Books Found Interesting by Craig Van Degrift

Newest listings:


The books that I have found interesting in recent years fall (roughly) into the following categories:


Evolution, Genetics & Medicine

  1. Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif

    Written early in this century, this book is of lasting value in helping us understand how science uncovered basic germ theory.

  2. Biography of a Germ by Arno Karlen

    This is an entire book focused on one particular microbe, the Lyme disease bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb). It describes Bb's passage through deer ticks, mice, deer, and humans. Although some of the earlier chapters seemed excessively wordy, the book provides a useful introduction to the world of infectious diseases and immunity. It includes a thorough description of the symptoms and history of Lyme disease. ISBN 0-375-40199-7

  3. The Invisible Invaders - Viruses and the Scientists who Pursue Them by Peter Radetsky

    Great companion to de Kruif's classic, covering smallpox, rabies, tobacco mosaic virus, Chamberland Filter, Bacteriophages, polio, Epstein-Barr, common cold, influenza, and AIDS. Very nicely done! ISBN 0-316-73217-6.

  4. The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

    The exciting story of outbreaks of the Marburg and Ebola viruses in Africa and Reston, Virginia. ISBN 0-385-47956-5.

  5. Virus Hunter - Thirty Years of Battling Hot Viruses Around the World by C. J. Peters & Mark Olshaker

    Autobiographical account of C.J. Peters, a key figure in "The Hot Zone". Extremely informative account of virology detective work on Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus, Sin Nombre (4 Corners) virus, Bolivian and Argentinian hemorrhagic fever viruses, Rift Valley fever virus, Marburg and Ebola viruses, and others. He ends with an scary discussion of the dangers of biological war and terrorism as well as the possibility of devastating future global epidemics. ISBN 0-385-48558-1

  6. Deadly Feasts - The "Prion" Controversy and the Public's Health by Richard Rhodes

    Fascinating story of kuru, scrapie, Creutzfeldt-Jakob and mad cow diseases. ISBN 0-684-84425-7

  7. The Coming Plague - Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett

    This comprehensive book (622 dense pages plus 108 pages of footnotes) reviews contagious disease history over the past 50 years up to 1994. Machupo, Marburg, yellow fever, Lassa fever, Ebola, Legionnaires' disease, herpes, toxic shock syndrome, AIDS, hantaviruses, and others are described together with their unavoidable political and sociological complications. It provides the context within which we must consider the likelihood of more serious future outbreaks. ISBN 0-14-025091-3.

  8. Germs - Biological Weapons and America's Secret War by Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg & William Broad

    Details of the salmonella poisoning in Dalles, Oregon, the sarin gas attack in a Tokyo subway, and the biological weapon programs of the US, USSR, and Iraq are described by three New York Times investigative reporters. ISBN 0-684-87158-0

  9. The Cobra Event by Richard Preston

    The author of a number of classic non-fiction books wrote this excellent fictional account of a possible germ attack on the United States. This book was strongly recommended in the non-fiction book Germs. ISBN 0-345-40997-3

  10. The Demon in the Freezer - A True Story by Richard Preston

    Centered on the danger of bio-engineered smallpox being released in the future, Preston gives an excellent summary of the eradication of smallpox in the 1970's, biological weapon efforts during the cold war, the anthrax release in the late 1990's, and the current state of smallpox DNA storage and research. ISBN 978-0-345-46663-1.

  11. Blood - An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce by Douglas Starr

    An engrossing history of blood from 25 centuries of bloodletting to the aftermath of AIDS disaster for hemophiliacs. The history of transfusion, blood storage technology, blood banks, blood component use, hepatitis, and AIDS contamination are covered with abundant notes and references. ISBN 0-688-17649-6.

  12. One Renegade Cell - How Cancer Begins by Robert A. Weinberg

    An enlightening and clearly written narration guiding the reader through the results of cancer research up to 1998. No references, but otherwise very informative. ISBN 0-465-07276-3.

  13. The Emperor of all Maladies - A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

    An outstanding tour of the effort to conquer cancer from ancient history through 2009. The author explains the ups and downs of surgical approaches, chemotherapeutic approaches, and more recent use of specialized antibodies to disrupt cancers. Mixed in with the technical details are explanations of the political forces that affected the progress of cancer research and clinical trials. ISBN 978-1-4391-7091-5.

  14. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

    Biological and medical research have benefitted tremendously from cancer cells (called HeLa cells) that came from Henrietta Lacks before permission was required. This extremely engrossing story not only teaches the reader about tissue cultures and cancer cells, but provides a detailed history of Henrietta Lacks and her extended family together with a look into her poverty-stricken life and the black experience in the mid-20th century. It is outstanding science, a remarkable social study, and a discussion of ownership of extracted body tissue all beautifully woven together. ISBN 978-1-4000-5218-9.

  15. How the Immune System Works by Lauren Sompayrac

    The immune system is usually presented in a chapter in a biology text or in a full course in medical school. This book fits in between these extremes and provides the curious reader with a detailed overview of how the immune system operates. Furthermore, the author's writing style is relaxed and entertaining. Without a doubt, this books is a tough read with numerous confusing technical terms -- it made me think of the problem of names in a Russian novel. The later chapters were easier once the earlier chapters were read and then reread. I made frequent reference to its glossary and index, but also made this page of notes. ISBN 978-0-4706-5729-4.

  16. For The Love of Enzymes - The Odyssey of a Biochemist by Arthur Kornberg

    This autobiography by a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist contains detailed explanations of how enzymes are isolated and their functions determined. ISBN 0-674-30776-3.

  17. The Cartoon Guide to Genetics by Larry Gonick and Mark Wheelis

    A great factual introduction to genetics illustrated with humorous drawings.

  18. The Machinery of Life by David S. Goodsell

    Using actual data on atomic positions in the proteins and other molecules key to life, the author has created beautiful drawings of them and added clear, concise explanations of how they perform their job. Besides giving a feeling for the size and function of the molecules, he also provides an idea of the rapid time scale under which they operate. This is a truly remarkable book. ISBN 978-0-387-84924-9.

  19. The Usborne Complete Book of the Microscope by Kirsteen Rogers

    Upon buying a Celestron Celestron 44340 Microscope, I bought this book to help explain microscopes and the microscopic world to my grandchildren. This turned out to be much better than I had hoped with great illustrations showing all sorts of interesting things that can be examined. It also explained about slide preparation, microscope care, and the different kinds of microscopes used in science. ISBN 978079451558-4.

  20. Guide to Microlife by Kenneth G. Rainis and Bruce J. Russell

    When observing microscopic organisms, it can be quite hard to identify the various creatures. This book does an outstanding job of helping with that problem. It has pictures and sketches as well as habitat and behaviorial information on 115 species and additional information on many more related ones. Its appendicies provide considerable help on the techniques of collection and observation. ISBN 0-531-11266-7.

  21. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

    A guide to thinking at a gene level about Darwinism. Full of thought-provoking ideas and explanations of nature's varied means of propagating genes. Although this is not light reading, it is neither obscure nor annoyingly pedantic. ISBN 0-19-286092-5

  22. The Blind Watchmaker - Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design by Richard Dawkins

    An in-depth analysis of evolution detailing how it can produce complex structures like the eye. The kind of book you would like to have available when "creation science" phonies are pressuring your schools. ISBN 0-393-31570-3.

  23. Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkins

    Based on a multi-peaked mountain metaphor, Dawkins gives another fascinating analysis of how evolution works. He uses spider webs, natural flying mechanisms, various kinds of eyes, sea shell varieties, and the fig to drive home the key concepts of evolution by natural selection. ISBN 0-393-31682-3.

  24. The Ancestor's Tale - A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins

    A tour through some of the most fascinating aspects of zoology and molecular biology loosely modeled after Chaucer's Cantebury Tales. Dawkins takes us back to each meeting with the ancestors we have in common with other species starting with chimpanzees and ending up after some 40 junctions with the ancestor we have in common with thermophilic bacteria. Mixed in are 60 short explanations of important points in biology centered around particular species met along the way. So much solid information in these 613 pages that the reading is slow, but well worth the effort. ISBN 0-618-61916-X.

  25. Acquiring Genomes - A Theory of the Origin of Species by Lynn Margulis & Dorion Sagan

    The authors contend that small incremental changes from mutations are not sufficient to explain the major changes associated with the creation of new species. Their prime examples are the merging of photosynthetic and oxygen-burning bacteria with primordial cells to produce the fundamental cells of plants and animals with their chloroplasts and mitochondria. Other ways in which bacteria associations have led to new species are described in support of their contention that nature has generated new species by the merging of whole genomes. I would have benefited by first studying a glossary at the end of the book since it appears that the authors wrote this primarily for fellow biologists rather than for the general reader. ISBN 0-465-04392-5.

