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Books that Changed Your Life? 311

Posted by Cliff
from the words-that-inspire dept.
Pubb asks: "I'm a Computer Science teacher at a school with an interesting tradition. Every year, the graduating student who has performed best in a particular subject area is given a book prize. Rather than give this particular student the usual book on Java or Linux, I would like to get something more impactful. I ask you, fellow Slashdot readers, to name the books that helped unleash your geek within. All I ask is that the book be reasonably available, even if it is no longer in print."
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Books that Changed Your Life?

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  • Godel, Escher, Bach (Score:5, Informative)

    by epsalon (518482) * <slash@alon.wox.org> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @08:38PM (#9627723) Homepage Journal
    an Eternal Golden Braid [amazon.com].

    A must book for anyone serious about CS.
    • A good Computer Science program will cover everything in GEB with more depth and without all the stupid-writing-tricks and dumbing down that Hofstadter employs. As someone who forced myself through GEB (to see what all the fuss was about) after graduating from a good CS program, I would describe it as a must-read book only for highschool-educated Perl hackers without any exposure to theoretical computing.
      • by wayne606 (211893) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @08:57PM (#9627862)
        GEB is not a book for anybody with a technical college education. I don't think I could manage to read it again myself after a PhD in CS. I did read it when I was 16, though, and I thought it was the most amazing thing I ever read, and it convinced me I wanted to study math and CS in college.

        So I agree with your last sentence, I guess. There is a place for "inspirational" technical books like GEB and to say "just read Knuth instead" is missing the point by a mile.
      • There's a similar problem with Cryptonomicon, too; post-Masters Degree, the nifty diversions are merely tedious (and I didn't find enough left over to hold the book together).

        I'd go with an ultra-classic: The Mythical Man Month or the Knuth books, depending on budget. Most everything else will be controversial or covered by cirriculum (almost added Design Patterns but that is in at least some cirricula and loses a lot of its lustre in dynamic languages).
        • The Cryptonomicon is a fabulous book, in the same vein i'd suggest Foucaults' Pendulum.

          A lot of people find both books tedious, but I found them both to be rip roaring adventures with an extra moderation of +insightful
        • I would second the Mythical Man Month in the strongest form.

          If you want to help that computer science student to survive the real world, at least let him read about the things nobody accepts but all know in ther heart before being hit with it.

          On the same vein: give him a coupon for 'The Dealine' by Tom deMarco, only to be cashed in after he has failed his first project through management interference. He won't believe the things PHBs do beforehand anyway.

          I would assume that your school trains him in a

      • A good Computer Science program will cover everything in GEB with more depth and without all the stupid-writing-tricks and dumbing down that Hofstadter employs.

        As someone who greatly enjoyed GEB, and as someone who became a professional programmer without (much) of a standard Computer Science education, let me offer you a challenge: give those of us without the benefit of your education a chapter-by-chapter (or concept-by-concept) breakdown -- or, better since you complain of Hofstadter "dumbing down", a
      • A good Computer Science program will cover everything in GEB with more depth and without all the stupid-writing-tricks and dumbing down that Hofstadter employs. As someone who forced myself through GEB (to see what all the fuss was about) after graduating from a good CS program, I would describe it as a must-read book only for highschool-educated Perl hackers without any exposure to theoretical computing.

        *GROAN*

        I couldn't disagree more. To me, Gödel, Escher, Bach is not a book about theoretical c

    • by AKnightCowboy (608632) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:14PM (#9627976)
      A must book for anyone serious about CS.

      Also, I highly suggest "The Big Book of Masturbation" by Martha Cornog for students looking to pursue an advanced CS degree.

    • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <(tms) (at) (infamous.net)> on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @12:28AM (#9629113) Homepage

      For "books that changed my life", I'd recommend instead The Mind's I [amazon.com] by Hofstadter and Dennett. It was used as the text for the philosophy class I took my freshman year in college; I can still remember the day when, bored at my part-time campus job, I flipped through it to find Smullyan's Is God a Taoist? [mit.edu], which forever cleared up for me the whole question of free will versus determinism:

      Mortal: Anyway, it is reassuring to know that my natural intuition about having free will is correct. Sometimes I have been worried that determinists are correct.

      God: They are correct.

      Mortal: Wait a minute now, do I have free will or don't I?

      God: I already told you you do. But that does not mean that determinism is incorrect.

      Mortal: Well, are my acts determined by the laws of nature or aren't they?

      God: The word determined here is subtly but powerfully misleading and has contributed so much to the confusions of the free will versus determinism controversies. Your acts are certainly in accordance with the laws of nature, but to say they are determined by the laws of nature creates a totally misleading psychological image which is that your will could somehow be in conflict with the laws of nature and that the latter is somehow more powerful than you, and could "determine" your acts whether you liked it or not. But it is simply impossible for your will to ever conflict with natural law. You and natural law are really one and the same.

      Mortal: What do you mean that I cannot conflict with nature? Suppose I were to become very stubborn, and I determined not to obey the laws of nature. What could stop me? If I became sufficiently stubborn even you could not stop me!

