an author, is biographies. By reading biographies of famous people you can learn what they did to be successful, and where they fell short. It's interesting to know what some people were like and what they went through in life. Of course, this can be taken further to history, which I am also interested in. The only problem is that there are not a lot of interesting history books out there that I know of (ok, I don't know of any interesting history books) but I've talked to history teachers that make it sound a lot better than simply dates and facts.


    Piers Anthony, etc. (4.00 / 1) (#39)
    by warpeightbot on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 11:11:54 PM EST

    The series name you're looking for is Incarnations of Immortality. Seven medium-sized stories, relatively complete within themselves, but when taken as a whole are a multigenerational saga, the last book of which will really mess with your mind (if you haven't had it messed with alreddie.) The end notes to each book form a similar series in real life, chronicling the life and times of a quasi-luddite science fiction author being dragged kicking and screaming into the twentieth century, and also makes a good commentary on the available technology of the time. Much better than the Phase/Proton series, which seemed to warrant a Gold membership in OnAndOnAnon. No, I haven't touched Xanth.

    Asimov is another example of a huge epic cycle of stories that make for a good read. IIRC it ended up being twelve books, between Robots, Foundation, the sequels and prequel to Foundation, and the notes that Brin, Bear, and Benford fleshed out....

    Katherine Kurtz has two good series going, the Deryni (ye gods, that's a lot of books) and the Adept series.... the latter of which I would classify as "speculative fiction" (ahem).... oh, and don't go anywhere near Lammas Night unless you want your head messed with.

    On the other hand, if you want good, self contained stories, try Heinlein. Or (to venture into regular drama) Grisham. (I couldn't put The Verdict down.) Larry Bond blurs the line between military and SF and produces some chilling near-future scenarios... all of those self-contained, too.

    But if I'm going to mention military, I've got to mention the master (although this returns to serieship): Clancy. So good and so accurate (I've caught very few goofs) it scared the bejeezus out of the Navy... and spawned a series of non-fictional overviews of the state of the art of military tech, starting with Submarine. If you liked "Red October" you'll love the books.

    I could go onandonAnon but I think I've mentioned a few that most people won't; they'll keep your reader queue full for a good little while, even as voracious as the original poster seems to be.

    [ Parent ]

    House of Leaves (5.00 / 1) (#26)
    by SIGFPE on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 08:02:58 PM EST

    Check out House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski. It's a kind of Blair Witch Project but in the form of a book. It's very 'meta' so that might appeal to a few geeks - it's a story within a story relayed by an unreliable witness. It's the weirdest looking book if you flick through it - fonts set in every direction with the layout of the text reflecting the story. Bizarre footnotes abound and at the core is a great creepy tale. And no...they're not broken links above...the word house always appears in blue for some reason...even in the publisher's name on the frontispiece...as if it's a hyperlink. Very postmodern and very strange...
    Re: House of Leaves (none / 0) (#63)
    by trust_no_one on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 11:33:20 AM EST

    Let me second the recommendation of this book. It's not easy reading; there are long stretches where the main narrative is disrupted by long footnotes which tell their own story, and the typographical tricks can be distracting. There are several puzzles within the book for those who are into those things (eg. in a chapter titled SOS there's a Morse code message embedded). But I find that I keep thinking about this book, even weeks after having finished it.

    For what it's worth, the author is the brother of the singer Poe, whose CD Haunted I devoted a Diary Entry to. The CD and the book are intertwined in some ways, although they both stand independently.

    I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused
    [ Parent ]

    Third (none / 0) (#71)
    by ucblockhead on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 01:31:11 PM EST

    Let me third that recommendation. Best book I've read in years.
    This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
    [ Parent ]
    Stop me before I kill again! (none / 0) (#85)
    by CdotZinger on Tue Mar 13, 2001 at 01:04:20 AM EST

    Since there's already a little piling-on here of the see-I'm-hip rushing to agree that this book is "very postmodern and very strange" and how they're all haunted, it's so new and wonderful &c.--

    No. Do not bother with this hyped-up mess. People who like this book are, in my experience, a) people who haven't read any other books, but they heard about this one in Spin (TOS's Katz, for example) or b) people who have shelves full of Barth, Barthelme, Borges, Calvino, Coover et al to show you at their dinner parties, but who haven't gotten past page one of any of them (because they actually are very postmodern and very strange and very time-wasting for the hipster, who has to get to the store and get some brie and some D-Zs to fill out his Alphabetized Postmodernism Collection).

    House of Leaves is a very bad Stephen King story (a lot like It and The Stand and Desperation and The Night Flier and ...) and a very bad sub-Bukowskian confessions-of-a-tattooed-dirtbag-who-fucks-every-hottie-he-meets story, crimped together very, very, very sloppily (and it's not an interesting-sloppy like Kathy Acker or Richard Grossman make--it's a sloppy-sloppy, like L. Ron Hubbard or Aleister Crowley), with some ill-designed "typographic play" sprayed on to make you think it's, you know, postmodern or something, because it's, like, confusing and hurts my head and stuff.

    House of Leaves is to "postmodern" what Vanilla Ice is to gangsta rap. It's as strange as a Gap ad.

    Frankly, I doubt the author exists (though probably he does); the only way I can explain such an amateurish book getting so much attention is that Bret Easton Ellis, Gregory Maguire, and Jonathan Lethem (the three not-bad authors who blurbed House of Leaves with such (hopefully) put-on Second-Coming effusion it's impossible to take it seriously) must have got together over a weekend, drank a lot of St. Ides, and threw the book together as a performance-art experiment, to see how famous an impossibly shitty book could become, just by looking "postmodern," begging comparison to the most recent monster-entertainment-hype (Blair Witch), and by their, three of the most famous just-past-hip, once-hyped writers, having blurbed it. I wish.

    (The letters from Truant's mother at the end of it are kind of okay though; they'd get a solid C- in any MFA fiction class.)

    Q: You could interest yourself in these interesting machines. They're hard to understand. They're time-consuming.
    A: I don't like you.
    [ Parent ]

    I assure you I have read... (none / 0) (#95)
    by SIGFPE on Tue Mar 13, 2001 at 01:01:54 PM EST

    ...all of my Borges and Calvino, I've never heard of Barthelme or Coover, haven't heard the hype about HOL (maybe because I've never read any website/magazine/journal/newspaper that hypes fiction like that, maybe because there wasn't any hype) and keep my modern fiction collection hidden well away from any dinner parties I have. However I'm sure you know better than me because I'm judging from a sample size of one and I've never met another person who's read it.

    Maybe you shouldn't worry so much about what's hip and what's not.
    [ Parent ]

    If you like House of Leaves (none / 0) (#105)
    by sparkles on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 01:52:20 PM EST

    I just started House of Leaves this morning on the bus, so I'm no expert yet, but if you like the sort of wordplay/puzzle that I gather HoL uses, you might also like some of the following:
    • Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars and Landscape Painted with Tea (Actually, any Pavic, those are just my favorites.)
    • Robert Nye's Tales I Told My Mother
    • Georges Perec's Life: A Users' Manual and A Void
    They all have sort of 'gimmicks' to them, to varying degrees, and all are good reads. ('Gimmick' sounds so pejorative here, and I don't mean for it to.)

