Book Reviews - nuwen.net

You see, I had my books. I would rather read

About this page:

I have 205 science and mathematics books. Well, at last count I did. Things got pretty disorganized my first year at Caltech. I tried to keep track of all the new books I bought, but I'll have to wait until sophomore year at Caltech before I can get a complete and accurate count of my books. Until then, I'll see if I can update this page some and complete the reviews I left languishing for so long. I exclude any fiction books (with a few exceptions) and also some excellent non-science books such as Dmitri Volkogonov's Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy. While formal education has given me concrete understandings of a narrow range of science and math topics (including equations and the ability to solve problems), the bulk of my knowledge about important concepts in science and mathematics (and the history of both) still comes from these books. Stuff like this has excellently prepared me for my education at Caltech. I wish to share this list of my favorite science books, not to brag (though they do make an impressive display, and covered over 4 shelves in my freshman room), but so that the reader may learn about these books and will be inclined to read them (at a library or by purchasing them) thereby increasing his or her own knowledge of mathematics and science. The acronyms SR, GR, and QM mean, respectively, Special Relativity, General Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics.

About the books:

All of these books deal with science or mathematics in one way or another, but most of them are not textbooks. Although I agree that mathematical content is great, it is still possible to learn the important concepts of almost all fields of science (and even mathematics itself) without delving into the actual equations that underlie our reality. You don't need to know what a tensor is to understand the basics of GR. Therefore, many of these books focus on explaining the concepts of science and mathematics to a reader who has a high level of conceptual ability and an interest in the subject but does not [necessarily!] have knowledge of tensors and differential geometry and other voodoo black arts. A select few focus on explaining all of science (for example, The Ascent of Science), while most focus on a single topic (The Exploding Suns). Therefore I have no recommended order in which to read these books. There probably isn't a best order, except to start with the easiest books and work from there. (My reviews ought to indicate the detail level of each book and how difficult it is to grasp; more of the former and less of the latter are good things, but hard to combine in a single book!) I personally have read and reread these books in an entirely haphazard fashion, but fortunately I started with some of the best books. A significant number of these books discuss historical developments in scientific and mathematical fields; it's important to understand where a science has been, in order to better understand where it is and where it's going. The subjects covered in this listing of books are quite diverse, as my interests are quite diverse: look at the Subject List for a summary. Quite simply, there is something here for everyone. And of course I can't expect anyone to purchase every book on this list, which would require a few thousand dollars. Pick and choose whatever's interesting! They are (somewhat arbitrarily) grouped by subject. Please feel free to E-mail me at stl@nuwen.net with any comments. Every book title (where appropriate) is a hyperlink to the book's review on this page. Tell me how you like it.

Stars:

Basically, one-to-five star ratings don't communicate what I need to say. If I used one-to-five star ratings, almost every book here would be five stars. So I've got additional ratings, up to nine stars. This is not rating inflation - it's because I haven't randomly selected the books on my bookshelf. They're already very good, and so levels beyond five stars are needed to communicate that. As for how you should treat the ratings five stars and beyond, anything five stars or higher is excellent (the number of bonus arrows, if any, merely notes how much the book goes beyond excellent) and you should probably read it if you're the least bit interested in the subject area of the book. And so, here are descriptions of the star ratings and what they mean:

Nine Stars! - An eight star rating, in effect, but given to The God Particle alone to assert its supremacy above all other books.

Eight Stars - Excellent beyond all words. A level that mere mortals can barely comprehend. Given to VERY few books. These are beyond must-read books. Examples are The Collapse of Chaos or Instant Physics. If you're wondering, a seven-star book is the best that it can be. It covers its subject area as well as possible. But an eight-star book does more: it opens your eyes to a new way of looking at the world. It sounds unbelievable, but that's how good eight-star books are.

Seven Stars - Supremely excellent. These are must-read books - a step beyond very excellent. Good examples include Artificial Life or Prisoner's Dilemma - they're awesome. It may seem that I have a rather large number of these books, but remember that my bookshelf is not a random sample of the books out there.

Six Stars - Very excellent. Gripping, interesting, informative, clear, and thoughtful. A step beyond mere excellence. It succeeds brilliantly at what it originally set out to achieve, and more. Probably the best example of a six-star book that doesn't quite reach seven stars is The Book of Numbers.

Five Stars - Excellent. Interesting, clear, and informative. Succeeds at what it sets out to achieve. Would-Be Worlds probably is a good example.

Four Stars - Good. Not a very gripping book, but sometimes worthy of rereading. A step above average. Interesting and informative, but not overly so. Probably a good example of a four-star book is Voyage to the Great Attractor: it's not bad enough to merit the wrath of three stars, but there's no way I could call it excellent.

Three Stars - Average. Informative, but not as clear as it should be or not as detailed as it should be. Isn't really worth reading many times over. This is noted rather rarely; usually three stars means the lowest I'll rate a book without it being of dubious quality. Probably a good example of such an "ehhh" book is Predicting the Future.

Two Stars - Highly dubious quality. These books cannot be recommended at this time until I read them for the first time or in more detail, in which case they'll be placed at the three-star level or demoted to the one-star level. The two books that best demonstrate a dubious two-star nature are Kaku's Hyperspace and Beyond Einstein. I'm very, very close to declaring those two to be crufy and bogus and toss them off of my bookshelf, but I'll need to read them to be certain.

One Star - Cruft. One-star ratings are not given to the books on my bookshelf for one simple reason: crufty books are taken off of my bookshelf. The only two books that have been placed on my bookshelf and later removed because I discovered their one-star, crufty nature were Silicon Snake Oil and Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point. Avoid these and similar brain-damaged books at all costs.

The highest rating is used once, and the lower levels aren't used as much - the one-star rating not at all, and the two-star rating rarely. (So there are really five levels used commonly: eight, seven, six, five, and four stars.) Forgive the somewhat non-standard nature of these ratings, but they best capture how good certain books are. The ratings mostly reflect the intrinsic nature of the book, but are of course influenced by my personal feelings about the book and the subject. The actual review below the rating should make this clear. Any ratings that you see in gray are an indication that the book is highly technical.

Subject List:


    The Number One Book To Read At All Costs:


  1. The God Particle by Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi
    Nine Stars
    Quite simply, this is my most favorite science book of all time. Leon Lederman, former director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory ("Fermilab") won the Nobel Prize for discovering the muon neutrino. In fact, I picked up my copy of The God Particle at Fermilab itself. The book, published in 1993, is somewhat dated in that it refers to the now-canceled Superconducting Supercollider, but that doesn't detract from it at all. Despite the book's name, it talks a whole lot about particles and nothing about gods. It's comprehensive, it's intelligent, it's funny... the book is special in that it can't be described in less words than the book itself! You must read this book. Lederman is responsible for my obsession with the number 137, as my old E-mail address might have once indicated (my stl@nuwen.net is shorter now, but perhaps less cool). His terminology is probably a big influence in the way I think about physics: to quote Lederman, "The equation explodes in your face", "It's one of the cruel ironies of science that he missed what his data were screaming at him: your particles are a new form of matter, dummkopf!", "The Fermilab staff continues to be humiliated by the antiprotons. We get even, though, because we get to design the experiments", and so forth. Without even realizing it, you'll learn a whole lot about particle physics. READ THIS BOOK! :-D

    Up to the Subject List

    Mathematics Books:


  2. The Mathematical Tourist: Snapshots of Modern Mathematics by Ivars Peterson
    Five Stars
  3. Islands of Truth: A Mathematical Mystery Cruise by Ivars Peterson
    Five Stars
  4. The Jungles of Randomness: A Mathematical Safari by Ivars Peterson
    Six Stars
    Note: There is now an "updated and expanded" version of The Mathematical Tourist. As I don't have it, I can only comment on the original edition.
    I list these three books together because they form a trilogy. Each of these books talks about interesting mathematical concepts while including remarkably few equations. The author, Ivars Peterson, is a science journalist, so he has to learn the important concepts without equations before he can report on the mathematics to the public. Obviously this is rather like the "concepts without graduate level math" principle behind this collection of books. I first learned about the RSA cryptosystem from these books, along with fractals and many other things. Why don't I just list a few of the concepts covered in these three books: primes, topology, dimensions, fractals, chaos, cellular automatons, knots, partitions, Ramsey numbers... the list goes on and on. I recommend these books to anyone who is in the least bit interested with what's going on in mathematics today. If you like any one of the three books, you'll enjoy them all. My opinion of the Mathematical Tourist trilogy was originally somewhat higher (on the six or even seven star level), but later books that I've found make this trilogy seem somewhat not detailed and brilliant enough to garner seven stars (The Jungles of Randomness suffers less, probably because it's the third book in the series). Still, they remain excellent choices for a beginner.

  5. Newton's Clock: Chaos in the Solar System by Ivars Peterson
    Six Stars
    This book is all about Newtonian gravitation and whether the solar system is ultimately stable or unstable. It is rather unlike Peterson's The Mathematical Tourist trilogy, in that Newton's Clock is much more highly focused. Now that I think about it, this book really belongs in my physics section, both on this page and on my bookshelf, but the arrangement on my shelf is based more on tradition than on logic. :-P Peterson's excellent writing, of course, is the same, and it makes for enjoyable reading if you're even the least bit interested in gravitation. It includes a discussion of how Newton historically developed his theories, so it's appropriate even if you had no idea that the problem of the motion of the moon was the only one that ever made his head hurt.

  6. Nature's Numbers: The Unreal Reality of Mathematics by Ian Stewart
    Five Stars
    This slim volume (my edition, at least) is part of the "Science Masters Series" by BasicBooks. Apparently that series has since been canceled, which is a shame, because the books in the series were quite good. (Happily, the Scientific American series of books is in full swing.) Nature's Numbers is about how mathematics is important in the world we live in. It deals with planetary orbits, the motion of walking animals, dripping faucets (which are WAY more complex than you think!), symmetries, and so on. "We live in a universe of patterns", Stewart says, and his book is devoted to explaining that single statement. It's quite good. (You're probably noticing a pattern here, in that all the books I review are quite good, or excellent, or enjoyable, and for good reason! I wouldn't have them on my bookshelf if they were really bad. But I am quite serious about The God Particle being the best of the best.)

  7. Archimedes' Revenge: The Joys and Perils of Mathematics by Paul Hoffman
    Six Stars
    This is another very interesting book. (Okay, okay, I'll sound less bland!) Whenever someone mentions Willy Loman, I never think of the play (is it a play?) "The Death of a Salesman". I think of Paul Hoffman's chapter title "Did Willy Loman Die in Vain?" for the section that dealt with the traveling salesman problem. Probably a paragraph from the introduction will explain the book better than I can, as it deals with very diverse topics:
    Legend has it that Archimedes, in a fit of rage, composed an insanely difficult numerical problem about grazing cattle. His revenge was felt for twenty-two hundred years, until 1981, when the problem was finally disposed of by a fledgling supercomputer. The cattle problem is somewhat contrived. Yet the frustration generations of mathematicians felt in the face of Archimedes' revenge resembles that caused by simpler mathematical problems that arise more naturally.
    The book then goes on to discuss voting, prime numbers, cryptography, Moebius strip molecules (!), computer chess, and a whole host of interesting topics. Hoffman also wrote the Paul Erdos biography, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers listed below, another excellent book.

  8. A Tour of the Calculus by David Berlinski
    Four Stars
    Okay, so this book has some equations. It's still not a textbook. Rather, it explains some of the deeper concepts behind calculus, which underlies so many things. Berlinski has an unusual style, unlike any other author in this list. Honestly, it won't make a whole lot of sense if you've never seen calculus before. But if you have done some calculus, this book offers a different perspective apart from the "plug and chug" common in high schools. My best friend Aaron Lee, who'd always complained in high school that he was learning only equations and methods of solving them, and not learning the deeper theories behind calculus, might enjoy this book. I'll have to tell him about it. Yet some people are not very fond of Berlinski's style. I'd probably have to say that this includes me. He spends too much time being "weird", and not enough time doing math.

  9. Prisoner's Dilemma by William Poundstone
    Seven Stars
    William Poundstone has put together an excellent book. It's sort of two books in one, really: a biography of John von Neumann combined with a discussion of game theory. Game theory underlies a lot of social situations, in which two or more parties are competing for something. Obviously, one example could be Monopoly. But game theory is more comprehensive; in fact, it highly relates to the Cold War and Mutual Assured Destruction. I'd definitely suggest reading this book if you're interested in either game theory or von Neumann. In fact, von Neumann is responsible for the "von Neumann architecture", which is the concept that underlies almost all computers today. It's a very enjoyable book.

  10. Fundamentals of Number Theory by William J. LeVeque
    Five Stars: Technical
    My edition is a Dover book (Dover is well-known for reprinting old books at low cost). Honestly, a good portion of this book goes way over my head. When I get some more time, I'll start reading my books in more detail, and hopefully I can better criticize this book. What can I say? It's somewhat equation-heavy. I can only recommend it to a person who's highly interested in number theory and has a strong mathematical background. It's not so much an introductory book, so check it out if you're finding that the other number theory books here are getting too easy. :-P

  11. Number Theory and Its History by Oystein Ore
    Seven Stars
    This is probably the best introductory number theory book I have. (Actually, I've learned a significant amount of number theory from websites, which is basically the only subject in which the WWW's been really useful to me. Perhaps cryptography as well.) Any reader with basic mathematical knowledge and an interest in prime numbers can easily make it through this book. Now, if you already think prime numbers are cool and interesting, this book is perfect for you. If you're wondering what's so great about them, some of the more general mathematics books in this list explain their uses and why they're interesting. (The Mathematical Tourist trilogy immediately comes to mind.) Number Theory and Its History was published in 1948 originally, so it is somewhat dated. Specificially, a great amount of Mersenne numbers have been found since the book's publication. (Note the significance of 1948: it's the same time as the Computer Age really got rolling, and that's when Mersennes began to be found again.) Also, the RSA cryptosystem didn't exist then, so one of prime numbers' most useful, um, uses is left out. However, this book is excellent background for eventually understanding how Really Cool StuffTM like how RSA works.

