What I’ve Been Reading

Title: Author: Copyright: Description:
Seveneves: A Novel Stephenson, Neal 2015 Picked up the latest Neal Stephenson book at the Strand Bookstore on Union Square in NYC. Another epic novel by the master. This time it’s set in the present and the end of the world has arrived. The moon shatters into pieces and mankind has to escape the planet before the pieces of the moon start raining down and wipe out all life. It’s 800+ pages in hardback, and I still didn’t want it to end.
Zero History Gibson, William 2010 Gibson is one of my favorite authors, so I pre-ordered this from Amazon so I could get it as soon as it came out. It continues with the characters (Hollis, Milgrim, Bigend, et al) from “Pattern Recognition” and “Spook Country”. It’s an exploration of obsessive sub-cultures, where Hollis is sent out by Bigend to find who created a private-label brand of clothing. Like reading Neal Stephenson books, I found that it is a good idea to have a web browser handy so that you can Google all the names that get dropped. Anyway, I definitely enjoyed it, and I would recommend it.
Basket Case Hiassen, Carl 2002 I grabbed this off the shelf because I was looking for some light reading. I’ve read a couple of other Hiassen novels and I found them amusing. “Basket Case” served its purpose well. It is a humorous crime novel about a sad-sack obituary writer’s investigation into the suspicious death of a rock star. Not much else to say about it.
Olive Kitteridge Strout, Elizabeth 2008 This is somewhere between a novel and a collection of short stories. The stories feature a retired Maine schoolteacher by the name of Olive Kitteridge as main character in some stories, and in others, she is only mentioned in passing. It’s kind of a chick-book, but I enjoyed it anyway. I definitely was able to identify with Olive, and the book is very sad at several points. The book won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood Satrapi, Marjane 2001, translation 2003 This is a graphic novel about a girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. I like this subversive little kid and her crappy attitude. I gained some sympathy for the unfortunate Iranian people who are forced to live under the dictates of a bunch of religious bullies.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest Larsson, Stieg 2007, translation 2009 This is the third book in the Millennium trilogy. I loved the first two books so much, that I actually pre-purchased the hardcover of the third one so that I wouldn’t have to wait for the paperback. It’s a damn shame that Larsson died so young, because he might have had a lot more good books in him.
The Girl Who Played With Fire Larsson, Stieg 2006, translation 2009 This is the second book in the Millennium trilogy. The first book was terrific, and the second does not disappoint as a sequel. Apparently, I’m not the only one that loves this series. They’ve hit the bestseller list, and they even made the cover of Entertainment Weekly recently. I especially like that it is set in Sweden. Perhaps I would get more satisfaction from my reading habits if I tried more foreign writers.
I, Alex Cross Patterson, James 2009 Morgan Freeman has played Alex Cross in a couple of movies, so a lot of people are already familiar with this intellectual cop character. It’s more of the same mystery genre. I couldn’t find anything spectacular or noteworthy to make me recommend the book, and long experience with detective fiction made me keep poking holes in the premises and the plot. In the end, I enjoyed reading the book, but it made me think that I might be happier if I found a different type of book to read.
One for the Money: A Stephanie Plum Novel Evanovich, Janet 1994 This is the first of the Stephanie Plum novels. My sister Leisha likes the series so I thought I would give it a try. It seems pretty typical of the genre, and it was a pretty entertaining read. I’m definitely going to give the next book in the series a try since I like the crime fiction serial genre.
61 Hours: A Reacher Novel Child, Lee 2010 “61 Hours: A Reacher Novel” is Lee Child’s 14th book in the Reacher series. Ex-military-cop Jack Reacher experiences a South Dakota winter in this episode. He helps the local cops in the town of Bolton protect a witness against a gang of drug-dealing bikers. The ending leaves you wondering whether Reacher survived the climactic boss fight, but there is a 15th book coming out later this year, so he clearly did survive.
Gone Tomorrow: A Reacher Novel Child, Lee 2009 “Gone Tomorrow: A Reacher Novel” is Lee Child’s 13th book in the Reacher series. In this one, Reacher is in New York again. The book starts with a suicide on a subway train, and then continues on with international intrigue, crime, and politics until good prevails as usual.
What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures Gladwell, Malcolm 2009 “What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures” is a collection of Malcolm Gladwell’s “New Yorker” articles. The book came out last year to capitalize on Gladwell’s increasingly high profile after hitting the best-seller lists in recent years with “Outliers”, “Blink”, and “The Tipping Point”. Although the book is new, the articles are from throughout the last 10 years. I think I would liken it to a pop music star’s Greatest Hits CD that you would buy from the electronics department at Walmart.
This books suffers from the usual maladies of that genre. There isn’t any coherent theme, and some of the pieces aren’t quite as fresh as they were when they first came out. But most of the articles are quite enjoyable. Having said that, there are one or two articles that quite possible only made the cut due to either one editor’s idiosyncracies or because the publisher wasn’t going to meet some sort of page quota without it.