    [ Parent ]
    Just received a copy of A Void from alibris.com (5.00 / 1) (#108)
    by SIGFPE on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 07:56:20 PM EST

    I must say stuff about 'A Void' as its gimmick is amazing. Basically it's a story using only 25 26ths of our ABC - dropping its fifth and most popular. Amazingly it had that constraint originally in Francais - it was a task to publish it in our idiom. As you might think it was a tricky thing to do and its author is smart. I'm finding damn it hard to copy his approach! In an amazing part its protagonist finds a communication missing any i's but spots just that missing non-consonant!

    Alas! This is too hard!
    [ Parent ]

    Lem and Borges (5.00 / 3) (#27)
    by madams on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 08:08:27 PM EST

    Stanislaw Lem is a cultural theorist masquerading as a science fiction author. I would particularly recommend his A Perfect Vacuum, which is a collection of reviews for books that don't exist.

    And if you like Lem, Borges is a definite must (to understand Lem, you must read Borges and to understand Borges you must read Lem).

    Mark Adams
    "But pay no attention to anonymous charges, for they are a bad precedent and are not worthy of our age." - Trajan's reply to Pliny the Younger, 112 A.D.

    More recomendations (3.50 / 2) (#28)
    by khym on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 08:24:17 PM EST


    • The Pride of Chanur - C.J. Cherryh, one of my favorite authors. The Pride is a fun space opera, but don't think you can skim it; she never wastes any words.
    • The Long Run - Daniel Keys Morran


    • The Garret Series - Glen Cook. Hardboiled detective books in a fantasy setting; not serious, but real fun reads. Titles include Petty Pewter Gods, Sweet Silver Blues, Dread Brass Shadows, and anything with a similar title.
    • The Black Company - Glen Cook. A great series, especially if you like "dark" fantasy. Following the story of the mercenary company the Black Company, nothing in this universe is totally black or totally white, but rather infinite shades of gray.
    • The Tough Guide to Fantasyland - Diana Wynne Jones. Hilarious! A guide, written in the form of a dictionary, to a stereotypical fantasy world.
    • The Magic of Recluse - L.E. Modesitt, Jr.


    • The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins. A great, easily readable explanation of evolution.
    • How to Lie With Statistics - Darrell Huff. A classic, shows you how to recognize various forms of statistical mistakes and manipulations.
    • Parliment of Whores - P. J. O'Rourke. "A lone journalist tries to explain the entire United States government." A very funny collection of essays and articles on the U.S. government; plus, you might actually learn a thing or two along the way. Any of his other non-fiction writings are guaranteed to get some laughs.

    Give a man a match, and he'll be warm for a minute, but set him on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.
    mmm... books. (4.00 / 3) (#31)
    by base_16 on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 09:17:29 PM EST

    First off, anything by Kurt Vonnegut is great. I have two of his books sitting on my shelf right now, but I'm busy trying to finish Cryptonomicon.

    Other good reads are:

    • Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
    • A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess)
    • Illusions (Richard Bach)
    • Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson)
    • Red Sorghum (Mo Yan)
    • Necromancer (William Gibson)
    • The Cathedral and The Bazaar (Eric S. Raymond)

    this signature will be affixed to each of your comments
    Gibson (none / 0) (#45)
    by jasonab on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 12:41:09 AM EST

    Necromancer (William Gibson)
    A typo, I'm sure, but the title is Neuromancer.

    America is a great country. One of the freest in the world. -- greenrd
    [ Parent ]
    yeah... (none / 0) (#113)
    by base_16 on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 08:34:49 PM EST

    damn, well, yeah, that actually is what i meant... guess i should do a better once-over before i hit `post'.
    this signature will be affixed to each of your comments
    [ Parent ]
    Stuff I've read and enjoyed... (4.00 / 1) (#32)
    by Miniluv on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 09:18:58 PM EST

    Hrm..on the fiction side:
    David Eddings - Anything, though I particularly enjoyed The Belgariad and The Mallorean. Both are pentads, and while they aren't the most intellectually challenging, they're enjoyable fantasy with a slightly more mature wit than is the norm.

    Robert Heinlein - I strongly recommend starting with Starship Troopers and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress as they are the most digestible of his work. If you agree with his philosophy then tackling the continuation of the loose plot established in Mistress by reading The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, To Sail Beyond The Sunset, and Time Enough For Love is quite enjoyable.

    Non-fiction is what I'm getting more interested in, and I would recommend:
    Simson Garfinkle - Database Nation is a great introduction to real world, modern privacy issues. He presents a good view of how privacy has evolved over the last 30 years and how the current economy impacts consumer privacy issues. It's fairly short on the solutions side, but that's not it's intent.

    Bruce Schneier - Secrets and Lies is a thorough look at the world of modern information security, written by a highly skilled cryptographer. A somewhat depressing book with a grim outlook for the future, it's still a very worth while read which doesn't require a highly technical perspective to understand and benefit from.

    Bill Gates - Business @ The Speed of Thought is the sort of perspective many of us have, because we're inside the technology, but a lot of the non-technical world doesn't see. By benefit of being billg@microsoft.com he gets to see a lot of things we don't, and he tells an interesting set of stories, especially nice since it's not particularly Microsoft-centric.

    "Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
    Mmm books... (none / 0) (#34)
    by BigZaphod on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 09:50:07 PM EST

    You certainly can't go wrong with Douglas Adams. Read 'em all.

    Also, I greatly enjoyed a book I found when in London called "The Bridge" by Janine Ellen Young.

    And you can't miss out on "Ringworld" by Larry Niven.

    "Creation: Life and how to make it" which has a review (used lightly) up on Slashdot right now is also a very good read.

    "Weaving the Web" by Tim Berners-Lee is quite interesting.

    And then there's "The Lord of the Rings".

    That's my recommended list. :-)

    "We're all patients, there are no doctors, our meds ran out a long time ago and nobody loves us." - skyknight
    Some non-sci-fi/fantasy books that I like (none / 0) (#35)
    by cbatt on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 09:54:05 PM EST

    Anything "Sherlock Holmes" - Arthur Conan Doyle. Plain and simple fun reads. Excellent writing and amazing characterization.

    "The apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" - Mordecai Richler. Contemporary fiction "coming of age" story, and much more.

    "Otherland" series - Tad Williams. Really decent "near future" sci-fi from a very good author. Somewhat slow; if you need the pace of Snowcrash, look elsewhere.

    "Programming Ruby" - David Thomas and Andrew Hunt. Wait a minute... that's not fiction!(fnord)

    "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus" - Ludwig Wittgenstein. Philosophy... simple, clear, and precise. I like it more than his "Philosophical Investigations" (which I haven't read all of) as it suits my mind set somewhat better.

    "The Name of The Rose" - Umberto Eco. Fun fun fun. If you like mystery in the Sherlockian vein, then this is for you. Beautifully written and researched.

    Of course, I did grow up on a steady diet of Sci-Fi Fantasy, but as I've grown older (and hopefully wiser), I've come to appreciate a "good book" no matter what the genre.

    Before you can understand recursion
    you must understand recursion.

