Advice Book Reviews life hack

10 Top Books for the Modern Geek

Daemon

By Daniel Suarez
If you know the difference between FTP, MMORPG and FMRI, then this techno thriller is for you. Forget about the pseudo bullshit tech that others and Hollywood try to shove down your throat (yea you heard me Jack Bower), you won’t get that here. Instead you’ll be sucked into a real and virtual world where the main protagonist is dead and his daemon (yes, it’s spelled the UNIX way) lives on across the net. This book keeps you riveted while stepping you through a plausible construct combining the virtual and real worlds. Trust me you’ve never seen augmented reality quite like this before. The really interesting thing is that I can see how a “movement” like this could be spawned within our hyper-connected world. The website calls these books “Shockingly Plausible” and that’s what makes them so good.

Do NOT miss the follow up book that completes the story, FreedomTM.

Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

By Stieg Larsson
Right from the beginning you get a sense that Larson is a Mac fan. Aside from the main heroine using one to hack other computers, Larson’s affinity to mention actual computers by name was refreshing. What’s more, in the movie, while Lisbeth is doing her thing you’ll see real programs in her dock including VMWare’s unmistakable icon. About midway through Chapter 9 Mr. Larson mentions a program that Blomkvist uses to collect information for his stories. It’s at: www.ibrium.se. Ibrium’s webmasters had to be wondering why their sleepy little site was suddenly spiking (at least I can only assume that anyone seeing the URL in the book would type it in–just like you tried to call 867-5309 when you first heard the song).

This book and the others that follow are impossible to put down as a journalist and a HOT anti-social hacker chick duke it out with the bad guys. NOTE: If you’re squeamish about deviant sex (I’m not sure I’ve met a geek that is), then you might want to page forward on some of the scenes.

Unfortunately for us Mr Larsson is dead. He died just after turning in the 3rd manuscript to the publisher. His life-long girlfriend is now in a battle with Larsson’s brother and father for the literary rights. Read the books and you’ll see Sweden (for women anyway) isn’t all pancakes and ABBA.

Don’t miss the follow up novels in the Millennium series including The Girl Who Played With Fire and Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest

Physics of the Impossible
A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, teleportation and Time Travel

By Michio Kaku
Ever since stumbling across Michio Kaku’s twitter feed on Flipboard I’ve been hooked. This book uncorks your inner geek as you dive deep into a variety of technologies used in fiction. This is an extremely readable book. In it you will explore how impossible–or un-impossible– different things like light sabers, phasers, worm holes and time travel really are. Is it possible that anti-matter is just matter that’s heading backwards in time? Get ready to have your mind twisted.

Taken as a whole, this book struck me as a complete cross section of physics’ state of the art, how we got here, and what’s possible in the future–and distant future. Just imagine what humans will be able to accomplish when we’ve been around for a million years! What is possible for a society that can harness the power of the sun, not just their own planet? What’s possible for a society that can harness power on a galactic scale?

If I were teaching high school science, I would make this part of the required reading…or perhaps just sections of it. This is the sort of book that could spark the kind of interest needed to pursue a career in physics. I simply can’t say enough good things about this book. By the way, it’s available on Audible, but I suggest that if you’re going to listen to it while driving or at the gym, be prepared to hit rewind. You can suddenly find yourself in a description about black holes or string theory and be lost.

The Disappearing Spoon
And Other True Tales of Madness, Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

By Sam Kean
Eggheads unite! This is science journalism at its best. The last time I really considered the Periodic Table was in Mrs. Glasso’s high school class. If I was to teach chemistry, I would make sure to re-read this book. Kean breaths life into the people and the circumstances–some horrible, some incredible, some astonishing–responsible for the discovery of the elements found in the periodic table. I found the chapters about Marie Curie particularly interesting. The road to scientific discovery is littered with the nut jobs that paved it. If you’re feeling at all misplaced; perhaps a stranger in a strange land, then read this book about these famed misfits and their deeds. It will give you hope that even if you’re socially inept and weird, you could very well be the next Paul Emile François Lecoq de Boisbaudran.

