Book Links

Here's a list of books that relate to my Web Links.

If you don't see something that interests you, you can always search for yourself:


Physics Books

Here are some popular books on the subject, most of which I've read and enjoyed. I haven't bothered with textbooks, since texts in particle physics can quickly become outdated.

The Particle Garden by Gordon Kane
I found this book to be a good overall introduction to the field of particle physics. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the difference between an electron neutrino and a muon neutrino, and why that difference is important. The difference is important to me because my doctoral thesis was on the study of how muon neutrinos interact with protons.
Dreams of a Final Theory and The First Three Minutes by Steven Weinberg
I've read The First Three Minutes, and I thought it was an excellent introduction on the Big Bang Theory of the beginning of the universe. This book is now a little out-dated, since it was written before the new COBE results became available. I'm recommending Dreams of a Final Theory on the strength of Weinberg's earlier book and his reputation.
A Brief History of Time and Black Holes and Baby Universes by Steven Hawking
Steven Hawking has become one of the best-known scientists in the world, eclipsing Carl Sagan and Albert Einstein in the minds of the general public. I read A Brief History of Time and enjoyed it. I've been told that "average person" may not understand it, but I had no problems absorbing his concepts of time, entropy, and the fate of the universe. On the strength of his reputation, I'm also recommending Black Holes and Baby Universes though I haven't read it yet.
The Character of Physical Law by Richard Feynman
I read this book recently and enjoyed it. It nicely outlined the thought processes used by physicsts to establish the laws of nature. The book uses only a little mathematics, but it relies heavily on the reader's ability to understand the importance of rational thought. The laws of physics are not simply guesswork: their derivation relies on both insight and observation. The Character of Physical Law shows how the connection is made.

Feynman's Lectures on Physics are famous in the physics community for their insight and quality of their explanations, but they are not necessarily for the novice. The complete lectures are contained in Vol. 1, Vol. 2, and Vol. 3. A subset of the lectures can be found in Six Easy Pieces, which might be better for physics newcomers.

Like Hawking, a lot of popular attention has been focused on the life of Richard Feynman. The autobiographical books Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman and What Do You Care What Other People Think? contain fascinating tidbits about Feynman's life. A biography, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, was written by James Gleick.

The God Particle by Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi
I have not read this book. I'm recommending it solely on the reputation of Leon Lederman. Lederman was director of Fermilab while I did my physics research there. He won the Nobel Prize in 1988 for the discovery that neutrinos came in more than one species, a discovery that had impact on my own physics work (see above).

Physics Web Links


C++ and other programming books

For the most part, my skills in programming are self-taught. Here are the books that taught me.

C++ Primer Plus
I still refer to this book frequently for C++ syntax information. This is the best C++ tutorial and reference that I've seen.
The C++ Programming Language
The "official" C++ language specification. If I can't find the answer to some technical C++ question is the primer, I look here.
STL Tutorial and Reference Guide
When you want to program in C++, there are really three "languages" you have to learn. The first is C++ itself; that's covered by the two books above. The second is the Standard Template Library, a collection of C++ templates that's rapidly becoming part of the standard language. I also refer to this book frequently.
Design Patterns
The third "language" you have to learn is that of design patterns, that is, the common techniques that are used to solve problems in object-oriented programming. If you hang around a group of C++ programmers, you'll hear them discuss the "strategy pattern," the "factory pattern," the "singleton pattern," and so on. This book defines what those terms mean.
Generic Programming and the STL
There are two techniques I know of to promote code re-usability. One is object-oriented programming, a topic discussed in some of the above books. The other is "generic programming," a technique that is independent of object-oriented programming. This book explores topics in generic programming (which I wish I understood better than I presently do).
Learning Python
I worked with the ATLAS collaboration, centered at CERN. The software framework used by ATLAS is a custom system called Athena. After that, I worked with the Reactor Analysis Tool simulation. The primary programming languages used in both frameworks is C++; hence the books above. The primary scripting language used is Python; I'm teaching myself Python using the above book.