      God: You are absolutely right! I certainly could not stop you. Nothing could stop you. But there is no need to stop you, because you could not even start! As Goethe very beautifully expressed it, "In trying to oppose Nature, we are, in the very process of doing so, acting according to the laws of nature!" Don't you see that the so-called "laws of nature" are nothing more than a description of how in fact you and other beings do act? They are merely a description of how you act, not a prescription of of how you should act, not a power or force which compels or determines your acts. To be valid a law of nature must take into account how in fact you do act, or, if you like, how you choose to act.

      Mortal: So you really claim that I am incapable of determining to act against natural law?

      God: It is interesting that you have twice now used the phrase "determined to act" instead of "chosen to act." This identification is quite common. Often one uses the statement "I am determined to do this" synonymously with "I have chosen to do this." This very psychological identification should reveal that determinism and choice are much closer than they might appear. Of course, you might well say that the doctrine of free will says that it is you who are doing the determining, whereas the doctrine of determinism appears to say that your acts are determined by something apparently outside you. But the confusion is largely caused by your bifurcation of reality into the "you" and the "not you." Really now, just where do you leave off and the rest of the universe begin? Or where does the rest of the universe leave off and you begin? Once you can see the so-called "you" and the so-called "nature" as a continuous whole, then you can never again be bothered by such questions as whether it is you who are controlling nature or nature who is controlling you. Thus the muddle of free will versus determinism will vanish.

    • by BobTheJanitor (114890) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @12:33AM (#9629141) Homepage
      You might also consider Metamagical Themas (Amazon [amazon.com], Alibris [alibris.com]), also by Hofstadter. I took Intro to CS I & II at Grinnell College while in high school, and my first professor [grin.edu] gave it to me as a high school graduation present.

      I would say without a doubt that it has had a profound effect on the way I think about programming and CS as a whole. It's about CS only as much as it is about logic, math, puzzles, reasoning, music, philosophy, and life. It's one of the most well-worn books in my library, and reading it always renews my passion to learn, to explore, to see CS as a road that's worth exploring, not as just a quick way to get from point A to point B.

  • Twenty years dated, but still the exquisite geek work and lifestyle story.
  • You know, it might be english class Fodder, but Fahrenheit 451 is a book that every kid should seriously *read*, on their own, and not in a class.

    Seriously, it's one of the best lessons you could give a kid in today's world. A nice hardcover would be the perfect addition to a book collection or a great novel to start a love of reading.

    My one other recommendation, though esoteric and perhaps more suited to my interests, would be "Descartes Error", by Damasio. It's a book about the tie between logic and emotion in the human brain, and reads like a novel (a non-neurologist could easily read it). I highly recommend it.
    • I'd love to be in your English class.

      In my class all we read was shit like Macbeth, Of Mice and Men, Sense and Sensibility, Lord of the Flies etc...

      Oh wait, those aren't shit.
    • In no particular order:

      Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey
      Corliss Lamont's The Philosophy of Humanism
      Herman Wouk's This Is My God
      Chaim Potok's My Name Is Asher Lev
      B. F. Skinner's Beyond Freedom & Dignity
      Isaac Bashevis Singer's In My Father's Court
      Edward O. Wilson's On Human Nature
      Isaac Asimov's Guide to the Bible: The Old and New Testaments
      Leo Rosten's Joys of Yiddish
      Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained
      Howard Fast's The Jews: Story of a People
      Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian
      Bertrand
  • by UnknownSoldier (67820) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @08:42PM (#9627750)
  • by benjamindees (441808) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @08:48PM (#9627795) Homepage
    ...that is all. :-)
  • by jtev (133871)
    A true icon of what our culture is, what we hope, and what we fear. Some parts read a little oddly with the way technology realy went, but all in all a great book.
  • by contrasutra (640313) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @08:53PM (#9627830) Journal
    I know this isn't exactly computer based, but this is one of the many books that changed my life. Wilde discusses what it is like to be different, the meaning of sin, and how evil it is to be shallow. I think the last point is the most important. I consider geeks to be generally pretty deep people who care about rights, the world, etc. It's hard fighting this sometimes, and Dorian Gray gives a great representation of the "other side" (the shallow elite).

    It also gives Wilde's brilliant opinions on what the meaning of Art is. Basically, in a time when so many people are asking "Why are we here", Wilde gives an answer. Obviously you may not agree with him later, but damned if you don't believe while reading it.

    It's hard to explain Wilde's writing in a short comment. His writing is full, beautiful, and has endless amounts of wit. It is the perfect "life changer" for a geek.

    Just a couple of quotes from Dorian Gray(taken from Wikipedia):
    "Now, the value of an idea has nothing whatsoever to do with the sincerity of the man who expresses it. Indeed, the probabilities are that the more insincere the man is, the more purely intellectual will the idea be, as in that case it will not be coloured by either his wants, his desires, or his prejudices."


    "To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable."

    This is a hard topic for me, as I'm an avid reader, I could come up with 20 books off the topic of my head to suggest.
  • by bwhaley (410361) <spam4ben AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @08:53PM (#9627831)
    Anyone remotely interested in science should check out A Short History of Nearly Everything [amazon.com] by Bill Bryson. What a great book to learn about all aspects of science. Well-written, informative, and interesting all at once.

