Books and Code · A Miscellany

What 10 books have you read that will always be with you?


What 10 books have you read that will always be with you?

These are ordered by the time in my life I read them (roughly speaking).

1. The Neverending Story - Michael Ende

Ok, I’m cheating a little here because the movie is what most affected me. In kindergarden we watched the Challenger launch on TV. When it exploded, the teachers promptly put on this movie instead and I was enraptured and a little scared by the world Bastian discovers in an antique bookstore. The resulting mix of emotions has been with me ever since, and if I was psychoanalyzing myself, was probably the germination of my used bookstore fetish.

2. Juvenile astronomy books, circa 1985

I wish I had a specific title to cite here. When in grade school I voraciously read anything relating to space. What child of the 80’s didn’t want to be an astronaut?

3. Walden - Henry David Thoreau

A man goes to live by himself in the woods–a plan I can get behind. I was a big fan of the Transcendentalists in high school. This pick was a toss up between Emerson and Thoreau. I picked the master of the pithy quip.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

4. Animal Farm - George Orwell

“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Orwell distills the flaws with the socialist conception of equality and its ramifications into a potent and accessible allegory.

5. Collected Poems - Dylan Thomas

In Freshman Composition at Roberts Wesleyan College I wrote a paper titled “A Refusal to Mourn the Death of Pioneers”–an homage to Thomas, Ende, and the Challenger. I wish I kept a copy. Thomas’ poetry is at once broken and triumphant with the rhythm of a lullaby.

6. The Divine Comedy - Dante

I’ve read Dante’s masterpiece three times in three different English translations. The unintended lesson I learned? Hell is more interesting than Paradise.

7. Nausea - Jean Paul Sartre

I am stuck in my own head. Others are stuck in their own heads. Humans are fundamentally incapable of making a complete connection with another human or any other object in existence and as a consequence are utterly alone. So goes the thought process of the eight-year-old David Maddock. Fast forward to adolescence and I found a friend in Sartre.

8. Economics in One Lesson - Henry Hazlitt

This was one of several books that helped me clarify my thoughts on society and economics and allow me to identify myself as a classical liberal. Heck, I’m a borderline anarcho-capitalist.

9. How to Make Money in Stocks - William J. O’Neil

There’s a lot of snake-oil finance gurus out there. Some would even criticize O’Neil for being one of them. (He publishes the stock-centric newspaper Investor’s Business Daily.) Following my conscious adoption of classical liberalism, I decided to become financially responsible. I read a lot of personal finance and investing books; the majority are garbage. What I loved about O’Neil’s book is that he took a very programmatic approach to stocks. In the 60’s he built a method of stock speculation around a kind of proto-data mining–he built a database of stock data and identified common characteristics in stocks prior to big uptrends.

10. The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture - Bart Ehrman

I read several of Ehrman’s more popular books before taking on this scholarly one. It has been my experience that people who hold very strong opinions often know very little about the subject to which the opinion relates. Of course, for me those opinions tended to be religious ones. Regarding the study of the New Testament, what believers have to say about it is often wildly different that what scholars do. Most of us don’t really consider that what we call “the Bible” is a conflagration of many, many manuscripts which do not all agree on what the text is. This book is a compelling critique of such manuscript differences and how some of them are a result of scribal changes in opposition to various ideas in the early Christian movement which have come to be considered “heretical”.

I also much enjoyed his Teaching Company lecture series on the New Testament. Rarely do we even consider the fact that the authors of the New Testament (and Old too for that matter) were not all trying to say the same thing–in fact, were explicitly trying to say different things (as in Matthew and Luke’s revisions of Mark).