Frankly, I find the book a little too easy for someone at my level. I have a feeling that I'll want to move on to Programming Python and Python Cookbook before long.

Scientific and Engineering C++
This is the standard C++ book recommended for scientists. To be honest, I never found it all that useful compared to the books above. I mention it to be complete.
Managing Projects with GNU Make
For any programming project that uses more than one source file (and even for some that do), you're likely to need some type of project management software. The one most frequently used in UNIX is make.

Lately, a major "competitor" for make has surfaced: scons, a Python-based project management system. I'm not fond of it; although I admit that make has arcane and complicated syntax, a poorly-written and uncommented Python script is no better than a poorly-written and uncommented make project file. Time will tell whether scons will supplant make.

Essential CVS
If you're working on a project with other people (and sometimes even if you're not), you'll probably need some sort of version control software. CVS (Concurrent Versions System) is the one most commonly used in UNIX environments.

As with make and scons, there's a relatively-recent competitor to cvs: subversion. I've worked with this only a short while, and I've already learned to dislike it intensely; its method of tracking changes did not work well with scripts I wrote to make sweeping changes to source code. However, the UNIX community is bigger than my personal likes and dislikes, and it may be that svn will replace cvs.

Programming


Statistics

Statistics are an ever-present part of physics analysis. These are the reference books I use.

Data Reduction and Error Analysis for the Physical Sciences
The "bible" of basic statistics for scientists. The second edition introduced a number of typographical errors; I hope these have been fixed in the third edition.
Techniques for Nuclear and Particle Physics Experiments
Once you know statistics, you have to learn how to apply them in physics experiments. If you get this book, keep it well-hidden. Your colleagues will "borrow" it, and you'll never see it again.
Statistics
The two books above are graduate-level texts. This book covers statistics from a basic level (it's intended for the social sciences). I like this book because it covers statistics topics from the very basics, starting with the box model. I feel it's important to have at least one reference that covers the assumptions that underlie statistics formulae; that way, you can judge when those assumptions no longer apply.

My physics contributions


Systems administration

I help maintain the Linux cluster at Nevis Laboratories. Although my primary reference tool for the job is the web, I found the following books to be useful for the task.

sendmail and Linux Sendmail Administration
I regard these books as essential for the care and feeling of a mail server that uses Sendmail. There are mail server programs that are simpler to configure, but none that offers you the same kind of control over your server's configuration. The first book is also known as "the bat book" for reasons that won't be clear unless you click on the link.
Managing NFS and NIS, 2nd Edition
The machines in the Nevis Linux cluster are linked via NFS and NIS. The techniques involved came (mostly) from this book.
Linux NFS and Automounter Administration
But the automount configuration needed to be tweaked, especially on the mail server. This book provided the tips needed to keep the cluster from hanging while it waited for some remote system to mount.
HTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide
This book (the first edition, no less!) is the only book I ever felt I needed to maintain the Nevis Web Site. You may feel that the site looks bland as a result. The look is intentional; we're doing science, not selling shampoo. The site also renders well using all the popular (and unpopular) browsers, including text browsers such as Lynx.
DNS and BIND
Nevis has its own domain, nevis.columbia.edu. I manage the name servers and DNS database for the domain. Without this book, I could not do it.
UNIX Shell Programming
Based on the reviews at Amazon, there are better books on shell programming out there (such as another book with the same title). However, I prefer this book because it has both C-shell and Bourne-shell examples side-by-side; most of the other shell books focus only on csh/tcsh or sh/bash, but not both.
Unix Power Tools
I rarely need this book -- but when I do, I need it desperately. This is a collection of UNIX tips and tricks written by serious UNIX experts.
Programming Perl
The primary scripting language that I use for system administration tasks is Perl. This book taught me the language, and is still my primary reference. Click on the link to learn why this is called the "camel book." I also find the Perl Cookbook to be useful.
sed & awk
Sometimes Perl is overkill for a quick bit of text manipulation; sometimes I have to understand the use of sed or awk in someone's script. This is the book to which I refer.
Mastering Regular Expressions
This is one of those topics that first seems enormously complicated, then seems very simple, then grows to be enormously complicated again. There turns out to be more to regular expressions than typing "s/Bill/William/g" in some Perl program; I learned at least one new (and potentially useful) trick for every three pages of this book I read. An esoteric subject, to be sure, but useful for a sysadmin.

