Espen's favorite books
As of Summer 2004, this page will no longer be systematically updated.
Instead, I will put whatever I write about books in Applied Abstractions (my blog) - choose Category:Reading.
I am constantly asked by students to recommend books to read--mainly books on IT management or electronic commerce or other business school subjects, but sometimes on other subjects as well. So I thought I would put together a list of books I like and why I like them. Then, why limit yourself to non-fiction or your own subject--why not put together a list of all kinds of books that you like? Very quickly the list expands, and the next logical step is to become an Amazon.com associate, to see if this electronic commerce thing really works. (It does: in 2000 I made $40.60, in 2001 48.89. This is more than most .coms....)
Incidentally, lest you see this as merely a pretentious attempt to earn a buck, I have throughly enjoyed putting together this list. For one thing, you start to seriously investigate which books you haven't read (way too many, I'd say) and to put together a shopping list. For instance, I found Hugh Laurie's book The Gunseller, which sounded interesting (turned out bit of a disappointment, though). I found Paul Fussell's Wartime and Doing Battle, which were excellent. You also come to understand how many books you have read, how you spent all that time that seems to disappear into nothing, and how few of the books you read really make an impression (I tend to forget updating this page). If you are looking for a similar personal book-lists, the Global Business Network has a bookclub which used to be run by Stewart Brand--excellent place to look for new titles in the area of futurism, history, and innovation. Quite a few books are available in full text online. If you have comments on this list, or anything else--drop me a line.
[Current favorites | Fun & relaxation | Serious fiction | Books to learn from | Technology and thinking | Business, electronic & not | Grab bag | The quick take]
Current favorite authors(These are authors whose stuff I just buy whenever there is something new out.)
- Simon Singh writes about science (particularly mathematics) in a way that is both informative and very entertaining. I have read and liked two of his books:
- The Code Book: The evolution of secrecy from Mary, Queen of Scots to quantum cryptographyis a book on the battle between cryptographers (the people who device ways to communicate secretly) and the cryptanalysts (the people who try to figure out what the code and chiffres mean). Excellent history of cryptography, strikes a wonderful balance between telling the story and explaining in detail how various forms of encryption works. I particularly liked it because it is the first popular book I have read that explains the German Enigma code machine detailed enough that you can understand just what an achievement it was to for the people at Bletchley Park to break it, and for its detailed and very exciting story on how public-private key encryption was developed. I would have liked a little bit more discussion of the Clipper chip and similar, rather controversial initiatives around key escrow, but this book is a must if you want to know something about cryptography without studying too hard. (If you want the full story of Enigma, particularly the role of Polish crypto and French intelligence, see Hugh Sebag-Montefiore's Enigma: The Battle for the Code.)
- While I am at it, let me mention Stephen Levy's Crypto. This is a description and discussion of the discovery of secure digital communication, DES (by IBM), and public key encryption - as well as the NSA efforts to twart the spreading of the knowledge and the tools. Takes over where Simon Singh leaves off. This book is more reportage than history writing, a bit breathless in its heroic portrayals of cryptographers and crypto-anarchists, but does a very good job of explaining the tug-of-war between comercial companies, the US government, and various libertarian groups over cryptography during the 1990s.
- Fermat's last theoremis something as unlikely as a bestseller about number theory. It tells the story about Fermat's last theorem:
xn + yn = zn does not have a whole number solution for n higher than 2
and how mathematicians have tried to prove this for more than 300 years, until the English mathematician Andrew Wiles finally cracked it (without cracking himself, as a number of his colleagues had done over the years) in 1995.
- Bill Bryson is an American who lived his first two decades in the US, the next two in Britain, and now he is back in the States again:
- A Short History of Nearly Everything
This excellent book aims to give an overview of natural science, organized in six parts: Lost in the cosmos (about space and how our models of it have developed), The size of the earth (the development of our understanding of the physical aspects of the earth and the solar system); A new age dawns (Einstein, atoms, subatomic particles, quantum theory); Dangerous planet (a delightful diversion into naturalistic paranoia, explaining the many ways in which the Earth is vulnerable - volcanoes, asteroids, and earthquakes, to name a few); Life itself (the main part of the book, explaining life as a system from the atmosphere to the cell and eventually to DNA) and finally The road to us (human evolution - including paleontology, which turns out to be based to a surprising degree on conjecture.) Throughout everything, Bryson describes not just the various theories, but also the people who developed them, using his trademark powers of one-line characterization (Iowa is "stratigraphically uneventful", for instance) to show that science, at a certain level, is as much a competition of opinion as a rational search for truth (Read the full review here)
- Neither here nor thereIn this book, 40-ish Bryson tours Europe following (mostly) his Interrail route as a 20-year old. His observations on Norwegian television ("the closest you can come to coma without the pain and suffering"), the Reeperbahn, Swiss museums and Swedish train rides are priceless. The best parts, however, are when he recounts the misadventures of Katz, his "ugly American" Interrail travel companion.
- The lost continent: In search of small-town Americadescribes Bill Bryson's attempt to recreate the interminable car holidays of his childhood, originating in Des Moines, Iowa ("someone had to"), and terminating somewhere in the US. Bryson circles the country trying to locate the essential American small town, termed Amalgam, USA. He finds bits and pieces of it, all the time commenting on what he finds in inimitable style.
- Notes from a small islandAnother travelogue, this time Bryson meanders around Britain to take it all in before moving back to the US. I especially liked his accounts of his early work at a mental hospital and then as a junior journalist, first in Bournemouth (been there, he's right on in his descriptions of the place) and eventually for the Times just when Murdoch forced the exodus from London and the lead press to the suburbs and the computers, facing down the printers' unions.
- A walk in the woodsIn this one, Bryson is reunited with Katz and tries to hike the Appalachian trail (a footpath from Georgia to Maine). This book is more of a serious travelogue than the others, but still good fun (although experienced hikers will probably experience a slight irritation at Bryson's cute amateurisms).
- In a sunburned country or Down underBryson in Australia, a place with friendly people, vast areas, and more inventive ways to get killed than any other place on earth. I like it because of the many interesting history and nature anecdotes he comes up with (meticulously researched, or maybe he has an unmentioned and long-suffering research assistant.) And he sees Australia as a blend of England and the USA -- something I noticed myself after nearly having been killed because I forgot they drive on the left side of the road but don't have any London cabs that makes you remember it.
A sample just to show that he hasn't forgotten his trademark tirades: "After years of patient study (and with cricket there can be no other kind) I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the game that the introduction of golf carts wouldn't fix in a hurry. It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect. I don't wish to denigrate a sport that is enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which the spectators burn as many calories than the players - more if they are moderately restless. It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you can dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the end of the day as you were at the beginning."
- The Mother Tongue and Made in AmericaThese two books are about the English language: How it came to be (from Germanic and Norman roots, which is why most concepts have at least to words associated with it (i.e., dear and expensive)), the etymology of just about anything, and why it is sweeping the world (because a) there is nobody with official language police authority, and b) because English is very forgiving when it comes to adopting new words). Mother Tongue is about English English, Made in America about American English -- and one interesting factoid is that Shakespeare's contemporaries probably spoke with a more American than current British pronounciation. Mother Tongue has a great chapter on swearing (the British are so good at it that they were referred to as "god-dams" by the French) which is the only place I have, respectfully, caught Bryson in an error--he says that Finnish is not a good language for swearing, which, as any Scandinavian knows, is not the case.