    How could I forget.. (none / 0) (#36)
    by BigZaphod on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 10:03:06 PM EST

    I forgot about "The Elegant Universe" by Brian Greene. It is one of the easiest to read hardcore physics books I've ever encountered. And even though it deals with some pretty heavy stuff, I almost consider it light reading--at least for the technically minded. :-)

    "We're all patients, there are no doctors, our meds ran out a long time ago and nobody loves us." - skyknight
    bah, read technical journals like I do (4.66 / 3) (#37)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 10:11:24 PM EST

    Well, actually, if you can avoid it, don't ;).

    One thing though. Among the suggestions that will be flying around, I'm certain that a good deal many pop science/philosphy books will be mentioned. Gödel, Escher, Bach appears in the article, while some poster mentions The Selfish Gene, which are particularly good books which happen to be exemplars of this genre.

    But I'd advise anybody to be extremely wary of this kind of book. Typically, they are written not so much as to educate the uninitiated, but as propaganda pieces for their author's ideas, some of which may be rightly dismissed by the field. They give the author the perfect opportunity to present their ideas to an audience that can't judge them, and to choose evidence selectively and ignore contradicting facts.

    And even the best books in this genre have their problems. GEB has many subtle errors in the presentation of Gödel's Theorem, though it does convey the general gist of it. It is written in a very unpretentious style (Hofstadter tells you his opinions, but doesn't claim to prove they are right). The Selfish Gene is a great book, but it is also one of the most massively misunderstood pieces of pop science ever, and it is regularly cited as evidence for a good deal many things it is not evidence for, e.g., "evolutionary psychology".

    I used to read many books in this genre when I was younger. But it's only now that I'm doing my Ph.D. that I can see how terrible most of them are.


    They're not really "terrible" (4.00 / 1) (#91)
    by Simon Kinahan on Tue Mar 13, 2001 at 08:36:37 AM EST

    They're just easily misunderstood. A lot of people read the title of "The Selfish Gene" and attribute a lot of opinions to Dawkins, such as strong genetic determinism, extreme right wing meritocratic or racist views, and ethical viewpoints that undervalue human life, that he (as a rather fluffy liberal) has repeatedly disowned. There's a book on engineering called "Quality is Free", which is repeatedly misunderstood as claiming the persuit of quality consumes no time, whereas in fact it claims that quality consumes a lot of time but always pays for itself.

    I still read those kinds of books, but I evaluate them with a lot more care than I used to. As a matter of interets, I'd be interested in seeing a reference to the errors in Hofstadter's presentation of Godel's theorem.


    If you disagree, post, don't moderate
    [ Parent ]
    but those 2 are the good ones! (none / 0) (#92)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Mar 13, 2001 at 11:29:49 AM EST

    GEB and Selfish Gene are good books indeed-- I don't see how I could have been interpreted as claiming otherwise. But I've read one too many pop science/philosophy book where I can just see the author murder the topic to come out looking right, from Dennett too Lakoff to Penrose, and the list goes on (I'm talking about stuff that nowadays I can evaluate).

    As a matter of interets, I'd be interested in seeing a reference to the errors in Hofstadter's presentation of Godel's theorem.

    I read this once, and I can't quite remember it right now-- it has something to do with Hofstadter interpreting the theorem wrong in his more intuitive explanations of what it is, and not with the sketch of how the proof goes.

    Anyway, the way he presents logic is not quite of my liking nowadays-- I can't remember fondly his "how do we know that the theorems are actually true" bit after presenting proof systems. In hindsight, I just want to shout out "Duh, you do a soundness proof".

    [ Parent ]

    four recommendations (two serious, two formula) (none / 0) (#38)
    by _Quinn on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 10:57:42 PM EST

       C.J. Cherryh's Cyteen and David Gerrold's War Against the Chtorr (series) are must-reads. Both are serious sci-fi, predicting the cultural, sociological, and psychological aspects of a particular future.

       Cherryh explores advanced bio-engineering and a hard science of psychology in the context of the bioroid meme, and how this means you could clone not only a person's body, but also (to large extent) their mind.

       Gerrold considers a more realistic alien invasion -- biological, from an ecology millions of years more evolved -- and what happens to people and society after 90% of the population dies, through the eyes of a scientist-soldier fighting the invasion.

       If you're looking for formula sci-fi, I reccomend Weber's Honor Harrington series (small space monarchy (reminiscent of England) defending itself against large socialist state (otherwise reminiscent of France), protoganist a naval officer); or Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series ((another small monarchy with big enemies)
    but in the mystery/action, rather than space-fleet-battle genre).

    Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
    Some other suggestions (4.33 / 3) (#42)
    by scheme on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 12:31:11 AM EST

    I don't see many philosophy books here so here goes:

    Anything by David Hume. If you really want to get a grip on empricism and understand some of its limitations read this.

    On a related note Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. A very influential book on how scientists work and how science really advances.

    Meditations on the first philosophy by Renee Descartes. Descartes examines what we can really be sure and comes up with an argument for the existence of God along the way. Plus, you get the bonus of being able to tell people where the term cogito ergo sum comes from and the context it is used in

    Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, Wasteland, The Hollow Men by T.S. Elliot and Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. These aren't philosophical works but they're still good reads.

    "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT'S relativity." --Albert Einstein

    My picks (none / 0) (#44)
    by slakhead on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 12:37:30 AM EST

    I used to read a lot of Piers Anthony fantasy books but then they became too derivative. Ha! Tricked you! They were already derivative but still fun to read.

    Then I was introduced to the work of Douglas Adams. I have read everything he has written several times through except for Last Chance to See and Meaning of Liff.

    Now I am enjoying the work of Hemmingway.
    I don't know what to say from the nerd standpoint except that other than Douglas Adams I have never enjoyed the stereotypical nerd books such as Dune, Foundation Series, etc...I am sure they are good but I do not enjoy them.

    I prefer more realistic fiction but if something has any good sarcasm, irony, or wordplay it is a prime candidate for my next book of the month.

    Mmm... reading (3.00 / 1) (#46)
    by cpt kangarooski on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 01:40:15 AM EST

    At the moment I'm reading "A History of Reading" by Alberto Manguel. It's really well written, and I've been enjoying it as I go to and from work on the bus every day. Particularly since I just finished the chapter on where people read! ;)

    About half of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books are good - I suggest the ones about the Night Watch particularly. (in order though!) "Good Omens," which he wrote with Neal Gaiman is also really good. John Barnes wrote "One for the Morning Glory," Peter Beagle wrote "The Last Unicorn," and Eve Forward wrote "Villains by Necessity." All three are good fantasy novels that are to various degrees aware that they're fantasy novels. (e.g. the sort of tone that was all throughout "The Princess Bride") Also, if you're willing to be brave enough to delve into the realm of insanely great comics, read "Thieves and Kings" by Mark Oakley. Brilliant stuff. ("The Replacement God" by Zander Cannon and "Sheba" by Wally Crane showed promise, but both seem to have dropped off the map)

    Tim Powers' "Last Call" is excellent. I've got his new book "Declare" on order at the library, but I've read the first few chapters and it looks great. The former is about Las Vegas, and how it ties into Arthurian myth and the Tarot. I've got some ideas about the latter, but we'll see.... Michener and Clavell are both very good, and you can often find their books sold by weight. Michener generally writes books about places that span hundreds or thousands of years. Clavell's are a little more focused, and are mostly about East Asia; everyone knows about "Shogun," but I prefer "Taipan" or "Noble House" instead.