  12. An Introduction to the Theory of Numbers, Fifth Edition by G. H. Hardy and E. M Wright
    Seven Stars: Technical
    This book is really expensive. I shelled out something like $50 for it, and it's a paperback! However, it's definitely worth it. G. H. Hardy is an extremely famous mathematician. If you've read some of the mathematics books listed below, you'll recognize him as the English mathematician who responsed to Ramanujan's letter from India. Honestly, I haven't gotten more than a few chapters into this book. And it has very many equations (but it's not a textbook - no problems or solutions). I can only recommend this to people with an obsessive interest in number theory; as good as the book is (and it's REALLY good), it quickly approaches a difficulty level beyond the reach of the intended readers of this page. However, the initial [understandable] chapters contain a wealth of information about prime numbers and the like. Pick up a copy at your library, but I wouldn't recommend buying it over the Internet unless you know what you're getting into. Interestingly, this book lacks an index, but there is one compiled online that will be useful.

  13. Unsolved Problems in Number Theory, Second Edition by Richard K. Guy
    Six Stars: Technical
    This book won't teach you anything. :-D However, if you have moderate informal knowledge of number theory, it's an excellent summary of what mathematicians don't know. I really can't say any more about this book, because it's for such a narrow audience. This is an extremely important book to me, as it in part inspired my paper on Mersenne primes. I directly took the great style of marking conjectures by paired flipped quotation marks from Guy's book. As a side note, Richard K. Guy is a prominent mathematician who came up with the "Strong Law of Small Numbers". You can find out more about that law in some of the other books on this page.

  14. The Book of Numbers by John H. Conway and Richard K. Guy
    Six Stars
    Refreshingly, this book is meant for the reader without detailed knowledge of number theory. (I've talked about Guy; Conway is the inventor of the famous cellular automaton Life.) It also has an astounding number of color illustrations that are highly helpful. It discusses primes (of course), number sequences, types of numbers, and even "surreal numbers" (the name is fitting). I definitely recommend it to everyone. It's every bit as good as (and rather more detailed than) The Mathematical Tourist, while focusing on just numbers and not, say, fractals or topology. This is probably the book that best demonstrates what I mean by a six-star rating: it's very good, but it's missing that special something that would put it in a class with, say, Artificial Life, not to mention The Collapse of Chaos.

  15. Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick
    Five Stars
    Well, it's a book on chaos theory. And fractals. And all of the usual. I definitely recommend this book if you're really interested in what chaos is, as it gives a pretty good explanation. I mean, it's cool. Personally, chaos theory and fractals are only mildly interesting to me, so I'm not very enthusiastic about this book. As much as I hate to make a comparison many times, I need to do it again. The Mathematical Tourist touches on chaos theory and fractals really well, but as with all of its topics it doesn't go into extreme detail. Chaos: Making a New Science resembles Ivars Peterson's book in that it doesn't go into extreme detail. This was fine in Peterson's books, and in fact it is the reason why his wide-ranging books are so good. However, in a book focused on a single subject (chaos theory), the undetailed approach is in my opinion not as appropriate. Chaos is a good book nevertheless, and probably very good for people new to chaos theory, but if you already know what the Feigenbaum constant and Julia sets are, you're likely to find the book somewhat lacking.

  16. The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth by Paul Hoffman
    Seven Stars
    Note: Erdos is properly written with an umlaut (double dot) above the o, and is pronounced "air-dish", not "ur-dose" or "ur-daws".
    Paul Hoffman also wrote Archimedes' Revenge, another very good book, but The Man Who Loved Only Numbers has a different "feel" to it, as it is a biography of Paul Erdos. Erdos was an amazing mathematician who died quite recently (1996). He led a very unique life. Now, most famous scientists have interesting stories behind them (see Men of Mathematics or the other biographies in my list). Gauss was an interesting fellow, as was Newton, and so forth, but Erdos is even more unusual. I'll recount Oliver Sacks' explanation that can be found on the back cover of The Man Who Loved Only Numbers:
    A mathematical genius of the first order, Paul Erdos was totally obsessed with his subject - he thought and wrote mathematics for nineteen hours a day until the day he died. He traveled constantly... and had no interest in food, sex, companionship, art - all that is usually indispensible to a human life.... [This biography is a] portait of this singular creature, one that brings out not only Erdos's genius and his oddness, but his warmth and sense of fun, the joyfulness of his strange life.
    And at the same time, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers goes into excellent detail on the mathematics that Erdos was involved with. (It's done differently than Prisoner's Dilemma, in that the biography is intertwined with the mathematics, which is only natural because this is the way Erdos lived.) This is probably one of my favorite books. I recommend that you read it as well.

  17. One Two Three... Infinity by George Gamow
    Six Stars
    My edition is a Dover book (only $9, yay!). Gamow is a really cool author and is also a famous physicist. This book discusses relativity, atomic physics, chemistry, astrophysics - it's really quite amazing how Gamow integrates all this into one book. To be honest, I haven't read this book yet, I've only glanced at it. I wish I had more time to read it and hopefully I'll be able to write a more complete review here sometime soon. I do recommend that you read this book, as it looks very good and Gamow's other works are all excellent.

  18. A Mathematician's Apology by G. H. Hardy
    Eight Stars
    My edition is by Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-42706-1, and includes a foreword by C. P. Snow, but this book has been reprinted many times and comes in many other editions. I only note the ISBN because Snow's foreword is very good (and about half the length of Hardy's own text!) and explains Hardy's life in some detail. Hardy was an interesting character, and while this book explains the barest minimum of mathematics, it's an excellent book. Probably one of my favorite books. In brief, A Mathematician's Apology is about mathematics, and why it's so much more than just a tool to be used in the sciences. Basically, G. H. Hardy explains that being a mathematician is much more than just understanding the equations - it's being a creative artist. As Hardy explains, "my justification of the life of a professional mathematician is bound to be, at bottom, a justification of my own". There's a collection of quotations from Hardy's book in my Quotation Collection; Hardy concludes the book with "The case for my life... is this: that I have added something to knowledge, and helped others to add more". I feel somewhat bad, telling you the last sentence, but it won't spoil the book for you. You absolutely need to read this book. That's about all I can say about it.

  19. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbott
    Six Stars
    This qualifies as the "oldest" book on my bookshelf, as it was originally written in 1884. Yet in no way does the passage of time diminish it. Being so old, Flatland is now in the public domain, meaning it can be freely copied. In fact, you can find the text for yourself from Project Gutenberg. But as always, hard copies are infinitely better. My edition includes a new introduction by Thomas Banchoff; its ISBN is 0-691-02525-8. Flatland is a fictional story about a simple everyman named A. Square. He's only special in that he lives in a two-dimensional world. "I call our world Flatland," A. Square explains, "not because we call it so, but to make its nature clearer to you, my happy readers, who are privileged to live in Space". A. Square explains life on Flatland and a number of interesting things, such as how the inhabitants of flatland can distinguish betwen an Equilateral Triangle (a low-class worker) and a Circle (a priest). Then he recounts the story of how he was visited at the turn of the millennium ("It was the last day of the 1999th year of our era" - we can forgive Abbott for his small error, as A. Square was actually celebrating a Digit Rollover Day) by a Sphere. When higher-dimensional objects interact in a lower-dimension space, strange things are possible, and Abbott explains this very well, all the more considering that he's writing from the nineteenth century before any of Einstein's work! Flatland is a classic book and I definitely recommend that you read it.

  20. Flatland and Sphereland by Dionys Burger
    Seven Stars
    Note: My edition is two books in one, hence the title. Dionys Burger, a Dutch mathematician, wrote Sphereland in 1960, and I could not find an edition of his book by itself. My edition's ISBN is 0-06-273276-5. As I've already reviewed Flatland, this review will only be about Sphereland.
    Basically, if you liked Flatland, you'll love Spaceland. The key difference between the books is of course the times they were written in; Flatland in 1884, Sphereland in 1960. Note that Einstein developed his theory of General Relativity in between those dates. Additionally, Sphereland is much longer than Flatland - in fact, it's about twice as long. That extra length is put to good use. Sphereland is written by A. Hexagon, A. Square's grandson. It's another look into the world of Flatland, but this time the inhabitants discover that their world isn't so flat after all. I highly recommend this book, but definitely read it after you've read Flatland.

  21. The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers, Revised Edition by David Wells
    Five Stars
    This book is a list of numbers. Okay, so it's not just a list of numbers. Each number has a special significance in mathematics and David Wells explains why. Along the way, a significant amount of math has to be discussed, like continued fractions, the golden ratio, logarithms, etc. It's actually a very cool book. It's suitable for anyone with any math background.

  22. Fermat's Last Theorem by Amir D. Aczel
    Six Stars
    I consider this to be a very good account of not only how Fermat's Last Theorem was solved, but of the mathematics that had to be developed before this proof. Fibonacci, Pythagoras, Sophie Germain, and Evariste Galois (along with many others) make an appearance in this book: in other words, it's not just about the mathematician who proved Fermat's Last Theorem, Andrew Wiles. It makes for good reading and introduce you to a good amount of interesting and novel math.

  23. Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem by Simon Singh
    Six Stars
    This is a much longer book than Aczel's Fermat's Last Theorem, and as a result deals with much more mathematics while still telling the same story. As with Aczel's book, Singh's book doesn't just focus on Andrew Wiles but deals with the history of Fermat's Last Theorem. I can't really say that either Aczel's or Singh's book is better than the other. Aczel's book is to me the more "personal" book, focusing much more on the mathematicians than the math (though it has a great deal of both). In contrast, Singh's Fermat's Enigma is more based on the mathematics and the history of the mathematics. They have complementary approaches and it's probably best to read them both, in whatever order you can find them. I haven't reread Fermat's Enigma, so when I finally find the time to I'll be able to talk more at length about it.

  24. Makers of Mathematics by Stuart Hollingdale
    I haven't found the time to read this book yet. It looks extremely good and I'll have to write a review here when I find the time to read the book.

  25. The Story of Mathematics by Lloyd Motz and Jefferson Hane Weaver
    I still need to read this book as well. The authors also have written The Story of Physics, which sounds really cool.

  26. The Story of Numbers by John McLeish
    Five Stars
    This is a good book. It deals heavily with ancient mathematics and spends much less time discussing modern mathematics (the last chapters deal with Newton, Babbage, and Boole). Seeing how the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, and others dealt with arithmetic, and then how the Renaissance breathed new life into mathematics is truly interesting and fun. If the history of ancient mathematics interests you, I certainly recommend that you take a look at this book.

  27. A History of Pi by Petr Beckmann
    Four Stars
    The title says it all. This is actually a very detailed book, going into how Pi has been calculated (both historically and with modern methods), where Pi appears and is useful, and so forth. I rather like this book and it's definitely worth taking a look at. However, my opinion of the author, Petr Beckmann, is somewhat low after I learned that he was a self-professed hater of Special Relativity, so therefore I cannot recommend any other books by Beckmann sight unseen (as I can with a number of the authors in this list).

  28. E: The Story of a Number by Eli Maor
    Six Stars
    Now, this is an excellent book. Everyone considers e (2.71828...) to be pi's little brother. Eli Maor shows that this is not so: e is an extremely interesting number that is involved in much more mathematics than anyone realizes or gives it credit for. Did you know that the St. Louis Gateway Arch is an upside-down catenary, a curve given by the hyperbolic cosine function cosh(x), which is really 1/2 (e^x + e^(-x) ? More interestingly, any light flexible chain or string will naturally assume the shape of a catenary when suspended from its two ends. You'll definitely learn a lot of interesting math from E: The Story of a Number, and have a lot of fun along the way. Probably some basic knowledge of calculus would be useful while reading this book (actually, it's always useful everywhere), but it's not essential thanks to Eli Maor's excellent writing style. You should definitely read this book.

  29. A History of Mathematics, Second Edition by Carl B. Boyer
    Six Stars
    This is a physically thick book, because it covers so much history in so much detail. It goes all the way from the Babylonians to Cantor and Dedekind. Unlike The Story of Numbers, though, it spends much time on the era that Newton and Bernoulli lived in, which gives it a much more "modern" feel. This is definitely accessible to any reader, and I definitely recommend that you read this book. Its length may seem formidable, but it's one of those books where the more you read, the more you want to read. Of course, you'll encounter a lot of mathematics along the way, as this book isn't just about the personalities involved. Sadly, A History of Mathematics, Second Edition touches twentieth-century mathematics very briefly, but another author once noted that a history of twentieth-century mathematics would be as long or even longer than a history of all the mathematics that came before.

  30. Men of Mathematics by E. T. Bell
    Eight Stars
    This is a really good book. There are only two problems with it: it was written in 1937, so it misses including most of the twentieth-century mathematicians who deserve to be included, and it includes remarkably few women (hence the title). But that's no way to begin a review. Men of Mathematics of course recounts the lives of selected great mathematicians, but it also goes into some detail on the mathematics. However, I'd suggest reading this book because it talks about much more than the mathematics. Few people in the general public are aware of Evariste Galois, the brilliant mathematician who, one night, furiously wrote down his theories because he knew that the next day he would be shot and killed in a duel. As Bell notes, "What he wrote in those desperate last hours before the dawn will keep generations of mathematicians busy for hundreds of years". As I said, this is a really good book.

