Anything You Want
by Derek Sivers
Finished reading: Oct 30, 2011.

Autobiographical based advice on starting and running a business for authentic people.

Crush It! Why Now is the Time to Cash in On Your Passion
by Gary Vaynerchuk
Finished reading: Oct 24, 2011.

Vaynerchuk's Crush It! drives home the idea that the internet is taking us back to preindustrial times when everyone was working for themselves, and he shows us how we can use the social networks to prosper in that regard.

Evil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination
by Hugh MacLeod
Finished reading: Oct 11, 2011.

If you own a business, you need to read this book. If you're thinking about starting a business, you need to read this book. If you're thinking about starting something unique, you need to read it. This book is sort of like a marketing book, but doesn't have the BS of most marketing books. This book is sort of like a how to live your life book, but doesn't have the pretension of a how to live your life book. It also doesn't have many words. It's mostly cartoons. It's dense. Read a few pages, then stop and think about it.

My Life as a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance
by Emanuel Derman
Finished reading: July 4, 2011.

This book is a must read for:

  • physicists and mathematicians who have become quants.
  • physicists and mathematicians who are thinking of becoming quants.
  • students considering whether to spend several years of their lives working on a PhD.

I also recommend it to:

  • physicists and mathematicians who enjoy computer programming.
  • anyone who wants to know what derivatives are (finance, not calculus).
  • anyone who is curious about what quants do.
  • anyone interested in quantitative finance.
  • anyone with the ambition of developing a grand unified theory of finance.
  • anyone who would enjoy a well written autobiography by a thoughtful highly intelligent physicist turned quant with a small ego.

This book has the following distinctly different parts:

  • life as a student at Columbia University.
  • life as a postdoc at Oxford, Rockefeller, and Boulder.
  • leaving physics as a profession and working at Bell Labs.
  • life as a quant at Goldman Sachs and Solomon Brothers.

I found this book to be remarkably good, interesting, and well written.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
by Joshua Foer
Finished reading: Apr 25, 2011.

Warning: This book is anachronistic. Memory has become deprecated. Look around you. Most people you see probably have wires coming out of their ears. They only require a tiny bit of brain to process auditory input. The rest is supplanted by Google.

Using the memory techniques described in this book won't make your post-it notes obsolete. They are just too easy to use. But as the author suggests, they will make you more mindful of the world around you, and as Tony Buzan suggests, they'll make you more creative, to boot.

The Art of Power
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Finished reading: Jan 15, 2011.

The title of this book is misleading. The usual understanding of power is the ability to exhibit a large amount of physical or financial influence. What Hanh means by power is the ability to affect the attitudes, thoughts, and opinions of others.

This book is one of the most valuable books I have ever read. I have read 2 other mindfulness books: Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants, and Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. This book is the best yet, and stands out from the other 2 in its practicality. I was so impressed with this book, that I plan on reading all of Thich Nhat Hanh's other books. There are very few holy men in this world, but Thich Nhat Hanh is one of them. You will know what I mean by this if you read this book.

My favorite quotes from this book:

Imagine the power of our actions if each one contained one hundred percent of our attention. (pg 41)
It is possible to live mindfully every moment of your daily life. This makes you happy and it also makes the people around you happy. (pg 90)
Silence is very important. It allows, it helps life to be. We have to retrain ourselves to enjoy silence. (pg 156)
Civilization is going to end if we continue to drown in the competition for power, fame, sex, and profit. (pg 169)
It's wonderful to stop your thinking and just be. Most of our thinking is an obstacle to being, because when you're absorbed in thinking, you aren't present and fully alive and you can't touch the wonders of life. (pg 179)

A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative
by Roger von Oech
Finished reading: Dec 29, 2010 (the 1990 version of this book).

I learned about this book in the bibliography section of Seth Godin's Linchpin. It's aim is to stimulate you to be more creative. I found it very helpful.

What is the point, you may ask of being creative? Creative people stand out from the crowd, sometimes make things possible that didn't seem so, may increase productivity, or maybe just make life more enjoyable. Some examples are Albert Einstein, Johann Gutenberg, Isaac Newton, and William Shakespeare.

What happens if you're not at all interested in being creative? This quote (in the book) from physicist Tom Hirshfield summarizes it well: If you don't ask "Why this?" often enough, somebody will ask "Why you?".

My favorite quotes from this book:

The best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of ideas. (pg 28)
The metaphor is probably the most fertile power possessed by man. (Ortega y Gasset, pg 44)
Some people are so closely married to their ideas that they put them up on a pedestal. It's difficult to be creative when you have that much ego tied up in your idea. (pg 94)
A man's errors are his portals of discovery. (James Joyce, pg 154)
...two benefits of failure. First, if you do fail, you learn what doesn't work. Second, the failure gives you an opportunity to try a new approach. (pg 160)
What concerns me is not the way things are, but rather the way people think things are. (Epictetus, pg 162)

Linchpin : Are You Indispensable?
by Seth Godin
Finished reading: Dec 10, 2010.

