Book Reviews: Non-Fiction

Outliers (Audiobook) by Malcolm Gladwell (3-28-2010)

The first part of this book is a collection of interesting stories that illustrate how success is a combination of lengthy practice and socio-economic circumstances rather than intrinsic ability or sheer will. He tells the story of Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft), Christopher Langan (highest recorded IQ), The Beatles, J. Robert Oppenheimer (leader of the Manhattan Project), among others. In each case he shows how their success was a product of very special circumstances and 10,000 hours of practice. The second part of the book argues that our cultural legacy has a very significant impact on our lives. From feuding families to Korean airline crashes to the connection between rice agriculture and math skills, Gladwell again finds some very interesting case studies to support his theses. 4/5

The Ascent of Money (Audiobook) by Niall Ferguson (2-16-2010)

This book tells the fascinating tale of the financial history of the western world. It explains how finance often decides the outcomes of war, and even whether a war will be started, in addition to many other history steering factors. It stresses how financial innovations like banks, bonds, stocks, and insurance helped optimize the markets and make the world run much more efficiently. It also explains the causes of some financial disasters up to and including the 2007 mortage crisis. Reading this book will likely give you a better perspective on how finance really works. 5/5

Freakonomics (Audiobook) by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (1-7-2010)

This book started out pretty good, but ended up losing steam after the introduction. It is basically a collection of psychological/sociological insights that were gained by means of the quantitative analytical tools of economics. It talks about several random examples, which are fairly interesting, but the presentation seems drawn out and occasionally boring. It discusses how outlawing abortion causes an increase in criminals, debunks some myths about parenting, exposes cheating by teachers and sumo wrestlers, explores the incentives of drug dealers, explains why real estate agents don't always act in their clients' best interest, and outlines trends in baby names. 2/5

Dhammapada (Audiobook) by Buddha translated by F. Max Muller (11-21-2009)

I wasn't too impressed by this short scripture that preaches the importance of virtue, particularly temperance. It seemed to be a collection of very primitive philosophy, akin to some of Christ's teachings. 1/5

Man's Search For Meaning (Audiobook) by Viktor Frankl (9-16-2009)

The bulk of this book was an account of the author's experience in a Nazi concentration camp. Since the author was a trained psychiatrist at the time, his account may be more interesting than some of the others. But my main interest was in his theory of logotherapy presented at the end. The theory suggests that finding meaning in one's life is the cure for many psychological conditions. At the time of my reading I was very skeptical because it seemed very oversimplified and in contradiction with some Buddhist beliefs, but this book helped me to realize the power of hope. 3/5

Emergency by Neil Strauss (9-7-2009)

This is another book by Strauss in which he infiltrates an interesting community, immerses himself in it and tells about the story. Last time it was the seduction community, this time it is the survivalist community. However, his interactions with the survivalist community are much more fragmented, which detracts from the flow of the story. My interest was held firmly for roughly the first half of the book in anticipation of learning some amazing secrets or hearing about some fascinating adventures, but the book didn't deliver as much as expected, leaving me with somewhat of a shallow feeling. 3/5

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (8-17-2009)

I think this book is one of the better introductions to Zen. It doesn't spend much time talking about the mystical aspects of Buddhism, instead focusing on conveying a sense of what Zen means to a Zen practioner. He doesn't hype it up, he almost makes it seem boring and de-emphasizes the significance of philosophical interpretations, while still making the practice of Zen seem very important and appealing. He suggests that zazen meditation should be your focus and that you shouldn't be expecting anything special like enlightenment. I really liked the part where he talks about attachment to results because it was quite similar to my own views. 3/5

In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays by Bertrand Russell (5-2009)

I was initially drawn to this book while looking for support for my argument that "future worship" is a major problem. I really liked the main essay, particularly the pin factory example that illustrates the problems with the labor market when people are too willing to work long hours. Unfortunately some of the other essays in the book make ridiculous arguments in favor of socialism that seem blind to the principles of personal liberty and economic incentive. 3/5

The Unabomber Manifesto by Theodore Kaczynski (5-2009)

I totally agree with the gripes that he had about society, but I completely disagree as to the scale of the problem and his proposed solutions. He acted as if there was no way to enjoy life given the problems of society, but I think there is still plenty of room for living an enjoyable life. He basically sacrificed his life to a cause that had basically no hope for success, and this I think was crazy. But I would highly recommend reading paragraphs 1-98, which contain a fascinating psycho-analysis of modern society. 3/5

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts (4-23-2009)

Although this book wasn't organized the way I would have preferred, it still did contain a great deal of insight into the philosophy of Zen Buddhism. I was able to piece together a fairly detailed picture of Zen by compiling scattered notes from several different chapters. 3/5

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Rolf Potts (3-16-2009)

