From charlesreid1

This is a list of books that I have read or am in the process of reading.

You can also check out all of the highlights over the course of seven years from my Kindle: My Kindle Clippings


Title Author Year Started Finished Genre Opinion

Cybernetics (or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine) Norbert Wiener 1948 (1st Ed), 1960 (2nd Ed) July 2018 Non-Fiction See Cybernetics page for notes

Security, Territory, Population Michel Foucault 1978 June 2018 Non-Fiction

Newton's Philosophy of Nature Isaac Newton May 2018 Non-Fiction I always come back to Newton's essay on light, as I find it one of the most remarkable examples of the power of logic when combined with simple observations and a curious, deep-ranging intellect. In a single essay, using no special equipment, he is able to conduct several experiments and deduce from his experimental results that the frequency of light cannot be changed and that therefore light must travel at a fixed velocity.

(I'm not articulating it well, but it is honestly remarkable.)

Human All Too Human Friedrich Nietzsche 1878 June 2018 Non-Fiction

The Indiscretions of Archie P. G. Wodehouse 1921 May 2018 May 2018 Fiction Picked this up at the Speedway and Country Club Bookman's in Tucson.

The book is quirky and has many strange British phrases from the 20s. It's entertaining at first, but it becomes insufferable after a while. A bit like English weather.

Heart of a Dog Mikhail Bulgakov 1925 2/4/2018 2/8/2018 Fiction (Read during Davis trip)

One Man Against The World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon Tim Weiner 2016 January 2018 January 2018 Non-Fiction This was a pretty surprising book. I know Tim Weiner from his books 'Legacy of Ashes' and 'Enemies', histories of the CIA and FBI (respectively). I know him as an extremely thorough and able historian who can pull apart the nuances of very complex historical situations and institutions. His books were objective and solid.

What surprised me about this book was, Weiner pulled no punches in talking about how awful President Richard Nixon was. I've read many Nixon books. Most of the time, when you read a book about Nixon, the author either has an agenda, or is focusing on an aspect of Nixon's presidency that's particularly unseemly.

This book felt different. You witness an historian go through the process of trying, and trying, and trying to be objective, and finally the historian arrives at the conclusion that Richard Nixon was, objectively, a terrible president who did great damage to the country. It isn't that Weiner focuses exclusively on the negative aspects of Nixon's presidency; it's that he takes a step back and puts an objective measure on how good the good things were and how bad the bad things were, and sees such an imbalance that it causes a shock.

A Mind At Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman 2017 December 2017 January/February 2018 Non-Fiction (Biography) This was a well-written biography of Claude Shannon. I really hate reading biographies, but this one was different because the subject of the biography was equal parts Claude Shannon and the field of information theory. There were some less interesting chapters focusing on aspects of his personal life, but for the most part it stuck to Shannon's scientific achievements and providing context for them.


Title Author Year Started Finished Genre Opinion
Brownian Agents and Active Particles Schweitzer 12/10/2017 Non-Fiction This book covers some really interesting ground. It focuses, in particular, on the idea of a Brownian agent, and how that single concept can apply across a very wide variety of fields.

Ulysses Joyce 1914 December 2017 December 2017 Fiction Re-reading Ulysses as part of my annual Christmas-time re-reading of favorite books. In the last few years, Joyce's Ulysses has become much more familiar, thanks to a slower and more targeted approach to reading, and the help of audiobooks.

Chaotic Vibrations: An Introduction for Applied Scientists and Engineers Moon 1987 11/30/2017 Non-Fiction

Black Wings Has My Angel Elliott Chaze November 2017 November 2017 Fiction An absolutely haunting book.

This is a New York Review of Books series release of a previously published book - rescued from obscurity. Elliott Chaze is a Mississippi newspaper writer who turned to novel-writing, and published this book in 1954.

I finished this book the day I bought it, devouring it in a few hours. It has great writing, it's a roller coaster, it moves fast, and it takes you through highs and lows. It reminded me of Revolutionary Road, in the sense that both books have these terribly powerful, punch-you-in-the-gut effects while you're reading them. Finishing the book in a single sitting is like having a long, intense, complicated dream, and when you put the book down, when you finally wake up from the dream, it can take the better part of a day to re-adjust to reality. You can't get it out of your mind. Particular images stay with you.

The writing style is a very fast-moving, colloquial, noir detective style narrative from a male narrator. Every aspect of the story is delicious, the author a master of dragging out the details of the story, stringing the reader along. There is a perfect amount of foreshadowing, written in by the author as the master fly fisher baits their hook.

Scikit-Learn and Tensorflow Non-Fiction

Imago (Book 3 of the Xenogenesis Trilogy) Octavia E. Butler 10/16/2017 10/18/2017 Fiction See Xenogesis Triology

Adulthood Rites (Book 2 of the Xenogenesis Trilogy) Octavia E. Butler 10/09/2017 10/15/2017 Fiction See Xenogesis Triology

Dawn (Book 1 of the Xenogenesis Trilogy) Octavia E. Butler 10/06/2017 10/08/2017 Fiction Read was inspired by a This American Life episode on Afro-futurism.

See Xenogesis Triology

The Foreigner (retitled from the original, The Chinaman) Stephen Leather 2008 10/06/2017 10/08/2017 Fiction The good: the book is a quick, albeit trashy, read that is full of interesting action. It has a fast-moving plot with simple language and no flourishes. The core idea, of a Vietnamese man, a former Vietcong soldier, taking his revenge on the IRA, was an interesting one, and the book explores a few important parallels, differences, and ironies between the Vietcong and the IRA.

The bad: the book is a trashy novel with too much pointless sex. Women are only on the periphery of the novel. The writing is simplistic to the point of being childish. The characters are wooden and unbelievable, and react like they're characters in a novel written by an unimaginative and impatient person trying to get a book out the door. The author (through all of his characters) come across as completely uninterested in the main character (the Vietnamese man, Nguyen Ngoc Minh). Sure, it's believable that people in London or Ireland wouldn't be able to remember a Vietnamese name - but it goes deeper than that; it's obvious the author himself feels as indifferent toward the main character (The Chinaman) as his characters do. (Anyone who titles their book "The Chinaman" in 2008 has some soul-searching to do.) Ultimately, Nguyen dies an unspectactular death; his efforts at revenge are futile and lead nowhere; his efforts to terrorize Liam Henessey come across as morally ambiguous, little different from the terrorist attacks of the rogue IRA cell. Nguyen is a shallow character whose psychology the author explores only superficially.

The book does not do much service to Nguyen, a former soldier in both the North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese army; it also does little or no justice to any female characters. The adulterous love triangle somehow ends with the woman being completely to blame for everything going wrong in the novel, and the male transgressor is forgiven by his boss, whose wife he slept with, repeatedly, over several years. To top it off, the novel concludes by revealing that The Bombmaker was a woman all along, and it's as though the novelist is begging for "bonus points" for making the Bombmaker a woman, in the end, after making The Bombmaker seem male - as though a methodical and skilled character turning out to be female is some kind of plot twist.

The Moronic Inferno & Other Visits to America Martin Amis 1986 10/06/2017 10/07/2017 Fiction The book is difficult to read - as is much of Martin Amis's non-fiction - because it is about such a niche topic, which Amis knows so well, that he practically does not care that he leaves your head whirling. The Moronic Inferno, in particular, is about literature and writing. There is a lot of name-dropping of unfamiliar authors, and even the authors whose names are familiar feel like strangers compared with Amis's grasp of their writing. It's a little overwhelming, and after a while it becomes a bit boring to simply read an author go on and on about other authors - a bit like watching an endless film about making films by some masterful director. It really doesn't matter how good the director is - the subject matter becomes so boring that it's hard to maintain interest.

Pattern Recognition William Gibson 2003 09/29/2017 10/06/2017 Fiction The book, which takes place in a near-future (a slight variation on the future of our present, but taking place in the past, whatever that means), the book follows Cayce Pollard, who is a marketing consultant with a sensitivity to corporate brands. I had read the book before, shortly after it came out, and remember the book being too slow-moving and too boring to keep my interest. But on a second reading, the notion of "sensitivity to brands" jumped out - it spoke to me. While the story is not as fast-moving as some of Gibson's other books (like The Peripheral or Neuromancer), it doesn't make the book boring - so long as you're expecting it.

The book basically focuses on a set of footage (referred to as "the footage" in the novel), footage that is captivating and that goes viral, but that is also brandless. The book covers Cayce's involvement in a scheme to uncover who the maker of the footage is.

