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
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.
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.
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
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
You're Joking, Mr. Feynman and
Do You Care What Other People Think? contain fascinating tidbits about
A biography, Genius:
The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, was written by James Gleick.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
The Alpha anthologies were edited by Robert
Silverberg, and contain many excellent stories that have not been
anthologized anywhere else. If you find any of them in a used bookstore,
pick them up. Amazon lists
Alpha One contains two of the best short stories in SF: The Moon Moth
by Jack Vance, and For a Breath I Tarry by Roger Zelazny.
Great Short Novels of Science Fiction, also edited by Robert
Silverberg, contains many good stories. In particular, Beyond Bedlam
is the best SF novella I've ever read.
If you want the story that packs the greatest emotional wallop
in the fewest words possible, I'd pick The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas
by Ursula K. Le Guin. I believe it's collected in
Wind's Twelve Quarters.
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.
Science Fiction, as I've discussed above, has the short story as its smallest
unit. In fantasy, the trilogy is the
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
Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
Fellowship of the Ring,
Two Towers, and
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
of that world. Most importantly, he put into that world a race of people
with whom the modern age could identify: the Hobbits.
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
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.
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.
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
Ys is overshadowed by tales of
Robin Hood, and myths
of the Greek gods and
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
Illearth War, and
That Preserves), and
The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
One Tree, and
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.
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:
Other works in the same universe as the above series are
Phoenix Guards, and
Hundred Years After. Other books I can recommend are
Sun, the Moon, and the Stars and
(which I did not intend to read in a single setting, but which I couldn't
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.
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
To understand Power's work, it may also help to read up on the poet William Ashbless.
Wicca Covens by
Judy Harrow describes the issues associated with organizing a group of Witches. It's definitely
an advanced work, and not for the beginner -- but you may want to buy it now, before it goes
out of print.
If you believe that modern Witchcraft is a tradition that extends into the mists of
pre-history, you may not after you read Ronald Hutton's
Triumph of the Moon.
This is the best scholarly history on the development of modern paganism that I've read. Again,
this is not a book for the beginner, unless you are advanced enough to absorb both
myth and reality into the same personal universe.
Elements of Ritual by Deborah Lipp is an excellent
description of why Wiccans do what they do in ritual. (Full
disclosure requires me to state that I was one of Deborah's students.)
All the books by Janet and Stewart Farrar are well-researched and well-written.
Here are a few I've read (don't skip over a book by the Farrars
just because it's not on my list!):
The following fiction books by Fortune describe how people's lives can be changed in a
positive way by pagan spirituality. They illustrate how "magic" can be
used for self-improvement, and that it need not be a search for power or
multimedia special effects.