15 Books I love

I’m reposting this from my facebook page – I’m interested to see if anyone else bites. Inspired by JohnO.

Rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. List 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you. They should be the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag as many friends as you want to, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what books my friends choose. (To do this, go to your Notes tab on your Profile page, paste rules in a new Note, cast your 15 picks, and tag people in the Note, upper right-hand side.)

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” – two things here: First, reading it as a teen, it made me realize that grownups don’t have a clue, though they may pretend otherwise. Second, and probably most profound (considering Douglas Adams was an outspoken atheist), it made me Adams’ bit about the Babelfish and God contained “Proof denies faith, and without faith, I am nothing”. Being a geek, I’d struggled to reconcile science with the literal interpretation of the Bible I’d learned growing up.
  2. PJ O’Rourke’s “Parliament of Whores” – I went back and re-read this recently, and, even though I’m rapidly becoming a New England bleeding heart, it holds up well. “Giving car keys and liquor to teenage boys” seems as good an explanation for how the country’s gotten where it is, and “Democrats are also the party of government activism, the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, and then they get elected and prove it.” still rings true.
  3. Tom Robbins’ “Still Life With Woodpecker” – CHOICE.
  4. My freshman year Physics textbook. F=MA. Everything else (above a quantum scale, moving less than 99% of the speed of light, including electronics) is but a riff on this.
  5. My freshman year Calculus textbook. Lets you derive everything else from #4. Why study when you can cipher?
  6. The Hunt for Red October” – corny (as I was a submariner), but true. I was hooked at the interplay between machinery, crew, and intellect, and wasn’t let down when I got to drive. What Clancy left out, however, was the months of drudgery maintaining and training between the couple of days of getting to do cool stuff that would make good novels.
  7. Moby Dick” – I really cracked Melville in 2001 or 2002, after I’d gotten out of the Navy. When I finally read it, I was floored at how much it resonated with me – the bit about first seeing blue water under the keel out of sight from land made me put down the book and breathe for about 90 seconds.
  8. Galloway’s Book on Running” – Finally, running made sense, and there was a logical progression of how to make it not painful.
  9. Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” – Holy cow! How did I get to #9 without mentioning Snow Crash? Anyway, read it. It’s good for 1) Painting a picture of what the internet could be, and why normal people won’t really get ‘it’; 2) It’s kind of a “Modest Proposal” for radical libertarian capitalism taken to a logical extreme; and 3) I really dug the theme on memes.
  10. Where the Wild Things Are” – great when I was a kid; better now that I’m a dad. Let the Wild Rumpus Start!
  11. Kierkergaard’sFear and Trembling” – another critical book in taking me back to faith. About a dozen re-tellings of the Abraham and Isaac story at the beginning, each slightly tweaked. Beautiful.
  12. Eric Raymond’s “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” – Even though it’s mostly a sales pitch for open source software (go linux!), it’s an absolutely great primer on how to work on team dynamics.
  13. Lessig’s “Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace” – In some ways, this is an academic riff on Stephenson’s “meme” theory in Snow Crash. In other ways, it’s a manifesto for how to reform society.
  14. Fukuyama’s “Trust” – Francis Fukuyama’s much mocked for declaring “the end of history” (taken much out of context) at the end of the Cold War. “Trust” is a phenomenal examination of the interplay between regulation, economics, and shared values and expectations. It’s a tough, dense read.
  15. Nassim Taleb’s “Fooled by Randomness” – Excellent treatment of how our minds completely misread statistics, and how it leads us to be very poor at risk assessment, and to assign success disproportionately to an individual’s skill than to random chance. Much like Adams let me keep God, Taleb let me keep PJ O’Rourke.

Honorable mentions:

  • The Cluetrain Manifesto” – still holds up after the dot-bomb. Life is a series of conversations. Nothing should ever be final.
  • Clausewitz‘ “On War” – a classmate said that “On War” is to a study of strategy what Newton’s “Principia” is to physics. Both are outdated and too densely written for anyone but serious scholars to read, but both are fundamental and revolutionary to their subjects.
  • Paul’s epistles – There’s much humanity there, which gets glossed over looking for dogma. Christianity is about people, not rigor – something that was missing in my religious upbringing.
  • The Atlantic Monthly series on “Books that changed the world”, or some other nonsense. O’Rourke wrote about Adam Smith, and focused on the “Theory of Moral Sentiments”, which is what Smith would have wanted. Karen Armstrong’s book on the Bible rocks. And I’m ploughing through Hugh Strachan’s examination of “On War”, and, while predictably dense, it’s much more readable for anyone who’s interested in Karl Von but isn’t required to read the original text for Joint Professional Military Education.

Dishonorable Mentions:

  • Management books. I flat out think that these are a waste of paper, time, and brain cells. They’re the equivalent of talking heads on television – short platitudes and a lot of hot air. At their best, they’re 20 pages of good practices blown up into 200 pages so it can sell at $25/copy. At their worst, they’re justifications for dehumanizing employees and customers and for paying managers exorbitantly for applying common sense to other people’s work.
  • Malcolm Gladwell. You cannot do science by analogy, especially when the analogies all are extreme cases. Taleb eviscerates this kind of pseudo-intellectual tripe. It takes everything I dislike about management books, adds poor research practice to it, and puts a guy with bad hair on the back. It’s the intellectual equivalent of a double whopper, jumbo fries, and a jumbo coke – it’ll fill you up and spike your glucose, but ultimately it’s counterproductive unless you’re starving.