One thing that stuck out for me, something I hadn't noticed before, was the central role of what seems to be a recurring character archetype in Gibson books - the semi-anonymous, extremely rich, interested-but-aloof bazillionaire who bankrolls the main character. In The Peripheral, it is the future Lowbeer and the quants in the future shoveling money back into the past; in Neuromancer it is the extremely rich employer who agrees to temporarily solve Case's inability to use a deck; in Pattern Recognition it is Bigend, the good-looking cowboy-hat-wearing billionaire (who eventually becomes buddies with another, similar character, a Russian billionaire, the one who is bankrolling "the footage".)

I still see these characters as obnoxious (or at least unnecessary) deus ex machina mechanisms, but at least with this book, it finally dawned on me that Gibson reverts to this type of character in several of his books, and that made me realize that it is less about the mechanism, and more about what that mechanism enables - it allows Gibson to take certain... technological liberties that he would otherwise not be able to take.

System of the World: The Baroque Cycle Volume III Neal Stephenson 09/11/2017 9/21/2017 Fiction See The Baroque Cycle

The Confusion: The Baroque Cycle Volume II Neal Stephenson 09/01/2017 09/11/2017 Fiction See The Baroque Cycle

Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle Volume I Neal Stephenson 08/22/2017 09/01/2017 Fiction See The Baroque Cycle

Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov 8/2017 8/22/2017 Fiction

Art of Computer Programming: Volume 4: Combinatorics and Boolean Logic Donald Knuth 2005-2011 July 2017 Non-Fiction See AOCP for notes - lots of notes.

Applied Combinatorics Mitchel Keller, William Trotter 2015 July 2017 Non-Fiction See notes at Applied Combinatorics.

Analytic Combinatorics Phillipe Flajolet, Robert Sedgewick 2009 July 2017 Non-Fiction See notes at Analytic Combinatorics. WWWWWOW is this a dense book.

Graph Theory Reinhard Diestel 1997, 2000 August 2017 Meh Non-Fiction The book is fine, if you are a mathematician and not a computer scientist. There is nothing practical in this book. It's a large collection of theorems, proofs, lemmas, and corollaries, without any insight about implementation or algorithms. Each chapter introduces a lot of specialized notation, typically only used in that chapter. It makes for a slow and confusing read. I gave up after 3 chapters.

Art of Computer Programming (Volume 1, 3, and 4) Donald Knuth 1970-2011 July 2017 Non-Fiction See notes at AOCP. Trying to "devour" this book is like trying to eat a cardboard box. You really, really don't want to eat it quickly.

Cryptonomicon Neal Stephenson 1999 June 2017 July 2017 Fiction In a stroke of compete luck, I began to re-read Cryptonomicon about a month before Defcon. The book is incredible, standing on its own, because of its prescience - Stephenson was writing, in 1999, about digital cryptocurrencies and offshore data havens, somehow seeing 20 years into the future. But it's also the perfect book to get into the Defcon mindset - puzzles, cryptosystems, Unix, hacking, cryptocurrencies, electronic eavesdropping by governments, Van Eck phreaking, and lots of other good stuff. This is a huge book with a sprawling list of subjects covered, but nearly every single topic came up at Defcon - whether through the talks given in villages, or just in conversations at parties. Plus it gives you something to talk about. Just about everybody at Defcon has at least heard of Stephenson.

A Course of Pure Mathematics G. H. Hardy 1908-1950 June 2017 Non-Fiction

Algorithm Design Manual Steven Skiena May 2017 July 2017 Non-Fiction See CS page for notes.

Data Structures and Algorithms in Python / Data Structures and Algorithms in Java Goodrich Tamasia Goldwasser May 2017 July 2017 Non-Fiction See CS page for notes.

Dark Side of Software Engineering Johann Rost and Robert Glass 2011 May 2017 In progress Non-Fiction This was a pretty eye-opening book. It addresses an issue that no one likes to think about, but that we can't avoid - the various ways that software engineering projects can go awry due to human actions.

As an example: the first chapter, entitled "Subversion," addresses the motivations and means that software engineers may use to destroy a project. This dismantling of the system from the inside out can take different forms. (As an illustrative example, imagine a group of highly technical engineers decide they do not want a project to succeed. They can throw up many legitimate-sounding technical roadblocks to progress that are all politically motivated; if management is not technically inclined, they will not see what is going on.)

See Dark Side of Software Engineering page for notes.

Vietnam Stanley Karnow 1991 May 2017 May 2017 Non-Fiction Revisiting, assembling summary, filling out chapter outline on Vietnam page.

The Computer and the Mind Philip Johnson-Laird 1988 March 2017 April 2017 Non-Fiction Philip Johnson-Laird is an academic who sits at the intersection of philosophy and psychology. He studies cognition and the inner workings of the brain. My first exposure to his work came through his book "Mental Models," which I used when writing my dissertation to help articulate what, exactly, a model is, and understanding what models can and cannot do.

This book is particularly apt, given the recent resurgence in machine learning and artificial intelligence. When the book was originally published in 1988, the idea of a neural network was still undergoing development, and many foundational ideas are discussed here. That the book is not written like a computer scientist who is teaching how to do X in Y, or assume the reader will be able to follow graduate-level linear algebra concepts, but rather like a cognitive scientist carefully devising an experiment to devise the mechanisms of the brain.

Read more: The Computer and the Mind

Vikram and the Vampire, or, Hindu Tales of Devilry Adapted by Captain Sir Richard F. Burton 1870, 1893 February 2017 March 2017 Fiction This was a very curious book that caught my eye while I was browsing the stacks at the University of Washington's main library. The book has an unusual storytelling form that reminded me of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which has the story-within-a-story-within-a-story narrative technique, but this story actually used a different method of nesting stories together - it was one main overarching story, then a sub-plot that developed as a part of that story, and a sub-story arising out of that story, and then a sequence of nine stories in a row, some of which included stories themselves.

Another interesting aspect of the tale was the exposure it gave to eastern/Hindu folklore around black magic, evil spirits, demons, vampires, werewolves, and demonic possession - not concepts that you'll typically be exposed to in a given culture. The concept of vampires, in particular, or

Overall it was a delightful book to read, and while there were a few slower parts, overall it was a great read and a fascinating idea.

IL State Historical Society Publication Various 1830 February 2017 February 2017 I found this curious piece written in 1830 and postulating what St. Louis and the Midwest would look like 2 or 3 centuries in the future.

Read more: IL State Historical Society

Mind Machine Metaphor Alexander Silverman 1993 February 2017 February 2017 This was an interesting book, if only for its dated view of artificial intelligence. I found this exploring the stacks at the University of Washington's Law Library, and this is basically a book about the application of artificial intelligence algorithms and programs to legal questions. The interesting fact is that this is still in the era of what is now called GOFAI, or "Good Old Fashioned AI", the kind of AI that operates from top-down knowledge, applying a set of criteria or classifications "fed" to it by the all-knowing robot-trainers. Nowadays, this notion has been washed away by modern neural networks.

In any case, some interesting extracts from this book are here: Mind Machine Metaphor

Gospel of Thomas Apocryphal Biblical Text February 2017 February 2017 Non-Fiction See Gospel of Thomas for notes.

First Book of Adam and Eve Apocryphal Biblical Text February 2017 February 2017 Non-Fiction More delving into apocryphal Biblical texts...

First Book of Adam and Eve

Jesus in the Nag Hamadi Writings Majella Franzmann 2004 February 2017 February 2017 Non-Fiction The more I learn about the Dead Sea Scrolls, the more fascinating the topic becomes. This book was an overview of some of the more important parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and while it was a very dense religious text, there were some very striking parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls that it called attention to.

These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke, and that Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down. And He said: "Whoever finds the meaning of these words will not taste death."

- Gospel of Thomas

More quotes: Jesus in the Nag Hamadi Writings

Modern Atheism February 2017 February 2017 Non-Fiction Book had an interesting chapter about August Comte, a philosopher who developed a system of epistemology. More: Modern Atheism

Church of Spies February 2017 February 2017 Non-Fiction Woah.

This book covered the undercover and behind-the-scenes intrigues of the Vatican in collaborating, secretly, with the Allies during World War 2. Many people accused Pope Pius XII of appeasing Hitler and being "Hitler's Pope," but this book puts into perspective the fact that the millions of Catholics living in German-occupied territory would have a very hard time indeed if the Pope began to condemn Hitler (this was a lesson Hitler taught the Pope the hard way early on.) The book highlights the delicacy of the matter and the various spy rings and communication channels created between various levels of government, as well as inside of Germany.

See Church of Spies for some intriguing quotes.

Leviathan Thomas Hobbes January 2017 Just Chapter 17. Focuses on the definition of a commonwealth, what makes a commonwealth, and what drives a commonwealth to do the things it does and take the forms it does.

Manhattan Transfer Fiction Quotes came from a literary criticism book on modernism, with four chapters on four books with nonlinear narratives. The quotes arrested me.