It took me a long time to read this book because it never seemed that important to me. I did like it though. It had a very positive and happy message. The advice was extremely basic and perhaps even obvious, but by reading about it you end up thinking more about your own behavior, which could help you become more personable. I think this book would be useful if you had a group of people to help you reinforce the lessons within it. 3/5

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts (3-10-2009)

This is a guidebook for vagabonds. It is mostly focused on low-budget international travel, with a slight bias towards places with really low living expenses. A big part of it is just about the mentality of vagabonding, preparing to go, convincing yourself to do it, and how to enjoy it. There is some practical advice, like a short list of things to bring and tricks like doing your laundry in the hotel room sink with shampoo. Probably the most useful aspect of the book is the lists of references at the end of each chapter. These can help you find work abroad, further resources for how to make your money last, and guidebooks for what to see when you get there. 2/5

Into the Wild (Audiobook) by Jon Krakauer (3-4-2009)

This is the incredible true story of a young man who after graduating college decided to give up the civilized life and become a vagabond and then a wilderness survivalist. I personally think he was a little too extreme when he did things like donating all the money in his bank account to charity and burned all of his cash. But his story is still inspirational and it made me think a lot about how much stuff I really need to be happy. It is no secret that at the end of the story he dies in the Alaskan wilderness - it was all over the news when his body was found. Many people use this to criticize him as being overconfident and wreckless. I dislike this attitude, it seems to be a reaction that people have to their own jealousy that they couldn't do something as brave as him. And it doesn't mean that he was a failure - he lived the way he wanted to live. 4/5

What is Zen by Alan Watts (2-22-2009)

This was a really short little book that talks about some of the basic concepts in Zen. It is the type of book that doesn't try to be comprehensive or organized, but just picks and chooses a few of the more interesting things to discuss. Watts does a good job of making Zen more understandable to Western audiences who are more logically-oriented. He still believes a lot of the illogical things in Buddhism, but he has the ability to talk about them in a semi-understandable way. 3/5

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Audiobook) by Robert Pirsig (1-25-2009)

This is the first book I've read in the genre of "philosophical novel" and I must say I like this style of book. It interweaves philosophical monologues in with a story based on the author's life. I can't say that I fully agree with the author's system of philosophy and I found some of his lines of reasoning a little dubious, but it was still interesting. And the artistic execution of the work is amazing, it gives you a really relaxed feeling. I would suggest the audiobook because it allows you to relax even more with your eyes closed. 4/5

Depression Free for Life by Gabriel Cousens (12-30-2008)

I picked up this book not because I was feeling depressed, but because it was the first book I found that focused on the connection between food and mood. Cousens is basically a raw foods hippie type, but this book seems pretty professional overall. It makes an interesting distinction between fast and slow oxidizers, the two requiring different protein to carbohydrate ratios. It also discusses the biochemical pathways that produce neurotransmitters and how those neurotransmitters affect mood. Since essential amino acids are precursors to these pathways, deficiencies in these amino acids can produce negative effects on mood. 3/5

Fantastic Voyage by Kurzweil and Grossman (12-16-2008)

This book provides a great overview of the latest research on nutrition. It has a decidedly proactive approach as it advocates what it calls "aggressive supplementation". I can't help but think that taking hundreds of pills a day is potentially dangerous and I would not want to take it to that extreme. However, there is still a lot of solid advice here. It is particularly negative on sugar. You may find the reading experience a little strange if you pay attention to the special boxes about the future. Many of them talk about how nanobots are soon going to replace all of our organs and make us immortal. But with the exception of those boxes, everything is pretty down to earth. 4/5

What to Eat by Marion Nestle (11-27-2008)

This book had a large emphasis on the politics of food. It didn't go very deep into the science and seemed to avoid taking a strong stance on almost everything. It was good for getting an impression of what is well accepted in the field of nutrition because if this author accepts it, then there must be a lot of good evidence. There were a good overviews of fish contaminants, organic certification, and the effects of processing foods, among other things. Also, it was enlightening to read about the extent of politics that comes with the food industry, even though this wasn't my primary interest. 3/5

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt (10-12-2008)

This is a very enjoyable overview of positive psychology. It covers a broad range of topics, such as evolutionary theory, flow, behavioral psychology experiments, and even philosophy. This broadness means that the book does not goes as deep into any specific topic as more focused books do. But going deep into a topic usually isn't as fun as casually discussing it, which is why this book is so good. There are a lot of important perspectives in this book. One is that it explains how aspects of religion and cultural constraints can help people feel more happy. It also talks about the importance of coherence across physical, psychological, and societal levels. And it takes a reasonable stance on the question of Buddhism, which is that it takes the concept of detachment a little too far, even though it is a useful concept. 5/5

Common Lisp by David Touretzky (9-17-2008)