  26. First Life - Discovering the Connections between Stars, Cells, and How Life Began by David Dreamer

    The evolution of life is pretty well understood except at the very beginning, the transition between chemicals and life. The significant progress toward filling this gap is covered by this book written by a long-time researcher of that puzzle. This book nicely brings the curious reader closer to understanding how that gap might have been bridged by nature about 3 billion years ago. ISBN 978-0-520-27445-7.

  27. Life on the Edge - Amazing Creatures Thriving in Extreme Environments by Michael Gross

    Gives fascinating descriptions of organisms that live in extreme thermal, barometric, and chemical environments together with explanations of their survival strategies. Covers the topic from the viewpoints of cellular and molecular biology as well as evolutionary and extraterrestrial biology. Nice use of side bars for deeper technical discussions and biographical notes. ISBN 0-306-45786-5.

  28. Lucy - The Beginnings of Humankind by Donald Johanson & Maitland Edey

    The latest news on digging up evidence of our evolution from ape-like creatures.

  29. Ever Since Darwin - Reflections in Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould

    Gould's contribution to clarifying the Theory of Evolution. ISBN 0-393-00917-3.

  30. A Feeling for the Organism - The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock by Evelyn Fox Keller

    Great example of persistent excellence in an unfashionable topic leading to Nobel Prize-winning work.

  31. T. rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez

    Superb, balanced story of the discovery of the impact event that killed off the dinosaurs. Not too long, not too short, not too simple, not too involved, ... just right. ISBN 0-375-70210-5.

  32. The Science of Jurassic Park and the Lost World by Rob DeSalle & David Lindley

    Super lesson in the biological science and technology related to Michael Crichton's novels. Very clear explanations written in a friendly, informal style. ISBN 0-06-097735-3.

  33. The Web of Life - A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems by Fritjof Capra

    The beginning has an excess of philosophy and a dearth of science, but eventually, Capra does a nice job of explaining the connection between organization in dissipative systems and our understanding of how life works. Unfortunately, it really needed more examples and descriptions of experiments to support and clarify its many sweeping generalizations. ISBN 0-385-47676-0.

Health

  1. Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-being by Andred Weil, M.D.

    Weil starts out by discussing what science knows about aging and stresses that we should not expect to reverse aging. Instead, he gives ample advice on how we can adjust our life style to increase the chances that we will remain mentally and physically healthy for 90 or so years before everything goes at once. Readers are unlikely to follow all his advice, but nudging their life styles towards his recommendations will likely provide significant benefits. ISBN 0-375-40755-3.

  2. Oxygen - The Molecule that made the World by Nick Lane

    This is a survey of what is known about the interaction of oxygen and life, starting with the beginning of life on earth and ending with a discussion of the connection between oxygen radicals, our immune system, and ageing. The author explains that eating antioxidents does not confer the benefits many people think, but rather that our bodies control oxygen radicals quite well except when they are produced by the deterioriation of mitochondria as we enter our final decades of life. Ageing, he states, is basically when our immune systems need to go into overdrive to clean up mitochondrial deterioration. Evolution tunes our immune system to keep us alive during our reproductive years at the expense of causing ageing effects later. Birds, however, age more slowly because they evolved more efficient mitochondria to meet their the demands of flight. ISBN 0-19-860783-0.

  3. Eating Well for Optimum Health - The Essential Guide to Food, Diet, and Nutrition by Andrew Weil, M.D.

    Weil provides thoughtful analyses of well-known diet plans and epidemiological studies along with his suggestions. There is a particularly outstanding, 100-page chapter explaining human nutrition and its connection with the biochemistry of digestion and metabolism. ISBN 0-375-40754-5.

  4. Mad Cowboy - Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher who Won't Eat Meat by Howard F. Lyman with Glen Merzer

    An extremely clear set of health and environmental arguments for switching to a vegan diet. Concisely written with extensive references - lots of facts with very little hype. ISBN 0-684-84516-4.

  5. Vegan - The New Ethics of Eating by Erik Marcus

    This book promote the vegan outlook in three parts. The first describes how avoiding meat and dairy products leads to better health. It effectively counters the claims by the meat and dairy industry that their products are essential to good health, and in fact, provides considerable evidence that they lead to increased heart and cancer diseases. The second part provides a detailed discussion of how these produces are produced in modern factory farms. The environmental impact of meat and diary production is discussed in the final part. The evidence cited is supported with abundant references. ISBN 0-935526-35-8.

  6. Diet for a New America - How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health by John Robbins

    A comprehensive analysis of the ethical, health, economic, and environmental costs of eating meat, eggs and dairy products. Robbins credibly debunks the brainwashing we receive in elementary school regarding the value of these animal products and points out the numerous advantages of vegetarian diets including how they better satisfy our protein and calcium needs. The connection between fat consumption and cardiovascular disease and various cancers is clearly illustrated. ISBN 0-915811-81-2.

  7. Eater's Choice - A Food Lover's Guide to Lowering Cholesterol by Dr. Ron Goor & Nancy Goor

    Valuable facts about cholesterol, fat and diet. Convincing discussion of how a reasonable change in diet can reverse atherosclerosis. Not only that, eating right is environmentally friendly and inexpensive.

  8. Building Bone Vitality - A Revolutionary Diet Plan to Prevent Bone Loss and Reverse Osteoporosis by Amy Joy Lanou and Michael Castleman

    This is an excellent book, but will be a difficult read for people who are not comfortable with the fuzzy reality of statistical analyses. Its overarching theme is that osteoporosis is the result walking too little and eating a diet that tends to make our blood so acidic we must excrete calcium to balance our blood pH. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is the key to strong bones, not consuming dairy products. They support this conclusion by looking at a vast array of different scientific studies. It is then easy to understand why Scandinavian countries and the US have such high rates of osteoporosis compared with India and Africa. ISBN 978-0-07-160019-1.

  9. A Means to an End - The Biological Basis of Aging and Death by William R. Clark

    A report on the discoveries up to 1998 regarding the biomolecular basis of aging. The author gives a detailed description of various cellular processes connected with aging - biological clocks, DNA repair, apoptosis, idiopathic diseases, and effects of oxidants and antioxidants. The connection between similar aging processes found in nematode worms, fungi, fruit flies, mice, and people is explained. For a great website on this subject check out http://www.senescence.info/. ISBN 0-19-512593-2.

  10. Immortality - How Science is Extending Your Life Span - and Changing the World by Ben Bova

    A survey of what science has learned about aging and how it might be slowed down or stopped. Covers telomerase, antioxidants, growth hormones, and regeneration, as well as some of the ethical and philosophical questions brought up by the possibility of immortality. See also "A Means to an End". ISBN 0-380-97518-1

  11. Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease by Dr. Dean Ornish

    This book describes a fairly extreme low-fat diet, yoga, meditation, and exercise approach to reversing atherosclerosis. If you can ignore Ornish's ego, you are likely to find his reasoning and scientific analysis convincing. The American Heart Association appears to endorse Ornish's approach with the caveat that many people may lack the will power to follow it. ISBN 0-8041-1038-7

  12. The Healing Power of Garlic - the Enlightened Person's Guide to Nature's Most Versatile Medicinal Plant by Paul Bergner

    Very interesting compendium of historical and scientific information about garlic. It has quite a few references the published literature that give it credence even though it is obviously proselytizing. ISBN-0-7615-0098-7

  13. Your Body's Many Cries For Water - Your Are Not Sick, You Are Thirsty! by F. Batmanghelidj

    The author pretends to be scientific, but his presentation is based primarily on anecdotes and plausibility arguments. Nevertheless, his basic contention is probably valid - that we should drink more water (not caffeinated drinks), and that the medical research, education, and treatment establishments (driven by the pharmaceutical industry) have little incentive to seriously study and prescribe water. This topic deserves a very careful scientific study. ISBN 0-9629942-3-5.

  14. Protein Power by Dr. Michael R Eades & Dr. Mary Dan Eades

    This appears to be a "fad diet". Certainly, their proclaimed scientific support is very sloppy at best. The basic idea is that in some cases very overweight people have developed an insulin resistance and are headed for (or have) adult-onset diabetes. The authors argue that such people need to drastically reduce both sugars and complex carbohydrates. They recommend eating a high protein diet, and downplay the dangers of a high fat diet. I suspect that they also greatly exaggerate the frequency of insulin resistance. The American Heart Association does not comment on this book specifically, but derides "fad diets" in general and stresses the benefit of low fat diets. The cynical-minded might wonder if the meat industry is behind this book. ISBN 0-553-57475-2.

  15. The Merck Manual of Medical Information - Home Edition by Merck & Co., Inc.

    Clear, dispassionate presentation of medical information that everyone should have available to study as needed. ISBN 0-911910-87-5.

  16. It's Not About the Bike - My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins

    A fascinating look into Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong's cancer cure and reconditioning. This book provides much to ponder about concerning cancer, physical fitness, and will-power. ISBN 0-425-17961-3.