This book is about what it takes to be exceptional, in whatever your job is. It also identifies those forces which act against any motivation to be exceptional. It does an excellent job. I haven't read all the author's books, but this one is so good, it's probably his best. Another thing that makes this book shine is that it's implicitly permeated with Buddhist thought. It's a must read for anyone having a desire to be exceptional. It also has a bibliography of very interesting books.

My favorite quotes from this book:

I've been lucky enough to meet or work with thousands of remarkable linchpins. It appears to me that the only way they differ from a mediocre rule-follower is that they never bought into this self-limiting line of thought. That's it. (pg 42)
What they should teach in school: 1)solve interesting problems, 2)lead. (pg 47)
Linchpins are able to embrace the lack of structure and find a new path, one that works. (pg 58)
The solution lies in seeking out something that is neither good nor perfect. You want something remarkable, nonlinear, game changing, and artistic. (pg 70)
You become a winner because you're good at losing. (pg 115)
One way to become creative is to discipline yourself to generate bad ideas. The worse the better. Do it a lot and magically you'll discover that some good ones slip through. (pg 117)
When your people do what they do because they love it, it works. Even if they're not as technically adept as the competition. (pg 205)

More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite
by Sebastian Mallaby
Finished reading: Nov 16, 2010.

This book is a history of hedge funds. Its quality is as good as one could hope, and an order of magnitude better than the last hedge fund book I read, The Quants by Scott Patterson. The details and extensive references are superb. I especially enjoyed the accounts of Commodities Trading Corp, LTCM, and Renaissance Technologies. It has one big fault. It makes no mention of Ed Thorp - probably because, as my brother Stefan said, he boringly made money consistently and never blew up. Incidentally, The Quants discusses Ed Thorp extensively, which is the best thing about that book.

This book should be read by every investor because the size, leverage, and behavior of hedge funds have a significant influence on the financial markets. I do not agree with the author's assertion in the last chapter of the book that hedge funds are not a destabilizing influence in the financial markets. They can be destabilizing. The concluding chapter of the book concerns the authors views of hedge funds in finance, which was the most boring chapter, and can safely be skipped.

My favorite quotes from this book:

I thought random walk was bullshit. The whole idea that an individual can't make serious money with a competitive edge over the rest of the market is wacko. (F. Helmut Weymar, pg 64)
Commodities Corporation was not about salesmanship and relationships and looking like a market insider; it was about beating the market with computer models, math, and superior information. (pg 65)
So long as hot dogs were selling, the world could not be ending. (Muriel Siebert, pg 98)
Great investors tend to have a screw loose, pursuing the game not for profit, but for sport. (David Swensen, Pioneering Portfolio Management, pg 252)
...there was a Henry Moore sculpture outside and a lawn where beautiful people ate organic sandwiches. (pg 275)
Simons...never hired economists. He wanted people who would approach the markets as a mathematical puzzle... (pg 289)

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
by Shunryu Suzuki
Finished reading: Sept 25, 2010.

If this book where a "how to" it would be called "How to study your mind". I became aware of this book by reading Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness by Arnie Kozak. He quotes it and lists it in the bibliography.

Some questions whose answers are not quite clear after reading Wild Chickens are clarified in this book. For example: Is concentration the purpose of meditation? Suzuki says the true purpose is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes.

You will get more out of this book if you first read Wild Chickens. As the introduction to this book states, this book is written in a style of short simple sentences densely packed with meaning. My brother Stefan pointed out to me that this style is a tradition in Zen Buddhism, exemplified by Zen koans. It is a powerful and effective style, which is probably not used much because it is so difficult to practice.

My favorite quotes from this book:

Suzuki-roshi is very fond of the frog, which sits so still it might be asleep, but is alert enough to notice every insect which comes by. (pg 16)
In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few. (pg 21)
When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself. (pg 62)
When you are you, then no matter what you do, that is zazen (meditation). (pg 81)
In calmness, there should be activity; in activity there should be calmness. (pg 104)
The true practice of zazen is to sit as if drinking water when you are thirsty. (pg 108)
Which is more important; to be successful, or to find some meaning in your effort to be successful? (pg 122-123)

The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It
by Scott Patterson
Finished reading: Aug 27, 2010.

This book is mostly about a bunch of boneheads who happened to make a lot of money running hedge funds. I got really annoyed by the author calling these guys "geniuses". The only two guys with serious brains in this book are Ed Thorp and Jim Simons. Emanuel Derman, who is briefly discussed, is also very intelligent, with a classy personality. The rest are not worth discussing. I did like Ken Griffin's diversity. He was into everything. But his ego really makes me barf.

What I found worthwhile about this book was its description of how several quantitative hedge funds operate. My conclusion is that the quant hedge funds are, by and large, a herd of cows. All thinking the same, and acting the same. Benefitting together on the way up, and suffering together on the way down. The exception is Renaissance Technologies, and Ed Thorp, back when he was in the game.

