Books I can recommend
There's nothing like sitting with a cup o' joe and a good book in a quiet local
Valley Coffee in Campbell, the Blue Rock Shoot (sadly, now closed) in Saratoga, or
The Plantation in San Carlos. But only after the morning rush has gone by and the pace has slowed
All the books I list here are ones that I have enjoyed. I've put them into a few
categories that I hope are useful to you.
Click on a link to the left, read a few, tell me what you think.
Side note: A number of the titles have links in association with Amazon.com
Books. Buying the book here sends me pennies; I list the links not for the money
but because when I first started this, back in 1997, it really was amazing. These
days it is pretty passé. Ah well, so it goes.
Read more about my
Amazon experience .)
Off beat books
Looking for a good read that you may not find on anyone else's list? Want to surprise
your friends with a recommendation? This list is for you. It spans my other lists,
but these are worth repeating twice.
Disrupted by Dan Lyons. A 50 year old journalist is laid off and goes to work
for a software "unicorn." He doesn't fit in and the place is a mess. His experiences
are funny, sad, and enraging. A true story.
Bright Lights, Big City
by McInerney A fast paced romp through a self destructive chemical dependency.
Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley An other-world like look into the
life of a tobacco industry lobbyist. Hilarious.
Jennifer Government by Max Barry A future where everyone is wired.
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson An imposing three inches thick, I was enthralled.
A very interesting jump between WWII and now.
The Story of Junk by Yablonsky Heroin junkie and dealer in New York goes crazy
Far Tortuga by Matthiessen An incredible stream of consciousness writing style that may drive you nuts.
Mama Makes Up Her Mind by Bailey White Beautifully written, hilarious down-home stories without the terminal drowsiness
of Garrison Kiellor
Shooting the Boh A woman's adventure in rafting gets way, way out of control
Permanent Midnight A story of a television screen writer who is also a junkie.
You get to watch him spin out of control as he writes for Alf.
My Year of Meats A fun little first person story about a woman who produces
a Japanese television show about eating meat. Funny situations develop in her relationship
with the head office as she starts to put her own influence into the show. Then in
a major shift the story gets serious. Same pacing as Jennifer Government.
A Party of One by Anneli Rufus Don't call them loners! Anneli offers great insight
to the psychology of those who like to spend time with themselves. (I met her at
one of Richie's book parties and found her fascinating to talk with.)
Freakanomics A fun and fresh look at current problems. The author uses data
from old studies to gain new insight into things we should know. Do school teachers
cheat? What about sumo wrestlers?
These provide an education into some niche of our world.
Raising the Floor
by Andy Stern This is a factual look at a coming fundamental shift in our society.
If we aren't ready for it we will sink into a dark, dystopian future. I summarize
in my own essay.
The Future of Ideas
by Lawrence Lessig Absolutely brilliant man working to define a way to a better
by Clay Shirky. I've enjoyed many of his writings on technology. In this book he
tackles the question many non-programmers ask, "Why would anyone work on open source
software when they don't get paid anything?" The answer will surprise you, and might
apply to you.
Slave Coast: A history of the slave breeding industry
by Ned Sublette. Be prepared to rethink your history of America. This well written
history of our founding and forming does a scholarly job of explaining how much of
our early moves were all about protecting the slave industry - and not just in the
The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama This was the first book I read on my Kindle
2. I just took the free sample to check out and bought the entire book five minutes
later. If Obama only believes half of what he said, then we have made a superb choice
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser The story of our modern society co-evolving
with the food service industry. A very good read.
by Harold McGee. This is a comprehensive reference on the science behind everything
you do in the kitchen. It took me, no kidding, four years to read it all. Every page
was a discovery.
by Nathan Myhrvold. A five volume set of the most unbelievable cooking recipes peppered
with striking photographs. Make the perfect milkshake in just four days - using a
rotovap, a centrifuge, and liquid nitrogen. There is also a one volume Modernist
Cuisine at Home which has possible recipes. I read my way through both of them.
Confessions of a Record Producer by Moses Avalon Well written and detailed,
this book took me through the ins and outs of the financial side of the music industry.
An excellent overview for outsiders and absolutely required reading for any musician
who is thinking of signing with a label.
Engineering Your Startup by Michael Baird This is a must read for anyone who
is starting their own company or joining one. It gave me tremendous insight into
aspects of the process that I didn't know. Reading this will save you time, money,
and perhaps your fortune.
The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell Small things can make a big difference.
Almost like chaos theory in business. A fun read that raises some interesting questions.
