Back of a book store.  


I started reading early, learning quickly from Peanuts books. As a child I read constantly and voraciously, and soon consumed all the worthwhile "children's" and "young adults" books that my local library had to offer. I started reading the "grownup" books, which lasted until I got to the psychology section, at which point the librarian intervened.

When I became old enough to ride the bus, I took it to the big city library, where I would spend the day reading books and take home as many as I was allowed to. My library card was always "maxed out."

These days, I don't have nearly enough time to read. It's a good thing I know how to read very quickly.


Here is a (very incomplete) list of nonfiction books that I've found particularly influential.

  • Steal This Book Steal This Book, by Abbie Hoffman. Social/political philosophy and survival manual all rolled into one. Some of the stuff in there's just for shock value, and it succeeded: the book was rejected by 30 publishers because it would purportedly destroy democracy, free speech, etc. There's stealing and scamming in the book, but most of all there are survival strategies, infused throughout with a strong system of personal ethics and social responsibility.

  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig. I was one of the millions of Westerners for whom this book resonates. Western philosophy reclaims some of its roots, and finds echoes in the East. Reading this book helps me find balance, and I've reread this one more than any other (save for some Peanuts paperbacks).

    Design for the Real World

  • Design for the Real World, by Victor Papanek. A very incisive look at the role of design and technology in the context of real human needs, and how the prevailing teachings and practices of design fail to meet those needs. This book changed my perspective forever. Reading it should be a prerequisite for a career in design or engineeering.

  • Daring to Be Bad, by Alice Echols. A definitive history of radical feminism. Feminism is a vital body of thought, and one that has been subject to an inordinate amount of historical revisionism. This book sets things straight. Strictly speaking, the writings and ideas of radical feminism were the real influence on me, long before this book was written, but reading this book (and tracking down the material in its footnotes) brought it all together, and added a bit of historical hindsight.

  • The Underground Reader, edited by Mel Howard and the Reverend Thomas King Forcade. This is a compilation of stuff from the underground newspapers of the 60s (think zines, minus 20 years or so).

  • A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn. If you're a typical American, your knowledge of American history has some big gaps in it and a whole lot of misinformation. This book is a good antidote.

  • Lies My Teacher Told Me and Lies Across America, by James W. Loewen. The antidote in more detail. The first book focuses on history textbooks, where Americans learn all sorts of falsehoods; and the second book focuses on historical markers, where Americans learn more historical falsehoods after they leave school.

  • Race Traitor, edited by Noel Ignatiev and John Garvey. American society suffers from an illness known as racism, and hasn't been healing from this illness in recent years -- in fact, the illness is getting worse. This book collects essays from Race Traitor, a journal dedicated to the abolition of racism by challenging the very notion of race. These are fresh and vigorous ideas which will hopefully help our society find its way to a cure.

  • Clutter's Last Stand and Not For Packrats Only, by Don Aslett. These are two of Aslett's many helpful household cleaning books. Their inclusion on a list such as this one may seem odd, but what these books do is lead you through a stark appraisal of your relationship with clutter -- and thus, your (perhaps dysfunctional) relationship with your possessions. This practical approach has done more for me than any mysticism-oriented tome on the subject!

    Introduction to Programming

  • Introduction to Programming (1969), by Digital Equipment Corporation. My hat is off to the uncredited author(s), who achieved the most effective piece of educational techncal writing I've ever come across. This book was very out of date when I got my hands on it, but so was the computer in my high school. When I started reading it, all I knew was BASIC; but when I finished it, I knew how to program an early RISC machine with 12-bit words and practically no memory (why, all you have to do is memorize the octal codes for the assembly instructions and reuse them as data!). I had no idea how horrendously complicated this all was: after all, the book's title was Introduction to Programming, so I decided it was easy. It led to a career. (Now available [PDF] online -- in PDF format.)

  • More Books

    My other web pages mention books here and there. Here are some links to those mentions.

  • Earth First! ·· Books about a direct action environmental movement.
  • Motion ·· Books about transportation issues.
  • Peanuts ·· Bibliography of Peanuts books.

  • Some Authors I Like

    ... who happen to have websites that I happened to discover.

    Paul Auster (Wiki) ·· Michael Chabon (Wiki) ·· G.K. Chesterton ·· Douglas Coupland ·· Umberto Eco ·· Jacques Ellul ·· David Gauntlett ·· Kenneth Gergen ·· Spalding Gray ·· Abbie Hoffman ·· James Joyce ·· Ursula K. LeGuin ·· Jonathan Lethem (Wiki) ·· Flann O'Brien ·· Robert Pirsig ·· Thomas Pynchon ·· Tom Robbins ·· J.K. Rowling ·· William Shakespeare ·· Rex Stout ·· Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. ·· Edith Wharton ·· Marie Winn

    Bookstores Online

    Here are my favorite online book stores:

    Booksmith (San Francisco) ·· Gibert Jeune (Paris) ·· Modern Times (San Francisco) ·· Powell's (Portland, Oregon) ··

    I boycott online bookstores (and other businesses) that send unsolicited junk email. I also try to avoid doing business with the big bookselling franchises, in part because many of them engage in business practices that damage small publishers, and in part because I prefer to support local businesses. Consequentially, I've got no use for the three largest online booksellers, aside from peeking at titles and reading the odd amusing book review.

    Fortunately, there's a brilliant way to seek out books online and buy them from independent bookstores: IndieBound.

    I'm fortunate, because some of the online independent bookstores listed above are local to me. If you're not so lucky, and IndieBound can't help you out, here's a strategy you're welcome to use: find a web page on Spamazon or somesuch that describes your book and its ISBN, print it out, take it to your local independent bookstore, and have them order it for you. You don't get the instant gratification of online ordering, but you do get the instant gratification of having a good reason to visit and browse in a bookstore!

    (That's "visit" and "browse" in the original sense of the words, which has nothing to do with web browsers.)

    Other Sites to "Visit" and "Browse"

    Banned Books ·· The New York Review of Books ·· New York Times Books

    April 6th: In the Oliver North trial, the defense moves for a mistrial when it is learned that one of the jurors may have once owned a book.
        -- Dave Barry, 1989 in Review