    - Ben
  • By Douglas Hofstadter

    If you've read it, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, words fail me -- just go buy it.
  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @08:55PM (#9627846) Homepage Journal
    Well besides the scriptures which in a public school/college setting should not be given as a reward I would have to say.
    Fahrenheit 451 (which was on the restricted reading list at my jr High and High School.)
    Brave New World (also on the list)
    1984 (Yep on the list)
    and I Robot.
    • Fahrenheit 451 (which was on the restricted reading list at my jr High and High School.)
      I find it ironic that a book about preventing people from reading books was on a restricted reading list at a school.
      • Yes it was. You had to get your parrents permision to read a book from the list. My mother told them I could read anything I wanted. I found "Brave New World" to be the most interesting. What a great anti drug and anti casual sex book. The idea of using sex and drugs to control a population struck a deep cord in me. Sounded way to much like High School.
    • Ay my high school Farenheit 451 was on the required reading list, along with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

      A number of other books were also required. The only reason I remember those is that they are listed on the The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 [ala.org]
  • the little schemer (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sdedeo (683762) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @08:55PM (#9627852) Homepage Journal
    The Little Schemer [neu.edu], a very unusual book on LISP (well, OK, on Scheme, but close enough.) It is a fun read, written in a sort of oddball Socratic method style, and it also has a sequel, the Seasoned Schemer.

    A really good introduction, I think, for someone who is interested in more "theoretical" aspects of computer science; what you learn from that book is directly applicable to CS, but also mathematics, analytic styles of philosophy, &c.. Another way to look at it is as a more advanced, and more technical, companion to Godel, Escher, Bach.

  • by Wee (17189) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @08:58PM (#9627866)
    Lately I've been into cooking. Blame it on Alton and Good Eats. I could have used some food knowledge after I got out of college.

    Right now, I'm reading Salt: A World History [amazon.com] by Mark Kurlansky. It's the history of the world as told by salt. Salt, it seems, was the petroleum of the ancient world. Venice, for example, was founded on considerable wealth generated mostly from salt. British salt was ballast in slave ships, making one third of the voyage to the New World and creating a entire economy in the Caribbean. The Romans were paid in salt, which they called 'sal'. It's from this that we get the modern word 'salary'. And a Roman salad was lettuce/veg with oil and salt.

    In that same vein, you've got another hell of a book in Robert Wolke's What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained [amazon.com]. It's basically excerpts from Wolke's "Food 101" column in the Washington Post, but they make for fascinating reading.

    I've also got Alton's books. I'm Just Here for the Food [amazon.com] is a great intro to the why's and how's of cooking.

    If your student winners aren't into food, you might try the latest volume in Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, The Confusion [amazon.com]. Although in case they haven't read Quicksilver [amazon.com], you might want to get that as well, and maybe give them both as a set. At a little over 1,700 pages, if they don't find a job right away, they'll have something to occupy their time this summer.

    You could also give them a gift certficate from your local book seller. Maybe put it in a nice card that everyone can sign?

    -B

    • Forget the Stephenson books and go with either Snow Crash (if you're going to stick with Stephenson; MUCH better book than his other works) or something a little more interesting like Foucault's Pendulum (Umberto Eco) or The Club Dumas (Arturu Perez-Reverte) - both belong to a strange genre known as metafiction-noir ("dark" books about books). Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is wordy, clumsy, and too self-aggrandising to enjoy.
  • Zen, Gita, C, Forth (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jhoger (519683) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @08:58PM (#9627868) Homepage
    For a Programmer:

    Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
    The Baghavad Gita
    The C Programming Language
    Thinking Forth
    • I've got to know: why the Gita?

      I mean, I love it, but why for programmers?
      • by jhoger (519683) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:56PM (#9628249) Homepage
        I'm not sure I want to dissect it too much... for those who haven't, read it, grok it, you'll find out why you read it later (you might try reading after fasting, then right after reading it, watch Groundhog's Day... don't ask, just do).

        One aspect is that of Right Action. The Gita teaches us to follow the path of Right Action without Desire for the particular end. This has direct applications in engineering. Why must I spend my time testing and documenting? I hate it it's boring. Don't desire for the testing and documentation phase to end. Just do what you're supposed to do.

        When you look across the battle lines and see your QA and Management families lined up, and you understand that you must put them through extensive pain in the war we call a Release, don't worry about it. Just do what you are Supposed to do.

        Sorry if this sounds a little metaphysical. It is also probably Wrong in some ways. But grok it anyway I promise it will help.
    • Finally, someone mentioned Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I am shocked it hasn't been mentioned sooner. This book provides the best description of what it is like inside the mind of an engineer. Perhaps slashdot is too focused on programmers for people to appreciate a masterpiece of engineering.
      • This book provides the best description of what it is like inside the mind of an engineer.
        I don't have my copy handy, and maybe the haze of a decade or so is too cloudy to see through, but isn't it also a tale about dealing with mental illness and the perspective that comes with middle-age?
        • I don't have my copy handy, and maybe the haze of a decade or so is too cloudy to see through, but isn't it also a tale about dealing with mental illness and the perspective that comes with middle-age?