This really was a gentle introduction, it could probably be well understood by middle school students. While it was a little slow, I liked that I was able to get a good general feel for the Lisp language without straining my brain. 3/5

The Bootstrapper's Bible by Seth Godin (7-20-2008)

This book gives you a realistic picture of what it is like to start a business. Specifically it focuses on businesses started by bootstrap funding, which means that there are no external investors. I think this type of funding is the most elegant because it leaves you with the most control of your business. Some of the important lessons in this book are "Survival is success" and "Don't go for the glamorous business" and "People won't come pounding at your door if you build a better mousetrap, you need to market it too." 4/5

Just Work by Russell Muirhead (7-9-2008)

This book discusses the issue of work in general, that is the fact that most people are effectively forced into jobs that they may or may not want to be in. The book upset me at the beginning when it seemed to advocate a guaranteed minimum wage for everyone without discussing the implementation at all. But after that the book went on to describe many interesting viewpoints on how work could be morally justified. It discussed forms of exploitation on the one hand, and ways that work could be properly fitting with ones values on the other hand. Around half of the book seemed like fluff, but that is actually a reasonably low fluff fraction. 3/5

The Economics of Public Issues by Miller, Benjamin, and North (6-17-2008)

This book is a great overview of the economic consequences of public policies. Every example was consistent with libertarian philosophy, at least under my interpretation. These concrete arguments backed by empirical evidence can be very helpful in convincing people of the feasibility of libertarian policies. 4/5

Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson (5-12-2008)

Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group, which was responsible for Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Mobile, and many other enterprises. This is his story and it is amazing. The reading is not as engaging as some expert authors can make it, but the story behind the words is inspirational. I was most impressed by his business philosophy, which basically amounts to seeking fun. This is something that I find beautiful and totally agree with. He doesn't seem to be "ruthless" at all and yet he still achieves so much success. There is a lot of valuable information here for the businessman. One interesting part is the description of British Airways "dirty tricks" campaign against Branson. Also, the way that he stubbornly bootstrapped a magazine as a high school student and evolved it into a record business is fascinating. 4/5

The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss (4-2008)

Timothy Ferriss is an impressive guy. He is super rich, he has streamlined his life so that he hardly has to work at all, and he boasts a long list of accomplishments and adventures. This book provides a some concrete advice for streamlining your life, some fun stories from the author's life, and a little bit of life philosophy. It also focuses on how to establish a business that will provide you with financial freedom. I personally fully agree with a lot of his theories. However, I think that his nutrition supplement business was not highly respectable. Based on his companies website, I would say that he is being deceptive in his marketing. I would prefer to see people succeeding by purely win-win transactions. 5/5

Walden (Audiobook) by Henry David Thoreau (3-3-2008)

You can get this audiobook for free from I think Thoreau is interesting because he is one of the most extreme cases of a person who is confident in defying cultural norms. He didn't buy into the value systems that society encouraged because he was able to think for himself. Rather than struggling for a high paying job, he moved to the woods near Walden pond in Concord, MA. There he built a small shack where he lived for two years. He was not trying to be a hermit and he maintained several relationships with people from the town, but he was trying to see society from an obective point of view. In such a way, he discovered how he could live a more enjoyably and peacefully life by simplifying his life. He not only evaded the financial rat race, but also the social rat race-he did not trouble himself to make too many friends, but still never felt lonely in times of isolation. It was interesting that he was arrested for not paying taxes, but released within a day. Also, he does not mention it in the book, but the land he built on was owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. Unfortunately the book is painfully dull. He spends entire chapters describing animal related events such as an ant war or a fox hunt. The bulk of the book is just a semi-poetic description of nature. The philosophical parts contain some brave assertions, but are marred by severe logical flaws. 1/5

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand (1-31-2008)

This book contains two parts: 1. Theory and History, 2. Current State. The first part was a good overview of Rand's philosophy and had some interesting arguments for capitalism. The second part was mostly a rant with less interesting content. The chapters are each independent articles, some written by other authors, so there is some overlap in the content. The arguments are a bit overconfident and less reasonable than other libertarian writers like Milton Friedman. This can make it frustrating at times when the author makes sweeping claims. Overall I thought it was good food for thought. 3/5

Meditation in a New York Minute by Mark Thornton (1-4-2008)

This book is mostly about fitting meditation into a busy work schedule. It recommends using time on your daily commute and time between meetings to take quick one minute breathing sessions. I found very little of value in this book. It basically listed many slight variations on the same simple breathing patterns. 1/5

How to Meditate: A Guide to Self-Discovery by Lawrence LeShan (12-31-2007)