I suppose I could have found the individual parts of the collection online, just like you could create a greatest hits CD if you spent enough time with Frostwire, but for $20 (with my Barnes & Noble discount) it was certainly worth the price to let someone else put the finished product together. I like Gladwell’s deft hand with an anecdote, and thus I enjoyed this book a great deal. I would highly recommend it if you’re a fan.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Díaz, Junot 2007 “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” is the Pulitzer Prizing winning novel by Junot Díaz. I loved this book, but it’s kind of like reading Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. You need to have a web browser open in front of you to look up the references that you don’t understand. I saw a video of Díaz doing a reading and talking about the book. He said that the obscure references were intentional, but that you should be able to enjoy the book without understanding all of it. I know that’s true. There are plenty of books, movies, and TV shows where I don’t understand all the references and allusions, but I enjoy them nonetheless. But I’m a curious geek and sometimes I just have got to know what people are talking about.
This book is the story of a fat Dominican-American nerd named Oscar from New Jersey. He’s a sci-fi geek who loves to write and who is a hopeless romantic. It’s also the story of his mother and of the Dominican Republic under the dictator Trujillo. Apparently, Oscar’s family is cursed, and the curse originates with Christopher Columbus. The narrator is Oscar’s friend Yunior who dates Oscar’s sister off and on. The whole family is unlucky in love for the most part. And Oscar is both the luckiest in one sense and the unluckiest in another. I’m still trying to figure out whether the ending was unhappy, and whether Oscar was able to break the curse.
Nothing to Lose: A Reacher Novel Child, Lee 2008 “Nothing to Lose: A Reacher Novel” is Lee Child’s 12th book in the Reacher series. It came out in hardback in 2008, and paperback in 2009. In this latest story, Reacher is hitch-hiking across the country from Calais, Maine to San Diego, California minding his own business and living the drifter lifestyle (except that he has no money worries now thanks to some profitable adventures in his previous stories). He stops in a diner in Despair, Colorado, where he is promptly arrested and then given a ride to the city limits of Hope, Colorado. He befriends the female cop from Hope who picks him up where the Despair cops drop him off.
The story goes on as Reacher latches on to the powers-that-be in Despair to figure out why they are so rude to strangers. Reacher hooks up with the cop, and beats the baddies from Despair into the ground. It was another good page-turned from Child. I highly recommend it, but of course, I think that you ought to start with the first book and work your way up to this one.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking Gladwell, Malcolm 2005 Like all the other Gladwell books I really enjoyed this one. He’s a great non-fiction writer. I think it is his mastery of the anecdote that makes reading his work so enjoyable. Some critics give him a lot of grief trying to claim that he makes simplistic arguments, but I have to wonder if they’ve actually read this book.
His main thesis is that people can make instant judgments that turn out to be spot on, and that the value of those judgments is often underrated. He provides plenty of caveats about where these snap judgments can go wrong and how important it is to be careful with them, and I think his critics failed to read those parts of the book.

I definitely agree with his thesis. I like to think that I am one of those people who can make instant evaluations that work out quite well. In my case, it’s with technical problems at work. After 9 years debugging and troubleshooting the same application, I can usually diagnose a problem very rapidly. Sometimes I’m wrong, but all-in-all, I try to listen to the instincts born from years of experience.

Anyway, it was a good book, and I highly recommend it.

Bad Luck and Trouble: A Jack Reacher Novel Child, Lee 2007 “Bad Luck and Trouble” is the 11th book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. (I’ve only got one more to review after this one.) In this one, Reacher reunites his old crew from his MP days to investigate the murder of one of their colleagues. It’s set in Los Angeles, and the action gets pretty wild and woolly. Child writes like a screenwriter, which makes sense because he used to be a television director. Any one of his books could be made into a good action flick.
This one in particular would call for a lot of special effects. There’s a lot of night action and even some dropping of people from helicopters. The Reacher legend keeps growing with each new novel. By the time the 14th novel comes out, Reacher will be a superhero. He’ll have to be a superhero to keep up this action. They character will be 50 years old by the time the next book comes out, and I just can’t see him continuing with the physical feats that I’ve grown so fond of. Child will either have to kill him off or write more prequels. Or, of course, turn him into a superhero.

At some point Reacher will have to give up the homelessness and the wandering and settle down, and that will be a sad day. I would love to live his carefree life too, but I don’t see how such a thing could last.

One Shot: A Jack Reacher Novel Child, Lee 2005 Yes, “One Shot” is yet another Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. I actually read this book awhile ago, but I’m behind on adding books to my web page that lists all the books I’ve read since about 2000. I’ve got five books to go, and three of them are Reacher books. As I’ve said before, I’ve read all 12 of the Reacher books that have come out in paperback.
“One Shot” is the ninth book in the series. In this one, Reacher shows off his investigative skills again. An army sniper who got away with murder in Kuwait when Reacher was an MP has apparently killed again. At the invitation of the suspect himself, Reacher shows up in the guy’s home town to make sure he gets put away for good this time.

It’s a great read, and it’s hard to put down. (Damn, I’m a terrible book reviewer. I just keep spouting cliches.) I particularly like Child’s writing because I am able to successfully suspend disbelief and enjoy the story. Far too often in most of the detective fiction I read (and see on TV), there are just clunkers that pull me out of the story because of the ridiculous grasp of reality. I suppose if I were a real detective there would be parts of the Reacher books that would bother me, but as it is, I love reading them. I highly recommend them to you if you like the detective genre.