Night crushes bright milk out of the arclights, squeezes the sullen blocks until they drip red, yellow, green into streets resounding with feet. All the asphalt oozes light. Light spurts from lettering on roofs, mills dizzily among wheels, stains rolling tons of sky."

There's more: Manhattan Transfer

Fantasia Mathematica Clifton Fadiman 1958 January 2017 Meh Fiction The premise, a collection of unconventionally mathematical short stories, was a good one, but this short story collection fizzled out with a poor choice of rather boring and uninteresting but superficially "mathy" short stories.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles January 2017 January 2017 Non-Fiction Led to this via Old and Middle English Literature and by Ulysses. Turns out it dovetailed with some genealogy research - I managed to trace my mom's family line all the way back to Seward, the hero of Macbeth.


Title Author Year Started Finished Genre Opinion
Old and Middle English Literature: From the Beginnings to 1485 George Anderson 1950 December 2016 January 2017 Non-Fiction Bought this for a dollar at the South Seattle College library book sale. This book goes through the history of English literature from its earliest beginnings. It gives a laundry list of epic poems and works of literature, so in one sense serves as a bibliography. But it also provides a lot of context, without quoting directly from the poems.

See Old and Middle English Literature page for more notes.

Ulysses Joyce 1918 November 2016 Fiction Re-reading as part of my NaNoGenMo 2016 entry. McLuhan got me thinking more about FInnegan's Wake, and that led me back to Ulysses.

I've dipped into Ulysses a few times since I first read it in its entirety back in 2011 (see Ulysses/2011). But this time it's different. I'm beginning to see it as a puzzle, as a Rubik's Cube of literature, just like Homer's Odyssey is the rebar in the concrete of the arts. Poking fun at it while replicating it. It's got so many layers, as a work, that it's mind-boggling.

Also listening to a Naxos audiobook version, which is an entirely different way to read the novel, and have been analyzing Ulysses with the Natural Language Toolkit and Python:

The Odyssey Homer 800 BC November 2016 November 2016 Fiction This was the first time I'd read the Odyssey, and my chief takeaway was surprise at the level of violence in the work. But I guess that, having read the Illiad (at the same time as Cormack McCarthy's Blood Meridian, no less) and its over-the-top gore, I shouldn't have been all that surprised.

In any case, the ending is delicious, because of and in spite of the way it drags it all out. It's a bit like a shaggy dog story - you know what's going to happen, it just takes 32 chapters to tell.

Dubliners Joyce 1914 November 2016 Fiction

The Question Concerning Technology Heidegger 1977 November 2016 November 2016 Non-Fiction Essays. Interesting, but really dense.

Essential McLuhan Marshall McLuhan, Eric McLuhan, Frank Zingrone 1995 November 2016 Non-Fiction Wow.... Just wow. First time I've read McLuhan's work. I picked this up at the South Seattle College library's used book sale, about 4 days before the 2016 election. Talk about timing. I felt like I had been living in a 9-month whirlpool of media hyperbole and exaggeration and normalization and warping of the truth, and McLuhan was like hearing a voice in the wilderness, as clear as a bell, speaking truth.

1984 George Orwell 10/1/2016 Fiction

Mind Performance Hacks Ron Hale-Evans 2006 September 2016 October 2016 Non-Fiction A bit overwhelming, extremely dense, but packed with good info. You can spend a lot of time on a few pages of this book, since each mind hack takes a lot of work to get up and running, but some of them are great.

After a while, though, it ends up suffering from the same kind of emptiness as standard "self-help" books - or like a 10 GB torrent of PDF books. There's no possible way you can really CONSUME the information. It's just information overload. Information for dealing with information that helps you deal with information. Or spending all of your time reading about how to read.

Take it in small pieces.

The Peripheral William Gibson 9/19/2016 Fiction Finally, a return to form for William Gibson. I've always been waiting for the book that is as satisfying, as dense, and as thought-laden as Neuromancer, but haven't found it in any of his books since. (Chasing the dragon.) This book fit my expectations like a lock. Like Neuromancer, it's dense and multilayered - the writing style doesn't explain everything to you like you're five - and that makes it half reading and half puzzle-solving.

However, there was one big let-down - more philosophical than literary - and that was, the entire book required this sort of deus ex machina of having tons and tons of cash just magically appear through "stock market stuff". Granted, the technology makes the book extremely interesting, but it's also kind of depressing to think that the only way to really fight our way out of the Jackpot (the apocalyptic collapse of humanity) is to have someone from the future feed technology to a bunch of quants manipulating the stock market to make a shitload of money.

Freedom Daniel Suarez 9/16/2016 9/18/2016 Fiction See Daemon.

Daemon Daniel Suarez 9/16/2016 9/16/2016 Fiction Excellent book - extremely visionary and forward-thinking. Plenty of technological food for thought, and absolutely in the category of hard science fiction. This was a satisfying, exciting read.

Originally, I heard about this trilogy of books through the Defcon Darknet, which is inspired by and loosely based on the book trilogy. It certainly did not disappoint. It was one of those don't-stop-reading-it-until-you-have-finished marathon books that I stayed up way too late to read.

The Fiery Brook: Selected Writings of Ludwig Feuerbach Ludwig Feuerbach September 2016 September 2016 Non-Fiction Feuerbach was a general philosopher who had a heavy influence on Karl Marx. Feuerbach is a humanist, an existentialist, and an atheist.

Cybernetics Norbert Wiener September 2016 Non-Fiction So much brain food.

Philosophical Remarks Ludwig Wittgenstein August 2016 August 2016 Non-Fiction Lots to think about. Wittgenstein's conception of mathematics and the real number system is actually pretty different from that of most mathematicians - and I find many of his ideas provide a very intriguing new way to look at math.

Basic Writings of Bertrand Russel Bertrand Russel August 2016 August 2016 Non-Fiction Partial read. Lots of selections, 10-page essays, and so on. See Basic Writings of Bertrand Russel for quotes.

Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoyevsky August 2016 Fiction Re-read first few books on plane trip. Alyosha seems like a completely different character than previous readings of this book.

D-Day July 2016 August 2016 Non-Fiction I never truly understood D-Day until I read this book. It does an excellent job of balancing the nuanced details (for example, the particular numbers of army groups, divisions, and battalions, the particular names of ships, detailed maps of the battle strategies) with the big picture of D-Day, what it was trying to accomplish, and how the fallout from a single battle or event would cascade into larger consequences for the entire invasion. The author also does a brilliant job of sprinkling firsthand anecdotes throughout the book. It brings the entire conflict down to a very personal level, making you see the horror of war in a new way.

More notes here: D-Day

The Gun C.J. Chivers 2010 June 2016 June 2016 Non-Fiction This book turned my entire view of violence, weapons, and conflict upside-down. It was chilling and outrageous. There was a lot of crazy stuff. It was a reminder that we only ever see the surface of things - especially when it comes to guns and violence. Everything is connected.

More notes here: The Gun

Morgan: American Financier Jean Strouse 1999 June 2016 Meh Non-Fiction An awful, boring book. Spent the first few chapters on the inane details of his childhood, love life, and depression. I felt no sympathy for, and no connection to, this absurd, spoiled, rich, coddled individual.
Nixon Agonistes June 2016 July 2016 Non-Fiction

General Class Study Manual ARRL May 2016 July 2016 Non-Fiction See General page for notes

The Mental Floss History of the United States: The (Almost) Complete and (Entirely) Entertaining Story of America Erik Sass 2011 March 2016 April 2016 Non-Fiction Excellent book.

Newton's Philosophy of Nature: Selections From His Writings Isaac Newton February 2016 Non-Fiction Fantastic, though obtuse at times. It's a great way to train yourself to use complex mathematical ideas to extract astounding conclusions about the Laws of Nature from simple everyday experiments and observations. These are some of the best experiments, because they can blur the line between magic and science.

The Principia Isaac Newton July 5, 1687 February 2016 Non-Fiction See above. Really fantastic once you spend the time getting to know the propositions.

On the Sphere and Cylinder Archimedes circa 225 BC January 2016 Non-Fiction Reading as part of students' math projects.

Advanced Calculus David Widder 1989 December 2015 Non-Fiction Reading and doing problems for general calculus practice.

A Course of Pure Mathematics G.H. Hardy 1st edition: 1908

10th edition: 1950

2016 Non-Fiction This work is downright amazing, not the least because of how well it has aged.

I checked out this book from the library of a community college; the librarian told me the book hadn't been checked out since 1983. Inside the book, far enough into the book that you'd probably never catch it unless you really dived into the material, right where Hardy begins to talk about derivatives and integrals, I found this:



Title Author Year Started Finished Genre Opinion
Russia Against Napoleon Dominic Lieven ? November 2015 December 2015 Non-Fiction Dense book, but interesting nevertheless - gives an account of the Napoleonic Wars from the perspective of Russia, which is (surprisingly, but commonly) often overlooked.

