Patrick Doyle
The Book List

People say that life's the thing, but I prefer reading.
-- Logan Pearsall Smith

From time to time, I've kept lists of the books I've been reading, simply as a way of seeing where my interests shift from time to time. I occasionally even go to the effort of writing up a short summary.

This list grew out of a part of the Interests page called What's on my nightstand? where I listed the books I was currently working on. As I finished the better ones, I'd add a few sentences explaining what the book was about and why it was worth reading. It got long enough that I've decided it merits its own page.

As unintuitive as it may seem, the list is organized in backward chronological order -- the most recent books are at the top. Since you can easily search for author or title, I thought it would be more interesting to show you the path I followed that lead me to each book.

Although this list dates back to 1997, it's erratic -- I only update it every few months, and I tend to forget just what I've read, so it only contains books that stick out in my mind. (I rarely list science fiction, for example.) Book titles in bold are those I particularly recommend.

Books I'm reading right now

  • H. W. Brands, The First American
  • Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex
  • Carlos Fuentes, The Old Gringo
  • Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence
  • Howard McGee, The Curious Cook
  • Stephen Asma, Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums

Books waiting to be shelved

  • Rex Stout, The League of Frightened Men (2/2003)
  • James P. Hogan, The Proteus Operation (2/2003)
  • Steven King, Everything's Eventual (1/2003)
  • Robert M. Price (ed), Tales From The Lovecraft Mythos (12/2002)
  • Lawrence Watt-Evans, Ithanalin's Restoration (12/2002)
  • Stephen Ambrose, Citizen Soldiers (11/2002)
  • Alberto Manguel, Into The Looking-Glass Wood (10/2002)
  • Jim Butcher, Summer Knight (10/2002)
  • Orson Scott Card, Shadow Puppets (10/2002)
  • Orson Scott Card, Shadow of the Hegemon (10/2002)
  • Alton Brown, I'm Just Here For The Food (9/2002)
  • Steven King, From A Buick 8 (9/2002)
  • Naguib Mahfouz, Akhenaten: Dweller In Truth (8/2002)
  • David McCullough, John Adams (8/2002)
  • Peter Mayle, Tojours Provence (7/2002)
  • Peter Mayle, French Lessons (7/2002)
  • Robert Wilson, The Chronoliths (7/2002)
  • Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (7/2002)
  • Ross King, Brunelleschi's Dome: How A Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, (6/2002)
  • Peter Mayle, A Year In Provence (6/2002)
  • Ursula LeGuin, Tales from Earthsea (6/2002)
  • Bruce Alexander, Person or Persons Unknown (5/2002)
  • William Lee Miller, Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography (3/2002)
  • Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (4/2002)
  • Alistair MacLeod, No Great Mischief (4/2002)
  • Steven Millhauser, Three Kingdoms (4/2002)
  • Jan Bondeson, Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear (3/2002)
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (2/2002)
  • David Liss, A Conspiracy of Paper (2/2002)
  • Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods (1/2002)
  • Ross King, Ex Libris (1/2002)
  • Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Club Dumas (1/2002)
  • Russell Martin, Beethoven's Hair (12/18/2001)
  • Jorge Luis Borges, This Craft of Verse (12/2001)
  • John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces (11/2001)
  • Stephen Ambrose, Band of Brothers (10/2001)
  • Margery Allingham, The Tiger in Smoke (8/2001)
  • Tad Williams, Otherland: Sea of Silver Light (7/2001)
  • Brooks Hansen, The Chess Garden (6/18/2001)
  • Ellis Peters, A Morbid Taste for Bones (6/16/2001)
  • Rex Stout, Fer De Lance (5/15/2001)
  • Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn (5/1/2001)
  • Lawrence Watt-Evans, The Night of Madness (3/10/2001)
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, The New Arabian Nights (3/5/2001)
  • David McCullough, Truman (11/15/2000)
  • James Michener, Space (11/5/2000)
  • Yasunari Kawabata, The Master of Go (10/1/2000)
  • Janice Kim and Jeong Soo-hyun, Learn to Play Go (9/20/2000)
  • Umberto Eco, Six Walks in the Fictional Woods (9/15/2000)
  • Peter S. Beagle, I See By My Outfit (9/1/2000)
  • James L. Halperin, The Truth Machine (8/15/2000)
  • James L. Halperin, The First Immortal (8/1/2000)
  • Italo Calvino, Cosmicomics (7/30/2000)
  • John Bellairs, The Hand of the Necromancer (7/25/2000)
  • Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird (7/20/2000)
  • David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day (7/15/2000)
  • J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (7/10/2000)
  • Steven Millhauser, Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of An American Author, 1943-1954 (5/30/2000)
  • Steven Millhauser, Martin Dressler: The Tale of An American Dreamer (5/20/2000)
  • Steven Millhauser, The Knife Thrower and Other Stories (5/5/2000)
  • Jakob Nielsen, Designing Web Usability (4/28/2000)
  • Jack Kerouac, On the Road (4/28/2000)
  • Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener (4/15/2000)
  • Aaron Elkins, Skeleton Dance
  • Stephen King, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass
  • Ralph L. Woods, A Second Treasury of the Familiar
  • Stephen King, The Green Mile
  • Tom Stoppard, The Invention of Love (a play)
  • Andrew Crumey, D'Alembert's Principle
  • Stephen King, Hearts in Atlantis
  • Lord Dunsany, The King of Elfland's Daughter
  • Jack Vance, Lyonesse: Suldrun's Garden, The Green Pearl, Madouc
  • J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
  • C. S. Forester, Horatio Hornblower: Midshipman Hornblower, Lieutenant Hornblower, Hornblower and the Atropos, Ship of the Line
  • Everyman Library, Zen Poems