  31. The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel
    Seven Stars
    Srinivasa Ramanujan, as you may know, was an unschooled Indian clerk who wrote a letter to three English mathematicians detailing the ideas he had about mathematics. Two of the mathematicians ignored him. The third, G. H. Hardy, recognized Ramanujan's genius and arragned for Ramanujan to come to England. It sounds like a summary of a Hollywood movie (alas, Hollywood rarely deals with science or mathematics), doesn't it? This is an extremely good book. If you've read A Mathematician's Apology or Men of Mathematics, you definitely should read this book; or read The Man Who Knew Infinity first and then go on to Bell's and Hardy's books. If I had to review The Man Who Knew Infinity in more detail, I'd say that it really shows the depth and complexity of life. It recounts the story of George Carr, an utterly obscure mathematician who wrote an utterly obscure book - he and his book would have been completely forgotten by history if it were not for the fact that it sparked Ramanujan's mathematical education. It also recounts some of G. H. Hardy's life, because no (decent) biography of Ramanujan could do it any other way. Both came from humble circumstances; in fact, Hardy started out life being more "lower-class" than Ramanujan. And together, well, mathematics will never forget their contributions.

  32. The CRC Concise Encyclopedia of Mathematics by Eric W. Weisstein
    Six Stars
    What can I say about this book? First of all, it's HUGE. It and the McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Science and Technology are the two physically largest books on my bookshelf. (Sometimes I wonder if the publishers are rolling with laughter at naming these huge books "Concise" - in the McGraw-Hill book, this name is somewhat justified, but in Weisstein's book there's absolutely no reason for the name!) Anyway, it's definitely a hardcover and comes with a really good binding; you have to feel it to understand what I mean. It's also quite expensive, something like $100, but see if you can find one of those Library of Science Book Club deals. See Eric's Treasure Troves of Science to get a feel for what this book contains - it started out as the Mathematics Treasure Troves before being published by CRC. (CRC is famous for publishing really cool books that are usually quite expensive.) (Recently there have been problems with placing the book's content on the web; copyrights and such. Bleah. I am not sure what the situation will be when you read this.) The book version, of course, is much more accessible and useful than the Internet version. It's a really cool book. It, of all the mathematics books in this section, has the widest view of mathematics and is also extremely detailed.

  33. Mathematics: The Science of Patterns by Keith Devlin
    Six Stars
    As you have seen or will see here, I have a significant number of Scientific American Library books. Without exception, every one of them has been good. This one operates on a more advanced level than that perennial favorite of general math books, The Mathematical Tourist, and it's extremely good as a result. It speaks much about set theory, topology, shape, motion, and even logic. Now, I used to really hate logic, with its useless syllogisms that don't lead to any new knowledge. Devlin, in this book, changed my view. Now I realize I just have a gut dislike of Aristotle. (And I can thank Tony Rothman for that - see below.) Anyway, this is a really good book. Basically, it talks a lot about what math means and not just what's in it, although of course it does some of the latter. Like all Scientific American Library books, it's in color and richly illustrated with diagrams and the like.

  34. The Code Book: The Evolution of Secrecy from Mary, Queen of Scots to Quantum Cryptography by Simon Singh
    Five Stars
    This is a very good book. It explains lots of cryptography, from the usual substitution ciphers to the Enigma to RSA to quantum cryptography. It also spends some time explaining how hieroglyphics and Linear B came to be understood; this might be surprising because they're languages and not codes, but if you think about it, a language that you don't understand is a code. It's an excellent introduction to cryptography, and even a good choice if you already know something about cryptography. It's divided evenly between the history and the field, so there's something for everyone.

  35. The Puzzle Palace by James Bamford
    Six Stars
    This is a book about the National Security Agency. The NSA used to be highly obscure, so much that its employees were not allowed to reveal that they worked for the NSA. Nowadays, it's rather more widely known; cypherpunks like to religiously fear NSA spooks, and even TV shows and movies are beginning to refer to it. (The movie "Enemy of the State" portrays the cypherpunk image of the NSA; the TV show "Seven Days" does to some extent as well.) Competing with the cypherpunk "the NSA is all-seeing, all-hearing" image, is the Tsutomu Shimomura (of Takedown) idea that the NSA is a government agency after all, and is just as inept and useless as any other government agency. The Puzzle Palace lies in the middle, close to what the NSA probably is. It doesn't engage in ritual cypherpunk paranoia, but does note that the NSA is very advanced. ("Cypherpunks", techies who love cryptography, imagine that the NSA is 20 years ahead of everyone else in computer science and mathematics, but The Puzzle Palace says that the NSA prefers to be five years ahead. The latter figure is realistic.) The Puzzle Palace chronicles the entire history of the NSA, from before it was created to some of its more modern operations. The VERONA project is not discussed, but you can read about that for yourself at the NSA web site: www.nsa.gov . The NSA, by the way, has the coolest logo of any government agency: an eagle with a shield clutching not arrows and olive branches in its talons, but a single metal key. And who says the government doesn't have a sense of humor? The Puzzle Palace is the definitive resource on the NSA, though somewhat dated (it was published in 1982). Then again, no one really knows what the NSA's up to right now, so the fact that it's dated doesn't even cross your mind while you're reading it. It's a very good book.

  36. Introductory Calculus by Bell, Blum, Lewis, and Rosenblatt
    Four Stars
  37. A First Course in Calculus by Serge Lang
    Four Stars
    These two are some old calculus books (1964 and 1966). I don't know why I have them on my shelf. They're the physicially oldest books I have. Okay, okay, so they are textbooks. They're also probably out of print, and if you know calculus then there's no reason to read these books. Interestingly, Serge Lang is famous for other things; read the Fermat's Last Theorem books on this list to find out why.

  38. Advanced Number Theory by Harvey Cohn
    Five Stars: Technical
    A Dover book. I'd suggest you read it if you've finished Fundamentals of Number Theory and want some more. (I myself haven't gotten very far into the book.) When he says "Advanced", he means Advanced!

  39. The Mathematics of Ciphers by S. C. Coutinho
    I recently bought this book and have not read it yet.

  40. The Facts on File Dictionary of Mathematics, Third Edition by John Daintith and John O. E. Clark
    Five Stars
    Like my other Facts on File Dictionaries, this one is very good. It does what you expect: explain mathematical terms in simple language. It also has numerous diagrams to aid in the explanations. Of course, if you're not like me and don't think that dictionaries are meant to be read through cover-to-cover, then you might not like this book. Just think of it as a math book with hundreds of chapters all a paragraph long, ordered alphabetically. :-D These comments will apply to the other Facts on File Dictionaries as well.

  41. Five Golden Rules by John L. Casti
    I recently bought this book and have not read it yet.

  42. Five More Golden Rules: Knots, Codes, Chaos, and Other Great Theories of 20th-Century Mathematics by John L. Casti
    Six Stars
    This is the sequel to Five Golden Rules. Five More Golden Rules is extremely good. It deals with knot theory, dynamical system theory, control theory, functional analysis, and information theory. It's very detailed but not obscurely technical; the more books like this I read, the more simple and stale The Mathematical Tourist starts to look. I definitely recommend that you read this book if you're interested in any of the five subjects I listed above, but if you're not, then this book isn't for you. (Dynamical system theory is highly related to chaos theory, by the way.) For me, knot theory and information theory are very interesting. I'm sure you can find something interesting here as well. This book would have recieved seven stars, but only two of the five sections really interested me.

    Up to the Subject List

    Physics Books:


  43. Cosmic Bullets: High Energy Particles in Astrophysics by Roger Clay and Bruce Dawson
    Five Stars
    Cosmic rays are speeding protons (more rarely, they're larger nuclei) which slam into our atmosphere from every conceivable direction in space. They're also responsible for the fact that a person living in Denver gets about twice the radiation that a person living in Florida does. They can chip off chunks of other nuclei in the process called "spallation". No one knows exactly how they are produced (there are some good hypotheses), but there are still many mysteries surrounding them. Absolutely no one has a clue how the highest-energy cosmic rays are made. (For a description of the most energetic cosmic ray ever observed, which is also described in Cosmic Bullets, see www.fourmilab.ch and look for the Oh-My-God Particle page.) Cosmic Bullets also describes the cosmic ray detectors in some detail. This is a very good book focused on a single topic. Read it if you're the least bit curious about cosmic rays.

  44. Einstein's Universe by Nigel Calder
    Four Stars
    This is a book on relativity, both SR (Special Relativity) and GR (General Relativity). I can't say that I paid too much attention while reading it. It doesn't seem to be quackery, but it's not gripping like the other relativity books I have. My opinion therefore has to be "Ehhhh".

  45. In Search of Schrodinger's Cat by John Gribbin
    This book was recommended to me, but I haven't had the time to read it yet. It looks very good, but I can't recommend it until I've read it myself.

  46. Mr. Tompkins in Paperback by George Gamow
    Five Stars
  47. The NEW World of Mr. Tompkins by George Gamow and Russell Stannard
    Six Stars
    These are the other two fiction books on my list (Flatland and Sphereland are the others). However, The NEW World of Mr. Tompkins is not a sequel of the Mr. Tompkins in Paperback. Rather, The NEW World of Mr. Tompkins supersedes Gamow's original book; it revises some of the physics found in the original, some of the plot, and adds several wholly new chapters. It's all for the good, and there's no reason to get the original when you can read the updated version. Mr. Tompkins is a plain bank clerk who gets caught up in a number of adventures that explore relativity and quantum mechanics. Gamow's original Mr. Tompkins in Paperback was the book that introduced the now-famous "slow light" world, where the speed of light is something like 10mph. Gamow fiddled with other constants as well; Mr. Tompkins visits a world where Planck's constant is ridiculously large, to the point where it affects playing a simple game of pool. (Quantum pool was revisted in Alice's Adventures in Quantumland, which is one of my friend Aaron Lee's favorite books, but I don't have it yet on my bookshelf.) Gamow's a very good author, and Stannard's updated version is even better.

  48. The Quotable Einstein collected and edited by Alice Calaprice
    Six Stars
    A collection of Einstein quotations; some of them can be seen in my Quotation Collection. Thoroughly excellent. Seemingly as if to taunt me, there is a new expanded version of this book which I do not own.

  49. Relativity: The Special and the General Theory by Albert Einstein
    Five Stars
    This is an authorized translation of Einstein's original book; my edition's ISBN is 0-517-88441-0. It's extremely understandable, and of course you're hearing it from Einstein himself. Einstein's own approach is different from that of the other authors' books listed here, but it's definitely good. Reading Relativity and then another author's view of relativity provides a very comprehensive perspective.

  50. Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension by Michio Kaku
    Two Stars
  51. Beyond Einstein: The Cosmic Quest for the Theory of the Universe, Revised and Updated by Michio Kaku and Jennifer Thompson
    Two Stars
    I cannot recommend these books. I haven't read either of them yet, and I can't say that it's first on my list. (I have too many other, better books to read first.) Kaku is not a quack. But I regard superstring theory extremely warily, because it's not part of established physics yet. Most importantly, I've seen too many people who've read Hyperspace and come away thinking that that's what real physics is about. It's not. Some of my acquaintances S.R. and N.W. have read these books, and I really feel that they would have been better off reading a book that deals with real physics. Even my best friend Uche Akotaobi's perception of what physics is has been altered by Kaku. I ask you to stay away from these books because they have a tendency to make the reader think that this is real physics. It's not. Superstring theory is speculative physics and is not confirmed yet. Read real physics books first. Once I read these two, they may end up being taken off of my bookshelf (a fate only given to two horrendous books so far: Silicon Snake Oil and Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point - avoid those two like the plague!). Kaku himself is a good author, and I really enjoy reading Visions. I just don't like the field that he's in. These comments probably apply to Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe as well, although my best friend Aaron Lee claims that that one's good.

  52. The Great Physicists from Galileo to Einstein by George Gamow
    Six Stars
    My edition is a Dover book. As Gamow notes in his introduction, his book steers down the middle of teaching physics and teaching history. The Great Physicists from Galileo to Einstein covers all of the usual suspects: Galileo, the thermodynamics guys, the electricity guys, Einstein, the quantum guys, and so forth. This is a great general physics book, and I recommend it unconditionally.

  53. Thirty Years That Shook Physics by George Gamow
    Six Stars
    Another Dover book, and another excellent book by Gamow. It deals with QM very well, avoiding some of the nonsense that more modern books indulge in and getting right to the heart of the matter. It's written in the same style as The Great Physicists from Galileo to Einstein, so if you enjoyed that book and want to know more about QM, then by all means read Thirty Years That Shook Physics. All of the things you'd expect to read about are discussed intelligently: quanta, Bohr's semiquantum atomic model, the Pauli Exclusion Principle, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and even some particle physics. It, of course, misses out on most of the recent developments in particle physics (the book was written in 1966, which corresponds to the very birth of the Standard Model), so read it for QM and not for particle physics.

  54. The Riddle of Gravitation, Revised and Updated Edition by Peter G. Bergmann
    Six Stars
    My copy is a Dover edition; I recommend that you get it because it has a special supplement. Its ISBN is 0-486-27378-4. This is an excellent book on GR (SR is dealt with in the first few chapters). It offers knowledge that isn't in any of my other GR books, such as detailed information on the Schwarzschild solution. It's also rather easy to comprehend, which is basically the important thing to consider when looking at books on GR. Even Wheeler's A Journey into Gravity and Spacetime becomes harder to understand than Bergmann's book. It also comes with a very useful and detailed glossary.

  55. Div, Grad, Curl, and All That: An Informal Text on Vector Calculus, Third Edition by Harry Moritz Schey
    Six Stars: Technical
    Okay, so this book properly belongs with my Mathematics Books. Oh well. On my bookshelf, it's with the physics books. What's there to say? If you want to know more about vector calculus, then Schey's book is an excellent introduction/refresher. Otherwise, you're likely to say, "Look at all the pretty upside-down triangles!". This happened to be a supplementary text in my freshman physics courses; while I can't claim to actually have read the thing yet (being rather busy, heh), the equation summaries at the beginning and end of the book are quite useful, and I can pretty much claim I understand what this book is talking about. Mmm, advancement.

