[warning: you won't find any useful identity related info in this post]


I recently moved to a new apartment, and while unboxing the books I had to decide on a criteria for shelving them in our wonderful black billy. Hierarchies sucks, because they force you to choose a single criteria for slicing your data: but with physical objects, it's hard to use tagging 🙂 I decided to dedicate one shelf to the books that had the most influence on my past & recent development: and I'm going to spend some of this Saturday night writing it down here. I excluded all the classics from school time, you won't find "The Prince" or "The Divine Comedy" in this list but that doesn't mean that I didn't metabolize them; the same goes for pure-entertainment novels & poets, no Hyperion or Montale here; the same goes for scholastic programming, no Knuth, Sliberschatz or Code Complete; or for the books that I have but I didn't find the time to read yet, like The Long Tail (bought from Anderson himself when he came to present it @ campus) or  "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman"; we have to draw a line somewhere 🙂

  • Godel Escher Bach - Douglas Hofstadter
    Simply fantastic. Should be mandatory reading for orientation courses pre-computer science. I didn't really understand recursion until I read GEB; the godelization is one of the most useful concepts ever; messages/codes/meaning, 'nuff said.

  • The Mind's I - Hofstadter & Dennett
    A great book. Some of the mental experiments it does were things I thought myself, and finding that somebody else considered those bookworthy encouraged me to slip further in weirdo mode 🙂

  • The society of mind - Marvin Minksy
    I read bits and pieces of this book during my frequent visits to the Feltrinelli bookstore in Genoa. At the time, reading for long a book that you won't purchase was not a socially acceptable practice: but the book was 70,000 lire (maybe ~$40), way too much for me at that time. I went in pilgrimage to the book in the same library for 3 years, to the point that they wrapped it in foil; and in the end I actually got it, exactly that foiled copy, even if I read the entire thing twice already. What a great satisfaction 🙂 Today those theories are perhaps less actual, but certain concepts (the frame above everything) are still useful and were instrumental in "getting" object orientation

  • The Blind Watchmaker

  • The Selfish Gene - Dawkins
    Amazing, amazing books. I've read The Selfish Gene when I was barely more than a kid, and a lot of things just made sense all of the sudden. Together with GEB & the Society of Mind, this is the book who I think had the most influence.

  • A brief history of time - Hawking
    This was the first book of popular science I've read - and I liked so much that I risked picking physic as a major (then dumped for computer science, though massotherapy was a big contender too). It was incredibly entertaining: when I think of particle spin (admittedly not very often) I still see the game card illustration he used.

  • The Wisdom of Crowds - Surowiecki
    Non-trivial, and full of useful information. The idea of information cascade is incredibly useful (XML schemas for everything at the dawn of web services, anyone?), and the effect of information on decision markets is something that every manager should be deeply aware of.

  • L'uomo neuronale - Jean Pierre Changeux
    After having considered the mind from the software side, Changeaux provided a great view of the hardware an crystal clear explanations of neurotransmitters, synapses & friends.

  • The art of always being right - Schopenhauer
    That's a nice little book written almost 150 years ago, gathering techniques for prevailing in a discussion. You'd be surprised by how many times you can recognize the patterns here described in today's political debates, comment threads on forums and so on

  • 101 Zen stories 

  • Blink - Gladwell
    More Gladwell. Blink is worth for all the interesting facts, but in fact I don't need to be convinced of the existence of such a phenomenon (ask GP :))

  • Fooled by randomness

  • The black swan - Nassir Taleb
    Another author I would make mandatory read. He makes excellent points, and uncovers "bugs" in our way to interpret results & view the world that are as subtle as they can be misleading. I just wish I had the guts to apply those concepts and embrace the skeptic view also with my behavior, instead of just agreeing 🙂 Ah, and the Black Swan in particular can be eye opening

  • The paradox of choice - Barry Schwartz
    Great, great book. Confirms many intuitive truth I've always been aware of, such as the opportunity costs, and does so in a crystal clear way. This book is not about computers or architecture at all, and yet I would warmly suggest it to architects.

