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Oakland, CA

American history around the time of the Revolution, figuring out how to marry top-down task-based information architecture processes with bottom-up document-based ones, finding a good dentist in San Francisco Oakland
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So Many Books; So Few That Matter. Posted on 06/20/2001.

So. I've been thinking about how I'm having trouble finding books that really make an impact on me. For the past couple of years or so, nothing has had the worldview-changing effects of an Understanding Comics or How Buildings Learn. I wonder if it's a function of when I read those books--that I was more impressionable, more likely to be wowed by new ideas. Now that I've got this nifty comments functionality, I call upon the readers of to offer up Books That Have Changed My Life. Here's a start (and I'm too lazy for Amazon links right now):

The Psychology of Everyday Things. For many, including me, it opened my eyes to the importance of user-centered design.
For God, Country, and Coca-Cola. A fascinating portrait of American business history through the actions of a single organization.
A Pattern Language. Less for its thoughts than how it presented them--hypertext in paper form.
Envisioning Information. By far my favorite of his Tufte's three books.
Coming of Age in the Milky Way. The story of astronomy and astrophysics, made compelling through insights into the scientists' characters.
The Annotated Alice. The original books are, naturally, masterpieces, and Gardner's notes enrich them for a contemporary audience.
Catch-22. Also see IRONY.
Click the "n comments" link to add yours!

40 comments so far. Add a comment.

Previous entry: "It explains something, I think."
Next entry: "Walls, The Musical!"


As a Dark Horse, I found that Ray Jardine's Pacific Crest Trail Hikers Handbook had tremoundous influence in my life, mostly because I really enjoyed Rays approach to problem solving and he had a very entertaining bibliography. (his new book has most of the good material and I reccomend it.)
High points included: Flow : The Psychology of Optimal Experience -- by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Harry Brownes How to Live free in an unfree world.
Posted by Carl Coryell-Martin @ 06/20/2001 11:03 PM PST [link to this comment]

first time to your website and, serendipitously for you, just yesterday finished reading the 'glipshing' (quintessential is too flimsy, had to make a new word) "classic tale of true love and high adventure". your life will be forever changed.

The Princess Bride

by William Goldman
Posted by rodney @ 06/21/2001 12:19 AM PST [link to this comment]

- 1984 by Orwell
- A Natural History of the Senses by Ackerman
- Genius by Gleick
- Hop on Pop by Seuss
Posted by jkottke @ 06/21/2001 12:54 AM PST [link to this comment]

"The tipping point". It confirmed my suspicion that the little things matter, and it clarified that: there are little things that matter and little things that don't, and being able to tell the difference is what makes a great IA (/webdesigner/...)
Posted by peter @ 06/21/2001 01:40 AM PST [link to this comment]

"All My Road Before Me: the Diary of C.S. Lewis" edited by Walter Hooper. It is a fantastic look into the mind of a thinker. It helps to be a Lewis fan, but if not it is a wonderful illustration of how he challenged others in their thinking and logic.

"Rules for Revolutionaries" by Guy Kawasaki. This opened my eyes to fully follow my passion.

"Working Knowledge" by Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak. The use of information and turning it into knowledge is a major fascination of mine.

"City People" by Gunther Barth. A wonderful look at how various components in the turn of the century cities shaped community and lives. The sections look at divided space, newspapers, department stores, ballparks, and vuadeville. It changed my perspective of how I looked at any place where people interact. This book illustrates how people communicate even with out knowing they are sharing information and how everything is tied to one another in a very dependant manner.
Posted by vanderwal @ 06/21/2001 04:58 AM PST [link to this comment]

I forgot one... "The Gutenberg Elegies" by Sven Birkerts. Sven is a litterary critic who takes on how people interact with the written word in different forms (various paper forms and electronically). This collection of essays provides a good foundation for one's own thinking of how to build an information system that is meant to communicate with others.
Posted by vanderwal @ 06/21/2001 05:06 AM PST [link to this comment]

Interesting thread, Peter...

"To the Lighthouse" by Woolf. "Lanark," by Alasdair Gray. "The Wild Iris" by Gluck. Berryman's Dream Songs.
Posted by maud @ 06/21/2001 09:52 AM PST [link to this comment]

"Chaos" by James Gleick
Posted by Jonathan @ 06/21/2001 09:56 AM PST [link to this comment]

- Most anything from C.S. Lewis.

- "Being Digital" by Nicholas Negroponte (though maybe its strong effect on me was because I was 14 when I first read it).

-"Orthodoxy" by G.K. Chesterton.

