Category Archives: books

Lifetime reading list for geeks

Here’s a list of 50 Books Every Geek Should Read from InsideTech. I thought this list might go well with my request for basic reading in educational technology from a few days ago, and in fact there could probably be some overlap.

Of the books on the list, I’ve read:

For math geeks, and perhaps for general geeks, I’d add G. H. Hardy’s A Mathematician’s Apology. For higher education geeks, add on The Shadow University by Kors and Silverglate.

I think Longitude is going to go in my personal queue next.

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Filed under books, Geekhood, Math, Technology

For the political junkie who has everything

Many people don’t know that Dover Publications, venerable publisher of good and cheap math books, also carries a wide selection of activity books for children. From that line, I think, comes a publication I wouldn’t have expected from Dover: John McCain and Barack Obama paper dolls.

No word yet on whether the paper doll versions have better ideas on education and energy than the real articles.

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Filed under books, Humor

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, R.I.P.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russian novelist and winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize for literature, died yesterday at the age of 89.

I have for a long time considered Solzhenitsyn to be one of my intellectual heroes. His novels moved me deeply, particularly One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which at a slim 200 pages packs a more devastating  punch than most novels three times its length and has a place on my list of 10 Books that Changed My Life. His novel The First Circle is another favorite for its brutal clarity about life as an intellectual political prisoner in Stalinist Russia. All of his novels lead me into a deep appreciation of the freedoms which I too often take for granted today.

He combined his powerful writing with an authentic faith and moral courage which enabled him not only to stand up to the soul-crushing effects of political imprisonment but also to look Western culture in the eye and criticize, in an unflinching but somehow non-adversarial way, our loss of moral direction. Here’s an excerpt from his commencement speech at Harvard in 1978 which says it well:

We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes which had not been noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. […]

If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it.

All of us who work in education would do well to think about that.

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Filed under Academic freedom, books, Free speech, Life in academia

Critics sound off on their least favorite books

As part of an extremely witty column on the most despised books of literary critics, Simon Jenkins has this to say about Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment:

I have lost count of the number of times I have taken Crime and Punishment on holiday and ended up throwing it in the pool. Every page seems calculated to depress the spirit, and its sense of place reeks of poverty, treachery, decay and death. It is as far removed from a beach, the sun, good company and relaxation as could be imagined. I am sure it is fine for a weekend suicide break to Siberia, a sort of Karamazov without the laughs. But please, not for a holiday.

C&P happens to be my favorite novel of all time, but I have to admit, that’s a pretty funny send-up. Even funnier is Stephen Amidon’s assessment of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves:

The Waves by Virginia Woolf is everything a novel should not be – and so much less. After the triumphs of Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, and the fascinating experimentation of Orlando, Woolf decided to change tack with this “playpoem” and wound up sinking into a putrid morass of unreadability. Beloved of American academics – which ought to tell you something right there – the book fairly accurately simulates the experience of sitting next to a pretentious old windbag on a flight to Australia.

Read the whole thing.

[h/t Critical Mass]

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