Ten Books.

Patrick over at the excellent Popehat blog has picked up on Tyler Cowan’s “Ten Book” meme, and posted his own list of ten books.

This seems like an interesting idea for a post, and I have much respect for Patrick (as well as the other Popehatters), so…why not? Ten books which, from the original Marginal Revolution post, “have influenced your view of the world”.

  • Restoring the American Dream, by Robert J. Ringer. Other people came to libertarianism through Ayn Rand, or Milton Friedman: I came to libertarianism through Ringer’s book, then read Rand and Nozick and Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” and all the other classics.
  • Neuromancer, by William Gibson. This is the book that restored my faith in science fiction, which I felt had become stagnant in the early 1980’s. It also made me want to be a Gibsonian protagonist, but that was in another country, and besides the wench is dead.
  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, by Richard Feynman (with Ralph Leighton). At one point in my life, I wanted to be a physicist. For various reasons, this didn’t work out, but Feynman’s approach to looking at the world was still a major influence on me. (The link above is a bit of a cheat, as it goes to the more recent omnibus that contains Surely You’re Joking, What Do You Care What Other People Think?, and some extra material. If you happen to know a smart high school or junior high student, you could do a lot worse than to buy two copies of this book; one for you, and one for them.)
  • Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, by Steven Levy. I hope someday to build something as cool as these people built, and this is one of the best books ever written on the true hacker mindset.
  • Complete Novels: Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key, and The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett. Cheating again, but the complete Hammett novels were a Christmas present one year. Hammett’s work, especially Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon, got me back into reading mysteries, and are a major influence on my own writing.
  • The Survival of Freedom, edited by Jerry Pournelle. I read this not long after Restoring the American Dream. Pournelle got laughed at a lot in the mid and late 80’s for his militaristic SF anthologies, like There Will Be War, but The Survival of Freedom is a shockingly strong anthology. It contains classic stories by William Tenn, Larry Niven, and Harlan Ellison (“‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” was the first Ellison story I consciously read.), essays on libertarianian and anarcho- libertarianian philosophy by people like David Friedman, and even some great poetry. (This was also the first place I ever ran into Robinson Jeffers: “The Stars Go Over the Lonely Ocean” is still one of my favorite poems.)
  • The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales, by Oliver Sacks. At the time I read this, I was very interested in artificial intelligence, and had this idea that we could understand and develop machine cognition by understanding how the human mind worked, and especially how it failed. That didn’t exactly pan out, but the work of Oliver Sacks started me on an amateur interest in neurology that continues to this day.
  • The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald Norman. Donald Norman is a personal hero of mine (as is Dr. Sacks). This is the book that got me started thinking seriously about human interface design. Oddly enough, Norman’s work (especially the essay “Coffee Cups in the Cockpit“) was also one of the things that started me thinking about leadership.
  • The How and Why Wonder Book of Guns. As a little kid, I loved the How and Why Wonder Books, and this was probably my favorite of the lot. I owe my fondness for firearms at least partially to this (and partially to growing up around guns).
  • The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth. When I was a little kid, I also hated fiction. I remember my elementary school teachers laughing at my comment that “Fiction is gross.” But much of the fiction targeted to people of my age at that time was “gross”, for values of “gross” that include “boring and condescending” (I didn’t know the word “condescending” at the time): it wasn’t until after I became an adult that fiction for kids and young adults began the great movement in the direction of dealing with the real world. The Day of the Jackal was the first fiction book I remember reading that had that feeling of “making it seem real like”. (I was also unfamiliar with the word “verisimilitude”.) Forsyth and Arthur “Airport” Hailey were pretty much my entire fiction diet for longer than I care to remember.

Honorable mentions: Edward Tufte, especially The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, which taught me that (in the immortal words of the great Lester Freamon) “all the pieces matter”. Wambaugh’s The Onion Field, which I’ve mentioned in passing before, and will probably come back to later. I’ve deliberately avoided mentioning the Bible and other religious texts, as I feel this violates the spirit (if not the letter) of Cowan’s meme. And Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984.

Edited to add: And, dammit, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. How could I forget that?

Comments are closed.