My favorite quotes from this book:

Any good investment, sufficiently leveraged, can lead to ruin. (Ed Thorp, pg 300)
Time, and reality, had overtaken stupidity. (pg 173)
What is wrong with these people? They are so monumentally stupid. Their stupidity is killing me. (Cliff Asness, 1999, pg 170)

Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness
by Arnold Kozak
Finished reading: July 12, 2010.

I got interested in mindfulness meditation by listening to Shinzen Young's Google Tech Talk of Apr 27 2010 titled Deep Concentration in Formal Meditation and Daily Life. In this talk, he claimed that, because of his training as a Buddhist monk, he was able to learn mathematics quickly. The prospect of learning things faster is very appealing to me, so I decided to take a look at Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants to learn more about mindfulness.

Describing mindfulness in terms of metaphors is very effective. The book is an excellent introduction to mindfulness.

My favorite quotes from this book:

Mindfulness practice is kind of like "driver's ed" for the mind. (pg 79)
Mindfulness meditation practice sharpens the axe of the mind. (pg 154)
Life is lived now, no matter where the mind is. (pg 169)

The Greatest Trade Ever
by Gregory Zuckerman
Finished reading: May 4, 2010.

This book is about those who, starting around the year 2005, realized that they could benefit financially from the unsustainable upward trajectory of U.S. residential real estate prices. The key to a potential windfall was the large disparity between the risk that ratings agencies and banks attributed to U.S. residential mortgage backed securities, and reality.

There are several people profiled in the book who tried to take advantage of this. John Paulson was, by far, the biggest winner.

The trade, or bet, described in this book falls under the broad category of a macroeconomic bet. This type of bet has the largest potential payoff, and can have the greatest probability of winning, assuming the analysis is correct. The downside is that the market can remain irrational for a long time.

I greatly appreciated the level of detail the author provided on the trades. The book is a good case study in macroeconomic betting, and the issues involved:

  • doing your research
  • when to place the bet
  • when to take profits
  • importance of liquidity
  • psychologically dealing with the market turning against you
  • the virtue of patience
  • problems related to managing other people's money
  • the virtue of controlling your ego

My favorite quotes from this book:

You can turn chicken shit into chicken salad in this market. (Paolo Pelligrini, pg 64)
You can be totally right on an investment but wrong on the timing and lose a lot. (William Ackman, pg 117)
How did we end up in this spot? (Bear Stearns hedge fund manager Ralph Cioffi to his partner Matthew Tannin in a Brooklyn jail cell, pg 261)

Bull! : A History of the Boom, 1982-1999: What drove the Breakneck Market--and What Every Investor Needs to Know About Financial Cycles
by Maggie Mahar
Finished reading: Apr 12, 2010.

This book is an extraordinarily well crafted history of the last great bull cycle in the U.S. stock market.

It elaborates on the causes of this bull cycle:

  • Decline in interest rates
  • 401K's
  • Boomers convinced of need to grow nest egg faster
  • CNBC and rest of media become bullish
  • High returns entice more money
  • Corporations increasingly fudge numbers
  • Deregulation

My favorite quotes from this book:

One of the peculiarities of the stock market - when compared to the market for virtually any other item - is that, rather than dampening demand, spiraling prices whet desire. (Maggie Mahar, pg 121-122)
When the avalanche comes crashing down, it takes everything in front of it. (Ralph Wanger, Acorn Funds founder, pg 323)
Bears are people who do their arithmetic. (Peter Bernstein, pg 325)
I never thought this would last. I just thought I'll get in and buy some Tulips. (Shirley Sauerwein, 1999, pg 334)

by Barton Biggs
Finished reading: Dec 28, 2009.

This book is a must read for money managers, hedge fund managers, and investors. It's both highly entertaining and educational. It's a distillation of the author's experiences of about 50 years of being in the hedge fund business.

My favorite chapter is Divine Intervention or Inside Information which is a short story in the style of the Twilight Zone about a washed out analyst who begins getting Wall Street Journals not with yesterday's news, but tomorrow's.

This is the most literate investment book you'll ever read. The author was a student of Robert Penn Warren. He uses the most recondite words every found in a finance book.

If you're a money manager, or just an investor, you can gain 50 years of experience just by reading this book.

Trade Your Way to Financial Freedom
by Van K. Tharp
Finished reading: Nov 20, 2009.

This is a refreshingly unique book about trading. The premise is that how you trade depends on what you believe about the markets. Therefore, the author concludes that you must find your own profitable way to trade that is based on your own beliefs, and only by finding your own way can you consistently and profitably trade.

The author draws the analogy with the quest for the Holy Grail. Initially the Grail quest appears to be simply a physical adventure, like an Easter egg hunt. But eventually you realize that the answer lies within you. So the author doesn't try to sell you a particular trading system, but tries to help you find your own.