Die Trying: A Jack Reacher Novel Child, Lee 1998 “Die Trying” is the second book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. It’s in the mystery-thriller genre. It was written back in the late ’90s when the militia movement was still taken seriously. In this book, Reacher and an FBI agent are kidnapped off the streets of Chicago by militia idiots and taken across the country to their rural compound.

This book would make a good movie. It’s well plotted and paced, and kept my interest the whole way. I wish the Hollywood folks would hurry up and make Reacher movie.

So now I’ve read 9 of the 13 Reacher books. Just 4 more to go.

The Hard Way: A Jack Reacher Novel Child, Lee 2006 This is the 10th book in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child. I didn’t read the books in order, but it really doesn’t matter. You still get the most important parts even if you read them in non-chronological order. In this episode, Reacher is in New York tracking down a mercernary’s kidnapped wife.

The mercenary ends up being a bad guy, and the whole thing ends with a great standoff on a British organic farm. There is plenty of the trademark Reacher violence and attitude. It’s a real page-turner as real critics say. I highly recommend it.

Outliers: The Story of Success Gladwell, Malcolm 2008 I picked up the latest Malcolm Gladwell book a few months ago at the Barnes and Noble. I had really loved The Tipping Point from 2000, and I’d seen a couple of videos of talks that Gladwell has done, so I was really looking forward to this book. I know that he has to take a lot of guff from popular reviewers who try to claim that he has too simplistic a theory of success, but that’s bullshit. They clearly are not reading the same book, or aren’t paying very close attention.

Gladwell is good at building the case to support his ideas. Actually it seems as if his ideas are the result of studying the topic rather than coming to the topic with preconceived notions. He issues plenty of caveats at all the appropriate places, and he definitely recounts a lot of great anecdotes.

He is where I first learned about the 10,000 hour rule and that led to a fruitful strain of further research that I really enjoyed. Gladwell is definitely one of my favorite writers.

The Broken Window Deaver, Jeffrey 2008 This is another book I snagged from the shelves of the Wal-Mart during a fit of boredom. Deaver is the same guy who wrote “The Bone Collector” which was made into a movie with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. Having read this book, it’s fairly clear to me that Lincoln Rhyme is a white guy, which seems odd with a name like Lincoln who has a cousin named Arthur. I suppose it could just be my prejudice coming through, but it seemed odd to me that the movie character is of a different race than the character in the novel. I don’t know why I even had to bring it up, but it nagged at me as I read the book.

Also, nagging at me as I read the book, was the ridiculous portrayal of computer technology. Deaver couldn’t write a “Hello World” program in TRS-80 BASIC. He just hasn’t the slightest clue how computer systems work. I suppose reading this book for me would be a similar experience to the way actual crime scene investigators feel when they watch CSI on TV.

I suppose the story was readable and engaging enough once you get past the terrible misunderstanding and misrepresentation of technology. I think I’d rather just read Neal Stephenson if I want believable technology in my stories.

Killing Floor: A Jack Reacher Novel Child, Lee 1997 Yes, it is yet another Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. This one is the first in the series. It was written in 1997. I read it about 10th out of the 12 Reacher books that I’ve read so far. (There is a 13th book that just came out, but I’m waiting for the paperback version.) Having read the later books first, you can see that this one is definitely the prototype. Reacher gets in trouble with local law enforcement, but then shows them how things are really done. His crappy attitude is also apparent here. I think he’s one of the better characters in the genre of detective serial fiction. I suppose that’s obvious since I’ve read the whole series to date.
Running Blind: A Jack Reacher Novel Child, Lee 2000 I read this book as part of my continued trek through the Jack Reacher series of books. Unfortunately, it is not one of the better ones. In this one, a serial killer is killing women by drowning them in green paint. Reacher starts out as a suspect, but morphs into investigator mode after he convinces the FBI that he didn’t do it. I never did buy into the actual method behind the murders, but I guess that’s what suspension of disbelief is for.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Larsson, Stieg 2005, translation 2008 I stumbled upon this book at the Walmart. I was looking for something new to read that wasn’t a magazine or technical manual. I figured that if someone went to the trouble of translating it from Swedish to English it might be pretty good. Fortunately, I was right. For a murder mystery, it took a long time to get to the murders, but I think it’s more than a murder mystery. It’s just a good novel that happens to have a murder as part of the plot. Larsson wrote two other books before he died. I’m waiting for them to come out in English paperback translations so that I can read them too.
The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry Sykes, Bryan 2001 This book is about how one scientist used mitochondrial DNA to learn more about how Europe was populated back in the Stone Age. I love books on popular science and especially evolution so I was especially fascinated. In high school, we’re taught an idealized version of the scientific method, and this book portrayed how the process works among actual practicing professionals. It made me feel better about science after hearing so many accusations of bias from wingnuts on the internet.
The Enemy: A Jack Reacher Novel Child, Lee 2004 This is the Jack Reacher prequel novel. It is set in 1990, when Jack was still a major in the army military police. It goes a long way towards explaining his attitudes and behaviors in the other books. In addition, its a great page-turner of a mystery.
Without Fail: A Jack Reacher Novel Child, Lee 2002 Another of the Jack Reacher books. In this one, Jack helps his late brother Joe’s ex-girlfriend find the guys who are trying to assassinate the vice-president.
Echo Burning: A Jack Reacher Novel Child, Lee 2001 I love these Jack Reacher books. I picked this one up in the book section at Target. In this one, Jack tries to help a battered wife escape from her abusive husband in a small town in west Texas called Echo.
V for Vendetta Moore, Alan and David Lloyd 1990 I picked this up the same day I bought the Watchmen when I realized they were by the same author. I had seen the movie last year, but I had not realized that it was an adaptation of a graphic novel.The book was hard to follow because the pictures are so dark. Also, many of the characters look very similar and it’s hard to tell them apart. The book has section in the back in which Alan Moore talks about the creation of the series, and he says that had made a conscious decision to forego narration and thought bubbles. Call me a plebeian prick, but I find this sort of thing pretentious, and its exactly one of the reasons that I dislike James Joyce and most poetry. Why is the heck would you make something intentionally difficult to read?