- Stephen Fry is an actor, a playwright, and an author of humorous books and essays. He specializes in wildly funny dialogue and a frightening ability to characterize almost anything in terms of quotations from the the classic to the obscure (example: "'Anyhoo,' as Ned Ryerson says in Groundhog Day"). The Liar is his best book precisely because of that, in the others he starts to introduce plots as well.
- The Liaris the story of Adrian Healey, an Oscar Wilde-like character who poses and lies his way through public school and university. Replete with unerringly funny dialogue and so many references to film and literature that the author must have had an extremely high Internet bill. Unless he has read it all, which wouldn't surprise me. The school parts of the books (Adrian's school years, and a later university board meeting where he ferociously protects a favorite professor) are howlers. The plot itself is secondary at best. As his later autobiography, Moab is My Washpot, shows, Adrian Healey is largely Stephen Fry, spy intrigue and Professor Trefusis (a character he invented for a BBC radio show) aside.
- Making Historyis about an English doctoral student who discovers that he can go back in time and change history. So, he goes back to drop a contraceptive pill in the Hitler family's well, blocking little Adolf's conception. The revisionist result, however, is not exactly what he expected.....not as funny as The Liar, but the plot is clever.
- The Hippopotamusis a story about an overweight, alcoholized, writing-blocked poet who leeches onto a rich friend in a country mansion, in the process finding out the truth about the seemingly supernatural powers of healing of the son of the house. Sort of a David Lodge book, with funnier dialogue and more structure to the plot, and a solution in the end, explaining the post-modern introduction.
- Moab is my Washpotis an autobiography -- from birth to roughly 20 years of age. Shows that Stephen Fry has many similarities with the Adrian Healey character from The Liar, including some spates with the law. Honest, painful, and very funny.
a large collection of various pieces (columns, essays, some literary and radio critiques, a short play) which is best sampled, enviously, in small portions. Great collection of palindromes, for instance.
- Revenge: A Novel
(originally titled The Stars' Tennis Balls) A story of a rich and successful youngster, kidnapped due to a misunderstanding, hidden for many years and now back for revenge. Great escape story, based on The Count of Monte Christo (including a number of anagrams in the characters' names) with the language and some of the characters and characterizations of Cryptonomicon. Fun. Incidentally, you can read Dumas' book for free at the Gutenberg project.
Fun & relaxation
- L. L. Tolkien: The Lord of the RingsI read this aloud (close to a six-month project, that) to my daughters. This classic hardly needs an introduction, with all the web pages devoted to it, but my experience in reading it to children was that the first 3 - 4 chapters are a bit slow, painting the picture of an idyllic Shire and the family histories of the Hobbits, but as soon as Frodo and his friends set out on their journey to destroy The Ring, the reader is taken on one of the greatest adventures ever written (and the children understand it), complete with a new world, maps, directions, history, dialogue, and poetry. Simply wonderful. The Norwegian translation is not bad at all, but the book works best in the original English (and get the non-illustrated version--the children and you yourself are much better at conjuring up images of orcs and Riders than any picture). One little warning: It is definitely best, when reading Tolkien to children, to start with The Hobbit, and then proceed to The Lord of the Rings--not because the Hobbit is an introduction to the Lord of the Rings, but because after the children have gotten used to the rich language and wonderful imagery of the Ring, The Hobbit feels, with its sparser vocabulary and simplified intrigue, a bit shallow in comparison.
- Paul Fussell: Class: A Guide Through the American Status System
Think there are no social classes in America? You'll change your mind after this merciless and howlingly funny analysis of USA's complicated class system and widespread class anxiety. Among the gems: "The smaller the ball, the higher the class of the sport", why you should never be seen bowling, a living-room scale of classiness, and the acidy chapter explaining why, despite public funding and thousands of institutions, only a tiny proportion of US citizens receive a university education. As Fussell wrote in his autobiography (Doing Battle, p. 280): "Except for a page or two, the book is unrelentingly facetious, packed with exaggerations and palpably irresponsible assertions, and I was astonished to find how many readers took it seriously. In chain bookstores I found it classified under Self-Help instead of Humor. In Japan it was regarded as a sincere, trustworthy guide to American actualities, and tourists were seen deplaning in San Francisco with the book pressed to their bosoms." Incidentally, for a similar mock anthropology book of a more modern phenomenon, try Bobos in Paradize by David Brooks. Note added 17feb2003: Just read Paul Fussell's latest book, Uniforms: Why we are what we wear, and it was rather disappointing. It promises a great analysis of why people wear uniforms and what they signify, but fairly fast proves to be a repetition of Fussell's previous books (sometimes verbatim, straight out of Class or BAD,) and a quick read. Pity.
- Neal Stephenson: CryptonomiconThe ultimate macho hacker/history/cryptography adventure, somehow linking together telecommunications startups, number theory, Ultra clearance and the jungles of Luzon in math-genius-on-speed language into 940+ pages of sheer fun. I am so tired of novelists (Norway, my home country, excels in producing them) that never progress beyond the "computers are inhuman (not to mention hard science)" - and here is a great novel where the author not only knows something about computers, cryptography and history, but uses that knowledge as an integral part in a fantastic adventure. (For a good review I wish I had written myself, see this page by Jim Henry.) Incidentally, Stephenson has written a great essay on our (i.e., humans in various forms) relationship with technology, masked as a discussion of various operating systems and interfaces. It is, in my opinion, close the final word on various rather tedious discussions on the Internet and can be found on the Cryptonomicon web site under the name "In the beginning was......the command line" (also available as a book). Another excellent piece of technology writing is Stephenson's lengthy and very readable description of the international communications cable industry Mother Earth Mother Board, written for Wired in 1996. As for Stephenson's other books, the most well known is Snow Crash - a classic in the Cyberpunk genre. It coins terms such as "avatar" and "MetaVerse" and has spawned movies such as The Matrix, but I am not that interested in science fiction myself and much preferred Cryptonomicon.
- Neal Stephenson: Quicksilver (first book in a trilogy called The Baroque Cycle.)
This is a Cryptonomicon from the 17th century, with some characters (Shaftoes, Waterhouses, and the curiously well-preserved Enoch Root) from that book and others either connected to the Royal Society (Wilkins, Wren, Pepys, Huygens, Newton, Hooke, Leibniz) or part of various scheming and warring royal families. This book is heavier and slower than Cryptonomicon, and not as tight in its plotting (for instance, some of the ciphers seem a bit too digital and some of the expressions a trifle modern) but it is a page-turner and left me waiting for the next two books in the cycle. The reviews have been mixed - very mixed, indeed, almost bimodal - and I fall somewhere in the middle. Stephenson, incidentally, seems to have some trouble holding all the different people and places apart and has created a Wiki for readers and writer alike.
- Farley Mowat: The Boat that Wouldn't FloatHilarious sailing tales from Newfoundland, with an old schooner that leaks like a sieve. Navigational blunders such as, in thick fog, anchoring the thing under the refuse pipe of a fish plant..... Thoug Farley Mowat has been accused of being a bit liberal with the facts, especially in Never Cry Wolf, for this book a vivid imagination is a definite plus.
