Books You Must Own
(in my humble but correct opinion.)
Happy-as-a-clam to be affiliated with

Update [Feb. 24/2001]: Ignore everything I say on this page. Well okay, no, the books on this page are good books, I like them, and they are worth purchasing, BUT: You'll find a lot more books over at This is a new site I've created which gets user input in pretty much every area about which books have been written, and catalogs the best of them - the definitive books - the canonical tomes. Go there, I hope you like it.

   The deal is, I got tired of recommending the same great books over and over again, so I decided to wrap em all up in a neat little package. Each book listed here has been personally dogeared by yours truly and passed the rigorous test of being good enough that I took the time to actually write HTML code for it. :) Actually, that's not quite true. Some entries may have come up when someone else asked me to link to a book they wanted. If I get enough of that happening, I'll give each person their own section, keep a kind of "recommended books" list going. Actually, that idea tanked, so the requests section has been flogged. Those who are desperate to know where to get those whiz-bang colouring books can take advantage of my lazyness, and the fact that I didn't really delete them, just commented them out in the html source. :)
   The books are all offered through my affiliation with That means that if you click on one, you'll be magically wisked away to the page for the book which includes information about, and reviews of the book, and the opportunity to buy it online. I have to say that having shopped around personally, has got its ship the most together: they've got the best prices I've seen for the books I list; they're Canadian (and in $CDN); and they pay me a percentage on purchases made through this page. :) First order I made with them went from "Submit" to "Shipping" inside of 12 hours, with helpful email along the way, so this isn't just me selling out (oh, it is me selling out, but it's not just that), they really are the place to be. Also worthy of note, I can almost guarantee the books you want are cheaper here. Lemme know if you want something, I'll see if I can get it cheaper.


