Rahul Simha
Professor of Computer Science


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Recommended Reading
Below is a list of recommended books or articles. I'll limit myself to technical and non-fiction, even though I have a long list for fiction. And I'll add to these as and when I get time or read a good new book.

Influential books. These are books that have influenced my thinking. They aren't necessarily outstanding in writing style (some are) nor are necessarily original (some are), but happened to be books that opened my eyes to new ideas and new ways of thinking.
  • Richard Dawkins. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design. The classic on evolution in Dawkins' passionate prose.
  • Jared Diamond. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Changed the way I thought about history and culture.
  • Francis Fukuyama. Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity. This book is perhaps the best complement to Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, from one of the world's most original thinkers. For reasons I don't understand, his other books such as The End of History and the Last Man receive more attention. I think Trust is his best work and one that needs the full exploration a book can provide, whereas for example, the End of History can be summed up in an article.
  • Martin Gardner. Anything written by him. You can't go wrong.
  • Joel Garreau. Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies -- and What It Means to Be Human. The term "singularity" has become a hot buzzword in futurist circles - it's often used to describe a point of no return in the future when man and machine are interdependent. In this well-written and illuminating book, Garreau presents another, I think more compelling, definition: it's when humans go beyond evolution to chemically and mechanically alter our bodies and minds. The singularity then occurs when humans split into multiple species - the "enhanced humans" who use drugs and electromechanical attachments to add new physical and mental "features", and the "natural humans" who reject these in favor of staying human. While describing the work of scientists and engineers, he also makes clear how unprepared society is to grapple with the attendant ethical issues.
  • Daniel Goleman. Destructive Emotions. An insightful account into the emerging nexus between neuroscience, mental well-being and ethics. There are quite a few such books now.
  • Robert L. Heilbroner. The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times And Ideas Of The Great Economic Thinkers. A highly readable account of basic economics as traced through the history of the subject. Heilbroner has a gift for lucid writing. To read more about economics, see his more detailed The Making of Economic Society.
  • Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Now of course I know how to read between the lines when I read anything by Chomsky, but the very first time I heard him speak, it was an eye-opening experience coming from years of immersion in the "mainstream" viewpoint.
  • Douglas R. Hofstadter. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. Stunning in its breadth of ideas and its innovative style, this is the book that got me into computer science. Hofstadter's Mind's I is also compelling but a little more difficult to read. I thought I'd be doing research in AI, but I ended up doing something else. Not sure why - perhaps Lisp turned me off.
  • John Horgan. The End Of Science: Facing The Limits Of Knowledge In The Twilight Of The Scientific Age. I vehemently disagree with Horgan's conclusions (for example, he completely missed the areas of complex systems and neuroscience), but the book makes fascinating reading and forces one to think about the social value of funding scientific research.
  • Stuart Kauffman. At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. This was the book that drew me into the science of complex systems. His other book entitled Investigations is somewhat speculative but worth reading for their ideas.
  • Tracy Kidder. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. A crisp account of one of the world's most inspiring people.
  • Steven Pinker. The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. A lucid account of the modern view of language acquisition.
  • William Poundstone. The Recursive Universe: Cosmic Complexity and the Limits of Scientific Knowledge. This book was my entry into the fascinating world of cellular automata and Von Neumann's abstraction of self-reproduction.
  • William Strunk and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. This iconic little book deserves mention as the prototype for its genre. Other good books of this kind that I've found very useful include Graves' Reader Over Your Shoulder, and the series by Bruce Ross-Larson, starting with Edit Yourself

Outstanding textbooks. These are books I haven't really read cover-to-cover but are ones that I think I will keep on my shelf forever. They are in this list because they are examples of really well-written technical material.
  • Olle Häggström. Finite Markov Chains and Algorithmic Applications. This book embodies the word gem, an exemplar of clarity and brevity. In just over 100 pages, Haggstrom covers tremendous ground, laying the basic probability foundation needed for Markov chains, and then going from there to a few applications.
  • Sheldon M. Ross. Introduction to Probability Models. Ross is surely considered one of the master textbook writers of the day. He's written a slew of probability textbooks. This is his most popular textbook. While some authors leave too much proof to the reader and others bog down in unnecessary background, Ross gets it "just right".
  • Gilbert Strang. Linear Algebra and Its Applications. A classic textbook on a classic topic. Superb introduction of concepts via illustrative examples and, most importantly, accompanied by motivation for why certain otherwise dry results are important. This is a good example of how to lay out a body of math, using examples to drive the theory.
  • Steven Strogatz. Nonlinear Dynamics And Chaos. Difficult mathematics presented engagingly and with great, illustrative examples.

Other recommended books. These are books that didn't fall into the very top categories above, but are nonetheless excellent books.
  • Bill Bryson. A Short History of Nearly Everything.
  • Daniel Coyle. The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown..
  • Malcolm Gladwell. Outliers: The Story of Success.
  • David Goodstein, Judith R. Goodstein, and David L. Goodstein. Feynman's Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets Around the Sun.
  • Thomas F. Homer-Dixon. The Ingenuity Gap: Facing the Economic, Environmental, and Other Challenges of an Increasingly Complex and Unpredictable Future.
  • Marco Iacoboni. Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect with Others.
  • Robert Kanigel. The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan.
  • Steven D. Levitt, and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
  • Steven Levy. Artificial Life: A Report from the Frontier Where Computers Meet Biology. More interesting ideas from the frontiers of complexity.
  • Michael Lewis. Liar's Poker.
  • Sylvia Nasar. A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash.
  • Simon Singh. The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography.
  • Simon Singh. Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe.
  • Simon Singh. Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem.
  • M. Mitchell Waldrop. Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos.
  • Duncan J. Watts. Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age.
  • Steven H. Strogatz. Sync: How Order Emerges From Chaos In the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life.