Serious literatureJust what it sounds like--real books.
- Viktor Klemperer: I Will Bear Witness 1933-1941
Viktor Klemperer was a professor of Romance languages, a Jewish intellectual who had converted to Protestantism. Incredibly, he survived WWII in Dresden, largely because of his front line experience and marriage to an Aryan. This book is his diaries from 1933 to 1941, recording his daily struggle with everyday problems in the face of a more and more oppressive regime. Klemperer continues to write his book on French nineteenth-century literature despite no hope of ever getting it published, while he studyies and comments on the language of Nazism and how it resembles the language of Communism or the language of the French revolutionaries. He loses his position, his house, his car and eventually his typewriter, but despite depressions and economic struggles maintains his diary. In the beginning he does it as a personal diary, but as time goes by, he realizes the importance of writing down the small stuff, bearing witness to how oppression works not only at a "large" level (with race laws and deportations) but at the detailed and local level (with local bureaucrats hounding him for not having a "Germanic" design to his garage, or not keeping his garden up to their standards). The book, despite its length, draws you in, and is full of poignant observations about the insidiousness (and, to use Hannah Arendt's term, banality) of oppression. The following quote is typical:
Recently a conversation with Weller brought both of us almost to the brink of despair. The man, disciminated against by the Nazis, [...], not unintelligent, not a Jew hater, expresses ideas that in form and content are pure National Socialism. About the necessity of the community of the people, of distinct races, of the identity of law and power, of the unquestionable superiority of the new German army over all attackers (since we do not want to attack, of course, and only want peace), of the need to fight off Communism (without realizing that here we have a more hypocritical form of Communism), etc. I said to Eva, the man is quite unaware of how much of a National Socialist he is [...]. And I said to myself once again, that Hitlerism is after all more deeply and firmly rooted in the nation and corresponds more to the German nature than I would like to admit." (p. 229, July 13, 1937)This book is highly recommended because it makes you understand so many things which in hindsight look puzzling: Why didn't more Jews go to Palestine (because, for one thing, mixed marriages were discriminated against there too), emigrate somewhere else (it was expensive, and without an internationally demanded profession, how should you survive financially?). Why was there, seemingly, so little opposition (because it was fragmented, oppressed, and because most "normal" Germans saw Communism, which they regarded as worse than Nazism, as the only alternative). This book is the story of a gradual descent into hell, about human endurance, and about understanding how a cultured and liberal nation can evolve into oppression and totalitarianism, one small step at a time.
- Andre Malraux: La Condition Humaine (Man's Fate)The Chinese revolution as seen from the side that eventually lost. "Has been termed one of the greatest literary masterpieces in this century." I bought it on a recommendation and was overwhelmed by the simplicity of the heroism described.
- Jean-Paul Sartre:
- The Age of Reason (or, alternatively, Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment or Knut Hamsun's Hunger.) Dostyevsky has been credited with saying that there are only two books ever written: Someone goes on a journey, and A stranger comes to town. These three are all of the former category. And, incidentally, don't confuse Sartre's book with Thomas Paine's Age of Reason.
- The Wall. Collection of superb short stories, the title story (about a man waiting to be executed during the Spanish Civil War) is especially powerful.
- Joan Brady: Theory of WarThis book is scary--I read it on a trip from Oslo to Auckland, New Zealand, completely spoiling the trip as far as sleep was concerned. The main protagonist is Jonathan Carrick, who is sold into (white) slavery as a child in the 1890's and mistreated to a degree that is hard to believe if it wasn't told with such conviction and based on the life of the author's grandfather. The story of his escape and revenge (and how the effects of slavery are passed on to his children) does not lose any of its believability despite the fantastic nature of many of the adventures Jonathan goes through until he takes revenge on his tormentor, without ever escaping the after-effects of slavery.
- Robertson Davies: What's Bred in the BoneI like many of Robertson Davies books, this one is a good starting point, as is Murther and Walking Spirits or The Cunning Man. Davis tended to write books from the same environment--self-made Canadian upper middle class families, the books often written as loosely related trilogies (this one is part of the Cornish trilogy)--but return always to his interests in melodrama and picaresques.
Books to learn from(that is, I learned something from them...educational non-fiction, perhaps? Great reads)
- Murray Gell-Mann: The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex.
Interesting discussion of the links between the simple and the complex - from elemental particles to complex adaptive systems such as the eponymous jaguar. Lots of interesting discussions and views: What sciences are fundamental, for instance (physics, since it incorporates the underlying mechanisms of chemistry, then chemistry, because it incorporates principles of biology, then biology...). Very good on dimensions of complexity, the difference between underlying principles and the complexity added by history, the difference between systems with identifiable or interchangeable elements - in short, this book put a lot together that I wished I had read at an earlier stage - and makes me wish for a visit to the Santa Fe Institute.
- Paul Fussell: The Great War and Modern MemoryThis book documents the changing concept of war, by analyzing the writing of English poets about war during the WWI. Before the meaningless slaughters in the fields of Flanders, war was seen as something heroic, with young men going into virtually certain--and useless--death "over the parapet". As the war wore on and hundreds of thousands died for a few yards of no-mans land, the whole concept of war changed. From the unlikely starting point of literature analysis, this book constructs a picture of WWI which is more revealing than many novels and certainly most history books. Incidentally, Fussell has written a very good autobiography, called Doing Battle: The making of a skeptic, which is as good an account as any about the impact of battlefield experiences on a previously carefree rich American kid, and his subsequent development as an independent thinker and author.
- Alexander, Christopher, S. Ishikawa, et al. (1977). A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. New York, Oxford University Press.This book is about architecture and design, or, more specifically, "patterns". Each pattern (and the book contains about 350 of them) is a short statement of a human need from buildings (or, from city planning to individual room furnishing), some discussion and analysis, and a conclusion. The patterns are interrelated, so that pattern x works very well when combined with pattern y, etc. Each pattern is a little gem of truth in itself, some examples: "Any balcony less than six feet wide will not be used", or "when given a choice between a room with light in from one side or light from two sides, people will always chose the room with light from two sides." The book is expensive and can be hard to get, but is definitely worth it.
- Brand, Stewart (1995). How Buildings Learn. New York, Penguin Books.Stewart Brand was one of the Founders of the WELL, one of the authors of "The Whole Earth Catalogue", has written a good little book about the Media Lab, and is one of the driving forces in the very interesting research company GBN (or Global Business Network). However, this is his best book by far. Delving into the question of why some buildings, over time, seem to work and some not, Brand takes us on a tour de force of architecture and design, pointing out how the best buildings work because they are adaptable, chiefly because the six "layers" of the building -- site, structure, skin, services, space and stuff -- don't overlap. Lots of photos, and a post-modernistic twist with a great account of how Brand wrote the book, including the design of a workroom in an 80-foot container.
- Daniel Dennett: Consciousness ExplainedWhat is it that makes the us conscious, that really makes us think? Many people have a notion that somewhere in the brain, there is a place where "it all comes together", where reality is a film played in front of a Central Meaner, who decides what to do. The problem then is--how does this Central Meaner work?--and the popular notion is disspelled through reductio in absurdum. Instead, Dennett develops Marvin Minsky's notion of the Society of Mind further, explaining how we can be conscious and appear and behave like consistent human beings through, essentially, having a soul that is "the program that runs on your brain's computer". I love this book, see its central tenets as applying to much more than human cognition, because Dennett is both philosopher and and interpreter of natural science--and writes wonderfully as well.