-"Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov. Shockingly gorgeous.
Posted by sco @ 06/21/2001 10:08 AM PST [link to this comment]

"Class" by Paul Fussell. About fifteen years ahead of David Brooks' awkward "Bobos in Paradise," Fussell used a much sharper knife to dissect the entire American class structure--and suggested a slightly tongue-in-cheek way out of the dilemma of class.
Posted by Paul Kretkowski @ 06/21/2001 11:33 AM PST [link to this comment]

the river why - fiction, life n' flyfishin'

einstein's dreams - fiction, musings on possible spaces and times

i don't read too much non fiction, except for books on how to do things, programming for instance. this is probably because i find that i don't really find out all that much about the subject studied and definately don't have any life changing realizations. back to square one again - but thanks for the recommendations!
Posted by evan @ 06/21/2001 11:40 AM PST [link to this comment]

Manufacturing Consent, by Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman. Ok, so it's not *quite* in your stated range of interests, but if you ever read international news, or read newspapers at all, this book is pretty much required reading.

It blew my mind, anyway.
Posted by Dru @ 06/21/2001 11:51 AM PST [link to this comment]

Mirror Worlds by David Gelernter. After nearly a decade, I'm struck by how much of my thinking about information visualization, "knowledge mapping" and the political uses of data gathering can be traced back to this book.
Posted by Andrea Moed @ 06/21/2001 12:03 PM PST [link to this comment]

"The Precious Present" by Spencer Johnson
Posted by Jay Allen @ 06/21/2001 12:23 PM PST [link to this comment]

Well, you said "life changing", not necessarily business-focused. So as truly life changing for me:

Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez
Caverns Measureless to Man, Sheck Exley
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche
Touching the Void, Joe Simpson
Posted by tsg @ 06/21/2001 12:34 PM PST [link to this comment]

Fahrenheit 451 - my fav. fiction book (I don't read much fiction)

The Physics of Immortality - this is wild! Basically, the author, a physics professor, Frank J. Tipler, proves mathematically, that we will all live forever. As an atheist, I found it enjoyable...Christians would probably be offended though.

The Humane Interface - My fav. human-computer interaction book.

Organizing Genius : The Secrets of Creative Collaboration - My fav. business book. A look at how groups of regular people created extraordinary things.
Posted by brad lauster dot com @ 06/21/2001 12:52 PM PST [link to this comment]

"Dead Souls" by Nikolai Gogol
(plus any collection of his short stories that you can find)

"The Makioka Sisters" by Tanizaki
(also his "Some Prefer Nettles")

good stuff
Yum Yum
Posted by brian @ 06/21/2001 03:59 PM PST [link to this comment]

"Moral Animal" by Robert Wright explains human behavior. (This is the one that made Evolutionary Psychology popular.) Wright's next/new book "Nonzero" leans into 'Where is the world headed?' issues which are covered by Kurzweil's "Spiritual Machines".

I agree with "Flow" (I'm doomed) anything by Chomsky (death by corporation!) and I thought "Class" was interesting.
Posted by Carl Stargher @ 06/21/2001 07:31 PM PST [link to this comment]

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - What is quality?

The Tao of Pooh - What is?

Infinite Jest - I name my computers after characters in this book.

God Bless you Mr. Rosewater - I read this a hundred times in high school. I read it today and can't figure out why I loved it soooo much. Still - it is really the book that made me feel reading - reading to think - was worthwhile (rather than just what you had to do to learn).
Posted by dchase @ 06/21/2001 07:40 PM PST [link to this comment]

Julian Jaynes "The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind" -- were the ancient Greeks stunned or nuts?

Alex Osborn "Your creative power"

Ernie Zelinski "The joy of not working" -- a compelling argument for treating unemployment as the normal state of affairs punctuated by as brief as possible bouts of employment

Alexander "A pattern language"

Ted Nelson "Computer Lib / Dream Machines"

there are certainly others on my bookshelf that have been at least temporarily life-changing, but for now this should do
Posted by Edward Vielmetti @ 06/21/2001 08:25 PM PST [link to this comment]

href="/exec/obidos/ASIN/1568982585/ref=ase_eleganthack/104-0317701-0405565">face=verdana,arial,helvetica>Tibor Kalman, Perverse Optimist changed me on so many levels... made me love designers and design, made me think aobut all the ways we can change our world on a really deep level by chaning how it looks onthe surface (really), and it inspires me every time I open it up.