Newton and the Counterfeiter Thomas Levenson ? October 2015 October 2015 Non-Fiction Opened me up to an entire chapter of Newton's life that I had no knowledge of before - his role as the ward of the mint, and his role in establishing England's early financial dominance through an innovative currency and a quantified approach to optimizing the minting process.


(New job, new city, reading lists diverged. Need to update this wiki with my written notes.)


The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich William Shirer 1960 1/13/2015 Non-Fiction A fascinating and microscopic look at the entire formation, development, and destruction of the Nazi Party in Germany.

Reading schedule:

  • Chapter 1: 01/13/2015
  • Chapter 2: 01/13/2015
  • Chapter 3: 01/14/2015
  • Chapter 4: 01/15/2015-01/16/2015
  • Chapter 5: 01/16/2015
  • Chapter 6: 01/16/2015
  • Chapter 7: 01/17/2015-01/18/2015
  • Chapter 8: 01/18/2015
  • Chapter 9: 01/19/2015-01/20/2015
  • Chapter 10: 01/20/2015
  • Chapter 11: 01/21/2015-01/22/2015
  • Chapter 12: 01/22/2015
  • Chapter 13: 01/26/2015-01/27/2015
  • Chapter 14: 01/27/2015-01/28/2015
  • Chapter 15: 01/28/2015
  • Chapter 16: 01/29-02/1
  • Chapter 17: 02/01/2015
  • Chapter 18: 02/02/2015
  • Chapter 19: 02/02/2015-02/03/2015
  • Chapter 20: 02/03/2015-02/04/2015
  • Chapter 21: 02/05/2015-02/06/2015
  • Chapter 22: 02/06/2015-02/09/2015
  • Chapter 23: 02/10/2015-02/12/2015
  • Chapter 24: 02/13/2015-02/14/2015


Dead Souls Nikolai Gogol (Robert Maguire translation) 1842 1/3/2015 1/13/2015 Fiction A very sly, very funny novel full of odd metaphors and hilarious overexaggeration. Gogol has a peculiar way of imbibing the characters with peculiar qualities that seem familiar, creating "templates" of personalities. Dostoyevsky references this quality of Gogol's writing in The Idiot. It is as though they are caricatures in a miniature, toy world.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the writing, so began it with no preconceptions. The writing is very light and easy to read (I'm reading the Robert Maguire translation), and captures much humor, even through the Russian to English translation. It has none of the gravity of Dostoyevsky, and goes on at length with descriptions of the surroundings, how things and people look. Where Dostoyevsky would merely wave his hand to describe a small village square, Gogol would describe the condition and color of the houses in nearby streets, how many people are in it milling about, where the popular ice cream shop is, all in a way that leaves you laughing.

Missing Person Patrick Modiano 1978 1/1/2015 1/3/2015 Fiction Modiano is the recipient of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature, for his work on identity.

Some of Modiano's books are unavailable in print; I only found one copy of Missing Person on, going for $20.

Very thin book, light read, lots of elipses... Translated from the French.

The book is about a man who has lost his memory. The book picks up when he begins his search for clues about his past. Over the course of the novel, the narrator discovers that he is South American, worked in an embassy, and was involved with a woman who died crossing France into Switzerland. However, the story remains fragmented and decentralized at the close of the novel.

As expected from its short length, the novel does not tie up many of the loose ends it hands you through the story. But each loose end contains questions, questions about memory and identity, and those questions aren't answered any more than the loose ends are tied up.

One of the fascinating aspects of the book is the way that, though there is nothing particularly unusual about the people, things, or discoveries that the author meets and discovers over the course of the book, you are nevertheless scrutinizing them, searching for meaning in them, and as the main character uncovers his identity, you see how the everyday objects, faces, and interactions are imbued with meaning and emotional gravity.

I found it hard to relate to the problem of amnesia, as I have before. Unless you've actually experienced it, amnesia can seem superficial, more a clumsy literary device than anything. But it forced me to think more about what it would be like to discover one's own identity, to be the imaginary observer that we spend our whole lives imagining is watching.

Though the writing is sparse and light, the subject of the novel feels very viscous and abstract; perhaps fog is the avatar of this book.


Title Author Year Started Finished Genre Opinion

The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoevsky (David Magarshack translation) 1880 12/22/2014 1/1/2015 Fiction See The Brothers Karamazov page.

Reading schedule:

  • Book 1: 12/22/2014
  • Book 2: 12/23/2014
  • Book 3: 12/23/2014
  • Book 4: 12/24/2014
  • Book 5: 12/24/2014
  • Book 6: 12/25/2014
  • Book 7: 12/25/2014
  • Book 8: 12/27/2014
  • Book 9: 12/28/2014
  • Book 10: 12/29/2014
  • Book 11: 12/29-30/2014
  • Book 12: 12/31/2014 - 1/1/2015

The Idiot Fyodor Dostoevsky (Constance Garnett translation) 1869 12/14/2014 12/21/2014 Fiction

The Terrible Vengeance Nikolai Gogol 12/13/2014 12/14/2014 Fiction

Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy (Joel Carmichael translation) 1877 12/2/2014 12/13/2014 Fiction

The Museum of Innocence Orhan Pamuk 2008 11/2014 12/5/2014 Fiction

The Idiot Fyodor Dostoevsky (Constance Garnett translation) 1869 11/21/2014 Wed 11/30/2014 Fiction Started reading this after a reference to it in the Netflix documentary, "The Goebbels Experiment."

The Idiot Cover.jpg

Let me say that this book would not have been as fascinating or understandable without the SparkNotes for The Idiot. It clarified plot details and helped sort out characters, most of whom go by two names. My character list, scattered due to hastily assembling it during the reading of the novel to sort out who is who:

The Idiot Characters.jpg

I've found this useful in the past when navigating potentially difficult or cumbersome books. (Ulysses is another example.)

I'd been told by a friend that he had tried to read the book, and hadn't been able to continue beyond a certain point; he lost interest in Myshkin, the "idiot" of the title and the main character.

I found the story to begin rather slowly, Part I unfolding gradually and introducing all of the characters. (Another part of the reason it started slowly was unfamiliarity with names and places, which led me to start my character list and to start referring to SparkNotes summaries to make sure I understood what was going on.)

By the time I had reached Part II, the book had really picked up, and I found that many of the quotes in the book resonated with me. One of the things I had discounted through Part I was the complexity of Myshkin's character. In Part I he seems... well, idiotic. He comes across as gullible and simple-minded. But in later sections of the book, you come to realize that, although he behaves in a simple way, Myshkin is by no means a robot immune to emotion. He experiences his own anxieties, anguish, and internal conflicts. He has a will, he has his own self-interests, and he is as complex a character as any other in the book - something other characters often neglect.

While Myshkin's "role" in many situations is a Christ-like role of sacrificing himself to save others, the book illustrates how difficult Myshkin's choices can be for himself.

Greatest Russian Stories of Crime and Suspense Otto Penzler 11/22/2014 11/22/2014 In the spirit of some of the Russian reading I've been doing lately, I took this out of the bookshelf and read some fantastic Russian stories by classic Russian authors, some referenced in The Idiot that I was unfamiliar with. This was my first exposure to Gogol, through his short story "The Portrait."

The Dead James Joyce 11/22/2014 11/22/2014

The Portrait Nikolai Gogol 1835 11/22/2014 11/22/2014

Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Sidney Monas translation) 1866 11/2014 11/2014 Fiction

Autobiography of a Corpse Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky 1920s-1930s 10/2014 11/2014 Fiction A writer who masterfully writes short stories that are surrealist realism, which has a serious, heavy Russian character, but abounds with wit and cleverness.

See quotes!

Cambridge Companion to Sartre Christina Howells 11/15/2014 ? Non-Fiction (Moe's Books, 11/15)

Hardly more understandable than Sartre himself. Filled with dense academic mumbo-jumbo...

Being and Nothingness Jean-Paul Sartre 1943 11/2014 ? Non-Fiction

The Interpreted World: An Introduction to Phenomenological Psychology Ernesto Spinelli 1989 11/8/2014 11/15/2014 Non-Fiction (Moe's Books, 11/8)

The Invisible Bridge Rick Perlstein 2014 10/2014 11/11/2014 Non-Fiction

Will You Die With Me? Flores Forbes 2006 9/2014 9/2014 Non-Fiction Fascinating and well-written account by former head of security for the Black Panther Party, Huey Newton's bodyguard, Flores Forbes.