This was a fairly helpful book because it clarified the purpose of meditation. The important points were 1. Meditation is beneficial because it trains you to control your focus. 2. It can be hard work, but potentially relaxing, just as physical exercise can be. 3. You should not expect to be very successful at maintaining focus, even many meditation masters say they often find their minds drifting, it is the act of trying to maintain focus that counts. 4. Meditation should be done regularly, preferably daily, for at least 15 minutes. The down side of this book is that it is not scientific. He does dismiss those who take literally the sayings about energy flows and vibrations. However, he still introduces religious explanations and paranormal phenomena. 3/5

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (12-12-2007)

I guess this is one of the most popular business-related self-help books out there. It was no big surprise to me that it was essentially void of content. That is just par for the course as far as these books go. There were some parts to the book that might induce you to reflect on your life. For example, he emphasizes that you always have the choice of how to deal with your problems, which may be a revolutionary concept for people who think that they are victims of the world. He also emphasizes that you should always work to find a win-win solution. I think that most people already understand these basic concepts, so really all Covey is accomplishing is gettting people to sit down and think about their priorities and principles for a while. I'm sure many people can benefit from that kind of thought, but none-the-less I would not recommend anyone to read this book. 2/5

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (11-10-2007)

In this collection of essays, Sedaris tells stories from his life with wit and dry humor. His life is nothing too abnormal. He is gay and his family seems a bit looney, but nothing too far from common life. I didn't laugh that often, though his writing style usually kept me interested in the story telling even when the actual story seemed trivial. This is a popular type of book, and overall I didn't enjoy reading it as much as the type of books that I usually read, but I could see that if I was in the right mood it could have been more entertaining. 2/5

The Case Against the Fed by Murray Rothbard (10-25-2007)

I wanted to get a better picture of whether there actually were problems with the Fed after seeing the conspiracy videos on the subject. The conspiracy videos really just set a tone that makes you feel like something horrible is going on without actually giving you a lot of solid evidence. It is a sort of psychological trick. This book was good for separating the facts from the fiction. Although it came late in the book, it did explicitly say that the Fed is not embezzling from the federal government. The problem, it states, is in its power to inflate the currency, which seems to be universally acknowledged. The book claims that the Fed is solely responsible for our nation's inflation. I think I agree, but I am still uncertain because I don't know why there isn't more agreement on the issue. I am worried that I am missing something with my limited knowledge of economics. 3/5

Free To Choose by Milton Friedman (8-2007)

Although I already agreed with the libertarian concepts in this book before I read this book, I still felt like I learned quite a bit about economics from it. Friedman gives some reasonable real world solutions that are not just pure idealistic dreams. One example is his voucher plan for education that clearly seems like a great improvement over the current system. I think that Friedman is actually more correct than Ayn Rand when it comes to economics, which makes sense because he is a real economist. He admits things like the fact that there are "market failures" when the market is not as efficient as it could be, such as in the presence of certain types of monopolies. I think Rand is reluctant to admit this because of its danger of sending mixed messages to a public whose judgement she doesn't feel she can trust. I would recommend that everyone read this book so that they can get a taste of libertarian arguments. 5/5

Civilization and its Discontents by Sigmund Freud (6-24-2007)

I had been wanting to read something by Freud for a while, but I was always skeptical that he would have discovered anything interesting. I was initially turned off by the seemingly crackpot theories of anal-retentiveness and the Oedipus complex, among others. I decided to give this book a try because it was short and I wanted to see if he had any insights into the problems that are caused by placing man, who was designed to be a hunter-gatherer, into civilization. I thought the book was boring and difficult to read. I did not understand many of his points because they used "Freudian" concepts that were not introduced in this book. Overall I thought that there was very little information content and almost no justification for the claims that were made. 1/5

The Story of My Life (Penguin - Abridged) by Giacomo Casanova (5-28-07)

Casanova's life was absolutely amazing; I can't believe what a libertine he was. Reading his memoirs provides ample opportunities for extracting life lessons. Most importantly, I think he sets the bar for how enjoyable life can be. The fact that he is telling a story means that it is not written as a present-tense dialogue like most novels. This makes the style less smooth than a novel and can even make it more difficult to remain engaged. But the adventures he partakes in are so outrageous that you have to force your way through the lackluster prose. 4/5

Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki (5-15-2007)

Though it was short on specifics, I found this to be a quick and enjoyable read. The author gives a lot of cute anecdotes from his childhood pertaining to learning how to become wealthy. He stresses repeatedly lessons like not settling for a secure job, making money work for you, acquiring income generating assests, and learning how to deal with taxes. There are a couple interesting specifics such as tax lien certificates and non-qualified loans. I never knew that the income tax amendment was originally passed because it was only supposed to tax the rich. And also our country survived until 1913 without any federal taxes on average citizens. 3/5

The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand (4-24-2007)