Cryptonomicon Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon was the first crypto-thriller I've read, and it alone inspired me to buy the (non-fiction) bible of crypto (Bruce Schneier's "Applied Cryptography", see below). Stephenson is an incredible author - reading this has prompted me to buy more of his work, which will be listed here as soon as I get a chance to read it, and make sure it wasn't fluke. This is one of those books that alters your mindset, like when you leave a good kung-fu movie and are itching to start a fight, or when you watch a military movie and suddenly feel like saluting. :)
The Diamond Age Neal again, this time in The Diamond Age. What can I say? The man knows how to write. This one's about a very cool book, and a world of nanotech. Man, nanotech has always been a cool sounding word to me, but never really grabbed me until I read this book. Now, thanks to him, I've gone and bought the non-fiction bible of this discipline too (Drexler's Engines of Creation, I'll post information once I get around to it). Seriously, his books keep kicking ass. Go buy them. Why are you still reading this?
Snow Crash More Stephenson, this time: Snow Crash. Are you getting the picture yet? This guy is just too darned cool. I agree with the description I read somewhere on slashdot, "He could write a novel about navel lint and there would still be a black helicopter in it somewhere." Cool cool cool. This one covers psycholinguistics with a backdrop of The Metaverse, a virtual world so real and so enticing it makes me want to code it with my own two hands. Oh, and the main character's name is Hiro Protagonist. How cool is that?
Ender's Game Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game was foisted upon me in grade 10 English. Luckily, we've gotten past the notion, as a culture that sci-fi is a waste of time, or I might never have found this book. I don't know why the books I'm recommending tend to follow a military theme, but this one is definitely unique. Ever felt misunderstood? Ever needed to beat the odds? Then read it. Also available in Hardcover (and I wish I'd bought it that way, might have to get another copy).
Ender's Shadow Ender's Shadow. If possible, even MORE military neat stuff than the first. The introspection Bean goes through got kinda long at times, even for a psych major like me, but I understand its importance to the story. Very cool to have two books cover the same story through different eyes, read it for that alone. Card says you can read them in either order, I think he's right, but personally, I'd read Ender's Game first, then this one. BTW - In the spirit of Stephenson, Card has made me want to go out and buy a non-fiction book to extend what he started in Fiction. This time its a collection of essays on military strategy, soon as I get it, it'll go up here.
Hitchhiker's Guide Naturally, I had to include it: The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy.. The book I've linked to is my version - all 5 books in one head-thumpingly wonderful volume. You do, of course, already know what this book is. I assume that if you are reading this at all, it's because you are considering buying several more copies, to distribute in hotel rooms, like the Gideon bibles; or perhaps that you lost your last copy in a terrible accident at a zebra crossing. But I certainly imagine that you already know what the book is about. If not, your education has been sorely neglected, and you must buy this immediately or I will shoot you in the face.
Microserfs Douglas Copland's Microserfs. I really liked this book, but then, I'm a geek. Geeks will probably like this book. And non-geeks who have geek friends or loved ones will like this book because it helps understand the geek brain, I think. Strangely, I didn't find it as gut-bustingly funny as others seemed to, I just thought it was a really neat book to read. I do however really like the flat-food parts. So very very geek.
Uncle Shelby's ABZ Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book. Remember Shel Silverstein? He wrote such nice children's books like Where The Sidewalk Ends? Filled with happy fun poetry suitable for children of all ages. He also wrote this book. It's an alphabet book, only... different. An excerpt: "I is for Ink. Ink is black, and wet. Ink is fun. What can you do with ink? What rhymes with ink? D R _ _ _." Such splendid twistedness. A definite must for any would-be psycopath.
How the Mind Works How The Mind Works. Pretty pretentious title? For any other book, you're damned right it is. For this book, it's almost justified. Cognitive Science is one of my favourite ways to spend my brain, and this book makes the whole thing twice as interesting. If you never once cared about his theories of mind, you could still adore this book for its tangents. Untangled a lot of my thinking, and now I'm just itching to get it back so I can read it again (it's perpetually on loan).
Applied Cryptography:Protocols, Algorithms & Source Code in C Bruce Schneier's Applied Cryptography:Protocols, Algorithms & Source Code in C is *the* crypto bible. I guess if you're a hard-core, no-sleep-till-Arethusa, NSA-can't-afford-me type crypto god, this might not be enough. For absolutely everyone else, this is it. Look no further. It reads kinda like a reference book, but it's organized so that a front-to-back reading will teach you, not just confuse you (I know because that's what I did.) If you program at all. If you have any notion of security, or if you are ever offended by any person or institution tampering with your phone / mail / e-communication, buy this book. Also available in hardcover.
The Code Book The Code Book: The Evolution of Secrecy from Mary Queen of Scots, to Quantum Cryptography. This book rocks. Singh does an incredible job of explaining some pretty sophisticated concepts in a way that is accessible and very engaging. I tore through this book in about three days, and I'm still working on the $10,000 contest (oh, did I mention the $10,000 contest? :)
Godel Escher Bach Godel Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. Speaking from a cognitive science standpoint, this book just thoroughly owns. Hofstadter pretty brilliantly combines his three title figures into an argument which, at its core, is about the possibility of intelligent computers, but which, along the way, goes absolutely non-linear on topics all over the spectrum. Seriously, the only downside for this book to some readers may be that it actually does Godel's incompleteness proof justice, that is, it takes care to be fairly accurate in its use of some mathematical and logical notions, which can hurt your brain a little. But that of course, can hardly be seen as a bad thing. Every second chapter, to apologize for this, tackles a pretty sophisticated idea in the form of a Lewis Carroll-style Achilles and the Tortoise dialogue, all of which are really quite superbly constructed.
C Programming: A Modern Approach C Programming: A Modern Approach convinced me that King was the master of all textbook authors. Excellent for either learning to program from scratch, or picking up C from previous background. I guess hardcore types should also buy Kernighan & Ritchie, or Harbison & Steele, but for most normal applications, this is the book. I've already lent it out numerous times, and I still use it myself as a reference guide. Heck, one the quotes-of-praise on the back jacket is from Harbison (I'm aware that this may not be meaningful to you. But when the author of another C programming book praises yours, you're doing something right).
A word about O'Reilly & Associates. ORA is a publishing company that specializes in computer books. Their books cover a very broad scope and are always written with incredible attention to detail and clarity. In almost any domain where they've written a book, you can almost bet it's one of the bibles of the area. No joke guys, just credit where credit is due, these guys rock.
Webmaster in a Nutshell Webmaster in a Nutshell was my first, and is at the time of writing still my most used O'Reilly book. This thing has everything. Complete references for HTML, CGI (perl, windows, ssi, etc.), Javascript, even the HTTP protocol. Also includes docs on setting up all the leading servers. This book simply rocks, a must own for anyone toying with web pages.
Linux in a Nutshell Linux in a Nutshell was second. At this point the "<something big and complex> In a Nutshell" books began to really impress me. This book is not very useful to read start to finish, but it's got EVERYTHING when you need a reference. I know, any linux jock can read a man page quicker than a quick ref, but this is way more than a man page. Buy this book.
PalmPilot: The Ultimate Guide PalmPilot: The Ultimate Guide. That pretty much wraps it up. :) Beauty of a book, showed me some tricks I didn't know, and the CD with 3400 programs, support files, and docs (including lotsa novels in palm format) was a nice touch. :) Also, I like the flying squirrel. For more palm junk see my stuff section (assuming it exists by the time you read this).
Practical C++ Practical C++ is the fourth O'Reilly book I bought. I was desperate for a good, clear reference to C++ because I had an assignment due in two days and had barely touched the language in a year. Truth is that if you're really hardcore into C++, this isn't your bible. Your bible is Stroustrup, he wrote the damned language. But this is your reference for the easy stuff. Certainly for people just learning C++, this is *the* book to have, and I know that if I owned both this and Stroustrup, this one would get borrowed a lot more.
Programming Perl Programming Perl is probably the most entertaining language specification I've ever read. It's otherwise known as The Camel Book, and if you're thinking about learning perl (which is a fun, if mind-contorting experience) there is simply no other book. This is written by the language's creators, and is so off-the-wall as computer books go that it's fun to read just for the heck of it (I did.) Never have I seen such technical and precise use of the word "thingy". I also like lines like "Right now this probably seems a little weird, but that's okay, because it is weird." Seriously, perl is the language that built the web to the bustling mass of corporate whoring that it is today, and this can help you become a part of it. Whee.