Books on display

The Wild Numbers
Philibert Schogt (7/7/2001)

A distressingly accurate peek into the life of a tame academic. Isaac Swift is an unexceptional but obsessive mathematician who, in a flash of brilliant insight, discovers a proof for the famous Wild Number Problem. The book is his reflections on his hopes and fears for his career, his moody acknowledgement of his intellectual limitations, and his attempts to cope with the avalanche of shocks that his proof produces. A short read and an apt one.

Straight Man
Richard Russo (7/4/2001)

I happened to read this book and The Wild Numbers back to back and they complement one another beautifully. Straight Man is also told from the point of view of an unexceptional professor dealing with the tribulations of his academic world, but unlike Isaac Swift, William Henry Devereaux is cheerfully unconcerned about his future, the approval of his collegues, or the deep and petty divisions in the English department he chairs. His own avalanche of troubles is more serious but he copes, if not always with aplomb then at least with the refusal to take much of what's happening seriously. Reminded me of Garrison Keillor's Wobegon Boy. Deeply funny without being comedic.

Ender's Shadow
Orson Scott Card

If you haven't read Ender's Game, do so first. It's a science fiction classic. The story concerns a brilliant young boy taken from his family to an orbiting military academy where Earth is training its children to be the next generation of officers for a hopeless war against a superior foe. Ender's Shadow isn't a sequel; it covers roughly the same events, but this time follows Bean, an even smarter, smaller child who goes through the academy with Ender. Surprisingly, this works, and Bean's experiences at Battle School are nearly as compelling as Ender's.

Cascading Style Sheets: Designing for the Web
Håkon Lie and Bert Bos

Cascading style sheets (CSS) allow you to specify the look and feel of a Web page by explaining what the HTML tags in it should do. So, for example, if you want the <LI> tag to indent 6 pixels and make a bright blue blinking dot, you can do it. This is clearly the direction in which the Web will run, as it makes it far easier for a site designer to offer many views of identical content, making a site more configurable and accessible to users with different needs. This book, co-authored by Lie (in charge of the W3C spec for style sheets), is both clear and comprehensive. A must-read for Web designers looking forward to the next wave of Web design.

My American Century
Studs Terkel

Terkel has been interviewing Americans for decades, on topics ranging from the Great Depression to World War II, the prosperity of the 1950's, and the civil rights movement. His books are extracts from these interviews, a matrix of oral histories that attempt to capture the essence of the 20th century in this country. My American Century is a collection of extracts from many of his other books (such as The Good War and Division Street). I strongly recommend Terkel; I thought I knew something about American history, but the details in his interviews provide an entirely new perspective -- not the sweep of history, but the daily lives of its participants.

Otherland (City of Golden Shadow, River of Blue Fire, Mountain of Black Glass)
Tad Williams

I'm not a particular fan of cyberpunk: near-future dystopias in which the potency of cyberspace or virtual reality environments is starkly contrasted with a grim and grimy reality. I was pleasantly surprised by Otherland. While it shares many of these qualities -- the United States Congress now has representatives from corporations as well as states; heavy 'Net use is driving people into catatonia; artists involve involuntary participants in deadly artworks, to name a few -- its underlying tone is optimistic.

The series (these are the first three of four books) revolves around a handful of individuals who learn about a top-secret project of a massive, international conspiracy called the Grail Brotherhood, to build a virtual reality as real as life itself -- the Grail Project, or Otherland. They have spent billions of dollars and decades of work to bring this project to fruition, and they're very willing to kill to keep it hidden. But the project is beginning to have effects in the real world, with dangerous, even lethal, consequences, and it's up to a ragtag band of scientists, hackers, role-players and even an African bushman, to break into Otherland and learn what's really going on. Highly recommended.