Posted by christina @ 06/21/2001 08:26 PM PST [link to this comment]

Tibor Kalman, Perverse Optimist; because it makes me believe that what i do CAN matter.

Painting By Numbers, Komar & Melamid because it's a wonderful eposé on the idiocy of concensus.

Feast of Snakes, Harry Crews; because the South is a really bad place for children and other living things

currently Sagmeister is entertaining and inspiring the hell out of me.
...and whatever has pictures of Jennifer Lopez.
Posted by Mike @ 06/21/2001 09:56 PM PST [link to this comment]

Flow by Csikszentmihalyi
Einstein's Dreams by Lightman

just to name a couple ... sometimes i wish i still worked at the bookstore...
Posted by abla @ 06/22/2001 06:54 AM PST [link to this comment]

I'm reading Time Lord: : Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time.

Fleming is the man responsible for creating unified world-wide time zones.
Posted by Outtacontext @ 06/22/2001 10:44 AM PST [link to this comment]

How the Mind Works and The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker;
Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein;
Suttree and Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy;
all of Wallace Stevens.
Posted by george @ 06/22/2001 11:44 AM PST [link to this comment]

I'll only mention stuff I haven't already seen mentioned, but rest assured there's overlap.

Ring of Endless Light, Madeleine L'Engle (many other things by here as well, but this one stands out from my childhood)
Non-Designer's Design Book - Robin Williams
Pursuit of WOW! - Tom Peters
Fionavar Tapestry - Guy Gavriel Kay

These stand out as ones that I read and re-read. I tend to have life changing events, rather than books, despite being an inveterate bookworm.
Posted by jen kitchen @ 06/22/2001 12:39 PM PST [link to this comment]

Eric Slosser's Fast Food Nation changed the way I looked at food as industry and process science. And probably kept me away from McDonald's forever.
Posted by Kevin Smokler @ 06/22/2001 11:03 PM PST [link to this comment]

My views of the world (and beyond) were affected most probably by:
Toeffler's The Third Wave
Sagan's Cosmos
and the Klutz book Kids Shenanigans (Great things to do that Mom and Dad will just barely approve of), and the one that teaches Juggling.
I also love Tufte's Envisioning Information.
Posted by Carlos @ 06/23/2001 07:54 AM PST [link to this comment]

The Three Little Kittens Who Lost Their Mittens
Posted by Lucy @ 06/23/2001 10:47 AM PST [link to this comment]

Flow, because it suggested that I wasn't nuts for wanting to be an artist.

Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance, because it suggested I wasn't entirely nuts for wanting to think.

The Once and Future King, by TH White, because it suggested I wasn't crazy to think that humanity could pursue truth and justice in order to put an end to tyranny, and because it's a charmingly retold Arthurian legend with a long slide into doom and despair that will make your mind shiver.

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, by Richard Rorty, because it suggested that philosophy was a series of bad metaphors three millenia old but was still worth studying.

The Soul of a New Machine, by Tracy Kidder, because it showed me I wasn't crazy to love these stupid calculators.

I find it interesting that we have so many Chesterton and Lewis lovers here. I had no idea that so many IAs were High Church Anglicans. Heh.
Posted by steve @ 06/23/2001 11:19 AM PST [link to this comment]

Hee. So, "Lucy" loves The Three Little Kittens Who Lost Their Mittens.. This will be a reference utterly lost on anyone who was not raised in my household.

Here goes.

There's an old Peanuts cartoon. In it, Lucy is wandering around town, reading a book, proclaiming to all who will listen that this book, The Three Little Kittens, is the best book ever, that it's an amazing book, that you have to go out and read this book.

Another character asks her, "How many books have you read?"

"This is the only one!" she resoundly replies, in that inimitable Van Pelt style.
Posted by peterme @ 06/23/2001 02:15 PM PST [link to this comment]

Crabgrass Frontier -- the ideas and policies behind the creation of the American suburbs

Changes in the Land -- William Cronon -- how New England's environment changed with European settlement -- different than you might think

Common Ground -- J. Anthony Lukas -- one of my very favorite nonfiction books -- the story of the busing crisis in 70s Boston, two families in the foreground, the political and social history of boston in the background -- told with erudition and compassion

The Measure of Reality - Alfred Crosby. How the invention of various sorts of math changed the world. An easy, delightful, and fascinating read.

Natural Capitalism -- Hawkins, Lovins and Lovens. Not as excellent a book as the others on the list; best one-book summary of ways the world could be improved with energy & material-efficient design.

