Books I can recommend
There's nothing like sitting with a cup o' joe and a good book in
a quiet local coffee shop.
Valley Coffee in Campbell, the
Blue Rock Shoot
in Saratoga, or
The Plantation in San Carlos. But only after the morning rush has
gone by and the pace has slowed down.
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
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.
Bright Lights, Big City
by McInerney A fast paced romp through a self destructive chemical
- 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
- 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 the story
in my own essay.
- The Future of Ideas
by Lawrence Lessig Absolutely brilliant
man working to define a way to a better future.
Surplus 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
- Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser The story of our
modern society co-evolving with the food service industry. A very
- On Food
and Cooking 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.
Cuisine 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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 come alive.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- The American
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 deep South.
They could be true...
Stories patterned on real life or events. These let you pretend to
be somewhere else.
- Coal Run by Tawni O'Dell What is life like in a town when
your industry runs away?
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden How does a man
write about being a Geisha? I don't know, but this is engaging.
- The Reader by Schlink A boy in post war Germany comes
to grips with his country's past
- On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon by Gibbons A fantastic
story of an enlightened woman growing up on the home front of our
- 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 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.
- Stonewalls Gold 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 the new
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.
- And Then
I Thought I was a Fish by Peter Welch. One mans journey
through a complete mental freak out.
The Liars' Club by Mary Karr A woman grows up in the
dysfunctional oil fields of Oklahoma
- Brain on
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.
- 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.
- 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 so well.
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.
- 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
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
The Panama Hat Trail: Miller Did you know that all
Panama hats come from Ecuador?
Delta Force 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.
and Control 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.
- A Narrative
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
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
- Diamond by Matthew Hart A factual story of the diamond
trade. An interesting read.
- 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.
The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger Third person
recreation of a killer storm off Nova Scotia. Chilling tale.
- 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.
- 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.
These books taught me a lot. A lot about investing, a lot about how
to look at my life.
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
- 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
- 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
- Mother Tongue by Demetria Martinez The life of Salvadorian
refugees in an underground railroad
by Jane Smiley; A bit tongue in cheek on the life at a Midwest
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.
- 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 chapter.
LukeWarm; I read 'em but...
Books I've read that I don't feel strongly enough about recommending
or dissing. These might
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 it was considered 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
- 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
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
- 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.
Only along the way this self centered adventurer shows himself to
be less of a heroic figure and more of an insensitive opportunist.
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
- 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. A friend 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.
- Black Nightingale
by Julia Buss. About a contemporary of Florence Nightingale working
at the Crimean War.
- The Hazing
Tower by Leland Roys. I worked with Leland at HP and this
book is his personality in words. Fast paced and wild.
Putting 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.
- Homo Cosmiens
by David Millett. Dave's science fiction look at the future evolution
of man - and woman.
- The Creature:
Forgotten Prometheus 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 editor!
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.
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
- Don't Think of an Elephant
- The Two Percent Solution
- Radical Surgery
- The World is Flat
- On Food and Cooking
- On the High Wire
- The Crystal Desert
- Confessions of a Dangerous Mind