  17. Don't Drink Your Milk - New Frightening Medical Facts about the World's Most Overrated Nutrient by Frank A. Oski, M.D.

    For years the dairy industry managed to keep hidden the disadvantages of drinking milk - allergies, saturated fat, cholesterol, and quality control difficulties. The basic message here is that cow milk is for calves and human milk is for human babies. Unless your ancestry is northern European, you are likely to be allergic to cow milk and that allergy can produce subtle effects. In a chapter entitled "What to Do Instead," Oski suggests that modern infant formulas, which now approximate the nutrition of human milk, can be used when breast feeding is not possible although the baby will still miss important antibodies. Water and juices are best, and probably yogert is ok. If one insists on milk for humans older than 1 year who have no allergy to cow milk, at least use only skim milk. Calcium is better obtained from other foods. This book cites medical literature to support its claims.

Ecology & Environment

  1. Earth in the Balance - Ecology and the Human Spirit by Al Gore

    Great exposition and analysis of our global environmental problems. Gore has an amazingly clear understanding of the relevant science and politics. ISBN 0-452-26935-0.

  2. Gaia - A New Look at Life on Earth by James E. Lovelock

    The description of how life on the earth appears to regulate the atmospheric oxygen percentage and ocean salinity.

  3. Gaia's Body - Toward a Physiology of Earth by Tyler Volk

    A survey of what science has learned about the interactions between life and the oceans, atmosphere, and soil. A bit wordy and could have benefitted from more diagrams, but was certainly very worthwhile reading. ISBN 0-387-98270-1.

  4. Charging Ahead - The Business of Renewable Energy and What It Means for America by John J. Berger

    Very interesting survey of the activities of organizations working on renewable energy projects (Solar thermal, Photovoltaic, Wind, Biomass, energy efficiency, and electric cars) through 1996. While light on technical details, ample notes and references are given to guide the reader to technical source materials. ISBN 0-520-21614-8

  5. The Cartoon Guide to the Environment by Larry Gonick and Alice Outwater

    Another superb Gonick text providing serious factual material illustrated by humorous drawings. Starts with the story of Easter Island and ends with what we must now do to prevent global disaster.

  6. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

    A powerful classic delineating the trashing of the environment by insecticide use in the 1950's. Published 36 years ago, it remains essential reading for anyone concerned with the environment.

  7. A Plague of Frogs - The Horrifying True Story by William Souder

    The mysterious discovery of deformed frogs in Minnesota lakes and subsequent investigations are carefully chronicled by a science-wise journalist. It reads like a mystery even though the who-done-it is not fully resolved between ultra-violet damage, parasites, and hormone-mimicking agricultural chemicals. ISBN 0-7868-6360-9.

  8. Tree Talk - The People and Politics of Timber by Ray Raphael

    A very thorough survey of different viewpoints regarding the use of our timber resources. At the end, the author presents a possible way to replace the economic pressures that reward tree cutting by ones that reward tree growth and the protection of the forest environment. ISBN 0-933280-10-6.

  9. The Last Stand - The War Between Wall Street and Main Street Over California's Ancient Redwoods by David Harris

    A chillingly clear account of the destruction of Pacific Lumber's sound timber management practices. See also The Legacy of Luna. ISBN 0-87-156944-2

  10. Wolf Wars - The Remarkable Inside Story of the Restoration of Wolves to Yellowstone by Hank Fischer

    Not so entertaining, but has useful material for those interested in the politics of predator restoration in the lower 48 states.

  11. Entropy - Into the Greenhouse World by Jeremy Rifkin with Ted Howard

    Rifkin interprets modern technology in terms of the entropy law of thermodynamics. His thermodynamics is a bit sloppy and many of his arguments struck me as more propaganda blasts than well-reasoned logic, but his conclusions seem valid. ISBN 0-553-34717-9

  12. Journey to the Ants - A Story of Scientific Exploration by Bert Holldobler & Edward O. Wilson

    Superb ant book, clearly written with lots of great photographs and diagrams. ISBN 0-674-48526-2

Brain & Mind

  1. The User Illusion - Cutting Consciousness Down to Size by Tor Norretranders

    This outstanding book focuses primarily on known scientific facts with a minimum of philosophy. Norretranders' use of results from information theory leads to impressive insights into how our consciousness relates to the other activities of our brains. Far superior to Daniel Dennett's book listed below. ISBN 0-670-87579-1.

  2. Conversations with Neil's Brain - The Neural Nature of Thought and Language by William H. Calvin & George A. Ojemann

    Explanations of brain anatomy, function, and pathology centered around a fictional inquisitive epileptic patient being examined prior to and while undergoing brain surgery. Although I found the dialog nature of the presentation distracting, the information put forth covered a wide range of interesting brain facts and hypotheses. ISBN 0-201-48337-8.

  3. How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker

    An explanation of how the brain processes information as revealed by its mistakes and attempts to simulate thinking on computers. Very interesting chapter on emotions. ISBN 0-393-04535-8.

  4. The Blank Slate - The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker

    The idea that people are born with brains that can be molded by their environment in any direction is effectively countered by Pinker using the latest results from twin and adoption studies. The initial chapters discuss the various ways this "Blank Slate" idea permeates the thinking of our society, and later chapters describe how discarding it affects our understanding of politics, violence, gender, children, and the arts. I found this a difficult, but rewarding read. ISBN 0-14-200334-4.

  5. The Brain that Changes Itself - Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge

    This book relates how science has switched from considering the brain as having a nearly fixed structure to being an organ of great flexibility. Areas of the brain used for particular purposes are constantly expanding, contracting, or relocating throughout our lifetime in response to education, skill practice, strokes, amputation, and surrounding culture. This "plasticity" is enormously beneficial, but can also lead to obsessive or rigid behavior. Methods are described to help the brain weaken bad wiring or build alternate circuits. Although a couple of chapters pushing Freudian psychotherapy seemed more opinion rather than hard science, most of the book describes solid science. ISBN 978-0-14-311310-2.

  6. The Mind & The Brain - Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Sharon Begley

    The book starts with the first author's clinical experience in helping obsessive-compulsive disorder patients reprogram their brains to overcome their problems. This led him to investigate the extent to which the mind is shaped by how we direct our attention, not just by our sensory inputs. Although some discussions seemed excessively drawn out, he made a strong case for his basic thesis. His attempt to weave quantum mechanical principles into the explanation were less convincing, but interesting. ISBN 978-0-06-098847-0.

  7. The GOD Delusion by Richard Dawkins

    Religions, particular those derived from Abraham (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are thoroughly examined in a critical manner rarely seen in print. Few scientists or atheists are willing to take the time to perform such a detailed analysis as Dawkins presents. ISBN 13: 978-0-618-91824-9.

  8. Animal Minds by Donald R. Griffin

    This is an effort to counter those who say there is no scientifically valid evidence that animals can think rather than just react instinctively. People who work closely with animals have no doubts that animals think complex thoughts, but this is a slippery question that the author does his best to grapple with it. ISBN 0-226-30864-2

  9. Phantoms in the Brain - Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind by V.S. Ramachandran, M.D., Ph.D, and Sandra Blakeslee

    Extensive use of patient studies and clever experiments allow the neuroscientist author to make considerable headway explaining how the brain's sub-units and their interconnections function and create the mind and self. This is an excellent example of the application of the scientific method to a nearly inscrutable topic. ISBN 0-688-17217-2

  10. How We Remember and Why We Forget by Rebecca Rupp

    Good summary of what is known about memory. It includes lots of descriptions and analysis of interesting experimental results, and discusses the biochemistry of nerve operations. (This book was first published in 1998 under the title Committed to Memory.)ISBN 0-609-80227-5.

  11. Within Reason - Rationality and Human Behavior by Donald B. Calne

    A thoughtful analysis of the human capacity for logical deduction and its role in social behavior, ethics, commerce, government, religion, art and science. He argues that reason is a tool created to serve our emotions for better or worse. There are also chapters dealing with the connection between reason and language, and the aspects of the related brain-mind problem. ISBN 0-375-40351-5.

  12. Strange Brains and Genius - The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen by Clifford A. Pickover

    Although it seems hastily thrown together and not well proof-read, I considered this a good, interesting read with quite a bit of information on the Genius-Madman connection. ISBN 0-688-16894-9

  13. Living with Our Genes - The Groundbreaking Book About the Science of Personality, Behavior, and Genetic Destiny by Dean Hamer & Peter Copeland

    A clear summary of what science currently understands regarding the nature/nurture origins of personality covering thrill-seeking, worry, anger, addiction, sex, thinking, hunger, and aging. Numerous experimental results are described, a great many based on careful studies of twins growing up in shared and separated environments. ISBN 0-385-48584-0.

  14. Ways of Thinking - The Limits of Rational Thought and Artificial Intelligence by Laszlo Mero

    Nice discussion of various aspects of creative thinking.