What were they thinking? by Jeff Pfeffer I know Jeff, but you'd be wrong to
question my review - this book is an excellent read. Jeff covers a range of business
management topics in his open, conversational style. All of his observations ring
true with my own experiences. It's like a one book distillation of many management
classes I took at HP.
Consciousness 101 by Susan Blackmore A survey of the current thinking (pun intended)
about consciousness. The author goes into each theory to a good depth and does a
lot of compare and contrast analysis. I loved it.
Men are from Mars , etc, etc You, me, them. Skip the Mars / Venus chapters at the beginning and get right to
the heart of the matter
Making Miracles Happen by Gregory White Smith A friend who works in disease
modeling recommended this to me. It's only available used, and everyone should read
it. This story of one man's journey with a life threatening illness provides the
reader with incredibly valuable tips about how to manage your own health care providers.
You should read this now, while you are healthy.
Gardening with a Wild Heart by Judith Larner Lowry She explains how to asses
your own garden and take it back to what nature intended. And she tells you why it's
such a good idea to do this.
Writing Dialog by Tom Chiarella Practical, straightforward guide for the aspiring
writer. Full of tips, exercises, and great advice on making your own fiction writing
On Writing by Stephen King Stephen King takes you inside his own process for
producing books. He's a master story teller and he uses those talents in this autobiography.
I loved the book.
They could be true...
Stories patterned on real life or events. These let you pretend to be somewhere
Coal Run by Tawni O'Dell What is life like in a town when your industry runs
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden How does a man write about being a Geisha? I don't know, but this
The Reader by Schlink A boy in post war Germany comes to grips with his country's
On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon by Gibbons A fantastic story of an enlightened
woman growing up on the home front of our Civil War
A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. Written 50 years after the plague
of 1664 that ravaged England. But written as a contemporary account. His distrust
of government reports sounds a lot like today.
A Million Little Pieces Intimate story of one man's recovery from addiction.
Now known to be highly embellished, I still found it to be a good story.
The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Carhart What a pleasant story of a man who
finds himself again while pursuing his love of the piano.
The Bird Artist by Howard Norman Isolated life in a small Nova Scotia town
Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons Such a nice, quiet story of life
Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons Captivating story of a young girl, alone among her relatives
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner It took me a while to get into this. In fact
I almost gave up - that would have been a shame. This is a fantastic story of a family
living through the late 1800's, interwoven with a modern story line. A wonderfully
warm read set in San Jose, Colorado, Utah, and Grass Valley.
An interesting story about the end of the civil war.
A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain Lovely tales of mixing the old world with
Snow Falling on Cedars by Guterson Sensitive, well written story of xenophobia in W.W.II
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier A deserter walks home from the Civil War
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent , Julia Alvarez
Real stories of life
These are good stories about someone's life. In each of these I found a look into
a life or event or society that gave me a new perspective.
I Thought I was a Fish
by Peter Welch. One mans journey through a complete mental freak out.
Fire: My Month of Madness
by Susannah Cahalan. A memoir of a medical emergency that causes a well known journalist
to lose a month of her life. It could happen to anyone.
The Liars' Club by Mary Karr A woman grows up in the dysfunctional oil fields of Oklahoma
Finding Fish A young black boy grows up in the foster care system, that does
not care for him. A heart wrenching story - it's amazing that he came out of this
Makes Me Want to Holler by Nathan McCall The true story of a poor black man who grows up to be a well respected
journalist. This is a peek into a world I know so little about. Very engaging.
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt Growing up poor in Ireland, funny but oh so sad. It leaves me wondering how he made
it... standby for the sequel
This House of Sky by Ivan Doig Marvelous descriptions of growing up in a ranching
family in Montana, makes me want to spend time there. But the story, while warm and
inviting, did not pull me along. It took me weeks to finish it.
Stories around War
The Unwanted by Kien Nguyen An Amerasian boy grows up in South Vietnam after
the surrender to the North. A powerful tale told by someone who stood on top of the
U.S. embassy in Saigon and watched the helicopters turn back.
To Destroy You is No Loss, the odyssey of a Cambodian Family ,
by Joan Criddle and Teeda Butt Mam First person story of the Khemer Rouge take over; riveting.
Red Azalea by Min Life through the Chinese Cultural Revolution
by Eric Haney. This is the story of the forming of the elite counter terrorist unit.
I particularly enjoyed their process of creating this group from whole cloth.
by Eric Schlosser. This is the story of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Creating it, using
it, controlling it, maintaining it. This will scare the sh*t out of you.
