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Books that Changed Your Life?

Cliff posted about 10 years ago | from the words-that-inspire dept.

Books 311

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

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Ahem... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9627722)

...Well, that would be the Anarchist's Cookbook. Sorry I couldn't be of any help.

Godel, Escher, Bach (4, Informative)

epsalon (518482) | about 10 years ago | (#9627723)

an Eternal Golden Braid [] .

A must book for anyone serious about CS.

For Serious Amatures Only! (2, Insightful)

Vagary (21383) | about 10 years ago | (#9627822)

A good Computer Science program will cover everything in GEB with more depth and without all the stupid-writing-tricks and dumbing down that Hofstadter employs. As someone who forced myself through GEB (to see what all the fuss was about) after graduating from a good CS program, I would describe it as a must-read book only for highschool-educated Perl hackers without any exposure to theoretical computing.

Re:For Serious Amatures Only! (3, Insightful)

wayne606 (211893) | about 10 years ago | (#9627862)

GEB is not a book for anybody with a technical college education. I don't think I could manage to read it again myself after a PhD in CS. I did read it when I was 16, though, and I thought it was the most amazing thing I ever read, and it convinced me I wanted to study math and CS in college.

So I agree with your last sentence, I guess. There is a place for "inspirational" technical books like GEB and to say "just read Knuth instead" is missing the point by a mile.

Re:For Serious Amatures Only! (2, Interesting)

Jerf (17166) | about 10 years ago | (#9627878)

There's a similar problem with Cryptonomicon, too; post-Masters Degree, the nifty diversions are merely tedious (and I didn't find enough left over to hold the book together).

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

Re:For Serious Amatures Only! (1)

AliasTheRoot (171859) | about 10 years ago | (#9628345)

The Cryptonomicon is a fabulous book, in the same vein i'd suggest Foucaults' Pendulum.

A lot of people find both books tedious, but I found them both to be rip roaring adventures with an extra moderation of +insightful

To be fair (1)

PhysicsGenius (565228) | about 10 years ago | (#9627944)

I went through a "good CS program" and we only covered the computing parts of GEB. CS programs since 1995 (when I graduated) are a lot more real-world oriented (thanks Internet!) and so GEB is becoming less eye-opening for today's graduates.

Not to mention the fact that everybody (for all values of $BODY in $PROGRAMMERS) online writes and talks like Hofstadter did in GEB so it seems less amazing now.

But trust me, if you went through GEB before 1995 like I did, you'd have had your life changed. It's just that the Internet changed everyone else without having to read it.

Re:For Serious Amatures Only! (1)

orthogonal (588627) | about 10 years ago | (#9628452)

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

As someone who greatly enjoyed GEB, and as someone who became a professional programmer without (much) of a standard Computer Science education, let me offer you a challenge: give those of us without the benefit of your education a chapter-by-chapter (or concept-by-concept) breakdown -- or, better since you complain of Hofstadter "dumbing down", a "wising up" -- of GEB as several entries on your Slashdot Journal.

Over the course of a few weeks, explain to us what we missed in GEB, and provide references to where we can fill in these gaps in our knowledge.

If GEB is so simplistic, you'll have little trouble so demonstrating, and your efforts will be of benefit to many Slashdot readers. Rather than just deriding, you'll be able to educate, rather than just tearing down, you'll have the satisfaction of having built up the knowledge of many of us -- and our gratitude.

Re:Godel, Escher, Bach (3, Funny)

AKnightCowboy (608632) | about 10 years ago | (#9627976)

A must book for anyone serious about CS.

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

Soul of a New Machine (1)

HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) | about 10 years ago | (#9627730)

Twenty years dated, but still the exquisite geek work and lifestyle story.

Re:Soul of a New Machine (1)

rmull (26174) | about 10 years ago | (#9627836)

I very much disliked that book. Seemed so depressing to me.

First Book On My List (1)

nick125 (765977) | about 10 years ago | (#9627741)

would be "Linux Power Tools". that was what made me more productive in Linux. and only 49.95, thats not bad for as useful as this book is. least thats my opinion.