- Stephen Jay Gould: Bully for BrontosaurusGould's essays in Natural History are famous, especially his explanations and discussions of various aspects of evolutionary theory, which (and I realize this sounds weird to most civilized people) still is positioned as an "alternative" against creationism in certain part (and pretty large parts they are too) in the States. I like Gould for his forays into history--all the things we see as true in history books often turn out not to be true at all. His star example is the supposed discussion between Thomas Huxley and Bishop Samuel "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce, a discussion that made it into the annals of science history as a great triumph of Huxley, but were it turns out that Huxley did not deliver the main attack on Wilberforce at all (someone else did). Gould can be a little self-conscious and self-referential, but he is a Harvard professor of paleontoly, writes wonderfully well and have done so every month for years and years, so I guess he has earned it... Bully for Brontosaurus is, I think, his best collection, but that does not mean that any of the others don't deserve reading.
- Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human SocietiesThis book seeks to answer the question: Why did some societies (such as the Europeans and Asians) evolve from hunter-gatherers to farming and then to technologically advanced world conquerors, whereas others (Australian Aboriginals, Native Americans) did not? Or, why do some societies evolve from bands through tribes through chiefdoms to states? Diamond answers this with a detailed model, based on a wealth of archeological and biological information, of how availability of growable plants and domesticatable animals in certain locations such as the Fertile Crescent (Lebanon/Syria/Turkey) allowed the development of agriculture, how the ability to spread these innovations depended on space to grow along East-West rather than South-North axes, how the resulting food surplus allowed specialization of work and the creation of a governing elite, how dense populations bred advanced bacteria which later wiped out the hunter-gatherer inhabitants of new areas. Interesting and very plausible theory, a joy to read even though you can sense that the author is arguing a point rather than just recounting a process.
- Geoffrey Blainey: A Short History of the WorldHow simple can you make history without making it too simple? Geoffrey Blainey tells the story of the last 4 million years of humanity largely in terms of the geographical, technological, spiritual and living standard changes in the lives of normal people. Few individuals are singled out as important -- Buddha, Jesus, Constantine, Muhammed, Ghengis Khan, Martin Luther, Hitler, and some others. Napoleon merits a few sentences. There is emphasis on developments and differences, and many smart comparisons about the relative importance of various developments, such as the spreading of knowledge and trade. There is also an summary end chapter on some key changes - less dependency on seasons, less difference between day and night, the rise of sports rather than church -- which to me seems a little tacked on. Still, an impressively quick read at 606 pages and about 170,000 words -- a generalist version of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel or James Beniger's The Control Revolution.
- Edward R. Tufte: The Visual Display of Quantitative InformationThe first and foremost book on graphical presentation of data--with wonderful examples of good and bad graphics. Tufte published this book on his own, and (I have been told) almost sold it out of the back of his station wagon until it took off. He has since followed it up with Envisioning Information (about how to show qualitative information) and Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative(essentially, how to depict a story, with timeline, through graphical illustrations)
- Tracy Kidder writes "cases": Portraits of projects and the people in them, in an almost naturalistic fashion. These two, in my opinion, stand out:
- The Soul of a New Machine is the story of the development of a computer (a Data General computer from the mid-80s, in case you are interested), the people who are involved in it (mostly young nerdy engineers and a few experienced managers.) Kidder manages to get in under the skin of the participants, in the process making the reader feel the triumphs, disappointments and especially the pressures in building the new model that may or may not save the company.
- House is the story of the building of a house, plain and simple, an architect-drawn house built in wood in a small town in Massachusetts. Kidder sees the process from the viewpoint of the owner, the architect, and the small carpentry company that builds the house.
- Barbara Tuchman: A Distant Mirror : The Calamitous 14th Century is just that: A narrative of the 1300s, organized as a history of one particular French nobleman, Enguerrand de Coucy, who somehow managed, like an early Hornblower, to be in the centre of action throughout most of the century. This book is fascinating because it draws you in - gradually, you come to understand the limitations of the technology and the tremendous upheavals of the 1300s: the coming of science, the fall of courtship, the church and the chevalier as the ideal, the ramifications for all concerned of living through the Black Death. Umberto Eco's The name of the rose gives something of the same flavor: Humans have been thinking and struggling for many centuries, and the ridiculous notion that we are going through unprecendented times of change is struck down once and for all. Tuchman has also written an book of three extended essays called The March of Folly, analyzing why presumably civilized societies do things that were downright stupid and recognized as such at the time - the three examples are how the medival popes virtually created Protestantism, how England lost America, and how the US got itself into Viet Nam. Tuchman's most well-known book is The Guns of August, which analyzes the events that led to the First World War - again, an instance of folly.
Technology & thinking(because technology is about thinking and thinking, it seems, is more and more about technology)
- Utterback, J. M. (1994). Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School PressUtterback is a professor at MIT and a pioneer in the field of technology evolution. This book describes the process of technology evolution and its link to market evolution in a number of industries, from computer chips to a fabulous chapter on the ice industry (where Norway was a very important player on the world market.). A theoretically robust model for technology evolution as a process of evolution and revolution is detailed, a model which is crucial for our understanding of the likely changes we are facing in our increasingly digital business world. This book offers the theoretical weight necessary to put Negroponte's more aggressive statements into a broader context.
- Daniel Dennett: Consciousness ExplainedSee above. For those interested in evolution theory, try Darvin's Dangerous Idea by the same author. Or read some of Stephen Jay Gould's numerous tomes.
- Don Norman: The Design of Everyday ThingsThis suberb little book takes a look at how we can design things so that they are intuitive in use--and why architects and industrial designers seldom design that way. Why is it that we see signs on doors ("Pull") or faucets ("Push button for hot water") when the way to use them should be intuitive from their design? This book has a lot in common with Alexander's book on architecture, but is more readily accessible. [Note: The original version of this book was called The psychology of everyday things, but this title proved too taxing for the average reader and was changed to the less intimidating design in the paperback version.]
- Don Norman: Things that Make Us SmartWhy are humans smarter than machines? Simply because we are everything machines are not: Inaccurate, abstracting, disorganized, etc. Great book on the World Wide Web -- except, it was published in 1993. Wonderful on the nature of artifacts and how we use them to increase our own memory, analytical skill or illustrative power.
- Mitchel Resnick: Turtles, Termites and Traffic JamsThis very readable little book describes StarLogo, a very simple programming language that enables the researcher to simulate self-organizing systems--that is, situations and systems where many small units, each following very simple rules for behavior, give rise to seemingly very complex behavior at a collective level. Wonderful examples, great fun, very instructive for people who thinks that society can be regulated and that individual behavior does not matter....
- Beniger, J. R. (1986). The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.Historical overview of the need for control and the technologies that evolved as a result it. Absolutely priceless in its tracking of how organization begat technology begat organization, from the telegraph via telephone, radio and TV up til the beginning of the modern computer.
- Christensen, Clayton M. (1997) The Innovator's Dilemma: Why New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.in this impressively researched book focusing on the hard disk drive industry, Clayton Christensen shows how listening to the customer and giving the customer what they want can get a company in trouble when the technology changes, even though the change may, at the time, seem technologically insignificant. A scary book for technology executives, definitely something that should have been read by IBM, Norsk Data, Digital, Wordperfect, Prime, Data General, Bull, ICL and other former greats of information technology.