Thunderstruck

By Erik Larson
If you haven’t read Larson yet, you’re missing out on some great, all be it sometimes macabre, historic fiction.  Thunderstruck lands you square in the late 19th century as we follow two paths that lead to “an amazing confluence of invention and murder.”  This books weaves together Marconi’s work on the wireless telegraph with the sinister deeds of one Harvey Crippen who found his wife so detestable that he chopped her up and buried her in his London basemen. What brings these two stories together is the fact that Crippen is, much to his dismay, the first criminal to be captured with the aid of wireless communications. Larson aids our experience though an incredible level of detail as we follow the emergence of wireless and it’s impact on the world. We also get a glimpse into the early beginnings of criminal forensic science. When Marconi is finally able to deploy his wireless telegraphs on ships it’s a turning point for the world and a break for Scottland Yard’s Inspector Dew–the same detective who (supposedly) worked on the Jack the Ripper case. (Don’t miss Devil in a White City, the only other work of his I have read so far.)

Shadow Divers
The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II

By Robert Kurson
What makes this true accounting of the discovery of a WWII U-Boat off the coast of New Jersey so interesting is the organized approach that John Chatterton and Richie Choler took too peel away mysteries surrounding this wreck. Submerged in over 200 feet of Atlantic water exposed all of the divers mentioned in this story to extreme risks but didn’t dissuade those who were dedicated to solving the mystery. By bringing the men of the u-boat to life for the reader Kurson engages and reminds the reader of the human cost of war. Two groups of men, separated by over 60 years willing to risk it all for what they believe in ties the whole story together. John and Richie are dive geeks, and I love them for it. If you have a diver in the family, give them this book. I saw something on the net about them making a movie about this book. I’d like to confirm that.

Electric Universe
The Shocking True Story of Electricity

By David Bodanis
What’s great about this book is that it gives you the details behind the development and use of electricity in a truly interesting way. Now, I know some might say that this book was dumbed down compared to his earlier book “E=mc squared” but I’m not reading this stuff to become a physicist or an engineer. I dropped my engineering major 2 weeks in because I can’t add my way out of a paper bag. But when I flip on the light in my house I now have a greater appreciation of the hundreds of years of invention it took for that simple action to be meaningful. Aside from that, you also get into the crazy shit the British did in WWII with radar that allows you to forgive them for their culinary ineptitude. Stun you friends with your random bits of electricity trivia.

The Invention of Air
A story of Science, Faith, Revolution and the Birth of America

By Steven Johnson
Here is a story about one of the most important natural philosophers you’ve never heard of. This is the story of Rev Joseph Priestly as he discovers Oxygen. This is an incredible look at how this man impacted the lives of Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the founding of the United States of America. What do science, faith and the birth of a nation have in common? They ride on the demystifying wave of the Enlightenment. Before Ben Franklin invented the lightning rod it was “God’s will” when a house burnt down because of lightning. Reverend Priestly accelerated the “streak” of demystifying the mysteries of nature–and ironically, God.

Another incredible book by Steven Johnson is The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–And How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. Wired Magazine also did a piece on him about his new work called Where Good Ideas Come From, the Natural History of Innovation.

The Last Witchfinder

by James Morrow
This is an incredibly dense work my sister turned me onto. James Morrow is not the sort of guy I would like to go up against in a game of scrabble, or chess for that matter. His vocabulary and structure is sweet nectar for the thirsty mind. This novel tracks the persecution of a Salem witch and the young girl that avenges her death by writing a book so reasoned out that it will destroy the practice of witch burning forever. Once again we run into Newton and find ourselves plunged into colonial US and enlightened England…all in the same book. This is a deep look into how rationality defeats the plague of mysticism.

Krakatoa
The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883

By Simon Winchester
I simply love Simon Winchester’s work. This is one of the few authors who can truly make history come to life for the reader. How do you make a book about a volcano interesting to geeks? First of all, you don’t focus solely on the volcano. Instead you talk about the state of communications technology at the time of the volcano and go from there. Winchester is a master of preparing your mind to enter worlds of the past. He brings the seemingly mundane details together in an engrossing tale of life, death and technology. Before Krakatoa exploded in 1883 people believed the earth was as stable as a rock. After Krakatoa, and interestingly enough because of the telegraph, assumptions about religion, faith and science were put to new challenges leading to the discovery of Plate Tectonics.

If you haven’t read Simon Winchester, then you’re missing out on some of the most amazing non-fiction for geeks.
Other fine works (he has others these are just the ones I’ve read), not to be missed, by Simon Winchester: Professor and the Madman, the Map That Changed the World and Atlantic

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