Friday, July 22, 2005

Recommended Reading

sernaferna PermaPost

This post contains a number of books (and a magazine) that I highly recommend. If you read any of the items on this list you’ll do yourself a service, whether because it will help you get closer to God, or because it will help you understand the world stage, or just because it will help you pass a pleasant evening or two.

It’s not complete yet. In fact, it will never be fully complete, because I’ll always be adding to it, but there are a few books even now that I want to add, when I get some time.


Since I’m a Christian, I would be remiss if I didn’t start out a Recommended Reading post with some books on Christianity. Of course, the Bible would be the number one recommended book, but I figure that goes without saying. (If you are a Christian and don’t consider the Bible to be the most important book you’ve read (and continue to read), I’d suggest you blow the dust off and take another look through it.)

There are actually quite a few I could recommend, but only two that I have read recently, so I’ll start out with those, and then throw in a classic.

God’s Passion for His Glory

Full title: God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards
Author: John Piper
God’s Passion for His Glory is actually a book about a book. It starts out as a synopsis of the book The End For Which God Created the World, by Jonathan Edwards, and then ends with the complete text of that work. Piper wrote this because the Edwards book so influenced his life, and I include it here at the top of my recommended list because it so influenced my life as well. As Piper says:

The message of Jonathan Edwards in The End for Which God Created the World is an intensely personal concern for me and a [work] of great public significance. In that book, a vision of God is displayed that took me captive thirty years ago and has put its stamp on every part of my life and ministry. But, more important than my own experience, is the immense significance of Edwards’s vision of God for the wider public of our day.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. This is one of the rare works which is literally life-altering: Once you start to come to terms with Edwards’ view of a God-centred universe, it colours everything else you say, do, or even think about. If you’re a Christian, you probably already have a God-centred view of the universe, but there is a good chance that you will realize it wasn’t God-centred enough, upon reading this book.

What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Author: Philip Yancey

I’m not normally a fan of Philip Yancey, because he often doesn’t give his books enough of a biblical base. There are times when he can get a little off, which can be very dangerous for a Christian writer.

That being said, Yancey purposely did not quote a lot of scripture in this book (if any); instead, the book is anecdotal. And for the subject matter he is tackling, it works. Yancey is trying to give his readers a feel for what the Grace of God really means. By taking various stories from various people, showing how grace affected their lives, or even how a lack of grace affected their lives, he paints a beautiful picture of what God has done for us—something that we all need to be reminded of, from time to time.

The Screwtape Letters

Author: C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis is one of the modern giants of Christian literature. He has a great knack for explaining Christian concepts in a way that really makes sense to the reader, and yet doesn’t dumb things down. In The Screwtape Letters, a book which has become a classic, Lewis presents us with one half of a correspondence between Screwtape, a demon, and his nephew Wormwood. Screwtape is writing his letters to give Wormwood advice in making sure his “patient” ends up where he should: in hell.

Using this unique perspective (that of the demons, rather than of humans), Lewis masterfully gives us an insight into our own character, and I think this is why the book has endured the way that it has.

Any time C.S. Lewis has something to say on Christianity, it’s worth reading.


As a computer nerd, I should really have a computer section in here, shouldn’t I?

Service-Oriented Architecture

Full Title: Service-Oriented Architecture: Concepts, Technology, and Design
Author: Thomas Erl

At the time I wrote this, Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) was a pretty new concept for most people. This book is a clear, articulate explanation of the topic, by one of the few people in the industry who can truly claim to have a grasp on the subject.

Design Patterns

Full Title: Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software
Authors: Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, John Vlissides

This book is the canonical book on object-oriented design patterns. If you mention the “Adapter pattern” or the “Composite pattern” to someone who has studied computer science, or is a programmer, s/he will understand you to be talking about the patterns defined in this book.

The book has become so commonplace among computer geeks that we even have a nickname for the four authors: The Gang of Four (GoF).


Full Title: Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code
Authors: Martin Fowler, Kent Beck, John Brant, William Opdyke, Don Roberts

Refactoring, according to Fowler’s website, is:
Refactoring is a controlled technique for improving the design of an existing code base. Its essence is applying a series of small behavior-preserving transformations, each of which “too small to be worth doing”. However the cumulative effect of each of these transformations is quite significant. By doing them in small steps you reduce the risk of introducing errors. You also avoid having the system broken while you are carrying out the restructuring—which allows you to gradually refactor a system over an extended period of time.
This book is a great explanation of the concept of refactoring, the technique involved, and common types of refactoring you may apply in your code.

Incidentally, pretty much anything written by Martin Fowler is usually worth a read.


Lately I’ve been reading a lot more politically-focused books, which have somewhat opened my eyes about how the world works. (Which has, in turn, made me start discussing politics at every opportunity. Much to the discomfort of my companions, I’m sure.) This section outlines some of the books and periodicals I’ve found the most informative.