- Peter G. Neumann: Computer-related RISKSPGN has run the RISKS Digest since 1985, seeing it evolve into the main forum for discussion of risks in computer use and development. This book is a categorization of the most important risk reports, gives a taste of the comprehensiveness and variety of the RISKS Digest. Incidentally, PGN is a very interesting character in his own right, the most proficient "knowledge manager" I know of.
- McKenney, James. (1994). Waves of Change: Business Evolution Through Information Technology, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.McKenney, Professor Emeritus and former Chairman of the MIS group at Harvard Business School (I must add, in fairness, that he was my thesis advisor), provides an account of the development and implementation processes for two of the world's most consequential information systems: Bank of America's check processing system, the model for most of the banking systems we know today; and American Airlines' SABRE, the first computerized reservation system and still the largest privately owned real-time system in the world. From the history of these two system, McKenney develops a "cascading" model of technology development and implementation, and then proceeds to test this model against three other case histories of successful "classic" system cases: Frito-Lays data capture and pricing system within snacks distribution, USAA's use of document imaging and centralized customer information systems within insurance, and American Hospital Supply's revolutionizing ASAP-system for selling and distributing hospital supplies.
- Weill, Peter and Marianne Broadbent: Leveraging the New Infrastructure: How Market Leaders Capitalize on Information Technology. Excellent overview and framework for management of information technology and the part of the organization providing that resource. Especially good because it understands the concept of technology as infrastructure - an underlying foundation, available and standardized - for the execution and continued development of organizational processes.
- Cerruzi, Paul (1998) A History of Modern Computing, Cambridge, MA: MIT PressEverything you ever wanted about computing history, from the founding of the Eckert-Mauchly corporation to the onset of Netscape and the Internet. I liked it because it gives a good idea of the history of the development of computing has been a series of innovations and evolutions building on top of each other -- and because it debunks a number of myths. Especially good on the mainframe era and the onset of the minicomputer. Learned a number of things I had no clue about, such at the importance of the Apollo space program for the establishment of the microchip, what sounds like the right story of Microsoft and how it got into the OS market (and, incidentally, the reason operating systems are called that -- they replaced the operator!). Also underscores the importance of the IBM 360/67, which I think was a very important machine for its introduction of virtual memory.
- Lessig, Lawrence (2001). The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World. New York, Random House.
To have innovation, you need commons - resources and areas that are freely available for others to build on. Excellent argument against reigning in freedom of expression and innovation through excessive copyright legislation on the Internet.
- Petzinger, T. (1996). Hard Landing. New York, Times Business Books.The international airline industry, particularly in the US, is a wonderful example of what happens when a "network" industry (with huge fixed costs and a non-differentiable offering) goes from fully regulated to fully competitive. Read this coupled with McKenney's Waves of Change, and you will see why the airline industry is a blueprint for many other industries -- finance and telecoms in particular -- in a transition from physical to electronic competition.
Business and organization, electronic & otherBusiness books in general, diplomatically speaking, are not that well written. For the business books, the essence can often be well captured in a Harvard Business Review article (and usually is, which means you don't have to read the book). For the denser organizational books, you often do better with a well told illustrative anecdote. But there are numerous exceptions, here are some classics, and some personal favorites of mine:
- James March and Herbert Simon (1958): Organizations. The classic on organizational theory. Describes organizations as undertaking activities that go through innovation vs. control phases, referred to as unprogrammed vs. programmed activities. Recommends creating separate units for these activities to make them both florish. Also discusses dysfunctions of bureaucracy.
- James Thompson (1967): Organizations in Action. Groundbreaking work or theory, hard to get hold of, on organizations as systems that manage interdependence.
- Graham Allison (1971): The Essence of Decision. Classic on decision analysis, analyzing the Cuba crisis from three different theoretical perspectives.
- Hofstadter, D. M. (1979). Gödel, Esher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. New York, Vintage Books.
Self-referential systems, music, mathematics, art, history, poetry, paradoxes, computer science and about a million other things. A must.
- Axelrod, R. (1984). The Evolution of Cooperation. Small book exploring how cooperation happens - more precisely: under what conditions will cooperation emerge in a world of egoists without central authority? Talks about game theory, the prisoner's dilemma, and which strategies will win in the long run - cooperation or defection. Matched with an interesting research method: Create a tournament of computer programs that play for an unknown number of iterations - and let the best one win. Classic.
- Nonaka and Takeuchi: The Knowledge-Creating Company. The book that started the knowledge management movement, with its descriptions of the properties and interconnections of tacit and explicit knowledge.
- Simons, R. L. (1995). Levers of Control. Excellent taxonomy of control systems and theory of their strategic use in organizations. Underscores the role of control systems as tools for strategic change - and how managers create change by picking a control system and making it the most important for strategic change.
- Shoshana Zuboff: (1988). In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power Informate or automate--technology can do both, but management and the individual user must decide what it should be.
- Cairncross, Frances. (1997) The Death of Distance: How the communications revolution revolution will change our lives. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. Pretty good book with excellent language (the author is a writer with the Economist). Lays out the business consequences of the revolution taking place in computers and communications. The book covers, in an irreverent yet informative way, most of the aspects of the seminar. Relatively free of "empty" language and grand phantasies, relying instead on research and examples. Some of this has previously been published in the Economist. True to its message, this book has its own website.
- Garfinkel, Simson and Gene Spafford (1996). Web Security and Commerce, O'Reilly and Associates This down-to-earth, hands-on description of tools and technologies for setting up and managing web services provides the details where Cairncross' book gives the big picture. A great reference for people wanting to roll their own Web service, including some war stories from two seasoned technology writers and tinkerers.
- Caves, R. E. (2000). Creative Industries: Contracts Between Art and Commerce. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press. Excellent history of contracting and art: Lays out the peculiar reward and work mechanisms for writers, actors, painters, movie people, musicians as a consequence of the economic properties of creative products and their consumption. Good economic history of the movie, music and theatre industries, as well.
- and here's more, books that I have enjoyed and are wont to categorize:
- Hannah Arendt: Eichmann in Jerusalem. A study of evil -- and especially "the banality of evil." This book gained fame because it was the first to analyse the horrors of the holocaust as something done not by evil, murderous, deranged monsters, but by bureaucrats just doing their job. And that is precisely what is so scary about it. Read it together with Viktor Klemperer's I will bear witness (see above).
- Boisot, M. (1987). Information and Organizations: The Manager as Anthropologist. London, Fontana/Collins. A behavioral view of transaction cost theory, to quote a colleague. Amazingly, not found at Amazon.
- Bolter, J. D. (1984). Turings Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age. Old Woking, Surrey, UK, Unwin Brothers Ltd. Man has always seen himself in terms of the technology of the times. Newton saw the world as a clock, Taylor as a machine -- and we now see ourselves as computers.
- Brooks, F. P. (1975). The Mythical Man-Month. Reading, MA, Addison-Wesley. Why you should never add more people to a late project. Classic on software development management -- or any kind of project management, for that matter.
- Burns, T. and G. M. Stalker (1961). The Management of Innovation. London, Tavistock Publications. "Mechanistic" and "organic" organizations--and a lot more.