  15. Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind - How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less by Guy Claxton

    Claxton describes several distinct ways of thinking: rapid unconscious trained reaction, conscious deliberation, and slow, unconscious assessment of facts leading to intuition and inspiration. Young children learn very efficiently using unconscious thinking, but as they grow into adults in our modern society, they are coerced into depending on conscious deliberation. The goal of this book is to get adults to pay more attention to their slow, unconscious way of thinking that can often better assess a multitude of disparate and uncertain facts. An excellent read. ISBN978-0-06-095541-0.

  16. Attacking Faulty Reasoning - A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments by T. Edward Damer

    An amazing analysis of how arguments can deviate from rationality. Chapters delineate four classes of fallacious argumentative behavior, irrelevant premises, unacceptable premises, insufficient grounds, and failure to provide adequate rebuttal. Each class is further subdivided and illustrated with numerous examples. The final chapter summarizes it all by specifying a code of conduct for finding the closest approximation of the truth through rational discussion. ISBN 0-534-21750-8.

  17. Statistics You Can't Trust - A Friendly Guide to Clear Thinking About Statistics in Everyday Life by Steve Campbell

    An excellent collection of basic guidelines regarding the interpretation and use of statistics. Chapters cover imprecise definitions, deceptive measures and charts, improper use of averages, variability, switching between percentages and absolute numbers, inappropriate comparisons, faulty deduction, and the difficulty of connecting cause with effect. All are illustrated with abundant examples. ISBN 0-9666171-5-0.

  18. Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) - Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

    The authors lay out the dangers of reducing "cognitive dissonance" by yielding to the natural tendency to conjure up excuses and revise memories so that we can avoid admitting making mistakes. Their discussion provides insights into prejudice, imperfect memory, the "recovered memory" debacle, false convictions, deterioration of marriages, torture, revenge, and wars. Their final chapter encourages owning up to mistakes and letting go of hurts. A must read for everyone. ISBN 978-0-15-603390-9.

  19. Brainscapes - An Introduction to What Neuroscience Has Learned About the Structure, Function, and Abilities of the Brain by Richard Restak, M.D.

    A short book describing brain anatomy and the effects of different medications on the brain. The author's specialty is clearly the use of drugs to treat psychological disorders; his discussion of how neurons work is weak. ISBN 0-7868-8190-9.

  20. Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett

    A reasonable attempt to explain consciousness written by a philosopher. An interesting read, but too much philosophy and too little science for this physicist's taste. I am searching for a book with more examples of brain anatomy and pathology. ISBN 0-316-18066-1

  21. Extraordinary People - Understanding Savant Syndrome by Darold A. Treffert, M.D.

    This is the book you want to read if you wish for a scientific, in-depth discussion of savant syndrome where people of low intelligence as measured by IQ tests display amazing memory skills in connection with musical, mathematical, or art talents. The author, who was a key consultant to the movie "Rainman", describes a number of savants in detail and presents the medical evidence for how their brain is wired differently. Mark Twain gave a remarkable account of Blind Tom, a famous savant (scroll down about half-way). Understanding of savant syndrome provides important clues toward our understanding how the brain works.

  22. Born on a Blue Day - A Memoir - Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet

    This autobiography is of a person with a brain that operates very differently from normal. I was astounded that an autistic savant could so eloquently describe his gradual transformation from a child that feared loud sounds, human interaction into a functioning adult who could publicly display his extraordinary mental capabilities. By doing so, he provides his readers with enormous insight into the full range of autistic minds. ISBN 978-1-4165-3507-2.

  23. Bright Splinters of the Mind - A Personal Story of Research with Autistic Savants by Beate Hermelin

    The author describes a variety of clever experiments comparing people exhibiting savant syndrome and an IQ-matched group. These provide insight into the how the mind of savants works and reveal why an autistic mind set is important. (Treffert's book, however, is better at giving an overall picture of savant syndrome.) ISBN 1-85302-932-7

  24. Hypnotism - A History by Derek Forrest

    I was looking for a book on the science of hypnotism, but this history was a good start. From Anton Mesmer in France in the 1760's up through its occasional use to supplement modern medicine, there is no doubt the hypnotism works on susceptible subjects. There is also no doubt that many quacks have also falsely claimed hypnotic skills. I am, however, still looking for a good book on the science of hypnotism.

Human Language

  1. The Language Instinct - How the Mind Creates Language by Steven Pinker

    Extensive discussions of the commonalities between human languages, how languages work, and how the brain is designed to facilitate the learning of languages. ISBN 0-06-097651-9

  2. Words and Rules - The Ingredients of Language by Steven Pinker

    An assortment of evidence that the brain stores language in two ways, one using direct memory to store word roots including irregular forms, and another that uses rules to handle grammar and add inflections to word roots. He makes the case that this is similar to how our brains store associated facts (what) on the one hand and procedural memory (how) on the other. This book provides important knowledge about how the brain processes language, and therefore contributes to our overall understanding of how the brain works. ISBN 0-06-095840-5

  3. The Professor and the Madman - A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

    An engrossing tale of a schizophrenic American assisting in the creation of the half-million word Oxford English Dictionary while locked up as criminally insane. Part of the fascination of the book is its detailed description of the enormous effort required in creating a "complete" dictionary of English. ISBN 0-06-099486-X.

  4. The Decipherment of Linear B by John Chadwick

    The story of the 1952 decipherment of an ancient form of Greek writing used around 1500 B.C. An interesting linguistic puzzle-solving story written by one of the participants. ISBN 0-521-39830-4

  5. Navajo Code Talkers by Nathan Aaseng

    The story of how the United States Military incorporated Navajo Indians using variations of their native tongue for secure communications during the Pacific theater of World War II. ISBN 0-8027-8182-9

Human Nature and History

  1. The Third Chimpanzee - The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond

    A look into the animal precursors of good and bad human characteristics, and the emergence of these characteristics in humans over the past 100,000 years. Discusses life cycle issues, language, creativity, self-destructive behavior, genocides, and environmental destruction. Lots of interesting facts and thoughts! ISBN 0-06-098403-1.

  2. Guns, Germs, and Steel - The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

    A logical and intriguing history of human civilization as seen by a scientist incorporating knowledge gained from genetics, epidemiology, linguistics, archaeology, and ecology. Key events in the spread of humanity over the earth are seen as being predominantly guided by the availability of domesticable plants and animals and by geographic circumstances, not by differences in human nature. ISBN 0-393-31755-2.

  3. Collapse - How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond

    An examination of a number of societies that have failed or succeeded to come to grips with the destruction of their environment, particularly forests and fisheries. Diamond's writing is far more than just a presentation of facts; it is a synthesis of key facts to enable a coherent understanding of perhaps the most serious problem our children will face in future decades. ISBN 0-14-303655-6

  4. Maps of Time - An Introduction to Big History by David Christian

    A Historian with a solid science understanding writes a history starting from the big bang 13 billion years ago, proceeds through the formation of the first generation of stars, then the formation of our Sun and the Earth, geological changes in the earth, the formation of life on the earth, the extinction of the dinosaurs and the spread of mammals, the separation of humanoids from chimps, change of human society from nomadic hunter-gatherers to villiages, then towns, cities, states, and ultimately modern society. All this is handled in a manner that flows gracefully. This is not an easy read, but is truly mind-expanding. ISBN 0-520-24476-1.

  5. The Man in the Ice - The Discovery of a 5000-Year-Old Body Reveals the Secrets of the Stone Age by Konrad Spindler

    Meticulous and authoritative exposition of the scientific results of the analysis of a remarkably preserved stone-age man found in a high Alpine gully. Speculations are carefully delineated from the science, and both are abundantly supported by numerous maps, illustrations, color photographs, and explanations of relevant results from other archeological finds. ISBN 0-517-79969-3.

  6. Billions & Billions - Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium by Carl Sagan

    Aimed at the layman, this book gives some basic background information in science and mathematics, and then masterfully explains the scientific thinking behind major public issues - environmental degradation, war, nuclear disarmament, abortion, and religion/science interaction. His discussion of J. Maynard Smith's game theory is, however, not nearly as clear as that of Richard Dawkins in the "Selfish Gene" (see above). ISBN 0-345-37918-7.

  7. The Prisoner's Dilemma - John von Neumann, Game Theory, and the Puzzle of the Bomb by William Poundstone

    This excellent book discusses game theoretic (with very little math) discussions of the Prisoner's Dilemma, Chicken Dilemma, Stag Hunt, and Dollar auction problems in the context of the life of John von Neumann, the cold war (nuclear arms race, Cuban missile crisis, RAND Corp., etc.), and biological evolution. ISBN 0-385-41580-X.

