I am always ready to grab a book and read the whole day. This page is not intended to list those of my favorite books, but those that cultivate my world view and the way I think (there is a lot of overlap for sure). Highlighted in bold are the ones that have affected me particularly deeply.
Future / History
- The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (Ray Kurzweil)
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Yuval Noah Harari)
- Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (Yuval Noah Harari)
- The Future of the Mind (Michio Kaku)
Philosophy / Life
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (David Hume)
But though our thought seems to possess this unbounded liberty, we shall find, upon a nearer examination, that it is really confined within very narrow limits, and that all this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the senses and experience. In short, all the materials of thinking are derived either from our outward or inward sentiment: the mixture and composition of these belongs alone to the mind and will. Or, to express myself in philosophical language, all our ideas or more feeble perceptions are copies of our impressions or more lively ones.
All the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided into two kinds, to wit, Relations of Ideas, and Matters of Fact. Of the first kind are the sciences of Geometry, Algebra, and Arithmetic. Propositions of this kind are discoverable by the mere operation of thought, without dependence on what is anywhere existent in the universe. Matters of fact, which are the second objects of human reason, are not ascertained in the same manner; nor is our evidence of their truth, however great, of a like nature with the foregoing. The contrary of every matter of fact is still possible; because it can never imply a contradiction, and is conceived by the mind with the same facility and distinctness, as if ever so conformable to reality. That the sun will not rise tomorrow is no less intelligible a proposition, and implies no more contradiction than the affirmation, that it will rise. We should in vain, therefore, attempt to demonstrate its falsehood. Were it demonstratively false, it would imply a contradiction, and could never be distinctly conceived by the mind.
All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on the relation of Cause and Effect. By means of that relation alone we can go beyond the evidence of our memory and senses. If we would satisfy ourselves, therefore, concerning the nature of that evidence, which assures us of matters of fact, we must enquire how we arrive at the knowledge of cause and effect. I shall venture to affirm, as a general proposition, which admits of no exception, that the knowledge of this relation is not, in any instance, attained by reasonings a priori; but arises entirely from experience, when we find that any particular objects are constantly conjoined with each other. No object ever discovers, by the qualities which appear to the senses, either the causes which produced it, or the effects which will arise from it; nor can our reason, unassisted by experience, ever draw any inference concerning real existence and matter of fact.
Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World (Danny Penman, Jon Kabat-Zinn)
Thoughts and feelings are transient. They are events in the mind. They are often valuable but they are not “you” or “reality.” They come and they go, and ultimately, you have a choice about whether to act on them or not.
We start to see the world as it is, not as we expect it to be, how we want it to be, or what we fear it might become.
Mindfulness does not say “don’t worry” or “don’t be sad.” Instead it acknowledges your fear and your sadness, your fatigue and exhaustion, and encourages you to “turn toward” these feelings and whatever emotions are threatening to engulf you.
You see memory as memory and planning as planning. Consciously knowing that you are remembering, and knowing that you are planning, helps free you from being a slave to mental time travel. You are able to avoid the extra pain that comes through re-living the past and pre-living the future.
- Principles: Life and Work (Ray Dalio)
- The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)
- Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations (Marie McGinn)
- Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (Shunryu Suzuki)
- The Art of War (Sun Tzu)
- Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment (Robert Wright)
- Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)
- Skin in the Game: The Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)
- The Art of the Good Life (Rolf Dobelli)
Startup / Business
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (Peter Thiel)
“What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” A good answer takes the following form: “Most people believe in x, but the truth is the opposite of x.”
Competition can make people hallucinate opportunities where none exist. Winning is better than losing, but everybody loses when the war isn’t one worth fighting.
It’s much better to be the last mover—that is, to make the last great development in a specific market and enjoy years or even decades of monopoly profits. The way to do that is to dominate a small niche and scale up from there, toward your ambitious long-term vision. In this one particular at least, business is like chess. Grandmaster José Raúl Capablanca put it well: to succeed, "you must study the endgame before everything else."
