Saturday, January 15, 2011

Book List

My brother, Andrew, recently asked me for a book list of good books to read.  Here's what I wrote.

Mind Expanding Scifi:
Ursula Leguin: The Dispossessed
- Physicist from a desolate moon colonized by anarchists breaks the law to visit the earthlike planet filled with plenty and political intrigue trying to bridge the divided communities.  Brilliant and deep reflections on what makes good life, good work and how the structures of our society help or hinder us in these goals.
- highlights here.

Willaim Gibson: Neuromancer
- film noir meets cyberpunk; fem fatalle with retractable steal claws; virtual reality hacking and emergent lifeforms born in the web.

Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash
- Neal's take on cyberpunk with fascinating reflection on linguistics, speaking in tongues/glossalalia, samouri swords and skateboarding.

Neal Stephenson: Diamond Age
- Amazing story of a future of nanotech, self-selected cultural/linguistic enclaves, the power of story to shape imagination and building a giant underwater supercomputer composed of human minds spreading information via nano-machine viruses.

Neal Stephenson: Anathem
- Stephenson's most epic book of epic awesomeness (900 pages?).  It's about everything.  Specifically, what if scientists devoted their lives to learning with the discipline of a religious order?  In the world of the walled maths students preserve learning and information despite the rise and falls of civilization outside. But when an extraterrestrial ship is spotted in orbit everything starts to fall apart and only the super-geniuses within the mathic order can save humanity.
- you can learn the entirety of western intellectual history (important ideas from plato to the post-moderns) from this book; unfortunately all the names are slightly off because it takes place in a parallel world that's very much like earth but somewhat different.
- this is in my top 3 books I've ever read.  Simply amazing.  Easily Stephenson's best.

Alwyn Scott: Stairway to the Mind
- Amazingly deep but accessible study of how each level of science (physics, chemistry, organic chem, biology, psychology, anthropology, sociology) is a step up in complexity in which the emerging properties of the subject of study at each level do things that the previous level could not have predicted.
- Fascinating look at current neuroscience by a neuroresearcher reflecting technically and poetically on where human consciousness comes from and all the simultaneous processes that run underneath it an enable it, below the level of consciousness.


  1. "Wow" to the description of Alwyn Scott's "Stairway to the Mind." Can regular non-graduate school attendees handle this one?

  2. Re: Scott: Yes! He buries all the really hard math in appendices. It's written so that non specialists can make sense of it. One of the best books I've read in seminary.

  3. Great list. I'm working on Neuromancer now (along with four or five other books), and it's fantastic. Couldn't agree more about Anathem. That book blew a hole in my mind so deep that I'm still finding my way out, in some ways.

    I would have included something by Neil Gaiman, as well as Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything," which is easily the most entertaining book on science I have ever read.


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