The Printing Press as an Agent of Change -- Elizabeth Eisenstein

Land of Desire, William Leach. If you liked "for god, for country, for coca cola" -- this is the story of the rise of mass merchandising -- the politics of the book are pretty wierd, but the history is interesting and the oddball anecdotes are priceless (L. Frank Baum was a pioneer of the art of dept-store window-dressing; vis, pay no attention to the man behind the screen)

More Work for Mother -- Ruth Schwartz Cowan -- one of my favorites -- household tasks in american history -- lots more wierd social history trivia -- told well and lightly

Ruth Reichl -- Tender at the Bone. Good but not as great as the other books; read it recently -- Reichl gets more pleasure from food than ordinary folks get from sex
Posted by Adina Levin @ 06/24/2001 03:55 PM PST [link to this comment]

I loved Sidney Sheldon's If Tomorrow Comes
Posted by Pamela @ 06/25/2001 01:31 AM PST [link to this comment]

Does nobody read books from before the C20th any more? Try Marlowe's Dr Faustus. Or Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Scary and misanthropic respectively.
Posted by Urban Commando @ 06/25/2001 02:42 AM PST [link to this comment]

Hackers by Steven Levy was eye opening, not just for reading about wacky things geniuses in that great cusp between authoritarian clampdowns of the 1950s and 1980s, but for witnessing rapid-fire examples of raw problemsolving and new learning.

The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. LeGuin is best consumed all at once. Beautiful, thoughtful fantasy. The first sequel, Tehanu is also good but an entirely different sort of thing. I haven't read the second sequel yet.

Second the recommendation for More Work for Mother by Ruth Schwartz Cowan. My mom loved it, too.

I didn't find Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug a personally changing experience, although it's a very good book, because i'd been reading in the field for a while. On the other hand, it switches a light on in people who never thought about it before. I haven't found anything else that does such a concise job of explaining and selling usability design. If you're having trouble getting your client or manager to incorporate usability design and testing into your projects, loan them this book.

Goedel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter gets to be a masochistic read but I like books that make you think about everything.
Posted by AjD @ 06/25/2001 08:16 AM PST [link to this comment]

"Maps in a Mirror" by Orson Scott Card.

"Castle of the Otter" by Gene Wolfe

both because they talk about the process and motivations and circumstance of creativity and writing...Scott Card's "Maps" is a collection of short stories, and each story has an accompanying explanation. "Castle" is a whole book reflecting on the creation of Wolfe's classic "Book of the New Sun" collection. Meta-narrative. I like it.

"Nine Stories" by J.D. Salinger. Beautiful. Tragic. Human. The extraordinary of ordinary everyday life.

Poetry - T.S. Elliot. Michael Ondaatje. Tennyson and Whitman.

Recently: "Salamander" by Thomas Wharton. Rich layered fantasy explores themes of how manufactured experience eliminates humanity. (experience design, anyone?) And where else has typography been key to plotline? Most of all, Tom is local - interesting to see talent in your own backyard in Everydayville.

"MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences" - because I took a class with Rob Wilson (editor) and Jeff Pelletier (smart cookie), and it was like drinking from a firehose after living in a desert.

And life-changing? Really life-changing? The Book of Mormon, Bible, and other Latter-Day Saint canon run as a constant I'm not often even aware of, but that informs almost everything I do. Not preaching, you're welcome to whatever faith or spirituality or contemplation brings you peace, just that this kind of thing changes people more profoundly than great typographical treatises or brilliant literary exposition...though Peter seems to be looking for a few really good books, and not to embark on any new metaphysical quests :)

Posted by Jess @ 06/26/2001 11:44 AM PST [link to this comment]

Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think, if not for you then for your boss, your boss's boss, your client and your mum. The kind of people who need to know what you do.
Posted by Paul Nattress @ 06/27/2001 12:43 AM PST [link to this comment]

The books that changed my view:

The Cluetrain Manifesto (Locke, Levine)
The Inmates are Running the Asylem (Alan Cooper)
Posted by Frank Elbert @ 06/27/2001 03:41 AM PST [link to this comment]

siegfried kracauer, "from caligari to hitler." wassily kandinsky, "concerning the spiritual in art." walker percy, "the moviegoer." nathanael west, "miss lonelyhearts." paul auster, "the new york trilogy." haruki murakami, "hard boiled wonderland and the end of the world."
Posted by lane @ 06/30/2001 09:43 PM PST [link to this comment]

Chaos - James Gleick. Taught me to see processes instead of states.
Posted by djotto @ 07/02/2001 06:11 AM PST [link to this comment]

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