Having said that, I liked the story, and although I’ve heard that Alan Moore hated the movie, I actually preferred the movie to the book.

Watchmen Moore, Alan and David Gibbons 1987 I saw a trailer for the movie, so I thought I’d read the graphic novel first. It seems very dated. The ’80’s attitudes are on abundant display along with our former obsession with nuclear war. I enjoyed it, but I’m wondering how the public will react to a comic book movie set in the past.
Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management Rothman, Johanna and Esther Derby 2005 This book is a short primer on how to manage a programming team. I’ve done some time as a manager, and maybe I’ll do it again some time in the future, but for now, I don’t want to take on that role. That colored my perspective on the book a little bit. I was kind of bored by it. I suppose if I was a manager, then I might have liked it more.
More Joel on Software Spolsky, Joel 2008 Joel is fun to read. A lot of software development gurus will bore you to tears, but Joel will tell you a good story and provide some sort of insight.
Tripwire Child, Lee 1999 I jumped back along the Jack Reacher time line a few years and was pleased with this novel as well. Now I’ve got to go find the next book in the series to find out how he went from getting the girl at the end of this one to being a drifter again in the later books. These books would make really great movies. I wonder what’s taking Hollywood so long to get one made.
Bad Luck and Trouble Child, Lee 2007 I decided to try another Jack Reacher novel, and I’m glad I did. This was even better than Persuader. It really pulled me in and kept me up late reading. Reacher is in his late 40’s now. I worry that he’ll run out of ass-kicking skills soon, but I suppose Child can always right some novels set in earlier years to get around that.
The Cleaner Battles, Brett 2007 As I read this book, I thought to myself that it would probably make a good movie with lots of action like the Jason Bourne movies, but I couldn’t help thinking that as a novel, it was average at best. I’m not saying I could do better, but I’m saying that plenty of other authors have done better. The plots fine, the characters are interesting, it’s just that the prose seems a little flat and dull.
Deal Breaker Coben, Harlan 1995 This is the first of the Myron Bolitar novels. I picked it up at a Target store after I finished Lee Child’s Persuader. I was hoping to get lucky again. I’m a little ambivalent about that. This wasn’t nearly as good as a Jack Reacher book, but I did enjoy reading it. Given Harlan Coben’s tendency to be near the top of many recent best-seller lists, I think I’ll give one of his newer books a try sometime soon.
Persuader Child, Lee 2003 I picked up this volume of the Jack Reacher series on sale at a bookstore in Hays, Kansas. I was just looking for something semi-interesting to pass the time between games of a baseball tournament. It turns out I got lucky. I really enjoyed this book about a retired military policeman and the adventures he gets in while “roaming the earth like Kane in Kung Fu”. Even though it’s part of a series, the fact that I hadn’t read any of the other books didn’t detract from the experience at all.
The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 Wright, Lawrence 2006 Great book. It won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. It gave me a much better understanding of what Al Qaeda and the their takfiri salafist horde are all about. It helps me to think of them like the Christian extremists we have prancing around Idaho here. They may not all be part of the same group, but they support each other, and they’re all hateful nuts. I was also surprised at how close the FBI and CIA got to stopping these guys. Say what you want about the many defects of the Patriot Act, at least it fixed some things that needed fixing.
Head First Servlets & JSP: Passing the Sun Certified Component Developer Exam Basham, Bryan, Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates 2004 Not quite as good as Head First Java, but still a damn fine programming tutorial. I wish I had read this before I wrote my first web service. I might need to read it twice to get a grip on all the technoligies. Java is a heck of a lot more complicated than COBOL. This books covers J2EE, Servlets, Scriptlets, JSP, Java beans, expression language, JSTL, custom tags, Tomcat, etc.
Head First Java, 2nd edition Sierra, Kathy and Bert Bates 2005 Best programming tutorial I’ve ever read. I’ve been making a determined effort to improve my programming skills so that I’m not chained to the AS/400, so I read this book and did the exercises for an hour every day. It took 44 days to get through the whole thing, and it was worth every minute. I did get sidetracked every now and then fixing the bugs introduced by the errors in the book. Fortunately, O’Reilly Media has a good errata page on their website.
Bad Monkeys Ruff, Matt 2007 I saw a video on the internet of Ruff doing a reading from this book at the Google campus. I went straight to my local Barnes and Noble to buy it, but they didn’t have it. So I went to Amazon and ordered it instead. I read it over the course of a couple of days. I just couldn’t put it down. It’s a story about woman who has been arrested for murder and the tale she tells the police about her secret organization (called Bad Monkeys) that kills evil people.
