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A few books have impressed enough that I heartily recommend whenever I can. These are not the "Great Books" of traditional western literature. They are exclusively in English, so that narrows the view. These are recent and speak of things that were not necessarily well understood before.
If you are here because I mentioned this page for the food/health book list then please go to the new (as of June 2019) Food Health page where the relevant data is presented with a better focus.
|Richard Wright||The Man Who Lived Underground||Society, Police, Race||Published in full in 2020 after appearing as a short story in 1942, the full book rejected by the publisher then. It's a brutal story of an innocent Black man being tortured by police and hiding. Brilliant writing. It's followed (in the electronic edition I have) by "Memories of My Grandmother," a fascinating and brilliant discussion by Wright of his religious-extremist grandmother and how that bringing up eventually lead him to tie together jazz, painting, writing, and psychology. All of which helped him make the book work.|
|Angela Saini||Superior: The Return of Race Science.||Science,History,Politics||Published 2019. 10 Best Science Books of the Year (Smithsonian Magazine) Best Science Books of the Year (NPR's Science Friday) Best Science and Technology Books from 2019 (Library Journal) Humans are all one race. Saini reviews the history of race science and how it was (and is still) used to attempt to prove white supremacy. Her writing is wonderfully clear and engaging and you will learn a lot about past and current studies and guesses and prejudices. The most important result of genetic studies is that all humans are one race. See also wikipedia "Superior:_The_Return_of_Race_Science" and, below, Adam Rutherford "A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived".|
|Timothy Snyder||On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century||History, Current Events||Published 2017. Professor Snyder (Professor of History, Yale University) offers twenty one-sentence lessons. Examples: 1. Do not obey in advance and 10. Believe in truth. Then, for each he explains the meaning in detail and how twentieth century history shows that each small thing helps to hold back Trumpism, Populism, Fascism, and Tyranny. It's a physically small (7.5 inch diagonal) 126 page book with easy to read print. Trumpism, Populism, Fascism, and Tyranny cannot be defeated, they can only be held at bay. Everyone opposed to Trumpism, Populism, Fascism, and Tyranny needs to read this book and consider how they wish to act.|
|Mark Roseman||Modern Tkinter for Busy Python Developers||Computer, Python Language||Published 2019. If you are writing graphical user interfaces in Python you need to know what this book provides. It makes possible writing such interfaces that look right for the specific OS involved (MacOS, Linux, or Windows) automatically with no effort on the programmer's part (the library switches the look at runtime). Apps written using the original tkinter look blocky and ugly. Simple changes described here using ttk (a part of modern tkinter) fix that problem. I highly recommend this book!|
|Brett Slatkin||Effective Python (2nd edition)||Computer, Python Language||Published 2020. His emphasis is on doing things the Pythonic way, and for those of use who learned Python on our own this book helps us make a big leap forward to maintainable, standard-appearing, readable, and effective Python 3. If you are writing or reading Python code, I highly recommend this book!|
|Barack Obama||A Promised Land||History, Politics||Published 2020. It is a wonderful book. Interesting to read as it has many details that got lost in the press for various reasons. At times it is absolutely thrilling; I admit I cried a few times and had to put the book down and let his words resonate ... there are some beautiful thoughts here. While a few of the campaigning stories bored me his calm and wise thoughts throughout suggested, somehow, that there is hope for the nation and the world.|
|Avi Widgerson||Mathematics and Computation: A Theory Revolutionizing Technology and Science.||Mathematics, Science Technology||This remarkable review of mathematics ties together disparate fields and shows how one field affects another in astonishing ways. Even without understanding most of it I consider it a wonderful book. When I need to look into something (crypto? internet commerce? Security?) this is the place to start. Expect to be amazed. He covers mathematics and computation over a long timeframe.|
|Bryan Stevenson||Just Mercy||Justice,Courts,Police||Published 2014. This is a true story and I suggest you see the movie "Just Mercy" which was created from the book. This a heartbreaking true story about people being condemned to death or life imprisonment for nothing more tham being black and/or poor. Stevenson is a lawyer who started the Equal Justice Initiative (eji.org). Statistically it's clear that most victims of improper prosecution have never received any assistance or any valid legal counsel. The book has far more detail than any movie could present.|
|Larry Lessig||THEY Don't Represent US.||Politics,Democracy`||Published 2019. Professor Lessig lists many things wrong about how our current system has been changed over time to be non-representative. Depressing, but perhaps you will find that part of the book useful. Nothing here is about parties. It is about what is best for citizens, not best for politicians (of any stripe). He offers some suggestions of frameworks on how to work towards a representative government. Not pat solutions, but ideas to consider. One of course is eliminating gerrymandering (where the people running for office choose who can vote for/against them). Another idea is deliberative polling to replace the sort of nonsense that current polling generates. See page 176 for an explanation.|