The Motorcycle Diaries (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9627742)

Seriously - Once we have orbital laser platforms, we'll be able to crush such insurrection once and for all.

It might be english class fodder... (4, Informative)

Ieshan (409693) | about 10 years ago | (#9627749)

You know, it might be english class Fodder, but Fahrenheit 451 is a book that every kid should seriously *read*, on their own, and not in a class.

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

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

Re:It might be english class fodder... (1)

AliasTheRoot (171859) | about 10 years ago | (#9628399)

I'd love to be in your English class.

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

Oh wait, those aren't shit.

Re:It might be english class fodder... (1)

darkgumby (647085) | about 10 years ago | (#9628455)

I read F451 back in high school for fun. I never was assigned to read it. I read it again sometime in the last 20 years on paper. I most recently read it couple of years ago on a PDA. The most mind-blowing experience was when I listened to it as MP3s on my PC. It was so ironic to be consuming the book without any paper or even print. Next time will be on paper!

Steve Levy's 'Hackers' did a lot for me. That was pre-internet but during the BBS stage.

What Should I Do with My Life? (3, Informative)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about 10 years ago | (#9627750)

Re:What Should I Do with My Life? (3, Informative)

MBCook (132727) | about 10 years ago | (#9627781)

In the same vein, how about What Color is Your Parachute [] to help them find a job.

Or something to help them our financially in their life, like Rich Dad, Poor Dad [] or one of those kind of books.

party. (1)

generalbeard (675699) | about 10 years ago | (#9627751)

Have a geek party. Anyone can buy a book. Not everyone can throw a good nerd party.

Evil Geniuses in a Nutshell (3, Funny)

benjamindees (441808) | about 10 years ago | (#9627795)

...that is all. :-)

The Unix Programming Environment (1)

paul.dunne (5922) | about 10 years ago | (#9627816)

The Unix Programming Environment [] . A true classic.

Better yet..... let the war begin (1)

BoomerSooner (308737) | about 10 years ago | (#9628278)

Better yet []

Although a man page might suffice.

Stranger in a Strange Land (2, Insightful)

jtev (133871) | about 10 years ago | (#9627828)

A true icon of what our culture is, what we hope, and what we fear. Some parts read a little oddly with the way technology realy went, but all in all a great book.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (3, Insightful)

contrasutra (640313) | about 10 years ago | (#9627830)

I know this isn't exactly computer based, but this is one of the many books that changed my life. Wilde discusses what it is like to be different, the meaning of sin, and how evil it is to be shallow. I think the last point is the most important. I consider geeks to be generally pretty deep people who care about rights, the world, etc. It's hard fighting this sometimes, and Dorian Gray gives a great representation of the "other side" (the shallow elite).

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

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

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

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

This is a hard topic for me, as I'm an avid reader, I could come up with 20 books off the topic of my head to suggest.

A Short History of Nearly Everything (2, Informative)

bwhaley (410361) | about 10 years ago | (#9627831)

Anyone remotely interested in science should check out A Short History of Nearly Everything [] by Bill Bryson. What a great book to learn about all aspects of science. Well-written, informative, and interesting all at once.

- Ben

Goedel Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (2, Informative) (262540) | about 10 years ago | (#9627838)

By Douglas Hofstadter

If you've read it, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, words fail me -- just go buy it.

Books that changed my life. (2, Interesting)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 10 years ago | (#9627846)

Well besides the scriptures which in a public school/college setting should not be given as a reward I would have to say.
Fahrenheit 451 (which was on the restricted reading list at my jr High and High School.)
Brave New World (also on the list)
1984 (Yep on the list)
and I Robot.

Re:Books that changed my life. (2, Funny)

Matt Perry (793115) | about 10 years ago | (#9627897)

Fahrenheit 451 (which was on the restricted reading list at my jr High and High School.)
I find it ironic that a book about preventing people from reading books was on a restricted reading list at a school.