Spook Country Gibson, William 2007 Gibson’s latest novel is set in the present again. I have to admit that I miss the cyber-punk near future of his early books, but this was a passably entertaining spy/mystery thriller tale.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America Larson, Erik 2003 This is a non-fiction book about the World’s Columbian Exposition that was held in Chicago in 1893. It’s social history of the time combined with a portrait of several major figures in Chicago. The title character is a serial killer named H.H. Holmes who owned a pharmacy and hotel near the fair. I enjoyed reading it, but I think I’d only give it about a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10. It suffers from the failings that occur when a history tries to play the part of a novel. I couldn’t really put into words why that doesn’t work for me, but maybe you can understand what I’m trying to say.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Rowling, J.K. 2007 I bought it Saturday morning when it came out and had it finished by Sunday evening. I loved it just like I’ve loved all the other ones. I know that it’s supposed to be a kids book, but it certainly can satisfy adult interests as well. I downloaded a couple of the fakes that people put up on the Internet before the release using Limewire, and I read a few pages of each, but the quality made it apparent quickly that they weren’t the real thing. Rowling is just a darn good storyteller.
Get Shorty Leonard, Elmore 1990 Read this book years ago. I’ve never seen the John Travolta movie that was made from this, but I decided to re-read the book because I like Elmore Leonard’s stuff and was just looking for an enjoyable read. It did not fail in that regard, but I doubt that this will get a third reading. I’ve been cleaning out my garage and found quite a few old Elmore Leonard books. I guess I had a fetish for them about 15 years ago. I have to admit that I may have outgrown them. They seem slightly out-of-tune to me and they don’t seem to have aged very well.
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity Allen, David 2001 This has quickly become the classic work on personal management as is evidenced by the number of websites devoted to the practice of GTD. I’m struggling to implement the system completely, but I seem to be getting more done and losing track of things less often.
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies Diamond, Jared 1999, 1997 Pulitzer Prize winner. Provided convincing answer as to why some societies are more “advanced” than others without resorting to racism. It’s great food for thought that makes me wonder what environmental factor will be most important for the next phase of human development.
Joel on Software Spolsky, Joel 2004 This is a great collection of essays taken from Joel’s website. I learned a lot, and, most importantly, I enjoyed reading it. It’s nice to find a volume of technical lore that isn’t tedious and sleep-inducing.
Life’s Little Annoyances: True Tales of People Who Just Can’t Take It Anymore Urbina, Ian 2005 I think the subtitle should actually be The Anarchist Cookbook for the Passive Agressive. It contains a lot of techniques for dealing with our pet peeves. I will probably never take advantage of more than two or three of them, but it gives me solace knowing that there are so many clever ways to combat the insanity of everyday life.
The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier’s Account of the War in Iraq Crawford, John 2005 Jarhead Redux. Every war needs a soldier’s memoir. This is a good one for this latest war. It makes me regret ever having giving a half-hearted accession to the “need” for this war back in 2003. It has screwed up the lives of a lot of good people for little or no discernible benefit.
The Best Software Writing I Spolsky, Joel, editor 2005 This book is a collection of essays on software written in the last year or two. It is certainly an enlightenment for those of us stuck in the backwaters of the software industry banging out COBOL. I liked it so much that I created a page on this site with links to all of the essays: [[Best Software Writing]]
Altered Carbon Morgan, Richard K. 2002 Since I had run out of Stephenson books, I checked amazon.com for the whole “if you liked this, then you’ll probably like these…” thing. I found this book. It’s set in the 25th century after mankind has colonized the stars and achieved an ersatz immortality by downloading their consciousness onto a stick of carbon that can be moved from body to body. I had a little trouble with the conceit that mind can be separated from body, but there was a good murder mystery in there to keep my mind off that. I’m definitely going to be looking for Morgan’s other books the next time I’m at the bookstore.
Zodiac: An Eco-Thriller Stephenson, Neal 1988 This was the only Stephenson book, I hadn’t read yet. I guess I was holding off because it wasn’t science fiction or historical fiction, but it was a kick to read nonetheless. It has all of the fun and adventure that I have come to expect from his books. I’m looking forward to his next one.
The System of the World: Volume Three of the Baroque Cycle Stephenson, Neal 2004 Fucking awesome! Hurray for happy endings. Daniel Waterhouse is my hero.
The Confusion: Volume Two of the Baroque Cycle Stephenson, Neal 2004 This is not a series of books for the uneducated person. Even me with a doctorate needed a dictionary, wikipedia, and metaweb.com to understand a lot of things in this book, but it’s worth it.
Quicksilver: Volume One of the Baroque Cycle Stephenson, Neal 2003 It was a bit of a slog through the first 100 pages, but once I got into the spirit of the book, I was hooked. The whole series is over 2000 pages long, and yet I wanted it to keep going.
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything Levitt, Steven D. and Stephen J. Dubner 2005 I love this non-fiction genre. It is the popularization of complex scientific ideas. In this case, they are sociological and economic ideas. I got a number of great insights into the way the world works that I can carry forward to help me when I read the news.
