Category Archives: Books

Books 2009

As I promised last year, I kept careful records of every book I read in 2009. In addition to recording the titles and authors, I’ve noted the length of each book and when I read it. Below are some statistics I’ve calculated from this data.

Reading Statistics

  • Total pages read: 18031
  • Avg. pages per month: 1502.58
  • Avg. pages per week: 346.75
  • Avg. pages per day: 49.40
  • Longest book: A Pattern Language, 1166 pages
  • Shortest book: Brunelleschi’s Dome, 165 pages
  • Longest time to read a book: A Pattern Language, 48 days
  • Shortest time to read a book: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, 1 days

In addition to the average number of pages, I also computed the distribution of the number of pages read each month. For this I assume that I read at a constant (i.e. the same number of pages per day). This is clearly not true, but it still shows the basic trends.

Finally, I’ve plotted a histogram of the lengths of the books I read. As one would expect, the largest buckets are between 200 and 400 pages.

Here is the complete list of books I read in 2009. The rows highlighted in yellow are books I reread this year, and those highlighted in green are books I listened to in audiobook form. In the later case I used Amazon for the number of pages. Of course, the number of pages is approximate, and I make no claims to consistency about things like handling front and end matter or different editions.

# Title Author Pages Start Date End Date
1 The Book of Air and Shadows Michael Gruber 496 01/04 01/07
2* Cryptonomicon Neal Stephenson 918 01/08 02/15
3 Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies June Casagrande 199 01/13 01/23
4 Freakonomics Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner 336 02/13 02/15
5 Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature Douglas Farr 300 02/17 03/07
6* The Diamond Age Neal Stephenson 455 03/07 03/22
7 Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life Neil Strauss 418 03/29 04/03
8 The Big U Neal Stephenson 308 04/09 04/25
9* Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions Dan Ariely 304 04/18 04/20
10* A Pattern Language Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein, Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King, Shlomo Angel 1166 04/27 06/13
11 Zodiac Neal Stephenson 316 05/12 05/19
12 Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way to be Smart Ian Ayres 320 05/14 05/19
13* Gig: Americans Talk about their Jobs John Bowe, Marisa Bowe, Sabin Streeter, eds. 670 05/19 05/24
14 Excession Iain M. Banks 451 05/24 06/04
15 Food Matters Mark Bittman 298 06/05 06/06
16 Home Witold Rybczynski 232 06/07 06/14
17 Adventures in Architecture Dan Cruickshank 283 06/14 06/25
18 The City in Mind James Howard Kunstler 252 06/15 06/25
19* Cyteen C.J. Cherryh 696 06/27 07/10
20 The Great Good Place Ray Oldenburg 368 07/11 07/18
21 In Praise of Slowness Carl Honore 336 07/19 07/21
22* The Bldg Blog Book Geoff Manaugh 272 07/27 08/01
23 Three Novels of Ancient Egypt Naguib Mahfouz 648 08/02 08/10
24 What I Talk About When I Talk About Running Haruki Murakami 192 08/15 08/15
25 The Angel’s Game Carlos Ruiz Zafón 544 08/16 08/20
26 Against a Dark Background Iain M. Banks 613 08/22 09/01
27 American Houses Gerald L. Foster 416 09/04 09/13
28 Create Your Own Economy Tyler Cowen 272 09/11 09/13
29* The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson 590 09/16 09/26
30 The Endless City Ricky Burdett and Deyan Sudjic, eds. 481 09/26 11/08
31 Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer Novella Carpenter 288 09/28 10/09
32 The Best American Travel Writing 2009 Simon Winchester, ed. 384 10/03 10/18
33 The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-to-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich Timothy Ferriss 320 10/09 10/12
34* The Geography of Bliss Eric Weiner 335 10/20 10/24
35* Regenesis C.J. Cherryh 585 11/08 11/16
36* Getting Stoned with Savages J. Maarten Troost 256 11/09 11/13
37 The Sex Lives of Cannibals J. Maarten Troost 288 11/13 11/16
38 Brunelleschi’s Dome Ross King 165 11/17 11/26
39* Green Metropolis David Owen 368 11/23 12/07
40 The Crystal World J.G. Ballard 210 12/01 12/12
41 The Girl who Played with Fire Stieg Larsson 503 12/14 12/18
42 The Magicians Lev Grossman 402 12/19 12/21
43 The Lost Symbol Dan Brown 528 12/22 12/29
44 Intown Living: A different American Dream Ann Breen, Dick Rigby 249 12/21 12/26

Update: I’ve added stars to those books that I particularly like.

2008 in Books

The following is a list of all the books I read in 2008. They are listed chronologically by completion. I’m collecting better data for 2009, but for now I only have the titles and authors.