This collection of essays provides a good overview of Rand's philosophy of Objectivism that goes into a bit more detail than the exposition in Atlas Shrugged. I particularly like her idea of financing the courts by an optional fee on contracts that makes them government enforced. I don't think that her arguments are very rigorous as some people seem to claim, but at least they usually have a plausible conclusion. 4/5

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (3-30-2007)

The author of this book uses psychology to understand happiness and how to live an enjoyable life. The theory of flow says that people enjoy experience the most when they are "living in flow." This state is obtained when a person is being challenged, but has the required skills to meet the challenge, and also is obtaining frequent feedback to the effect that he or she is succeeding. It also explains that flow is pleasurable because it causes a minimization of psychic entropy and emphasizes the importance of attention in attaining flow. I thought it started off great, but became repetative after about the first four chapters. I would probably recommend only reading the first four chapters. But overall I thought it was very insightful and philosophically valuable. 4/5

An Interpretive Introduction to Quantum Field Theory by Paul Teller (1-9-2007)

This is a book on an advanced subject of physics written by a philosopher. It is surprisingly advanced in terms of physics content, I don't know how a philosopher learned this much QFT, but I still don't like it. It is funny how he spends a whole chapter talking about "primitive thisness", which is basically distinguishability without the need for an experimental method to do so. There were a couple of gems, like his explanation of the Dirac equation on page 68. However, most of the book was a waste of time. I would say its best use would be food for thought after you have already learned the subject properly. 1/5

Secrets of The Street by Gene G. Marcial (8-2006)

This is a collection of true anecdotal stories from Wall Street that the author knew about. The point of the book is that pretty much all of the big winners in the stock market are the inside traders or people who are in special positions. It really portrays the stock market as a way for the rich to steal from the poor. In the long term it is possible for everyone to win since there is a definite upward trend, but I do believe that the short term is a different story. The short term is more about zero sum trading, which means that whenever someone wins, someone else loses. Naturally, it is more often that the big guys win out over the little guys in a game like this. So I am not going to abandon the stock market, but this book made me realize that it is not a good choice for your primary method of getting rich. 4/5

Discoveries and Opinions of Gallileo by Gallileo Galilei, Stillman Drake (8-15-05)

This book is basically a translation of "The Starry Messenger", "Letters on Sunspots", "Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina", and "The Assayer" with historical explanations between them. It is really interesting to sense the opposition the Galileo faced from the Church and the legacy of Aristotle. It is also interesting to notice how science was so immature in those days. The scientific method was not commonly required. Also, it was strange to hear Galileo bickering with much less worthy men. I liked that Galileo often said "I do not know" and told his pupils to say it also. This was important because philosophers of the day would hate to say this because they were afraid it would make them seem dumb, but this attitude is harmful to science. I like when Galileo said "...I know no more about the true essences of earth or fire than about those of the moon or sun, for that knowledge is withheld from us, and is not to be understood until we reach the state of blessedness" because this means we have now reached a state of blessedness. It was also nice that Galileo explained the sailor's rule that bright air was windy by the fact that the wind made the water more bumpy, which reflected light into a larger amount of air. Although the reading was little boring at times, this was an enlightening book. 3/5

Einstein: The Passions of a Scientist by Barry Parker

This was the Einstein biography that I was looking for. It tells the story, including good detail, and uses a light tone. Reading this book was totally enjoyable all the way through. The main accomplishment of the book is that it conveys a sense of the amazingness of his life without any commentary - all the text is unbiased presentation of facts. However, through the facts that Parker chose to present, he brought the point across that Einstein's life was unbelievably crazy and probably could not have been made more ridiculous. 5/5

The Cuckoo's Egg by Cliff Stoll

Cliff Stoll is a real astronomer who got caught up in chasing a hacker through the global networks of the late 80s. The book is a detailed account of his experience with the chase, which is probably one of the most interesting true stories that have occurred in the last couple decades. There aren't too many technical details, but the story has many interesting non-technical elements. Judged as a fiction book, this book is really good, but considering that it is a true story, this book is great. 5/5

Einstein: The Formative Years by Don Howard and John Stachel

This is basically a collection of academic papers about Einstein's work prior to general relativity. I have to say that it is pretty bad because the information is so indirect and worthless that it is extremely boring. When you write entire sections on the biography of the person who wrote a book that Einstein once said was good, you are going to lose the attention of most readers. The authors make a lot of assumptions about influences on Einstein, which I disliked because I think it is wrong to give credit to someone just because Einstein read their writings. The book does go into some discussion of the scientific development of Einstein's 1905 papers, but there is not enough detail to follow unless you already are already familiar with them. 1/5