The author is a psychologist whose work is related to neuro-linguistic programming, or the study of excellence. Through his interviews with top traders, he has created a model of a great trading system based on similarities between actual ones.

Most of the book consists of elaborating on what he considers to be the essential elements of a great trading system. The book is also packed with examples of particular trading systems, for stimulating thought.

I recommend this book to those who aren't looking for a prepackaged trading system, and who realize they must develop their own.

I did notice a couple of errors in the book:

  • pg 286, footnote 18: "In physics, momentum means mass times acceleration". The word acceleration should be replace by velocity.
  • pg 394: "Expectancy is only the mean R. This means that half of our samples will be better, and half of them would be worse". This would only be true for the median, not the mean.

Market Wizards and New Market Wizards
by Jack D. Schwager
Finished reading: Aug 13, 2009.

These two books are essential for new traders.

My favorite quote (from the New Market Wizards):

I started out by worrying about the system I was going to use to trade. The second factor I worked on was risk management and volatility control. The third area I focused on was the psychology of trading. If I had it to do over again, I would reverse the process completely. I think investment psychology is by far the most important element, followed by risk control, with the least important consideration being the question of where you buy and sell. (Tom Basso, pg 292)

Your Money and Your Brain: How the New Science of Neuroeconomics Can Help Make You Rich
by Jason Zweig
Finished reading: Nov 21, 2008.

If you have a brain, you need to read this book. Why it isn't more popular, I don't know. Jason Zweig is not your ordinary boogerhead investment book author.

The theme of this book is humans are not rational, but they are predictable. The book is packed with examples of this, most related to making money, many not. Here's one example "after two repetitions of a stimulus - like, say, a stock price that goes up one penny twice in a row - the human brain automatically, unconsciously, and uncontrollably expects a third repetition".

I do have one difference of opinion with the author. Zweig is editor of the latest edition of Graham and Dodd's The Intelligent Investor, and he shares those famous authors dislike/distrust of advanced math in finance. I strongly disagree with this attitude, and know that the use of advanced math is very useful and can be very profitable in finance.

My favorite quote from the book:

What really gets us into trouble is not even knowing what we don't know. (pg 115)

The Predictors: How a Band of Maverick Physicists Used Chaos Theory to Trade Their Way to a Fortune on Wall Street
by Thomas A. Bass
Finished reading: Oct 27, 2008.

When I was an undergraduate studying for a bachelor's in Electrical Engineering, I had to learn Maxwell's equations. In fact all Electrical Engineering students nowadays have to learn Maxwell's equations, and know how to use them. These equations are considered basic knowledge for electric engineers. But there was a time, before World War II, when these equations were considered impractical and not part of the standard curriculum. We have only recently made a similar transition in finance, when math has gone from a little used tool to something indispensable.

It is becoming evident that those knowledgeable in math, physics, and programming, have a tremendous advantage in finance. The subjects of this book show just how much such an advantage can be worth.

The two important things that struck me in reading this book are:

  • Those with training in physics, math, and engineering are well equipped to tackle problems in quantitative finance.
  • The 20 people working at Prediction Company (the subject of this book) created a trading system at least as profitable than anything made by the many thousands of workers at the world's largest banks.

Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk
by Peter L. Bernstein
Finished reading: Aug 22, 2008.

There are two things that I really liked about this book, and one thing that I didn't. The good things:

  • The author's vast knowledge of the financial markets, from most of a century of experience.
  • His extensive and entertaining history of risk analysis.
The bad thing:
  • His attempts to explain math concepts that he apparently doesn't understand very well.

His history of risk analysis was a pleasure to read -- from Fibonacci and Cardano, to Markowitz and Sharpe. My favorite, was his coverage of Francis Galton, the man who measured everything.

Above all, the greatest value in this book is that it's packed with the author's knowledge of finance, from 63 years of experience. He's 89 years old now, and appears to still be going strong.

This book is well worth reading.

My favorite quote from the book:

Today's hero is often tomorrow's blockhead. (pg 297)

The Money Changers: A Guided Tour Through Global Currency Markets
by Robert G. Williams
Finished reading: Apr 25, 2008.

"Foreign exchange is like the stock market with gasoline thrown on it". (From an interview the author conducted with a forex trader.)

This book is a patchwork quilt of interviews the author has conducted with people involved in foreign exchange. In between, he glues the book together with his commentary and analysis.

The interviews component of the book was the most interesting and informative. The people he interviews covers a broad spectrum. From a forex trader working at a New York City bank, to an architect of the transition to Euro working in London.

Being a physicist and engineer, I was amazed to learn from this book that the vanguard of research in predicting exchange rates, called microstructure analysis, involves determining the impulse response of the financial markets. While it may be new in finance, engineers are well acquanted with this technique for characterizing a system.

