Good Books to Buy for Geeks Like Me

If you’re looking for a gift for a book-loving, technically-oriented person in your life, here are a few recommendations. (Alas, if you’re looking for a Christmas gift for ME, I’ve already read them.)

Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made by Andy Hertzfeld.

This collection of first-person anecdotes from the team of engineers who created the Mac in the early 1980s is beautiful, revelatory, and totally coffee-table-worthy. It conveys the atmosphere of early Apple, and evokes the fascinating bundle of contradictions that was Steve Jobs, in a way that makes it the perfect complement to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, which the person you’re shopping for probably already owns.

(Isaacson’s book is also a terrific read — as accurate and balanced as one could reasonably wish for — but as it’s already destined to become the #1 best-selling biography of all time, plugging it seems redundant. Basically, it’s the iPhone of hardcover biographies.)

If you’re interested in delving deeper into the early Apple story, another great primary source is iWoz by Steve Wozniak (sharing credit with ghostwriter Gina Smith). Woz is the antithesis of the other Steve in so many ways. This memoir — which covers his childhood tinkering, creation of the Apple II, and subsequent departure from the company he co-founded — conveys his unique and wonderful personality. If you happen to be the parent of a smart kid born into the 21st century, his evocation of his 1960s boyhood and relationship with his engineer dad will give you a lot to think about.

Other books I’ve enjoyed lately, in no particular order:

Jesus of Nazareth by Paul Verhoeven.

It’s true: the director of Robocop and Starship Troopers has written one of the most entertaining, historically grounded, and plausible evocations of Jesus’s life I’ve read. Verhoeven, the only non-theologian member of the Jesus Seminar, spent years doing research for a film about Jesus before deciding to write it as a nonfiction book instead. Of special interest to movie buffs is his assessment of the historical accuracy of previous cinematic treatments, including Scorsese’s and Gibson’s.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

This book blew my mind, in the best way. I’ve been curious about how my brain works pretty much ever since my brain started working, so to discover a book this revelatory is a big deal.

Warning: This is not a quick and easy, Malcolm Gladwell-style bedside read to unwind with at the end of a long day. Though it’s very readable, it demands to be read when you’re fully awake and brimming with mental energy. Not only that, it actually explains why you shouldn’t read it when you’re tired.

Feynman by Ottaviani and Myrick.

A hardcover graphic novel might seem an odd medium for the reminiscences of famed raconteur and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman, but it’s totally delightful, funny, romantic, and manages to squeeze in a fair amount of math and physics. Read it even if you’ve already enjoyed his memoir, the hilarious Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman.

Posted on Dec 4, 2011 in Blog | 1 comment

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  1. 12-4-2011

    Feynman reminds me of another recent graphic novel: Logicomix, about the philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russell. Quite an original and interesting read.

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