Last week I ran across a quick little article entitled “Life-Changing Books: Recommendations from 17 Leading Scientists“. Few things in life excite me anymore the way a really good book does (I could tell you “tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago”), so this definitely piqued my interest.
I knew I was in for a treat when I noticed that the fourth one down was Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. I was a big Asimov fan “way back” in high school. If I had been asked to participate in the making of the aforementioned list (alas, I am not yet considered a “Leading Scientist”), I might have selected Asimov’s I, Robot. Let me tell you why.
- I was and still am fascinated by how literarily fertile his 3 laws of robotics are. (If Asimov can invent the word “robotics”, I can invent “literarily”.) I lifted the following from Wikipedia: “SF scholar James Gunn writes, ‘The Asimov robot stories as a whole may respond best to an analysis on this basis: the ambiguity in the Three Laws and the ways in which Asimov played twenty-nine variations upon a theme.’”
- I didn’t quite realize it at the time, but it now occurs to me that the stories in I, Robot are engineering at its finest. Here’s a problem, now solve it. That’s really what I’ve been doing since I got my first programming job.
- Who doesn’t like robots?
Random posted a few days ago asserting that Great Hackers Read Books. I totally concur. It’s really one more way to exercise your mind. Not only that, books are a great source of ideas! New ideas, for the most part, are just new combinations of existing ideas. The more combinations you have available in your brain, the more likely you are to be able to come up with something new and cool.
Some of my recent favorite nerdy-ish books are:
- Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter
- I Am a Strange Loop, also by Douglas Hofstadter
- Chaos – Making a New Science, by James Gleick
- Code Complete 2nd Edition, by Steve McConnell
- Machine Learning, by Tom Mitchell
- The World Is Flat, by Thomas L. Friedman
- The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald Norman
In the famous words of Levar Burton, “don’t take my word for it.”