The first seven books I would buy if my shelves were bare
won a $100 gift certificate on Amazon.com
for his 2nd place entry at Rails Day
(in collaboration with John Butler). Congratulations, Lucas!
Lucas asked for suggestions on spending the money. I tried suggesting a new iPod Nano
loaded up with the SICP lectures in video podcast form
. But as you would expect for someone working in a music-related venture, he has plenty of toys already.
So… here are the first seven books I would buy if my shelves were bare (in no particular order):
- Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. You can read it for free on line, but it’s even better as a physical book. One for the ages, it’s the kind of thing that ought to be bound in rich leather (if you go for that sort of thing) and kept in the library you build for your luxury castle.
- To Mock a Mockingbird. It seems you can’t raise micro-capital these days without understanding fixed point combinators. Here’s the most enjoyable text on the subject of combinatory logic ever written. What other textbook features starlings, kestrels, and other songbirds?
- The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at M. I. T.. Stewart Brand’s book captures the legendary think tank’s culture and ideas. Compare and contrast their view of broadcatch with today’s RSS feeds, or narrowcasting with today’s 500 channel television.
- On Intelligence A book that shook my views about how my brain works. To pick one nugget out of many, neurons are so slow that in the time it takes for us to react suddenly—say to duck a flying object—there is only time for a chain of at most 100 steps to complete. 100 steps do not permit us to perform any complex reasoning or look-up. Jeff explains how the neocortex can accomplish complex tasks using layers of parallel switches.
- Philip and Alex’s Guide to Web Publishing. While the technologies suggested (TCL, AOLServer) are unlikely to float your boat, this is the most beautiful technical book on my shelves. Philip’s advice on how to build software for web publishing and approach is still relevant several generations of web developers later. (Also available on line for free.)
- The Recursive Universe: Cosmic Complexity and the Limits of Scientific Knowledge. Although it seems to be out of print, hunt down a copy for yourself. A thrilling journey into the ideas of the great John Horton Conway and computation’s building blocks. Best of all, it’s explained beautifully using the legendary Game of Life. Who knew that puffer trains and spaceships are Turing Complete?
- QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. Yes, the full Feynman Lectures are incomparable, and for further thrills you can listen to him give the lectures on audiobook. But in QED, Feynman does this one magical thing: he explains how a mirror reflects light. And in the process of explaining how light actually reflects off a mirror, Feynman deconstructs classical physics and rebuilds our understanding with Quantum Electrodynamics. For a moment, you can understand how little we really know about how the universe works.
Is there a book you would recommend
? What’re your feelings
about the books I’ve suggested?
p.s. Shane Sherman’s The 5 Books that Every Programmer Should Read
Labels: lispy, popular