Archive for the ‘Reading List 2009’ Category

Godel’s Theorem

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

This is a book I bought a few years ago and started reading immediately but put aside and only this summer read it fully from cover to cover. In order to appreciate its content you need some degree of mathematical and computer science maturity. For example, if you have never heard of his theorems and only read Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel or similar popular book then you would have difficulty going through the book and it would appear boring. It is not an entertaining or bedside reading. This is why I put it aside on the first reading although I knew about this theorem since I read “Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty” more than 25 years ago being a schoolboy (in Russian translation). Just before writing this review I ordered “There’s Something About Godel: The Complete Guide to the Incompleteness Theorem” and the latter looks like less heavy reading judged from excerpts from its publisher website. Putting all these reminiscences aside I really enjoyed second reading of “Godel’s Theorem”. It really clarified some points from ¬B->¬A or PA & ¬Con(PA) perspectives and made me curious about fixpoints. I even borrowed the latter term and introduced them for crash dump analysis and debugging: “a dereference fixpoint”. I also liked chapters 4 and 6 about using Godel’s theorems outside mathematics and clarifying misconceptions in Rucker’s and Penrose’s books. However, after a few months I cannot recall anything definite what I read from that book although I felt good that I understood everything while reading so perhaps the book requires the 3rd reading for me :-) I’m going to give it another try after “There’s Something About Godel” and update this review.

Godel’s Theorem: An Incomplete Guide to Its Use and Abuse

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- Dmitry Vostokov @ LiterateScientist.com -

The Selfish Genius

Friday, December 18th, 2009

I read this book in just one day from cover to cover. I’m not a professional biologist and learnt about evolution 25 - 30 years ago from Marxist perspective. My understanding of evolution has greatly improved this year after reading Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, This Is Biology, Breaking the Spell, Evolution: The First Four Billion Years and The 10,000 Year Explosion books. I’ve also started reading (and listening to its unabridged version on CDs simultaneously) the latest Dawkins’ book “The Greatest Show on Earth” (to be reviewed as soon as I finish) after the thought “Who’s that guy?” finally tipped. I noticed the partnership of D. Dennett and R. Dawkins when reading books and also rants from religious camps when reading reviews. So I was very keen to read the promised history of Dawkins thought in “The Selfish Genius” book and I really enjoyed it. Judged from the background knowledge I acquired while reading various books about evolution “The Selfish Genius” seems fair and balanced. Sometimes it reminded me the similar problem in Physics: String Theory vs. Others (Not Even Wrong and the Trouble With Physics). When I put “The Selfish Genius” and resumed reading “The Greatest Show on Earth” I immediately noticed a footnote on page 216 (ISBN 978-1-4165-9478-9): “epigenetics, a modish buzz-word now enjoying its fifteen minutes” and if you are curious about the source of this anger read “The Selfish Genius” book. I also like the point of the book that for different people with different backgrounds “Evolution” means different things. For me it is about evolution of software but mainly about evolution of software defects: Darwinian Debugging and I even bugtated Dawkins’ meme: Bugtation No.108.

The Selfish Genius: How Richard Dawkins Rewrote Darwin’s Legacy

- Dmitry Vostokov @ LiterateScientist.com -

The CRC Encyclopedia of Mathematics

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

The CRC Encyclopedia of Mathematics, Third Edition - 3 Volume Set

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I spotted this book on Amazon US and was thrilled to have the new edition in 3 volumes for easy handling when reading. I also have the previous edition that is even featured on my own book cover (the picture of my previous library book arrangement, the book is highlighted in white rectangle in the lower right corner):

This is a unique volume that sits between The Princeton Companion to Mathematics (that I’m also reading now) and Encyclopedic Dictionary of Mathematics: The Mathematical Society of Japan (that I also own). In fact after reading 3 volumes from cover to cover I can start with 2 volumes of EDM. There is also Springer Encyclopaedia of Mathematics in 11 volumes with various additional supplement volumes that I plan to own as well and it looks to me on the same level as EDM.

After searching for the best price I ordered a copy from Amazon DE and after my purchase in just a few days the price was up by 50%! I can only explain this that more people tried to purchase after I used twitter to announce this encyclopedia (there were 5 copies available on Amazon DE and in just 2 days only 1 left) or there was a mistake in price.

3 volumes arrived and I immediately started reading them, a few pages from each volume every day using mod 3 reading technique, for example, Wed - Vol I, Thu - Vol II, Fri - Vol III, Mon - Vol I, an so on. I prefer paper books for bulk reading instead of electronic version (in this case corresponding website) although if I’m interested in a specific article or a keyword I go to Wolfram MathWorld website to get the latest update and citations. These paperback volumes are just for day-to-day scheduled reading to get ideas and general mathematical education. This is why I don’t need an Index. For example, just after reading the first pages I got the idea of cubic (qubic) memory representation.