You may notice that some of the books in here are more centred around American politics, rather than Canadian or world politics. However, the more I study the shape of the world today, the more I see how America is dominating the politics of the world. To examine the American machine in motion is to examine the suffering of millions of others...

Hegemony or Survival

Full title: Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance (The American Empire Project)
Author: Noam Chomsky

I won’t go into much detail about this book, because I’ve already done a half-hearted book review of it. (Looking at the length of that post, you might not think it’s so half-hearted. However, there’s a lot of material to cover, and that review only scratches the surface.)

It’s one of those books you have to read to believe. The problem with talking about politics is that I sometimes come off sounding like a conspiracy theorist; any time I start talking about “America wanting to take over the world” people tune me out, or assume that I’m exaggerating to make a point. But, as Chomsky proves in this book, unfortunately, it’s not exaggeration to talk about America dominating the world. They do, and they’ll do what they have to so that they can maintain that dominance.

Of all the books on politics covered in this post, this one had the most effect on me.

Necessary Illusions

Full title: Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies
Author: Noam Chomsky

Again, I won’t spend much time on this book, because I’ve already reviewed it. This is another must-read from Chomsky, on the nature of the media in North America.

No Logo

Full title: No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs
Author: Naomi Klein

In No Logo, Naomi Klein takes us into the world of big corporation branding. Sweatshop labour, the politics of branding on the schoolyard and in the ghettos, the loss of North American jobs, and other aspects of the new methods of marketing are all laid bare for the reader.

If the book were to be summed up in a central idea, it’s that corporations are no longer selling products or services; they’re selling brands. This inevitably leads to marketing teams going into overdrive, trying to get those brands everywhere they can.

I decided to include this book in the Politics section of this post because capitalism is politics. North American policy is shaped and written by the large corporations, and, whether we like it or not, that shapes the rest of the world, too. If you read this book, you’ll get a good feel for how corporations are currently operating.

Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

Full title: Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right
Author: Al Franken

I held an internal debate on whether this book should go in the Humour section, or here in the Politics section. I finally decided to include it here because Franken covers numerous issues in this book that you might not come across otherwise. The fact that he does it with wit and humour is only, in my mind, an added benefit.

Franken’s purpose in writing this book is to show that there is not, as some would have you believe, a liberal bias to the media. In fact, there is a decidedly conservative slant to the media. (The tagline for this book, A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, was chosen to point a finger at Fox News, one of the main propaganda machines for the radical right in the US.) But it goes deeper than that: It’s not that the conservative point of view is expressed more freely in the media, and that more left-leaning viewpoints are left out. It’s that the views expressed by the right in the media are often patently false. They are, in fact, lies.

To call someone a liar is a serious charge, and you’d have to have some pretty serious evidence to back up a claim like that. Franken does, and the bulk of the book is devoted to showing these lies for what they are. (Namely: lies.)

One of the problems I have with this book is that Al is an unapologetic Democrat, and it comes out in the book. As long as he’s pointing out the lies of the neocons he’s on solid ground, but when he stops to reminisce about the good ol’ days when Clinton was in the White House, he loses me. The fact is that when it comes to foreign policy, the Democrats and the Republicans are very much the same, but Franken doesn’t believe that. (Maybe he hasn’t read Hegemony or Survival.) However, the main point of the book (that the conservatives lie, and the media doesn’t stop them from it) is skilfully brought forth, and it’s an enjoyable read.

The Nation

The Nation is a weekly news magazine, out of the States, which was founded in 1865. (How’s that for a long-lived magazine?) It was formed to do exactly what the press is supposed to do in America: report news objectively, so that the public can have an informed opinion about the world around them (especially about what’s going on in the government). Unlike other sources of news, the stories in this magazine never have to be edited to suit the convenience of their advertisers.

Their founding prospectus says:

The Nation will not be the organ of any party, sect, or body. It will, on the contrary, make an earnest effort to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit, and to wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration, and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred.

The magazine is a great source of news, not just about politics, but about a vast number of topics, the world over. This is one of the few magazines that I can pick up and read cover to cover, because every story is fascinating.


I have to have a section here about humour. All I can say about the books in this section is that they’re hilarious, and I would recommend any of them if you’re looking to kill some time, and entertain yourself.

If you read any of these books, and don’t find them funny, it’s probably because you have severe psychological problems, and you should seek medical help immediately. Ask for the really strong medications—you need them.

By which I mean, of course, humour is subjective, so don’t come complaining to me if you don’t like any of these books.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Author: Douglas Adams

If I had mentioned this book a year or two ago, many of my readers might not have heard of it, but it’s been getting a lot of coverage lately, because of the movie.

