On My Bookshelf

I don’t have much time to read for pleasure—occupational hazard of the engineer—but when I’m on vacation, I do nothing but read, run, and eat. After going through a book a day for a few school breaks, I realized that I can’t afford to buy every book I want to read, so now I just camp out at Barnes & Noble instead. Here’s some of my recent reading material:

Born To Run (Chris McDougall) – A thrilling true story about the superhuman Tarahumara Indians and an amazing 50-mile race in the Copper Canyons of Mexico. Moral: To run is to be human. This book makes you want to go outside and run barefoot. Check out my earlier post about it.

Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) – Sometimes I read books to better understand cultural references. Entertaining and hauntingly ironic. I’m still not sure I get it.

Ender series (Orson Scott Card)Ender’s Game, Ender in Exile, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind – I read Ender’s Game for the first time in middle school and have re-read it at least once every year since. It’s that good. While Ender’s Game leans toward the “nonstop action” side of the spectrum, the other books in the series are deeper, more thought-provoking, and more science fiction-y. If you’re a techie or a human, you’ll love them all. There’s also a parallel series centered around Bean and set on Earth that’s just as well-written and entertaining, but with more gravity. 🙂

Influence (Robert Cialdini) – Applied psychology at its best. Cialdini goes undercover as a salesman to learn how the world’s best influencers get what they want by appealing to fundamental human nature. He then teaches you how to use your newfound skills of influence to get what you want without defying your internal moral compass. Required reading for anyone who buys things.

Once a Runner (John Parker) – It’s been called “the best novel ever written about running.” And not just by me.

Presentation Zen (Garr Reynolds) – Another book on how to make mind-blowingly engaging PowerPoint/Keynote presentations. The content isn’t entirely suitable for presenting technical research, but the underlying design principles are well worth noting.

QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (Richard Feynman) – If you like understanding how the world works, you’ll love this short book. It’s actually a series of lectures (no equations!) by Feynman about his theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED), which it turns out explains a huge number of phenomena in the real world. He also discusses the basics of his famous Feynman space-time diagrams. I like Feynman’s plainspoken style, but it’s sometimes frustrating when he uses analogies to describe technical concepts without ever mentioning the actual terms.

Quantum Mechanics for Scientists and Engineers (David Miller) – This was actually my textbook for EE222, but it’s one of the best textbooks I’ve ever seen. Clear and concise, it helps you learn how to reason about quantum mechanical problems while acknowledging the holes in the field itself. If you want to learn QM, on your own or for a class, read this book. (Yep, it’s a readable textbook. Imagine that.)

Reality Check (Guy Kawasaki) – Guy is a Stanford alum best known for his no-BS advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, which means he gets invited to campus to speak at least 52 times a year. Best line: “The higher you go in most organizations, the thinner the air. The thinner the air, the more difficult it is to find intelligent life.” The hype in Silicon Valley around this guy (haha) is unbelievable, but it’s well-deserved. If you want to start a company, read this book first. It will destroy lots of misguided notions before they sprout into full-fledged disasters.

Sustainable Energy – without the hot air (David MacKay) – Free online book that gives the straight-up facts about the impending global energy shortage without any, well, hot air. I especially liked having the raw order-of-magnitude numbers to play around with on my own. Well worth reading for policy-makers and policy-takers (AKA everyone). Check out a copy in your favorite browser today.

The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature (Matt Ridley) – The basic proposition of this book: Nearly every part of human nature can be explained by the way we evolved, i.e., through sex and the transfer of genes—not necessarily the same thing, it turns out. Ridley throws in a lot of witty phrases and interesting examples from animal sexual behavior. Good book to read if you’re interested in psych or bio. Or sex, of course.

What Do You Care What Other People Think? (Richard Feynman) – Even if you’re not into physics or physicists, you’ll find Richard Feynman one of the most interesting people you’ve ever had the pleasure of learning from. He’s a Nobel laureate who worked through equations while hanging out in strip clubs, cracked safes, worked on the atomic bomb, investigated the Challenger explosion, and was a bit of a womanizer on the side. I think he did some physics too. In this book (and his other, better-known book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!), Feynman shares a bunch of short, entertaining anecdotes from his illustrious life.

You Cannot Be Serious (John McEnroe) – An autobiography of the top-ranked tennis player in the world, the most loved and hated player in the sport, and a Stanford alum. You won’t find too many elite athletes willing and able to tell such an honest and interesting story about their own lives. Quick read.

I’m always looking for more stuff to read. Do me a favor and share any interesting articles or books you come across! 🙂

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