          It probably is. Fortunately, I have not yet reached middle age, and I tend to be oblivious to my own mental ilnesses, so I probably missed these parts of the book completely.

          Actually, when I was reading the book, I though of the mental illness part as a sort of cop-out: like when a movie ends with someo
      • That's not how I read it.

        I saw it more as explaining how Western Philosophy, which is the basis of science, including computer science and programming shapes our thinking about problems.

        Phaedrus pursues this "break everything into smaller provable pieces" way of thinking till he separates himself from his own cultural mythos.

        It is by his own intellectual excess that he ends up no longer eating and sitting in a pool of his own piss.

        To me it is both a manual about how to think, but also a cautionary tale
  • Henry David Thoreau.

    A really potent one, that.

  • If you're feeling educational, Game Development and Production [amazon.com] by Erik Bethke.

    If, on the other hand, you're feeling like motivating people, how about Nickel and Dimed, on (not) Getting by in America [amazon.com]. Excellent read, and likely to make them study twice as hard in college.
  • by Ruis (21357) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:06PM (#9627924)
    The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason changed my entire concept of money and how to use it. It contains all the stuff you wish someone would have taught you growing up. It is written in parable form and is short and easy to read and understand, yet contains some very inspired text. Amazon Link [amazon.com]
  • HHGTG & 1984 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hes Nikke (237581) <slashdot AT gotnate DOT com> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:07PM (#9627925) Journal
    on one end of the spectrom, i have HitchHikers Guide To The Galaxy.
    on the other i have 1984.

    take your pick :)
  • canly yout reconfabulate your'e questionarium?

  • Depending on the personality of the student, they may get a kick out of the 11 books that inspired Robert Heinlein, Carl Sagan, and basically a whole generation of scientists and writers.

    I'm talking about The Martian Tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs (starting with "A Princess of Mars"). While giving a set of 11 paperbacks is not special, if you found early printings, with the pulp style illustrated covers, it could be a gift with historical significance.

    They're not, by any means, based on science, but the s
  • Udo Erasmus' monumental tome Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill [udoerasmus.com] is an extensive discussion about all aspects of a healthy diet and nutrition. This book cuts through all the double-speak and bullshit marketing about what is healthy and what is not. Although the emphasis is on fats, the book goes into a discussion about macronutrients (e.g., proteins, carbs), micronutrients (e.g., vitamins, minerals), and the other things you never hear about from reading the newspaper (e.g., prostaglandans). The level of deta

  • Edsgar Dijkstra's A Discipline of Programming.

    David Gries' Science of Programming.

    Kernighan & Plauger's Software Tools.

    Frank Harary's Graph Theory.

    Haven't checked them, but Dijkstra and K&P are certainly still in print.
  • by woobieman29 (593880) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:11PM (#9627966)
    1) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. The meaning of "Quality" and the importance and joy of doing things to the best of ones ability are good lessons to learn at a young age.

    2) The Age of Spiritual Machines, or just about anything by Ray Kurzweil. Help them develop their geek blueprint for what they want to accomplish with their life.

    3) Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. This is a tough one for some people though. Some people that have grown up thinking that self interest automatically is bad, while altruism is automatically good, and a lot of these people will despise the message in this book. That's unfortunate, as this book is one title that people consistently mention when asked what their favorite book is.

    • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. This is a tough one for some people though. Some people that have grown up thinking that self interest automatically is bad, while altruism is automatically good, and a lot of these people will despise the message in this book. That's unfortunate, as this book is one title that people consistently mention when asked what their favorite book is.

      The reason that they mention it as their favorite book is that it allows them to feel superior to others, while simulitaniously justify
      • Rand (Score:2, Interesting)

        by dpilot (134227)
        Never read Atlas Shrugged, though I did read The Fountainhead. A guy down the hall Freshman year in college was a Rand fan, which got me to the point of reading one. Shortly later, I began reading Atlas Shrugged, and it seemed like same story, same characters, different setting.

        Funny thing about Rand Fans, "Let's all be individualists, just like Ayn Rand." Perhaps that's unfair of me. Second thing about Ayn Rand, I once saw a picture of her, in a 'leisure setting.' Perhaps she had once suffered and worked
  • by bob_dinosaur (544930) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:15PM (#9627988)
    Douglas Coupland - Microserfs was extremely important to me. It made me aware of the pitfalls awaiting the unwary software engineer, and so I left University determined to ensure I maintained a sensible balance between my working and social lives.

    It's done wonders for my mental state and, not coincidentally, the quality of my work.