  56. Relativity Visualized by Lewis Carroll Epstein
    Eight Stars
    This is beyond being supremely excellent. I love the notice at the very beginning: "This copyright will be vigorously protected. This work contains unique pedagogy and novel geometric representations of Relativity Theory which will be protected." [Emphasis in the original.] And it's correct. Like The Riddle of Gravitation, Relativity Visualized contains information that isn't in any of my other GR books. It explains the difference between a "spacetime" diagram and a "spacespace" diagram (the latter is the bowling-ball-on-trampoline one that you've undoubtedly seen before), and also why objects ever bother to start falling when near a large mass. The title of Relativity Visualized is also extremely appropriate, as there are diagrams and illustrations on almost every page. You get the feeling that Epstein understands relativity intuitively, and as such he's in the best position to talk about it. For example: [emphasis in the original]
    Why can't you travel faster than light? The reason you can't go faster than the speed of light is that you can't go slower. Everything, including you, is always moving at the speed of light. How can you be moving if you are at rest in a chair? You are moving through time.
    Quite simply, this is a must-have book if you want to learn about SR and GR. Along the way, Epstein throws questions out at you; not to quiz you or test your knowledge of SR and GR, but to make sure that you understand some subtle point. The answer is given directly after the question, but if you like you can cover up the answer with a notecard while you try to puzzle it out. Definitely get this book.

  57. A Journey into Gravity and Spacetime by John Archibald Wheeler
    Six Stars
    This is a Scientific American Library book; if you read my other descriptions of SciAm Library books, then you know that without exception every one I've read has been excellent. Wheeler, who's an extremely famous GR physicist, offers yet another different perpective on GR. Momenergy, radii of curvature, gravitational waves - he explains them all in a very detailed manner. For me, it got somewhat confusing when he started discussing "the boundary of a boundary", but that confusion was eclipsed by the understanding that one of his simple statements brought me. "Mass grips spacetime, telling it how to curve," he says, "and spacetime grips mass, telling it how to move." He adds, "Spacetime grips spacetime, teling it how to curve", and suddenly, it's all clear: Newton's old problem of "action-at-a-distance" is finally solved, because between two objects there is spacetime, and each bit of spacetime transmits curvature to a bit of spacetime farther out, allowing the objects to affect each other. A brilliant book.

  58. Geons, Black Holes & Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics by John Archibald Wheeler with Kenneth Ford
    Five Stars
    I set off reading this book expecting to find both an autobiography of Wheeler's life and some excellent physics as well. I was somewhat disappointed (if you can call it that) to find merely an excellent autobiography. His involvement in the Manhattan Project is also discussed in addition to his later work in physics. However, you won't find a very good explanation of what exactly geons are. (I can't say that I'm all that clear on what geons are either.) If you have an interest in history like I do, and/or are interested in Wheeler's life (which is quite interesting!), then by all means read Geons, Black Holes & Quantum Foam, but if you're interested in geons, black holes, and quantum foam only, then this book's probably not for you.

  59. Black Holes & Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy by Kip S. Thorne
    Seven Stars
    Note: Oddly, the Library of Congress information in the first pages notes the title as From Black Holes to Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy. Hrm.
    Of course this is a book on General Relativity, but it's not really a book on General Relativity. Rather, it deals with black holes and wormholes, the consequences of GR. It also deals with them in an intelligent and easy-to-understand yet detailed manner. Black holes are discussed somewhat more than wormholes, which is only natural because we've found the former but don't expect to find the latter. (In contrast to, say, Hyperspace, which seems to present speculative physics as the real thing.) Thorne also has a great sense of humor: one illustration shows a crossword with the words "Quantum Mechanics" and "General Relativity", which almost works except for the fact that a U has to overlap a E and a T has to overlap an E. The formation of black holes is also discussed in detail, such as how a black hole has to lose its magnetic field (if it has one). An excellent book - I recommend it to you if you're interested in some of the strange and wonderful consequences of GR. I had the pleasure of attending a lecture on GR by Kip Thorne himself, but alas, I didn't bring my copy of Black Holes & Time Warps and ask for an autograph. :-P

  60. Who's Afraid of Schrodinger's Cat?: An A-to-Z Guide to All the New Science Ideas You Need to Keep Up with the New Thinking by Ian Marshall and Danah Zohar with contributions by F. David Peat
    Five Stars
    I got this book after it was recommended to me by someone else; it was a good recommendation. Who's Afraid of Schrodinger's Cat? (properly, the o in Schrodinger should have an umlaut above it) is a long list of modern science concepts, along with short and clear explanations (around 3 pages each). Just flipping through the Table of Contents: Antimatter, attractors, catastrophe theory, cold fusion, cosmic background radiation, fermions, game theory, quantum chromodynamics, the three-body problem, and so forth. It's very well written, even though it doesn't really have a unifying topic as such. When it deals with controversial ideas, say, Penrose's [quack] ideas about AI, it treats them intelligently and even-handedly. Who's Afraid of Schrodinger's Cat? covers such a broad range of topics that it might more properly belong with my general science books (both here and on my bookshelf), but it seems to be more focused on physics. The statements on the back cover say it all: "This is an illuminating, indispensible reference guide, ideal for anyone who doesn't have a Ph.D. in physics but still seeks to understand the concepts, consequences, and implications of state-of-the-art science".

  61. Q is for Quantum: An Encyclopedia of Particle Physics by John Gribbin
    Six Stars
    This is an encyclopedia of particle physics. What else can I say about it? It's rather more detailed than you might expect; the entry for quantum electrodynamics is five pages long, and many entries have lists of suggested further reading (with an inexplicable bias towards Gribbin's books... :-P ). It's good either to read straight through or to use as a reference. It's also excellently written, if you can say that about an encyclopedia.

  62. The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex by Murray Gell-Mann
    Six Stars
    I find it hard to wrap my mind around this book. It talks about some physics like I'd expect it to, but then it starts talking about the biosphere. I suppose this is because I didn't pay all that much attention while reading it the first time. (I haven't read it multiple times like I do with most books.) It's a very good book, and I'll have to give it another reading so I can be more specific on why it's a good book.


    Just so you don't forget, The God Particle by Leon Lederman fits here on my bookshelf and is my absolute favorite book of all time. That hyperlink leads to the top of this document where I review it.


  63. A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen W. Hawking
    Eight Stars
    There is now a golden tenth anniversary edition of this book. I only have the original blue edition.
    I've had A Brief History of Time for probably the longest time, even before I had a bookshelf of science books. Its section on particle physics led me, somehow, to visit Fermilab and pick up a copy of The God Particle. (I forget exactly how I found out about Fermilab, because I had never read The God Particle before I visited there, and indeed picked it randomly from a choice of a couple of other books.) A Brief History of Time is a supremely excellent book. In it, Hawking makes the famous comment that his publisher told him that every equation he put in the book would drop its sales by half, but Hawking just had to include Einstein's E=mc2. A Brief History of Time explains black holes, black hole radiation (now called Hawking radiation), the expanding universe, particle physics, and the arrow of time. (Hawking has since changed some of his ideas. I'm not sure if it appears in the gold tenth anniversary edition, but he no longer believes that the arrow of time will reverse itself if the universe starts contracting, which is a good thing, because that idea was pretty strange anyways.) This is a must-read book.

  64. Instant Physics: From Aristotle to Einstein, and Beyond by Tony Rothman, Ph.D.
    Eight Stars
    Tony Rothman has a special style of writing. Here's an example: "You must remember this: Despite all the metaphysical horseshit in the press, the subject of cosmology... is a science, based on the equations of Einstein's general theory of relativity.... [It has] made enough successful predictions to be believed by everybody but nutcases". And here's another example: "The photoeffect. Behold: [description of the photoelectric effect]. Confused? You should be. What we call the brightness of a light source...". Its explanation of GR is not as detailed as some of the pure GR books on my bookshelf, but it doesn't aim to be a detailed GR book. Its explanation of QM is not as detailed as some of the pure QM books on my bookshelf, but it doesn't aim to be a detailed QM book. It aims to explain modern physics, and takes a unique approach. (I can't really describe it, you just have to read the book.) There are many equations in the book, but usually as part of "demos" which explain some concept in more detail. Tony Rothman also has a burning hatred of Aristotle, which is great, because I do too. (There is causation involved here.) Instant Physics is of the same class as The God Particle, which is of course high praise from me. My conclusion about Instant Physics: Find it and read it.

  65. Quantum Physics: Illusion or Reality? by Alastair Rae
    I haven't read this book yet. It seems somewhat philosophical to me, which might be a bad thing. I can't recommend it at this point in time. There are other, extremely good QM books on my list. Such as Feynman's QED.

  66. QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard P. Feynman
    Seven Stars
    QED means Quantum Electrodynamics, the part of quantum mechanics that deals with interactions between photons and electrons. As Feynman notes, QED is responsible for everything you see in the world that isn't nuclear or gravitational. In most people's experience, this means everything. And as such, QED is important to understand. Feynman starts off explaining how he's going to teach the concepts of QED. Say you're a Mayan and want to know how the Mayan priests go about calculating eclipses and the like. One of the priests shows you a complicated method involving written bars and dots and a complex set of rules for maniplating the bars and dots to perform subtraction. Alternatively, you could count out 584 beans in a jar, then remove 236 beans, and then count the beans in the jar. Obviously, it's rather tedious (that's what the complicated rules with bars and dots are for: to speed it up), but now you have a gut idea for what subtraction is like. Feynman approaches QED math in the same way. He explains vector addition and how it applies to QED (he does it so well, not even mentioning the words "vector addition", that I was rather confused when I was first formally introduced to vector addition until I realized: it's Feynman's game with the arrows!). This is the definitive must-read book for QED. I definitely recommend it to you.

  67. Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher by Richard P. Feynman
    Six Stars
  68. Six Not-So-Easy Pieces: Einstein's Relativity, Symmetry, and Space-Time by Richard P. Feynman
    Six Stars
  69. The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Volume I by Richard P. Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, and Matthew Sands
    Six Stars
  70. The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Volume II by Richard P. Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, and Matthew Sands
    Six Stars
  71. The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Volume III by Richard P. Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, and Matthew Sands
    Six Stars
    I list these five books all together because they're all linked. The original ones are The Feynman Lectures on Physics which come in a three volume set. They are indeed originally lectures intended for freshmen at the Caltech Institute of Technology, put into book form. Much later, six of the easiest to understand were made into Six Easy Pieces. The origins of its sequel, Six Not-So-Easy Pieces, should now be rather obvious. I recommend Six Easy Pieces if you're looking for the "lite" version of the Lectures, then Six Not-So-Easy Pieces if you finished the first one and are hungry for more, and then the entire Lectures on Physics if you want even more. (If you think you can handle a gigantic load of math and physics all at once, then proceed directly to the Lectures.) The Lectures on Physics are rather more mathematical than the other books on my bookshelf, but they're written by Feynman, so understanding the physics involved isn't as hard as all the tiny superscripts might make you think. Six Easy Pieces and Six Not-So-Easy Pieces are on or around the same level as Feynman's QED and the mathematics in them isn't nearly as frightening as it is in the Lectures. These are all excellent books and you shouldn't think twice about going out and finding them - that is, once you've chosen the right ones for your level of interest and ability.

  72. The Quantum Universe by Tony Hey and Patrick Walters
    Six Stars
    This book reads very much like a collection of old Scientific American articles (I saw a 3-volume set once at a library). And that means it's very cool. It discusses fusion, lasers, transistors, superfluid liquid helium, and many other rather nifty things. Its only drawback is that it's somewhat old (1987) and therefore misses out on discussing recent discoveries. It's a good understandable book on quantum mechanics, but maybe not so much geared for the beginner who wants to understand QM as it is geared for an intermediate reader who wants to learn more about the strange and wonderful things that quantum mechanics makes possible.

  73. The Elusive Neutrino: A Subatomic Detective Story by Nickolas Solomey
    Six Stars
    This is a Scientific American Library book, which means that it's excellent. :-P Basically, it's the only book I have that deals exclusively with neutrinos. Neutrinos, if you haven't heard about them yet, are little weird subatomic particles. They have no radius. They have no charge. They seem to have almost no mass (we're not entirely sure yet). If they have no mass, they always travel at the speed of light. And they always spin the same way. The electromagnetic force doesn't affect them. The strong nuclear force doesn't affect them. They can speed through a light-year of lead and hit nothing at all. Trillions of them pass right through the Earth (and you!) every day. They're weird particles indeed. The Elusive Neutrino comprehensively covers everything about neutrinos: how they were discovered, how they are produced, how we build neutrino telescopes, neutrino handedness, neutrino mass, and so forth. All in the richly illustrated and diagrammed style that one expects from a Scientific American Library book. Definitely a good book to read.

  74. From Quarks to the Cosmos by Leon M. Lederman and David N. Schramm
    Six Stars
    You see, Lederman's The God Particle is so overwhelmingly excellent that this otherwise excellent book pales in comparison. From Quarks to the Cosmos is great, it's just that The God Particle is greater than great. But I'll try to set my bias aside. :-D This is another Scientific American Library book (read: it's really good). From Quarks to the Cosmos, predictably, deals somewhat equally with particle physics and cosmology. The usual suspects are dealt with: neutrinos, inflation, quantum mechanics, grand unification energies, and so forth. It's done with rather remarkable clarity. A plus is that it was published in 1995, so it deals with more modern events (such as the cancellation of the Superconducting Supercollider and the construction of new telescopes) than The God Particle does. Don't misunderstand: From Quarks to the Cosmos is not a "lite" version of The God Particle. They set out to do different things and do them extremely well. In fact, it seems to me that From Quarks to the Cosmos is written for an audience which already has a moderate conceptual grasp of physics. So I'd definitely suggest reading The God Particle first, and then moving on to From Quarks to the Cosmos to build and expand on your knowledge and have a lot of fun along the way.