9/11 Commission Report 9/2014 9/2014 Non-Fiction

The Hidden History of the Kennedy Assassination Lamar Waldron 2013 8/2014 9/2014 Non-Fiction A gripping book detailing a strong case against Carlos Marcello and his mafia associates for the murder of President John F. Kennedy.

Methods of Logic Willard Van Quine 8/19/2014 Non-Fiction Picked this up from the dollar bin at Adobe Books.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities Jane Jacobs 1961 6/2014 9/2014 Non-Fiction

Icehenge Kim Stanley Robinson 1984 9/2014 9/2014 Fiction

Pebble in the Sky Isaac Asimov 9/2014 9/2014 Fiction Last Asimov book I'll ever read. The book barely scratched the surface of some really deep and profound questions about memory and identity. But rather than actually explore those difficult questions, the author focuses on convenient deus ex machina events, nothing goes wrong, everything goes as planned, the hero gets the girl, and the entire universe is saved. Talk about boring.

After reading Asimov's empire trilogy, I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth. The author never dives into interesting ethical quandaries. He takes a classical, conservative, Law-and-Order, 'Merica kind of attitude and applies it to entire galaxies. Women are objects or "pretty things" and are all completely incompetent, men do all the hard work, everything is Romantic (with a capital R), and the overall effect is that the books are an awful slog.

Asimov writes Republican science fiction.

The Currents of Space Isaac Asimov 9/2014 9/2014 Fiction Has elements of a good sci-fi novel, but the author really falls short. If it were in more capable hands, like Philip Dick, there would be so many jumping off points for things to go deliciously bad, but as it is, things pretty much go down as you expect.

The Stars, Like Dust Isaac Asimov 8/2014 9/2014 Fiction This is a good trashy sci-fi novel. Its the first book by Asimov that I've ever read - somehow, I'd never gotten around to reading any of his books - and I started with this one because Asimov himself recommended it as a good first book in his Foundations series. It's basically classic sci-fi - unbearably cheesy in spots, and lacking any outstanding prose.

The ending is unbearably cliche and trite: the so-called "secret ancient document" which has the power to change civilization itself by describing some kind of secret weapon is.......... the US Constitution.

Data Analysis Philipp Janert 8/2014 9/1/2014 Non-Fiction

Enemies: A History of the FBI Tim Weiner 2012 7/2014 8/30/2014 Non-Fiction

Beginning NFC: Near Field Communication with Arduino, Android, and PhoneGap Tom Iggoe et al 2014 7/2014 Meh Non-Fiction

Building Wireless Sensor Networks: with ZigBee, XBee, Arduino, and Processing Robert Faludi 2011 7/2014 ? Non-Fiction This was one of the worst technical books I've read in a long time. While the technical descriptions were adequate, and the concepts were explained fairly clearly, the author interspersed extremely elementary concepts (as in, "This is what a computer network is") with concepts that assumed the user had very sophisticated programming knowledge. The result is a book that fails for both audiences.

While reading the book, I would try and imagine the target audience for some of the sections. One section would be written for a technically incompetent person who had just bought a Windows laptop at Best Buy, and would have to ask a tech-savy friend for help setting up a printer. The next section would be written for hackers with years of programming experience and a deep understanding of network protocol layers. The result was pages of boring garbage, mixed with a few sections of very useful information.

To make matters worse, the author used some of the most banal examples imaginable. Here is a technology - wireless sensor networks - with enormous potential for interesting applications - in science, engineering, business, social studies, robotics, you name it.

And yet, what example does the author use to explain the technology? A "romantic light sensor," for a hypothetical awkward male nerd stereotype. Umm, what? This is idiotic on so many levels, I don't even know where to begin.

Is this what O'Reilly has been reduced to? Books inflated with pathetic applications that exclude everyone but its niche audience of techies and brogrammers? It would take literally zero effort to improve on the author's complete and utter lack of creative examples.

Other than that, though, the book was pretty useful.

Ripley Under Ground Patricia Highsmith 6/2014 6/2014 Fiction

Up in the Old Hotel Joseph Mitchell 1938-1992 6/2014 7/2014 Non-Fiction

San Francisco's Mission District (Images of America Series) Bernadette C. Hooper 6/2014 6/2014 Non-FIction

The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons John Wesley Powell 5/2014 6/2014 Non-Fiction

Wars of Watergate Stanley Kutler 1990 3/29/2014 Non-Fiction Re-reading. See Wars of Watergate page for a book summary and quotes.

Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA Tim Wiener 2008 2/2014 3/29/2014 Non-Fiction

The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories Lord Dunsany 1908 3/2014 Fiction

Fifty One Tales Lord Dunsany 1915 3/2014 Fiction Wow. These stories are pretty mind-blowing; more like poems. Short, succinct. The influence of Dunsany on Lovecraft is immediately obvious from reading these stories, and those influences were some of the reasons I most liked Lovecraft. So Dunsany was an excellent find.

Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment Samuel Farber 2012 2/2014 3/2014 Non-Fiction

Tenth of December George Saunders 2013 12/2013 1/2014 Non-Fiction


Title Author Year Started Finished Genre Opinion
The Friends of Eddie Coyle George Higgins 1970 12/17/2013 12/21/2013 Fiction Re-reading

Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know Julia Sweig 2009 December 2013 January 2014 Non-Fiction A great book, despite its format.

The good: Sweig gives a very comprehensive treatment of the current state of things in Cuba - the book actually lives up to its title. There were many topics covered that I had simply not thought about before, and whole periods of Cuban history that I had never heard of. Given the fact that Cuba's role in U.S. history is largely marginalized in U.S. schools and colleges, this book provides a lot of important information that simply isn't communicated to everyday people.

The bad: The book is written as a series of questions and answers, which is cute and pithy for the first chapter, but gets really old, really fast. The book felt like an endless FAQ. I had a really hard time finishing it. Read it anyway.

Watergate: The Hidden History Lamar Waldron 2012 October 2013 March 2014 Non-Fiction The book was a deluge of interesting information. Waldron does a good job of tying together topics that are seemingly related but whose connections aren't made clear in other books. This was a book where, almost every chapter, I found myself going, "Oh, that's why this happened that way."

Roughing It Mark Twain 12/14/2013 Non-Fiction

The Turn of the Screw William James 1898 12/8/13 12/9/13 Fiction So, so, so creepy. See essay Unreliable Narrators for more thoughts on this novella.

The Decameron Giovanni Boccaccio 1350-ish December 2013 ? Fiction For a pre-Renaissance Medieval book of stories, written at the time of the Black Plague, this book is surprisingly dirty, perverted, irreverent, and anti-religious; there are even some fart jokes. Gotta love those Italians.

Originally read/learned of this book from a New Yorker book review.

Collected Works of Edgar Allen Poe Edgar Allen Poe 19th century December 2013 Fiction Inspired by a discussion of "The Cask of Amontillado," a delicious revenge story, this led into re-reading all the good Poe classics, plus reading some short stories I've always passed over (in favor of the ones I know will be sufficiently scary, insane, and/or violent).

Dracula Bram Stoker 1897 12/1/2013 12/4/2013 Fiction I started reading this because I saw someone sitting on a park bench in Central Park reading Dracula, and I thought to myself, it's high time I re-read a good monsters and vampires book.

The book is wordy, to an absurd degree (as many gothic romantic horror novels are), so you have to be dedicated to make it through the book. But several parts have some pretty delicious language.

The Years of Rice and Salt Kim Stanley Robinson 2002 11/21/2013 Meh Fiction While I enjoyed the Mars trilogy, and while I was highly impressed with the premise and opening of the book, I felt like, by Book 6 (of 10), the book lost some of its punch, and I lost steam in reading through it. (Hence, why I dropped it for several days in favor of reading Dracula). There are some really fantastic descriptions of alternate-history great scientists, in particular Book 4 (The Alchemist); but overall, I didn't feel as though the author accomplished what some said he accomplished, namely, "explor[ing] the way history is made and discuss[ing] ideas on the evolution of history and the purpose of civilization" [1]. To the contrary, I felt that the perspective of the characters was too microscopic for me to understand, (a) how the author thinks sweeping arcs of history are shaped by individuals, or (b) what those sweeping arcs actually were. I had to do a lot of cross-comparison between maps to try and uncover what exactly was going on (this page helped a lot). Ultimately, I think the author should have either limited the scope of his novel to a shorter time span (2000 years is a hell of a lot to cover in a single novel, leading to a lot of gaps in coverage) or expanded the breadth of the writing, to be multiple volumes. This would have allowed better exploration of the big-picture topics. The author tended to get bogged down in microscopic dramas that didn't always advance the story, so although he did tell engrossing stories and moved them along quite rapidly, he would have benefitted by giving himself more room to stretch out - with a longer novel, or with a shorter timespan.
The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War Stephen Kinzer 2013 11/5/2013 11/20/2013 Non-Fiction

The Drowned World J G Ballard 1962 September 2013 October 2013 Fiction

Bleeding Edge Thomas Pynchon 2012 September 2013 Meh Fiction
Paintwork Tim Maughan 2011 September 2013 September 2013 Fiction

Red Plenty Francis Spufford 2012 August 2013 September 2013 Fiction

Halting State Charles Stoss 2007 July 2013 July 2013 Fiction A good pulp cyberpunk novel. The central technology was a Google Glass-like augmented reality. It was interesting to see how some of the ideas were implemented. Unfortunately, the story took a long time to develop, so that the bulk of the really interesting action didn't begin until about 75% of the way through the book. The story also had a pretty sappy back-story. It was a quick read, interesting, and good, but I'm not sure I would read more of this author's books.

Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace ? Meh Fiction In an interview with To The Best of Our Knowledge, DFW said he didn't want this book to be the kind of book that the reader wants to throw at the wall after 100 pages. But 100 pages in, I wanted to throw the book at the wall. The pace is slow, and while it is sprinkled with DFW's signature hilarious descriptions, the story itself is empty and boring; everything moves at a snail pace; you're left wondering when something will finally happen. 200 pages in, you are suffering and ready to give up.

I genuinely wanted to enjoy and finish this book. But it has been nearly two years since I began it, and every time I try to pick it up and get further with it, I end up putting it back down after 20 or 30 pages. It is simply not worth it. I have given up trying.

On China Henry Kissinger 2011 July 2013 ? Non-Fiction Great, sweeping history of the country. Much more macroscopic and broad-brushed than Stanley Kurnow's Vietnam. Kurnow's book was very microscopic, relying a lot on personal experiences that were widely-spaced and journalistic. But it was intended to cover the entire history of the country. Kissinger, being involved with dealings with the Chinese government at a very high level, and for an extended period of time, got to know them intimately, and so really has the optimal perspective for the type of book he's trying to write.

A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming Paul Edwards 2010 June 2013 June 2013 Non-Fiction

Room Emma Eonaghue 6/9/2013 Meh Fiction Read for the Bay Area Bookworms Bookclub.

This book is terrible.

River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West Rebecca Solnit 2004 6/6/2013 ? Non-Fiction Read for the Tech Bookclub.

The 13.5 Lives of Captain Bluebear Walter Moers 2006 5/8/2013 ? Fiction You can't go wrong by starting a book with miniature pirates who are born with eye-patches and get pretend-drunk...

Nonlinear Mathematics Saaty and Bram June 2013 ? Non-Fiction/Technical

Selected Essays Montaigne June 2013 ? Non-Fiction

Catalytic Chemistry Bruce Gates June 2013 ? Non-Fiction/Technical

Oil! Upton Sinclair 1927 5/24/2013 5/30/2013 Fiction

The Plague Albert Camus 1947 5/2013 5/24/2013 Fiction A disturbing book, much like his book The Stranger. While reading this book, I stagnated a bit, as the bulk of the book is spent on somewhat drawn-out and unpleasant descriptions

Conversations with William Burroughs William Burroughs & various others 2000 5/2013 5/30/2013 Non-Fiction Fantastic read. I felt like this book really helped make Burroughs more accessible. Unfortunately, Burroughs' work is a complete enigma; it is incomprehensible and unapproachable. But reading what Burroughs had to say, not just about his own work but about his philosophy and world-view, really helped. He's essentially communicating some of the key ideas and themes in his work. In addition to all of that, he's got some really fantastic quotes.

The Great Shark Hunt Hunter S. Thompson 5/2013 ? Fiction/Non-Fiction Always a fantastic read... I try to read the Kentucky Derby piece, at the very least, whenever Derby season rolls around...

In Sputnik's Shadow Zuoyue Wang April 2013 ? Non-Fiction


(Job change. Lots of stress. Not much reading.)


Mark Twain's San Francisco Mark Twain, Ed. by ___ 1863-1866 3/25/2013 4/2013 Fiction and Non-Fiction

San Francisco Noir (Various) 3/24/2013 Meh Fiction A rather awful collection of mostly uninteresting stories, this anthology purports to be in the noir genre, and to tell stories of memories of a sense of place, which sounds promising. Given San Francisco's rather concentrated geography, there's plenty of potential in a series like this. But, alas, both the editor and the authors of the various pieces repeatedly stumble, failing to live up to promises, succeeding only in presenting a fractal view of memories of a bunch of mistakes and tragedies, and the city ends up fading into the backdrop, barely noticeable in the ruinous messes that play out (or, don't) in each story.
Blindness Jose Saramago 3/21/2013 Meh Fiction Could not finish. Moved very slowly. Writing style seemed deliberately obfuscatory, which was irritating. The storyline was moving slowly, and even when it was moving, I didn't care that much about what was happening -- mainly because I did not empathize with the (rather wooden) characters. Some books can grab your attention and have you best friends with a character a mere two or three paragraphs into a story or book. This book, though, was the opposite -- as mentioned before, wooden characters, forced dialogue, and an air of confusion and superficiality. WInning the Nobel Prize certainly doesn't make your books any more readable, or make your books matter a single bit more to its readers.
The Friends of Eddy Coyle George Higgins 3/18/2013 3/20/2013 Fiction

Advise and Consent Allen Drury 1960 3/2/2013 3/17/2013 Fiction

Right Ho, Jeeves! P.G. Wodehouse 3/1/2013 3/2/2013 Fiction

Lyndon Johnson: Path to Power Robert Caro 1985 3/1/2013 Non-Fiction

Forty Signs of Rain Kim Stanely Robinson 1/30/2013 2/2/2013 Fiction

The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald 1925 1/25/2013 1/25/2013 Fiction

Starship Troopers Robert Heinlein 1959 1/18/2013 1/26/2013 Fiction Listened to this in an audiobook format. It was good for a long drive. The main content of the book is basic training, which provides the author an interesting mechanism through which to present a lot of his ideas/material in a "classroom" or training format. It also did a good job of highlighting the modern military and its many parallels with militaries of the past, the long line of tradition, the way the narrator would alternatively take for granted, and claim how little he knew about, different types of information. Also got me thinking about how Presidents will be viewed from (presumably) a very long historical telescope, much like Roman emperors...

Best Travel Writing 2007 (Various) 1/7/2013 1/30/2013 Non-Fiction

Dune Frank Herbert 1963 1/6/2013 1/10/2013 Science Fiction Dune has some really lucid descriptions, is wildly imaginative, and is sprawling in its scope. The book also has many layers, and many perspectives can be taken on what kinds of messages and lessons Herbert is sharing.

Strongly recommend reading Brian Herbert's afterword while you are reading the book. I read it about a third of the way through the book, and it really enhanced my enjoyment of it and gave me some cues of things to look for that I would have otherwise missed.

Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA Tim Weiner 12/26/2012 1/25/2013 Non-Fiction


Title Author Year Started Finished Genre Opinion
Heavy Weather Bruce Sterling 1994 12/21/2012 Meh Fiction
Zone One Colson Whitehead 12/22/2012 12/23/2012 Fiction

Soul Music Terry Pratchett December 2012 December 2012 Fiction

Vietnam Stanley Karnow 11/13/2012 12/27/2012 Non-Fiction An excellent, sprawling, comprehensive narrative that covers, not just the Vietnam War, but what is truly the proper context of the Vietnam War, namely the entire history of Vietnam, stretching back to pre-Common Era times, when Vietnam was in conflict with China. Karnow does an excellent job of tracing important threads from chapter to chapter, showing the cause-and-effect cascade that led to the Vietnam War, and the effect it had on the country afterwards.

Revolutionary Road Richard Yates 11/12/2012 11/13/2012 Fiction Absolutely haunting book. I couldn't get the book out of my mind. Made me realize that, just as in dreams we sometimes transition between first and third person seamlessly, so too do we do this in fiction, sometimes getting so engrossed in the story that we feel like we are the main character, experiencing everything ourselves, firsthand. This is how memories and books read can sometimes become jumbled...

London Fields Martin Amis November 2012 Meh Fiction Starts really... really... really slowly.
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold John Le Carre 11/6/2012 11/8/2012 Fiction A pretty good spy novel, and a fast read.

Hitch 22 Christopher Hitchens 10/1/2012 12/2012 Non-Fiction Not what I was expecting, but good nonetheless. Great prose and writing style. Lots of good literary references dropped in here and there. Great way to find out about new authors and books.

Taming the Bicycle: Essays, Stories, and Sketches Mark Twain ? October 2012 ? Fiction/Non-Ficton Hilarious.

