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Some Books

by admin last modified Jun 22, 2023 07:09 PM
A little bit about several of my favorite books.


I'm overwhelmed by philosophy as a general topic, but there are a few, slim books in the category that i cherish, and feel have made important differences in my life. That they're each available as small paperbacks may say something about my aptitude, here...

  • Finite and Infinite Games -- James P. Carse

    "A finite game is played for the purpose of winning.  An infinite game is played for the purpose of continuing the play."
    "Because infinite players prepare themselves to be surprised by the future, they play in complete openness.  It is not an openness as in candor, but an openness as in vulnerability.  It is not a matter of exposing one's unchanging identity, the true self that has always been, but a way of exposing one's ceaseless growth, the dynamic self that is yet to be. The infinite player does not expect to only be amused by surprise, but to be transformed by it."

    Just the notion of infinite games is puzzling to many people - it's easier to formulate finite games, just as it's often easier to take things apart than it is to create them in the first place. Those who have more than scratched the surface of open-ended creative endeavors, like design and improvisation, tend to recognize the principles, and, I think, appreciate them.

  • The Tao Te Ching -- Lao Tsu

    "1. A way can be a guide, but not a fixed path;
    names can be given, but not permanent labels.
    Nonbeing is called the beginning of heaven and earth;
    being is called the mother of all things.
    Always passionless, thereby observe the subtle;
    ever intent, thereby observe the apparent.
    These two come from the same source but differ in name;
    both are considered mysteries.
    The mystery of mysteries
    is the gateway of marvels."

    The Tao Te Ching is the acknowledged introduction of taoism. I particularly like Thomas Cleary's translation in The Essential Tao. It also includes a translation of The Inner Teachings of Chuang Tzu, which seems to be the other central taoist text, illuminating the discoveries in Tao Te Ching.

  • The Politics of Experience -- R.D. Laing

    "Experience used to be called the soul."
    "Science [...] means a form of knowledge adequate to its subject."
    "The seems to be no agent more effective than another person in bringing a world for onself alive, or, by a glance, a gesture, or a remark, shriveling up the reality in which one is lodged."
    "We are taught what to experience and what not to experience, as we are taught what movements to make and what sounds to emit."
    "We are afraid to approach the fathomless and bottomless groundlessness of everything."
    "For without the inner the outer loses its meaning; and without the outer, the inner loses its substance."

  • The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – but Some Don't by Nate Silver. A collection of essays that present the virtues of an approach to statistical analysis that depends on progressive refinement rather than immediate conclusion, specifically in the form of Bayesian inference. It relates to a topic that is dear to me, and could be seen as philosophical yet I find rather pragmatic: “what is the relationship between conception and reality?” This kind of question is at the root of my essay Real Faith.
  • Redeeming whimsy:
    In our seriously turbulent world, where the differences between healthy and harmful can become obscure, or at least surprising, I take great solace in ineffably warm satires of the human comedy like these:

Fiction (including some young-adult and kid's books)

Harvested from a few lists of fantasy and science fiction books requested by friends...

  • The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
  • The Little Prince, Antoine St. Exupery
  • The Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis - The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe is the first, i think there's five or six in all.
  • Earthsea, a trilogy starting with A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Leguin
  • A Wrinkle in Time and (less impressive) successors, Madeleine L'Engle
  • The Once and Future King, T.H. White
  • The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
  • Cronopios and Famas, Julio Cortazar (it's the last section i love, titled Cronopios and Famas.)
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach
  • Nine Stories, J.D. Salinger
  • The Human Comedy, William Saroyan
  • Henry Reed Incorporated, Keith Robertson

Science Fiction

  • William Gibson – the master of Cyberpunk who brings provocative speculation about arts and culture as well as science and technology

    • The Pattern Recognition trilogy, especially the third entry Zero History. (The prior two are Pattern Recognition and Spook Country.) Unlike a lot of speculative fiction they're set in contemporary times and concerned with pragmatic questions of art and culture rather than more common extrapolation of scientific possibility (and impossibility).
    • Neuromancer, the archetypal cyberpunk novel for good reason (though the Brunner books mentioned below credibly carved the niche many years before).
    • The Peripheral and Agency (and eventually a third, we hope) – more recent Gibson works that return to cyber topics like AI and climate change.
    • I highly recommend all of these.
  • John Brunner:

    • The Shockwave Rider
    • Stand on Zanzibar
  • Frank Herbert - deep perspectives on humanity and ecology, particularly the dynamics of individual versus group as an ecosystem.

    • The Dosadi Experiment (sequel to Whipping Star) -

      A combination of extremely capable people surmounting monumental challenges involving power, law, and the tension between individual and social prerogative. for me, it is a particular and abiding antidote to what i see as distortions in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. see Dosadi Bureau Of Sabotage for a sample.

      Dosadi is one of my favorite reads, from my first read of it in the late 1970's to several rereadings, most recently in 2011. See Dosadi Bureau of Sabotage for a sample.

    • Dune and the first two Dune sequels

    • The Eyes of Heisenberg

    • The Godmakers

  • Neil Stephenson

    • Zodiac - Non-stop and wild
    • Diamond Age - Unbridled and ferocious invention
    • Cryptonomicon - Computer geeks delight, though some non-geek types seem to like it, too
    • Snow Crash
    • Termination Shock
  • John Crowley:

    • little, big
    • Engine Summer

    Haunting magical realism

  • Tea With The Black Dragon and Twisting the Rope - R.A. McAvoy - elegant, amusing, and riveting fantasy.

  • Ray Bradbury - among the evocative speculative fiction, due to the depth to which characters and situations are portrayed. Gentle and full of wonder, hence particularly good for the younger reader:

    • Dandelion Wine
    • The Illustrated Man
    • The Martian Chronicles
  • Roger Zelazny - genre-spanning (swashbuckling adventure, fantasy/alternate worlds/sci-fi, detective-noir) that combines contemporary, medieval, and mythic tropes in thrilling ways.

    • Nine Princes of Amber, and several (five? six?) sequels; this is the definitive science fiction/adventure-fantasy
    • Creatures of Light and Darkness
    • Lord of Light
  • Isaac Asimov's all-time classic foundation trilogy: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. also, Caves of Steel.

  • Arthur C Clarke:

    • The Nine Billion Names of God: Best Short Stories of Arthur C Clarke
    • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Keith Laumer: Dinosaur Beach

  • Gordon R Dickson: Sleepwalkers's World

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