  8. The Demon-Haunted World - Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

    How the society suffers when people fail to think critically about social issues. Outstanding discussion of alien abduction claims, witch hunts, hallucinations, antiscience, false memories, and related topics together with an explanation of the methods of science and how they can be used to detect fraud and establish reality. ISBN 0-345-40946-9

True-Life Adventure

  1. The Legacy of Luna - The Story of a Tree, a Woman, and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods by Julia Butterfly Hill

    A fascinating autobiographical account of living 180 feet above the ground in a redwood tree slated for destruction. Butterfly endured freezing El Nino storms, lightning storms, and harassment from Pacific Lumber/Maxxam Corp.'s monster-sized helicopters and logging crews during her 738 continuous days in the tree. Related books are Tree Talk and The Last Stand. ISBN 0-06-251658-2.

  2. Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

    Hilarious account of a Canadian government official assigned to prove that arctic wolves are the reason for a decline in the number of caribou. Don't just settle for the movie. Read the original.

  3. Scent of the Missing - Love & Partnership with a Search-and-Rescue Dog by Susannah Charleson

    The story of the training of a search-and-rescue dog from puppyhood to official certification. This book is filled with vivid descriptions of how search-and-rescue dogs are trained and how they operate. If you are looking for a compendium of amazing rescue stories, this is not it. If on the other hand you want to better understand how dogs can track scents and communicate with their handlers, this is excellent. ISBN 978-0-547-15244-8.

  4. The Great Bear - Contemporary Writings on the Grizzly edited by John A. Murray

    Thoughtful, authentic accounts of grizzly encounters. ISBN 0-88240-392-3

  5. Grizzly Country by Andy Russell

    An excellent account of a lifetime of experience with grizzly bears, primarily near British Columbia's Waterton Lakes National Park. The author was a hunting guide in his younger years and ended up a wildlife photographer who no longer carried a firearm when photographing grizzlies. The history of the grizzly in North America, their interaction with man, and their social behavior, feeding habits, and intelligence are all covered in detail. Unfortunately, this 1966 book may be hard to find. It was published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., with a Library of Congress Catalog Number of 66-19397.

  6. California's Day of the Grizzly - The Exciting, Tragic Story of the Mighty California Grizzly by William B. Secrest

    The author, a historian, uses numerous written documents from the 19th and early 20th centuries to chronical the demise of the California Grizzly. Much of the text relates accounts of hunting, live capture, and bull-bear fights. The life and actions of the real Grizzly Adams form the central chapters of the book. As a by-product of the Grizzly story, the reader gains a considerable feel for life in California from the Gold Rush days until the early 1900's. ISBN 1-884995-53-5.

  7. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

    True story of Mt. Everest expeditions in the Spring of 1996 that ended in tragedy. Not only a gripping story of adventure, but full of useful facts about climbing tall mountains.

  8. Ice - Stories of Survival from Polar Exploration edited by Clint Willis

    Similar to the others in the series but with the Arctic and Antarctic as the locale. ISBN 1-56025-218-9. (See Epic, below.)

  9. High - Stories of Survival from Everest and K2 edited by Clint Willis

    ISBN 1-56025-200-6. (See Epic, below.)

  10. Epic - Stories of Survival from the World's Highest Peaks edited by Clint Willis

    These anthologies provide intense first-hand accounts of the most dramatic encounters between climbers and the treacherous high mountains they challenge. They are filled with numerous descriptions of things gone awry and determined efforts at survival. ISBN 1-56025-154-9.

  11. Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer

    True story of a young man who bums around the West and ends up dying while trying to live off the land in Alaska.

  12. The Perfect Storm - A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger

    A description of events during the convergence of three storms in the North Atlantic that led to a number of deaths in 1991. ISBN 0-06-101351-X.

  13. Out of My Life and Thought - The Worldly and Spiritual Odyssey of One of the Twentieth Century's Greatest Men by Albert Schweitzer

    Although I skipped the theological discussions and struggled with some of the philosophical discussions, the rest was pretty fascinating. I must read his "On the Edge of the Primeval Forest".

  14. More from the Primeval Forest by Albert Schweitzer

    Fascinating stories of Schweitzer's second stay at his hospital in French Equatorial Africa.

  15. Damien the Leper by John Farrow

    The powerful story of the life of Father Damien de Veuster and his humanization of the Hawaiian Leper Colony on Molokai.

  16. Sacred Hoops - Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty

    Phil Jackson, the zen master of basketball coaching, describes how he motivates and guides multi-million dollar egos. Jackson is a really interesting person and his views are well worth the read. ISBN 0-7868-8200-X.

Environmentally Gentle Living

  1. The Solar Home Book - Heating, Cooling and Designing with the Sun by Bruce Anderson

    An old, but comprehensive book describing ways of using passive solar energy in house design.

  2. The Solar Electric House by Steven J. Strong

    A thorough how-to book for building solar voltaic power into your home.

  3. The Straw Bale House by Athena Swentzell Steen, Bill Steen, and David Bainbridge

    Don't laugh! This is very interesting. The R-57 insulation of straw bales can be used in practical houses that are not going to be blown down by the big bad wolf (or earthquakes).

  4. Wind Power for Home & Business - Renewable Energy for the 1990's and Beyond by Paul Gipe

    A detailed how-to book for implementing wind power at suitable home sites. ISBN 0-930031-64-4

  5. Home Wind Power by the U.S. Department of Energy

    A nation-wide survey of wind energy potential presented in numerous detailed maps.

  6. The $50 & Up Underground House Book by Mike Oehler

    This book should be read by persons thinking of underground houses because it discusses numerous things that can go wrong with seemingly sound ideas. If still interested, follow this with a book on expensive underground homes. (Keep in mind that bears like ready-made underground accommodations!)

  7. Treehouses - The Art and Craft of Living Out on a Limb by Peter Nelson

    Many beautiful pictures of amazing tree houses. A great book for stretching one's imagination.

  8. Finnish Fireplaces - Heart of the Home by Albert Barden and Heikki Hyytiainen

    Detailed descriptions of high-efficiency fireplaces for burning wood at temperatures so high the smoke has very little soot.

  9. The Home Water Supply - How to Find, Filter, Store, and Conserve It by Stu Campbell

    The title says it all.

  10. Create an Oasis with Greywater - Your Complete Guide to Managing Greywater in the Landscape by Art Ludwig

    How to safely utilize bath, sink and laundry water for gardening.

  11. Real Goods Solar Living Source Book - The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Technologies & Sustainable Living by John Schaeffer & Staff of Real Goods

    Full of interesting items from composting toilets to wind and solar energy devices. Abundant background information is included.

  12. Backwoods Solar Electric Systems Catalog by Steve and Elizabeth Willey

    Great catalog with carefully selected items for environmentally gentle living. The catalog radiates honesty with descriptions that help make sure ordered items are appropriate to the customer's individual needs.

  13. Finding & Buying Your Place in the Country by Les Scher & Carol Scher

    A full description of the legal hassles and other problems associated with buying a country home.

  14. The Timber-Frame Home by Tedd Benson

    Magnificently illustrated guide to the design and construction of timber-frame homes. It describes in detail how to build beautiful, well-insulated homes that can last for centuries.

  15. Simple Living - One Couple's Search for a Better Life by Frank Levering and Wanda Urbanska

    An easy-reading, mind-expanding chronicle describing the authors' transition from Hollywood script writing to running the family orchard in rural Virginia. This book is not only filled with enlightening personal anecdotes about simple life and Quaker values, but contains numerous descriptions of variations on the simple living theme embraced by their acquaintances. ISBN 0-14-012339-3

  16. Earth User's Guide to Permaculture by Rosemary Morrow

    How to merge human living and the natural environment in a renewable manner. Describes how to identify microenvironments and to manipulate wind, water, and local temperatures through planting windbreaks, judicious arrangement of orchards and forests, and building multi-purpose ponds and suntraps. Also, how to control insect pests and diseases through hedgerow intercropping and the use of chickens, ducks, and geese. ISBN 0-86417-514-0.

  17. Hydroponic Home Gardens by Howard M. Resh

    Nice introduction to home hydroponic gardening written by the author of detailed text on industrial hydroponics. ISBN 0-88007-178-8.

  18. House by Tracy Kidder

    The author follows the construction of a quality custom house in New England detailing the personalities and interactions of the buyer, architect, and builders. He also includes a number of historical notes and construction details. Useful for anyone buying, building or remodeling a house. ISBN 0-380-71114-1.

  19. Ceramic Tile Setting by John P. Bridge

    Superb how-to-do-it book on ceramic tile setting. Very clearly written, fully-illustrated sections showing floor, bathtub splash, and kitchen counter projects. ISBN 0-8306-2572-0.

Computer History

  1. Hackers - Heros of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy

    Basically, this is a history of microcomputers up to about 1980. Read how Bill Gates was one of the few hackers interested in making money rather than freely spreading programs and source code to the masses. The book Rebel Code nicely continues this story up through the 1990's. ISBN 0-440-13405-6.