    There's lots of other good books mentioned in this thread too, so good luck trying to choose just one! That said, make sure that whatever you get is a nice hardcover edition.
  • Theaetetus (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CiceroLove (323600) <greg@citizenstrange . c om> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:16PM (#9627992) Homepage
    by Plato. A discussion of the nature of knowledge and the ways in which we know what we know. This book has proven to be absolutely indispensable for my work as a programmer. Rigorous mental discipline with an eye toward tearing down what we think we know to understand how to know is not only good practice for designing applications but also for life in general. I give it to all my student-aged friends.
  • Wow... I second the The Godel Escher Bach reference... but if you are looking for something more 'career' oriented:

    1) The Pragmatic Programmer
    2) After the Gold Rush (out of print, readily available, and about to come out in a second edition)
  • by xagon7 (530399) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:21PM (#9628025)
    By Morris Kline

    This 1960s text is one of the drue diamonds in the rough for me.

    I had advanced math, and science all thruogh high school, like many fellow slashdotters, but this book REALLY put all the pieves together.

    It is a fantastic read of the history of math, and HOW we got to where were are. It begins with the concept of zero, axioms of truth, and how these truths are built upon... all the way through calculus.

    It is an absloutly fascinating text, that really awakened me to the world of abstract mathematics, their buildings from basic truths, the realization that we STILL have a long way to go, and there is still a bleeding edge of mathematics.

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/04 86 248232/qid=1089163233/sr=1-4/ref=sr_1_4/104-478919 4-2901520?v=glance&s=books
  • Bertrand Russell (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Goo.cc (687626) *
    "Why I Am Not A Christian" by Bertrand Russell (ISBN: 0-671-20323-1); a rational work.
  • Dianetics (Score:5, Funny)

    by MarsDefenseMinister (738128) <dallapieta80@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:22PM (#9628033) Homepage Journal
    by L. Ron Hubbard. It's much easier to avoid the potholes of life if you know what a pothole looks like. Dianetics is truly what I'd recommend if you want to curl up on a winter evening by a nice warm fire. My copy burned for about 20 minutes!


  • by Sun Tzu.

    If you can apply the techniques of war to business, you'll be off to a great start.

    Some things are very obvious (divide and conquer), and others are not (however, they are just as intriquing).
  • by zoloto (586738) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:27PM (#9628066)
    we don't even RTFA and you expect us to give you BOOK SUGGESTIONS?

    you must be new here, right? /jab
  • Completely useless in the real world, but De Re Atari, published in 1982 is one of those rare examples of what a comptuer book should be like. In depth details on the atari computer, yet somehow still fun to read!

    I'm sure you can find other classics.

  • by dpilot (134227) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:30PM (#9628088) Homepage Journal
    I was just at the end of second grade, and *really* into submarines. My neighbor was two years older than me, and made fun of me for getting "little kids' two-page books" when we went to the bookmobile. So early that Summer, I got another age-appropriate book about submarines, but I also got 20,000 Leagues. It took me most of the Summer and several renewals, but I was determined to read that book. To be honest, quite a bit of it zoomed over my head, too. But I read the whole thing.

    A good lesson in stick-to-it-ivness, and it helped launch my life-long interest in Science Fiction, which helped launch my interest and career in technology, as an engineer.

    As a bad side-effect, I never looked at any of the many 20,000 Leagues movies quite the same, after that book, since none I've seen were truly faithful. (Most tried to hint at nuclear power, instead of really good batteries, etc.)

    I really ought to reread the book, some time. For all the books I've read and re-read, I've never re-read that one.
  • By John Gribbin got me started in science. It's a bit light on the math and is somewhat non technical but pretty much covers the entire history of astronomy, the problems faced at each stage of discovery and how they were overcome.

    For me it was a kind of aventure story whose protagonists were the scientists struggling to understand the meaning behind their observations. And how the next generation always builds on the discoveries of the previous.

    You learn how we began to measure distance in the universe,
  • His Fantasy Fictions works, particularly, his "Elric" series, with their innovative "Multiverse" theme challenged me greatly in my formative years.
  • Green Eggs and Ham! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 0racle (667029) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:33PM (#9628110)
    I'm not joking, its still a favorite of mine for some reason.

    Ok maybe it was a little bit of a joke, but something light, enjoyable and has absolutely nothing to do with anything at all is a better gift then something thats meant to teach. People need to relax more, when I've just finished a course, the last thing I want is more reading material on the exact same subject, and I always hate people that give gifts with the attitude, 'this helped me, learn from it.' Maybe I do need to learn more, but I do it on my own time. If you give someone more and more heavy material without a break, they're going to burn out or ignore it all, either way it means very little.
  • Microserfs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by blackcoot (124938) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:36PM (#9628136)

    microserfs [mccormick.com] by doug coupland [coupland.com] is by far one of my favorite books of all time. i read it my sophomore year of high school and even now it still resonates strongly with me. actually, i really like almost all his books (particularly all families are psychotic [amazon.com], hey nostradamus! [amazon.com], and generation x [amazon.com]).

    i have a hard time expressing just how profound an effect doug coupland's work has had on me microserfs was the book that cemented my decision to major in c.s. for the first time in my life there was a book with characters who i could actually relate to. looking back now, a lot of the technological details seem a bit quaint, but it is still a really excellent read.

    • and this is the danger of multi-tasking (also, not previewing) --- the real link is here [amazon.com]. the lesson, dear kiddies: never discuss cooking shrimp with people who don't know what old bay seasoning is while writing posts for /.