Other things in this book that made it well worth reading are:

  • In the late 1980's, Japanese bankers gave out mortgages based on the assumption that real estate would continue its unrealistic climb in prices.
  • The Japanese bubble burst in 1990 resulted in a domino effect of financial crises, one roughly every 20 months: Japan -> Europe -> Mexico -> S. Asia -> Russia -> Brazil -> Argentina.
  • The Russian domino effect: Russia -> Poland -> Czech -> Hungary.
  • Asian domino effect: Thai -> Malaysia -> Phillipine -> Singapore -> Indonesia.
  • European dominos: Finland -> Portugal -> Italy -> Spain -> Britain -> France.
  • The big funds played a forex poker game, starting with Finland, forcing its currency off its peg, then used their winnings to force the currencies of ever larger countries out of their pegs, and finally broke the bank of England.
  • How the fund managers form currency bubbles, and spread the disease around.
  • How central banks could prevent disaster when they see a bubble forming.
  • Why the Euro won't replace the dollar any time soon, as the world's dominant currency.

It's a book well worth reading, just for the interviews.

Dr. Euler's Fabulous Formula : Cures Many Mathematical Ills
by Paul J. Nahin
Finished reading: Mar 12, 2008.

By brother, Stefan Hollos, told me "You should read this book, it will make you a better person." So, of course I had obey my older wiser brother and read it.

I wish I had read this book a couple times through, before I took my "Signals and Systems" class as an Electrical Engineering undergraduate. It would have allowed me to really understand what was going on in the class. Nearly half of this book is Fourier analysis. And the author does a very good job at providing an intuitive understanding of it. If you feel you already know Fourier analysis, read it anyway. You'll understand it even better.

But this book has much more than Fourier analysis. First off, he derives many interesting infinite series and infinite integral identities. Here's some things you'll find in the book:

  • DeMoivre's theorem
  • Cayley-Hamilton theorem
  • Cauchy-Schwartz inequality
  • Cyclotomic polynomials
  • Fermat's last theorem
  • Dirichet's discontinuous integral
  • Generalized harmonic walk
  • Proof that π2 is irrational
  • Derivation of the wave equation and its solution
  • The diffusion equation
  • Parseval's formula
  • The Gibb's phenomenon, and why it should be called the Wilbraham phenomenon
  • Proof that a fixed length enclosing the greatest area, has the shape of a circle
  • Dirac delta function
  • Raleigh's energy formula
  • Convolution and autocorrelation
  • Wiener-Khinchin theorem
  • Poisson's summation formula
  • G.H. Hardy's solution of Schuster's optical integral
  • Linear time invariant systems and transfer functions
  • Paley-Wiener integral
  • Math of radio technology
  • Sampling theorem
  • A nice biographical essay on Leonhard Euler

As my brother said, this book did make me a better person. It allowed me to figure out, while gasping for air, running up Mt. Sanitas in Boulder, why the Fourier transform of odd functions is always purely imaginary and the transform of even functions is always purely real.

American Shaolin
by Matthew Polly
Finished reading: Oct 19, 2007.

An adventure story and a quirky introduction to Chinese culture, traditional Kung Fu, how the Chinese view America, and Buddhism. My favorite quotes from the book:

  • The Shaolin monks save the life of the emperor, and in return get their life shortened (by being allowed meat and alcohol).
  • It takes real courage to fight when all hope is gone. Coach Cheng
  • A poor chess player can still make a remarkable move. Wang Yinggui
  • It is only when a person gets into difficulty that one can truly see his heart. Traditional Chinese proverb
  • When drinking water, don't forget who dug the well. Traditional Chinese proverb

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)
by Seth Godin
Finished reading: Aug 26, 2007.

This book is not about that tasty stuff you put on chips, rather it's a little recipe book that dishes out some rules for becoming the best at what you do.

The dip that Godin talks about in this book, is the condition where, after you have been working on something for awhile, further progress becomes increasingly difficult, and one considers whether it's worth pressing on, or whether one should quit.

One of Godin's messages is that you should only do something if it's possible for you to be the best in the world at it. My brother Stefan has a corollary to this: It's only possible for you to be the best at something if you have a unique way of doing it. Godin's corollary is that before you get into something, make sure you have the resources required to become the best at it.

Another of Godin's principles is that before you start something, decide ahead of time under what conditions you should quit. This reminds me of the story of John von Neumann who upon learning of Kurt Godel's incompleteness theorem, dropped his quest to axiomatize mathematics and moved on to something else, despite having spent years on the problem. In contrast, Bertrand Russell who also spent a good part of his life on the same quest, tragically never could face up to the fact that the game was over.

Godin further recommends that when you are stuck in the dip, either quit, or change the rules to get going again. He gives the example of an employee who on climbing the corporate ladder, reaches a level, above which, management is not willing to promote him. Because he feels he's being unjustly held back, he seriously considers quitting. He honestly expresses this perception to his boss and the company president. In response, he is promoted.

Lastly, Godin says that if you have more than one project going at the same time, and that prevents you from being the best at one, then you should decide which one you really want to be the best at, and drop the others. In other words, you have the choice to be mediocre at many things, or the greatest at one thing.