Re:Books that changed my life. (2)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 10 years ago | (#9628193)

Yes it was. You had to get your parrents permision to read a book from the list. My mother told them I could read anything I wanted. I found "Brave New World" to be the most interesting. What a great anti drug and anti casual sex book. The idea of using sex and drugs to control a population struck a deep cord in me. Sounded way to much like High School.

Re:Books that changed my life. (1)

eht (8912) | about 10 years ago | (#9627952)

Ay my high school Farenheit 451 was on the required reading list, along with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

A number of other books were also required. The only reason I remember those is that they are listed on the The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 []

Re:Books that changed my life. (1)

schotty (519567) | about 10 years ago | (#9627984)

Was A Clockwork Orange on the list? Great movie, better book.

Re:Books that changed my life. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9627990)

Well besides the scriptures

But which scriptures? Everyone assumes (that is an intentional use of the word), but it is possible (and almost easy) to trace the history of any scripture and see all the changes and editing that happened over the years that changed the scriptures from their original intent to what the groups in power wanted.

For example, it is easy to trace Christian scripture from AD 400 on and see how the Roman Catholic church had complete control and removed anything they didn't like. There is strong evidence Jesus taught reincarnation, and even lived with other religious groups in the "missing years", yet most who follow the scriptures (any scriptures, Christian, Muslim, whatever), take them as given by God without knowing their history and with no awareness of the alterations that men have done to make these scriptures support their own needs.

After studying a number of scriptures and the histories of various religious groups, it is hard to see it as anything but folly to think one particular religion's scriptures are worth giving than anothers.

But if one is in a particular group, and have never had the will or strength to look at it from outside, I can see how one would be unable to see the broader view.

Re:Books that changed my life. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 10 years ago | (#9628163)

I left it vauge. I do not want to start a flame war.
"After studying a number of scriptures and the histories of various religious groups, it is hard to see it as anything but folly to think one particular religion's scriptures are worth giving than anothers.

But if one is in a particular group, and have never had the will or strength to look at it from outside, I can see how one would be unable to see the broader view."

This is your opinon and one fo the reasons that I left it vauge. I have read many Holly works I do find some strike me more true than others. That is must me.

Re:Books that changed my life. (1)

BoomerSooner (308737) | about 10 years ago | (#9628294)


(Peter Griffin Voice)Commmm'aaaaannn, Commmmm'aaaaannn(/Peter Griffin Voice)

It's science-fiction and religion, the best of both fictitious genres.

the little schemer (2, Interesting)

sdedeo (683762) | about 10 years ago | (#9627852)

The Little Schemer [] , a very unusual book on LISP (well, OK, on Scheme, but close enough.) It is a fun read, written in a sort of oddball Socratic method style, and it also has a sequel, the Seasoned Schemer.

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

Snap. (1)

MegaT (672432) | about 10 years ago | (#9627861)

Wow, I was going to write in with almost the same question: I've actually won the computing book prize, which is a voucher... for 15. I'm wondering what I should spend it on, looking for an book in the general area of computer science that'll be interesting. Slashdot is pre-emptively satisfying my needs :-)

Geeks love cooking, right? (4, Interesting)

Wee (17189) | about 10 years ago | (#9627866)

Lately I've been into cooking. Blame it on Alton and Good Eats. I could have used some food knowledge after I got out of college.

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

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

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

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

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


Re:Geeks love cooking, right? (1)

Txiasaeia (581598) | about 10 years ago | (#9628356)

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

Zen, Gita, C, Forth (4, Interesting)

jhoger (519683) | about 10 years ago | (#9627868)

For a Programmer:

Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Baghavad Gita
The C Programming Language
Thinking Forth

Re:Zen, Gita, C, Forth (1)

crmartin (98227) | about 10 years ago | (#9627983)

I've got to know: why the Gita?

I mean, I love it, but why for programmers?

Re:Zen, Gita, C, Forth (3, Insightful)

jhoger (519683) | about 10 years ago | (#9628249)

I'm not sure I want to dissect it too much... for those who haven't, read it, grok it, you'll find out why you read it later (you might try reading after fasting, then right after reading it, watch Groundhog's Day... don't ask, just do).