  • by moonboy (2512)
    A wonderful book!!

    Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution [amazon.com]
    by Steven Levy
  • by identity0 (77976) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:41PM (#9628157) Journal
    A good geek should know about the ones that came before, and learn from their mistakes and triumphs. Some books on geek history:

    In The Beginning Was The Command Line [cryptonomicon.com] by Neal Stephenson is a good overview of the culture of Linux, Macintosh, Be, and Microsoft in essay form. I've given it to non-computer geeks to teach them about Linux, and why it's different from windows. He talks about how modern society tries to impose a false image over everything to make things easier to deal with(like Disney) and compares that to the GUI vs. CLI differences. I don't agree with everything he says, but Stephenson is definitely a great writer, and he has the book available free at the link I put in.

    Hackers by Steven Levy covers important epochs of the hacker culture, from its beginning at MIT to game developers in the 80s. It even has a chapter on Stallman starting GNU! A must-read for any geek.
  • Siddhartha (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fuzzle (590327) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:41PM (#9628158) Homepage Journal
    Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse. It's just one of those books everyone should read.
  • by sameb (532621) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:44PM (#9628178) Homepage
    Philosphy: Meditations (Descarte)

    Science: The Elegant Universe (Green)

    Language: Orality & Literacy (Ong)

    Descarte was one of the first philosphers to discuss the quandry about a "thinking machine", mentioning the problem in viewing a machine dressed up in a hat -- can we consider it human?

    The Elegant Universe is a brilliant read on string theory, which is just an utterly amazing concept (down to the quantum theory level).

    Orality & Literacy describes how a cultures that have a written language will evolve differently than those who only speak. It examines how an oral society will not consider an "oak" tree to be anything similiar to a "pine" tree, because the concept of a "tree" doesn't exist. Literacy brings about abstractions.

    I also recommend that you look at an older slashdot article Books on Programming Theory [slashdot.org] for more books.
  • by KevinArchibald (728080) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @09:51PM (#9628216)
    If you at all interested in copyright, patents, open source, public domain, Internet, and the airwaves, this book is a well-written overview of these issues, along with suggested solutions to some of the problems involved. In paperback.
  • by CliffH (64518)
    Definately not a computer or technology related book, but it is a book that has shaped me into the man I am today. Even if it has absolutely nothing to do with your background (I'm African-American so it does have a bit to do with mine) it may spark some interest in wanting to delve into your family tree, may open your eyes to some things you take for granted day to day, or may just be a good read. The only thing I have to say is, do NOT take this book and feel that you may have to apologize for everything
  • Dr Seuss books are soo targetted at geeks, the good doctor taught me about wordplay and rhyme without reason.
  • Only one choice. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Txiasaeia (581598) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:10PM (#9628323)
    Neuromancer by William Gibson. Unleash the inner geek :) Best prose I've ever read, interesting plot, and cornerstone for an entire sub-genre. Of the sixty-odd books I've read in the past two years for various literature classes spanning seven centuries, Neuromancer was the best.

    Changed my life, in that it encouraged me to get a university degree in the first place, and continues to encourage me to get my PhD.

  • by Toxygen (738180) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:19PM (#9628381) Journal
    I know on the surface it looks like a simple read, but the book nails every aspect of conflict so precisely, but still stated in simple enough terms that can be easily applied to nearly any situation. I don't mean to make it sound like a self help book or anything of the sort, but when are we ever not fighting for what we want?
  • by Cranx (456394) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:19PM (#9628382)
    The Catcher in the Rye [amazon.com] by J.D. Salinger. A journey in coming to grips with the real world and finding your place in it.
  • by CaptainAbstraction (43162) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:24PM (#9628402)
    "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character
    and What Do You Care What Other People Think? both by Richard P. Feynman et al.

    Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy

    All three of these books I happened to have read between my sophomore and junior year of high school.

    These books changed my life because they provided accounts of people (geeks) pursuing their love of science/technology in a fiercely dedicated and independent way, all at a young age (you get early accounts of folks like Stallman, Gates, Jobs, Woz, etc. as 20-somethings in "Hackers") , and ended up making huge contributions to research/industry. You also get to hear about the enormous sacrifices, regrets, and risks taken (some succeeding, some failing), and ultimately an important perspective on the lives of some very smart and important characters in a way that I think is still relevant to graduating high school kids today.

    Best,
    Andrew
  • In reading the preceding suggestions, I see that the "merely" inspirational and entirely clever synthesis Godel, Escher, Bach is derided as too simplistic, and that engaging and revealing look at how engineers work, The soul of the New Machine is dismissed as "too depressing" -- I suppose for managers it is; for those to whom the thrill is in the journey rather than the Wall street Journal it continues to be uplifting.

    So I'll offer a suggestion that isn't blue-sky theorizing, but instead a hard-headed look
  • Here is a list of books, when read (and reread) and understood, each in context with the others, which will alter how you look at computers, mathematics, life, etc:
    • Out of Control - The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World by Kevin Kelly (ISBN 0-201-48340-8)
    • Emergence - The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson (ISBN 0-684-86875-X)
    • Linked - How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means For Business, Science, and Everyday Life by A
  • Best C reference: K&R (C Programming Language). The binding on mine wore
    out so I had it spiral bound. Now it lays flat. Should have done it sooner.

