11 July 2011

Some good nonfiction

Hello -

From time to time, friends ask me to recommend good nonfiction. No problem! Here are a few books that have survived the "still glad I read 'em" test a few years later. The focus here is on science and art. (The foci?)

You are not a gadget: a manifesto (J. Lanier). Staying human in a world of Web 2.0-accelerated info-surfing and ambient friend-hood. And octopi.

Consilience: the unity of knowledge (E. O. Wilson). Scientists and humanitarians, unite! Learned lots about the history of science, and I loved the book despite the core message's inability to really hit home.

This is Modern Art (M. Collings) If you even just-sort-of like contemporary art, this book is an awesome, friendly introduction to its many flavors and personalities. Don't know why it averages only 3 stars.

The visual display of quantitative information (E. Tufte) The standard book of good and bad information depiction.

Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion (R. Cialdini) How to know when you're being manipulated, or, a handbook on how to manipulate others.

Learn to Play Go (J. Kim) 'nuff said.

Optics (E. Hecht) "Hey Gregg, what's a good book on optics for someone who's taken calculus?" This one!

Godel, Escher, Bach (D. Hofstader) You seriously haven't read this yet? Go learn some links between patterns, music, DNA, and predicate calculus (or whatever it's called). I only made it 50% through, but when I walked into a cafe with it under my arm, I met a nice woman, and we got married! So, there's that.

Prometheus Rising (R. A. Wilson) Forgive its trippy LSD tone. A book about the various stages of mind, which helps you understand everything from why we swear, to how brainwashing and military indoctrination works, to various forms of enlightenment.

Sync: how order emerges from chaos... (S. H. Strogatz) Complex systems and synchrony, from fireflies to lasers. (See also his textbook on nonlinear dynamic systems.)

Games People Play (E Berne) Try to get your hands on this 1965 paperback that diagrams typical conversational patterns and the child/parent levels from which they originate. Neat stuff!

The Discoveries (A Lightman) Get this! The stories of a handful of awesome 20th century discoveries - and - for real - the journal articles in which they were announced. So cool!

A course in mathematics for students of physics (Bamberg) A Harvard textbook from linear algebra and calculus to differential forms and some really minimal-looking expression of Maxwell's equations. I kid you not, I got this in 1995 and am still reading it.

Dark hero of the information age: in search of Norbert Wiener the father of cybernetics (F Conway) Kids these days. They just don't know that uncle Norbert invented essentially everything.

A People's History of the United States (H Zinn). I am the only person around here who hasn't read this book. Well, I read one chapter. Now I know that the people who came and took North America were really quite mean.

Benton's SPIE milestone series on selected fundamental papers in three-dimensional display (SPIE Press) is just incredible. If you like 3-D display technology. And if you are into that sort of thing, Barry Blundell has a great collection of books which dive deep into the history of display technologies. And I'm not just saying that because I wrote the Forward to one of them.

Two books I read recently and enjoyed were:

Finally, I am in the middle of What Technology Wants, which suggests that our technologies have been evolving in ways similar to organisms. An enjoyable read (for its various historical and trendline anecdotes) so far.

What are some of your favorites?