QED by Richard Feynman

Although the content was at a lower level than I was hoping for, this book did provide a relaxing and educational overview of quantum electrodynamics. It explains how light reflects based on quantum wavefunctions and how this causes irridescence. It spends a lot of time explaining the concept that the paths of particles are actually determined by taking all paths simultaneously and then the quantum wavefunctions are added to find that most paths have destructive interference of wavefunctions which leaves only the classical path. Many Feynman diagrams are used to illustrate the possible interactions of photons and electrons. The information density in this book is pretty low, but that is not such a bad thing. The information it does contain is pretty interesting and by telling it slowly, it is easier to understand. 2/5

Introduction to Quantum Computation and Information by Lo, Popescu, and Spiller

I think that this book is not quite an introduction. It claims that you only need a knowledge of basic quantum mechanics, but I felt lost for large portions of it. One chapter was actually worth reading: "Quantum Computation: An Introduction". This chapter explains how quantum computing algorithms work. Also of interest was page 20 sections 4.1-4.2 which explain applications and implementations. The most popular implementation, the ion trap, is further described on page 275. I am guessing that there is a better place to learn about quantum computing since this was a gruelling read. 1/5

Building Embedded Linux Systems by Karim Yaghmour

This book is a good source of information for setting up the Linux software of an embedded system. It does not give a lot of explanation of embedded systems or using the software. Because of its focus, it is not that enjoyable to read and it isn't a very thorough introduction to embedded system design, but it is certainly a useful reference for anyone who actually has to setup an embedded linux system. Cross-compiling programs for an embedded system is often a tricky task, and this book gives hints for how to cross- compile many common linux programs. Although most of the book feels like a lot of words without a lot of content, it is a fairly useful resource. 3/5

Knot Theory by Charles Livingston

This book complemented Adams' book well. Many of the concepts that I was confused about were explained with more sophistication, which actually made them easier to understand because there was no ambiguity. Although this book might be too dense for a first introduction to knot theory, it is a very well written book, and contains a wealth of information. The biggest flaw is that most theorems are given without proof, and in the event that a proof is given, it is just a sketch. The lack of proofs is partially a consequence of the technical nature of the subject, but it is nonetheless frustrating to the student who wants to understand. 4/5

Thermodynamics by Enrico Fermi

I didn't get much out of this book. I was hoping for an elementary explanation of the underlaying principles of thermodynamics, but found only a lot of confusing derivations of formulas. What's worse is that they are all in the pre-quantum-reformation form, which actually makes them more confusing. I don't think anyone needs to read this book unless they want to feel the pain that was felt by physicists using the old thermodynamics, which was really closer to chemistry than physics. 1/5

The Knot Book by Colin C. Adams

This is one of those books that you can actually learn math from without trying too hard. The explanations were clear enough that I understood most of the material even though I did not do any of the exercises. I feel like I got a fairly thorough introduction to the mathematical theory of knots. The book presents many ways of studying knots and explains knot invariants like the new polynomials. All in all, a very good book, and really cheap too. 5/5

The Emperor's New Mind (Abridged Audiobook) by Roger Penrose

Penrose has a lot of interesting thoughts in this book. He deals with physics, mathematics, and artificial intelligence, which are basically all of my greatest interests. That doesn't automatically mean that it is the best book of all time. It was very thought-provoking, but popular style books like this are usually not very educational. This book is good for killing some time philosophizing about interesting subjects. 3/5

Excursions in Mathematics by C. Stanley Ogilvy

I found this book somewhat interesting, although most of the content was pretty basic. This kind of book is good for background facts in mathematics; stuff that you never really need to know, but might be interesting for a conversation with a mathematician at some point. 3/5

The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio

This is one of your standard math-popularization books, but it is a pretty interesting one at least. I liked the parts that provided interesting facts about the golden ratio and the fibonacci sequence. However, there was also a lot of garbage about the golden ratio in art, which basically amounted to saying that the golden ratio really wasn't present at all, and it is just a habit of academians to try to make the golden ratio appear somewhere in some historical object. This book is probably one of the most polished references of the golden ratio; there are more comprehensive documents on the internet, but this book is better organized. 4/5

Catch Me If You Can (Audiobook) by Stan Redding and Frank W. Abagnale

This is a well told true story. Frank Abagnale was a real swindler and this is his tale. It is fun because it is so out of the ordinary. He really went through a lot of situations where he cunningly deceived others and subsequently he spent a lot of time in prisons. For me it was eye-opening at how such a seemingly nice person could get so caught up in a life of crime, similar to the movie Blow. Listening to the audiobook actually made me nervous because of how it made you feel like you can relate to someone who is a serious criminal. Because of that, I think this book was a unique experience. 4/5