|Binyamin Appelbaum||The Economists' Hour||Economics||Published 2019. A brilliant book describing and documenting how economist theories have destroyed lives and countries. Those theories by now-famous economists (Friedman, Keynes, Laffer, and more) all bring on disaster after a very few years. He also documents possibly-surprising places that have successfully followed a different path over decades. Recommended by my wife after she heard Appelbaum speak on National Public Radio.|
|Adam Rutherford||A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived||Genetics,Race,History||Published 2016. There is so much wonderful information here. Highly recommended for everyone. It's also fun to read, Rutherford has a wonderful sense of the absurd and the pace is lively. The pace of progress in genetics is dizzying, and in many places he suggests that geneticists will, with new discoveries, likely change their minds about how genes work. A few snippets follow, read the book before you decide the following is just crazy: A) Everyone alive today is related to everyone else because you have part of your genes from everyone alive 3000 years ago (at last those who had at least one child). Which is provable via mathematics! B) There is no such thing as Race. We are all just homo sapiens. For example, there is more genetic variation between any two Black people than between them and you. Genetic variation is greatest within a group. Other groups have a nearly identical range of variation. C) You have genes from Black people (we all do) and from neanderthal-people too. And you have genes from every King that had children. D) There are no genes for violence. Genes are much more complicated and subtle than you think and no one understands it. ... I noticed this book at Stanford Inn By The Sea, Mendocino, California. See also Angela Saini "Superior: the return of Race Science" above.|
|Carlo Rovelli||Seven Brief Lessons on Physics||Physics, People||Published 2016. This short (84 pages) book is a wonderful description of seven major physics discoveries (no equations!) and how they came about and the discoverer was ignored or disrespected or worse. Until, years later, physicists gradually realize the discoveries were correct descriptions of the world, not crazy at all. In many cases these lead to the Nobel Prize. It's a charming and delightful read and it's wonderful to be reminded of the chains of discovery and the people interactions. This is the way scientific progress is made, and everyone should read this to get an appreciation of the process of science. Highly recommended. Translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre. I noticed this book at Stanford Inn By The Sea, Mendocino, California.|
|Marcia Bjornerud||Timefulness||Earth,Geology,History||Published 2018. This is a really important book. It shows how the earth works and how humans fit in... how we are now the major source of change, some of it (all bad) not reversible in less than thousands of years. Describes the history of the earth and the various mistakes and accomplish ments of geologists over time. In a brief section discusses how she approaches students who think the world is just a few thousand years old. Explains why those proposing modifying the climate by various means are only going to make things worse. The writing style is clear and light , it is not doom-and-gloom. But she clearly relates the action needed now to prevent a disaster for humans (the bacteria will all be just fine and can rebuild the world eventually). [recommended by Rik Farrow, editor of the usenix.org magazine.]|
|Amy Chua||World On Fire||Current Events, Riots, Terrorism||"How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability." Published 2003. In many countries an ethnic minority controls the wealth and power. That minority is reviled, though governments can temporarily suppress revolt and rioting. While there is no US ethnic minority in control, US is reviled: US money and power appear to the rest of the world as a controlling minority. There is thorough coverage of the many specific situations across the world -- and the history that creates the hatred in the countries and regions. The last few pages are mild suggestions (with caveats) of things Ms. Chua thinks could help the world be more peaceful and more broadly prosperous.|
|Steven Gundry, MD||The Plant Paradox Cookbook||Food, Eating, Health||Published 2018. See foodhealth.html for details|
|Steven Gundry, MD||The Plant Paradox||Food, Eating, Health||Published 2017. See foodhealth.html for details|
|David Perlmutter, MD||Grain Brain||Food, Eating, Health||Published 2013. See foodhealth.html for details|
|David Perlmutter, MD||Brain Maker||Food, Eating, Health||Published 2015. See foodhealth.html for details|
|David Perlmutter, MD||Grain Brain: Whole Life Plan||Food, Eating, Health||Published 2016. See foodhealth.html for details Perlmutter gets deeply into even more recent science.|
|Erica Franz||Authoritarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know||Current Events, Dictatorship||Though a bit dry the book is important for everyone to read. It uses the hundreds of instances of regime-change from 1946 to 2014 as the database and analyses the causes and results. The section on how an elected leader turns the country into a dictatorship lists many actions and it appears that D.Trump is using essentially every one of those many techniques (one example is calling things the leader does not like 'fake news', another is packing the entire leadership with cronys and relatives). I think S. Bannon and S. Miller are the architects of this attempt to become supreme-leader-for-life. Hundreds of democracies have been changed to dictatorship. Do not assume it cannot happen in the US.|
|Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts||Network Propaganda||Politics, Internet, Propaganda||Published 2018. Using vast amounts of available data and lots of clever charts and graphs the authors show that US election results are due to the asymmetry of reporting in the media people read. While other effects (Facebook, Twitter, Russia) are real the main effect is the 30% of the population that never hears what the mainstream has to say. Or rather the major media message is heard and discounted. Be prepared for a book full of very long sentences. IMO the message here is important to read. The suggestions to major media on how to deal with the asymmetry seem absolutely on target to me.|
|Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble, Gene Kim||Accelerate||Software, Organizations, Teams||What is now called DevOps is part of a team-wide or organization-wide way of working that accelerates quality software development and improves the lives of the developers and managers. For CEOs and CTOs this book is a how-to on moving ahead of your competitors, most of whom will not read this book. For software managers and team members it is about producing quality work on an accelerated schedule with less stress and an improved quality-of-life. This is about teams and companies, not about coding. It's recommendations are based on world-wide surveys of real organizations. A significant part of the book is about surveys: how to create useful ones and how to get confidence the results shown are real.|
|Jonathan Haidt||The Righteous Mind||Current Events, Evolution||Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. This 2012 book is based on the very latest careful research on how people actually think and behave. From the Introduction: "Politics and religion are both expressions of our underlying moral psychology, and an understanding of that psychology can help to bring people together. [...] My hope is that this book will make conversations about morality, politics, and religion more common, more civil, and more fun, even in mixed company." Lots of careful work in recent decades has resulted in significant insights as to how we think and reason. Not the internal clockworks of how brain signaling works, but the big issue: why we think as we do. Whatever side we are on... of anything. A must-read for everyone with any interest in thinking, in the role of morality in society, or in current events.|
|Ta-nehisi Coates||We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy||History, Current Events||This is an outstanding presentation of a key aspect of the last 450 years on the North American continent, the oppression of the Blacks. Wonderful writing. The parts about Barack and Michelle Obama illustrate how different BHO's upbringing was compared to Blacks generally an how similar M. Obama's experiences were to many other Blacks. It has a detailed explanation about the serial oppression of blacks over time by force and law, an oppression that continues today (Example: Ferguson Missouri). A must-read for everyone in the US. What should be done? Reparations.|
|Howard Zinn||A People's History of the United States||History||History books commonly ignore much of the impact of the past on ordinary people. Howard Zinn, history professor at Boston University decided (at his retirement) that this was a vital topic that needed covering. This 700 page book is the result. It covers about 400 years of history of the Americas. It will completely change your view of US history in several ways. One critical thing: every important improvement in people's lives (meaning every step along the long road to someday implement what the US Constitution promises) is the result of protest movements, not of calm reasoning. Protest movements work. Everyone living in the US should read it. Others may find it illuminating too.|
|Chris Hayes||A Colony in a Nation||History,Justice||The colonies here are the areas where non-whites are forced into cohesive areas to live (by housing and lending practices) while the white power structure retains control (political and police control). There are examples in every major US city. Ferguson, Missouri is an example. There are many more examples. Hayes describes how the white power structure keeps non-whites 'under control' with laws and police and jails. He debunks the most popular explanation of the fall in crime since 1992 (broken windows). He clarifies how the system conflates 'disorderly' with 'criminal'. And clarifies what the 'criminal justice' system really does in the colonies (hint: the mission is not to protect the citizens of a colony). He does not prescribe solutions to the hard problems.|
|Edmund Fawcett||Liberalism: The Life of an Idea||Philosophy, History||Liberalism is fundamentally misunderstood in the US and this book informs on its real meaning and history. The idea was born about 1830. Fawcett says, in the Preface "Liberalism as I take it here was a search for an ethically acceptable order of human progress among civic equals without recourse to undue power." But you have to read the book to understand the history of liberalism and indeed, the meaning of liberalism. You will not find a genuine definition of Liberalism in the main-stream media. You will find one in this book.|