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

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

Sorry if this sounds a little metaphysical. It is also probably Wrong in some ways. But grok it anyway I promise it will help.

Re:Zen, Gita, C, Forth (2, Interesting)

dont_think_twice (731805) | about 10 years ago | (#9628023)

Finally, someone mentioned Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I am shocked it hasn't been mentioned sooner. This book provides the best description of what it is like inside the mind of an engineer. Perhaps slashdot is too focused on programmers for people to appreciate a masterpiece of engineering.

Re:Zen, Gita, C, Forth (1)

shakah (78118) | about 10 years ago | (#9628101)

This book provides the best description of what it is like inside the mind of an engineer.
I don't have my copy handy, and maybe the haze of a decade or so is too cloudy to see through, but isn't it also a tale about dealing with mental illness and the perspective that comes with middle-age?

Re:Zen, Gita, C, Forth (1)

dont_think_twice (731805) | about 10 years ago | (#9628203)

I don't have my copy handy, and maybe the haze of a decade or so is too cloudy to see through, but isn't it also a tale about dealing with mental illness and the perspective that comes with middle-age?

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

Actually, when I was reading the book, I though of the mental illness part as a sort of cop-out: like when a movie ends with someone waking up and realizing it was all a dream. I wished the author had put less emphasis on the crazy stuff. Of course, some of it was necessary, but it still leaves me with that uneasy feeling.

Re:Zen, Gita, C, Forth (1)

shakah (78118) | about 10 years ago | (#9628266)

But a good book, nonetheless (on which we seem to agree).

Re:Zen, Gita, C, Forth (1)

Usquebaugh (230216) | about 10 years ago | (#9628423)

The book is written post mental illness, the character under went elctro shock.

I read the book as a damning indictment of the US treatment of mental illness. Rather like One flew over the cuckos nest.

Walden (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 10 years ago | (#9627880)

Henry David Thoreau.

A really potent one, that.

Siddhartha (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9627903)

My priest gave me Siddhartha for my high school graduation and I'll never forget it. It's a great look at life, enough to change the way I looked at my future. It's not really CS specific, but definately worth looking at.

Re:Siddhartha (1)

acramon1 (226153) | about 10 years ago | (#9628143)

I second Siddhartha by Hesse. It really makes life that much more meaningful.

(On the other hand, it also convinced me to forgo a CS degree in favor of a degree in literature =)).

Educational? Motivational? (1)

cgenman (325138) | about 10 years ago | (#9627909)

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

If, on the other hand, you're feeling like motivating people, how about Nickel and Dimed, on (not) Getting by in America [] . Excellent read, and likely to make them study twice as hard in college.

Richest Man in Babylon (2, Interesting)

Ruis (21357) | about 10 years ago | (#9627924)

The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason changed my entire concept of money and how to use it. It contains all the stuff you wish someone would have taught you growing up. It is written in parable form and is short and easy to read and understand, yet contains some very inspired text. Amazon Link []

HHGTG & 1984 (3, Interesting)

Hes Nikke (237581) | about 10 years ago | (#9627925)

on one end of the spectrom, i have HitchHikers Guide To The Galaxy.
on the other i have 1984.

take your pick :)

The Joy of Sex (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9627928)

Mod this troll if you want -- but it taught me there were more important things than life. Such as having an eager partner, giving, sharing, etc. etc.


Hubert_Shrump (256081) | about 10 years ago | (#9627934)

canly yout reconfabulate your'e questionarium?

These Books Inspired an Entire Geek Generation (1)

TheWanderingHermit (513872) | about 10 years ago | (#9627936)

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

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

They're not, by any means, based on science, but the stories are fun and I know I got a thrill out of reading them and seeing what inspired those whom I consider to be masters of SF or Science itself.

But, as I said, some students might really appreciate this, while others would consider it a gag or an insult. It would depend on the personality of the student.