The advice Godin gives in this book is universal; it applies equally well to scientists, athletes, and businessman. Almost everyone would benefit from reading this book.

Hackers and Painters
by Paul Graham
Finished reading: June 18, 2007.

This book could also be called How Nerds Can Get Rich. It's a must for programmers who are ambitious, and want to become financially independent. But there's much more there, for anyone who is an independent thinker. If you can't find this book in your local library or bookstore, all of its chapters are actually on the web here.

How Successful People Win
by Ben Stein
Finished reading: June 11, 2007.

There are two major sections of this slim 135 page book.
Preparing for the Game includes the chapters:

  • Decide What You Want
  • Ask for What You Want
  • You Can't Win if You're Not at the Table
The Rules of the Game includes the chapters:
  • Concentrate on "How To"; Forget "Why Not"
  • Notice What Is, Not What Should Be
  • Luck is Catching
  • Life is a Process and the Process Never Ends
  • Nothing Happens by Itself
  • The Best is the Enemy of the Good
  • Personal Relationships are Golden
  • Persistence
  • Make Time Your Ally
  • Nice Guys Finish First

This book is very good, and packed with good advice. What I like about Ben Stein is he thinks like a mathematician, he starts out with seemingly trivial axioms, and ends with far from obvious conclusions. I happen to agree with everything in the book, with one exception which I describe below.

A unique feature of this book is that it not only advises you as to how to pursue your dream, but also how to find one if you don't have one. In the first chapter, it suggests various methods to identify what you want in life, and one of the methods it recommends is to think about what you wanted to be when you were very young. This is a terrible idea. A kid's mind is very immature, and ill suited to identifying what is worthwhile in life. This is the only problem I had with the book and it is a very minor flaw, and has no impact on the essence of the book.

Here is one of my favorite lines from the book which describes why everyone needs to have a dream to pursue:
"The bare survival of each day, dragging one's consciousness through misery, is not sufficient redemption for the gift of being alive."

This book can save someone, who wants to achieve something great in life, years in misdirected effort. It's a must read for "ambitious" people.

The Google Story
by David A. Vise and Mark Malseed
Finished reading: May 3, 2007.

If you could hear the economy changing, it would be very loud right now, and Google is the biggest beneficiary of this change. Traditional print newspapers are the biggest losers, slowly being bled dry, as advertisers realize they can get a bigger bang for their buck, by marketing directly to those interested in their products, by way of search engines.

When I started reading this book, I was hoping it would answer two questions for me: What kind of company is Google? and how did Google get to where it is now? I really enjoyed this book, because it did a very good job answering those two questions.

What kind of company is Google? Google is a new kind of company. It is a media company like the New York Times, but it doesn't write news or entertainment. It is a software company like Microsoft, but it doesn't distribute any software. You can say it's like Yahoo, but the way it conducts its operations makes it quite different. "The Google Story" describes its unique characteristics well.

How did Google get to where it is now? It all started with two graduate students in computer science at Stanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Error-Correcting Codes and Finite Fields
by Oliver Pretzel
Finished reading (first two parts of this book (Ch 1-12)): Apr 17, 2007.

The author says this book serves two types of people. Engineering students who may be familiar with the practical nature of error-correcting codes but lack the abstract algebra background to really understand it, and math students who already have a grounding in abstract algebra and want to learn a practical application of the subject. The author does a great job in serving both audiences.

This book is composed of four sections in the following order: basic coding theory, finite fields, BCH codes & other polynomial codes, and classical & geometric Goppa codes.

A nice feature of this book is that the remedial stuff is placed in appendices at the end of each section. For example the first section has an appendix on linear algebra, and the second section has an appendix on polynomials over a field. This prevents inconveniencing someone who is already familiar with the basic stuff, while allowing those who need brushing up, to still follow the book.

Lastly, Professor Pretzel does a stupendous job in proving every theorem, proposition, lemma, and corollary in the book.

Fortune's Formula
by William Poundstone
Finished reading: Mar 28, 2007.

This book is surely the most entertaining book on risk management ever. More specifically, it is about systems of betting, whether it be in stocks, blackjack, bonds, horses, options, sports, futures, or roulette, the book explains general techniques, and points out the characteristics of these techniques.

The author attempts to make the case that the Kelly system of betting is the most practical (i.e. minimizes risk, while maximizing profit) of the known methods. Interwoven in the discussion of bettings systems, he introduces many personalities that have played a part in the history and implementation of risk management: Bernoulli, Shannon, Kelly, Thorpe, Samuelson, Merton, Scholes, Black, etc, and their triumphs and tragedies, from Thorpe's over three decade long market beating hedge fund performance, to the catastrophic collapse of Merton and Scholes' Long Term Capital Management fund.

This book is both entertaining, and well written. I greatly enjoyed it, and I highly recommend it as an introduction to risk management.