|J.D. Vance||Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis||History||It makes the situation in much of the U.S. with people of Scots-Irish descent understandable. J.D. Vance grew up in that culture but with help from others (including family) grew out of the culture trap (while retaining his love of the people). A must read if you want to understand an important part of current politics. These are people who need help but who will resist changing and resist help. He struggles with the culture trap and some things people say force him to struggle with a strong impulse to simply beat the speaker to a pulp as that is what people do in that culture. Do not insult his mother even in jest, it is both gross (in modern conversation) and dangerous (to the speaker's health and well-being). Note that Vance downplays the importance of the federal dollars going to help people there. He makes something of the people cheating on Food Stamps to buy drugs but no credit to the government for providing the Food Stamps. Nor does he give the government credit for creating the schools, roads, etc that underpin his personal achievements. The dollars that helped him at crucial times in his childhood are just 'vague old-age payments' to his grandmother. Such omissions take nothing from his laudable accomplishments, but one does need to take a wider view, as a reader.|
|John Lewis. Andrew Aydin. Nate Powell.||March||History||A graphic (illustrated) life story of John Lewis in three books. John Lewis of the towering figures in the too-slow progression of getting full rights to the Black citizens of the US. I was a bit worried about the graphic aspect. But it is exceedingly well done and the graphics add a real impact. While it may be aimed at younger readers (the graphic aspect) it is meaningful for those of any age (even old fogies like me). Wonderful. I hope to pass the set on to my nephews when they are young teens (not too long now).|
|Peter Singer||Ethics in the Real World||Philosophy||This collection of Singer's essays has an important explanation of where morality comes from (hint: not religion).|
|Clayton Christensen||Competing Against Luck||Business||This follow-on to The Innovator's Dilemma actually answers the question of how a business can survive. The key phrase is "Jobs To Be Done" and reading the book will tell you what that means and how it matters.|
|Steven Pinker||The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined||History, Sociology||In the first and second quarters of the book Pinker shows, from the historical record, how violence has declined. The impression one gets from the media (about violence) is misleading. Fascinating tables of violence over human history. The third quarter, about the brain, I found uninteresting and could not see strong connections with the rest of the book. The fourth quarter is again wonderful.|
|Charles C. Mann||1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus||History||There were a lot more people living in South and Central America than your history books said there were. And all those jungles were, essentially, planted gardens. So the way species are intermingled in the jungles is the intent of the many millions of folks who lived there. (Precis: Europeans first exterminated nearly everyone and destroyed all written records in South America and then decided the tattered remnants of civilization meant there never had been civilization)|
|Charles C. Mann||1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created||History||Extends Alfred Crosby's "The Columbian Exchange" and "Ecological Imperialism" with recent scholarship those books provoked. Columbus started the movement of people and things across the world. Wonderful book.|
|Paul N. Edwards||A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming.||Science, Politics||When climate investigations started (1850 or so) and how it has all proceeded in a semi-chronological order. There is no data without models, it turns out. Models (almost) all the way down. Winner, 2010 ASLI Choice Award in the History category, awarded by Atmospheric Science Librarians International. Winner, 2011 Computer History Museum Prize, awarded by the Society for the History of Technology Winner, 2012 Louis J. Battan Authors Award, awarded by the American Meteorological Society.|
|Naomi Oreskes and Eric M. Conway||Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming||Science, Politics||The denial of science in an organized way started around 1950. The deniers were cold-war warriors (well, US Government weapons physicists) and well organized and hated government and believed any regulation is a move to socialism and communism. The original denier-organization (whose first campaign was to pretend cigarette smoking was non-harmful then moved on to denying DDT was harmful and now denies global warning and more) is still around, renamed, though now oil and coal companies fund many additional groups. Their one-page attack-on-science plan is still in use -- a brilliant and amoral plan. Oreskes and Conway are historians.|
|Robbert Dijkgraaf and Abraham Flexner||The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge||Science, Learning, Politics||Now, when science and learning are threatened in so many places (definitely including the USA) it's important to again read and hear why basic research (useless knowledge) is so important. Einstein's theory of relativity was useless to the ordinary citizen for 100 years. But today GPS depends on it: without it a GPS location would drift seven miles in a single day. Dijkgraaf is part of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton. Flexner founded the IAS in 1933.|
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.