Sunday, January 23, 2011

Reading List

Some fantastic books I've read recently and greatly recommend:

Deep Survival: Who lives, Who Dies, and Why
by Laurence Gonzales
An insightful look into the psychology of survival situations, with plenty of anecdotes and real-life scenarios, from the author's own life and from others (mostly others). A very well written, readable book, which might have been a tad dry or dull in the hands of a lesser writer; it utterly fascinated me, with many very inspiring sections (the end for me has been very powerful, very gripping for nonfiction). He also quotes the Tao Te Ching often, which pleased me, as well as having a general Zen approach to survival. Not that the book is overtly spiritual by any means, but there is this undertone of philosophical insight. His two rules of life (written with his daughter when she was a small child): 1, be here now, and 2, everything takes 8 times longer to do than you think it will. Read it for the tales of survival if nothing else.

When you're done, go watch the documentary "Touching the Void" about Joe Simpson's amazing survival on an Andean mountain alone with a broken leg. This is talked about in this book but the film is powerful. Simpson himself has a book of the same name which I have yet to read.

Faith, Madness and Spontaneous Human Combustion
by Gerald N. Callahan
Found this in a used book store's tiny science section, bought it because the title captivated me. For a Ph.D and a scientist, he's a phenomenal writer; much like Loren Eiseley was, if you're familiar with him (if not, check out The Unexpected Universe). This book deals a lot with the immune system (it's subtitle is "What Immunology Can Teach Us About Self-perception"), which according to the author is the part of our biology that defines the self; but being about selfhood, it goes back and forth between science/medicine and psychology and philosophy. Almost poetic throughout and in many places incredibly profound, this book of essays (which run together along a common theme) blew my mind more than once. A great blend of science, philosophy and simple, honest humanness. Read it.

Good Omens
by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet
A hilarious story concerning the unlikely alliance of a demon and an angel to avert the Apocalypse. Hilarious if you enjoy witty, dry British humor, as I do. In adition to the comedy there are some serious issues being made clear, as good comedy often does. I liked the parts about "not needing to test everything to failure" and "hell has all the good music" but it's full of thoughtful though not overt commentary on the religion issue. Very interesting plot too. Definitely recommended.

by Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan's only novel, it's a tale of radio contact with an alien message, told through the eyes of Ellie Arroway, the lead scientist of the SETI project that first recieves the message. Beyond being a well written novel, it delves into questions of religion, politics and social mores given the perspective of alien life and a growing planetary understanding. Just a lot of cool ideas in this book. But it stands on its own as a novel, too.


  1. Good Omens was fun. I liked the part where all the tapes in the glovebox turned into "Queen."

    Too bad about Terry Pratchett.

  2. I'll have to see if I can find any of these at the library. I've seen the movie version of "Contact", and is actually one of my favorites, but haven't read the book yet.

  3. What happened to Terry Pratchet? I admit I'm not a fan, having only read this one book, so I know little. But it's a great book, so maybe I'll look at some others.

  4. Pratchett has been diagnosed with Alzheimers.