  75. The Rise of the Standard Model: Particle Physics in the 1960s and 1970s edited by Lillian Hoddeson, Laurie Brown, Michael Riordan, and Max Dresden
    Five Stars: Technical
    A (rather extensive) history of the birth of modern particle physics, which takes the form of a collection of articles by different distinguished historians and physicists. I can't exactly say that it's written for the beginner. And it gets technical in parts. On the other hand, it's a really good book. If you really have a thing for particle physics and know a lot of the concepts already, then this book is for you. If not, then it's not. :-P

  76. The Physics of Star Trek by Lawrence M. Krauss
    Six Stars
  77. Beyond Star Trek: Physics from Alien Invasions to the End of Time by Lawrence M. Krauss
    Six Stars
    Meet the books that spawned an entire genre of copycat "The Physics of" books. However, Krauss's books are truly excellent. The Physics of Star Trek was the first, and was followed by the sequel Beyond Star Trek. Basically, Krauss goes through Star Trek devices and technology and explains why they're possible or impossible in real physics (in Beyond Star Trek, he examines other TV shows and movies). However, they deal with real physics much more than Star Trek physics (unlike the copycat books which followed shortly after). These books make for great reading if you have even a passing familarity with Star Trek and Independence Day (and other SF) and want to know about physics in the real world that's related to the fictional physics. If you're looking for something that deals exclusively with Star Trek, then look elsewhere because Krauss's books contain a nontrivial amount of hard reality. (I'd suggest the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, which deals exclusively with that fictional physics that we've all come to know and love.)

  78. Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics by George Johnson
    Five Stars
    A rather interesting biography of Murray Gell-Mann, the physicist who, among other things, devised the name "quark". It also includes some of the work he was involved with (more so than Geons, Black Holes & Quantum Foam but less than The Man Who Loved Only Numbers). This was really neat because I had never been quite clear on exactly what "The Eightfold Way" that Gell-Mann devised was and how it was connected with mathematical symmetries. The biography is written very well, but I can't say that it was as gripping as some of the other biographies I have. (That's probably due to me and not the book). It's a good book, but it doesn't reach the higher echelons of excellence that some other books do. Read it if you're interested in how Gell-Mann fits into the big picture of particle physics.

  79. Ripples on a Cosmic Sea: The Search for Gravitational Waves by David Blair and Geoff McNamara
    Five Stars
    This book deals more with how gravitational wave dectectors are constructed and not so much with the theoretical framework that underlies gravitational radiation. Laser interferometers, resonant bar detectors, and other dectectors are covered, along with how gravitational waves are produced. It's a good little book, but not extremely remarkable.

  80. The Particle Garden: Our Universe as Understood by Particle Physicists by Gordon Kane
    Six Stars
    This is a rather excellent book dealing with the Standard Model and how it may be extended in the future. It contains detailed information (for example, on electroweak unification the book explains things that I never knew about before), and also does a very good job of making the concepts clear. There's only one problem with the book: Kane's constant and extremely irritating use of the phrase "the Standard Theory". Yes, "Standard Theory" is a proper description of what he's talking about, and yes, it's more accurate, but "Standard Model" is the name it's known by everywhere else and he's doing his readers a disservice by always referring to it as the "Standard Theory". One mention at the beginning of the book would be fine. Otherwise, what's to stop us from renaming other concepts? The "Pauli Exclusion Principle" and the "Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle" aren't principles at all: they're laws, but they have been traditionally called principles and principles they shall be. Besides this one irritating phrase, The Particle Garden is a really good book on particle physics.

  81. Understanding Einstein's Theories of Relativity: Man's New Perspective on the Cosmos by Stan Gibilisco
    Two Stars
    My edition is a Dover book (always a good thing, because they're inexpensive). I haven't read it through yet. It has some weird stuff about UFOs in one of the chapters, which makes me highly suspicious. I've already bought one Dover GR book that never made it to my bookshelf because it's full of quackery. I hope that I won't have to do the same with this one. I cannot recommend this book at this time. Relativity Visualized is probably a better choice.

  82. General Relativity from A to B by Robert Geroch
    Five Stars
    This is a really good GR book. Like all my other GR books, it offers a unique perspective on this difficult theory. It's clearly written, starting from the crufty Aristotlean view, proceeding to the Galilean view of relativity, and finally to the modern Einsteinian view. I can't say too much else about it because I only recently got it and haven't reread it closely. It's a good book and I suggest you look at it.

  83. Spacetime Physics by Taylor & Wheeler
    Six Stars
    This turned out to be (after I purchased it) one of the required texts for my freshman physics courses at Caltech. This is an excellent book, with plenty of (mostly good) examples and problems, which we were assigned to work through. It has some odd slants, though - it talks about "momenergy" which the professor made fun of, and basically doesn't go through Lorentz transformations as thoroughly as it should. (And Lorentz transformations are quite useful.) So, don't let it be your ONLY book on special relativity. Its general relativity content we didn't go through so heavily, but it is mostly light; there are more focused books for GR.

  84. Quintessence by Lawrence Krauss
    I recently bought this book and have not read it yet.

  85. Supersymmetry by Gordon Kane
    I have read this book, but have yet to write a review.

  86. Magnetism: An Introductory Survey by E. W. Lee
    Six Stars
    This was a good book on magnetism, but I definitely needed freshman physics at Caltech to really understand electromagnetism. Nevertheless, a very informative book.

  87. Particles and Forces: At the Heart of Matter: Readings from Scientific American edited by Richard A. Carrigan, Jr., and W. Peter Trower
    I recently bought this book and have not read it yet.

  88. Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology by K. Eric Drexler
    Six Stars
    This is a rather good book. It's also available online, if you want to read it like that. Drexler manages (somewhat successfully) to walk the thin line between sober pessimism and outlandish optimism. It's a little dated, and assumes that the Soviet Union will be working to destroy the free world as we know it with nanotechnology, but you can substitute a generic terrorist group with little adverse affect in your reading of the text. The field of nanotechnology itself hasn't really dated, because not much advancement has really been made in it thus far.

  89. Nanotechnology edited by B. C. Crandall
    I have read this book, but have yet to write a review.

  90. Warmth Disperses and Time Passes: The History of Heat by Hans Christian von Baeyer
    I have read this book, but have yet to write a review.

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    Chemistry Books:


  91. Liquid Crystals: Nature's Delicate Phase of Matter by Peter J. Collings
    Seven Stars
    Most people go around thinking that there are 3 phases of matter (solid, liquid, gas). The more experienced ones know that there are additional phases of matter: plasma, degenerate matter, neutron matter, Einstein-Bose condensate, superfluid, and so forth. But there's another phase of matter that most people don't think about: liquid crystal. Solids are characterized by retaining their shape and having a highly ordered structure (ignoring amorphous solids). Liquids retain their volume but change their shape to fit a container; they also have no long-range order. But for some compounds, there exists another phase of matter between solid and liquid: liquid crystal, in which the compound still behaves as a liquid but contains more order, such as would be expected from a solid. This bizarre behavior has been famously exploited to make watch and calculator displays and computer flatpanel screens. Liquid Crystals explains everything about liquid crystals, something that none of my other books do. It's also rather recent (1990), so it discusses how LCD displays can be made. Definitely an interesting and excellent book.

  92. Stuff: The Materials the World is Made of by Ivan Amato
    Seven Stars
    This is a really nifty book. Materials science is a rather interesting field. Stuff, predictably, deals with stuff, literally: from the bronze age to constructing gallium arsenide computer chips. Diamond synthesis, molecular beam epitaxy... this book is extremely cool, which means that you learn a whole lot of nifty things. I recommend it unconditionally to everyone.

  93. The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey into the Land of the Chemical Elements by P.W. Atkins
    Six Stars
    Probably this is the closest thing to a general chemistry book that I have. The Periodic Kingdom treats the Periodic Table as a region of land, waiting to be explored, and chronicles discoveries made, what laws govern the land, and how it all came to be. (Which means it deals with how the elements were historically discovered, how atoms interact electromagnetically, and how elements are produced in stars and supernovae.) This is part of the "Science Masters Series", which seems to have been stopped (sadly), but I believe that the book is still in print. I definitely recommend it to you.

  94. The Facts on File Dictionary of Chemistry, Revised and Expanded Edition edited by John Daintith, Ph.D.
    Six Stars
    What can I say? It's a dictionary. Like I've said with the other dictionaries and encyclopedias on this list, either you're the type of person who reads dictionaries cover-to-cover or you aren't. :-P It's a really cool dictionary.

  95. Atom: Journey Across the Subatomic Cosmos by Isaac Asimov
    Seven Stars
    This is an Asimov nonfiction book. Which means it's excellent. As always, Asimov discusses the subject clearly and comprehensively, explaining modern atomic theory. If you haven't read a science book by Isaac Asimov yet, now's the time to start. (I have a couple of other Asimov nonfiction books on my bookshelf, including The Exploding Suns and The Human Body, and I definitely suggest that you take a look at them.)

  96. Designing the Molecular World by Philip Ball
    Six Stars
    I enjoyed this book greatly. It was a fascinating description of modern chemistry. In particular, the various carbon molecules that chemists have designed (dodecahedrane, etc.) were quite cool to learn about. A wide range of topics, from organic chemistry to liquid crystals, are discussed.

  97. The Chemical Tree: A History of Chemistry by William H. Brock
    Seven Stars
    I read this book at Caltech while taking Chem 1ab; several people erroneously thought I was a chemistry major because I'd read a few pages of it every day at lunch. It's an excellent history of chemistry, covering its slow advancement to modern thinking. It was rather spooky indeed when I'd be working with a certain class of brightly colored cobalt compounds in Chem 3a, and be reading about their development in The Chemical Tree. If you're at all interested in how chemistry advanced to its present state, you need to read this book.

  98. Taming the Atom: The Emergence of the Visible Microworld by Hans Christian von Baeyer
    I recently read this book and enjoyed it, but have yet to write a review. von Baeyer also wrote Maxwell's Demon, and then changed the name of that book, which was so cool, to the much more boring Warmth Disperses and Time Passes.

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    Technology Books:


  99. The Invention That Changed the World: How a Small Group of Radar Pioneers Won the Second World War and Launched a Technical Revolution by Robert Buderi
    Six Stars
    This is part of the excellent Sloan Technology Series (other books in this series on my bookshelf include Dark Sun, Computer, Crystal Fire, and so forth). Now, I call this a technology book, but as with many other books in this section, it's really a history of technology book. Basically, radar was far more important in the Second World War than most people give it credit for. (Having been distracted by, say, atomic bombs.) The Invention That Changed the World examines how radar was developed and used during WWII, and also gives detailed accounts of numerous battles, something that I wasn't expecting and was rather glad was included. If you're interested in radar, or WWII, then definitely look at this book. You won't regret it.

  100. Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956 by David Holloway
    Five Stars
    This chronicles the development of the Soviet atomic program (which proceeded with excellent physicists, a ruthless dictator, and good helpings of espionage). The title says it all: it's highly focused on one topic, so you won't find the breadth that Red Atom provides. However, it's written in a lucid, technical style (rather like The Making of the Atomic Bomb), which is rather different from the opinionated style of Red Atom. If Soviets, nuclear bombs, and spies interest you, then by all means read this book.

  101. Red Atom: Russia's Nuclear Program from Stalin to Today by Paul R. Josephson
    Six Stars
    Josephson is rather negative about nuclear energy, more so than I prefer, but it does not detract in any way from Red Atom. Josephson's negative treatment of nuclear energy is completely justified because the Soviets were so bad at handling nuclear energy; since he doesn't really criticize nuclear energy in other countries, his style doesn't bother me one bit. I'm rather interested in the Soviet Union, and nuclear energy as well, so Red Atom was very interesting to me. It's an excellent book; you'll learn things that you never knew even the slightest about before, like food irradiation (which is actually a positive thing if done correctly - the problem is that the Soviets never mastered this) and exactly why the Chernobyl incident happened.

  102. The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
    Seven Stars
  103. Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb by Richard Rhodes
    Seven Stars
    These two books are basically the definitive nontechnical resource on understanding how the United States of America invented and constructed the atomic bomb and the thermonuclear bomb. It also deals with the Soviet Union where appropriate. I'm quite fascinated by nuclear weapons, as you might tell. For example, few people know anything about the first true thermonuclear bomb: a cryogenic, 20 foot tall, 82 ton behemoth called Mike that yielded 10 megatons. 10MT is a nontrivial amount of energy, you know. Dark Sun has before-and-after pictures of Einwetok atoll. To put it quite simply, where there was once an island called Elugelab, there is no more. Mike vaporized the island, carving out a crater 200 feet deep and a mile across. If that doesn't scream "nifty" to you, I don't know what will. There are other excellent books on the Manhattan Project (ones I don't own, unfortunately), but Rhodes' two are supremely excellent.

  104. Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire by James Wallace and Jim Erickson
    Five Stars
    A history of Microsoft, the company that everyone hates to love or loves to hate. (The problem with Microsoft, you see, is that it's being prosecuted while a majority of the public supports it. It shouldn't be broken up. It makes crufty software, and there are better ways, but you can't prosecute a company for making crufty software. Intel, on the other hand, sues others first, and as for Cisco Systems, well, the government will start prosecuting when it finally figures out what Cisco's doing. But enough of my opinions.) The history of Microsoft is rather interesting, regardless of whether you love or hate the company. This book is very good, and I recommend it to you unconditionally. The one problem with it is that it was written in 1992. In the computer world, that's an eternity. So it misses out on Microsoft in the modern world, but does an excellent job of describing Microsoft's journey through history.