- Chandler, A. D. (1962). Strategy and Structure. Garden City, Doubleday. The structure of an organization follows from its strategy.
- Chandler, A. D. (1977). The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. Cambridge, MA, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. The history of the rise of professional management and managerial economics.
- Chandler, A. D. (1990). Scale and Scope: The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism. Cambridge, MA, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. History of the worlds largest companies, how they got so big through exploiting economies of scale and scope.
- Christensen, C. M. (1997). The Innovator's Dilemma: Why New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. Boston, MA, Harvard Business School Press. See above--wonderful on why succesful companies (nearly always) fail when a new technology comes along.
- Collins, J. C. and J. I. Porras (1994). Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. New York, Harpercollins.
- Cusumano, M. A. and R. W. Selby (1995). Microsoft Secrets: How the World's Most Powerful Software Company Creates Technology, Shapes Markets and Manages People. New York, The Free Press.Excellent study of a very interesting company--where everyone understands and uses technology. Interesting point is that much of what they do is rather traditional--they just do it very well. (Incidentally, this book is often mis-categorized and stuck under "Windows Tips and Trick" or something other technical.)
- Cyert, R. M. and J. G. March (1963). A Behavioral Theory of the Firm. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall.
- Davenport, T. H. (1993). Process Innovation: Reengineering Work through Information Technology. Boston, MA, Harvard Business School Press. The "second classic" on business process redesign--Tom Davenport claims (along with Hammer and Champy) that he invented that term. It came out of a consulting company called Index, where they all worked....
- Dawkins, R. (1976). The Selfish Gene. Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press. Classic on evolutionary theory as seen from the gene rather than the individual.
- de Geus, A. (1997). The Living Company: Growth, Learning and Longevity in Business. Boston, MA, Harvard Business School Press.Rambling but interesting on how successful companies survive through learning.
- Dennett, D. C. (1997). Brainchildren: Essays on designing minds. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press. Collection of Dennett's writings, especially liked the discussion of the Turing test.
- Drucker, P. F. (1993). Post-Capitalist Society. New York, HarperBusiness.
- Drucker, P. F. (1954). The Practice of Management. New York, Harper.
- Eames, C. and R. Eames (1990). A Computer Perspective. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press. Great history of computers from "the office of" Eames....
- Eccles, R. G. and D. B. Crane (1988). Doing Deals: Investment Banks at Work. Boston, MA, Harvard Business School Press.Relationship management, based on case studies from investment banking.
- Foster, R. N. (1986). Innovation: The Attacker's Advantage. New York, Summit Books. Precursor to Utterback and Christensen, shows how incumbents fail in the face of new technology, but attributes it largely to incumbent laziness.
- Frank, R. H. (1985). Choosing the Right Pond: Human Behavior and the Quest for Status. New York, Oxford University Press.People don't care how much they have, only how much they have compared to their neighbor. And they pay the poor to stay that way.
- Gapper, J. and N. Denton (1997). All That Glitters: The Fall of Barings. London, Penguin. Wonderful case story of Barings, short on sensationalism and long on data and analysis. Solid case writeup.
- Haffner, S. (1989). The Meaning of Hitler. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press. Main thesis is that Hitler's military decisions after Stalingrad (fight to the end, Ardenner offensive) were not incompetent, but designed to destroy a Germany that had failed to live up to his ideas.
- Hafner, K. and M. Lyon (1996). Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet. New York, Simon & Schuster. History of the Internet, a bit long in the tooth sometimes. Effectively debunks the myth that the Internet was designed to withstand an atomic attack..
- Hafner, K. and J. Markoff (1991). Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier. New York, Simon & Schuster. Three cases of hackers ( rather, crackers) -- The Hannover hackers, Kevin Mitnick, and Robert Tappan Morris (the latter probably unintentional) -- and how they were caught. Not as fun as Tsutomo Shimomura and John Markoff's Takedown, but probably more realistic and certainly not so breathless.
- Harris, R. (1986). The Selling of Hitler. London, UK, Arrow Books. Great fun, a study of how an incompetent journalist and a clumsy forger managed to get millions out of Stern and other publications for a blatantly falsified set of "Hitler's diaries."
- Hofstadter, D. M. and D. C. Dennett (1982 ). The Mind's I. New York, Bantam Books. Collection of smaller pieces of cognitive psychology, how we think and what we are.
- Johnson-Laird, P. N. (1988). The Computer and the Mind. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press. Early overview of cognitive science.
- Kanter, R. M. (1983). The Change Masters: Innovation for Productivity in the American Corporation. New York, Simon & Schuster.
- Kanter, R. M. (1989). When Giants Learn to Dance. New York, Simon & Schuster.
- Katz, D. and R. L. Kahn (1978). The Social Psychology of Organizations. New York, John Wiley & Sons. The organization as an open system. Classic but long.
- Keen, P. G. W. (1991). Shaping the Future: Business Design through Information Technology. Boston, MA, Harvard Business School Press. First business book to focus on IT as competitive weapon.
- Kernighan, B. W. and P. J. Plauger (1974). The Elements of Programming Style. New York, McGraw-Hill. Included here on a lark, example of terse writing and cool programming.
- Machiavelli, N. (1981). The Prince. New York, Bantam Books. Medieval MBA.
- March, J. G. (1988). Decisions and Organizations. Oxford, England, Basil Blackwell. Collection of March' writings.
- March, J. G. and J. P. Olsen (1979). Ambiguity and Choice in Organizations. Oslo, Norway, Universitetsforlaget.
- Miller, D. and P. H. Friesen (1984). Organizations: A Quantum View. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall. Introduces configurations as characteristic of organizations--this reads--and probably is--like the analytical precursor to Mintzberg's "Structure in Fives".
- Minsky, M. (1986). The Society of Mind. New York, Simon and Schuster.
- Mintzberg, H. (1973). The Nature of Managerial Work. New York, Harper & Row.
- Mintzberg, H. (1983). Structure in fives: Designing Effective Organizations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall.
- Moore, J. F. (1996). The Death of Competition: Leadership & Strategy in the Age of Business Ecosystems. New York, Wiley.
- Morgan, G. (1986). Images of Organizations. London, Sage Publications. Broad sweep through the organizational literature, classifying and describing it in terms of its metaphors.
- Nalebuff, B. J. and A. J. Brandenburger (1996). Co-opetition. London, HarperCollinsBusiness.
- Nelson, R. R. and S. G. Winter (1982). An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change. Cambridge, MA, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
- Neumann, P. G. (1995). Computer-related Risks. Reading, MA, Addison-Wesley. Risks and computer from the ultimate source -- Peter Neumann runs a discussion list on risks in using computers and in their deployment in organizationally and technically complex settings. See this link for details.
- Nonaka, I. and H. Takeuchi (1995). The Knowledge-Creating Company. New York, Oxford University Press. One of the few really useful books on Knowledge Management
- Norman, D. A. (1993). Things That Make Us Smart. New York, Perseus Books.
- Packard, V. (1980). The Hidden Persuaders, Washington Square Press.
- Pagels, H. (1989). The Dreams of Reason. New York, Simon and Schuster.
- Penrose, E. T. (1959). The Theory of the Growth of the Firm. White Plains, New York, M.E. Sharpe. Beginning of the resource-based view of strategy -- takes a firm-specific viewpoint of why firms grow.