Re:These Books Inspired an Entire Geek Generation (1)

Txiasaeia (581598) | about 10 years ago | (#9628371)

One of the conditions was books that were easily attainable - *one* set of Burroughs' early works is difficult enough to attain, let alone how many this guy needs for his class.

A book that really made me think. (1)

slangley (102541) | about 10 years ago | (#9627942)

by Daniel Quinn.

Are you a hunter or a gatherer?

A Book to Change and LENGTHEN Your life (1)

GuyMannDude (574364) | about 10 years ago | (#9627960)

Udo Erasmus' monumental tome Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill [] is an extensive discussion about all aspects of a healthy diet and nutrition. This book cuts through all the double-speak and bullshit marketing about what is healthy and what is not. Although the emphasis is on fats, the book goes into a discussion about macronutrients (e.g., proteins, carbs), micronutrients (e.g., vitamins, minerals), and the other things you never hear about from reading the newspaper (e.g., prostaglandans). The level of detail is enough to satisfy the biochem geek in all of us. The book illustrates how our modern lifestyle and the quest for the almighty dollar has resulted in poorer food quality.

I'm not saying this book is perfect. In fact, the second half of the book starts to drift a little to the crazy side where Erasmus sees conspiracies everywhere and his claims that the human body can heal itself of any disease provided you give it the correct nutrients are a bit farfetched. But if you want a good book on all aspects of nutrition and can help you make sense of the often-confusing role of fats in a healthy diet, you owe it to yourself to read through this book.


Dijkstra, Gries, Kernighan & Plauger (1)

crmartin (98227) | about 10 years ago | (#9627963)

Edsgar Dijkstra's A Discipline of Programming.

David Gries' Science of Programming.

Kernighan & Plauger's Software Tools.

Frank Harary's Graph Theory.

Haven't checked them, but Dijkstra and K&P are certainly still in print.

A few off the top of my head..... (2, Interesting)

woobieman29 (593880) | about 10 years ago | (#9627966)

1) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. The meaning of "Quality" and the importance and joy of doing things to the best of ones ability are good lessons to learn at a young age.

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

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

Re:A few off the top of my head..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9628106)

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

Only by moronic Libertarian fanatics.

Re:A few off the top of my head..... (2, Interesting)

dont_think_twice (731805) | about 10 years ago | (#9628256)

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

The reason that they mention it as their favorite book is that it allows them to feel superior to others, while simulitaniously justifying their own greed. Atlas Shrugged is a ham-handed attempt to browbeat it's readers into agreeing that not only is freemarket capitalism good, but any form of wealth redistribution is evil, and anyone who believes in any form of wealth redistribution is evil, and on top of that, people who make alot of money really are better than the rest of us and we should be worshiping them for what they provide us with and poor people smell.

Okay, maybe I went a little overboard with that last one, but Ayn Rand could have got the same message across in about 10 pages instead of 600 or whatever it is if she wanted to.

Rand (2, Interesting)

dpilot (134227) | about 10 years ago | (#9628365)

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

Funny thing about Rand Fans, "Let's all be individualists, just like Ayn Rand." Perhaps that's unfair of me. Second thing about Ayn Rand, I once saw a picture of her, in a 'leisure setting.' Perhaps she had once suffered and worked hard, but this picture gave no hint of it. It gave me the feeling that her writings were an attempt to justify the silver spoon it appeared that she was born with, in her mouth.

As for Self Interest, I guess I subscribe to E.E. Doc Smith's version, enlightened self interest. Find your share of the pie, but recognize that you are sharing a pie, and be fair about it. Strive to make the pie larger, while you're at it, and everybody can get a larger share.

Coupland (2)

bob_dinosaur (544930) | about 10 years ago | (#9627988)

Douglas Coupland - Microserfs was extremely important to me. It made me aware of the pitfalls awaiting the unwary software engineer, and so I left University determined to ensure I maintained a sensible balance between my working and social lives.

