There’s a meme going around: in 15 minutes, come up with a list of 15 books that “will always stick with you”. Since lists on their own aren’t all that interesting, I’ve added some notes about why I’ve chosen these books.
- “The Man Who Folded Himself”, David Gerrold.
One of the great SF time travel novels. Take one ordinary guy, a time machine, and the many-worlds hypothesis, and watch everything go completely nuts. I nearly chose “When Harlie Was One”, another Gerrold book which is probably better from a literary standpoint, but the plot doesn’t quite stick in my head the same way, perhaps because I read it in a single sitting because I _couldn’t stop_.
- “Ubik”, Philip K. Dick.
Not Dick’s best novel, not his most striking, but one of the ones which is most typical of his writing, and one of the first I read.
- “The Chain of Chance”, Stanislaw Lem.
I’d love to say more about why this is great, but the less you know about it, the better it is. Don’t even read the blurb.
- “1984”, George Orwell.
Also known as the UK/US government instruction manual, 1984 onwards.
- “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”, Douglas Adams.
All of it. And the radio show scripts, if that’s not cheating.
- “Obedience To Authority”, Stanley Milgram.
Probably the most terrifying book in the world.
- “Computer Lib / Dream Machines”, Ted Nelson.
There’s a reason why this sells for outrageous sums second hand. Every page is full of wit, insight, and ideas. It set the direction of my academic and then my professional life.
- “Alice In Wonderland / Alice Through The Looking-Glass”, Lewis Carroll.
If there’s anyone who hasn’t read this: What is wrong with you?
- “Getting Things Done”, David Allen.
I don’t adhere to GTD religiously, but elements of it have been incredibly helpful to me. The only personal organization system that has actually worked somewhat for me.
- “The Phantom Tollbooth”, Norton Juster.
Like “Alice in Wonderland”, a book for kids that is smart enough to be entertaining to adults as well.
- “The Book of the SubGenius”, Rev. Ivan Stang.
The other face of religion in Texas. I bought copies for friends the first time I visited the USA.
- “Principia Discordia”, Mal-2.
While Subgenius is entertaining, I think that ultimately, Discordianism is the better religion, or the more long-lasting joke, depending on your point of view.
- The complete short stories of Philip K. Dick.
While Dick’s novels are often great, I think it’s in his short stories that he really shines as an author.
- “The C Programming Language”, Kernighan and Ritchie.
The first _real_ programming language I learned was C. K&R set my expectations for programming language books; I look for the thin ones, not the doorstops.
- “The Transparent Society”, David Brin.
I was persuaded. I think this is our only viable choice. The way I live has changed accordingly.