  105. Inside Intel: Andy Grove and the Rise of the World's Most Powerful Chip Company by Tim Jackson
    Seven Stars
    I found this wonderful little book at Borders, on sale at a deep discount (the kind you usually see on crufty books that they need to get rid of fast). I still can't understand why, because Inside Intel (get it? Ha ha) is such a thoroughly excellent book. Everyone knows about the company called "Intel", with the little logo and the little tune, that makes the really fast and good processors. But few people know that the word Intel comes from "INTegrated ELectronics". And fewer people know what Intel was up to before it devised the famous 8086 processor. And few would recognize the name "Andy Grove". But he's a complex character (rather ruthless like Gates), and Intel has led a long and fascinating history. Jackson writes extremely well, which is always a good thing. And Inside Intel is fairly recent, even mentioning the Merced chip (Itanium, the 64-bit microprocessor) in its final pages. If you have the slightest interest in computers (and you must, because you've read this much of this review already!), then you must go out and find a copy of Inside Intel. :-D

  106. Visions of Technology: A Century of Vital Debate about Machines, Systems, and the Human World edited by Richard Rhodes
    Six Stars
    When I first saw Visions of Technology at my local bookstore, I wasn't exactly sure what to make of it. It's definitely an interesting book. It's a collection of essays and excerpts from people in the twentieth century dealing with technology and computers and mechanization and automation and so forth. I have a number of quotations from Visions of Technology in my Quotation Collection, if you'd like to get a feel for what it's about. There are essays written all the way from 1900 to 1997; it's extremely comprehensive. You definitely should look at this book.

  107. Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer, Second Edition by Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine
    Seven Stars
    Yes, Fire in the Valley is another history-of-the-computer-age book. However, it doesn't deal with one company exclusively, it doesn't center around microprocessors, it doesn't deal with the ancient history of computers, and it doesn't deal so much with the Internet. In short, it doesn't duplicate the content of any other book on my bookshelf. (Which is always a good thing.) It starts with (actually, somewhat before) the making of the Altair personal computer kit, and goes right through to the browser wars (though it doesn't cover the latter in exhaustive detail). All the usual suspects are covered: Apple, MITS, IBM, Microsoft, and many other companies which we don't hear about today. This is a supremely excellent book on the history of the computer age, and I recommend it unconditionally.

  108. Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor by Tim Berners-Lee with Mark Fischetti
    Five Stars
    Weaving the Web is an interesting book. It's highly focused, in that it only discusses the Web. The Web, as you might and should know, is not the same as the Internet. If you're interested in how the WWW works, then Weaving the Web is an excellent choice. However, A Brief History of the Future offers a more comprehensive perspective on the history of the Internet, but of course doesn't cover the Web in the detail that Berners-Lee's book does.

  109. Crystal Fire: The Birth of the Information Age by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson
    Five Stars
    Crystal Fire is a book that deals exclusively with the invention of the transistor. It does not cover how the transistor was later developed into the driving force behind the computer age, and doesn't even cover photolithography (literally: writing on stone with light) in that much detail. This is somewhat disappointing because there's so much more that can be said about our friend the transistor. Besides its narrow field of view, Crystal Fire does an excellent job at recounting the invention of the transistor, in precise detail. It makes for a rather interesting story, and I recommend that you take a look at this book, as long as you realize that it only aims to be a history of the transistor and of nothing else.

  110. Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte
    Six Stars
    In Being Digital, Negroponte covers the question, "What does the information age really mean?". How has computer technology already affected our lives, and how will it shape our lives in the decade to come? Negroponte has written an excellent [if self-admittedly obselete paper-and-ink-based] book examining these questions. His thoughts are precise and visionary, though not on as grand a scale as, say, Visions. But then again, Visions deals more with the far future, while Being Digital deals with the near and immediate future. An excellent book.

  111. Computer: A History of the Information Machine by Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray
    Seven Stars
    Computer, despite what you might think, isn't a history of the personal computer in the way that Fire in the Valley is. It's about the Computers of the ages past: Babbage's Engines, Hollerith's machines, and IBM's mainframes. It covers more recent history, even the personal computer and the World Wide Web, but not in very much detail, and anyway there are books devoted exclusively to that. Computer is best at covering the history of computers before the adjective "personal" was ever applied to them. And it does an excellent job.

  112. Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind by Hans Moravec
    Six Stars
  113. Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence by Hans Moravec
    Six Stars
    Hans Moravec, in these two books, looks at the future of artificial intelligence. To put it simply, the field of AI is in a rather sorry state right now, because it's been mostly agreed that it's Too Hard of a problem to tackle. Moravec is [wildly] optimistic about the future, however, and he's a real believer in what I half-jokingly call the Toaster Principle. (My phrase "Toaster Principle" originally applied to paper airplanes. A poorly built airplane can still fly, because even a toaster will fly if you throw it hard enough. Applied to AI, this translates into: you can have a sentient computer if you throw enough computing power at the problem.) Moravec estimates that a computer capable of performing 100 trillion (that is, million million, for those of you not using the American number system) operations per second will be needed for a computer that displays human-level thought. (In contrast, the BS figure that the Star Trek writers once came up with is that the android Data can perform 16 trillion operations per second, which isn't really that far off of the mark from Moravec's actual prediction!) Moravec is rather more optimistic than I am, as he looks to the year 2100 and beyond, devising some rather wild predictions. But overall, Robot and Mind Children are good books on the future of AI. [Anything has to be better than a Penrose AI book, eh?] These two books garner six stars and not seven because of the wild speculations that Moravec indulges in.

  114. Hal's Legacy: 2001's Computer as Dream and Reality edited by David G. Stork
    Seven Stars
    This is a very sane and realistic book on AI. Everyone knows HAL, the computer from "2001: A Space Odyssey". HAL was extremely intelligent and could even read lips and play chess and recognize drawings. Hal's Legacy examines whether any of these things are possible with real technology and what advances have been and are being made in these fields. It's a fantastically detailed book, even showing illustrations of how computers recognize parts of faces. It's probably a good idea to have at least heard of "2001: A Space Odyssey" before reading Hal's Legacy, but it's not necessary to have watched the movie five times over, scrutinizing every detail. (I watched it once, half-asleep, fast-forwarding through the boring parts.) Hal's Legacy is an extremely cool nontechnical and conceptual book, and you should definitely look at it if you're even the slightest bit interested in AI.

  115. Artificial Life: A Report from the Frontier Where Computers Meet Biology by Steven Levy
    Seven Stars
    Steven Levy also wrote Hackers, a book that I plan to buy shortly. Artificial Life is a very nifty book. AL is rather more easily attainable than AI, and much more progress has been made in the field. The famous computer programs are discussed in Levy's book, including Conway's Game of Life, VENUS, cellular automata in general, and of course Tom Ray's Tierra. (Tierra is probably the most advanced artificial life program in existence, demonstrating evolution to an incredible level.) In fact, Artificial Life was the book that got me interested in Tierra in the first place. Shortly after, I downloaded the program and began experimenting with it. Imagine my surprise when after a two-week period of "optimizing" a Tierran creature with my friend Aaron Lee, we learned that the organism we jointly created had already been evolved naturally before! Artificial Life is a fantastically excellent book.

  116. Brainmakers: How Scientists are Moving Beyond Computers to Create a Rival to the Human Brain by David H. Freeman
    Five Stars
    This book is a partial history of the AI field along with some things that may be coming in the near future. It's also the first AI book I purchased. It's not as detailed as Hal's Legacy is, but it definitely covers different topics. Brainmakers, despite the title, also doesn't engage in the wild speculations that Moravec occasionally lets himself get into. A very sane and good book.

  117. Would-Be Worlds: How Simulation is Changing the Frontiers of Science by John L. Casti
    Five Stars
    John L. Casti also wrote Five More Golden Rules, which is surprising because that book was quite good, but Would-Be Worlds wasn't as interesting. This probably results from the fact that I was expecting something along the lines of Artificial Life, while Would-Be Worlds is situated from a more mathematical perspective. If I read it again knowing that, my opinion of it would probably change for the better. It's an interesting book nevertheless, and isn't restricted to just artificial life; it discusses other simulations, such as of market behavior and traffic.

  118. Code by Charles Petzold
    Seven Stars
    Code is an extremely good book. It has nothing to do with cryptography. It deals with how computers operate on the inside. Along the way, it has interesting discussions of ASCII and EBCDIC (the latter is universally agreed to be brain-damaged), two ways of representing letters on computers. This document is typed in ASCII. There's also a lot of logic gate illustrations, and near the end also some descriptions of programming languages. It's such a good book that I read it furiously, only getting bogged down by a few chapters filled with logic gates (it almost seemed like Petzold was going to give a circuit diagram of a Pentium III microprocessor at one point), but after he had finished with making that one laborious point, the rest of the book continued to flow smoothly. (I may reread this book now that I've taken an introductory electrical engineering class at Caltech.) I know things about Braille now that I never knew before. I unconditionally recommend this book to you.

  119. When Things Start to Think by Neil Gershenfeld
    Five Stars
    I need to reread this book in order to comment on it in more detail. It's quite good.

  120. The Feynman Processor by Gerard J. Milburn
    A book on quantum computing. Haven't read it yet.

  121. The C Programming Language, Second Edition by Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie
    Seven Stars
    It's the New Testament. As such, it's the bible of C programmers everywhere. No more need be said.

  122. A Book on C: Programming in C, Fourth Edition by Al Kelley and Ira Pohl
    Five Stars
    This is a reasonably good book, with some rigor (but not as much as there could be). I learned how multiple source files work, one day while reading this book.

  123. C Traps and Pitfalls by Andrew Koenig
    Five Stars
    A good book on what not to do in C. You can judge the datedness of a C programming book by how often it refers to the now completely outdated K&R C (as in, pre-ANSI C). This one is sort of dated. But it's still very good, and a careful reading will avoid many mistakes in your code.

  124. Algorithms in C, Third Edition by Robert Sedgewick
    Six Stars
    This is a reasonably good book on things like sorting, searching, and data structures. (I don't own any of Knuth's books yet.) Basically, this could make an excellent core text for Caltech CS 1, 2, and 3, instead of the crufty DrScheme and Java currently being taught.

  125. Expert C Programming: Deep C Secrets by Peter van der Linden
    Seven Stars
    This is an excellent book on C programming, and only slightly dated (1995). I find it acts as sort of a companion to the K&R2; I keep both at the side of my monitor while programming C. Plenty of useful and interesting information here that will teach you the proper technique and style, and illuminates many of the darker, less well traveled corners of C. Also, it has a useful introduction to C++.

  126. The Standard C Library by P. J. Plaugher
    Five Stars
    This is a good book on the ANSI C library, written by one of the members of the committee that standardized the language. It also explains how to implement the library, which may be of varying use to you. After reading this, I really, really want to purchase a copy of the actual ANSI C standard for myself.

  127. PNG: The Definitive Guide by Greg Roelofs
    PNG is the supernifty graphics format that I use. This book is extremely good, covering things the PNG home page does, but in more depth.

  128. A Brief History of the Future: From Radio Days to Internet Years in a Lifetime by John Naughton
    Seven Stars
    A Brief History of the Future actually doesn't contain predictions about the future of the Internet (as the phrase "history of the future" would make you think). Rather, it's a comprehensive history of the Internet. It includes good details on how exactly the darned thing works (it's not powered by voodoo magic, despite how it seems) and how it evolved into its current behemoth state. As such, its content is unique among the books on this list, as the other books deal with the history of the transistor, of personal computers, the WWW, or mainframes. A Brief History of the Future is extremely interesting (I have a few quotations from it in my Quotation Collection), and I wholeheartedly recommend it to you.

  129. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy
    Six Stars
    Hackers was written in 1984, a rather dark time for the computer industry. I should know - I was growing up around then, and things sucked. Actually, they've continued to suck, and things are only getting interesting now (2001, as I write this). Levy covers the history of hacking, going back to the "true hackers" of the 50s and 60s. Mostly based at MIT, but we can forgive them that. I enjoyed this part; it illuminates the fragments of history you can glimpse in The Jargon File (also known as the New Hacker's Dictionary; since it's public domain, I read the text on the web and don't bother with the book). Next is what he calls the second generation of hackers, the "hardware hackers" of the 70s, based in northern California at places like Berkeley. This section did not really interest me. It covered the Homebrew Computer Club, Apple, companies whose name everyone has forgotten like Processor Technology and MITS, and "personalities" like Ted Nelson. I couldn't care less about hippies who were into building "state of the art machines" that suck now and sucked then, frankly. Apple's history is even more irrelevant, if you'll excuse my holy war bias. Things got more interesting in the third part, "game hackers". I saw the tail end of this pioneering era; I played games like Space Quest 4 when I was young. Hackers ends with a portrait of Richard Stallman, the "last true hacker". Fortunately things have changed for the better since 1984, and things are not sucking so much. Today's current generation of hackers seems to me more like the "true hackers" of the 50s and 60s than anything else. If only Stallman would have figured out that "freedom software" is a more valid and useful phrase than "free software". Silly - nouns can't be adjectives in (say) Russian, but they can be used as such in English! Generally, Hackers is a good read, but it's not the whole story.

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    Astronomy/Astrophysics Books:


  130. Cosmos by Carl Sagan
    Seven Stars
    Note: Cosmos comes in at least two paperback editions: a good, large-sized, richly illustrated Random House edition and a black-and-white small edition which is significantly more inexpensive. I recommend that you get the Random House edition, ISBN 0-394-71596-9.
    Cosmos is a supremely excellent book. It deals with general astronomy and cosmology. In it, he discusses way too many topics to list, but I'll try to give you some idea of what's covered: explorations of the solar system (Mars, Venus, etc), interstellar probes (Voyager and Pioneer), the history of astronomy, astrophysics, and the ultimate fate of humanity, among other things. This book is so good, that any further attempts to describe it will just pale in comparison to the actual book. Find it, and read it. :-D

  131. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by Carl Sagan
    Seven Stars
    Note: Pale Blue Dot also comes in multiple editions. Again, I suggest the richly illustrated paperback, ISBN 0-679-76486-0.
    Like Cosmos, Pale Blue Dot is supremely excellent. It does deal with human colonization of outer space, but not as much as you might expect. Rather, it spends more time examining what we already know about the solar system, and thus what will await future explorers that we send out into the depths of space. I definitely enjoyed this book, and I'm rather certain that you will as well.