Unless you have perfectly conventional beliefs, it’s rarely a good idea to tell everybody everything that you know. So who do you tell? Whoever you need to, and no more. In practice, there’s always a golden mean between telling nobody and telling everybody—and that’s a company. The best entrepreneurs know this: every great business is built around a secret that’s hidden from the outside. A great company is a conspiracy to change the world; when you share your secret, the recipient becomes a fellow conspirator.
The best startups might be considered slightly less extreme kinds of cults. The biggest difference is that cults tend to be fanatically wrong about something important. People at a successful startup are fanatically right about something those outside it have missed. You’re not going to learn those kinds of secrets from consultants, and you don’t need to worry if your company doesn’t make sense to conventional professionals. Better to be called a cult—or even a mafia.
- The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Clayton M. Christensen)
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers (Ben Horowitz)
- The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses (Eric Ries)
- Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World (Rand Fishkin)
- Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days (Jessica Livingston)
- Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (Ed Catmull)
Complex Systems / Life Science
- Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Douglas R. Hofstadter)
- Order Out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue with Nature (Ilya Prigogine)
- The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life (Nick Lane)
- The Way Life Works (Mahlon Hoagland, Bert Dodson)
- The Eighth Day Of Creation: Makers Of The Revolution In Biology (Horace Freeland Judson)
The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal (Mitchell Waldrop)
“There was this thread of ideas that led from Vannevar Bush through J. C. R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Ted Nelson, and Alan Kay—a thread in the Ascent of Man. It was like the Holy Grail. We would rationalize our mission according to what Xerox needed, and so on. But whenever we could phrase an idea so that it fell on this path, then suddenly everybody’s eyes would light up, and you’d hit this resonance frequency.” Take graphics, for example: everybody resonated with graphics. They had Alan Kay right there, after all, constantly preaching his gospel of computers as the most richly expressive medium humans had ever known—and more to the point, showing them his group’s prototype font editors, drawing programs, on-screen document windows, and iconic programming systems. It was living proof of what you could really do with computer graphics. They likewise had Gary Starkweather and his laser printer: living proof that you could build up any image you wanted just by arranging tiny dots on a piece of paper—or on a computer screen. And they had the living example of Doug Engelbart’s NLS. “You got this feeling sitting in front of one of Doug’s screens, and looking at his displays, that the computer image was as good as paper,” says Lampson. “And that was a revolutionary idea at the time.” In the electronic office, whatever that turned out to be, the computer screen would have to be able to display text, diagrams, formulas, annotations, doodles—anything paper could display.
On the other hand, it’s even easier to imagine scenarios in which that history might have played out very differently indeed—scenarios in which those hobbyist computers would stay in their garages for a very long time, for example, while microchips mainly went into building bigger and more powerful centralized machines. Technology isn’t destiny, no matter how inexorable its evolution may seem; the way its capabilities are used is as much a matter of cultural choice and historical accident as politics is, or fashion.
So in the end, about all anyone can really say is that it’s hard to play “What if?” with history. What we do know is that in our history, J. C. R. Licklider had the vision. He was given the opportunity to realize that vision. He seized that opportunity. And he succeeded beyond anything he could have hoped for.
Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework (Douglas Engelbart)
The system we want to improve: H-LAM/T system (Human using Language, Artifacts, Methodology, in which he is Trained)
A direct new innovation in one particular process capability can have far-reaching effects throughout the rest of your capability hierarchy. A change can propagate up through the capability hierarchy; higher-order capabilities that can utilize the initially changed capability can now reorganize to take special advantage of this change and of the intermediate higher-capability changes. A change can propagate down through the hierarchy as a result of new capabilities at the high level and modification possibilities latent in lower levels. These latent capabilities may previously have been unusable in the hierarchy and become usable because of the new capability at the higher level.
If we then ask ourselves where that intelligence is embodied, we are forced to concede that it is elusively distributed throughout a hierarchy of functional processes -- a hierarchy whose foundation extends down into natural processes below the depth of our comprehension. If there is any one thing upon which this 'intelligence depends' it would seem to be organization. The biologists and physiologists use a term "synergism" to designate the "...cooperative action of discrete agencies such that the total effect is greater than the sum of the two effects taken independently..." This term seems directly applicable here, where we could say that synergism is our most likely candidate for representing the actual source of intelligence.
One way of viewing the H-LAM/T system changes is that we are introducing new and extremely advanced means for externally manipulating symbols. We then want to determine the useful modifications in the language and in the way of thinking that could result.
Human intellectual effectiveness can be affected by the particular means used by individuals for their external symbol manipulation. It seems reasonable to consider the development of automated external symbol manipulation means as a next stage in the evolution of our intellectual power.
- Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age (Paul Graham)
- Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship (Robert C. Martin)
- Computer Systems: A Programmer's Perspective (Randal E. Bryant, David R. O'Hallaron)
- The New Media Reader (Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Nick Montfort)
- Deep Learning with Python (Francois Chollet)
The Feynman Lectures on Physics (Richard P. Feynman)
The older I get, the more I appreciate the beauty of Feynman's lectures.
The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (Isaac Newton)
I was in eighth grade when I first saw this book. I'd only read a few chapters, but it was enough to blow my mind. Newton completely changed my view of physics. Completely.
- Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity (Sean Carroll)
- Thermal Physics (Charles Kittel)
- An Introduction to Mechanics (Daniel Kleppner)
- Introduction to Electrodynamics (David Griffiths)
- Quantum Physics of Atoms, Molecules, Solids, Nuclei, and Particles (Robert M. Eisberg)
- Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos (Michio Kaku)
- Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension (Michio Kaku)
- Introduction to Calculus and Analysis: Volume I & II (Richard Courant)
- What Is Mathematics?: An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods (Richard Courant)
- Elementary Classical Analysis (Jerrold Marsden)
- Understanding Cryptography: A Textbook For Students And Practitioners (Christof Paar)
- Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences (Mary L. Boas)
Shoe Dog (Phil Knight)
Every runner knows this. You run and run, mile after mile, and you never quite know why. You tell yourself that you’re running toward some goal, chasing some rush, but really you run because the alternative, stopping, scares you to death.
Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson)
The best products, he believed, were “whole widgets” that were designed end-to-end, with the software closely tailored to the hardware and vice versa.
Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them. I’ll always stay connected with Apple. I hope that throughout my life I’ll sort of have the thread of my life and the thread of Apple weave in and out of each other, like a tapestry. There may be a few years when I’m not there, but I’ll always come back. . . . If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away. The more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of you, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, which is why a lot of times, artists have to say, “Bye. I have to go. I’m going crazy and I’m getting out of here.” And they go and hibernate somewhere. Maybe later they re-emerge a little differently.
Why do we assume that simple is good? Because with physical products, we have to feel we can dominate them. As you bring order to complexity, you find a way to make the product defer to you. Simplicity isn’t just a visual style. It’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of the complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep. For example, to have no screws on something, you can end up having a product that is so convoluted and so complex. The better way is to go deeper with the simplicity, to understand everything about it and how it’s manufactured. You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.
If the computer served as the hub, it would allow the portable devices to become simpler. A lot of the functions that the devices tried to do, such as editing the video or pictures, they did poorly because they had small screens and could not easily accommodate menus filled with lots of functions. Computers could handle that more easily. And one more thing . . . What Jobs also saw was that this worked best when everything—the device, computer, software, applications, FireWire—was all tightly integrated. “I became even more of a believer in providing end-to-end solutions,” he recalled. The beauty of this realization was that there was only one company that was well-positioned to provide such an integrated approach. Microsoft wrote software, Dell and Compaq made hardware, Sony produced a lot of digital devices, Adobe developed a lot of applications. But only Apple did all of these things. “We’re the only company that owns the whole widget—the hardware, the software and the operating system,” he explained to Time. “We can take full responsibility for the user experience. We can do things that the other guys can’t do.”
Tech companies don’t understand creativity. They don’t appreciate intuitive thinking, like the ability of an A&R guy at a music label to listen to a hundred artists and have a feel for which five might be successful. And they think that creative people just sit around on couches all day and are undisciplined, because they’ve not seen how driven and disciplined the creative folks at places like Pixar are. On the other hand, music companies are completely clueless about technology. They think they can just go out and hire a few tech folks. But that would be like Apple trying to hire people to produce music. We’d get second-rate A&R people, just like the music companies ended up with second-rate tech people. I’m one of the few people who understands how producing technology requires intuition and creativity, and how producing something artistic takes real discipline.
When our tools don’t work, we tend to blame ourselves, for being too stupid or not reading the manual or having too-fat fingers... When our tools are broken, we feel broken. And when somebody fixes one, we feel a tiny bit more whole.
I hate it when people call themselves “entrepreneurs” when what they’re really trying to do is launch a startup and then sell or go public, so they can cash in and move on. They’re unwilling to do the work it takes to build a real company, which is the hardest work in business. That’s how you really make a contribution and add to the legacy of those who went before. You build a company that will still stand for something a generation or two from now. That’s what Walt Disney did, and Hewlett and Packard, and the people who built Intel. They created a company to last, not just to make money. That’s what I want Apple to be.
Everything I do depends on other members of our species and the shoulders that we stand on. And a lot of us want to contribute something back to our species and to add something to the flow. It’s about trying to express something in the only way that most of us know how—because we can’t write Bob Dylan songs or Tom Stoppard plays. We try to use the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that flow. That’s what has driven me.
Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary (Linus Torvalds)
There are three things that have meaning for life. They are the motivational factors for everything in your life-for any thing that you do or any living thing does: The first is survival, the second is social order, and the third is entertainment. Everything in life progresses in that order. And there is nothing after entertainment. So, in a sense, the implication is that the meaning of life is to reach that third stage. And once you've reached the third stage, you're done. But you have to go through the other stages first.
Everything is moving in the same direction, but not at the same time. So basically sex has reached entertainment, war is close to it, technology is pretty much there. The new things are things that are just survival. Like, hopefully, space travel will at some point be an issue of survival, then it will be social, then entertainment. Look at civilization as a cult. I mean, that also follows the same pattern. Civilization starts as survival. You get together to survive better and you build up your social structure. Then eventually civilization exists purely for entertainment. Okay, well, not purely. And it doesn't have to be bad entertainment. The ancient Greeks are known for having had a very strong social order, and they also had a lot of entertainment. They're known for having had the best philosophers of their time.
So what this builds up to is that in the end we're all here to have fun. We might as well sit down and relax, and enjoy the ride.
An ugly system is one in which there are special interfaces for everything you want to do. Unix is the opposite. It gives you the building blocks that are sufficient for doing everything. That's what having a clean design is all about.
Humans are destined to be party animals, and technology will follow.
The theory behind open source is simple. In the case of an operating system, the source code-the programming instructions underlying the system-is free. Anyone can improve it, change it, exploit it. But those improvements, changes, and exploitations have to be made freely available. Think Zen. The project belongs to no one and to everyone. When a project is opened up, there is rapid and continual improvement. With teams of contributors working in parallel, the results can happen far more speedily and success fully than if the work were being conducted behind closed doors.
In fact, one way to understand the open source phenomenon is to think about how science was perceived by religion so many centuries ago (if not today, by some creatures). Science was originally viewed as something dangerous, subversive, and antiestablishment-basically how software companies sometimes view open source. And just as science wasn't born out of an effort to undermine the religious establishment, open source wasn't conceived in order to detonate the software establishment. It is there to produce the best technology, and to see where it goes.
This probably also means that if and when we ever meet another intelligent life form in this universe, their first words are not likely to be "Take me to our leader." They're more likely to say "Party on, dude!" Of course, I might be wrong.
- Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Richard P. Feynman)
- Open: An Autobiography (Andre Agassi)
Psychology / Communication
- Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (Marshall B. Rosenberg)
- The Power of Empathy : A Practical Guide to Creating Intimacy, Self-Understanding and Lasting Love (Arthur Ciaramicoli, Katherine Ketcham)
- The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts (Gary Chapman)
- The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact (Chip Heath)
- Thinking, Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman)
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Robert B. Cialdini)
- Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don't Matter (Scott Adams)
- The Design of Everyday Things (Donald A. Norman)
Story of Your Life and Others (Ted Chiang)
When the ancestors of humans and heptapods first acquired the spark of consciousness, they both perceived the same physical world, but they parsed their perceptions differently; the world- views that ultimately arose were the end result of that divergence. Humans had developed a sequential mode of awareness, while heptapods had developed a simultaneous mode of awareness. We experienced events in an order, and perceived their relationship as cause and effect. They experienced all events at once, and perceived a purpose underlying them all. A minimizing, maximizing purpose.
The heptapods are neither free nor bound as we understand those concepts; they don't act according to their will, nor are they helpless automatons. They act to create the future, to enact chronology.
Freedom isn't an illusion; it's perfectly real in the context of sequential consciousness. Within the context of simultaneous consciousness, freedom is not meaningful, but neither is coercion; it's simply a different context, no more or less valid than the other. It's like that famous optical illusion, the drawing of either an elegant young woman, face turned away from the viewer, or a wart-nosed crone, chin tucked down on her chest. There's no "correct" interpretation; both are equally valid. But you can't see both at the same time.
Every linguistic event had two possible interpretations: as a transmission of information and as the realization of a plan.
The Moon and Sixpence (W. Somerset Maugham)
“I want to paint.” “But you’re forty.” “That’s what made me think it was high time to begin.” “Do you think it’s likely that a man will do any good when he starts at your age? Most men begin painting at eighteen.” “I can learn quicker than I could when I was eighteen.” “What makes you think you have any talent?” He did not answer for a minute. His gaze rested on the passing throng, but I do not think he saw it. His answer was no answer. “I’ve got to paint.” “Of course a miracle may happen, and you may be a great painter, but you must confess the chances are a million to one against it. It’ll be an awful sell if at the end you have to acknowledge you’ve made a hash of it.” “I’ve got to paint,” he repeated. “Supposing you’re never anything more than third-rate, do you think it will have been worth while to give up everything? After all, in any other walk in life it doesn’t matter if you’re not very good; you can get along quite comfortably if you’re just adequate; but it’s different with an artist.” “You blasted fool,” he said. “I don’t see why, unless it’s folly to say the obvious.” “I tell you I’ve got to paint. I can’t help myself. When a man falls into the water it doesn’t matter how he swims, well or badly: he’s got to get out or else he’ll drown.”
“Look here, if everyone acted like you, the world couldn’t go on.” “That’s a damned silly thing to say. Everyone doesn’t want to act like me. The great majority are perfectly content to do the ordinary thing.” And once I sought to be satirical. “You evidently don’t believe in the maxim: Act so that every one of your actions is capable of being made into a universal rule.” “I never heard it before, but it’s rotten nonsense.” “Well, it was Kant who said it.” “I don’t care; it’s rotten nonsense.”
“I think Strickland knew it was a masterpiece. He had achieved what he wanted. His life was complete. He had made a world and saw that it was good. Then, in pride and contempt, he destroyed, it.”
The Last Question (Isaac Asimov)
The ending is genius and beautiful. Totally unexpected.
The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway)
“But man is not made for defeat," he said. "A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”
Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with that there is.
“Fish," he said, "I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J.K. Rowling)
- The Paper Menagerie and other stories (Ken Liu)
- Digital Fortress (Dan Brown)
- October Sky (Homer Hickam)
- Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (Terry Pratchett)
- Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives (Dan Millman)
- The Catcher in the Rye (J. D. Salinger)
- The Report Card (Andrew Clements)
- Lunch Money (Andrew Clements)