Super Carrier by George Wilson Overall a nice read about the life of a journalist
living aboard a carrier for a nine month deployment in 1983. It gave me an insight
into how hard Navy life really can be.
On the Road by Kerouac Live the life of a dharma bum
Cry of the Kalahari by Owens Life among a pride of lions, far away from civilization.
Running the Amazon : Kane A kayak trip down the length of Amazon
The Panama Hat Trail : Miller Did you know that all Panama hats come from Ecuador?
Into Thin Air , Jon Krakauer Enough has been said about this in the press. You
all know someone who's read this account of climbing Everest. Some loose fingers,
some loose toes, they all go back again. They are addicts; to be pittied I think.
The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger Third person recreation of a killer storm off Nova Scotia. Chilling
of the Expedition to Botany Bay by Watkin Tench. Maria the librarian turned me on to this. A diary of how England
moved in and took over Australia.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain A well written peek behind the scenes
of many commercial kitchens. Read how they really work to prepare your food. Hilarious.
Diamond by Matthew Hart A factual story of the diamond trade. An interesting
Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowel I wasn't sure what to expect and found
this quite scholarly. Sarah drags her family and friends to visit places involved
in presidential assassinations. She weaves a story through it all. When I was done
I wanted to visit some of these places myself. Thanks to Paul for the recommendation.
Lost Mountain One man documents a mountain as a Virginia coal mining company
rips its top off to get at a coal seam. The whole area is destroyed. So very sad.
These books taught me a lot. A lot about investing, a lot about how to look at my
Cashing in on the American Dream : Terhorst Man, retire as soon as you can. This is a beauty of a book, but out of print. If
you want to get your life plan together, find this book. It changed my life.
Your Money or Your Life A good beginners book to sorting out your relationship
to money and life. Too hippie-like philosophical for my tastes, but I list it here
because if you can get past the preaching it does ask the right questions. For those
who don't like the style, try Cashing In On The American Dream, listed above.
A Random Walk Down Wall Street : Malkiel Why common wisdom about technical stock market analysis is bunk. Lesson? Buy value.
Portfolio Selection : Markovitz This is the only way to invest. I have
pages on my site about how to do retirement planning , this is the guy who invented efficient portfolio theory and won a Nobel Prize
for it. If you want to know the details of how EPT works, this is the book for you.
The Millionaire Next Door : Stanley and Danko Who has all that money? It's not the guy with the Rolex or the BMW.
Fortune's Formula by William Poundstone From illegal off track betting to the
guys who counted cards in Vegas to the collapse of Long Term Capital Management,
the story weaves them all into a fast paced history of risk management mathematics.
The Intelligent Asset Allocator Nothing earth shattering in this one, but a
good solid review of the investment strategy that has made me independent. This is
an easy read.
Other books I've read and enjoyed..
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith I felt like I was
back in Kenya. Warm stories told in a simple way.
Mother Tongue by Demetria Martinez The life of Salvadorian refugees in an underground
by Jane Smiley A bit tongue in cheek on the life at a Midwest University
Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen Just crazy
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
The O'Henry Awards (2001) A collection of short stories. The first one didn't
grab me, but the rest did. They got me so much that I bought a bunch of other years
too. (and made me want to write
my own short story .)
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett Watch a church being built over the
course of 300 years.
Luke Warm: I read 'em but...
Books I've read that I don't feel strongly enough
about recommending or dissing. These
appeal to you.
The Gridlock Economy by Michael Heller Interesting idea that multiple owners
of a single asset or different aspects (rights) to a single asset can cause an ownership
gridlock. Too many people having partial ownership of some real estate. Or too many
people owning different rights to a book or a song. Or too many patents all covering
a slightly different aspect of some area. All interesting. But he tends to defend
all use as good without regard to the negative consequences. It seemed to me that
if someone wasn't building on the land then Michael considered it under utilized. I think
that in some cases of unrepairable harm, some amount of gridlock acts to put brakes
on otherwise unrestrained, harmful exploitation. Not all gridlock is bad.
Crypto by Levy A history of modern cryptography
Beat Until Stiff by Clair Johnson A murder mystery that takes place against
the backdrop of the restaurant business. A fun little book.
Into the Buzzsaw by Borjesson A collection of essays on what's happened to freedom
of the press. Each is a first person account of the suppression of some investigative
reporting. A sad statement about where our country is today.
In Code by Sarah Flannery A nice story about a young woman who enjoys math.