  132. Stars by James B. Kaler
    Seven Stars
    Yes, this is another Scientific American Library book. Stars is one of my few astrophysics books that exclusively deals with the evolution of stars over a long period of time (many of my other books deal with specific stages in a star's life or only deal with stellar evolution as part of a larger context). This means the Main Sequence and everything else associated with it. Like all other Scientific American Library books, Stars is packed with diagrams and illustrations. More importantly, Stars walks that thin line between bland general analogies and overprecise dense technical details perfectly, leaving you with a powerful book that will give you a strong conceptual understanding of how stars evolve and behave.

  133. A Short History of the Universe by Joseph Silk
    Six Stars
    Another Scientific American Library book. A Short History of the Universe deals mostly with the Big Bang and processes associated with it, like primordial nucleosynthesis and how the universe expands over time. It also deals with particle physics to some extent, explaining how CP violation has produced the massive matter/antimatter asymmetry that's present in the universe today. As with all Scientific American Library books, you know what I think about A Short History of the Universe: it's really good, and I recommend it to you if you have any interest in cosmology or astrophysics.

  134. Gravity's Fatal Attraction: Black Holes in the Universe by Mitchell Begelman and Martin Rees
    Six Stars
    Gravity's Fatal Attraction is a Scientific American Library book (and we all know what that means, right?). I especially like the diagram on page 98 (of the paperback): a large, multistep chart that details the many alternate routes by which massive black holes can form. The book basically describes most of the nontechnical aspects of black holes, including their formation and behavior (accretion disks and the like). You can find out more about black holes in my Physics Books section, but Gravity's Fatal Attraction deals more with astronomy, meaning real-world black holes, rather than the theoretical properties that arise from general relativity. It also explains "superluminal" jets in a way that makes their paradoxical nature obvious and clear, something that other books don't do as well of a job with. I highly recommend this book.

  135. The Big Bang, Revised and Updated Edition by Joseph Silk
    Seven Stars
    Joseph Silk (author of A Short History of the Universe) has written another excellent book here (not in the Scientific American Library series). In fact, The Big Bang is probably better than A Short History of the Universe. The Big Bang explains basically everything that there is to know about the origin of the universe in a clear, nontechnical manner. Definitely recommended.

  136. The Exploding Suns, Updated Edition by Isaac Asimov with a new chapter by Dr. William A. Gutsch, Jr.
    Six Stars
    A great book on supernovae, written in Asimov's usual clear and imaginative style. I definitely recommend this book for those new to supernovae; for the more advanced reader, other books may be more appropriate.

  137. 100 Billion Suns: The Birth, Life, and Death of the Stars by Rudolf Kippenhahn with a new afterword by the author
    Seven Stars
    My edition's ISBN is 0-691-08781-4. 100 Billion Suns makes for excellent reading. It focuses only on the evolution of stars, but it has a different "feel" than Stars. Kippenhahn's book also includes information that I don't remember reading elsewhere, like how exactly the famed "carbon cycle" within stars operates. I really enjoyed this book.

  138. The Very First Light: The True Inside Story of the Scientific Journey Back to the Dawn of the Universe by John C. Mather and John Boslough
    Six Stars
    A history of the COBE satellite, which first examined the cosmic microwave background radiation in detail. My opinion of this book used to be higher (on the seven star level), but recent developments in the CMBR field have made The Very First Light somewhat dated. (The fact that this book was published in 1996 shows just how fast the field is moving). If the CMBR is interesting to you, then The Very First Light is a good choice; otherwise, there are other books with a broader view of the origin of the universe which could be a better choice.

  139. The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity by Fred Adams and Greg Laughlin
    Eight Stars
    Simply breathtaking. Most astrophysics books mention how the universe will end: in fire (Big Crunch) or ice (neverending expansion). And they leave it at that. Some books even prefer to examine how a Big Crunch would take place, although most evidence points to the conclusion that the universe will expand forever. The Five Ages of the Universe deals with what will happen if the universe expands forever - the long-term evolution of the universe. When I say long term, I mean long term. Adams and Laughlin show in exquisite detail how interesting things will still be going on when the universe is 10145 years old. (Other processes which take place after 101500 years, like cold fusion, or over even more mind-boggling scales of time are discussed, but rejected because they probably won't happen.) The universe's life is divided by Adams and Laughlin: the Primordial Era, the Stelliferous Era, the Degenerate Era, the Black Hole Era, and the Dark Era. They show how in each era, interesting things are going on, even in the Dark Era. The universe will not become boring for a very long time, but it will run down. I gave this book eight stars, and for good reason. It's amazing.

  140. The Facts on File Dictionary of Astronomy, Third Edition edited by Valerie Illingworth
    Six Stars
    As I've said before, either you're the type of person who reads dictionaries or you aren't. This one is really quite good, though.

  141. Prisons of Light: Black Holes by Kitty Ferguson
    Six Stars
    Prisons of Light explains black holes, as some of my other books do, but more from a practical "how would an astronaut see it?" point of view rather than from a theoretical point of view. In this, it's similar to Gravity's Fatal Attraction, but the books offer different information. It's an excellent book.

  142. The Last Three Minutes: Conjectures about the Ultimate Fate of the Universe by Paul Davies
    Five Stars
    Basically, The Last Three Minutes is what The Five Ages of the Universe would have been if two changes were made to it: if it dealt with a Big Crunch, and if it sucked considerably more. Not to say that The Last Three Minutes is a bad book, but it simply pales in comparison to The Five Ages of the Universe. Davies' book also deals with rather speculative physics, like a rebounding universe, while Adams and Laughlin's book deals with rock-solid physics. So, The Last Three Minutes is okay, and explains what it ought to. It's just that The Five Ages of the Universe is so much better.

  143. Voyage to the Great Attractor: Exploring Intergalactic Space by Alan Dressler
    Four Stars
    For some reason, Voyage to the Great Attractor didn't interest me all that much. I can't say that it was bad, but I can't say that I particularly enjoyed it either. Basically, I was left wondering what the point of the book was. I can't really recommend this book because I didn't enjoy it very much.

  144. The Universe Story by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry
    Four Stars
    Another book that I didn't really get interested in. It's better than Voyage to the Great Attractor, but not by much. Basically, chapters entitled "Galaxies" and "Rise of Nations" simply do not belong in the same book. I didn't enjoy it very much, and I think that there are better uses of time and money. I can't say that it annoyed/disappointed me enough to deserve three stars, but it's not all that good.

  145. The Universe Unfolding edited by Hermann Bondi and Miranda Weston-Smith
    Six Stars
    This is a collection of 20 lectures given over the years by various distinguished astronomers. They cover a wide range of topics (cosmic rays, eclipses, polarization, the universe's expansion), and are uniformly good (with the exception of Fred Hoyle quackery). There is a lecture by Penrose, but he doesn't mention AI, so it's safe. I rather enjoyed this book.

  146. Extraterrestrial Intelligence by Jean Heidmann
    Six Stars
    Amazingly, this book takes a sane yet optimistic approach to extraterrestrial intelligence. From how life evolves, to where we have looked or will look for extraterrestrial life, and how we are listening for signals, it's comprehensive and detailed. I highly recommend this book.

  147. The Scientific American Book of Astronomy from the Editors of Scientific American Magazine
    Six Stars
    The Scientific American Book of Astronomy is a collection of articles that have appeared in Scientific American over the years. If you've ever seen an issue of the magazine, you know the high quality and nontechnical nature of the articles. That's exactly what this book is.

  148. The Magic Furnace: The Search for the Origins of Atoms by Marcus Chown
    Five Stars
    This was a reasonably good book on nucleosynthesis and the like, but I didn't really find anything new in this book, after reading the others here. I might have enjoyed it more if it were the first time I had seen the material, but I got nothing interesting from reading it when I did.

  149. Cosmic Clouds: Birth, Death, and Recycling in the Galaxy by James B. Kaler
    A Scientific American Library book, I've read this but have yet to write a review. You'll recognize James B. Kaler, of Stars fame. This is a good companion volume.

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    Space Achievements Books:


  150. The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must by Robert Zubrin with Richard Wagner
    Eight Stars
    Basically, The Case for Mars is a terrific book. You know a book is good when it completely convinces you of its points. $30 billion, give or take some, is all that's needed to get to Mars safely in a little over a decade. If you don't believe that, then you haven't read The Case for Mars. Find it and read it. It's incredibly excellent.

  151. The Last Man on the Moon: Astronaut Eugene Cernan and America's Race in Space by Eugene Cernan with Don Davis
    Seven Stars
    The Last Man on the Moon deals with Apollo 17, but also provides an extensive view of what went on before, including Gemini, all from Gene Cernan's point of view. It's a supremely excellent book, and you should definitely take a look at it.

  152. Deke!: U.S. Manned Space: From Mercury to the Shuttle by Donald K. "Deke" Slayton with Michael Cassutt
    Seven Stars
    Deke! tells the same familar story, but from Deke Slayton's uniquely positioned point of view. As the chief of the Astronaut Corps, he selected the the crews who flew on the Gemini and Apollo missions. Deke! makes the perfect companion book to The Last Man on the Moon.

  153. This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age by William E. Burrows
    Seven Stars
    This is the broadest history of spaceflight that I have, and offers a grand view of the amazing space accomplishments of the 20th century. On the back of the paperback appears a comment from The Washington Post: "The most comprehensive history of humanity's efforts to explore space ever to be crammed into a single volume". I agree wholeheartedly - it even deals with the space probes launched. This is an excellent book and I recommend it to you unconditionally.

  154. A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin
    Six Stars
    This is the book that the HBO miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon" was based on. It's a very excellent book, and it deals mainly with the Apollo missions (no Mercury or Gemini). Because it's so focused, it's a good resource for the Apollo missions but doesn't provide a grand view of the space program like some of the other books here do (which is why I gave it six stars and not seven). As for the HBO miniseries, that was truly excellent. Over a period of a week, I watched two one-hour segments a day, and it was simply stunning. I felt like I was back in the 60's and 70's, watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon live. It's on VHS (what I watched) and DVD as well (I think), and you really should go rent each successive part and watch it at home.

  155. Countdown: A History of Space Flight by T. A. Heppenheimer
    Eight Stars
    Countdown deals more with the early history of spaceflight, which is different from This New Ocean. It also deals with the Soviets' efforts in some detail, though not as much as Korolev. Heppenheimer's book also contains one of my favorite quotations:
    When a Saturn V stage was in place for a night firing, its bright flame would cast a glow across the land. During the brief minutes of its firing it would hold back the night. And in that state, one could cherish the dream that somehow there would be other lights, brighter and stronger, to drive shadows from the hearts of men.
    Like I said, you should definitely look at Countdown.

  156. Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon by James Harford
    Six Stars
    Note: Sadly, I cannot type Russian in this web page. Once you learn Russian, it's exceedingly difficult to type an English transliteration of a Russian word and not wince. Korolev is not pronounced "Koro-lehv", it is pronounced "Koro-lyov". Similar munging happens to Nikita Khrushchev's last name in English.
    Sergei Korolev was the Soviet Chief Designer, never publicly referred to by name during his lifetime for fear that enemy governments (read: the USA) would find a way to eliminate him. Korolev chronicles his life and his work. It makes for extremely interesting reading.

  157. Failure Is Not an Option by Gene Kranz
    Six Stars
    Another good book by a space pioneer, offering another unique perspective.

  158. Exploring the Moon by David M. Harland
    Seven Stars
    This book actually deals with the scientific exploration of the moon in great detail, instead of the efforts on Earth to get there, or the actual journeys themselves. As such, I found it fascinating and an excellent read.

  159. Flight by Chris Kraft
    Six Stars
    This was an enjoyable book. I'll be reading it again and will write a more detailed review then.

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    Biology/Evolution Books:


  160. Life's Other Secret: The New Mathematics of the Living World by Ian Stewart
    Four Stars
    It's been a long time since I first read this book. I remember not having a very high opinion of it, but I think that I should reread it before I make any further comments about it.

  161. Dead Men Do Tell Tales by William R. Maples, Ph.D. and Michael Browning
    Six Stars
    A book on forensic anthropology. It deals with several murder cases as well as the Romanovs (Tsar Nicholas II and his family) and President Zachary Taylor. I don't have anything else to compare it to, but this is a very excellent book and I recommend it to you. If you have a weak stomach, though, you might want to be careful.

  162. River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life by Richard Dawkins
    Five Stars
    This is another book in the (apparently now discontinued) Science Masters Series. I originally had a higher opinion of this book, but it's not detailed enough to earn six or more stars from me. It's an excellent choice for a beginner to the world of neo-Darwianian biology, though.

  163. The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
    Eight Stars
    Now, this is an excellent book on evolution. I've given it eight stars, and The Blind Watchmaker definitely deserves them. It will change the way you look at the world.

  164. The Human Body: Its Structure and Operation, Revised and Expanded Edition by Isaac Asimov
    Six Stars
    The best nontechnical anatomy book I've seen. Asimov explains, clearly and in detail, the various structures of the human body and how they're used. Its scope is truly the entire human body: blood, lungs, muscles, bones, joints, everything except for the brain. (There's a companion book, imaginatively titled The Human Brain, that covers that all-important organ, but I haven't seen the book yet.) I definitely recommend Asimov's The Human Body to you if you have even a passing interest in biology (like me; it's rather apparent from this list that my interests mainly lie elsewhere).