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

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

Theaetetus (3, Insightful)

CiceroLove (323600) | about 10 years ago | (#9627992)

by Plato. A discussion of the nature of knowledge and the ways in which we know what we know. This book has proven to be absolutely indispensable for my work as a programmer. Rigorous mental discipline with an eye toward tearing down what we think we know to understand how to know is not only good practice for designing applications but also for life in general. I give it to all my student-aged friends.

Several thoughts (1)

bokmann (323771) | about 10 years ago | (#9627997)

Wow... I second the The Godel Escher Bach reference... but if you are looking for something more 'career' oriented:

1) The Pragmatic Programmer
2) After the Gold Rush (out of print, readily available, and about to come out in a second edition)

the age of spirtual machines (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9628019)

the age of spirtual machines by ray kurzweil...i havent read it in a few years but an amazing book. plus our lady peace had a album a few years with quotes from the book :)

"Mathematics for the Nonmathematician" (2, Informative)

xagon7 (530399) | about 10 years ago | (#9628025)

By Morris Kline

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

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

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

It is an absloutly fascinating text, that really awakened me to the world of abstract mathematics, their buildings from basic truths, the realization that we STILL have a long way to go, and there is still a bleeding edge of mathematics. 86 248232/qid=1089163233/sr=1-4/ref=sr_1_4/104-478919 4-2901520?v=glance&s=books

Bertrand Russell (1, Interesting) (687626) | about 10 years ago | (#9628030)

"Why I Am Not A Christian" by Bertrand Russell (ISBN: 0-671-20323-1); a rational work.

Dianetics (5, Funny)

MarsDefenseMinister (738128) | about 10 years ago | (#9628033)

by L. Ron Hubbard. It's much easier to avoid the potholes of life if you know what a pothole looks like. Dianetics is truly what I'd recommend if you want to curl up on a winter evening by a nice warm fire. My copy burned for about 20 minutes!

Re:Dianetics (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9628059)

It may be crap, and fun to burn, however the act of buying it would still support the Scientologists

The Art of War (1)

bergeron76 (176351) | about 10 years ago | (#9628061)

by Sun Tzu.

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

Some things are very obvious (divide and conquer), and others are not (however, they are just as intriquing).

this is slashdot (2, Funny)

zoloto (586738) | about 10 years ago | (#9628066)

we don't even RTFA and you expect us to give you BOOK SUGGESTIONS?

you must be new here, right? /jab

Now that they are educated ... (1)

waffleman (697097) | about 10 years ago | (#9628072)

Closing of the American Mind

De Re Atari (1)

bluGill (862) | about 10 years ago | (#9628086)

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

I'm sure you can find other classics.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne (3, Insightful)

dpilot (134227) | about 10 years ago | (#9628088)

I was just at the end of second grade, and *really* into submarines. My neighbor was two years older than me, and made fun of me for getting "little kids' two-page books" when we went to the bookmobile. So early that Summer, I got another age-appropriate book about submarines, but I also got 20,000 Leagues. It took me most of the Summer and several renewals, but I was determined to read that book. To be honest, quite a bit of it zoomed over my head, too. But I read the whole thing.

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

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

I really ought to reread the book, some time. For all the books I've read and re-read, I've never re-read that one.

In Search of the Big Bang (1)

max born (739948) | about 10 years ago | (#9628094)

By John Gribbin got me started in science. It's a bit light on the math and is somewhat non technical but pretty much covers the entire history of astronomy, the problems faced at each stage of discovery and how they were overcome.

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

You learn how we began to measure distance in the universe, how you theorize that such a galaxary is so many million light years away, from sodium lines in a laboratory to the composition of the stars, how you deduce everything is moving away from everything else, how a few clever people began to theorectically wind the clock back and apply basic physics principles to deduce a model of the early universe. Fascinating stuff for a geek.

Again, so much a technical book, but inspiring non the less.

Michael Moorcock's "Eternal Champion" series (1)

jbarr (2233) | about 10 years ago | (#9628102)

His Fantasy Fictions works, particularly, his "Elric" series, with their innovative "Multiverse" theme challenged me greatly in my formative years.

