Inspirations

This is a list of books or sources that I’ve enjoyed and that have helped shape my view of the world.  It’s my intention to write a summary or review of each of them, explaining why I find them so interesting and how they hang together.  Suggestions for additions are very welcome!

Jane Jacobs: The Death and Life of Great American Cities (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Great-American-Cities-Vintage/dp/067974195X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1339244051&sr=8-1).  A passionate attack on city planning orthodoxy, and argument for diversity, vitality, mixtures of uses, complexity, emergence and cities as ecosystems.

David MacKay: Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air (http://www.withouthotair.com/).  A reference bible for renewable energy.  The book every physicist wishes they had the capacity to conceive and were eloquent enough to write.

Tom Murphy: Do The Math blog: (http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/).  A first principles look at the implications and impossibility of continued economic growth at historic (industrial era) rates.

Albert-Laszlo Barabasi: Linked (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Linked-Everything-Connected-Business-Everyday/dp/0452284392/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1339244206&sr=8-3) and Bursts (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bursts-Hidden-Patterns-Everything-Crusades/dp/0452297184/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339244253&sr=1-1).  One on the most cited scientists of the last decade, and pioneer in network science, human dynamics and other fields.  Powerful explanation of the implications of the structure of networks (particularly scale-free ones) and their applications in social, economic, medical and a huge variety of other fields.

John Cook: Skeptical Science blog (http://www.skepticalscience.com/).  A magnum opus refuting line by line the attacks of climate change deniers and refuseniks.

Per Bak: How nature works (http://www.amazon.co.uk/how-nature-works-self-organized-criticality/dp/038798738X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339244431&sr=1-1).  One of those books where you find yourself saying “Of course” about every ten pages.  Starting from sand piles it explores the behaviour of non-equilibrium systems, explaining the statistics of many things from earthquakes to the distribution of company sizes.

Mark Buchanan: The social atom (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Social-Atom-neighbor-usually/dp/0462099148/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339244465&sr=1-1).  A popular distillation of the efforts of physicists to apply their thinking and models to social sciences.  Fundamental implications for finance, social influence and contagion and many other areas.

Daniel Kahneman: Thinking Fast and Slow (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Thinking-Fast-Slow-Daniel-Kahneman/dp/0141033576/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339244515&sr=1-1).  A tour de force summary by a Nobel prize winning psychologist of his life’s work.  There is almost too much to take in, but it’s worth it for the explanation of prospect theory alone.  Builds two models of thinking: System 1 (fast, intuitive) and System 2 (slow, logical) and explains how we alternate between them with startling consequences.

Ben Goldacre: http://www.badscience.net/ Blog exposing poor use or abuse of science and research, with a particular focus on medicine and the popular press.  Campaigner for source data and basic honesty.

Richard Feynman: Cargo Cult Science (http://www.lhup.edu/~DSIMANEK/cargocul.htm) and Lectures on Physics (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Feynman-Lectures-Physics-boxed-set/dp/0465023827/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339244610&sr=1-2).  The Cargo Cult Science lecture is the benchmark for scientific honesty and cuts so many at hype to the quick.  The Lectures are the best exposition I’ve ever seen of the basic laws of Physics, written by one of the most brilliant physicists of all time and a master communicator.

Hopp and Spearman: Factory Physics (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Factory-Physics-Wallace-Hopp/dp/007123246X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339244633&sr=1-1).  The laws of physics applied to factories and operations.  For a fundamental understanding of so much more than kanban and six sigma, this is a great place to start.  Queueing theory is well worth spending the time to understand – it has implications for everyone’s productivity!

Benjamin Franklin: Autobiography (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Autobiography-Benjamin-Franklin-ebook/dp/B000JMLMXI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339244671&sr=1-1).  An honest account of the life of a great man.  His discipline, morality, good nature and graft shine through.

Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Outliers-Story-Success-Malcolm-Gladwell/dp/0141036257/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339244714&sr=1-1) and Blink (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blink-The-Power-Thinking-Without/dp/0141014598/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339244741&sr=1-1).  The story of success and populariser of the “10,000 hour rule”, emphasising the importance of hard work over “talent” and the level of expertise it is possible to achieve whereby decisions can be made almost instantaneously, without concious thought.

Nassim Taleb: The Black Swan (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Black-Swan-Impact-Improbable/dp/0141034599/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339244777&sr=1-1).  A profound critique of the culture of wilful myopia which led to the financial crisis.  A failure to appreciate that unknown risks could cause an interconnected system to collapse and the incentives that drive individuals to “pick up pennies in front of the steam roller”.

George Prochnik: In Pursuit of Silence (http://www.amazon.co.uk/In-Pursuit-Silence-Listening-Meaning/dp/0767931211/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339244804&sr=1-1).  Shows the need for us all to get away from time to time, in order to do some proper thinking, and the difficulty of doing that in the modern world.

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