  2. In the Beginning... Was the Command Line by Neal Stephenson

    An enjoyable history of computers with a focus on the role of the command line interface - life before graphic user interfaces. The relationship between GUI and command line processing is explained. ISBN 0-380-81593-1

  3. The Mythical Man-Month by Frederick P. Brooks, Jr.

    An insiders view of how huge software projects should be handled. New edition adds chapters recognizing the advances of object-oriented programming.

  4. The Cathedral & The Bazaar - Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary by Eric S. Raymond

    A collection of remarkable essays about how open source software is created and how it is revolutionizing the software industry. This book is directed toward CEO/CIO/CTO level folks, but is good reading for the technical folks as well. ISBN-1-56592-724-9.

  5. Weaving the Web - The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee

    The author is the person who created the world-wide web. Any history about it by him is worth reading although I did not find this book as interesting as I expected. ISBN 0-06-251587-X.

  6. The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Ageby Pekka Himanen with Linus Torvalds & Manuel Castells

    A description of how gratis contributions from bright programmers (a.k.a. hackers) have become more significant than the proprietary programming projects of corporations. I didn't feel that this book was as good as Rebel Code. ISBN 0-375-50566-0.

  7. Rebel Code - Inside Linux and the Open Source Revolution by Glyn Moody

    An excellent history of Linux and open source software that continues where Steven Levey's Hackers left off. ISBN 0-7382-0333-5.

  8. Just For Fun - The Story of An Accidental Revolutionary by Linus Torvalds & David Diamond

    A delightful autobiographical look into the motivations and personality of the creator of the Linux operating system and the inside view of how Linux grew from a hobby to a serious competitor to Microsoft's systems. ISBN 0-06-662072-4.

  9. The Fifth Generation - Artificial Intelligence and Japan's Computer Challenge to the World by Edward A. Feigenbaum and Pamela McCorduck

    A rather negative description of the Japanese "5th Generation" computer project.

  10. The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder

    Good description of a period in the history of Data General Corporation.

  11. Insanely Great - The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer that Changed Everything by Steven Levy

    Levy, a long-time Mac user, describes the Macintosh heritage (Vannevar Bush, Doug Engelbart, Alan Kay, Xerox PARC) through its roller-coaster 1980s up to the PowerPC. ISBN 0-14-023237-0.

  12. Open Sources - Voices from the Open Source Revolution edited by Chris DiBona, Sam Ockman & Mark Stone

    A tremendous collection of essays by 14 key people in the free software/open source software movement. A must-read by anyone interested in recent computer history and the future of the software industry. ISBN 1-56592-582-3,

  13. Artificial Life - A Report from the Frontier Where Computers Meet Biology by Steven Levy

    A history of the people and technologies associated with the development of computer programs and robots that exhibit life-like behavior. The book is a must for people who are curious about what might define life and whether new life can be created by humans. Much has probably happened in this field since this book was published in 1992. It would be nice to have a sequel. ISBN 0-679-74389-8

  14. The Age of Spiritual Machines - When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence by Ray Kurzweil

    This book pretends to forecast the coming hundred years of computer technology, but may turn out to be more science fiction than science fact. I suspect that his dream technologies of quantum computing and microscopic robot swarms will be far more difficult to realize in practice than in the imagination. Still, the book is worth reading for the discussions regarding the gradual replacement of human body parts (including regions of the brain) with silicon enhancements. Just don't take his time scale seriously. ISBN 0-670-88217-8.

Computer Standards & Hardware

  1. The Indispensable PC Hardware Book - Your Hardware Questions Answered by Hans-Peter Messmer

    This really is the only comprehensive computer hardware book I have seen that contains electronics details, pinouts, and timing information blended together with chip-level programming details. 1384 pages full of spec sheet level information on the 80x86 family of processors (including those made by Cyrix, IBM, and AMD), as well as support chips and bus standards. Tremendous! Current edition is 1997 - need a new edition now. ISBN-0-201-40399-4.

  2. Information Technology Standards: The Quest for the Common Byte by Martin C. Libicki

    A thorough guide to the acronym-riddled information standards business.

  3. Image and Video Compression Standards - Algorithms and Architectures by Vasudev Bhaskaran and Konstantinos Konstantinides

    Detailed description of JPEG, MPEG,etc.

  4. Wireless Communications for Intelligent Transportation Systems by Scott D. Elliott and Daniel J. Dailey.

    An excellent survey of all forms of wireless communications including new methods currently being implemented. The specialization to transport systems is only a minor diversion from their general description of wireless systems.

  5. The Unicode Standard, Version 2.0 by The Unicode Consortium

    The official detailed description of the replacement for ASCII. The Unicode, Version 2.0, encompasses 38,885 characters of the world's language, mathematical, and symbol scripts. ISBN 0-201-48345-9.

  6. Understanding Japanese Information Processing by Ken Lunde

    All you ever might need to know about the ways that Japanese characters are encoded in computers. This book is so good that it has been translated into Japanese.

  7. ISDN - How To Get a High-Speed Connection to The Internet by Charles Summers and Bryant Dunetz

    Explains the ISDN standard and its implementation with references to hardware suppliers. ISBN 0-471-13326-4.

Computer Security

  1. The Cuckoo's Egg - Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage by Cliff Stoll

    Tremendously entertaining, first-hand factual account of the tracking down of a group of German hackers who were breaking into US computers. ISBN 0-385-24946-2.

  2. Cyberpunk - Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier by Katie Hafner and John Markoff

    Great factual description of the activities of master telephone hackers. ISBN 0-671-77879-X.

  3. The Cyberthief and the Samurai by Jeff Goodell

    The story of Kevin Mitnick's activities and capture. This version is considered the better by most computer folks and paints a very realistic picture of what happened and why. Skip the other book and its movie. ISBN 0-440-22205-2.

  4. Applied Cryptography - Protocols, Algorithms, and Source Code in C by Bruce Schneier

    What the NSA would like to prevent the world from knowing. A great reference for modern cryptography. ISBN 0-471-59756-2

  5. The Code Book - The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptographyby Simon Singh

    An excellent, easy-to-read book, that describes the history of cryptic communication from ancient times up through modern public key encryption. This book has the clearest account of how public key encryption works that I have ever seen. ISBN 0-385-49532-3.

  6. Crypto - How the Code Rebels Beat the Government - Saving Privacy in the Digital Age by Steven Levy

    Another great Steven Levy book on computer history. This time he tells the story of how the US National Security Agency and FBI worked to try to prevent citizens from being able to have private communication secure Internet commerce. ISBN 0-14-024432-8.

  7. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

    A fictional story that ties together tales of encryption during World War II with a modern mystery. The constant switching between three (or was it four) locales/eras without overt identification was irritating, but the story was quite good. ISBN 0-380-78862-4.

  8. PGP: Pretty Good Privacy by Simson Garfinkel

    Everything you need to know about the public domain PGP encryption program.

  9. Hacking Exposed - Network Security Secrets & Solutions by Stuart McClure, Joel Scambray, & George Kurtz

    An outstanding, highly-detailed description of how to break into internet server sites and therefore how to secure them. This book covers Windows 95/98, Windows NT, Novell & Unix systems as well as general Internet hacking methods. ISBN 0-07-212127-0.

  10. Hacking Linux Exposed - Linux Security Secrets & Solutions by Brian Hatch, James Lee, and George Kurtz

    Like Hacking Exposed but specialized entirely to Linux. This is a truly amazing book that every person with a Linux web server should read and understand. Linux may be more secure than Microsoft servers, but it is not invulnerable and must be properly secured. ISBN 0-07-212773-2.

Computing Algorithms

  1. The Art of Digital Video by John Watkinson

    Massive reference tome.

  2. Digital Video Processing by A. Murat Tekalp

    The mathematical foundations of video processing techniques.

  3. Digital Image Compression Techniques by Majid Rabbani and Paul W. Jones

    A classic text describing basic image compression techniques with lots of illustrations.

  4. Neural Computing by R. Beale and T. Jackson

    A nice primer on neural network computing.

  5. Fuzzy Logic - The Revolutionary Computer Technology that is Changing Our World by Daniel McNeill and Paul Freiberger

    A partisan history of fuzzy logic - its pioneers, adoption in Japan and then Europe, and finally its gaining respect in the United States. This is an interesting overview, but not a how-to book. ISBN 0-671-87353-3.

  6. An Introduction to Genetic Algorithms by Melanie Mitchell

    Genetic Algorithms are clearly explained with simple examples and discussions of more advanced applications and theory. A very practical guide for those interested in the solution of computer optimization problems or the workings of biological evolution. ISBN 0-262-63185-7.

  7. High Performance Computing - RISC Architectures, Optimization & Benchmarking by Kevin Dowd and Charles Severance

    Introduction to parallel processing and the software/hardware used to implement it, including a particularly illuminating discussion of memory caching and its effect on performance. It also provides lots of good WWW and book references. ISBN 1-56592-312-X.

