Recommendations

This page is under construction, and will probably be forever. I might split it into smaller ones if it keeps growing.

The recommendations are mostly things I remembered reading that might be interesting for others. Contains some non recommendations, which might be more useful than the recommendations themselves.

Recomended Reading - Deadtree

Fiction

Detective Stories

Name of the Rose, by Umberto Ecco. On the surface, this is a detective story set in the middle ages, where a friar investigates a series of murders in an Abbey. On a deeper reading, it’s almost a primer on Medieval history, architecture, culture and theology. Expect that some parts will get a little over your head, unless you’re an expert in these things.

More to come...

Science Fiction

Dune, by Frank Herbert, is meh. You don’t lose much by not reading it, despite how praised it is. The following books in the series are really bad.

Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained (the sequel), by Peter F. Hamilton. They’re long but well written, and the plot is interesting and intrincate. They’d benefit from cutting some less relevant parts, but as they are they’re pretty good.

Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clark. A first contact story. Don’t expect anything very deep, but the story is well written, even if the characters may be a little flat. This is understandable, as the story takes place during a very short time span.

2001 Spacy Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clark. The book is based on the movie (not the other way around). The book is interesting and captures the atmosphere and mood of living alone in a spaceship for long periods, with the communication issues (mostly latency) imposed by the speed of light.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, books 1 and 2. The other books just aren’t that funny. An example of British nonsense humor.

Almost everything by Jules Verne. Dated but fun. Mixes scarily accurate predictions with an almost comical disregard for things like the laws of thermodynamics, and in more extreme cases, physics in general. English translations are very bad, though. The good part is that all the books are now in the public domain. You can find them on Project Gutenberg. Some highlights:

  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • 5 weeks in a Baloon
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the sea
  • The Mysterious Island
  • From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon. These two books contain such a mixture between scarily accurate predictions and epic physics fails that I’ll write a detailed review someday. Bonus points for the delightful caricature of the USA mixed with envious admiration.
  • Robur the Conqueror
  • Michel Strogoff
  • Hector Servadac

The Sandokan, series, by Emilio Salgari. The books are good ole’ mighty whighty stories, even though the main character is actualy a Malaysian prince. He ends up acting like an ordinary educated european aristocrat most of the time. Most of the books take place in India, with the characters often remarking that the impact of the British Raj is mostly positive.

Miscellaneous

Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Ecco - An entertaining story, based on some Medieval myths. The title is a reference to the Foucault’s Pendulum, which is a device that can be used to prove that the Earth rotates on an axis.

`River God <>`_, Wilbur Smith. Part of a trilogy, books #2 and #3 are very bad. Don’t read those. Set in a highly fictionalized version of Ancient Egypt, this book is practically alternate history. Nevertheless, it’s one of the best books I’ve read on the impact of technology in society. The main character is implausibly knowleageable and quite insufferable at times, but the real main character in this book is technology change, and the way it affects the world.

Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson.

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. In the near future, when capitalism runs rampant in a world without borders, or, for that matter, nation states, the Universe assumedly runs on Rule of Cool. This means physics (or for that matter linguistics or neuroscience) are not as respected as they should be. It’s an interesting story as long as you don’t dwell around the details too much. This is the story that popularized the word avatar to refer to a person’s online persona and that inspired the Google Earth software. The name of my webpage is a hommage to a major plot point in this book. Features (consensual) sex with an underage character (16yo, if I’m remembering correctly) as an important plot point, so don’t read it if that’s a no-go for you.

Hunt for the Red October, by Tom Clancy. During the Cold War, a Soviet submarine gone rogue causes a worldwide search and destroy operation. Knowleadgeable people say that the depiction of naval tactics is very good. Features shameless capitalist propaganda near the end. Much better than other Tom Clancy books.

Limit, by Frank Sch├Ątzing (english franslation from German)

Brief History of Almost Everything, Bill Bryson - One of the best science books for the layman. Has the best description I’ve ever seen of what a cell looks like “from the inside”.

Kim, by Rudyard Kipling. Some linguistic quirks, but a nice adventure in the British Raj. I don’t recommend more well known The Jungle Book by the same author.

Sharpe series of books, by Bernard Cornwal (I haven’t read them all yet) - These books follow the (fictional) life and career of a British soldier (Sharp), who accompanies the Duke of Wellington in many of his campaigns. The books are basically an excuse to show Wellington’s campaigns from the “ground level” view.

The books are divided in two groups:

  • The ones set in India, with huge, epic battles but also smaller scale vignetes featuring the exotic landscape and culture of India.
  • The ones set during the Peninsular War. The Peninsular War was a war fought in the Iberian Peninsula by the Portuguese, English and Spanish against Napoleon. The stories in these books are more small scale, and the action focuses in smaller groups, in contrast to the more “epic” setting of the Indian books.

I’ve read somewhere that the military tactics described are not always historically correct, but the main events do happen as they did in real life. In order to make his hero relevant, the author sometimes makes him take upon himself actions that were take by someone else in real life. For example:

  • in a battle where no English troops fought (only Scottish troops were there in real life), the Battle of Gawilghur, the auhor contrives small English dettatchment just to have Sharpe there.
  • in another book, during the Assault on the Portuguese city of OPorto, under the control of the French, Sharpe orders a Portuguese barber to cross the river with some barges to the English side, so that the English can cross. In real life the barber (whose name has been lost) did it all by himself.
  • in yet another book, the author conjures an abandoned Portuguese frotress out of thin air, so that, again, geography puts Sharpe near the action. The fake fortress was inspired by a real one, though.