Electronic Noses Julian Gardner and Philip Bartlett 1999 08/10/2012 ? Non-Fiction Extremely interesting scientific treatment of smell. Comprehensive coverage of the influence of chemistry and molecule shape, biological process, electronic synthesis of smell, and the many applications of electronic noses and smelling.

Viking Portable Marx Karl Marx August 2011 August 2011 Non-Fiction Reading an anthology of Marx's work, rather than a single work like Capital, gives a much better comprehensive portrait of Marx as a man and as a thinker. This seems really important, given some of the ideological shifts that occurred in his life, and is also important for putting his work into the context of who he was as a person.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neal Hurston 06/28/2012 07/04/2012 Fiction

Outliers Malcom Gladwell June 2012 June 2012 Non-Fiction Excellent. Lots of good food for thought. 10,000 hour rule: to master anything, you need 10,000 hours of practice.


(Lost track of reading for a while, but was mostly reading The Economist, Foreign Affairs, and Lapham's Quarterly, as well as the occasional New Yorker.)


Collected Stories of Philip Dick Philip Dick ? ? Fiction

Blood Meridian Cormac McCarthy April 2012 June 2012 Fiction

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle April 2012 April 2012 Fiction

Ubik Philip Dick March 2012 March 2012 Fiction Damn crazy. Like so much of Dick's work, deals with some mind-blowing concepts - like being dead but still interacting with people, or realizing that what you thought was reality turned out to be a simulation (ontological uncertainty)... was inspired to read this by To The Best of Our Knowledge and their show on P. K. Dick, and their interview with Umberto Rossi, discussing this particular novel and its creepiness.

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire William Gibbon March 2012 ? Non-Fiction

Reaper Man Terry Pratchett March 2012 March 2012 Fiction Excellent!

My Great American Unhappiness Dean Bakopoulos 03/03/2012 03/03/2012 Fiction Wow. A narrator who becomes harder and harder to like as the novel goes on. I couldn't stop reading this fascinating picture of a man whose life becomes a slow-motion train wreck. The author pulls off (really well) a slimy and unpleasant person. One word... Schaudenfraude.

The Trial Franz Kafka February 2012 February 2012 Fiction

Consider the Lobster David Foster Wallace 02/01/2012 02/03/2012 Non-Fiction The title essay was outstanding. The imagery and sensory picture Wallace paints is so unique it's unforgettable. I like how he brings up this really awkward question and then cuts the essay off without giving you an easy way out - like someone handing you a grenade, and pulling the pin as they walk away.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Cadavers Mary Roach 02/16/2012 02/19/2012 Non-Fiction (Pittsburgh trip)

Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace February 2012 Meh Fiction Really, really slow. Wallace said in an interview that he didn't want the book to be so dense that the reader wants to throw it at the wall after 100 pages. I wanted to throw it at the wall after 100 pages.
Equal Rites Terry Pratchett February 2012 February 2012 Fiction

Beyond Good and Evil January 2012 February 2012 (re-reading is ongoing) Non-Fiction Like anything by Nietzsche, this isn't a sit-down-and-read-it-cover-to-cover book. I got through a large chunk of it, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Having thought more about the philosophy of science, some of the themes Nietzsche addresses really resonated with me. There were parts I had read before, and hadn't really understood or fully appreciated, that now, on re-reading, were much more powerful.

Snow Crash Neal Stephenson January 2012 February 2012 Fiction One of the most engaging opening chapters I've ever read.

The Best Short Stories 1992 Robert Stone (editor) December 2011 January 2012 Fiction

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep December 2011 January 2012 Science Fiction

How Rome Fell Adrian Goldsworthy December 2011 January 2012


Title Author Year Started Finished Genre Opinion
Blue Mars Kim Stanley Robinson December 2011 December 2011 Science Fiction

Green Mars Kim Stanley Robinson November 2011 November 2011 Fiction

Red Mars Kim Stanley Robinson October/November 2011 November 2011 Fiction

The Nick Adams Stories Ernest Hemmingway October/November 2011 October/November 2011 Fiction Great writing, as should be expected from Ernest Hemmingway. Simple stories, crisp, well-written, terse, like a soup with a few simple ingredients but full of flavor.

Stoner John Williams October 2011 October 2011 Fiction NYRB series. Recommended by staff of Dog Eared Books in San Francisco. Good character profile. A book that is fascinating in its lack of fascinating qualities, the soul-numbing boredom of the main character's life like some kind of slow-motion train-wreck.

Market Forces Richard Morgan (?) Meh Fiction awful. deceiving advertised as a "Philip K. Dick Award Winner" (they meant the author, not the book). petty, whiny author voice. uncreative, unoriginal waste of time. stopped reading halfway through out of sheer boredom with the predictable, boring characters and slow, small-minded plot.


Collapse Jared Diamond ? November 2011 Non-Fiction So-so book. The point was interesting, but his examples began to blend together, and he didn't do a particularly good job of bringing the story to life or making it engaging. It was like being hit with a hammer repeatedly. The first time gets your attention, but after a while it loses the intended effect.


(New job. Lost track in the chaos of moving.)



(Dissertation. Lost track of my reading entirely, but was reading mostly technical books.)


The Federalist Papers (No. 1 - No. 20) Alexander Hamilton et al 06/14/2011 ? Non-Fiction

The Great Crash, 1929 John Kenneth Galbraith 05/15/2011 July 2011 Non-Fiction

The Wars of Watergate Stanley Kutler May 2011 July 2011 Non-Fiction Gives an exhaustive level of detail, and a lot of information to sift through. It was very rewarding to go through it and learn so much about the details of Watergate.

Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty Morris Kline ? 05/22/2011 Non-Fiction Fantastic read about the complete lack of certainty in mathematics. It destroyed some of my long-standing beliefs about mathematics and the concept of mathematical truth. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in, or studying, science.

Moby Dick Herman Melville 03/04/2011 Meh Fiction It really couldn't keep my attention. I stopped around Chapter 60-something.
Little Brother Cory Doctorow 04/04/2011 04/05/2011 Fiction An excellent book for young people that belongs in more hands. It's released under the Creative Commons license, which makes it easy to get it in more hands. I originally found out about this from a To The Best of Our Knowledge podcast, called "Inside Information" (03/12/2011).

The underlying message of the book is to be curious about the world around you, to take control of the world around you, and to be subversive: something young people rarely hear from "grown-ups" around them.

Ulysses James Joyce 01/07/2011 03/09/2011 Fiction Great book. With the exception of a few chapters, on which the majority of time was spent, the book read quicker than I anticipated, and was very funny. I recommend reading it with a guide, like Sparknotes, Don Gilbert's book James Joyce's Ulysses, or Gifford's Ulysses Annotated (I used all three).

The Secret Man Bob Woodward 2005 03/03/2011 03/03/2011 Non-Fiction Extremely light reading; a disappointing re-hash of All The President's Men with the main difference being Deep Throat is replaced by Felt; there is also an interesting explanation of how Woodward and Felt were first introduced, and a discussion about Felt 30 years later (losing his memory) and Woodward's dilemma in deciding whether to reveal Felt as Deep Throat; the whole book is written in really choppy English, very short sentences, very bad English; a somewhat boring but fast read

All The President's Men Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward 1974 03/01/2011 03/02/2011 Non-Fiction Very interesting book; there are a lot of names thrown out, and it's difficult to follow much of the time; many of the details included are of marginal importance; it's somewhat difficult to get a "big picture" by reading this; but it gives a very accurate play-by-play of how the Watergate reporting in the Washington Post unfolded over the course of 1972 and 1973. Ends in 1973, before Nixon's resignation. (Second book by Bernstein and Woodward is The Last Days and does the same thing except it follows the resignation of Nixon). I recommend reading this as a supplement to a more comprehensive book on Watergate.

Nixonland Richard Perlstein 2008 02/20/2011 02/28/2011 Non-Fiction Looking past the sometimes crappy writing mistakes of the author, the grammatically ambiguous sentences, the use of last names for people introduced 50 pages ago, the lack of any year being given for frame of reference for many events mentioned in chapters that jump around... the book is great. It covers its subject matter well - focusing primarily on the way Nixon appealed to so many people, the way he won elections, the way he ultimately brought about his own end. It skips over Watergate, ending when Watergate begins (since it focuses on Nixon's elections), but gives an excellent background for learning more about the people and events involved in the leadup to Watergate. It covers the details of some of the events that receive only casual mentions in books like All The President's Men, and provides a very disturbing glimpse into the psyche of the Nixon administration, and the psyche of American society, in the late 1960s/early 1970s.

Harlot's Ghost Norman Mailer 02/11/2011 02/19/2011 Fiction Outstanding book. I picked it up looking for a CIA/cloak-and-dagger plot, and did not get what I was expecting. However, it was a very enjoyable read - I finished it because Mailer is an outstanding wordsmith.