    Best reference for CS theory: The Art of Computer Programming. Only read this
    if you're serious about not just coding well, but elegantly in any language. Bonus points if
    you can keep from getting bogged down in volume 2.

    Greatest insight into how large corporations work: The Prince. I read this
    about once a year to maintain a healthy level of cynicism. Machiav
  • a good book... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Polo (30659) * on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:40PM (#9628502) Homepage
    I was in the bookstore getting books for a class a couple (ahem) of years back, and I noticed an optional text for a compsci course:

    "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" [amazon.com].

    Even though I wasn't taking that course, I was curious and bought the book. Once I opened it, I couldn't put it down.

    It is a an excellent look at curiosity and discovery, and a very funny book besides. The subject of the book, Physicist Richard Feynman, became a Nobel Prize winner.

    Just excellent.
  • The Soul Of A New Machine by Tracy Kidder.

    It was assigned in my computer architecture class. One of my favorite books, computer-related or otherwise. It's a book about a group of engineers working together to put together a new computer. It's great as a story about accomplishment and business, plus it's got lots of geekiness thrown in.

    And it won the Pulitzer.


  • Atyiah-MacDonald, Introduction to Commutative Algebra:

    Dym-McKean, Fourier Series and Integrals:

    Not exactly PC, but this is one's also a good read - it's the history of the world, as seen through the eyes of a tax collector:

  • First, read some fictional items - the following books should have you feeling pretty dreadful by the time you finish all of them:
    • George Orwell's 1984 (also read Animal Farm)
    • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
    • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
    • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
    • The Third Force by Marc Laidlaw

    Then, read some non-fiction - once you get through this list, you may become suicidal:

    • The Inquisition - Hammer of Heresy by Edward Burman
    • True Names and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier, edited by Ja

  • Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

    It changed my perspective in how I looked at the world. And eventually ended up buying a motorcycle of my own after reading it :)

  • I'll reiterate GEB, and here's a couple more:

    A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking
    The Principia, by Isaac Newton (find a good translation)
    Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin
    Six Easy Pieces and Six Not-so-Easy Pieces, by Richard Feynman (2 books) QED is also recommended. Also, an essay, "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom."
    The Art of Computer Programming, by Donald Knuth
    Engines of Creation, by Eric Drexler
    Design Patterns, by Gamma et al

    I seem to recall that one of Noam Chomsky's books on languag
  • by Big Sean O (317186) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @10:49PM (#9628553)
    Stephen Covey's First Things First [amazon.com]

    Truman Capote's In Cold Blood [amazon.com].

    Whaaaa?

    Stephen Covey is the best selling author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In First Things First he teaches a character-based (personal values, not ASCII) method of time management. It basically asks you to identify what things are absolutely important to you and asks you to commit to priorities that will make those goals happen in a way you can support. It sounds like Pointy-Headed Boss babble-speak, and it is to a point, but if you can separate the "Businessman's Book" vibe it becomes a simple way to ensure you're living the life you want to live.

    In Cold Blood is for a completely different reason. It's the first 'true crime novel', and quite possibly the best. It's part detective story, told from the point of view of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation police officers that tried to solve the brutal quadruple murder of the Clutter family in rural Kansas. It's also a psychological study of the two murderers: on the run, their capture, and execution.

    Truman Capote spent several years researching the crime. His childhood friend Harper Lee (the author of To Kill A Mockingbird) helped him with his research. He wrote a compelling character study that captures the times and the events beautifully and horribly.

    Both books are ones that aren't 'geek-lit 101', but they did change my life.
  • by lylonius (20917) on Tuesday July 06, 2004 @11:52PM (#9628932) Homepage
    the graduating student who has performed best in a particular subject area is given a book prize

    You seem to imply that there are multiple subject areas, so I'll list multiple books, broken down by subject.

    The assumption is that the student will actually want a copy of this book, which might not be the case with some other recommendations like The Art of War [amazon.com] or Gödel, Escher, Bach [amazon.com].

    Since the student is graduating, how about How Would You Move Mount Fuji? [amazon.com], by William Poundstone. It's subtitled "Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle - How the World's Smartest Company Selects the Most Creative Thinkers" and describes the roots of logic questions in interviews (specifically Microsoft's notoriously difficult interviews).

    Since you mentioned Java or Linux, we can probably assume that the student knows his Design Patterns and UNIX Power Tools. How about Hardware Hacking: Have Fun While Voiding Your Warranty [amazon.com], by Joe Grand, Ryan Russell, and Kevin Mitnick?