Linux and OS/2 Operating Systems

  1. Running Linux by Matt Welsh, Matthias Kalle Dalheimer & Lar Kaufman

    Certainly the best book around for helping people understand the workings of their Linux system. This book tells you what you need to know when things are NOT set up correctly. Other user-oriented Linux books only tell you how to use Linux when everything is set up perfectly. ISBN 1-56592-469-X.

  2. Linux in a Nutshell - A Desktop Quick Reference by Jessica Perry Hekman & O'Reilly staff

    Nice summary of the most useful general-purpose Linux commands, bash commands, vi and emacs editor usage, programming tool invocations, and system administration tool use. Sure beats thrashing through man pages! ISBN 1-56592-167-4.

  3. Think Unix by Jon Lasser

    A thoughtfully-written introduction to Unix/Linux starting with man pages, files, process control, pipes, networking basics, and configuration files. The author then gives an excellent description of key aspects of regular expressions, shells and shell scripts, and the X Window System. Complex features such as mail handling, quoting in shell scripts, and cross-system X Window operation are explained with unusual clarity. ISBN 0-7897-2376-X.

  4. Linux Application Development by Michael K. Johnson and Erik W. Troan

    Excellent text explaining how to write applications for Linux that require system calls - the next step beyond ordinary C library routine calls. Very well written with abundant examples and references to still more advanced operating system texts. ISBN 0-201-30821-5.

  5. Linux Device Drivers by Alessandro Rubini

    Absolutely super book on the most challenging aspect of Linux programming. Rubini gives a clear, well-organized explanation of how to write device driver modules and illustrates it with a wide-ranging set of examples. This book is a must for anyone interested in the hardware interface of Linux. ISBN 1-56592-292-1.

  6. Linux Core Kernel Commentary by Scott Maxwell

    40,000 lines of source code for the heart of the Linux kernel together with 150 well-written pages of annotations. This book is very useful for those interested in how the Linux kernel works. ISBN-1-57610-469-9.

  7. Linux Kernel Internals by Michael Beck, Harald Bohme, Mirko Dziadzka, Ulrich Kunitz, Robert Magnus, and Dirk Verworner

    There is much valuable information buried in this attempt to explain the workings of the Linux kernel. Unfortunately, the translation and editing of this book remain terrible even in this 2nd edition. There are hundreds of typos, incorrect words, and sloppy or ambiguous explanations. ISBN 0-201-33143-8.

  8. Using Linux - Special Edition by Jack Tackett, Jr. and David Gunter

    This is a good, well-written introduction to Linux aimed at UNIX novices. It deals with the Red Hat, Slackware, & Caldera distributions. In November, 1997, the Software on CD was two web years (8 months) old, but still ok for a start.

  9. The Design of OS/2 by H.M. Deitel and M.S. Kogan

    Getting dated, but still full of useful information on the evolution of 80x86 operating system design from DOS to OS/2.

  10. Inside the JavaOS Operating System by Tom Saulpaugh and Charles Mirho

    A peek into the structure of the JavaOS Operating System and its object-oriented design. Although it is interesting to see how OO design and Java might still be used where efficiency is at a premium, the details are sketchy, and no performance data is given. It is not clear that the advantages of OO design really overcome the efficiency cost, but it was certainly interesting to understand the design of an OS dedicated to running only the Java Virtual Machine. ISBN 0-201-18393-5

C, C++ and Java Programming Languages

  1. The C Programming Language by Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie

    A full description of C from its creators. This book includes many examples and enlightening commentary. It should also be studied by those who intend to program only in C++ or Java because the computer programming concepts taught here form the core knowledge assumed by all advanced programming books. ISBN 0-13-110362-8.

  2. Expert C Programming - Deep C Secrets by Peter van der Linden

    This is clearly the book to read after K & R. With the insight of a compiler writer and abundant humor and historical background, the author explains declarations, linking, object code structure, libraries, pointer-array confusion, and memory usage. He even explains WHY various things are misunderstood. ISBN 0-13-177429-8

  3. C Puzzle Book - Puzzles for the C Programming Language by Alan R. Feuer

    A book to humble those who claim to know C. ISBN 0-13-116602-4.

  4. The Design and Evolution of C++ by Bjarne Stroustrup

    The why of C++ from its creator.

  5. The Practice of Programming by Brian W. Kernighan and Rob Pike

    An extensive analysis of programming technique and how to write better programs. Interesting examples are given in C, C++, and Java, and introductions are given to various standard UNIX tools and algorithms. This lucid collection of programming wisdom comes from two of computing's top programmers. ISBN 0-201-61586-X

  6. Effective C++ - 50 Specific Ways to Improve Your Programs and Designs by Scott Meyers

    Highlights common problems and pitfalls that new C++ programmers run into. Also explains the pros and cons of the alternative programming techniques allowed by C++. An absolute must for C++ programmers!

  7. More Effective C++ - 35 New Ways to Improve Your Programs and Designsby Scott Meyers.

    More valuable C++ advice. Special emphasis is given to recent additions to the standard such as exceptions and the Standard Template Library.

  8. OS/2 C++ Class Library - Power GUI Programming with C Set++ by Kevin Leong, William Law, Robert Love, Hiroshi Tsuji, and Bruce Olson

    Essential for anyone using the IBM User Interface Class Library. A great example of how a message-driven GUI interface can be packaged in a C++ class library.

  9. The Java Developers Almanac - 1998 by Patrick Chan

    962 pages of small print providing a complete reference to the packages, classes, and interfaces available in version 1.2 (beta 3) of Java. This inexpensive book is a must for Java programmers. Addison Wesley Press, ISBN 0-201-37967-8

  10. The Java Language Specification by James Gosling, Bill Joy and Guy Steele

    An excruciatingly detailed (and therefore useful) description of the syntax of the Java language and the java.lang, java.util, and java.io packages. Addison Wesley Press, ISBN 0-201-62451-1.

  11. Java 1.1 Developer's Handbook by Philip Heller and Simon Roberts with Peter Seymour and Tom McGinn

    Quite a few typos and minor mistakes, but otherwise extremely well written guide to Java 1.1 that includes lots of examples and a CD disk. Sybex, ISBN 0-7821-1919-0

  12. Programming with JFC by Scott R. Weiner and Stephen Asbury

    Introduction to programming with the Java Swing GUI classes with a cd containing the examples. The authors do a good job straightening out the often-confusing usage of the swing components. ISBN 0-471-24731-6.

Astrophysics & SETI

  1. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence - Listening for Life in the Cosmos by Thomas R. McDonough

    A dated (1987), but well done book describing the SETI idea and its history. ISBN 0-471-84683-X

  2. Contact by Carl Sagan

    Speculation about what might happen when we first receive a message from an extraterrestrial civilization. Sagan presents a great story with a maximum of good science and a minimum of unavoidable magic. ISBN 0-671-00410-7.

Technological Mistakes

  1. Computer Snafus - Crashes, Errors, Failures, Foul-Ups, Goofs, Glitches, and Other Malfunctions that Cause Computers to go Awry by Herman McDaniel

    An interesting collection of incidents of computer-related problems. One comes away from this book with a much better appreciation for the need to check programs and program changes more carefully before relying on them, to backup regularly, and to have comprehensive contingency plans. ISBN 0-9663993-0-7

  2. To Engineer is Human - The Role of Failure in Successful Design by Henry Petroski

    Descriptions of a number of engineering failures and why they happened. ISBN 0-679-73416-3.

  3. Why Buildings Fall Down by Matthys Levy & Mario Salvadori

    Serious book full of detailed explanations of how things can go wrong when designing buildings. ISBN 0-393-31152-X

Other Science & Math

  1. The Character of Physical Law by Richard Feynman

    Spectacular, non-math discussion of the fundamental laws of physics. ISBN 0-262-56003-8.

  2. QED - The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard P. Feynman

    Only Feynman could dare to explain quantum electrodyanmics without math. A must for all physicists and probably even enlightening to its intended non-physics audience. ISBN 0-691-02417-0.

  3. Chaos - Making a New Science by James Gleick

    A great instructive account of the development of fractals and modern chaos theory with special emphasis on the interesting people that made it happen.

  4. Complexification - Explaining a Paradoxical World Through the Science of Surprise by John L. Casti

    I had to force my way through this book; its explanations and flow were not well matched to my modes of thought. Perhaps its me or perhaps the book was thrown together in haste. A much better book on complexity is Frontiers of Complexity by Coveney and Highfield. ISBN 0-06-092587-6.

  5. Frontiers of Complexity - The Search for Order in a Chaotic World by Peter Coveney and Roger Highfield

    This is the book to read for an introduction to the many facets of complexity. Afterwards one should, however, read specific books on nonlinear dynamics, fractals, genetic algorithms, neural networks, artificial life, the brain, etc., to obtain a more complete feel for this broad topic. ISBN 0-449-91081-4.