The Computational Beauty of Nature
by Gary William Flake
Finished reading: Sept 15, 2006.

This book has five major parts:

  • Computation
  • Fractals
  • Chaos
  • Complex Systems
  • Adaptation

The author says that the major parts of the book are independent and can be read in any order desired, but that reading them all in their established order will lead to a more integrated view of their parts.

I skipped the two parts of the book whose subject matter I am most familiar with (fractals and chaos), and read the three parts whose subjects I had the most to learn from (computation, complex systems, and adaptation).

My brother Stefan suggested that I take a look at this book. He told me that it was a reference in a book he had recently read: A Different Universe by Robert B. Laughlin. I am grateful for his suggestion, because I really enjoyed this book.

This book could have been called "The Computational Beauty of Nature According to a Computer Scientist". From the perspective of a physicist, I found it interesting to see how a computer scientist sees the world. I would call the book very stimulating, and highly recommend it to physical scientists especially, since we have much to gain from learning what the computer scientists have learned. On the other hand, if the author's weltanschauung is typical of computer scientists, they have much to gain from learning physics.

Cogito, Ergo Sum: The Life of Rene Descartes
by Richard Watson
Finished reading: April 28, 2006.

I realized I had to read a biography of Rene Descartes when my brother Stefan told me about Descartes while he was reading the book Descartes' Secret Notebook by Amir D. Aczel. Descartes seemed intriguing to me, especially since Leibniz sought out Descartes' encoded notebook and managed to decipher it. So I looked for a biography of Descartes in our local public library and was pleased to find a rather recent one of 2002 by Richard Watson. The inside book cover claims that this book is the first biography since 1920 that includes extensive original research.

When I started reading this book, I soon realized that it's written in an unconventional style, fortunately it was also a style which I found appealing. This book is really two books - one book which could be called "In the Footsteps of Descartes" is about Richard Watson's experience of visiting those places in Europe where Descartes lived, and the other book is a traditional biography of Descartes. The "two books" are nicely woven together which to me enhanced the reading experience as compared to a standard biography.

Two major achievements of Descartes' discussed in this book, that would be of interest to scientists, are his creation of the analytic geometry, and his replacement of Aristotle's physics with the idea that everything, including the human body, can be analyzed as a system of inanimate objects that move only when bumped.

One interesting issue discussed in the last chapter of the book is what the author calls an inconsistency in Descartes' philosophy, whose resolution is being hammered out in society today. The inconsistency is the following. Descartes said that every person consists of two major components: a material machine which is the human body and an immaterial soul (mind) which controls the body. Descartes' claim that the body is only a machine, while the soul (mind) is not a machine and is not even physical, is in conflict with the modern discovery that various processes of the mind can be linked to particular regions and structures of the brain. The author claims that the idea of the immaterial soul will eventually become antiquated as neuroscience progresses, and that once the lack of an immaterial soul becomes accepted in mainstream society, it will have a major impact on civilization. If you happen to strongly disagree with the author's opinion on this, don't use that as an excuse to not read the book, there was absolutely no sign, one way or the other, that he had this opinion, until the very last paragraph of the book.

Mostly due to the author's "two books in one" style as described above, I found this book to be such a pleasure to read, that it was often difficult to put down. I started reading it in order to understand who Descartes was, and I believe that the author does a good job in providing a well rounded picture of Descartes. I was impressed with the amount of time and effort that the author said he put into the book, and that is reflected in its high quality. I highly recommend this book.

The Bridge at Andau
by James A. Michener
Finished reading: March 30, 2006.

My father left Hungary as a teenager in late November 1956 after the Russians had crushed the revolution and were beginning to seal the borders. Last Christmas he gave me and my two brothers a copy of "The Bridge at Andau", in order to give us some idea of what he had gone through. Until reading this book, I knew very little of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

Michener gives a nice gentle introduction to the subject. The book is difficult to put down in parts because of the riveting stories that were told to Michener by those who participated in the revolution and those who suffered in communist Hungary before the Revolution. Michener spent some time near the Andau Bridge on the Austrian side of the border interviewing the Hungarian refugees as they poured out of Hungary. He appears to have done a good job documenting and verifying the refugee's personal stories that he included in his book. This aspect of the book gives a glimpse into what it was really like to live in communist Hungary, and why the Revolution began.

Besides the personal stories, I think Michener does a good job discussing the various issues related to the Revolution, such as its negative ramifications to the Soviet Union, and he does not ignore or rationalize the failures of the United States in aiding the Hungarian freedom fighters when they needed us. After the Hungarian Revolution, those in the west who had looked kindly toward Russia, and those already under the Russians thumb, were forced to realize that Russia was not the benevolent protector of those countries under its influence, but was quietly siphoning off their domestic product, keeping their populations enslaved, and were determined to keep their iron grip on those countries at any cost.

I highly recommend The Bridge at Andau as a well rounded introduction to the Hungarian Revolution.