  • Collapse - Jared Diamond
    This a great book; very sobering. I always suggest it to people who make the mistake of telling me "it can't hurt, it's natural" or "if it worked for the ancients..."

  • The Tipping Point -Gladwell
    A must read. Connectors, mavens... network theory applied to the society. Again, a really useful model

  • Freakonomics - Lewitt
    Interesting, though more for the facts themselves.

  • The Code Book: The secret History of Codes & Code-Breaking - Simon Singh
    A great introduction to cryptography, which managed to make the topic of cryptography fascinating thanks to all the historical references and great prose. Without this book I may not have walked the path that brought me to my current focus on identity. The style of the intro of our "Understanding Windows CardSpace" is probably inspired by they enjoyment I got from this book.

  • In defense of elitism - William Henry III
    A great book. Just read it: you may not agree with everything in it, but for sure it will make you think

  • The World is Flat - Friedman
    I was reading this book before moving in the US (late 2005) and shortly after, still in hard cover. It was a great read, really informative. I don't know how the expanded & renewed versions are.

  • The Big Switch - Carr
    The latest entry to the shelf of fame. It is a good read, though occasionally I do not agree with the author (I am sure you'll guess where easily enough if you read it). The best intro to the cloud I've read so far

  • Getting things done - David Allen
    I appreciated various readings on the "work" space, DeBono and Goleman above all; but Getting Things Done deserves its own place in the shelf of fame. Am I applying the method he describes? Well... not really. I am still supremely messy. But at least now I know where the problem is, and occasionally I gather enough courage to fix things and that saves me form declaring email bankrupt

  • The visual display of quantitative information - Tufte
    Beautiful, and useful. Having spent about 2/3 years here, this book could not be missing from my shelf

  • Design & Comunicazione Visiva - Munari
    Understanding a bit how the language of design works is a fascinating experience. An education in ergonomic plus aesthetic, or a least the awareness that those principles are applied all around us, helps becoming better "users of the world" and provides criteria for approaching other cultures. Ah, and helps developing some basic mental hygiene when composing slides & animations

  • Flatland - Abbott
    Great thought experiment, for the time at which it was written; it helped me to accept that sometimes it makes sense to suspend judgement and/or be conscious of model boundaries. Today it is perhaps a bit naive, but when I read it I was practically a kid

  • Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

  • 1984 - George Orwell

  • Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury 
    Anti-utopies: it's interesting to take a good look. I suggest reading first Orwell, then Huxley: the opposite order ruins Orwell a bit IMHO.

  • Nexus - Mark Buchanan

  • Sync - Steven Strogaz

  • Linked - Barabasi
    The power law is one of the most charming non-obvious effects, and the extent of its applications is just amazing. And the science of networks looks incredibly promising, though the lack of obvious advancements/applications risen to public fame in the last years is perhaps a bit suspicious.

Well, in the end I didn't really go through all the titles in the shelf; but the above seems more than enough.

Now, time to fire up a meme. There are super smart guys out there, and I'd be really curious to know what are the books that had some part in developing their thought process: hence I hereby tag Gianpaolo, Tim , Joshua and Nigel to name at least 5 of the books that did the trick for them. I know that getting a reaction from Tim & Nigel will be difficult, they both blog very rarely, but it's worth a try nonetheless 🙂

Update: I added Joshua among the tagged. Unforgivable of me to forget him, since I am sure he will be incredibly interesting. It's simply that while I often work with the other three, I don't have many chances to do the same w Joshua hence tha lapsus. Let's hope he'll pick it up!

Comments (4)

  1. Over the week end, my good buddy Vittorio a.k.a. the man who knows more about identity than it is mentally

  2. gian says:

    Impressive how we all read, keep and praise all the same fetish books. I believe it is more about trying to comply to a mass identity, and as a result this mass identity gets actually built in reality. Tlon Uqbar Orbis Tertius.

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