Unix links


Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

I am a major SF fan. This set of book links is divided into:

Science Fiction Novels

In my opinion, these are the ten best science fiction books ever written. They are listed in alphabetical order by author.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
This book established the Three Laws of Robotics which set the stage for all SF to follow.
The Foundation Trilogy: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation
by Isaac Asimov
These three books tell one continuous story, and so belong together. These books introduced the grand concept of psychohistory.
The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
The ultimate description of a telepathic society. If the police can read your mind, can you commit murder?
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
This forms a thematic pair with the previous book, in that it's the ultimate description of a society where people can teleport. The story of how one man's vengeance can transform a world.
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
I now consider this more fantasy than science fiction, but it was considered SF at the time it was published. A poetic tale of the exploration, colonization, exploitation, and abandonment of Mars.
Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke
Humanity is transformed and matures -- but not in a way that we would have chosen.
Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
This is a travelogue through an alien spaceship, its source and destination unknown. This book captures the sense of discovery for which every scientist strives.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
The story of a revolution of a colony from its parent -- but the parent is the Earth and the colonies are on the Moon. What big advantage does the Moon have that Earth cannot match?
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
This novel partly inspired the sexual revolution and thus transformed the 60s and 70s. Learn how to grok the essence.
Dune by Frank Herbert
This novel partly inspired the ecology movement of the 60s. An environment shapes the viewpoint of the culture that lives in it; this book shows how.
Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre
I normally don't care for post-holocaust novels, but I liked the description of the positive changes that might occur despite future disasters.
A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
As I read this novel, I kept saying, "What? No, he can't mean that... he does! What a concept!" A tale of a galactic society and a challenge that it faces.
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
The Hindu pantheon is brought to life, on a distant planet thousands of years in the future. A beautiful blending of old myths and new realities.

So there are thirteen books. Sorry, but I just couldn't leave any of them out.

Important: Just because I recommend a particular book does not mean I recommend any of its sequels. For example, I don't especially recommend any of Frank Herbert's subsequent Dune books; Isaac Asimov's later books that linked his Robot stories to his Foundation novels are not his best work; Alfred Bester's other novels don't come anywhere near the standards of the two listed above.

SF Web Links

Science Fiction Stories

All of the above books are presented as novels, even though some, such as The Foundation Trilogy and The Martian Chronicles, were originally written as separate stories and later collected together. However, I feel that the short story better illustrates the scope of ideas and vision that defines science fiction. I highly recommend the following anthologies, even though some of them are hard to get:

If you have the luck, energy, money, and time to read all the above anthologies, you'll have an excellent grasp of the range of SF up to the early 80s. Unfortunately, most of the SF anthologies published recently have all limited themselves in scope somehow, either in time ("Best of the Year" anthologies), theme (Alternate Presidents), or subject (Catfantastic). I don't recommend these books for a general study of SF.

On the strength of his reputation, I'll recommend these two books edited by David Hartwell: The Ascent of Wonder and Visions of Wonder. I've only read the first of these two, but they both should contain enough modern-era short stories to bring you up-to-date in the world of SF.

SF Web Links

Fantasy - Novels and Series

Science Fiction, as I've discussed above, has the short story as its smallest unit. In fantasy, the trilogy is the shortest unit.

Yes, that was sarcastic, but it seems to me that fantasy writers often try to duplicate the success of J. R. R. Tolkien simply by writing very long stories. In my opinion, most authors of multi-volume fantasy series don't understand why Tolkien succeeded: it isn't that he wrote a three-volume novel, it's that he created a legend.