    All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
    A few more picks... (none / 0) (#47)
    by %systemroot% on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 02:04:14 AM EST

    In Science/Technology:

    James Gleick has written quite a few good ones, including Chaos, Faster, and Genius. I'm also partial to Stephen Pinker -- How The Mind Works and The Language Instinct, Richard Dawkins -- The Selfish Gene, and Jonathan Weiner -- The Beak of the Finch.

    In SF:

    Philip K. Dick is a classic, and I can recommend his entire output. IMO, a worthy successor to his dystopian throne is K. W. Jeter -- his latest novel Noir is an amazing work that has copyright and intellectual property law as it's theme.

    Though he's unfortunately left SF for mainstream pastures, Jonathan Lethem has written quite a few amazing books, and I cannot speak highly enough of Jeff Noon, author of Vurt, Pollen, and others.


    I don't normally read it, but on the advice of a friend I just recently picked up George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones which I am enjoying immensely, wonderful character development and plotting.


    Recommendation (none / 0) (#49)
    by Remmis on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 02:08:29 AM EST

    I would recommend the usual stuff like sci-fi and fantasy. Though, I find it odd that no one has mentioned Arthur C. Clarke for sci-fi, and my favorite fantasy author is Raymond E. Feist. I haven't really read any Feist since high school, and maybe I wouldn't even like it anymore, but the Riftwar books were the best.

    The last book I read is called "The Tao of Physics" by Fritjof Capra. It is also probably one of the best books I've read along the thread of philosophy. In general, it compares modern physics with eastern mysticism, (two subjects I enjoy greatly) and argues that the two studies are really working toward the same goal. (calling eastern mysticism 'one study' is obviously a gross generalisation, he does get into the individual faiths)

    Two Big Uns (none / 0) (#50)
    by yooden on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 05:08:51 AM EST

    I wonder why one of the Founding Fathers is not mentioned yet: John Brunner

    Brunner wrote three important books about three important topics:
    Stand on Zanzibar - Overpopulation
    Sheep look up - Environmental pollution
    Shockwave Rider - Ubiquitious networks

    All three are milestones of SF, so if you're interested in SF, read them. All three cover a topic of huge importance for our lives, so if you're interested in your life, read them. When I read 'Sheep look up', I was impressed of the accuracy of Brunner's tale, even more so because sometimes you can see that the book is from the sixties.
    The first two are written in a style that is possibly the only style to write books these days: Fast, chopped, unsettling, confusing.

    Stephenson's 'Snow Crash' is the archetypical geek novel: It just fits everything I see in geek culture and has a very nice plot. This is the one book to buy if you are geek.

    The Sheep Look Up (none / 0) (#65)
    by 0xdeadbeef on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 11:56:48 AM EST

    The Sheep Look Up, accurate? I'm not sure how well Brunner researched the many ailments and chemical compounds portrayed in the novel, but as a prediction it is far from accurate. I don't see many people wearing breathing masks in large cities, or acid rain ruining clothing.

    Though I don't think it supposed to be a prediction. The story is an allegory, a worst case scenario, a sort of 1984 for environmental awareness. Taken as such is a very fun, and somewhat thought provoking, novel, much like Shockwave Rider.

    If only I could find Stand on Zanzibar in one of the local used bookstores...

    If you liked Sheep and Snow Crash, you'd probably like Stephenson's Zodiac.

    [ Parent ]

    The Sheep Look Up (none / 0) (#69)
    by yooden on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 01:04:27 PM EST

    The Sheep Look Up, accurate?
    You cannot take it to a pharmacy as a shopping list, it's just an accurate allegory. The feeling is right.

    If you liked Sheep and Snow Crash, you'd probably like Stephenson's Zodiac.
    Yes, but it doesn't come near either one.

    [ Parent ]
    Robert Rankin (none / 0) (#52)
    by PenguinWrangler on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 06:34:00 AM EST

    Just read anything you can get by Robert Rankin, but I'd recommend starting off with his Brentford Trilogy, the first book of which is called "The Antipope".

    Forget Douglas Adams, he's a complete hasbeen. Robert Rankin is far funnier...
    "Information wants to be paid"
    Rankin (none / 0) (#72)
    by sugarman on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 01:32:09 PM EST

    This is the bguy who did the 'Armageddon: the Musical" stuff, correct? I've been looking around but he's been out-of-print for quite some time here, and finding it in the second hand stores has been nigh-impossible.

    Unfortunately, my curisosity has been piqued, and I know this quest is gonna haunt me for a while...

    [ Parent ]

    Terry Pratchett (none / 0) (#86)
    by odaiwai on Tue Mar 13, 2001 at 03:43:18 AM EST

    Rankin and Adams have already been mentioned. The best of the UK fantasy/humour writers at the moment is Terry Pratchett (http://www.lspace.org).

    Pratchett's books are complex and full of references. If you can't get them in the US/overseas, try WH Smith who seem to have them all.

    Other authors of note in the fantasy/scifi field are:

    Stephen Donaldson - The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and the Gap series. These are difficult books and you won't like the protagonists, but they're good reads nonetheless.

    The Vor books by Lois BcMaster Bujold (see Baen Books for good, witty entertainment.

    Also, David Weber's books (same site) are good entertaining hokum. A little to the right, though.

    What else? Go to any ebooks site (e.g. mobipocket) and download a pile of classics by Jules Verne, HG Wells, E.R Borroughs, etc.

    -- "They're chefs! Chefs with chainsaws!"
    [ Parent ]

    A few that have been somewhat overlooked. (none / 0) (#53)
    by Mr Tom on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 06:55:20 AM EST

    I'd go along with most of what's been suggested. but there are a few omissions, that I, and my similarily geeky friends have enjoyed. None of them are Sci-Fi, though. :-)

    * Glamorama/Rules of Attraction - Bret Easton Ellis. Much more intense, stylish, and ironically enough, nihilistic that the more famous "American Psycho"

    * Prozac Nation/Bitch - Elizabeth Wurtzel. Not a lot of geeks read long feminist tracts. (Cue mounds of "I love Germaine! followups) but perspective is good.

    * Anything by Iain Banks. (Without the M) Player of Games is particularly good, IMNSHO.

    * Requiem for a Dream - Hubert Selby Jr. It's brilliant, basically.

    ..and so many more....
    -- Mr_Tom<at>gmx.co.uk

    I am a consultant. My job is to make your job redundant.

    Iain M. Banks (none / 0) (#55)
    by Morn on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 07:45:52 AM EST

    * Anything by Iain Banks. (Without the M) Player of Games is particularly good, IMNSHO.

    I think you actually do mean Iain M. Banks (with the M), as that's the name he uses for his sci-fi books (which Player of Games is).

    I'd wholeheartedly agree.

    [ Parent ]

    Doh! (none / 0) (#66)
    by Mr Tom on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 12:02:38 PM EST

    > I think you actually do mean Iain M. Banks
    > (with the M), as that's the name he uses for
    > his sci-fi books (which Player of Games is).