  • Decoding the Universe, Charles Seife
  • Postsingular, Rudy Rucker
  • I’m Just Here for the Food, Alton Brown
  • Blankets, Craig Thompson
  • The Constant Gardener, John le Carre
  • A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain
  • The Practice of Programming, Brain Kernighan and Rob Pike
  • Glut, Alex Wright
  • Rainbows End, Vernor Vinge
  • Deep Economy, Bill McKibben
  • Mistress of the Art of Death, Ariana Franklin
  • Mind Wide Open, Steven Johnson
  • Oath of Fealty, Larry Niven and Jack Pournelle
  • Farewell my Subaru, Doug Fine
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers
  • Suburban Nation, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck
  • Consider Phlebas, Iain M. Banks
  • The Architecture of Happiness, Alan de Botton
  • Confessions of an Economic Hitman, John Perkins
  • Player of Games, Iain M. Banks
  • The Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson
  • Black Hole, Charles Burns
  • Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, Patrick Kelly and John Kessel, eds.
  • Collected Fictions, Jorge Luis Borges
  • Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett
  • The Most Beautiful House in the World, Witold Rybczynski
  • Saturn’s Children, Charles Stross
  • WorldChanging: A User’s Guide to the 21st Century, Alex Steffen ed.
  • A Place of My Own, Michael Pollan
  • The Poisonwod Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Edifice Complex, Deyan Sudjic
  • Use of Weapons, Iain M. Banks
  • Anathem, Neal Stephenson
  • The Option of Urbanism, Christopher Leinberger
  • The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri, David Bajo
  • The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross
  • The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie
  • Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Live of a Critic in Discuise, Ruth Reichl
  • The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought the Down, Colin Woodard

Book Sale

Ithaca Book Sale

Last weekend was the beginning of the biannual Ithaca book sale. It’s run by volunteers, and usually has upwards of 250,000 books. The prices decrease for each of three consecutive weekends, but they start at $4.50 for a hardback, so I though it would be worth it to go early. Apparently everybody else had the same idea, because it was packed on Saturday morning. I was about ready to leave during my two hour wait in line, but I am glad I didn’t as the selection was pretty amazing. I looked exclusively for computer science books and found a number of gems:

  • Compilers: Principles, Techniques, and Tools (first edition) by Aho, Sethi, and Ullman — The classic “red dragon book” on compilers. This was actually very well timed as I am in the midst of writing the front end of a simple compiler for my research.
  • Introduction to Algorithms (first edition) by Cormen, Leiserson, and Rivest — Along with the compilers text, this is the book I’m likely to get the most use out of. It’s one of the classic works on algorithms, and it is pretty encyclopedic for results up through the eighties. It’s probably not the best for an introductory algorithms course, but it’s great as a reference.
  • Introduction to Automata Theory, Languages, and Computation (first edition) by Hopcroft and Ullman — The “Cinderella book.” This is another classic, and I’ve been told that the first edition is better than subsequent editions.
  • Operating System Concepts (sixth edition) by Silberschatz, Galvin, and Gagne — The “Dinosaur book.”  I think this is the textbook for the Cornell OS class, so I will need it at some point.
  • The C Programming Language (second edition) by Kernighan and Ritchie — I need to brush up on my C/C++, and who better to read than the creators of C themselves. I’ve read part of the first edition but it’s been a while
  • Agile Web Development with Rails by Dave Thomas and David Heinemeier Hansson — Rails is a popular web application framework for the Ruby language. I’m probably unlikely to use it in the near future, but I’m a sucker for web development.
  • GNU Emacs Pocket Reference – I’m also a sucker for Emacs. I know most of the stuff in here, but it never hurts to have a reference.
  • C Pocket Reference – Likewise for C.

Not too bad for $35. I hope to go back at some point and take a look at their fiction.


And the IT worker has to know in their bones that if they make a mistake, things can go horribly wrong. Tension and cynicism are constant companions, along with camaraderie and competitiveness. It’s a lot like being a spy, or necromancer. You don’t get out much, and when you do it’s usually at night.

–Ken MacLeod, from the introduction to The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

Real hackers — computer programmers in the sense that the word was coined at MIT in the 1960s — are meticulous, intelligent, mathematically and linguistically inclined obsessives. Far from diving in and out of your bank account details, they’re more likely to spend months working on a mathematical model of an abstraction that only another hacker would understand, or realise was an elaborate intellectual joke.  

–Charles Stross, from the afterward to The Atrocity Archives

What to Eat

I just finished reading What to Eat by Marion Nestle. Unlike the other food books I’ve read recently, this one focuses on personal nutrition rather than the environment, thouth the two are not mutually exclusive. She summarizes her advice nicely with a 1959 quote by the cardiologist Ancel Keys:

Do not get fat; if you are fat, reduce. Favor fresh vegetables and fruits. Avoid heavy use of salt and refined sugar. Get of plenty of exercise and outdoor recreation. See your doctor regularly, and do not worry

Nestle’s book is largely an indictment of the food industry and its advertising practices. Food is big business, and companies frequently use nutrition claims to distinguish their products from the rest of the field. Though these claims technically have to be backed up by scientific results, Nestle finds that many of these “scientific” studies are funded by the very companies citing them. In fact, many companies add nutrients to foods in order to obscure the large number of calories/cholesterol/etc. that make the food otherwise unhealthy. Instead, look for products with few ingredients.