A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram

Wolfram seems to be pretty self-absorbed. I have to give him a lot of credit for his part in the creation of Mathematica, which is an excellent piece of software, but he writes this giant book that is really just a summary of observations of cellular automata and tries to hype it up to be some revolution. Now, I don't want to discredit the underlaying concepts, just the fact that he says very little to support them or determine their consequences. One of the big ideas in his book is that all the laws of physics can be reduced to a few simple rules. I agree with this, and I actually thought of the same idea that the universe should be a computable system before reading the book, but the idea alone is not worth very much. Wolfram appears to be trying to inspire others to do the real scientific work, so that he can later lay claim to founding a field of science. In general the book is repetitive, short on assertions, and he even tries to pretend like he was the first to discover some things that were clearly discovered earlier by others. If you set these flaws aside, you may be able to learn some interesting properties of cellular automata. 1/5

Prime Obsession by John Derbyshire

In order to find out what all the fuss was about with regards to the Riemann hypothesis, I decided to read this exposition of it. My general impression was that it provided a good overview, with just a little bit too much breakdown of the math for my level (meaning there were explanations of very simple concepts since it tries to explain most things from scratch) but also plenty of interesting historical background. After reading it, I feel like I havea basic understanding of the approach that Riemann took to finding an exact expression for the number of primes less than a given number. Notes 5/5

Hacker's Delight by Henry Warren

This is simply a book full of tricks for low level programmers. Most of the book was pretty boring stuff. It was boring because it was little optimizations and methods that are not commonly useful. On top of this, the tone of the book is fairly heavy, making it more dull than other books of its kind. Still, there were some fascinating parts (see the notes) and I would recommend this book for reference material. Notes 3/5

Archimedes Revenge by Paul Hoffman

I thought this book was alright. It contained a bunch of interesting topics in pure mathematics. It seemed almost like a tour through the author's personal interests since it felt quite diverse. It goes through perfect/prime number theory, penrose tilings, cryptography, and even quantitative political science. 2/5

Archimedes What Did He Do Besides Cry Eureka? by Sherman Stein

This book was more mathematical than I expected. It is really just a condensed and highly simplified translation of Archimedes more famous works. There are some genuinely good ideas found in his methods, however one can usually see quickly the modern replacement that is more effective. His study on levers was very insightful, but the more general concept of torques replaces all of his theorems without even adding much complexity. Other topics of focus were using the center of gravity to analyze figures geometrically and the determination of areas and surface areas. Sometimes it is valuable to see where the concepts of modern mathematics come from, and this is a good sampling of the work of a great founder. 3/5

Infinity and the Mind by Rudy Rucker

Rudy Rucker, though often known for his science fiction, has compiled an impressive entertainment/education type book about the nature of infinity. It offers the predominant views on the subject with explanations for why they are accepted in such a way. There is significant focus on the understanding of infinities and formal systems that use infinitees. Though parts of the book are boring, I found areas of my own thought about infinite that were in need of correction. Notes 4/5

Spacetime and Electromagnetism by Lucas & Hodgson

Although this is a philosophy book, it is also a physics book. I was particularly amazed with the first chapter, it gives a lot of information in just the right way. However, I would recommend skipping Chapters 3-5, and 9-10. This will cut the 300 page book in half and make it much more bearable. Doing so will cause you to miss the point of the book, but that is not a problem considering that the point of the book is to make a philosophical argument about science. There is good exposition of Einstein's Special Thoery to be found in it, so it is definitely a worthwhile read. Notes 3/5

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy

The style of this book is amazing. Levy is a high quality story teller. All the big names in productive hacking are found in this entertaining exposition. This book began the common use of the term hacker, before it took on the connotation of malevolent intrusion. Emphasis is placed on the Hacker Ethic and its journey through time in the actions of the many people who made up the computer revolution. 5/5

Dealers of Lightning by Michael Hiltzik

One will be amazed at how much progress towards a home computer hinged on the work of the employees of Xerox in the Palo Alto Research Center. It seems that any major component of an interactive computer was developed at this one hub of creation. This book introduces the key players and tells the tale of their times at PARC. 3/5

C & UNIX by Martin L. Barrett & Clifford H. Wagner

A good introduction to the unix/linux environment. The common programs and commands are explained with high detail. This will get you very fluent in using the operating system, but won't help too much in becoming a crack programmer. 2/5

Excursions in Geometry by C. Stanley Ogilvy

Geometry is a bit harder to read since you must refer to diagrams frequently, making it much slower. The spirit of this book was fairly good still, and it flowed pretty smoothly, though not as well as Excursions in Number Theory. Some of the topics that are looked into are not obviously important, so it is hard to tell why they are being focused on, but that is probably just the nature of the whole subjecty of geometry. Notes 3/5

Excursions in Number Theory by Ogilvy & Anderson

I must say that this is one of the best books I have ever read. It is rare that an author of a mathematical book can make the text flow so smoothly and have all the math be so clear. There are explanations of complex ideas that are so clear they barely even cause you to slow from your standard reading pace. This shows that the author understands the subject matter excelently. I was stunned over and over at the amazing things that number theory contains. This math book is not just educational, it is truly entertaining. 5/5

