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March 6, 2004

Intersections: stuff on a friends Amazon wish list that I have

I noticed today that Amazon seems to have made an improvement to their wish lists: you can now indicate how much you want an item, ranging from 1 (have to have it), to the useful 5 (don't buy this for me).

I was curious to see if anyone had taken advantage of this, so I started looking at the wish lists of other people.After searching for a short time, I came across the Ed Vielmetti's list. I've known Ed for more than 10 years; we both worked at CICNet in Ann Arbor for a time in the 90s. (CICNet was one of the original "NSFNet regional networks" that formed the early Internet. These days it would be known as a ISP.)

These days Ed writes Vacuum and works for Socialtext, a company commercializing Wiki technology.

Ed is also one of the more voracious readers I know. He gets my vote for the person I'd most like to trade bookshelves with.

Ed also has a longer wish list than anyone I've ever come across: 154 items. There items on the list dating back to 1999, so I suspect Ed hasn't pruned some of the older items.

The most interesting thing to me was noticing which items Ed wanted that I already have. Here's are a few comments on those items we overlap on. (The numbers represent the place on Ed's list; higher numbers were added more recently).

2. Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson. I've read perhaps a few hundred pages, but haven't been attracted back to it yet. Not nearly as good as Cryptonomicon.

7. The Phenomenon of Life: The Nature of Order, Book 1 by Christopher Alexander, author of the seminal A Pattern Language. Absolutely wonderful. Alexander has been working on this series of books for 20 years. Still, because of the price ($75), I resisted buying this, wanting to see a copy in person .. but couldn't find it anywhere. Then I went to Philly on a business trip in December, and found it at two stores within two block of each other. I couldn't resist. My wife got me The Process of Creating Life (book two in the four book series) for Christmas.

15. Krakatoa by Simon Winchester. I got it for Christmas. Not worth owning; not terrible, but not really great. Good book to get from the library. The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, also by Winchester, is much better.

29. Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order by Steven Strogatz. Interesting. Not a page turner; I put it down in the middle for perhaps two months. Still, some overall good ideas. I actually finished this one off today; the middle is a little weak, but the discussions are wide-ranging, from fireflies that all flash together, to human sleep cycles, and finally to a discussion of the six degrees of separation idea. Also notable because Strogatz is a leading researcher in the field; he's doing the work, not just popularizing it.

41. John Adams by David McCullough. I started it, but I haven't been pulled in. By this point I'll probably have to start again. I usually go for biographies, but this one doesn't start strong. (Or maybe I just have no perseverance.)

45. At Home in the Universe: The Search for Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity by Stuart Kauffman. I've had this one on my shelf for a number of years but have never started it. I've seen a number of references over time to both this book and Kauffman; I'll have to start it at some point.

46. A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram. I was in deep want when this first came out. When I was working at Georgia Tech, I managed to borrow a copy from the university library. After spending a bit of time with it, I was cured of wanting to own it. Perhaps interesting if you really want to go all the way into it, but I think Christopher Alexander is onto something much more interesting with his Nature of Order series.

62. The Wiki Way by Bo Leuf and Ward Cunningham. Actually a pretty good book; it gives a good flavor of why Wikis are worth thinking about.

81. Home: A Short History of an Idea by Witold Rybczynski. I own it; haven't read yet.

88 Secrets and Lies : Digital Security in a Networked World by Bruce Schneier. I got this one for free from a pile of reviewer books when I worked at CNN. A very good and readable book. Well worth the time.

94. Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams: Explorations in Massively Parallel Microworlds by by Mitchel Resnick. I wanted to like this, but didn't quite get into it.

130. Patterns of Software: Tales from the Software Community by Richard Gabriel. Wonderful book. One of the few books to look seriously at Christopher Alexander's pattern language work and explore its deeper implications for software. Gabriel talks about the "quality without a name" from Alexander's The Timeless Way of Building. Notable also because of a forward written by Alexander.

142. Why Buildings Fall Down: How Structures Fail by Matthys Levy. I liked this title so much that I apparently bought it twice; however, I haven't actually read it yet. I bought it because it sounded similar to Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down by JE Gordon. I did read Structures, and found it very intriguing. (Structures contains one of my favorite concepts: below a certain size, cracks in structures don't hurt anything. But beyond a certain critical size, they actually get energy from the rest of the structure and grow; this can lead to catastrophic failures. Thus, if you see a crack on a bridge, it probably doesn't mean anything. Yet.)

150. River-Horse by William Least Heat-Moon. Have it; didn't really start it. I will someday.

And the last book on Ed's list is 154. How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built by Stewart Brand. One of my very favorite books. A combination of at least three things I'm interested in: Brand himself, architecture, and how places evolve and grow. Brand, best known as the editor of the Whole Earth Catalog is an exceptionally clear writer, Christopher Alexander references this book in Nature of Order.

1 Comment

Thanks for the book list reviews Paul!