Books I read in 2006
The Best Software Writing 1 by Joel Spolsky (editor)
Last book of 2006! and another one that skipped ahead of the Donald Norman one... I read this over Christmas, it's a collection of different writings about different aspects of software from diverse internet luminaries. Even though some of the stuff was infuriating, most of it (even when I didn't agree with some of the points) was thought-provoking and highly enjoyable.
Since all the articles originally appeared on the web, I've made a page of links to the ones I liked the best. Joel Spolsky's blog is also worth a look: Joel on Software.
The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric Raymond
18th December 2006
This one skipped ahead of the Donald Norman book by virtue of me starting it on my last plane journey to New Jersey last month...
About a year ago I read The Art of Unix Programming by Eric Raymond, and felt then like I'd stumbled onto a treasure-trove of knowledge. It was a book that articulated many of my feelings and thoughts about being a programmer, as well as containing a wealth of new ideas (at least, new to me).
So I suppose that I approached "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" thinking that it would be very similar, but in fact I found it to be quite different; it's essentially a collection of essays about various aspects of "hacker culture" and the advantages of the Open Source model of software development. There are a lot of interesting ideas in here and I guess I'm still digesting what I've read, but my feeling is that's more a manifesto than a how-to. What I liked most about it was Raymond's enthusiasm for Open Source, coupled with some engaging arguments as to why taking the Open Source can make good economic sense (as well as being the "morally" "right" thing to do). It feels like it will be instructive to read the book again sometime.
You can check out Eric's homepage at http://www.catb.org/~esr/ which has some interesting stuff on it.
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
2nd October 2006
I thought that it would be neat to read this back to back with Ambient Findability, though in the end I didn't. It's an entirely different proposition, more like musing on what it means to be "lost" in all its meanings - to be lost and not know where you are geographically, lost like a lost possession, lost in spiritual or emotional terms (and how being "found" again can be a kind of transformation). It was a slow read but I found it interesting all the same. Deepest question: "How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?"
The Clock of the Long Now by Stewart Brand
4th September 2006
I got this book after reading about it in the context of "pace-layering" mentioned in Ambient Findability. The Long Now book is essentially a collection of short chapters discussing various aspects of taking a very long (i.e. of the order of millenia) view of the future and the past, and how having such a long view might change how we do things in the present. Essentially, things look different when your perspective is hundreds or thousands of years hence.
A couple of things stick in my mind - for example, many of the ideas about the design of the clock reflect what one might consider to be good software design. Or the idea of a disc which turns so slowly, that you could make your mark on and then wait a lifetime for it to complete a single revolution. Another example is the idea of a library to last for thousands of years, where past decisions and cultures could be re-examined - Kyle and I saw an exhibition about newspapers at the British Library which hinted at how history remembers things very differently from how they appeared at the time (or even just forgets them).
I think that the Long Now Foundation's ideas are really interesting, and you can visit their website at http://www.longnow.org/ to see other projects that they are undertaking.
Black Easter by James Blish
I picked up this and The Day After Judgement after a conversation with a colleague at work, who told me that he had recently bought a copy of "Cities In Flight" by the same author. I read "Black Easter" when I was a teenager but not the sequel, until now. I love this sort of detail-oriented science fiction (it's ostensibly about an arms dealer who hires a modern-day black magician to let all the demons out of Hell for one night, and the ultimate consequences) which also asks some serious questions about man's relationship with good and evil, and it was satisfying to finally read the second novel so many years later.
Since there is so little information about the books on Amazon (I think that they are currently out of print), here's a link to the part of the Wikipedia entry on James Blish: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Blish#After_Such_Knowledge.
Venus As A Boy by Luke Sutherland
I finished reading this about a month ago, and remember thinking at the time, "What was that about?" I guess I didn't really get it. The story of a boy who has a remarkable gift, and who dies turning to gold - but why? Unless maybe it was about being unable to find your way in life somehow. I dunno.
Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson
I really enjoyed this book although at times it did feel a bit like a catalogue of trivia, less than a completely coherent discourse on the evolution of the language. I found the origins of the English language to be perhaps the most interesting and enlightening. Funniest part? The list of English words that have been taken up by the Japanese.
Ambient Findability by Peter Morville
This is a fascinating book, completely unlike any previous O'Reilly book that I've read - instead of hard-nosed technical information this is a wide-ranging meditation on the web and it's "leakage" into the real world of physical objects, all held together via the theme of "findability" and "findable objects". I think that this book is more about questions than answers - it is about possibilities, and makes you think "what if?". It touches on so many different ideas that I sometimes had to stop until I could get to a computer in order to look up some of the references, and the sweep of the references is excitingly wide (I was fascinated that references kept coming up to books that I was planning to read next). And I've never had so many people ask me about a book that I was reading just from seeing the cover.
I have started a page of links from the book.
The Crystal World by J.G. Ballard
After Super-Cannes I thought that I would like to read another Ballard book. This is in a more fantastical vein along the lines of Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman but I am a sucker for that kind of stuff. I read the whole thing on a flight from New Jersey to Manchester.
Web Bloopers: 60 Common Web Design Mistakes and How to Avoid Them by Jeff Johnson
I read this "by accident" after finding in the Daresbury Lab library, but it's a great book and looks beautiful. It's very thought-provoking and highly recommended. If you're too cheap to buy the book then you could check out the UI Wizards website.
Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox
I found this in the "Sports" section of Borders in York when I was looking for a book on swimming techniques. This is a truly amazing and inspiring story and I really enjoyed reading it.
There is a website for the book at http://www.lynnecox.org/
Diffusion of Innovations by Everett M. Rogers
Someone at work recommended this, it's essentially a text book on diffusion theory, but it's surprising accessible. Some of the examples are really fascinating, and it totally kicks the ass of Malcom Gladwell's Tipping Point book. (It did take a lot longer to read though.)
Life at the Extremes by Francis Ashcroft
What a brilliant book! All about how animals (and people) adapt to living in environments with extremes of heat, cold, pressure and so on. I thoroughly enjoyed this and I'm still boring people with the trivia that I learnt as a result of reading it.
Super-Cannes by J.G. Ballard
This is the second Ballard book that I've read (the first was "Highrise") and while I enjoyed it, his dystopian vision is pretty bleak.
Fuzzy Thinking by Bart Kosko
I enjoyed this book but I don't imagine it's really a very good introduction to the subject of "fuzzy logic" (and originally published in 1993, so it's also quite old now), and sometimes the title seemed unintentionally apposite.