The cover photo tells it all - she's a bit too self-absorbed.
The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. A science fiction future where nano-technology
is pervasive. Interesting reading right up until the last part when he tries to bring
it all together in one monumental grokking of the entire universe; that finish bored
World Without End by Ken Follett A nice fast read, but so formulaic that I got
tired of it. Oh look, they've solved that situation; oh no, Mr. X is back; end of
Books I've read, but either didn't finish, or did but didn't like
The Worst Journey in the World
by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
First person historical account of Scott's Antarctic expedition. If you really want
to know what the trip was like, this will provide all you need to know. I just couldn't
hang in there for all those details.
The Price of Loyalty by Ron Suskind The book itself seemed fabulous. I read
the first two chapters and it scared me to death. Really. I knew it was going to
end bad so I dropped it. I highly recommend reading it if you have a strong stomach.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki Good lessons on how to deal with money,
but I found it repetitive and I didn't care for the teaching device of calling his
biological dad Poor Dad. Too often his points were stretched out over several pages
of storytelling when one to-the-point page would have done the trick.
Yak Butter and Black Tea (Carl, where do you find these?) An adventure trip through China to reach an isolated
valley of people. Along the way this self centered adventurer shows himself
to be less of a heroic figure and more of an insensitive opportunist. A guy who
feels that his right to adventure outweighs the rights of people living in his way. When he cut
the telephone lines to an outpost village, eliminating their only way to contact
the outside world, I thought: another ugly American. Yuck.
One Dry Season by Caroline Alexander A modern day adventurer follows the mid-1800s
trip of Mary Kingsley. Too slow. The unending quotes from Mary's journals are distracting.
Often the author quotes Mary and then repeats the same story herself. Told without
suspense or wonder.
Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx Man, I snoozed. I kept waiting for something
to happen. This is wonderfully written, but it's a collection of sad times that all
revolve around this little green accordion as if it was Christine. But the accordion
- Guns, Germs, and Steel A lot of people like this history of the evolution of society.
I just couldn't get into it. Sorry.
- The Yiddish Policeman's Union. Several friends said it was the funniest of books. I read
about half and then I just couldn't keep going. I might not have the right background
to understand the jokes.
Authors I Know
These are books from people I know. Listed here for your enjoyment.
by Julia Buss. About a contemporary of Florence Nightingale working at the Crimean
by Leland Roys. I worked with Leland at HP and this book is his personality in words.
Fast paced and wild.
by Mike McTeigue. Mike and I worked together at Audible Magic, after he gave up
being a golf pro - and a flight steward, but that's another story. At company picnics
he'd bring a 9 iron and we'd try to chip a ball into a trash can. Mike would work
the outfield, deftly knocking our errant balls back to our feet. His advice would
immediately improve each person; pretty incredible.
by David Millett. Dave's science fiction look at the future evolution of man - and
by David Millett. I was lucky enough to read a pre-release copy of this. David said
he wanted feedback so I attacked it like an editor, no holds barred. David was true
to his word and graciously accepted a bunch of comments from me. I like being an
from Afar: A Guide to Home Sensor Systems for Aging Parents
by Richard Caro. Ever think you might need to instrument your parent's house so
you can be sure they're ok? This book gives you a solid model for evaluating solutions
that are on the market today.
Zen and the Art of Christmas Lettersby Chuck Storla Chuck let me read
an early draft and I laughed out loud at some parts. He took my feedback and that of others to really improve the flow of the book. "A great book to sit on the back
of your toilet," says the author.
The Reluctant Trader by David Robinson. I met David in 2016 at a talk
he gave in Cambridge. "Not great literature," he said, "but a fast paced spy novel like I used to read when traveling on business." I have to agree. Nicely done.
My friend Chris supplied her book club's list, here it is:
- Behind the Scenes @ the Museum, Kate Atkinson
- English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
- Map of the World or Book of Ruth, Jane Hamilton
- Rocking the Babies, Linda Raymond
- Stones from the River, Ursula Hegi
- Smiles Sense of Snow, Peter Hoag
House of Spirits AND
The Stories of Eva Luna , Isabel Allende
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent AND
Yo! , Julia Alvarez
- Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, John Berendt
- Invisible Life, E. Lynn Harris
Our bookclub members recommend:
Books that are in my reading pile:
I am listing them here in the hope that this will shame me into reading more often.
- Don't Think of an Elephant
- The Two Percent Solution
- Radical Surgery
- The World is Flat
- On the High Wire
- The Crystal Desert
- Confessions of a Dangerous Mind