Green Eggs and Ham! (2, Interesting)

0racle (667029) | about 10 years ago | (#9628110)

I'm not joking, its still a favorite of mine for some reason.

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

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1)

H20 (9901) | about 10 years ago | (#9628113)

All about being alienated and why you should love it. A must for anyone who didn't have the best years of their life in high school.

Microserfs (4, Interesting)

blackcoot (124938) | about 10 years ago | (#9628136)

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

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

Re:Microserfs (1)

blackcoot (124938) | about 10 years ago | (#9628187)

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

Know your geek history (4, Informative)

identity0 (77976) | about 10 years ago | (#9628157)

A good geek should know about the ones that came before, and learn from their mistakes and triumphs. Some books on geek history:

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

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

Siddhartha (2, Interesting)

Fuzzle (590327) | about 10 years ago | (#9628158)

Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse. It's just one of those books everyone should read.

Three Different Areas (2, Interesting)

sameb (532621) | about 10 years ago | (#9628178)

Philosphy: Meditations (Descarte)

Science: The Elegant Universe (Green)

Language: Orality & Literacy (Ong)

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

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

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

I also recommend that you look at an older slashdot article Books on Programming Theory [] for more books.

I'm not sure I understand the question. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9628181)

If you're asking which books have had the greatest impact on my thinking in general, I'd have to say

1. The Divine Comedy, Dante.
2. Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon.
3. Humboldt's Gift, Saul Bellow.

The Divine Comedy is a masterpiece for its psychological insight into the nature of our problems, and why psychological problems are problems. Gravity's Rainbow for its message of sheer absurdity--it seemed to me to be a book equivalent of Dr. Strangelove. Humboldt's Gift, because it carried a message of what it means to live an extrordinary life in modern times.

In terms of academic interests? That's an entirely different story. In that case, I'd have to concur with others about GEB.

There's another book I remember that had a larger impact on me, though, although it was similar in content. It was a red book, published by Scientific American, that was all about paradoxes and mathematical issues similar to those in GEB. I don't remember the title, but it made a much bigger impression on me at a earlier age.

Do magazines count? Scientific American probably did more to get me interested in science and math as a child than any other thing.

This is no joke... (1)

Repran (560270) | about 10 years ago | (#9628204)

Social Psychology (5th Edition) Hardcover - Show all editions Elliot D. Aronson, Timothy D. Wilson, Robin M. Akert, 04 February, 2004 Prentice Hall List: $101.33 ISBN: 0131786865 Best book ever - and to all of you who named CS books: Get a life for pete's sake!

3 Recommendations (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#9628210)

Hi, this is Stereo_Barryo, but I couldn't remember my password so I'm an AC. Godel, Escher, Bach and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance have already been mentioned ( but maybe not the latter's sequel: Lila ). Not counting Lila (?) a third recommendation is Spring In Washington, by Louis Halle, which explained environmentalism to me in a clear, literary and easy to read manner. Geeks need to appreciate ( and enjoy ) the world beyond the blinds. Also, many ecologists are geeks. Geekdom doesn't live only among the EEs!

Future of Ideas by Lawrence Lessig (3, Interesting)

KevinArchibald (728080) | about 10 years ago | (#9628216)

If you at all interested in copyright, patents, open source, public domain, Internet, and the airwaves, this book is a well-written overview of these issues, along with suggested solutions to some of the problems involved. In paperback.

Roots (1)

CliffH (64518) | about 10 years ago | (#9628267)

Definately not a computer or technology related book, but it is a book that has shaped me into the man I am today. Even if it has absolutely nothing to do with your background (I'm African-American so it does have a bit to do with mine) it may spark some interest in wanting to delve into your family tree, may open your eyes to some things you take for granted day to day, or may just be a good read. The only thing I have to say is, do NOT take this book and feel that you may have to apologize for everything your possible ancestors MAY have done. It isn't about that, it is about family history and what we used to pass down from generation to generation. I'm waiting for the day my son can actually digest what I have to tell him about both sides of my family and hopefully he'll pass it down to his children. I think more talking and less typing on these things (computers) can be an excellent thing at times.