- Peter, L. J. and R. Hull (1969). The Peter Principle. New York, W. Morrow. Everyone is promoted to his or her incompetence level....
- Popper, K. (1959). The Logic of Scientific Discovery. New York, Basic Books. The classic description of positivistic philosophy of science the main point being the recognition of scientific theory as conjecture that can be falsified (in other words, if your theory is not stated in a form that can be rebutted, it is not a scientific theory).
- Porter, M. E. (1980). Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors. New York, Free Press. Porter's classical five-forces framework for analyzing industries, as well as the three generic competitive strategies: Lowest cost, differentiation, or focus (niche).
- Porter, M. E. (1985). Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance. New York, Free Press. Porter's value chain description of a company.
- Porter, M. E. (1990). The Competitive Advantage of Nations. New York, Free Press. Porter's concept of "competitive clusters" and the "diamond" framework describing the competitive factors of a nation (or, rather, region).
- Raymond, E. S., Ed. (1996). The New Hacker's Dictionary. Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press. Available on the net as well, comes in many versions and has the Story of Mel (a timeless classic if there ever was one).
- Resnick, M. (1994). Turtles, Termites and Traffic Jams: Explorations in Massively Parallel Microworlds. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.
- Roethlisberger, F. J. and W. J. Dickson (1939). Management and the Worker. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press. The classic on the Hawthorne experiments - read this for an understanding of how long and how short management theory and practice have come since then.
- Rogers, E. M. (1983). Diffusion of Innovations. New York, The Free Press. Classic theory of how innovations spread, constantly reissued in new versions.
- Rogers, E. M. and J. K. Larsen (1984). Silicon Valley Fever. New York, Basic Books. Great early book on the history of Silicon Valley.
- Sampson, A. (1977). The Arms Bazaar: From Lebanon to Lockheed. New York, The Viking Press.
- Sampson, A. (1984). Empires of the Sky: The Politics, Contests and Cartels of World Airline industry. New York, Random House.
- Sampson, A. (1988). The Seven Sisters: The Great Oil Companies and the World They Made. London, Hodder & Stoughton.
- Schank, R. C. (1991). The Connoiseur's Guide to the Mind. New York, Summit Books. I actually liked this explanation of some of the theories of Artificial Intelligence, despite the monumental ego of the author (his knows his food, though.)
- Scott, W. R. (1981). Organizations: Rational, Natural and Open Systems. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall. or a later version, classic taxonomy and history of organization theory.
- Shapiro, C. and H. R. Varian (1999). Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy. Boston, MA, Harvard Business School Press. First Internet book with no hype and lots of sense.
- Shimomura, T. and J. Markoff (1996). Takedown. New York, Hyperion. Fun chase after hacker, although you get a bit tired of the author after a while. Fairly accurate picture of the ISP industry, not much changed as I write this (2002).
- Solman, P. and T. Friedman (1982). Life and Death on the Corporate Battlefield. New York, Simon and Schuster. Anecdotes galore. Fun.
- Stewart, J. B. (1991). Den of Thieves. New York, Simon & Schuster. Micael Milken, Ivan Boesky and their financial shenanigans from the 80s.
- Stoll, C. (1989). The Cuckoo's Egg. New York, Doubleday. The first hacker chase book. Wonderfully nerdy and with great little anecdotes. The author's later reverting to medio-artfully articulated anti-Internetism in Silicon Snake Oil and High Tech Heretic has not been particularly successful, in my opinion.
- Taylor, D. A. (1990). Object-Oriented Technology: A Manager's Guide. Alameda, CA, Servio Corporation. Excellent explanation of object technology for non-techies.
- Taylor, D. A. (1995). Business Reengineering with Object Technology. New York, John Wiley & Sons. Simple method for discovering objects and their responsibilities.
- Thompson, J. D. (1967). Organizations in Action. New York, McGraw-Hill. Strong theory of organizational purpose and dynamics, forms the foundation for many other works in organization theory and competitive strategy. Analyses organizational activities and how they form the organization structure and value system. Up there with March & Simon, finally coming out in reprint.
- Tichy, N. M. (1983). Managing Strategic Change: Technical, political and cultural dynamics. New York, Wiley.
- Townsend, R. (1970). Up the Organization. New York, Knopf. One-liners with several-line depth. Fun and much better than most "Heathrow School of Management" books.
- Tushman, M. L. and W. L. Moore, Eds. (1988). Readings in the Management of Innovation. New York, HarperBusiness. Excellent collection of hard-to-find gems - including Morison's piece on Gunfire at Sea.
- Tzu, S. (1963). The Art of War. London, Oxford University Press. Required reading in strategy courses though somewhat overhyped. Emphasises the psychological and logistics aspects of war.
- Weick, K. E. (1979). The Social Psychology of Organizing. New York, Random House. Organizations create their own environment by selecting what to focus on and memorizing that which supports the selection. Fun section towards the end arguing for that as a manager - and a researcher - one should "complicate oneself"..
- Whyte, W. F. (1949). Street Corner Society. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press. Sociological study of Italian immigrants in Somerville, MA. Interesting both for the study itself and for Whyte's reflections and observations on the influence of the observer on the subjects and the subjects and the situtation on the observer.
- Yin, R. (1988). Case Study Research. Newbury Park, CA, Sage Publications.
- Yourdon, E. N. (1992). Decline and Fall of the American Programmer. New York, Yourdon Press.
- Yourdon, E. N., Ed. (1979). Classics in Software Engineering, Yourdon Press. Good collection.
- Zimmermann, P. G. (1995). The Official PGP User's Guide. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.
- Zuboff, S. (1988). In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power. New York, Basic Books. Too long, but makes on very strong point - essentially, that information technology can be used to automate work or to informate it, i.e., increase the information available to the worker and thereby his or her influence, discretion and knowledge. What one chooses to use the tchnology for is less a question of technology than attitude and power. Excellent case descriptions.
- Bartlett's Dictionary of Quotations....because it is fun to search for quotations, and you'll be surprised of who said what (and, especially, how early most of it was said.)
- Paul Auster (ed.): I Thought My Father was God.
150 stories sent in by listeners to NPR's All things Considered. Some amazing, some sad, some funny, some irritating. Good writing and above all, selection (from about 4,000 sent in.)
- Ambrose Bierce: The Devil's DictionaryThe ultimate cynic's collection. At a price of $0.80, how can you lose?
- Selected Poetry of Ogden Nash"The trouble with a kitten is THAT, eventually it becomes a CAT" And lots more.
- Stephen J. Frank: The Uncertainty PrincipleFunny book about a "prodigy coming of age" at MIT. Recognizeable environment, and just enough quasi-science to make it believable (I hate books that supposedly are about technology but don't get the tech details right, this one does well).
The quick take
Books to read (for no particular reason) Books to avoid (because it is no fun setting up a page like this without being able to make this list)
- Woody Allen's Getting Even and Without Feathers to improve your cynical joke repertoire. Getting a bit 70s and dated, though.
- Most stuff by Dave Barry and P J O'Rourke. In measured doses (a chapter a day). O'Rourke's Holidays in Hell has the best description of the international sailing culture (or lack of it) I have ever read, Parliament of Whores explains US politics for the unitiated. Eat the Rich actually contains an excellent understanding of (liberalistic) economics, with examples to spare.