All these incorrections are explained by the author at the end of the books (I took these examples from the books themselves). If these little details are not a dealbreaker, the books are quite enjoyable.

Mila 18, by Leon Uris. Set in World War II, it tells the story of the Nazi’s occupation of Poland, focusing on the desperate guerilla fight of the Jews in the Warsaw’s ghetto. The fighting lasted for 42 days, longer than the it took the Nazis to occupy Poland.

Armageddon, by Leon Uris. The history of the occupation of Berlin, the Berlin Airlift and its aftermath. Extremely racist in some parts, but overall a gripping story.

Tai-Pan, by James Clavel.

The Count of Montecristo, by Alexande Dumas

American Gods, Neil Gaiman. A bleak, dark portrait of the United States, especially the so-called “flyover states”. The main character is drawn to a world where Gods live among mortals, largely stripped of their ancient power due to lack of belief. The story is not particularly engaging, but the atmosphere has it’s charm. Highly explicit sexual content in some parts.

O Homem que Sabia Contar (The men who could count), by Malba Tahan (pseudonym), written in Portuguese. AFAIK, there is no Eglish translation of this book, which is a shame. The book’s plot is driven by a series of math problems. Most of the action takes place in Baghdad, just before the Mongol’s conquest and destruction of the city.

O Cavaleiro da Dinamarca (The Dannish Knight), by Sophia de Mello Breyner (in Portuguese). A very short book and an example of children’s stories done right. Again, I don’t think there’s an English translation.

More to come...

Medicine

Medical Physiology, Boron and Boulpaep. Highly detailed (maybe too much for med school), but its the only book I’ve seen that really explains physiology from the ground up. The writing is excelent and the drawings are suberb. I’ll write a comprehensive review on this one when I have some time.

Clinical Microbiology Made Ridicuously Simple, by William Trattler. Great for Medical Students, bad for everyone else. Tries to teach microbiology and the basics of infectiology based on weird mnemonics and drawings. The text itself is very good, although it might be a little too simple. But in a subject like microbiology, if you know everything in that book, it’ll be more than enough.

Non-Fiction

How the Mind Works, Steven Pinker

Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre. Should be required reading for all medical students and doctors.

Bad Pharma, by Ben Goldacre. As above. This one was actually hard to finish. It gets kind of disgusting after a while, in the same way that Schindler’s List gets disgusting.

Life of Bryan, by the Monty Python.

Lord of the Rings, by Peter Jackson. if you’ve never seen these movies, do so. Hardcore tolkien fans will complain it’s not faithful wnough to the books, but they actually managed do make a good series of movies. The movies are certainly different from the books, but they’re probably the best thing you can do given the time constraints available to the medium.

Tora! Tora! Tora!, directed by Richard Fleischer (American sequences), Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Masuda (Japanese sequences). The story of the attack of Pearl Harbour. Extremely well done. The movie was directed and filmed by two distinct teams: a Japanese team that directed the parts told from the point of view of the Japanese and and American team that directed the part told from the point of view of the Americans. The best special effects I’ve probably seen in any movie (it helps that the planes are real planes and the boats are real boats). This is probably my favourite movie ever.

Snatch, Guy Ritchie. Somewhat violent but actually quite lighthearted. Even if the beginning doesn’t seem very good, please keep watching untill the end. It’s worth it. Plays hard and fast with vehicle collision physics.

Ben Hur (1959), William Wyler.┬┤ An epic movie, set around the time of the death of Jesus Christ. A little too long, and the end, in which we witnes the torture and death of Christ feels a little forced and detatched from the main storyline. Based on a the book Ben-Hur: a Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace. Like The Lord of The Rings, the book and the movie are different beasts, and both are worth it in their own way. The book focuses more on the christian side of the story, while the movie focueses on the jeweish side.

Mississipi Burning, directed by Alan Parker.

The Prestige, directed by Christopher Nolan. Tells the story of the rivalry between two illusionists. I can’t tell anything else becaus it might be a spoiler. Please, do not discuss this movie with anyone prior to watching it.

Enigma (2001), directed by Michael Apted. It’s a 100% fake story, inspired by the real events at Bletchley Park during World War II. The main character is a thinly veiled copy of Alan Turing, except he has a different name and is straight. Dispite being completely fake, the depiction of the code breaking operation matches what I’ve read in reputable sources. This is the best fictional depiction I’ve ever seen. I can’t say that the movie respects the letter of History, but it certainly respects the spirit.

I absolutely do not recommend The Imitation Game. This one is a movie that claims to represent the Truth, but it ends up a confused mess that neither represents the letter nor the spirit. Apparenty all geniuses must be socially awkward and borderline autistic. Also, the code breaking operation was 8 guys and a woman in a barn, with a one-eyed Navy veteran checking up on them occasionally. There’s a website that rates some “based on a true story” movies according to how true they were to reality. The Imitation Game has the distincion of being the only one with a rating under 50%. The movie has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Oh, wait... They made Turing gay! I guess that must count for something.