The Cat in the Hat (1)

AliasTheRoot (171859) | about 10 years ago | (#9628321)

Dr Seuss books are soo targetted at geeks, the good doctor taught me about wordplay and rhyme without reason.

Only one choice. (2, Interesting)

Txiasaeia (581598) | about 10 years ago | (#9628323)

Neuromancer by William Gibson. Unleash the inner geek :) Best prose I've ever read, interesting plot, and cornerstone for an entire sub-genre. Of the sixty-odd books I've read in the past two years for various literature classes spanning seven centuries, Neuromancer was the best.

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

The Dancing Wu Li Masters (1)

sstaton (51605) | about 10 years ago | (#9628324)

I read this book by pop physicist and now pop New Age Guru (or something) while waiting to take the SAT, and I swear it boosted my score. At the time, the idea of quantum tunneling and Feyman-diagrams were pure magic to me (thanks to endless Star Trek series, at least the terms are familiar to the common man). It's still a mind bender and for amateurs, an interesting read.

Hackers by Steven Levy (1)

!3ren (686818) | about 10 years ago | (#9628373)

Hackers is a book about the original hackers of each of the computer periods. Woz, RMS, and many more have their stories told.
Full of the passion and power these people felt when first confronted with interactive technology
it struck a real chord with my own experiences, and may well do so for anyone else with a strong technical bent.
Hackers []

The Art Of War by Sun-tzu (3, Informative)

Toxygen (738180) | about 10 years ago | (#9628381)

I know on the surface it looks like a simple read, but the book nails every aspect of conflict so precisely, but still stated in simple enough terms that can be easily applied to nearly any situation. I don't mean to make it sound like a self help book or anything of the sort, but when are we ever not fighting for what we want?

The Catcher in the Rye (3, Interesting)

Cranx (456394) | about 10 years ago | (#9628382)

The Catcher in the Rye [] by J.D. Salinger. A journey in coming to grips with the real world and finding your place in it.

Hackers and Feynmann, and here's why... (4, Informative)

CaptainAbstraction (43162) | about 10 years ago | (#9628402)

"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character
and What Do You Care What Other People Think? both by Richard P. Feynman et al.

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy

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

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


Design & Evolution of C++ (1)

orthogonal (588627) | about 10 years ago | (#9628403)

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

So I'll offer a suggestion that isn't blue-sky theorizing, but instead a hard-headed look at how to design a large system, with all the compromises and trade-offs that entails, a "purely" technical book that nevertheless (and least in the first half) reads like a thrilling novel, and a book that gives great insight into how a familiar and loved -- or foolishly reviled -- tool came to be: Bjarne Stroustrup's Design and Evolution of C++.

If you've ever wondered why the C++ language works the way it does -- or why some particular "mistake" that's so obvious to you made it past Stroustrup and later the Standard Committee --, or how to create a wholly new language that's backward compatible with a well- and widely-established one, without compromising the efficiencies that made the original so popular, or just how to design a large scale project that must be many things to many "constituents" -- procedural language, object oriented language, reasonably easy to write compilers for, D&E is a must read.

A List to Alter Your Worldview... (1)

cr0sh (43134) | about 10 years ago | (#9628404)

Here is a list of books, when read (and reread) and understood, each in context with the others, which will alter how you look at computers, mathematics, life, etc:

  • Out of Control - The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World by Kevin Kelly (ISBN 0-201-48340-8)
  • Emergence - The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson (ISBN 0-684-86875-X)
  • Linked - How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means For Business, Science, and Everyday Life by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi (ISBN 0-452-28439-2)
  • A New Kind Of Science by Stephen Wolfram (ISBN 1-57955-008-8)

I guarantee that if you read each of these books, then let the ideas simmer around in your head, you will walk away with a completely changed viewpoint on not only computers and software, but society, government, biology, and the universe itself.

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