Jesse's favorite books

In Association with These are books that I have read and loved or found very useful.
Thanks to all who have recommended books to me :)
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Mrs. Gebhart's book 99-00 lists are now available online: English 1H and English 3.

Note: the reviews and ratings on this site are mine. Please do not copy them without permission.

[*****] - Amazing. Read it.
[****] - Good. Worth reading.

[ Science and philosopy | Space Exploration | Science fiction | Novels | Humor ]

Click on a title to see what other Amazonians thought of the book, or to purchase it.

Science and Philosophy [ top ]

Darwin's Dangerous Idea by Daniel C. Dennett [*****]
Darwin's Dangerous Idea is an incredible book. It explains how, when generalizred, Darwin's idea of evolution by natural selection becomes an extemely profound statement: All life on Earth has arisen from mindless, algoritmic processes. Dennett explains the dangers of "greedy reductionism," the idea that something like the human mind can be fully explained based on molecular interactions without levels in between. Dennett then goes on to reconcile Darwin's idea with meaning and morality, lucidly explaining past and present controversies. Darwin's Dangerous Idea is a must-read if you're interested in evolution or philosophy.
Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter [****]

Gödel's incompleteness thoerem is one of the most profound results of abstract mathematics, but unfortunately it is difficult to grasp its full meaning. GEB explains Gödel's thoerem in an interesting way by tying the mathematical result with Escher's paintings and Bach's music. The book can frustrating in some parts, but on the whole it's very interesting and useful to understand the incompleteness theorem.

One interesting thing about GEB is the dialogues. Hofstadter puts fun dialogues between the chapters, usually to introduce the concepts in the next chapter from a different angle. Sometimes this makes the concepts easier to understand, and it can occasionally be confusing to read the dialogue and then wonder what parts of it were real and which were fictional, but mostly they're fun to read and a good break from the mathematics and philosophy.

Gödel, Escher, Bach is worth reading if you're interested in philosophy, logic, artificial intelligence, or mathematics.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond [*****]
Guns, Germs, and Steel examines broad patterns of history: the spread of human populations, the spread of food production, and the recent European dominaton. Diamond explains how these patterns arose from geography, not from differences among people, attacking the roots of racism. The book very well written, discussion many aspects of the interaction among groups and races, and should greatly reduce your doubt that Europeans were merely lucky.
Space Exploration (non-fiction) [ top ]
The Case for Mars by Robert Zubrin and Richard Wagner [*****]
The Case for Mars argues that humans should go to Mars in order to renew the frontier and therefore advance technology and science. Zubrin lays out a plan called "Mars Direct" that could get a crew of four to the red planet for around $40 billion -- less than a tenth of the figure given to Bush after he introduced the Space Exploration Initiative -- and has since been accepted in modified form as NASA's "reference mission". Positive response to this book prompted Zubrin to create the Mars Society, an group that actively promotes exploration of the Red Planet and hopes to get people to Mars.
Science Fiction [ top ]
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card [*****]
Aliens called "buggers" have attacked Earth twice. Earth, under central control, plans to fend off the next attack by training the smartest children from a young age to become fleet commanders. Ender's Game is both entertaining and interesting.
The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton [*****]
A space probe crashes near a small town, and one of the residents pries it open before NASA gets to it. A strange microbial life-form emerges and kill most of the town's residents in minutes. The area is quickly quarentined, and four scientists take a sample to an underground lab to try to understand it. Andromeda is not only exciting but also informative, since it uses scientific ideas and terms correctly (the alien life-form is fictional, of course).
Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy [*****]:
Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation
I have read the first two books in this series and plan to read the third in the future. The series is based in the far future, when mathemetician and "psychohistorian" Hari Seldon calculates that the galactic empire will crumble within 500 years. Although the emporer is shocked by this news, he allows Seldon to carry out a plan designed to return order to the galaxy in a minimum amount of time after the fall of the empire.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson [****]
Stephenson exaggerates American culture to the point where everything (even cities) is owned by huge franchises. A multi-form virus threatens to wipe out the information age. Fun reading if you're into computer programming and the internet. Complaints: twists ancient history quite a bit (hard to tell what's real and what's fictional/apocryphal), and has a little too much reference to sex.
Novels [ top ]
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer [*****]
[non-fiction] Into Thin Air is an engrossing account of the spring 1996 "Mt. Everest Disaster" and the events leading up to it. I found Krakauer's description of the effects of low oxygen on the mind fascinating. If you want, you may read my review of Into Thin Air.
Tooth and Nail by Charles Harrington Elster and Joseph Elliot [****]

Tooth and Nail is a fun mystery story that contains many SAT-level words in boldface and has a glossary in the back. I found this to be an effective way of increasing my vocabulary, because I got to see each word used in context. In combination with studying word roots (etymology), reading this book helped me increase my SAT I verbal score about 170 points. Why aren't there more SAT preparation books like this?

The story itself is about two incoming college freshmen who gradually find out that strange things are going on around the campus. It's not the most enjoyable story, but it is interesting and relevant to people who are preparing for the SAT (and, as others have said, a whole lot more fun than memorizing word lists).

Humor [ top ]
Dave Barry in Cyberspace by Dave Barry [*****]
Dave Barry, possibly the best humorist of our time, takes on computers and the Internet. Not only did I find this book hilarious, but it hit close to home. (note: Dave Barry also publishes a weekly column in the Miami Herald)