© Norman Sperling, November 2, 2014
I read a lot. It sure beats TV. I read very broadly in magazines, as you would expect from a magazine editor, and a lot on websites. But mostly I read books, about 1 a week. They cover topics far more deeply, and contain a lot more information. Also, I sporadically delve into new subjects and need to “read up” about them.
In the 1990s I started listing books I wanted to borrow from libraries. Maintaining it on my word processor, I would print out selections to get from whichever library I was about to visit. Low-priority books would wait many months while I boned up on high-priority needs. When I got each book, I deleted it from the want-list. Right now that list is about 70 books long.
In Spring 2004, it occurred to me that instead of deleting listings, I should move them to a “finished it” section. Since then, I’ve logged in every book I read, usually noting the source, catalog number, month I read it, and a brief comment.
Almost all of the books fell into just a dozen categories. Of course there were clumps: how to set up a business when I was setting up a business, baseball when I coached Little League, and travel when planning my Great Science Trek.
Here are the totals, and a few outstanding exemplars, for the 488 books that I read from June 2004 to May 2014.
SCIENCE: 84 books. Among the best:
* David Harland & Ralph Lorenz: Space Systems Failures - Disasters and Rescues of Satellites, Rockets and Space Probes. Springer-Praxis 2005. Haste makes waste! (cf. Perrow) Remember lessons learned!
* Peter Jenniskens: Meteor Showers and Their Parent Comets. Cambridge UP 2006. Meticulous, thorough; impossible before now.
* David E. H. Jones: The Inventions of Daedalus: Myth & Reality. W. H. Freeman 1982.
* David E. H. Jones: The Further Inventions of Daedalus: A Compendium of Plausible Schemes. Oxford UP 1999.
* Jeffrey A. Lockwood: Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect That Shaped the American Frontier. Basic 2004. Splendid detective story.
* John Maddox: What Remains to be Discovered. Free Press 1998.
* W. Grant Thompson: The Placebo Effect and Health. Prometheus 2005.
SCIENCE HUMOR: 21 books. Among the best:
* Vincent Dethier: To Know a Fly. Holden Day 1963. Witty research.
* Leo Lionni: Parallel Botany. 1971.
* Donald E. Simanek & John C. Holden: Science Askew: A Light-Hearted Look at the Scientific World. IoP 2002.
OTHER HUMOR: 11 books. Among the best:
* Richard Lederer: The Revenge of Anguished English. 2005.
TRAVEL: 38 books. Among the best:
* Merritt Ierley: Traveling the National Road. Overlook 1990. Importance of US-40.
BASEBALL: 64 books. Among the best:
* Vincent Fortanasce: Life Lessons from Little League. Image 1995. Superb though preachy.
* Bill James: This Time Let’s Not Eat the Bones. Villard 1989. Great analyses at end.
DESIGN: 40 books. Among the best:
* Tom Kelley & J. Littman: The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm. Currency 2001. Productively stimulating!
* Charles Perrow: Normal Accidents. Basic Books 1999. Provocative, hugely important: minimize distraction.
* Edward R. Tufte: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2d ed 2001.
BUSINESS: 99 books, many light-weight. Almost no overlap between ‘how to run a business’ and ‘how we ran a business’ books. Among the best:
* Sam Decker, ed. 301 Do-It-Yourself Marketing Ideas. Inc 1997. Many adaptable idea-triggers.
PUBLISHING: 23 books. Among the best:
* Dan Poynter: The Self-Publishing Manual. 2002; + volume 2 later.
* Marilyn & Tom Ross: Jump Start Your Book Sales. Communication Creativity 1999.
* Tom & Marilyn Ross: The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 4th ed. Writer’s Digest 2002.
1900s PUBLIC AFFAIRS: 39 books. Among the best:
* Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway: Merchants of Doubt. Bloomsbury 2010. Singer & Seitz: doubt & denial.
* Peter Dale Scott: Drugs, Oil, and War: The United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina. Rowman & Littlefield 2003.
* Joseph J. Trento: Prelude to Terror. Carroll & Graf 2005. Privatized intelligence.
REALITY: 26 books that don’t fit elsewhere. Among the best:
* Russ Kick, ed: You Are Being Lied To. Disinformation 2001. Investigative, alternative.
* Harold McGee: On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Scribner 2004.
FICTION: 34 books, mostly science fiction. Among the best:
* Orson Scott Card: Ender’s Game. Tor 1991.
* William Gibson & Bruce Sterling: The Difference Engine. Bantam 1991. Cyber-punk, takes extreme liberties with history.
* J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Scholastic 2005.
* J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Scholastic 2007.
PLAY SCRIPTS: 8, always short, never the depth I like from books.
NONE OF THE ABOVE: 1 book.