Information : The New Language of Science
by Hans Christian von Baeyer
Finished reading: Nov 12, 2005.

I read somewhere, that the value of a book can be gauged by the ideas that it stimulates in the reader. From this perspective, "Information: The New Language of Science" was of great benefit to me.

This book is about the present struggle in science to develop a fundamental concept of information. Such an achievement would be of great value to science and help propel it forward.

The book begins by comparing the current struggle of grasping information in the context of physics, with the old struggle in physics of understanding what temperature really is. I believe that this is a good comparison - not just an analogy. von Baeyer points out that gaining a true understanding of temperature took 250 years. We don't know how long it will take to see the light with information, but the author introduces people that have contributed so far: Ronald Aylmer Fisher, Claude Shannon, Rolf Landauer, Jan Kahre and Anton Zeilinger.

The theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler said "Tomorrow we will have learned to understand and express all of physics in the language of information". I highly recommend this book to those that find Wheeler's statement interesting and want to learn more.

Sleep (Scientific American Library)
by J. Allan Hobson
Finished reading: Nov 7, 2005.

I started to read this book in hopes of finding an answer to the question "Why do I sometimes wake up 1 1/4 hours after falling asleep?". My brother Stefan first observed this fact in his own sleep behavior, and I subsequently noticed the same in mine.

This book is written by an expert on sleep, a man who has spent decades studying and contributing to the subject matter, and the book reflects this; It's the kind of book I like. The book is packed with lots of details about sleep and corresponding processes in the brain.

If you have never read a book on sleep, I recommend that you don't read this one to start; first read William C. Dement's "The Promise of Sleep". That book will convey to you the value of sleep, and the severe danger of being chronically short on sleep. Hobson's book provides the fascinating technical details for understanding sleep processes, while Dement's book illuminates the importance of sleep. Everyone should read Dement's book, while Hobson's book should be read if you want to dig deeper.

In the end I didn't find a direct answer to my question, but in gaining a better understanding of sleep by reading this book, I can understand why the likelihood of waking up in the transition from non-REM to REM sleep is probably higher than in any other sleep mode transition.

The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life
by Steve Leveen
Finished reading: July 29, 2005.

When my brother first handed me this book at the new book section of our local library, the book didn't strike me as particularly interesting. But I checked it out anyway, and as I began reading it, I was intrigued. I ended up reading every word of this small book. Making a list of books that you've read is one suggestion in this book, and this web page is an implementation of that suggestion. The author also suggests making a list of books that you want to read. Other suggestions he makes are: taking notes and writing in margins (of your own books), reviewing a book after you've read it (for retaining more of the book in your memory), listening to audiobooks when you can't read otherwise, joining a book reading group, and giving up on a book when it's not interesting to you.

Quotes in this book that I like are:

  • "Read in order to live." - Gustave Flaubert
  • "Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • "The greatest thing in the world is to know how to be one's own self." - Montaigne
  • "I have led a life of business so long that I have lost my taste for reading, and now - what shall I do?" - Sir Robert Walpole

The Magic Furnace
by Marcus Chown
Finished reading: Feb 2005.

This is the story of how man came to understand the origin of the elements (nucleosynthesis) in our universe. I liked this book not only because the author does a good job of introducing the subject and its history, but he also mixes in biographical information about the people involved: Fraunhofer, Bunsen, Kirchoff, Hoyle, Gamow, Houtermans, Baade, Bethe, etc.

Saving Your Brain
by Jeff Victoroff
Finished reading: Dec 2004.

My motivation for reading this book was that as a physicist who must use his brain a lot, I want it to work as well as possible for as long as possible.

The author is a neurologist who says he read over I forget how many thousands of research papers in preparation for writing this book. This is the kind of health/medical book I like to read; one that is written by an expert in the field.

I really like this book for a couple of reasons. The author not only presents lots of useful information in his distillation of the latest research but takes the effort to provide the background on how the brain works. He also provides practical suggestions that can be easily implemented to protect your brain from premature aging. I have often wondered whether one can prevent Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other dementias. To me, the most startling revelation in this book was that many dementia researchers consider dementia to be a vascular disease. Thus, the author suggests "what is good for the heart is good for the brain". He provides plenty of evidence to support this viewpoint.

My brain is the most valuable thing I've got, so taking the attitude of Pascal's wager as the author proposes, makes sense to me. If there is something which seems promising in extending the life of my brain, and which is not very disruptive, why not do it, since waiting for the final verdict may be too late.

Albert Einstein: The Life and Times
by Ronald W. Clark
Finished reading: Nov 2004.

If you want to know what kind of person Albert Einstein was, what his personality was, what he liked and disliked, the environment he grew up in, why he became a celebrity, the events that shaped his weltanschuung, then this is a good book for you. If you want to know the details of his achievements, then find another Einstein biography, or better yet read his original papers (if you can read German). I enjoyed the book because it told me who Einstein was, and why he became so famous, while some of his just-as-worthy contemporaries did not.

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