Wizard: The life and times of Nikola Tesla by Marc J. Seifer

Seifer presents a wealth of information on Nikola Tesla in this biography. There is enough detail to make it quite boring at times, but there are enough interesting events in Tesla's life to keep the reader awake. Interesting facts are found intermittently, making it difficult to say what parts are the best to read. This book does a much better job at chronological organization, but if you just want entertainment, then stick with the autobiography. 3/5

The Mathematical Experience by Phillip J. Davis

After reading this book you get a feel for what the mathematical world is really like. Most of the time learning about mathematics only consists of hearing the developments that the past has made, but the psychology of a mathematician is not understood until you try to be a mathematician yourself. Mathematical discoveries don't always come quickly, and most of them are insignificant. Reading this book will give you an idea of what it means to prove things and the meaning of math in our world, with a little exposure to some actual mathematics. 3/5

E=mc^2 The Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation by David Bodanis

This book takes a look at the ramifications of Einstein's idea and details a bit of Einstein's life and the science behind the equation. It was somewhat disappointing in that the majority of the book was the story of the atomic bomb. It was a good historical account of this because it told it from the scientific perspective so the German's were seen to be ahead until the US stalled their heavy water supply and stepped up development. 2/5

Just Six Numbers by Martin Rees

Despite the fact that this book is intended for the general public, it is fairly interesting. It takes the somewhat unique approach of analyzing physics through numbers that represent ratios of fundamental physical constants. The numbers he inspects are: electromagnetism to gravity strength, energy from hydrogen-> helium fusion to energy in hydrogen, the amount of dark matter to amount needed for constant universe, hypothetical cosmological constant(antigravity), amount of energy required to break up galaxies to amount of energy in them, and the number of spatial dimensions. He presents these as variables that seem to be extremely fine tuned to allow for the creation of life. Hence it somewhat gets into the anthropic principle and the multiverse concept. However, there is a fair amount of enlightening information that set it apart from a standard general audience book. Notes 3/5

In Search of Schroedinger's Cat by John Gribbin

This historical review of the development of quantum theory is a surprisingly casual read. It is very useful in gaining a sense for how the science got to its current state. Although the majority of the book focuses on the general picture, it smoothly flows into specific experiments and theories that are genuinely educational. It doesn't try to impress by tossing out the most perverse conceptions, but rather brings you to a good understanding of the major ideas of the areas of atoms, photonic polarity, and particle physics. Notes 3/5

Quantum Physics: Illusion or Reality? by Alastair Rae

The first four chapters of this book are a good introduction to quantum physics that is specific unlike many other books, so you get a feeling for the actual experiments rather than just a concealing explanation. Then the main point of the book begins with the explanation of the Copenhagen Interpretation, which says that it is meaningless to talk of quantum properties without measuring them. This leads to the problem of what it means to measure something and the next few chapters overview some foolish ideas that can be used to resolve it. There is quite a bit of philosophical material, which isn't really worth reading considering that its wrong, but he progresses to more feasible explanations including one in which measurement is set at the level of a non-reversible process like the generation of heat. Notes 2/5

Surely You're Joking by Richard Feynman

The autobiography of the great physicist is a very fun read. It focuses on what seem to be events that he values the most- the social and cultural aspects of life. He tends to favor telling of instances where he impressed others with his intelligence, showing that he thoroughly enjoys receiving positive attention. His exploits are at times incredible, but always entertaining. This book will enlighten you to the possibility of a genius being a truly normal person. 5/5

Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte


My Inventions by Nikola Tesla

Upon reading this autobiography, you will be convinced that Tesla was an amazing man. He was central to so many modern creations that it came as a big surprise to me that he is not more famous than Thomas Edison. Tesla describes many normal life events, but also focuses on his not so normal love of invention and his own aptitudes. Tesla's stories may be some of the most questionable in terms of their truthfullness, but doubtless enough of them are true to sufficiently set him apart as an amazing person. 5/5

Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas R. Hofstadler

A masterpiece of mathematical writing, Godel, Escher, Bach is one of the most enjoyable books one can read. The amount of work, planning, and thought that must have went into the creation of this book is unimaginable. There are so many layers of depth to the writings that one could spend a very long time trying to recognize them all. The beutifully intertwined mathematical elucidations and illustrative dialogue create a comforting environment for the reader to ruminate in. The juxtaposition of such contrasting material works quite well, and I found myself looking forward to both types of sections. I highly recommend this book, but it isn't very dense on educational material and becomes somewhat repetitive due to the fact that it all revolves around infinite recursion. One additional issue is that the subject is somewhat trivial in the first place, at least the part of the subject within the book's extent. 5/5