  165. Power Unseen: How Microbes Rule the World by Bernard Dixon
    Seven Stars
    Power Unseen examines different species of bacteria and different viruses to show how they affect our history, our lives, and our future. Some are useful, some are destructively violent, and some are usefully destructively violent. (Yersinia pestis, agent of the Black Death, was ultimately responsible for igniting the Renaissance and the birth of modern science as we know it.) Power Unseen is really an excellent book.

  166. The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
    Six Stars
    The true chronicle of several Ebola outbreaks. Ebola is a devastating filovirus ("thread virus"), and some variants of it are 90% lethal. Good thing for us it's not airborne... or is it? The Hot Zone makes for excellent, nonstop, gripping reading.

  167. The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance by Laurie Garrett
    Seven Stars
    The Coming Plague is an extremely detailed and comprehensive book (and long: 700+ pages), and deals exclusively with harmful emerging diseases, unlike Power Unseen (which is more general) or The Hot Zone (which is more specific and in narrative form). Strange foreign diseases are discussed, as well as seemingly more mundane ones like tuberculosis and streptococcus; bacteria and viruses everywhere are devising new surprises for us. The Coming Plague is a great book, and you should like it if you liked The Hot Zone or Power Unseen, as they all offer a different perspective on microbiology.

  168. Emerging Viruses edited by Stephen S. Morse
    Six Stars
    Haven't read this book very carefully yet, but it's quite good.

  169. The Selfish Gene, New Edition by Richard Dawkins
    Six Stars
  170. The Extended Phenotype by Richard Dawkins
    Six Stars
    I haven't read these two yet, but I can confidently rate them as six stars; once I read them, I may decide that they're worthy of even seven or eight stars.

  171. The Psychology of Visual Illusion by J. O. Robinson
    Six Stars
    A good book that attempts to illuminate why our visual systems get fooled by a number of things (and it has illustrations of many, many such illusions - some of which are rather boring, and some of which are completely amazing). There are still many unanswered questions in this field.

  172. Drugs and the Brain by Solomon H. Snyder
    Six Stars
    A required text for Caltech Bi 1, I include it with my other books because it's a Scientific American Library book. Drugs and the Brain is an excellent book on neurotransmitters, ions, and how drugs wreak havoc with all the incompletely understood machinery in the brain. This book is pretty good; I can't say I'm particularly interested in the field, but the level of detail is satisfying.

  173. The Red Queen by Matt Ridley
    I haven't completely read this book yet.

  174. Viruses by Arnold J. Levine
    A Scientific American Library book, I've read this but have yet to write a review.

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    Skeptical Books:


  175. Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science by Martin Gardner
    Five Stars
    My edition is a Dover book. Fads & Fallacies is a classic book dealing with nutcases and quacks; quackery is timeless, so much of it is applicable today. (Scientology and UFOs, for example, are covered by Gardner, and such kookery is alive and well today.) The only drawback is that it's old - the second edition was first published in 1957. Fads & Fallacies is great if you don't take into account its somewhat dated nature. For a modern skeptical book, Why People Believe Weird Things is an excellent choice.

  176. Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time by Michael Shermer
    Eight Stars
    An incredibly excellent explanation of what skepticism means and how it can be used to debunk various worthless claims (including UFOs, Holocaust denial, creationism, and Tipler's quackery). I've given it eight stars because it will change your whole view of the world (or perhaps merely reinforce it!). This is how I think. This is how you should think. :-D Read this book.

  177. The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense by Michael Shermer
    Five Stars
    This book disappointed me. I expected more from Michael Shermer after reading Why People Believe Weird Things. Yet The Borderlands of Science was not a particularly interesting book, and I was left wondering what the point was.

  178. Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme by Richard Brodie
    Eight Stars
    The first page of this book has the word "Warning!" in a large font, followed by a box of text which reads: "This book contains a live mind virus. Do not read further unless you are willing to be infected. The infection may affect the way you think in subtle or not-so-subtle ways - or even turn your current world view inside out." And it's absolutely correct. The basic idea of the meme ("mind virus") is that it's conceptually analogous to a gene: a meme is a basic unit of information transfer (to put it in a simple, somewhat incorrect way - there are much better explanations). (They rhyme: gene, meme. Not genie, meme.) Memetics is the study of memes, and it's extremely interesting. One of the things that I'm doing with this book reviews page is spreading memes. I'm encouraging you to look at some of these books on this list, which are chock-full of memes, and I'm also discouraging you from looking at other books because they contain memes which don't agree with the memes in my head. I want to spread the memes in my head to other people, and recommending various science books is a rather good way to do that. The analogies to a virus are obvious, no? You really need to read Virus of the Mind.

  179. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan
    Eight Stars
    The Demon-Haunted World examines how science illuminates our world. It could also belong in my general Science Books section, but I arbitrarily placed it here. It's a stunning explanation and defense of what science is and what it means.

  180. Myth Information by J. Allen Varasdi
    Five Stars
    A thorough, alphabetical debunking of 500+ popular myths. Despite having a few flaws itself (the famous picture of the Iwo Jima flag-raising was not staged and was not a re-enactment), it's very good.

  181. False Prophets: Fraud and Error in Science and Medicine, Revised Edition by Alexander Kohn
    Six Stars
    False Prophets examines various scientific hoaxes and trickery throughout history, such as Piltdown Man and the Soviet biologist Lysenko's quackery. Even Gregor Mendel cooked his data a little to make it look perfect. An enjoyable, thoughtful read.

  182. Voodoo Science by Robert Park
    Four Stars
    I have read this book, but wasn't quite sure what to make of it. On one hand, it was sort of good, but on the other hand, it rather violently disrespected Robert Zubrin. Zubrin later sued Park, and he revised the text.

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    Essay Books:


  183. The Secret of the Universe by Isaac Asimov
    Six Stars
    This is a collection of astronomy/astrophysics essays by Isaac Asimov. Asimov's essay collections are always excellent, and I wish that I had The Left Hand of the Electron and The Tragedy of the Moon and all the other essay collections to go along with it on my bookshelf. (I've read those at a library but I like owning books so I can read them again and again.) If you ever come across any Asimov essay collections, READ THEM! Unlike some of his fiction short stories, which occasionally fall flat, every Asimov essay I've ever read has been enjoyable and interesting.

  184. The Meaning of it All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist by Richard P. Feynman
    Feynman's books are always good. As I haven't read The Meaning of it All yet, I can't say exactly how good it is.

  185. The Roving Mind, Revised Edition by Isaac Asimov
    Seven Stars
    A rather diverse collection of Asimov essays, which are all excellent. It's divided into seven parts, each of which contains several essays: The Religious Radicals, Other Aberrations, Population, Science: Opinion, Science: Explanation, The Future, and Personal. There's something here for everyone, and I definitely recommend this book to you.

  186. The Relativity of Wrong by Isaac Asimov
    Seven Stars
    Another Asimov essay collection (I wish I had more!) that's a little less diverse than The Roving Mind. If you've read his essays before, then you know what to expect; if you haven't, now's a great time to start! Thoroughly excellent.

  187. Only The Paranoid Survive by Andy Grove
    I have read this book and enjoyed it throughly, but have yet to write a review.

  188. The Best American Science Writing 2000 edited by James Gleick
    Five Stars
    This book was recommended to me, so I went and bought it. It was okay, nothing spectacularly awful about it, but really nothing that grabbed my attention very much.

  189. "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" by Richard P. Feynman
  190. "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" by Richard P. Feynman
    I have read these books and enjoyed them both, but I have yet to write a review.

  191. The Baltimore Case by Daniel J. Kevles
    Six Stars
    I bought this book after my best friend Andy Yang was telling us all about it over pizza one day. It is an account of a rather distasteful mess that a biologist got mixed up in. David Baltimore (now president of Caltech) got mixed up in this too; while he was never suspected of wrongdoing, he defended the suspected biologist when her credibility was attacked. Eventually it turned out that Baltimore was right all along; while the biologist was probably sloppy, she never falsified data. (I'm writing this review from memory - sorry!) A rather enjoyable book.

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    Science Books:


  192. Doubt and Certainty by Tony Rothman and George Sudarshan
    I haven't read this rather philosophical book yet. I enjoyed Rothman's Instant Physics a whole lot, so I'm hopeful.

  193. McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Science & Technology, Third Edition
    Seven Stars
    Note: There is now a fourth edition of this book, but I didn't buy it because it was way expensive.
    This is an incredibly comprehensive and detailed encylopedia of scientific concepts and terms. It's also tremendously large (2200+ pages). Take a look at it; it may be interesting to you.

  194. Random House Webster's Dictionary of Scientists
    Six Stars
    An excellent collection of short biographies of scientists; while they don't go into the detail that, say, Men of Mathematics does (being only a couple of paragraphs each), the major advantage of this book is that it covers so many scientists.

  195. The World Treasury of Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics edited by Timothy Ferris
    Seven Stars
    I got this book after my good friend Josie Chau lent me her hardcover copy. And it's an extremely excellent book. It's a collection of essays dealing with science, written by different authors. The topics are diverse, and not restricted to just physics, astronomy, and mathematics: the writers also discuss the nature of science itself. Many "big names" are included, such as Einstein, Feynman, Planck, Penrose (on black holes and not AI, thankfully), Sagan, Dyson, Asimov: the list goes on and on. You won't regret reading this book.

  196. What Remains to be Discovered: Mapping the Secrets of the Universe, the Origins of Life, and the Future of the Human Race by John Maddox
    Five Stars
    This is a good book, though it doesn't do what it claims to do. After my first reading of it, I was left with the impression that it explained, in a clear and detailed manner, where science has been, but that it did not really point out areas where new discoveries await, unlike what the title would suggest. Perhaps I didn't pay enough attention and I need to read the book again.

  197. The Ascent of Science by Brian L. Silver
    Six Stars
    The Ascent of Science is a wonderful book that details how science arose from the Renaissance to become the massive worldwide undertaking it is today. It leaves no stone unturned, covering Newtonian mechanics, biology, quantum physics, relativity, chaos theory, the periodic table, and on and on. I can't award this book eight stars because it won't change your view of the world fundamentally, but it will broaden your view.

  198. 101 Things You Don't Know About Science and No One Else Does Either by James Trefil
    Five Stars
    I can't say that this book interested me a whole lot, but then again I read it after reading most of the books on this list. It's probably more appropriate for a beginner who doesn't know where exactly the frontiers of science are, or even for the intermediate reader who'd like to know more details. 101 Things You Don't Know About Science is probably the book that What Remains to Discovered wanted to be.

  199. Serendipity: Accidental Discoveries in Science by Royston M. Roberts
    Six Stars
    A surprising amount of things happen in science because of pure luck. Serendipity details numerous cases of scientific discoveries which were made without any conscious attempt by the scientists. For example, the discovery of Teflon was made by accident when scientists noticed that a gas tank containing tetrafluoroethylene wouldn't release any gas, but it still weighed the same as it did before. Upon breaking it open, they found that the tetrafluoroethylene had polymerized. Hello, atomic bombs and nonstick cookware. Or how Pasteur's discovery of chemical chirality wouldn't have been possible except for the weather conditions on the day of the discovery. Serendipity is a fantastic book.

  200. Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium by Carl Sagan
    Six Stars
    An excellent book examining how Carl Sagan viewed the world. If you've enjoyed his other books (Cosmos, The Demon-Haunted World and all the others), then you'll surely enjoy reading Billions & Billions.

  201. Predicting the Future: From Jules Verne to Bill Gates by John Malone
    Three Stars
    An utterly forgettable book. There are better uses of time and money, especially with all the other excellent books on this list. But if predictions of the future from the past interest you, hey, give it a shot.

  202. Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder by Richard Dawkins
    Seven Stars
    This was an excellent book. As it was written by Dawkins, it mostly covers biology, and only stayed on topic part of the time (namely, that science makes the world more beautiful, not less), but nevertheless was quite enjoyable. And it contains a rather good trashing of Stephen Jay Gould. Mmm.

  203. The Collapse of Chaos: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart
    Eight Stars
  204. Figments of Reality: The Evolution of the Curious Mind by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen
    Eight Stars
    These books form a pair, with The Collapse of Chaos coming first. They should also be read as a pair, in my opinion. They're very hard to describe, but I can say that they are excellent books. Maybe even on the level of The God Particle. They talk about biology, mathematics, evolution, human behavior, physics, thermodynamics, chaos theory, and a whole lot of other things. I originally had placed these in the Mathematics Books section, but on my bookshelf they're with my general science books, and their content is way too broad to classify them as anything but Science Books on this list. Both The Collapse of Chaos and Figments of Reality center around two questions: "What is simplicity?" and "What is complexity?". More importantly, how can simple systems arise from complex causes and how can complex systems arise from simple causes? (They coin words for this: simplexity and complicity.) Figments of Reality, the second book, focuses somewhat more on humans, and how our minds and our culture arose from simple causes. Just as with The God Particle, these two books have powerfully shaped how I think. You must read these books. It's as simple as that. :-D

  205. Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century by Michio Kaku
    Seven Stars
    Unlike Kaku's extremely dubious Hyperspace, Visions is a truly excellent book. For a book dealing with predictions of the future, Visions is remarkably sane and optimistic at the same time. The timespan covered ranges from the near future (2020) to the intermediate (2050) and long-term (2100), but wild speculations about the far future aren't discussed because no one's really certain exactly how well we'll be able to use science to improve our lives. Kaku follows three revolutions that started in the 20th century but will really make their effects felt in the 21st: the quantum revolution, the computer revolution, and the biomolecular revolution. Surprisingly, Kaku mentions superstring theory only twice, and in a sane manner. I really enjoyed this book and I'm sure that you will as well.

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http://nuwen.net/books.html (updated a long time ago)
Stephan T. Lavavej
Home: stl@nuwen.net
Work: stl@microsoft.com
This is my personal website. I work for Microsoft, but I don't speak for them.