    Actually, I meant without the M, and then got the book title wrong! :-)

    I was, of course, referring to Walking on Glass. My brain has gone funny. I think I may water it tonight! :-)

    -- Mr_Tom<at>gmx.co.uk

    I am a consultant. My job is to make your job redundant.
    [ Parent ]

    Philosophy & the mystical arts of ass-kicking (none / 0) (#54)
    by slaytanic killer on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 07:38:26 AM EST

    Here's one that some might not know about but may probably love: Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee.

    Unfortunately, it is an unfinished book. It was intended to be seven volumes, but he died (likely assassinated) and there was only enough material to fill one book. It was basically a book about destroying forms which entrap the mind, and to illustrate this, he went along his deepest thoughts about the martial arts.

    If only he made the movies he really wanted to make, and wrote the books he wanted to write... In some ways this book is similar to Gödel Escher Bach. GEB was about observing the mind to understand what thought is; ToJKD is about living the mind naturally, going past contradictions. Both very introspective books, and in some way answer each other.

    Dice man (none / 0) (#57)
    by Pyrrhonian on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 08:03:21 AM EST

    I'd recommend Luke Rhinehart/George <forgotten name>'s "The Diceman" to most people, its a good book with some interesting ideas about life and the personality. Go ahead and read it, could be just what your looking for. Its ISBN: 0006513905.

    eh? (none / 0) (#64)
    by Kellnerin on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 11:39:27 AM EST

    You don't remember the author's name but you know the ISBN? *boggle*
    Somebody go tell Kellnerin it's time for her to change her sig. -johnny
    [ Parent ]
    yeah, fear my mental powers (none / 0) (#79)
    by Pyrrhonian on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 06:54:47 PM EST

    nope, its just the book was back at my house, but the net was at work.

    it wasn't published under the authors name, his real name is... <reading copyright in original copy> George Cockcroft but its published under the name Luke Rhinehart, and its hardly ever mentioned on the web so I had to try and remember.

    Anyway I've got a different ISBN on this copy (god-dammit) its 0586037659 and theres me thinking those things didn't change that much.

    read the book, you might just like it.

    that reminds me a mates Win machine crashed out and he was picking over the files while bored, he found some records in ICQ's .idx files of some file copies he made...
    but the file copies were nothing to do with ICQ, were not targetted at the same drive and were conducted while ICQ was installed but not "running".

    I've searched the net anyone got any ideas as to if this is some weird coincidence or is ICQ for windows the nastiest spyware out there?

    [ Parent ]
    ISBNs (none / 0) (#81)
    by Kellnerin on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 09:56:01 PM EST

    An ISBN isn't assigned to a particular work, but to an edition of that work (hardcover, paperback, reissued by a different publisher, etc.) So chances are one of your ISBNs is out of print or harder to find ... or not :) Any clearer?
    Somebody go tell Kellnerin it's time for her to change her sig. -johnny
    [ Parent ]
    Much clearer (none / 0) (#87)
    by Pyrrhonian on Tue Mar 13, 2001 at 03:57:11 AM EST

    Thanks, I never knew exactly how they were done, much clearer now.

    Why don't they just assign one number to a work then put some sort of incremental at the end for editions anyway?

    [ Parent ]
    George R. R. Martin A Song of Ice and Fire (none / 0) (#58)
    by mcoleman0923 on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 09:01:49 AM EST

    He has been mentioned as an aside in one post, so I feel the need to site these works specifically.

    These three (of six, they are still coming out) books are

    A Game of Thrones
    A Clash of Kings
    A Storm of Swords

    I normally don't read "fantasy" save for the near obligatory LOTR. These read like some of the best historical fiction. There is an undercurrent of socerors and dragons, but this is actually a story of great house politics that feels like Henry-killing-Richard-killing-Henry-etc period of English history. Martin creates an amazingly detailed picture of a society and its customs. Get half way through the first one and you will be ready to go through the other two in succession. Some of you will go through the rest of them without sleep.


    Sword and Sorcery -- Shannara style (3.00 / 1) (#59)
    by rombios on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 09:21:54 AM EST

    I absolutely love Epic Fantasy -- might and magic, sword and sorcery
    type settings. My favorite author must surely be Terry Brooks -- my
    favorite series: "Shannara". In fact I have a copy of all the 8 or so
    books stored away in a metal safe. Then I keep a spare of each for
    pleasure reading.

    The ones in the safe were purchased during senior year in high school
    (many moons ago). The spare copies I purchased shortly after college
    graduation. Basically, I wanted to reread the entire series (3rd time?)
    without touching the copies in the metal safe.

    Outside of the Shannara series I would recommend:
    The Magic Kingdom of Landover -- Terry Brooks
    Dragon Lance Saga -- Margeret Weiss and Tracey
    The Riftwar Saga       -- Raymond Feist
    and of course
    The Lord of the Rings -- J.R.R Tolkein

    Every once in a while you run into great TV shows that cover this
    topic. My favorite must be: GARGOYLES. Curse Disney and Buena
    Vista for cancelling the show. I have long since forgiven but will
    never forget.

    Fortunate for me the various episodes are being posted on USENET ;)

    -- deflagrate muri tempe et intervallia
    Shannara (none / 0) (#99)
    by Elendur on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 03:09:19 AM EST

    I'm currently in the middle of the ninth Shannara book, Voyage of the Jerle Shannara: Ilse Witch. It's just a few months old I think. If you haven't picked up a copy yet, do so. It's great. Brings back what I liked about the earlier books.

    [ Parent ]
    Recommendations (none / 0) (#60)
    by zakalwe on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 09:32:21 AM EST

    Aside from the obvious classics everyone will mention, these are probably my favourite books / authors currently:

    Science Fiction:

    • Iain M. Banks' culture books
    • Joe Haldeman
    • Ursula LeGuin
    • George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series ( Still incomplete, and looking like it'll be a long epic, but excellent reading.)
    • Robin Hobb's Farseer and Liveship Trilogies.
    • Roger Zelazny - His books are usually borderline between science fiction and fantasy, but always worth reading. My favourates are probably the Amber series, and Lord of Light.
    • Guy Gavriel Kay.
    Non fiction

    I'm currently reading Andrew Hodges biography of Alan Turing, and finding it facsinating. Definitely recommended for those interested in the history of computing.

    Are you sure about that? (none / 0) (#100)
    by Wodin on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 08:47:27 AM EST

    With the burn rate in the Song of Ice and Fire, I'm not sure it can last more than another couple of books. I've never seen an author quite so willing to kill main characters -- the fact that Martin does so plausibly, and the deaths have meaning just adds spice to the whole mix.

    Nevertheless, the books are highly reccomended -- I have them in hardcover and A Game of Thrones is already starting to get dog-eared.

    [ Parent ]

    6 books I think (none / 0) (#102)
    by zakalwe on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 11:58:35 AM EST

    I think I remember reading that Martin has said he intends the series to last for 6 books, so there are another 3 books still to come. I don't really mind long series, but the main problem I have with it is the fact that I'm going to have to wait several more years for the series to end.

    That said, it's an excellent series, and I suppose the long wait between books is a small price to pay.