- Isabel Allende: House of Spirits
- Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. If you really get hooked, try the rest of the series, but I overdosed and that was it. And take a peek at The Meaning of Liff, which will give you words for all those little everyday concepts that need a label.
- Po Bronson: Bombardiers. Fun about trading and overwork.
- Italo Calvino: If on a Winter's Night a Traveller and The Baron in the Trees
- Winston Spencer Churchill: Memoirs of The Second World War
- Doctorow: Billy Bathgate and The Waterworks
- Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose. Perhaps Foucault's Pendulum. Definitely How to Travel with a Salmon. But not The Island of the Day Before, and not The Search for the Perfect Language (unless you are a linguist, that is)
- Richard P. Feynman: Surely Your're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think? (and if you are interested in a serious biography on Feynman, try James Gleick's Genius)
- F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby and perhaps The Last Tycoon
- C.S. Forrester's Hornblower series (because, for a boys book character, Horiatio Hornblower is more complex than most. And the historical details are correct to the extent they can be in a work of fiction). Incidentally, for a funny book in the same tradition, try Midshipman Easy by Captain Maryatt or Patrick O'Brien's series about Captain Jack Aubrey and his sidekick Stephen Maturin.
- Kenneth Galbraith: A Tenured Professor, a funny little satire about contrarian investing and academic pomposity, sort of an Ameican version of David Lodge.
- Jean Genet: Diary of a Thief
- Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (the shortened Penguin version, by all means). In one part, he refers to an area called Slovia, which Caesar never was able to conquer - and marvels (in 1790) that they are still fighting among themselves there. How little the world changes.
- William Golding: Lord of the Flies. Scary about a flock of schoolboys marrooned on a deserted island, and the tribal society they form.
- Guenther Grass: The Tin Drum. The film was great, too.
- Graham Greene: I particularly enjoyed Travels With My Aunt (middle-aged retired bank manager discovers the worl through his delightful and very cosmopolitan aunt Augusta. Great description of Heathrow Airport and its baggage system, wonderful anecdote of the old man who wanted to spend his life travelling and therefore got himself a 52-room house); The Power and the Glory (about an alcoholic priest in a Mexican province, fleeing from authorities); Monsignor Quixote, The Tenth Man, and of course Brighton Rock, a study in evil through the mind of a 17-year-old gangster who cares about nothing but self-preservation.
- Egil Fosnes Hansen: Psalm at Journey's End. Titanic seen through the eyes of the members of the orchestra.
- Joseph Heller: Catch 22 (but not Something Happened)
- Ernest Hemingway: Anything, really. Particularly In Our Time, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bells Toll and of course The Sun Also Rises.
- James Herriot: All Creatures Great and Small (sentimental but endearing about a Yorkshire vet. He has written plenty more, but the first one is the best)
- Aldous Huxley: Brave New World
- John Irving: A Son of the Circus (his best in my opinion), Hotel New Hampshire, The World According to Garp and maybe A Prayer for Owen Meany
- Frans Kafka: The Trial and definitely The Transformation (short story beginning with Gregor Samsa waking up and finding himself transformed into a large insect.)
- Ken Kesey: One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
- Rudyard Kipling: The Jungle Book
- John Le Carré: The Little Drummer Girl and perhaps Smiley's People
- Primo Levi: If Not Now, When? (about a band of Jewish partisans in Russia and Poland during WWII) and The Monkey's Wrench (collection of short stories about the joy of work)
- David Lodge: Nice Work and Small World, Thinks..., but I thought Therapy was a bit boring. Clever books about academics and career people and how they mess up their private lives while having success professionally. Thinks... is not to bad as an introduction to cognitive science, either.
- Jack London: Sea Wolf and perhaps Martin Eden. And maybe The Abyss.
- Gabriel Garcia Márques: Love in a Time of Cholera. But not Hundred Years of Solitude.
- Armistead Maupin: Tales from the City (followed by More Tales From the City, Baby Cakes etc. until you overdose on PBS-type San Francisco contrarian soap opera)
- David Morell: First Blood. This was the book behind the first Rambo movie, and it must be the ultimate example of a book being infinitely better than the film (not that it would take much to be better than that film.) Rather readable, actually.
- Martin Andersen Nexø: Pelle the Conqueror, harrowing tale of a young boy growing up in rural and small-town Denmark arond the term of the century.
- David Niven: The Moon is a Baloon and maybe Bring on the Empty Horses. Best actor autobiography (and semi-autobiography) I have read.
- Michael Ondaatje: The English Patient.
- George Orwell: Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four
- J. Parini: John Steinbeck: A Biography
- Dorothy Parker: The Collected Dorothy Parker. (Repartee and self-conscious self-depreciation, if there is such a thing)
- R. B. Parker: Early Autumn (Parker writes tons of books about a private detective named Spenser who lives in Boston, specializes in self-ironizing repartee, has read a lot and dates a rather unbelievable psychologist. Easy reads for days when you want to relax, but rather repetitive. This one's more ambitious.)
- Chaim Potok: My Name is Asher Lev and The Chosen
- Mario Puzo: The Godfather
- A. Read and D. Fisher: The Fall of Berlin
- Erich Maria Remarque: Three Comrades (for some reason, a book I come back to all the time. Have to say I read the Norwegian translation first, it was excellent, then read the English, and it wasn't nearly as good. The Norwegian version had a certain old-fashioned wistfulness and poetry in the language), All Quiet on the Western Front, Arch of Triumph. A Time to Love and a Time to Die is a bit full of cliches, I wonder if he was trying to write a new All Quiet on the Western Front for WWII and didn't succeed.
- J. D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye. Coming of age in New York.
- H. Selby: Last Exit to Brooklyn
- Shakespeare: anything
- A. Solzhenitsyn: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
- John Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Travels with Charley, Sweet Thursday, Cannery Row, The Winter of Our Discontent, maybe Once There Was a War, but not The Moon is Down, that Pony book and The Wayward Bus
- Tolstoy: War and Peace. Really, it is great.
- John Kennedy Toole: A Confederacy of Dunces
- Tom Wolfe: The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby
- Peter Wright: Spycatcher. (le Carre with less soul and more hilarious detail. Not necessarily less fiction).
- John Gray's Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. This guy took a rather shrewd observation (how men and women communicate differently) and then trivialized it with poppy psychology, endless repetition and co-dependency advice in the tradition of Miss Manners columns everywhere. Blah.
- Most of Jeffery Archer's books. Except maybe Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less. Nope, that one's pretty bad, too, I just hate books that use brand names to describe the class, fortunes and status of characters. Same goes for Bret Easton Ellis.
- Any Michael Crichton book. Except Airframe and The Great Train Robbery.
- Anything by Tom Clancy. Except perhaps Patriot Games.
- Khalil Gibran: The Profet
- Vikram Sethi: A Suitable Boy. Man, that's a long book.
- Marlo Morgan: Mutant Message Down Under (sometimes called The Real People). Fictional account of a walkabout and "adoption" with aboriginals. Fraudulent claims immediately visible to anyone who has ever been to Australia, or indeed anyone who reads critically.
Last updated August 2003. Updated whenever the owner feels like it.
This page at http://www.espen.com/booklist.htm
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