Angels and Demons Brown, Dan 2000 Oy vay, and the Catholic church was torqued over the DaVinci Code? Then what must they think of this one? It was a good story, but again I was stuck with feeling that the author condoned the feel-good, social-control aspects of religion, in spite of religion’s utter lack of factual credibility.
Shaman King Takei, Hiroyuki 1998 Manga! It’s just a comic book combining Japanese youth culture with tribal shamanism.
Cryptonomicon Stephenson, Neal 1999 This book is set in both World War II and the present. It’s got a great cast of characters and an enthralling plot that pulled me quickly through the 1152 page paperback. If you read Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, you’ll get to meet the ancestors of these characters.
Freaky Deaky Leonard, Elmore 1988 Felt incredibly dated.
Snow Crash Stephenson, Neal 1992 I read this several years ago, and just felt like re-reading it. It hardly feels like it was written in 1992. You would think that technological developments of the last 13 years would have dated it, but they haven’t.
The Diamond Age or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer Stephenson, Neal 1995 This is a science fiction book about the near future where nano-technology has remade our political and economic systems. The nation-state is nearly dead, and people live in self-governed enclaves with others of a like-mind. It’s an adventure story about a nano-tech book that has artificial intelligence that falls into the hands of an orphan girl.
The Lovely Bones Sebold, Alice 2002 My wife read the first 70 pages aloud during our trip to the Ozarks getting me hooked. It’s a ghost story told from the ghost’s point of view.
The Da Vinci Code Brown, Dan 2003 It’s a good adventure story, and I can see why it pisses off the Catholics. As an atheist with a history degree, I can also see that the premise is load of crap.
Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants Sullivan, Robert 2004 This is an interesting social history of the common brown rat’s interaction with mankind. It has lots of firsthand observations of rats in New York City along with the history of rats going all the way back to Europe’s Black Death. I still find rats disgusting, but they are now much more fascinating to me.
Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software Johnson, Steven 2001 The topics of emergence, self-organizing systems, and complexity theory are absolutely fascinating to me. This book isn’t exactly a primer on the topic, but it is a pretty good starting point. I needed more concrete examples and some more explanation of the theories, but got a lot of discussion of web technologies instead. Oh, well. There are plenty of books in the bibliography that may have what I’m looking for.
The Matrix Comics Wachowski, Andy and Larry, editors 2003 I love all the Matrix movies. I even have the Animatrix on DVD which officially makes me a fanatic. These graphic short stories are a great further explanation of the Matrix universe.
The Essential Calvin and Hobbes Bill Watterson 1988 It is a damn shame that something as subversively funny as this had to be retired by it’s author, just so that Calvin could end up on millions of redneck trucks peeing on Ford/Chevy/Dodge emblems. Good, funny stuff.
The New Yorker 75th Anniversary Cartoon Collection Bob Mankoff, editor 1999 I love good, smart cartoons, and thus I love this collection. Includes everything from Wry wit to belly-laughs.
Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and other Battles Anthony Swofford 2003 This is an autobiographical account of the author’s Gulf War experience. It is alternately disturbing and illuminating. My vision of the current state of our nation’s military has changed quite a bit, for the better in some ways, and for the worse in others. I have increased respect for the skills of our troops, but wariness about their personal inclinations. It is also nice to know they aren’t as brainwashed as they act when they are talking to reporters.
Pattern Recognition William Gibson 2003 Gibson’s latest novel is set in the present, but it has the same feel to it (maybe because it is set in London, Tokyo, and Moscow). I think perhaps he set the novel in the present because we have entered the alienizing, corporate-run, mafia-run, networked future that cyberpunk envisioned.
The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time Douglas Adams 2003 This is a posthumously gathered collection of Adams unpublished works. It contains essays, speeches, and Adams’ unfinished last novel. I thoroughly enjoyed both the humor and the DNA’s wise insights.
Deadly Deception Brenda Gunn and Shannon Richardson 2001 This book sucks. It’s of the true crime genre. If my wife hadn’t left it laying on a shelf in the bathroom, I would never have read it. I regret having read it. The story isn’t particularly interesting. It could have been told in half of the number of pages it actually took. The time line is nearly impossible to follow, and the lack of any point of view from an objective witness makes me intensely suspicious of the author’s motives.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix J. K. Rowling 2003 870 pages of a foul-tempered 15-year-old Harry. Started the book knowing that Rowling was going to kill off a main character, and she managed to keep me in suspense as to whom it would be right up until it actually happened. I couldn’t put the book down and finished it in two days.
Ender’s Shadow Orson Scott Card 1999 Ender’s Game from the viewpoint of Bean. Great supplement to the original. Great plot and characters. The story of children learning to be military leaders who will lead the human race to victory over the invading aliens.
The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature Steven Pinker 2002 Great overview of the current science of human nature/neurobiology. Lots of food for thought and insight. Lots of intellectual heavy lifting, but well worth the effort. Helped me understand some of the things about people that baffle me, as well as learning things about my own mind.