The fourth and final book, Sea of Silver Light, is due out in 2000.

Honor's Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln
Douglas Wilson

We tend to think of Lincoln (when we think of him at all) as springing into the Presidency fully-grown, like Minerva from Jove's forehead. Wilson's book examines Lincoln's early life, his childhood, his years as a shopkeeper in New Salem, and his move to Springfield. Lincoln's religion, his morals, and his political philosophy underwent subtle but profound changes during his 20's and 30's. Here with new research more light is shed on a man who was arguably our most perfect President.

The Castle of Crossed Destinies
Italo Calvino

Calvino, like Borges, delights in playing with the conventions of narrative. The Castle of Crossed Destinies (and the companion section, The Tavern of Crossed Destinies) is a series of stories told by wanderers in a dark forest, struck strangely mute, who have only a tarot deck to communicate. As each one pulls cards from the deck, he adds it to the pattern already laid out on the table, offering new interpretations to the existing structure and expanding it for the next wanderer's tale.

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockafeller, Jr.
Ron Chernow

To describe someone as "a Rockafeller" connotes vast wealth, power, and perhaps a predilection for underhanded business practices. Chernow's biography presents a more complete human being, a man whose life is fraught with contradictions. As the head of Standard Oil, Rockafeller virtually invented the concept of monopoly, and ruthlessly crushed his competitors in legal and illegal ways. But he was also a deeply religious man, and like many of the fantastically rich robber barons of the late 19th century, gave much of his wealth away. He founded the University of Chicago, Rockafeller University, gave enormous support to Spelman College, almost single-handedly eliminated hookworm in the South. In many ways, this paradoxical man embodied the best and the worst the Gilded Age brought out in Americans.

Into Thin Air
Jon Krakauer

The tragic tale of a disastrous expedition to the top of Mount Everest in 1996, as told by a journalist who was one of the participants. It was fascinating to see what a business this climb has become -- and how perilous it still can be.

The Best of H. P. Lovecraft
H. P. Lovecraft

I dislike horror movies and stories in general, so I was shocked and delighted to discover how much I enjoy Lovecraft. His work is far more reminiscent of The X-Files than Fright Night, so much so that I'm not certain I'd call it horror as much as dark science fiction. The writing is rather dense by modern standards, and is suggestive rather than explicit, both things I personally enjoy.

Curiously, the first Lovecraft book I read was The Lurker at the Threshold, which I loved, though it turns out it was actually written by his "coauthor," August Derleth, based on an idea of Lovecraft's. Nevertheless, I thought it captured the style well (though the purists seem to disagree heartily); I recommend that short novel, or possibly The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward, as good introductions to Lovecraft's world.

The Complete Father Brown
G. K. Chesterton

A turn of the century Catholic priest with an uncanny ability to understand criminals, Father Brown is at once guileless and profound. These witty and rather philosophical tales are a must-read for any serious aficionado of classic mysteries.

Lies My Teacher Told Me
John Loewen

An examination of high school American history textbooks, and the ways in which they both oversimplify historical issues and render them uninteresting to students, together with suggestions for improvement. Quite enlightening and very engaging book on a subject I didn't think I'd care much about.

The Great Good Place
Ray Oldenburg

Oldenburg argues that we need three distinct "places" in our life: the home, the workplace, and a "third place" where we can relax with friends. This book is a survey of the coffeehouses, bistros, cafes, and pubs that have comprised third places throughout history -- and are rapidly vanishing in American culture. I read it because of my interest in building virtual communities, as it's got a lot to say about what creates and maintains social spaces.

The stacks
(few comments or none)

  • Garrison Keillor, Woebegon Boy.
  • George Gaylord Simpson, The Dechronization of Sam Magruder. A novelette by a world-class paleontologist, in some sense it picks up where H.G. Wells' The Time Traveller left off.
  • Mark Morris, The Bodysnatchers
  • Janet Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace
  • Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things and Things That Make Us Smart
  • Bruce Catton, Never Call Retreat
  • Poul Anderson, The Boat of a Million Years. Wonderful!
  • Bruce Catton, Terrible Swift Sword
  • Douglas Coupland, Microserfs. It's funny because it's true.
  • Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths and Other Stories. The most evocative fiction I've read in years; probably the best book I've read this year.
  • Italo Calvino, Marcovaldo
  • Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler
  • Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
  • George Eliot, Middlemarch
  • Anne Tyler, The Accidental Tourist