I usually put reviews on Amazon after I finish a book from cover to cover but in this case the review would be waiting for at least a year so I write it now based on my first impressions. After some time I plan to update it.

- Dmitry Vostokov @ LiterateScientist.com -

Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

While finishing Comrades book I started to read this “sequel” to Young Stalin (it was published before the latter book). I’m interested in psychology of a court and think this book is a good supplement to The 48 Laws of Power book that I started reading too. I have also Beria biography on the reading list. Actually I became interested in Stalin epoch after reading a book in Russian 2 years ago with a title that can be translated to English like “Killers of Stalin and Beria”. The main idea of that book were that Beria (and Stalin) wanted to do Perestroika similar to what Gorbachev did and Khrushchev murdered him (and possibly murdered Stalin too) for that. Anyway The Court of the Red Tsar was very smooth and fascinating read, revealing hidden transcripts of Stalin power. At the end the author also mentions the possibility that Beria was a possible precursor to Perestroika but contrary to that Russian book I read before he mentions the hypothesis that Beria himself poisoned Stalin’s wine. The finishing touch of Valechka weeping on Stalin corpse like Russian baba really made me sorrow. I really liked Postscriptum where the fortunes of Stalin’s and other magnates’ relatives, children and grandchildren fortunes after Stalin death up to now was mentioned.

Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar

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- Dmitry Vostokov @ LiterateScientist.com -

Einstein’s Mistakes

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

I finished reading Dirac’s biography The Strangest Man 3 months ago and started to read this book. Its title intrigued me when I was browsing recent physics releases on Amazon and I bought it. It looks to me like the mix of brief biographical notes with explanation of physical theories. Here learning from mistakes undoubtedly helps to understand special and general relativity better. I also liked the short and clear explanation of EPR paradox in just one page, “revisionist” and unusual biographical notes on other scientists and their faults, like Galileo and Newton, and notes about Einstein’s private life. This makes him really human (he was like an ideal scientist from Plato Universe for me before). When I was reading Not Even Wrong and the Trouble With Physics books I thought of the possible “yellow press physics” (which is not bad, and doesn’t mean bad quality for me, I like to read yellow press sometimes and listen to pop music) and one day, at lunch, when reading about Newton madness and other peculiar character traits I thought about “yellow press physics” again. Was the choice of this book hardcover and jacket colors (yellow) made deliberate? Anyway, while approaching the end of the book and reading about how Einstein wasted 20-30 years on his idée fixe unified theories I immediately recalled String Theory, and indeed, the author voiced the same thoughts a few moments later when I turned a page over. I also liked the discussion on how General Relativity might have been discovered if it wasn’t formulated by Einstein. The author tells us that it would have been done via a QFT route. Einstein has fallen in my eyes, and now, after reading this book, he is not quite the hero of science like I imagined before. Nevertheless, his stature from McDonald’s is still on my shelves.

Einstein’s Mistakes: The Human Failings of Genius
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I don’t want to repeat Einstein’s mistakes… 

- Dmitry Vostokov @ LiterateScientist.com -

Ideas and Modern Mind

Friday, August 7th, 2009

This is an encyclopedic work I bought in a local book shop and finally finished reading today. It took me a year to read from cover to cover and pages were falling out of the glue but I continued to read. Highly recommended for education and another view on human history. The review of Freud was enlightening to me because I didn’t know about the recent scholarship criticizing his work. In fact, I so liked this book that just bought it again in a hardcover version from Folio Society and start rereading it again soon.

Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud

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The second encyclopedic book seems was written before the previous one but looks like the logical sequel to it. I’m starting reading it next week.

The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century

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- Dmitry Vostokov @ LiterateScientist.com -

Naming Infinity

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

I read this book from cover to cover while flying on a plane from Dublin to St. Petersburg and back. That was so wonderful reading experience - I couldn’t put the book down during those flights. I recall that I visited the Department of Mathematics a few times when I studied Chemistry in Moscow State University although at that time I knew next to nothing about Russian mathematicians. The book touched me so deeply that I bought the main work of Florensky: The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, the history of Russian philosophy and several books explaining Orthodox Church. This is the best mathematics history book I have ever read, my feelings perhaps comparable to those that I experienced when I finished reading Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty by Morris Kline but that was more than 20 years ago.

Naming Infinity: A True Story of Religious Mysticism and Mathematical Creativity

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- Dmitry Vostokov @ LiterateScientist.com -