    [ Parent ]

    Arturo Perez-Reverte and others (none / 0) (#61)
    by ie on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 10:08:28 AM EST

    The Seville Communion - Arturo Perez-Reverte - the best book I've read in the last year. Liked it much better than the The Club Dumas, which was made into the (bad) movie "The Ninth Gate".

    I'd second Zelazny's Lord of Light - he saw bio-engineering way ahead of time. I'd also suggest My Name is Legion. Not much hard science, but fun to read. In fantasy, Zelazny's Amber series is fun if you like political intrigue in a royal-court setting.

    I'd second Harry Turtledove also. I loved the Videssos Cycle books (books about the Misplaced Legion - a Roman Legion gets transported to an alternate world), and Guns of the South (what if a time traveler gave automatic weapons to the US Confederacy during the Civil War). Haven't gotten around to reading the Worldwar books. I'd guess that he takes lots of liberties with history, but hey, it IS alternative history after all.

    Some good books/authors I would recommend (none / 0) (#62)
    by Grunhund on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 10:53:49 AM EST

    I am somewhat suprised that no one has mentioned anything by Hermann Hesse. Demian has always been a favorite of mine.

    H.P. Lovecraft is also a wonderful author for those who like horror. His pseudo-scientific leanings in many of his stories appealed to me greatly.

    Neuromancer by William Gibson is a sci-fi favorite, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to others.

    Tom Robbins and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. would also be on my list for their ability to both make one laugh and make one think.

    Last but not least, Ray Bradbury has always held a favorite place on my shelves and has recieved numerous recommendations from me.

    Lovecraft's pseudo-science (none / 0) (#96)
    by dyskordus on Tue Mar 13, 2001 at 03:27:43 PM EST

    I recently was given a biography of Lovecraft. Although I have not yet read it (it's still a few books down the list, cant really read more than 2 at a time), the dust jacket mentions that he abandoned his belief in racial theories shortly before his death.

    In addition to their great entertainment value Lovecraft's stories show us how common these beliefs actually were in the time before World War II.

    "Reality is less than television."-Brian Oblivion.
    [ Parent ]

    My one pick... (none / 0) (#67)
    by cr0sh on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 12:08:25 PM EST

    Most of the stories/series/books I have read have already been mentioned. One more I would add would be The Descent by Jeff Long.

    Basically (at least if you read it now) it is an alternate future/history book, where the people of earth come to realize that demons actually may be real, and the ensuing search for the truth by world militaries, corporations and individuals. An excellent read that delves deep beneath the earth to find out what really exists.

    I have to say this book surprised me. I bought it at a yard sale one Saturday morning, began reading it (I was reading Brin's Earth at the time), couldn't put it down, and finished it by Tuesday (I am not a very fast reader, but this went by quick for me). After I finished it, I was left with a strange "all-is-not-right" feeling, that I can't explain. The book was powerful.

    More tedious book recommendations... (4.00 / 1) (#68)
    by pallex on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 12:12:23 PM EST


    George Orwell - 1984,animal farm.
    Will Self - My idea of fun, Grey areas, The quantity theory of insanity (all short stories), My idea of fun (novel - excellent!)
    John Steinbeck - The pearl, of mice and men.
    Anything by Douglas Adams.
    Nothing by William Gibson or Terry Pratchett.
    Everyone recommends Ian Banks, hes massively over-rated. The only one of his that i read and thought was any good was Wasp Factory.
    J.D.Salinger-Anything!(only 3 or 4 books of short stories published, plus Catcher...


    Eric Lomax - The railway man.
    Jeremy Paxman - A higher form of killing.

    Probably worth checking out a few Sylvia Plath poems too.

    My recommendations (none / 0) (#70)
    by 0xdeadbeef on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 01:14:11 PM EST

    Greg Egan and Bruce Sterling.

    Richard P. Feynman is a good read (4.66 / 3) (#73)
    by apain on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 01:39:23 PM EST

    I read "Surely You're Joking, Mr.Feynman!" and I am reading "What to you care what other people think?".

    They are written by him, sort of memoires. They touch on his childhood, university, love, physics , Los Alamos and his congo drums.

    Orson Scott Card (3.33 / 3) (#77)
    by Corwin on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 04:10:21 PM EST

    I'm suprised nobody has mentioned Orson Scott Card and his Ender series. I've seen several mentions of this series in various diaries. I've found every book in the series to be highly enjoyable, including the ones that many people complain are "too philosophical".

    1) Enders Game
    2) Speaker for the Dead
    3) Xenocide
    4) Children of the Mind
    5) Enders Shadow
    6) Shadow of the Hegemon.

    Chronologically, 5 and 6 come between 1 and 2.

    I am always waiting for the next book in the series, and get annoyed whenever I hear that he's writing something else.

    I'm in search of myself. Have you seen me anywhere?
    Lem, Simak, William James, Homer, Melville (4.00 / 1) (#78)
    by error 404 on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 06:03:09 PM EST

    I have this pattern of pleasure reading where I read a relatively light book and a heavier book at the same time. Not exactly at the same time, really, it is more a partialy-preemptive multi-tasking arrangement, but let's not get too technical.

    The light book tends to be SF.

    Recently, I've been enjoying A.E. Van Voght. Think of Ayn Rand dropping acid and realizing that nobody likes a monolog paragraph that would take more than two breaths to say out loud. Drop the result into a really fun 1950's pulp SF mentality. Make it FUN.

    Clifford Simak wrote some very fun light SF. Everything I've read of his has been fun.

    Stanislaw Lem fits on either side (heavy/fun) of the nightstand. One thing to realize is that most of what he's written was written in Poland under Soviet domination. I haven't made it all the way through Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, although I've tried several times. One of his books that is very fun (unfortunately I don't remember the title right off) consists of a collection of introductions to stories that weren't written. A good first book of his is The Futurological Congress. Where you have to take the red pill more than once... On the other end of the scale, there is one story (again, I forgot the title) where the protagonist lands his rocket, fails to free the enslaved inhabitants of a planet, and then they won't get out from under his rocket when it's time for him to leave.

    On the heavy side:

    William James wrote up the philosophy called Pragmatism. In his "On the Varieties of Religious Experience" he actualy manages to demonstrate the conditional existance of God, although he has to redefine existance in order to do it. The basic concept of Pragmatism is that the truth is more like a recipe than a map.

    I enjoy epic poetry. Read the Odesey and the Illiad recently. Both are attributed to Homer. But I'm pretty sure they weren't written by the same guy. The Odesey is a stunningly great read. From start to finish. Just don't expect any suspense - the foreshadowing is not subtle. There is an omen at the opening, and the Bad Guys call in a seer. Seer tells them "that means he's alive and he's coming home, and when he gets home, he's going to kill us all." One guess as to what happens at the end. And you know you have a navigation problem when the commander goes to Hell to get directions from the dead.

    The Illiad is OK once you get past the unbeleivably slow battle coverage. For each blow, Homer gives at least the family background for the guy who attacked, the guy he was aiming at, and the guy he hit. There are often bonus descriptions of the guy who made the armor one or the other was wearing at the time. Along the line, he often digresses. But then you get to a point where the carnage is so surreal that the river complains about all the bodies being dumped in it and fights back, and the story becomes worthwhile.

