In 2006 I wanted to read 52 books in 52 weeks. I did that and a little better. So, I'm pretty happy with that. I thought I'd run down what my favorites were and what inspiration I received from them and other books this year.
I broke them out into categories. I'm surprised to find the list of science books beating out business and web theory books.
This year I started reading one book by Philip K. Dick per month, just because it seemed like a patently ridiculous thing to do. No Philip K. Dick books are on my list. Go figure.
1. The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom
I totally loved this book, I must have read it in all of an hour. It's a very short, very poignant book that managed to push all my sappy buttons. I had Vivian read it immediately after I finished it. I find it a very patient book, wry and knowing.
In the end, this book is about the value of all life, even our own. And while we may not want to die, we have no real way of ever measuring our actual impact. It's hard to put ourselves in perspective.
2. Third Class Superhero - Charles Yu
This book is a major reason not to shop at Amazon a lot. I was down at the Kinokuniya Bookstore in Seattle and this was on the new releases shelf. I paged through it a bit, put it down, went to leave and walked back into the store to buy it. "You forgot to buy me..."
This is a collection of short stories, and I hate short stories. It's also Yu's first book. I was immediately struck with the tone he used with his characters - it reminded me immediately of Vonnegut. Calm, understanding, patient. Even though his stories are very short, the characters are well developed and conceptualized.
Sometimes his stories are in a bizarre environment - such as one where superheros are fairly common and getting in as a superhero is a bureaucratic process. The main character has a fairly uninspiring ability that - you can tell - could be used well, if he wasn't uninspired in general. Others are more common settings.
3. Ender's Shadow / Xenocide - Orson Scott Card
No one can make me sit down and read 1,000 pages like Orson Scott Card. He's utterly magic. I read Xenocide, all 800 pages of it, in Hong Kong when I had nearly no time to read -- in four days. The same was true for Ender's Shadow, which I read over a weekend back in Seattle.
Card, especially in the later books, goes long for the ethical dilemmas. He explores the boundaries of self-interest, race relations, religion, science, politics, war, and so on. In programming, the conditions that don't quite fit the way we wanted the software to work (and therefore breaks it) are called boundary conditions. Card seems to find all of life's boundary conditions.
Which sounds like it would be plodding and a total bore to read. But, somehow, he makes it flow like water. The man is a total freak of nature.
1. Emergence - Steven Johnson
Since writing Emergence, Steven Johnson has proven himself to be a popular blogger and an author of other wildly popular books. As an urban planner turned software developer, Johnson's parallels between the emergent natures of cities and of software hit home for me. He places those discussions in a context of social, biological and political emergence that also parallels well with the work I'm doing with cooperation.
The key here is that coherent patterns emerge from complex or seemingly random systems. Those coherent patterns are what we often recognize and act on or, conversely, discount - depending entirely on point of view.
2. Decoding the Universe - Charles Seife
You were upset about being reduced to a number? Well Seife is gonna reduce you to a probability! In Decoding the Universe cryptography, physics, astronomy, biology and a cat supercollide and the resulting reaction describes how the universe works, how you think, and how everything is going to implode after an inexorable march toward oblivion - which we are about half way done with.
Decoding the Universe is a phenomenal trip down reductionistic lane. It was a wonderful companion to the Dalai Lama's Universe in a Single Atom, which I'll review under spirituality.
3. Natural Capitalism - Paul Hawken
Written before the massive surge in oil prices, Natural Capitalism discusses how prudent environmental practices are good for a capitalistic society. Hawken provides details of the cost benefit analyses surrounding the use of green materials and practices.
Hawken received much fame from this book, propelling him to a recognized world leader in thoughtful enterprise and development. I saw his new, yet unreleased, book the other day and was only able to get a glance of it. I'm looking forward to getting a copy soon.
1. Universe in a Single Atom - Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is a wise and thoughtful man who has been blessed by the opportunity to have long discussions with both spiritual and scientific leaders. In Universe in a Single Atom he shows movements in modern science that very closely map to historic teachings in Buddhism. At the same time, he shows how religion can sometimes blind people of both spirituality or beneficial science.
This book is an excellent example of how to simultaneously contrast two viewpoints and show their similarities. An utterly fascinating read.
1. Ambient Findability - Peter Morville
Ambient Findability is about how we, as people, make sense out of our environment. Wayfinding and Mapping are part of my daily life. Morville helped me extend my thinking of them even further. My copy of this is littered with notes on nearly every page. Whether I was arguing or agreeing with Morville, every page had something to think about. This is a short, well written, colorful book that is a must read for every urban planner, sociologist, psychologist, software developer, geographer, librarian or (other).
1. Birth of the Chaordic Age - Dee Hock
You'll notice a lot of these books have been out for a while, this one is no different. But I wasn't anticipating what I found inside. Hock's book is told in a very Persig-esque fashion with narrative interspersed with philosophy.
The book tells the story of how Hock helped create VISA, the organization largely responsible for every monetary transaction on this planet. VISA was built by banks who were very power hungry - so VISA had to be an organization that would never bow to anyone's direct power and yet have no actual power of its own.
Hock calls this a Chaordic organization. Chaord is the boundary line between chaos and order. Visa had to be ordered enough to get the job done, yet lack the power associated with traditional order. It had to have that element of chaos that came along through mob-rule by all the individual participating banks.
This book turns management theory on its head - and gives real success story examples of the applications of its theory.
1. The Barbeque Bible - Steven Raichlen
I should note that when looking for new recipe idea I, of course, turn to the net. I have FoodNetwork in my search bar and make good use of it.
The sheer mass of recipes and cooking information on the net makes The Barbeque Bible all the more special. I bought it at the cook shop up the street because it had this great stuffed standing roast recipe and had good tips on technique.
When I got it home and started to read it, I was floored by the depth of this book. Usually books called The <Random Subject> Bible fall short of the mark. This is certainly an exception. Raichlen will tell you about all BBQ techniques, give you amazing recipes and extend your appreciation for both gas and charcoal grilling.
Blogged from the Sai Oak in Ocean Shores, Washington