  6. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! - Adventure of a Curious Character by Richard P. Feynman

    A tremendously entertaining autobiographical account by one of the most admired physicists of the late 20th century. Feynman describes how his inquisitive and wild mind wandered through live while working on the Manhattan project, and performing Nobel-prize winning work in theoretical physics. An easy, enjoyable read. ISBN 0-449-91081-4.

  7. What Do You Care What Other People Think? - Further Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard P. Feynman

    The first half of the book is more Feynman autobiography, but the last half is notable because it is the most detailed discussion available of the Challenger disaster investigation.

  8. Voodoo Science - The Road from Foolishness to Fraud by Robert Park

    Devastating critique of advocates of perpetual motion machines, homeopathic medicine, spacelab, strategic defense initiative (Reagan's Star Wars plan), power-line cancer alarmists, and x-ray lasers. ISBN 0-19-513515-6.

  9. Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus by Martin Gardner

    A classic debunking book dealing with ESP, psychokinesis, psychic healing, Stalinist genetics, etc.. The last half critically examines a variety of books that deal with pseudoscience. ISBN 0-380-61754-4.

  10. The End of Physics - The Myth of a Unified Theory by David Lindley

    The author analyzes the state of physics by describing the progression from Newton's laws, Maxwell's equations, relativity, quantum mechanics, and quantum electrodynamics, which can all be checked against experiment in exquisite detail, to the theories of supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstrings, which generate new predictions that can barely be touched by even enormously expensive experiment efforts. A powerful and clear analysis of the current state of fundamental physics. ISBN 0-465-01976-5.

  11. A Brief History of Time - From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen W. Hawking

    A fairly clear explanation of several remarkable aspects of the universe including its origin and the nature of black holes. A few of the topics in its later chapters, however, are more speculative and only weakly supported by experimental observations. I have not yet read his sequel entitled "A Briefer History of Time" that might fill in the gaps. ISBN 0-553-05340-X.

  12. Flanagan's Version by Dennis Flanagan

    An effort to explain the main themes of modern physics, astronomy, geology, biology, and technology in a single book. This former editor of Scientific American does a pretty nice job, although some places of the geology discussion, the text seemed to be muddled. ISBN 0-679-72156.

  13. A History of Pi by Petr Beckmann

    Fascinating history of the methods used for calculating pi. ISBN 0-312-38185-9

  14. e: The Story of a Number by Eli Maor

    A tour through mathematics history focusing on e, the base of natural logarithms. Its connections with pi, geometry, calculus, series, limits, and types of numbers are explained. This is a great companion to Beckmann's book on pi. ISBN 0-691-05854-7.

  15. An Imaginary Tale: The Story of -1 by Paul J. Nahin

    As soon as we are taught about square roots, we are told that the square root of minus 1 does not exist. We later learn that it does, but have difficulty becoming comfortable with it. This book does an outstanding job of explaining why it is needed and how it is used. The reader, however, will need a background in elementary calculus and advanced algebra to follow the discussion. Its numerous historical notes are interesting and go quickly, but the math takes effort. ISBN 978-0-691-14600-3

  16. Think of a Number - Ideas, Concepts and Problems which Challenge the Mind and Baffle the Experts by Malcolm F. Lines

    Clearly written tour of some of the key concepts and problems of mathematics covering Fibonacci numbers, hailstone numbers, statistics, pluperfect square, Euclid's 5th postulate, cryptography, four-color problem, NP complete problems, fractional dimensions, chaos and symmetry. ISBN 0-85274-183-9

  17. Innumeracy - Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences by John Allen Paulos

    Paulos describes how individuals and society are harmed by the lack of basic mathmetical thinking skills. This is not just about arithmetic skills, but more about quantitative thinking. Chapters deal with probablility and coincidences; pseudoscience; why innumeracy is so common; and understanding statistics and trade-offs. A good read for anyone concerned with the level of critical thinking in the general population.

Japan and Business

  1. Made in Japan - Akio Morita and Sony by Akio Morita with Edwin M. Reingold and Mitsuko Shimomura

    Very interesting autobiography.

  2. Quality Without Tears by Philip B. Crosby

    Obvious things that someone had to explicitly say to US industry.

  3. Honda - An American Success Story by Robert L. Shook

    A very interesting history of Honda from the ashes of WWII to the establishment of manufacturing facilities in Ohio.

  4. The Real Coke, the Real Story by Thomas Oliver

    A view of corporate decision making.

  5. Kaisha - The Japanese Corporation by James C. Abegglen and George Stalk, Jr.

    A classic description of the Japanese business practices during the rise of industrial Japan after WWII.

  6. Talking Straight by Lee Iacocca and N.R. Kleinfeld

    Iacocca's opinions about how US industry can meet the challenge from Japan.

  7. Theory Z - How American Business Can Meet the Japanese Challenge by William G. Ouchi

    More US vs Japanese business style discussions.

Government and Religion

  1. Dreams from My Father - A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

    Barack Obama gives account of his mixed heritage with a Kansas mother, an African father, an Indonesian step-father and his experiences in Hawaii, Indonesia, and Chicago's South Side, and ends with a fascinating description of his first visit to Kenya. This book illustrates how his brilliant mind deeply understands cultures, people, and their interaction. ISBN 1-4000-8277-3.

  2. The Audacity of Hope - Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama

    Written just after becoming a US Senator, this book takes on even greater importance with his becoming a serious Presidential candidate. He discusses politics, values, the Constitution, race relations, and US foreign policy with a remarkable clarity. ISBN 978-0-307-23770-5.

  3. Plain Speaking - An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman by Merle Miller

    Wow, did this president ever tell it like it was. No bull! ISBN 0-425-09499-5

  4. The Healing of America - A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care by T. R. Reid

    An enlightening survey of how other nations deal with the delivery of health care. The author draws on years of living overseas and experiencing health services in several of the countries he covers. Everyone interested in improving our health care system should read this to understand how other countries distribute health care. ISBN 978-1-59420-234-6.

  5. Database Nation - The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century by Simson Garfinkel

    An in-depth tour of privacy issues covering identification, activity monitoring, credit records, varieties of surveillance, wiretapping, telemarketing, medical record security, and more. It provides solid information with extensive references and some suggestions for remedies. ISBN 1-56592-653-6.

  6. The Puzzle Palace - Inside the National Security Agency, America's Most Secret Intelligence Organization by James Bamford

    Great history of the NSA. One must wonder how he ever got to print it all. ISBN 0-14-006748-5.

  7. The Japan that Can Say 'No' by Akio Morita and Shintaro Ishihara

    Very different and interesting account of how US-Japan relations might evolve.

  8. Memos to the President - A Guide Through Macroeconomics for the Busy Policymaker by Charles L. Shultze

    Heavy stuff, but provides background needed to understand arguments regarding global trade.

  9. Skunk Works by Ben R. Rich and Leo Janos

    The remarkable inside story of the Lockheed Skunk Works, its people, and its planes. The story behind the U-2, Stealth, its other amazing creations. ISBN 0-316-74330-5.

  10. Blind Man's Bluff - The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew

    A great read that ties together many pieces of cold war history. ISBN 1-891620-08-8

  11. Cadillac Desert - The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner

    Written with an engaging style, this detailed history of water projects in the United States is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand the governmental machinations that created the current system and what problems await us in the coming decades. ISBN 0-14-017824-4.

  12. Fast Food Nation - The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser

    This book is not so much about how unhealthy fast food usually is, but rather about the industry. It discusses how the wholesale conglomerates squeeze both the farmer and the distributor. The meat packing industry in particular is described in detail.

  13. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them - A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right by Al Franken

    An excellent survey of the deceptive methods used by the US political right wing to get people to support George Bush and his crew. Franken is a comedian which makes the book easier to read than most political tomes, but he is still precisely on target. Chapters deal with Ann Coulter, Fox News, Bill O'Reilly, Jerry Falwell, and many others.

  14. Bushwhacked - Life in George W. Bush's America by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose

    It has always been a joy to read the whitty intelligence of Molly Ivins in her newspaper columns. Having watched Bush in Texas before he became President, she is in a particularly good position to relate his bait and switch actions as President to his history in Texas. Among other topics, there are chapters dealing with "No Child Left Behind", energy policy, Enron, religion, and judicial appointments.

  15. Portrait in Grey - A Short History of the Quakers by John Punshon

    My daughter, a Quaker hospital Chaplain, recommended this book for its explanation of Quakerism and its history. It is heavy reading, but generally regarded as the authoritative book on Quaker philosophy and history.

  16. Catastrophe - Risk and Response by Richard A. Posner

    A retired judge writes about the difficulty of dealing with low probability events that might wipe out all human life. He considers bioterrorism, abrupt global warming, a major astroid collision, and a possible atomic particle accelerator disastor called the "stranglet disastor". The discussion provides a great deal of useful material to contemplate regarding risk assessment and avoidance. Unfortunately, its frequent strong criticisms of "greens" and "civil libertarians" detracted from his important messages. Definitely a worthwhile, but heavy, read. ISBN 0-19-530647-3.


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