    At the moment, my heavy book is Moby Dick. I've just gotten to the part where the boat gets under way. So far, gay harlequin romance, which ain't my thing. Ishmael and Quequeg get married fercrissake. I'm expecting the honeymoon cruise to be a bit less romantic.

    And for the light book, it's The Totalitarian Calvin and Hobbes or something. The boy and his tiger. Utter genius.

    Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
    - Donovan

    Sophie's World, an intro to philosophy (none / 0) (#80)
    by Killio on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 08:44:50 PM EST

    I recommend the book "Sophie's World" by Jostein Gaarder. It's an extraordinarily interesting introduction to the history of philosophy, but through a fictional story. I don't want to give too much away... next time you're at the book store take a gander at the back cover. It teaches you a lot too.


    Looking at my bookshelf... (none / 0) (#83)
    by FelixTheCat on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 10:54:45 PM EST

    Well, lemme see. I'm looking at my bookshelf right now, and besides the requisite technical manuals (an entire shelf-full), I can see some of the following:

    Tom Clancy (almost all of the Jack Ryan stories, plus my fourth (!) copy of Red Storm Rising), Stephen King (Hearts in Atlantis, The Stand, Needful Things), Larry Bond (Vortex), a bunch of R.A. Heinlein, Pournelle/Niven's Motie books, some crufty old copies of Mack Bolan (a.ka., "The Executioner") books, a lot of W.E.B Griffin (the entire Brotherhood of War series in paperback, as well as the first three books of his Men At War series), and finally some Cliff Stoll, Stephen Levy, John Grisham, Ayn Rand, Arthur C. Clarke, Terry Pratchett and a couple of those "What to Expect When Your Kid is Born" books. Not to mention various Star Trek novels and a whole butt-load of Linux Magazine and Linux Journal mags thrown hapharzardly around.

    Oh, yeah, did I mention the other half-dozen boxes of books still out in my garage that I haven't unpacked yet? Hopefully, my long-lost copy of Snowcrash can be found there sandwiched between my Rush Limbaugh books (I know, I was young and foolish once!) and my copies of Hitchhiker's Guide and Cryptonomicon.

    My wife can't believe that I've read all of 'em. Looking back, I can't believe it either! Me-yowp!

    Non-Fiction (none / 0) (#90)
    by PenguinWrangler on Tue Mar 13, 2001 at 05:22:40 AM EST

    If you liked Cryptonomicon, and you want to read about real wartime encryption techniques, then I can recommend Between Silk and Cyanide by the late (he died early this year) Leo Marks who was with the Special Operations Executive during the war.
    "Information wants to be paid"
    I've written 550 book reviews... (5.00 / 2) (#98)
    by danny on Tue Mar 13, 2001 at 08:35:16 PM EST

    I don't want to repeat myself here, so just check out the collection, maybe start with the science fiction and popular science sections.

    [900 book reviews and other stuff]

    my picks (4.00 / 1) (#101)
    by Rainy on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 11:58:12 AM EST

    Firstly, amazing masterpieces everyone should read, whatever his walk of life is:
    1. Markes - 100 years of solitude. More magical than Lord of the rings, more realistic than War and Peace. Read it and don't forget to drop your jaw.
    2. Sandro from Chegem by F. Iskander. I read this one in russian but I think a translation is available, although I doubt it would be as good in english. Warm, light humor. This is the book I'd recommend to anyone having suicidal thoughts. Best book (more precisely, a trilogy) I've ever read.
    3. Catcher in the rye by J.D. Salinger. Okay, this may be a bad pick for suicidal people but otherwise it's one of the finest pieces of literature I've read. As much as it is hyped, it deserves all of the praises and more. 4. Dostoevsky - Daemons. I'm not sure about Crime&punishment, I've read it too long ago, plan to re-read it though. This one is fantastic, though. One of the unknown sides of Dostoevsky is that he could write perfect comedy - and I thought Simpsons were funny! What's more impressive, it's not his focus - it's a philosophical book in essence, and yet it's one of the funniest books I've read. Douglas adams is crap compared to this, believe me. To clarify the simpsons comment - I don't really mean that simpsons aren't funny - they are, they're the funniest show on TV, but compared to this they seem more than a bit shallow. Also, note that since this is the only dostoevsky book I've read recently, I don't want to make it seem like it's the only one worthy of note - I intend to read the rest and see how they compare.

    Okay, now that giants are out of the way, let's look at what I like to call Quality Entertainment books. The prime mover here, for me, is Heinlein. Try his juveniles first - Citizen of Galaxy (my favorite) and the likes, and then try mature novels like Starship Troopers (never mind the movie, nothing like the book, really), The door into Summer, Glory road (the only fanatasy - sort of - he wrote), Friday (first proto-cyberpunk, compare with neuromancer and you'll see who =really= started the whole thing). Nearly all of Heinlein is highly readable and entertaining, but some books closer to the end are notably weaker - Number of the Beast, Cat that walked through walls to name a few. The Moon is a harsh mistress is usually fan's favorite but I didn't enjoy it all that much, YMMV. What else is good? Le Guin isn't all that entertaining but can be very serious and philosophically challenging, which is rare in SF. Try _The Dispossessed_ and _Left hand of Dark_. Earthsea stories are lighter fantasy, though. Jack Vance's Dying Earth books are some of the best samples of fantasy in existance, Van Vogt is always a good read, Asimov's trilogy that starts with Steel Caves is near-perfect mix of SF and detective, Clarke's 'City and the stars' is far better than his celebrated Rama books and Odysseys (both start out okay and get _really_ boring fast).

    That's what I like and now I'll list a few books I really hated. Douglas adams' fivology is mildly entertaining at first but quickly looses the steam and in later books he obviously doesn't know what to do with poor heroes. For me, series loses it's appeal on 50th page at most, but I kept reading until I finished first book and started the sequel, which I had to drop about halfway. Stephen king is another overrated bore. I read _The Myst_ and tried to read _The dark tower_, which wasn't as easy simply because it's much larger. Every single description, every character, every scene seem to be wrong, wrong, wrong. Not an ounce of imagination I found there. If I try to close my eyes and call up an association with King's style, I'd see an unkempt, unfocused, more than a little shabby dude who isn't quite sure of what he is doing or why. Orson scott card is a geek favorite and in this case I think geeks have shown simple lack of taste. I tried hard and I can say with some feeling of accomplishment that I did finish 'Ender's game' and one of his short stories where commies rule the US of A. The novel is simply horrid, it appears to be written by an extremely shallow individual, almost all scenes are forced and author's hidden tricks are transparent. For instance - he wants to show the kid off as a sort of genius, so he uses this older-than-life trick where he pretends to be dead when in fact he ain't. Everybody around him flail their arms in the air as if this has been the smartest thing since discovery of general relativity or something. God, I really felt like smacking Card on his skull when I read this. No imagination whatsoever. On to Stephenson. I really don't feel like throwing him with this lot, because he's obviously much better than them. Snow crash is a fascinating read, some chapters are very entertaining and the whole sumer connection is ingenious. Unfortunately, it doesn't work well together as a book. Ending lack the power and conviction, it's as if Neal got bored with the story and decided to wrap it up immediately. But let's start at the beginning - there's teh silly word 'deliverator', very awkward and unweildy. Then there's the intro 'look how cool my hero is', where he shoots out a baseball bat out of some teenager's hands, that felt really forced. Later on book gets much better, there's alot of punch in the chapter where the hero tries to catch Raven, then as I mentioned already, sumer connection is very well done (I love this sort of thing, Indiana Jones, tomb raider, egypt, sumer, etc). But right after the 'voice of reason' bit, the book loses its drive. From being a mysterious dangerous stranger, Raven is turned into a generic pissed-off-at-the-powers kind of guy, they apparently play a racing game, then raven fights uncle enzo, who we don't know or care about anyway... I didn't even know who to root for! And then there's the lame unity of couriers save the girl bit.. The cyber dawg chomps on the bad guy.. yawn. Stephenson can and I'm sure will do much better. He's got the talent. Well, this seems to be it. Note that while I'm criticizing these writers, I'm not saying all they've done is bad, I've only read a few king's and card's books so it's possible that I was just unlucky. Okay, that should get rid of 95% of flames, and the rest don't matter :-).
    Rainy "Collect all zero" Day