I Can Get It For You Wholesale Jerome Wiedman 01/28/2011 Fiction Very funny narrative voice; fast-paced writing style; perspective of a Jewish New Yorker in 1920s who basically uses the capitalist system to rob his friends and leave them twisting in the wind. While it's hard to have any sympathy for the narrator, you do anyway, because he's so likable; does a great job of capturing the style of the time.

Poems New And Selected James Laughlin 01/28/2011 Poetry Great, clever poems.

The Stranger Albert Camus 01/27/2011 01/28/2011 Fiction Re-reading

Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky 01/19/2011 01/20/2011 Fiction Re-reading

Terrible Swift Sword (Civil War Trilogy Vol. 2) Bruce Catton 01/10/2011 02/10/2011 Non-Fiction Civil War history; covers the years 1861-1863; very good

The Coming Fury (Civil War Trilogy Vol. 1) Bruce Catton 01/02/2011 01/09/2011 Non-Fiction Excellent history of the Civil War. explores a lot of the behind-the-scenes politicking and buildup to the Civil War, ends with first CW battle (Battle of Bull Run)


Title Author Year Started Finished Genre Opinion
Quicksilver: Baroque Cycle Vol. 1 Neal Stephenson December 2010 Meh Fiction The storyline was interesting at first, but then it got really boring and disappointing. Won't finish. Gave to thrift store. Saw an additional copy of this book at the same thrift store.
Spook Country William Gibson November 2010 November 2010 Fiction No interesting storyline, boring characters, nothing interesting happens in the entire story, forgot the entire storyline of the book a few days after I read it
American Gods Neil Gaiman November 2010 November 2010 Fiction Boring storyline, but reads really fast, forgot most of what I had read a few days after I read it
Cryptonomicon Neal Stephenson November 2010 November 2010 Fiction Very unusual fiction style; Stephenson goes off on these tangents that are often very in-depth (and fascinating) technical explications (probably the only fiction book where you'll ever see a Perl script); covers a lot of interesting cryptography subjects

Memories of the Future Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky May 2010 May 2010 Fiction (short stories) Amazingly clever and haunting short stories


Title Author Year Started Finished Genre Opinion

(Intermission, during which I read a couple of books, but not that many, probably all engineering textbooks, and did not record any of their names.)


Godel, Escher, Bach Douglas Hofstadter 07/12/2008 Meh Non-Fiction Started out as a really interesting book, but it started to get kind of tedious halfway through; may try to read through it again later
The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner 07/07/2008 Meh Fiction Confusing
Pale Fire Vladimir Nabokov 06/25/2008 07/06/2008 Fiction Extremely clever book, unlike any other I've ever read

The Crying of Lot 49 Thomas Pynchon 06/16/2008 06/19/2008 Fiction Really good... like a big puzzle, lots of different layers and references and fun things. Reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut.

The Wikipedia article on Thomas Pynchon is really interesting.

Chaos James Gleick 02/12/2008 Meh Non-Fiction Presents some very interesting ideas, but does not explore any of the math or technical parts (which is frustrating). Pulls together lots of interesting subjects.

Tailed off, without finishing.

The Cleft Doris Lessing 03/07/2008 03/12/2008 Fiction Interesting, but kind of weird; I don't know if I would recommend it

Varieties of Disturbance Lydia Davis 02/16/2008 02/29/2008 Fiction (short stories) Really really creative, original, funny, easy to read... very enjoyable... won a National Book Award

Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury 02/12/2008 2/21/2008 Fiction Good, but not great, book

Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran Elaine Sciolino 01/11/2008 02/15/2008 Non-Fiction Provides a "behind closed doors" view of Iran

Postmodernism & Islam Akbar Ahmed 01/09/2008 Meh Non-Fiction Written in 92, updated in 96; interesting pre-9/11 viewpoint of Islam and the West, and funny because he keeps bringing up Madonna as a "contemporary" figure... it got weird tho, and boring for non-Muslims (just as detailed Christian theology or apologetics can get really boring for non-Christians).
Under the Banner of Heaven Jon Krakauer 01/05/2008 01/09/2008 Non-Fiction Superbly written; lots of info on Mormonism, with a focus on Mormon fundamentalism (both modern & historical)

Reading this book was the first time I realized that not only can the Mormon church be weird, but it can also be kind of evil; a pattern I started to see cropping up more often after reading this book.

Easily as shocking/disturbing as Lolita


Title Author Year Started Finished Genre Opinion
The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time Hunter S Thompson 09/13/2007 ? Non-Fiction (anthology) Awesome awesome awesome writer.

The physics of baseball Robert Kemp Adair 9/26/2007 10/6/2007 Non-Fiction Interesting perspective on baseball, esp. given that most of the pitching physics is fluid mechanics...

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Mark Haddon 9/18/2007 9/22/2007 Fiction written from POV of autistic 15 y/o... very interesting take on mental disability and how austics function

Fire on the Mountain Edward Abbey 9/10/2007 9/13/2007 Fiction Nowhere near as good as Desert Solitaire, but an enjoyable read. Probably wouldn't recommend it though.

Visiting Mrs. Nabokov Martin Amis 8/28/2007 Meh Non-Fiction (anthology) Collection of short magazine-article length pieces for Esquire, Vogue, New Yorker, etc.

Got kind of hard to follow on about half of them, what with all of his literary/cultural references. Clever fellow, Martin Amis.

Bear vs Shark Chris Bachelder 9/8/2007 9/10/2007 Fiction a clever and funny satire

Getting sued and other tales of the engineering life Richard L. Meehan 9/5/2007 9/7/2007 Non-Fiction Very handy account of what lawsuits are like - i.e., never what you expect. Does a terrible job of using 10-dollar words that NOBODY uses, but also passes on a useful set of skills - the author's life experiences distilled into the important stuff

Einstein's Monsters Martin Amis 9/2/2007 9/5/2007 Fiction A sensible look at nuclear weapons and how utterly ridiculously stupid they (and their masters) are

Live from Golgotha Gore Vidal 09/01/2007 Meh Fiction Awful book... NOT funny, and in the worst kind of way - tries really hard to be funny but just fails miserably
In Cold Blood Truman Capote 08/30/2007 09/01/2007 Nonfiction Great, great storytelling... amazing piece of work.

Islam Caesar E. Farah, Ph.D. 08/23/2007 Meh Non-Fiction Very preachy - written on the subject of Islam, from a Muslim point of view (why Mohammad was so great, why the Qu'ran is right, which infidels will be burning in hell, etc)
Dead Babies Martin Amis 08/26/2007 08/28/2007 Fiction AWESOME satire, as funny as "Breakfast of Champions" but with a more New-Yorker kind of feel

Maximum Bob Elmore Leonard 08/20/2007 08/23/2007 Fiction Elmore Leonard says he leaves out the parts of the book that the reader doesn't read... Very quick-moving writing with a good storyline, but pretty shallow

The Psychology of Love Sigmund Freud 08/14/2007 08/21/2007 Non-Fiction Interesting theory - how EVERYTHING is related to sex - but boring after the first one or two chapters

Virtual Light William Gibson 8/18/2007 8/20/2007 Fiction Very fast-paced writing style, gritty dialogue, grim presentation of the future; interestingly, it takes place in 2005 - and was written in 1993

Brain Sex Dr. Anne Moir 08/11/2007 08/14/2007 Non-Fiction Obviously written by someone with an agenda, but provided some very interesting insights. It was difficult to separate scientific fact from allegorical speech & conclusions (or opinions) drawn from scientific facts, because references were all grouped by chapter, as opposed to having a reference or citation with each fact, study, etc. discussed.

The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck 8/9/2007 8/14/2007 Fiction This novel is as much of a literary milestone as it is a political milestone (reminded me of a readable and well-written version of "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair)

Lord Jim Joseph Conrad 08/01/2007 Meh Fiction Very slow-moving novel... The pace of the novel never picked up, and it got really boring after abt 40 pages
Lolita Vladamir Nabokov 07/30/2007 08/01/2007 Fiction Shocking, discomforting, but totally incredible...

The Secret Agent Joseph Conrad 07/29/2007 7/30/2007 Fiction interesting insights into human psychology

Breathing Lessons Anne Tyler 07/23/2007 07/24/2007 Fiction Scary view of marriage and family

Home of the Gentry Ivan Turgenev 07/21/2007 07/23/2007 Fiction Made me think about that point where you look back and realize, this IS my life, it's been lived... it's no longer "going to be made", it is now already "made"

Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky 07/15/2007 07/20/2007 Fiction Great presentation of human psychology, guilt, behavior, etc


Interesting list of reading notes on a blog: