This page lists a number of books I've read and like for one reason or another. I will give a brief description of the main features of each book as I see them (work in progress). You may or may not agree with me on this. All expressed opinions are just my personal point of view ! In [square brackets] I give the year I first read the book, as far as I can reconstruct it today ;-)

More titles are added from time to time.

I've grouped the titles loosely by genre or topic:

baseball / Boston Red Sox
science / physics

books: baseball / Boston Red Sox

There are lots of books on baseball, especially the Major Leagues. Unfortunately, not all of them are worthwhile reading. The following books I consider my favourite works on the subject:

John Thorn/Pete Palmer: 'Total Baseball' [read 1993]
I've only got the third edition (1993), which is obviously not up to date. Nevertheless, this encyclopedia answers most of your questions regarding basic stats and has also a number of good articles on special topics such as Woman in Baseball and The Commisioners. My favourite sections, besides the stats part itself, are:

Baseball Prospectus: 'Baseball Prospectus 2009' (and other years) [I read the new edition every year]
This book long ago replaced Total Baseball as my favourite Stats book on baseball. Great analysis' from some very clever people and amazing in-depth looks on each franchise. The authors are not afraid to have a controversial point of view and to document it in print. I often browse through the book just for the fun of it. In addition, lots of comments on players are simply extremely funny!

Bill James: 'Whatever happened to the Hall of Fame ?' (originally published as 'The politics of glory') [read about 1995/96]
A great book from the genius of baseball statistics and godfather of all sabermetricians. The statistical measures he introduces are simple yet powerful. His reasoning once and for all demystifies the 'arguments' of many people when discussing whether player X belongs to the hall or not. This book should be required reading for everybody who is discussing the hall of fame and especially for every member of the BBWAA.

Glenn Stout, Richard A. Johnson: 'Red Sox Century' [read about 2001]
The story of the Boston Red Sox in the 20th century. A well-told piece of history as well as an analysis of why the Red Sox failed to win a world championship for more than 80 years (and counting). The author's opinions on Tom Yawkey's free spending and the way it influenced the Sox' fate as well as Fenway's impact on the Sox teams that played in it are very interesting. Other fascinating sections cover the 'truth about Ruth', the way Ted Williams' relationship to the press went sore and the question whether or not Johnny Pesky did hold the ball. A must-read for every Sox fan !

Lawrence S. Ritter: 'The Glory of Their Times' [read about 2000]
A classic baseball book on the first decades of the 20th century. I like the accounts of the man who participated in famous baseball moments like the only unassisted triple play in World Series history, the 'Merkle incident' or Snodgrass' muffed fly ball in the outfield.

John Helyar: 'Lords of the Realm' [read 1997]
This book claims to be 'The real history of baseball' and in a way it is. The role of the commisioners of the game, the circumstances of how free agency changed the game forever and the all-important role of the union and of agents tell an interesting story.

Robert K. Adair: 'The physics of baseball' [read in the late 1990s]
I'm a physicist and a baseball fan, so I guess this book is required reading for me ;-). Nevertheless, I didn't read it until the spring of 2000 (I became a baseball fan in 1990). The book gives a number of interesting insights on topics whether a fastball can really 'rise', how much time an outfielder has to decide in which direction to move to catch a flyball and why Ted Williams home run off an Eephys pitch was one of the single great achievements in the history of the game.

Robert Whiting: 'You gotta have Wa' [read about 2006]
Whiting gives a fascinating account of Japanese baseball and especially the role Gaijin (foreign) players have in it. It's interesting to see how cultural differences between Japanese and Western life styles also impact the sport. The book was written in the late 1980s, so naturally it doesn't cover the import of Japanese players into the US major leagues (Nomo, Ichiro, Matsui, Matsuzaka et al).

books: science / physics

R.P. Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, Matthew L. Sands: 'The Feynman Lectures on Physics' [read about 1992]
This work, which comes in three volumes, is THE classic textbook on physics. It covers the lectures Feynman gave to freshmen and sophomores at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1961 and 1962, but includes topics which are not normally covered in the physics student's first two years.
Richard Feynman, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1965 along with Sin-Itero Tomanaga and Julian Schwinger, is my idol as a physicist. He is widely considered as one of the leading physicists of the 20th century and was known for his unique ability of teaching and explaining.
The 'Feynman Lectures' or 'The Lectures', as they are often simply called, are the bible of physics textbooks.

Stephen Weinberg: 'The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe' [read about 1986]
This book was originally published in 1977 by Harvard physicist Stephen Weinberg, who shortly thereafter won the Nobel Prize for physics for his contributions to the theory of Elementary Particle Physics, namely the GSW (Glashow-Salam-Weinberg) theory of electroweak interactions.
This small book, which was written for the general public, is quite simply the reason I decided to study physics after reading it during the next to last year in high school.

Jagdish Mehra: 'The Beat of a Different Drum: The life and science of Richard Feynman' [read in the 1990s]
This 'scientific' biography concentrates mainly on Feynman's work. Included are not only his Nobel Prize winning contributions to Quantum Electro Dynamics (QED), but also the important work which he did in fields like the space-time approach to quantum electrodynamics (i.e. the path integral formalism), the famous diagrams, the theory of superfluidity, polarons, partons, computation et cetera.
Mehra's book is very technical. For those who want to focus more on Feynman's life and personality or are simply afraid of formulas, there's also a very good 'non-scientific' biography of Feynman by James Gleick.

Stepfen Webb: '(If the universe is teeming with alies...) Where is everybody?' [read about 2005]
Maybe you've heart about the 'Fermi Paradox': if there are lots of aliens in the universe, as many people believe, where are they? Why don't we see them or their artifacts? The physicist Webb collected 49 possible answers to this famous question and comments on them. As no 50, he gives his own opinion. The answers are grouped in the categories 'They don't exist', 'They exist, but weren't here yet' and 'They exist and are among us'. Besides a lot of insight into the fundamental question whether or not we are alone in the universe Webb provides a lot of enlightening information about the origin of life on earth, among other topics. I quite often re-read particular solutions and comments.

Steven Pinker: 'The language instinct - How the mind creates language' [read about 2006]
I bought this book because of the favourable comment in Stephen Webb's Where is everybody (see above) and wasn't disappointed. I believe language is the thing which sets humans apart from all the rest of nature (on earth). Therefore, the question how language came into being and what it's main features are is obviously extremely important. Pinker gives a lot of insight into these topics, often refering to ideas of legendary thinker Noam Chomsky.

books: cryptography

David Kahn: 'The Codebreakers' [read in the late 1990s]
What can I say about this book that's not been said already ? It's simply THE standard piece on the history of secret communications. A monumental work (more than 1150 pages) which covers not 'only' the classic topics of cryptography (the Black Chambers, WW I and WW II, the Enigma, ...), but also e.g. the deciphering of the Egypt hieroglyphics by the famous work of Jean-Francois Champollion.

William F. Friedman: 'Elementary Military Cryptography' [read about 2000]
A good introduction into codes and ciphers. Although this text is not up to date (it was written in 1930's), I recommend it to everyone who's looking for an overview of crypto systems with an emphasis on military used ones. This work was classified for a long time, but is now available in public. The author is probably the most influential american cryptographer.

James Bamford: 'The Puzzle Palace' [read in the late 1990s]
Kahn's classic work The Codebreakers (see above) gives only a relatively brief account of the most powerful intelligence organization of the second half of the 20th century, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). Bamford's book, which is a bestseller itself, is the closest an 'outsider' has come to the 'Puzzle Palace' yet (for those of you who don't already know it: the Puzzle Palace is the nickname of the NSA headquarter at Fort Meade, Maryland, near Washingto D.C.).
Read this book and be aware: Big Brother DOES exist... and he's watching YOU.

Friedrich L. Bauer: 'Entzifferte Geheimnisse: Methoden und Maximen der Kryptologie' [read in the late 1990s]
F.L. Bauer, now retired, was professor of mathematics and computer science at the well-known Technische Universität Munich. He's considered by many as the leading expert on the field of cryptology in Germany. This book (in german language) covers the lectures he has given on the subject over the years. It's quite a technical and pretentious reading. But, as a review I once read on it put it: "If you work yourself through this book, you may call yourself a cryptographer". Unfortunately, I haven't mastered it yet ;-)

John Chadwick: 'The Decipherment of Linear B' [read in the late 1990s]
This small book (about 160 pages) was originally published in 1958 and tells the exciting story of the decipherment of Linear B, a pre-Hellenic script, by Michael Ventris. Ventris was an architect with a great talent for languages. He accomplished a feat none of the 'professional' archeologists came close to. Unfortunately, he died shortly after his historic discovery in a car accident, only 34 years of age.
There are also about 15 pages on the Linear B story in David Kahns classic piece 'The Codebreakers'.

books: suspense

Stephen King: 'Misery', 'The Girl who loved Tom Gordon', 'Gerald's Game' [read in the 1990s]
I've read quite a few books by Stephen King, but the three listed above are the ones I like most, especially since they contain no supernatural phenomena. They include a great deal of suspense and the most frightening thing is to know these things may happen in reality !

books: novel

J.R.R. Tolkien: 'The Hobbit', 'The Lord of the Rings' and related works [read many times, especially in the early 1990s]
Well, if you don't know Tokien's works already, I feel sorry for you. My Linux hosts at home are called Gondolin and Moria, the software package I wrote to do the physics analysis which led to my Ph.D. I named Anduril, 'nuff said.

John Irving: 'The World According to Garp', The Cider House Rules, A Widow for One Year [read many times from the 1980s on]
John Irving is one of my favourite writers. A Widow for One Year and The Cider House Rules are the books I like best, although I think it's next to impossible to write a better book than The World According to Garp (great movie, too).

Neal Stephenson: 'Cryptonomicon' [read several times, the first time about 1999]
I bought this book after reading a very positive review on it. It's no easy reading (about 900 pages with a lot of jumps across different time frames), but it's definitely worth the effort. It has a lot of suspense, an interesting mix of facts and speculation on cryptography (see also the cryptography section of this page) and a number of very colorfull characters.
What I consider the most important ingredient in becoming a good writer is imaginative faculty. Neal Stephenson obviously has got lots and lots of it. I also highly recommend most of Stephenson's other books, including the epic Baroque Cycle and it's pseudo-sequel Anathem.

books: other

Piers Bizony: '2001 - filming the future' [read in the late 1990s]
A great 'making of' for (IMHO) the greatest movie ever made, Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey', with lots of insights into the story's background. The book provides fascinating details on how the special effects were done, e.g. the 'artificial gravity wheel' onboard Discovery. Also given are quite a few shots from the set as well as stills from the movie. I recommend this book, which I've read in it's second edition (2000), for every fan of 2001.
BTW, up until early 2001 (the year, not the movie :-), I saw the movie only on TV. In February of 2001 I saw the motion pictures's re-release at a cinema for the first time. I was a big fan of it before, of course, but after seeing the visual effects on the big screen as well as the remastered sound, I was totally blown away. A great experience !

Roland Huntford: 'The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen's Race to the South Pole' [read in 2000]
When I was a child, I first heard the story of the great race to the South Pole between Scott's and Amundsen's expeditions (on long-playing records, remember those vinyl things ?). There are also a few movies about it. Both men were characterized as heroes who were trying to reach the Pole in good sportsmanship and simply 'because it's there'.
Now this book tells quite a different story. It completely changed my picture of Robert Falcon Scott. The book describes not only the Pole race itself, but is in fact kind of a double biography of the two main characters, including for example Amundsen's famous North-Western Passage. I recommend this book to everyone interested in how 'official history' is made.
BTW, I've read the book mostly during a summer vacation at a Mediterranean beach. Great place to read about expeditions to places far across the polar circles ;-)

Tom Wolfe: 'The Right Stuff' [read in the late 1990s]
This is a non-fiction book which is as electrifying as a good thriller. It tells the story of the test pilots who first broke the sound barrier and risked their lifes trying to post ever new speed and height records, men like Chuck Yeager and Scott Crossfield. The second part of the book covers the first years of the US space program, especially the flights of the famous 'Original Seven' astronauts, including Alan Shepard and John Glenn.
There's also a good movie based upon this book starring Sam Shepard, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Dennis Quaid and Barbara Hershey.

Clay Shirky: 'Here Comes Everybody - The power of organizing without organizations' [read in 2009]
Shirky delivers great insights in how internet-era communication tools enable us to cross critical thresholds for developing social structures unheard of two decades ago. He illustrates his points with lots of examples on how clever use of services like blogs and web 2.0 applications create effects in the 'real' (i.e. non-cyber) world. The changes in society he describes are here to stay, so it makes a lot of sense to make yourself familiar with what's going on.

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Author:Peter Uelkes
Last modified: Mon Feb 14 16:38:24 CET 2011