    Of course, it the student is a hardcore coder, you probably can't go wrong with the Art of Computer Programming, Volume 3 [amazon.com], Volume 2 [amazon.com], or Volume 1 [amazon.com], by Donald Knuth. Or if the student is an Open Source or Free Software zealot, then The Cathedral and the Bazaar [amazon.com] may be an obvious choice.
  • by esme (17526) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @01:38AM (#9629357) Homepage

    well, it might be a little far afield, but guns, germs and steel [amazon.com] is one of the few books i've read that dramatically changed my point-of-view about a lot of things all at once. it basically sets out to figure out why the disparities between different cultures and races exist.

    along the way, he draws from several diverse disciplines (botany, genetics, anthropology, archeology, etc), which is probably the most relevant facet of the book to the question -- it does a great job of showing how to use different approaches to solve problems.

    -esme

  • My List (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dubl-u (51156) * <2523987012.pota@to> on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @02:48AM (#9629566)
    In no particular order:Plus a number of other books mentioned here.

    Note that I don't necessarily believe everything in these books, but all of them provided me with important insights. Also, props to my 6502 assembler manual, long since turned to dust.
  • by erinacht (592019) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @05:06AM (#9629980) Homepage
    Your mileage may vary...
    A Practical Guide to Feature-Driven Development [amazon.com] by Stephen Palmer and John Felsing
    Reading _and_ using this one right now - has changed my whole approach to software development and delivery
    Code Complete [amazon.com] by Steve McConnell
    A common sense approach to software development - a bit dated nowadays and too rigid for real use, but excellent tips and tricks throughout - not language specific
    Designing With Web Standards [amazon.com] by Jeffrey Zeldman
    An excellent introduction into modern web markup, how to write markup once that will work everywhere - has literally changed my daily toil.
  • by miniver (1839) on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @12:45PM (#9633157) Homepage
    A Science Fiction Book Club Selection

    "When John Brunner first told me of his intention to write this book, I was fascinated -- but I wondered whether he, or anyone, could bring it off. Bring it off he has -- with cool brilliance. A hero with transient personalities, animals with souls, think tanks and survival communities fuse to form a future so plausibly alive it has twitched at me ever since."

    -- Alvin Toffler, Author of Future Shock

    He Was The Most Dangerous Fugitive Alive, But He Didn't Exist!

    Nickie Haflinger had lived a score of lifetimes...but technically he didn't exist. He was a fugitive from Tarnover, the high-powered government think tank that had educated him. First he had broken his identity code -- then he escaped.

    Now he had to find a way to restore sanity and personal freedom to the computerized masses and to save a world tottering on the brink of disaster.

    He didn't care how he did it...but the government did. That's when his Tarnover teachers got him back in their labs...and Nickie Haflinger was set up for a whole new education!

    One of my professors loaned me his copy of The Shockwave Rider in 1982. I don't know if this book changed my life, but it certainly made me think about how computers could (and should) be used. Written in 1975, John Brunner guessed wrong about the details of the technology, but scored a direct hit on the results of technology on society, and what it will mean for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the 21st century. This book was out of print for years, and it took me more than a decade of scowering used book stores to find a copy for myself -- I now have several copies so that I can lend them to others.

    Buy it from Amazon [amazon.com] or Barnes & Noble [barnesandnoble.com].

  • by anticypher (48312) <anticypherNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday July 07, 2004 @02:12PM (#9633998) Homepage
    From what I have on my bookshelf, books I have kept through many, many moves.

    Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman! Adventures of a curious character compiled by Ralph Leighton. I was handed this book the night before Feynman was scheduled to give a talk, and I consumed it all at one reading. I sat in awe during his speech, amazed at his wit and quick mind. Then a group of us went out to dinner with him, and sealed forever his place as one of the people I worship.

    The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. Both versions, the 1939 short story first published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, and the 1956 novel. One of the first books I read which explored profound societal changes caused by a discovery. He truly thought out the consequences of being able to jaunte, and the obsolescence of things like prisons, borders, and women's rights.

    The Lord of the Rings By some british guy. I heard they made it into a movie recently. The book which kicked off my interest in mythos, languages, and adventuring.

    1984 by Eric Blair, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Books I read when I was capable of understanding the perverse and twisted self-supporting arguments used by those in power to maintain their hold on tenuous authority.

    Starship Troopers by RAH. Again, a book about fascism, ultra-nationalism, and blind obedience to authority. Plus some cool weapons and tactics. This book opened my eyes how cool toys could be used to seduce young men to perform extreme acts without thinking about their actions or consequences.

    Harry Potter by JK Rowling. After reading the first two books, I realised how difficult it is to write easy reading prose, and I've never tried to write fiction since. I also like the carefully camouflaged deeper meanings, such as Aquinas' 7 virtues and vices, good/evil/lawful/chaotic house themes, use of latin and greek root words to betray the truth behind people, spells, and creatures.

    The Lensman Series by E. E. Doc Smith. First sci-fi books I picked up as a child, and forever fueled my imagination for space flight.

    The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene and The Kama Sutra, both are completely unconnected to the modern western world, but contain nuggets of knowledge hidden within. Both need to be read with an eye on how each situation can be translated into dealing with modern women. ESR's sex tips is a good, albeit stilted, distillation of these books translated into geek, for geeks.

    There are others, fun books like HHGTTG, and the Disc World series. But those haven't really changed my life other than as mild sources of humourous quotes.

    the AC

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