Monday, February 16, 2009

Really good books

I was updating the Recently Read sidebar of this blog, and as I realized that I had forgotten to include some titles, I thought it would be fun to try to select my top 5 of those 23 worthwhile books. I couldn't quite make my mind, so here's a list with some disjunctions:

  1. After Dark
  2. Microcosm
  3. Euler's Gem or The Best of All Possible Worlds
  4. Nowhere Man or Sea of Poppies
  5. Ice, Mud and Blood or Traffic

Hors concours, the most fun in the sense of unputdownable were The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Two Planks and a Passion (I fear I bored my Canada ski companions to tears with ski trivia from the last one).

After Dark is the most self-consistent and concentrated piece of fiction I've read in a long time; an algorithmic gem. Microcosm is evolutionary microbiology written in a way that a computer scientist can love. Euler's Gem reminded me of theorems and proofs I had forgotten, and showed me many others that I should have known; all elementary, all great fun to work through. The Best of All Possible Worlds reminded me and taught me of the many pitfalls of optimality, which we computer scientists keep getting confused about. Nowhere Man opened up for me the farce and horrors in the collapse of those other European dictatorships. Sea of Poppies is great linguistic miscegenation, and whacks one on the side of the head with some rather forgotten truths of colonialism. Ice, Mud and Blood shows us how to measure the swings of climate over geological time, and scares us about what might come. And Traffic is a needed lesson for all of us above average drivers; switching lanes in a traffic jam may really not help.

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