With that in mind, here's my take on the best of fantasy:

J. R. R. Tolkien
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King) have, for better or worse, defined the standard of high fantasy for the 20th century. I'm glad that Tolkien set such a high standard. He started with his own language, he created a race that spoke it (elves), he created a world for his race to live (Middle-Earth), and he created the legends of that world. Most importantly, he put into that world a race of people with whom the modern age could identify: the Hobbits.

After the King, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, is a fitting tribute to Tolkien and, to give lie to my sarcasm, is a good introduction to the fantasy short story.

Bridge of Birds
This novel by Barry Hughart is, in my opinion, the best fantasy novel written in the 1980s (but see the next entry). It's filled with action, adventure, romance, legend, drama, humor, and beauty. China was never like the world he describes, and the world is poorer for it. Hughart wrote two successor novels to Bridge of Birds, The Story of the Stone and Eight Skilled Gentlemen; these suffer from the flaw of merely being excellent and therefore pale in comparison to the first book.
Little, Big
When I wrote that Bridge of Birds was the best fantasy novel written in the 1980's, I had not yet read Little, Big. I cannot say which is better; they are both excellent yet different novels. The former emphasizes action, adventure, and romance; the latter brings to vivid life the timelessness of the world of Fairie. I was in tears when I finished this book -- and for the next two weeks I kept going back and re-reading the last five pages. This book is magical.
The King of Ys
Poul and Karen Anderson wrote this four-volume novel. In my opinion, this is the best multi-volume fantasy story published in the 1980s. In our modern times, the Breton legend of Ys is overshadowed by tales of King Arthur, Robin Hood, and myths of the Greek gods and heroes. The Andersons pulled the story of Ys out of obscurity and expanded it into a compelling tale. Somewhere, Ys still lies under the waves.
The Tales of Thomas Covenant
Steven R. Donaldson has written two trilogies about the anti-hero Covenant and his relationship with The Land: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever (Lord Foul's Bane, The Illearth War, and The Power That Preserves), and The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (The Wounded Land, The One Tree, and White Gold Wielder).

Covenant is not an easy character to like: he is forced to deny the existence of a fantasy world, The Land, for if he falls into the delusion of mis-belief he might rot away from leprosy. As a twelve-stepper, I feel sympathy for Covenant, for I too would face the same dilemma: if I were forced into a fantasy universe where my addiction would have no consequences, I could not risk the perils of insanity by believing wholly in the new world. Read it for the language, read it for the imagery, read it for the ugliness, or read it for the beauty -- but I recommend that you read it.

Steven Brust
It's my practice to buy all the books by this author as soon as they're published. He's best known for his series about Vlad Taltos: Jhereg, Yendi, Teckla, Taltos, Phoenix, Athyra, and Orca. Other works in the same universe as the above series are Brokedown Palace, The Phoenix Guards, and Five Hundred Years After. Other books I can recommend are The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars and Agyar (which I did not intend to read in a single setting, but which I couldn't put down).

The best thing I can say about Brust's work is that he doesn't like to repeat himself; each book is different from his others, either in theme, plot, or style. Vlad does not remain a happy camper as his series progresses; The Phoenix Guards is written in the style of Dumas; Agyar is not a nice person. Be prepared for many surprises, and keep a watch for Devera.

Tim Powers
If I had to do a "ten best" of fantasy, The Anubis Gates would be on it. Powers is another author whose books I buy as soon as they come out. Other good books by Powers include Last Call, Expiration Date, and Earthquake Weather.

To understand Power's work, it may also help to read up on the poet William Ashbless.

SF Web Links


Books on Paganism and Magic

I've read many good books on paganism (and quite a few lousy ones). All the books below are good ones.

Pagan Web Links


The ability to order books via these web links is provided in association with Amazon.com.
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