To Afghanistan and Back Ted Rall 2002 This book is a “graphic travelogue” of the syndicated columnist/cartoonist’s trip to Afghanistan during America’s war to overthrow the Taliban. I got a lot of insight into the conflict and the hopelessness of intervening there. He sacrificed a lot of credibility with me when he started insisting that the only reason we were there was to secure a pipeline for Unocal through Afghanistan to Pakistan to the Indian Ocean.
Stupid White Men Michael Moore 2001 I started reading this before the author threw his anti-war fit at the Oscars, and I had to hide it in shame as I was finishing reading it. Sure he makes some good points about what is wrong with America today and he is even funny most of the time, but he gets so strident that he stops being funny. If nothing else this book confirmed for me why I’m neither a liberal Democrat/Green nor a conservative Republican. If only the radicals on both ends of the spectrum were more solution-oriented and a little less prone to name-calling we might get some ideas of use out of them. Then again, would the book be nearly as funny without the name-calling and caricature? Probably not.
De Bono’s Thinking Course Edward De Bono 1994 Don’t let the title make you think that is an in-depth or well-ordered discussion of cognition. There are some important ideas in this book that can help people improve their thinking skills, but my overall impression of the book is that it was thrown together haphazardly and is a bit of a sales brochure for De Bono’s seminars. Providing a better overview of the subject matter up front and trying to tie the subject matter together as we moved along would have vastly improved this book.
All Tomorrow’s Parties William Gibson 1999 Another cyberpunk masterpiece from the creator of the genre. Carries forward from where Idoru left off. Explores the usual themes and technologies: artificial intelligence, information networks as a place, alienation, corporatization of civilization, nanotechnology.
Mystic River Dennis Lehane 2001 Murder mystery. Set in Boston. When Jimmy Marcus’s daughter is murdered, his childhood friends are the cop and the prime suspect. I read it in less than two days, because I just couldn’t put it down. I loved the characterizations and the description of the neighborhood. Sure, I figured out who the real killer is by page 184, but I still wanted to know how the story was going to turn out.
The Corrections Jonathan Franzen 2001 National Book Award Winner about the travails of a middle-class midwestern family. It was funny and serious at the same time. I’d give it a 9 on a scale of 10.
Seven Years of Highly Defective People Scott Adams 1997 Subtitled “Scott Adams’ Guided Tour of the Evolution of Dilbert,” this is a coffee-table book of Dilbert cartoons.
Black Notice Patricia Cornwell 1999 I’ve been a fan of the Kay Scarpetta mysteries through quite a few books, and I enjoyed the murder mystery part again. Now if she could just cut out the chick psychologizing about relationships and feelings, I might not get annoyed mucking through those parts.
The Truth about Lying Stan B. Walters 2000 Short textbook by a veteran interrogator on how to spot the signs of deception, and how to react to them.
Ender’s Game: Author’s Definitive Edition Orson Scott Card 1991 A classic can stand a fourth of fifth reading. This is a great book. My next trip through it, I am going to read it to my kids. It has it all: epic, coming-of-age, moral dilemma, sports, angst and alienation.
Buddha for Beginners Steven T. Asma 1996 Part of the cartoon-style series of “For Beginners” books. Puts the Sakyamuni Buddha’s teachings into historical perspective and explains the doctrinal differences in the current schools of Buddhist thought.
Trials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoir Matthew Chapman 2001 Memoir of a Hollywood screenwriter who also happens to be the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin. He was supposed to write a book about Dayton, Tennessee, 75 years after the Scopes Monkey Trial put it on the map. He managed to turn it into three engaging tales of an atheist’s visit to the Bible Belt, a re-examination of the original trial, and most of all an examination of the author’s own life.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace Terry Brooks 1999 I bought the DVD a few weeks ago, and since the new movie is coming out in a month, I decided to read the book. It helped clarify what Sith Lords are and the status of Qui Gon Jinn.
The Blue Nowhere Jeffrey Deaver 2001 This was supposed to be a cyberthriller, but it became obvious in relatively short order that the only things that Deaver knows about computers is what he read to prepare to write this book. He has studied the hacker culture, but he hasn’t lived it. This makes much of the action ring false. The thriller parts of the book were interesting and held my attention, but the cyber part just annoyed me.
How to Have a 48-Hour Day Don Aslett 1996 Short book full of good tips for enhancing your productivity. It’s no literary classic, but I’ve found many of Mr. Aslett’s ideas quite useful in my daily life.
The Toughest Indian in the World Sherman Alexie 2000 This is a collection of short stories, mostly about Spokane Indian characters. Some of it was funny, some of it was thought-provoking, and some of it was just downright depressing.
Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women Alexa Albert 2001 A young female researcher exposes the inner workings of Nevada’s most famous den of legal iniquity. It made me sad that there were so many women who had to turn to prostitution to support themselves. I suppose brothels are better than the street-walking crack-addicts we have here in Kansas City who could be infected with any of a broad range of serious STD’s and who put themselves at serious risk of violence. After reading this thoughtful book, I’d have to agree with the author that prostitution is bad but that making it illegal is worse.
Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World David T. Courtwright 2001 This is an excellent overview of the history of drug abuse and drug politics worldwide from about 1500 to the present. It has turned me against my earlier radical libertarian view of complete drug legalization. I now believe that “harm-reduction” policies would be the wisest solution to most of the problems we are having with psycho-active substances.
Understanding Data Networking Telecom Research Associates 2000 This CD-ROM gives a great introduction to the technical basis for the industry in which I work. It also helped me understand the theoretical basis for what I was doing when I set up my home LAN. Makes me want to go vading into telecom closets to check out the routers and PBX switches.
Isle of Dogs Patricia Cornwell 2001 The author of the Kay Scarpetta mystery novels tries to go a new direction and write in vein similar to Elmore Leanord and Carl Hiassen. It really didn’t work for me. The characters were too weird to be believable and the attempts at humor just fell flat with me. I am glad that she is trying something new though because the Scarpetta novels were starting to get a little too preachy/screechy for my taste.
Dogbert’s Clues for the Clueless Scott Adams 1993 Inoffensive collection of the early Dilbert’s. Only mildly funny.
The Hacker Crackdown Bruce Sterling 1994 Covers the hacking/phreaking scene in 1989-1991 and the law enforcement battle against it. It seems terribly out of date because of the radical expansion of the Internet and the deregulation of the telecom market. But it is a good story and a good reminder of how we got here.
The Cathedral & The Bazaar Eric S. Raymond 1999 Collection of esr’s essays. I know that I could’ve just read them online, but I’m still a sucker for hardcopy. Great insights into the open source culture. Corporate MIS managers would do well to emulate the open source model to the extent possible in that environment.
Peopleware (2d ed) Tom Demarco and Timothy Lister 1999 Two software project managers speak from experience on how to best manage the people part of the project. It made me want to tear down my cubicle walls and get serious about uninterruptible time.
How Buildings Learn Stewart Brand 1994 It’s about architecture and building design, but the lessons apply in a wider range of circumstances. It has already helped me with some software design decisions, as well as some remodeling I’m doing at home.
Zen for Beginners Judith Blackstone & Zoran Josipovich 1986 Part of the cartoon-style series of “For Beginners” books. Good introduction to Zen Buddhism.
Timeline Michael Crichton 1999 Historians use quantum mechanics to travel back to 14th century France. Classic Crichton pageturner that ranks up there with Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park.
The Turner Diaries Andrew Macdonald 1975 Fascist, bizarre piece of crap. In its favor, the story of an apocalyptic race war in 1990’s America was interesting and readable. Towards the end though, it went way off the deep end with the white folks killing off the rest of the planet.
Pay It Forward Catherine Ryan Hyde 1999 Haven’t seen the movie, and I don’t plan to. It’s a chick book, full of sentimentality and wishful thinking. The author’s object was to make us less cynical, but it only confirmed my cynicism.
New Yorker Book of Literary Cartoons Bob Mankoff, Editor 2000 Plenty of good laughs, makes a good coffeetable book.
The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell 2000 Essay on sociology, anthropology, memetics, and the Pareto priniciple. I would have loved a more thorough coverage. It left me thinking that the author has an interesting hypothesis that he has only partially proven.
High Fidelity Nick Hornby 1995 Read the book first and then saw the movie. The book is an interesting look into the psyche of the modern man and his fear of commitment. The musical references put me into a Napster downloading frenzy.
X20 Richard Beard 1996 Story of an Englishman’s attempt to quit smoking, and the history of his habit. I’m still pissed about the ending.
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key Jack Gantos 1998 Children’s book about Joey, the kid who means well but is always getting himself in trouble. It was an interesting trip inside the mind of an ADHD child.
Holes Louis Sachar 1998 Another children’s book. About juvenile delinquents digging holes in a dry lake bed as punishment for their crimes. Great plot and characterizations.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire J.K. Rowling 2000 Part 4 of the series. Harry discovers girls, and competes in an international wizarding tournament.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban J.K. Rowling 1999 Part 3 of the series. We get a better picture of the wizarding world and the circumstances surrounding the death of Harry’s parents.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets J.K. Rowling 1998 Part 2 of the series. The boy wizards second adventure in his continuing fight against the dark side.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone J.K. Rowling 1997 The original book. You know it has to be good, or it wouldn’t have spawned the sequels and merchandising.
No One Left to Lie To Christopher Hitchens 1999 The liberal journalist shreds Bill Clinton not only for his amorality and corruption but also for acting like a Republican. Plenty of sharp insight and wit.

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