    King (none / 0) (#115)
    by Hernan Laffitte on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 10:00:20 PM EST

    King is an extremely uneven writer. The Dead Zone and Carrie are OK.

    I personally wouldn't go anywhere near that Dark Tower and Ender stuff. My geek detector goes off scale.

    I agree that the characters in Snow Crash are too cool for one to sympatize with them. The best thing I read by him is this article in Wired magazine. Read it if you haven't yet; it's amazing.

    [ Parent ]

    Yay! Books! (none / 0) (#106)
    by sparkles on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 02:15:12 PM EST

    Here's a few of my stronger recommendations off the top of my head.
    • Knut Hamsun's Hunger and Growth of the Soil. I can read Hamsun's books over and over and over and never get tired of them.
    • Zadie Smith's White Teeth. Really engaging writing, with humor and insight.
    • Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf. Oh, man, this translation rocks. I kept wanting to stand up and yell "WOOO!!!" and make those evil devil horns with my fingers.
    • John Cowper Powys' Wolf Solent. A little slow and provincial, even, but engrossing, well written, and funny in the little snicker way, not in the big guffawing way.
    I also agree with other posters about Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude (and most everything Marquez has written, as a matter of fact).

    Please note, however, that I'm not an engineer. I'm an info architect, and I do almost no development. So take my advice with a grain of salt.

    i can't believe (none / 0) (#107)
    by Bridge Troll on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 04:42:13 PM EST

    I can't believe that no one has mentioned Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. I'm currently on book five, and it is among the most fascinating books I've read.

    And besides, pounding your meat with a club is a very satisfying thing to do :) -- Sleepy
    From my library (none / 0) (#109)
    by TheSpiritOf1776 on Wed Mar 14, 2001 at 11:20:08 PM EST

    Here is a list of books that I enjoyed from my collection:

    Pick of the litter:

    Robert Heinlein: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Time Enough for Love
    Lothar Gunther Bluchheim (sp? I'm going from memory): The Boat (or Das Boot)
    Erich Maria Remarche: All Quiet on the Western Front
    John Ross: Unintended Consequences
    Frank Herbert: The White Plague
    Alexandre Dumas: The Count of Monte Christo
    Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange
    Aldus Huxley: Brave New World
    Fredrich Hayek: The Road to Serfdom
    The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe
    Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace
    Fredrick Pohl: The Gateway series
    J.D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye
    Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities

    Other good books that I have read:

    Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina
    The Thieves' World Series
    J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales
    Oscar Wilde: The Portrait of Dorian Gray
    Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison: The Federalist Papers
    The Anti-Federalist Papers (my edition is edited by Ralph Ketcham, it's quite good).
    Jefferson Davis: The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Vol. 1 (I haven't found Vol. 2 yet)
    Fydor Doesteyvsky (sp?): Crime and Punishment
    H.P. Lovecraft: Anything
    Stephen King: Carrie, Different Seasons, Hearts in Atlantis, Firestarter, and The Dark Tower series
    Robert Heinlein: Starship Troopers, Glory Road, The Man Who Sold the Moon, Revolt in 2100, I Will Fear No Evil, Stanger in a Strange Land
    L. Neil Smith: Henry Martyn
    Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers
    Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (nothing like the movie)
    Bram Stoker: Dracula
    James Fenimore Cooper: The Deerslayer, The Last of the Mohicans
    Frank Herbert: The Dune series, The Dragon in the Sea, Green Brain, Hellstrom's Hive, Soul Catcher, The Jesus Incident, The Lazarus Effect
    Aldus Huxley: Island
    Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird
    Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
    Louis L'Amour: The Sackett series
    Jonathan Swift: Gulliver's Travels
    William Golding: The Lord of the Flies
    Peter McWilliams: Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society
    Isaac Asimov: The Foundation series
    William Powell: The Anarchist's Cookbook
    William Gibson: Neuromancer
    Agatha Christie: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

    Short list (none / 0) (#112)
    by runlevel0 on Thu Mar 15, 2001 at 08:15:57 PM EST

    The brain-salat of a vegan:

    - "Dangerous Visions", Various (Edited by Harlan Ellison)
    - "The Book of Sand", J.G. Borges
    - "Crystal Express", Bruce Sterling
    - "Cugel's Saga" and the rest of the cyclus, Jack Vance
    - "A Story of Time", S. Hawking
    - "Dune", Frank Herbert
    - "The Selfish Gene", R. Dawkins

    and the one I'm just finishing reading:
    - "Destination: Void", Frank Herbert

    Some favorites of mine (none / 0) (#114)
    by Hernan Laffitte on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 09:45:25 PM EST

    Since nobody has recommended them yet, let me add some of my favorite science fiction books:

    • The Stars my Destination by Alfred Bester. Fast-paced proto-techno-thriller about obsession and revenge, some consider it the best SF novel ever written. In any case, it's still as futuristic now after nearly 50 years of being written as it was when first published.
    • What Mad Universe by Frederic Brown
    • Merchants of Space by F. Pohl and C. Kornbluth (these two are sadly out of print).
    • Anything by Cordwainer Smith. Please don't miss this writer even if you don't like SF. In a genre often characterized by a teenage worldview, he was one of the few adults around. He and, of course...
    • Olaf Stapledon, specially Star Maker and Last and First Men. Not a light read by any means, but deeply satisfying. Stapledon was a visionary of the highest rank.

    And, outside the realm of SF:

    • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. The only book they will need to read in the XXXI Century to understand our era.
    • Memories of the House of the Dead by Leo Dostoevski. A semi-memoir of the years he spent in a Tsarist jail. This is perhaps a lighter read than his masterpieces Crime and Punishment, The Devils and Brothers Karamazov.
    • Anything by J.L. Borges. Of his short story collections, my favorites are Ficciones and El Aleph. His essays are great, too, he gives some brilliant insights on the literary craft.

    If I only had the time to re-read all these...

    Pleasure-reading for the technology-minded | 114 comments (106 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
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