This is one of the funniest, most enjoyable books I’ve ever read. Adams’s writing is a joy to read, as he mixes a keen intellect with dry (and sometimes not so dry) British humour. As you read the book, you may forget that it’s, technically, a science fiction book, since everyone in Adams’ universe is pretty much the same as the people here on Earth. (Except that the people on Earth are ignorant about the fact that there is a universe outside of Earth.)

There are actually a number of books in the Hitchhiker series (although Adams continued to call it a trilogy, even after the fourth and fifth books were published):
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
  • Life, the Universe, and Everything
  • So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
  • Mostly Harmless
They’re all worth a read, but even if you just read the first one, and leave it at that, you won’t regret it.

America: The Book

Full title: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction
Authors: Daily Show writing staff, Jon Stewart

This is another book about which I had a brief inner battle, as to whether it should be in the Humour section or the Political section of this post. In the end, though, I decided that the humour factor of the book far outweighed any insight into the current political situation, even though that isn’t lacking.

This book is an enjoyable look into the whole idea of democracy, and how it has taken root in America. The book makes the bold assumption that America is a democracy, an assumption I don’t necessarily hold to, but Stewart is an American, so you can’t be too surprised by that. Of course, it’s hard to tell whether the book really believes America is a true democracy; sometimes when you push your tongue that far into your cheek, the message becomes muffled.

In any event, the book is hilarious. If you enjoy watching The Daily Show, you’ll love this book.


This section contains some books that don’t fall into the other categories.

The Constant Gardener

Author: John le Carré

I have previously reviewed this book, here, but I liked it so much that I’m putting it in my Recommended Reading as well.

I first came across the name John le Carré when I was looking for a new author of spy novels. I’d read a number of books by Robert Ludlum, who is one of the best known spy novelists, but I was looking for something different, and a website said that le Carré is very highly regarded.

I can definitely see why, although the two books I’ve read so far aren’t really spy novels. (In another blog entry I reviewed another of le Carré’s books, Absolute Friends, which didn’t quite make the cut to the Recommended Reading post, simply because it’s not as likely to appeal to a wide audience.) I like his writing, and his more slow, thoughtful pace—as opposed to the quick, in-your-face style usually used in spy novels.

If Absolute Friends isn’t your normal spy novel, The Constant Gardener isn’t a spy novel at all. It is the story of a woman and her friend/colleague who have been killed, and her husband, who is looking into the mystery of who killed her and why. At the time I wrote this, I hadn’t yet seen the movie, so I’m basing this solely on the book, but this is a great story, and le Carré does a masterful job of unrolling it for us. I highly recommend it, and, since the critics are saying that the movie is also very thoughtful, and true to the novel, I will probably go and see it, as well.

Fast Food Nation

Full title: Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
Author: Eric Schlosser

In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser takes an end-to-end look at the way fast food is produced and consumed in North America.

Schlosser’s look at fast food is all encompassing, without being biased. You may be expecting the book to be a diatribe against fatty/salty/sugary foods, but he doesn’t have to rail against these things at all. He simply presents the facts, and lets the reader think about things. A lot of ground is covered in this book, from the history behind the fast food restaurant, to how french fries are made, and how beef is handled for making hamburgers, to the difference between natural and artificial flavours (not as much as you might assume).

The book is a very interesting read—especially if you eat a lot of fast food.

Stephen King

As my favourite author, King deserves a section all his own. I won’t go so far as to say I’ve read all of his books, but I’ve read a lot of them, and I’m a big fan. I sometimes find his plots a little fantastic, but that’s to be expected for his genre, so it’s not a very valid complaint.

The thing I like the most about Stephen King is how he writes his characters. Namely: realistically. I may think a plot about vampires or aliens is ridiculous, however, if it wasn’t ridiculous, and someone was in that situation… well, I’m sure they would act the way King has them act in his books.

Following are some of his books that spring to mind, when I think about Stephen King.

The Stand

Synopsis: A man-made plague is accidentally let loose, and quickly ravages most of North America. Only a small percentage of the population, who have a natural immunity to the plague, are left to survive. In the aftermath, blah blah blah epic battle between good and evil yadda yadda yadda.

This is my favourite Stephen King novel, and I’m not alone, because any time Stephen King fans start talking about their favourite King novel, The Stand is close to the top of the list. (Usually occupying the #1 spot.) This is a huge novel, I believe the longest single work he has written, and yet his fans are consistently willing to read this book, because it’s so good.

I think the main reason I like this novel is that it’s large scope allows King to really develop the characters. There are many “main” characters in this book, and they all feel real to me. (There are even more “secondary” characters, and they seem realistic, too.)

The Tommyknockers

Synopsis: An alien ship is found, buried in someone’s backyard, and it starts to turn people into aliens.

I honestly don’t know if other Stephen King fans would rate this highly or not. I don’t see it mentioned all that often (which is probably a bad sign). But I like it. It’s fairly long, and there aren’t that many main characters in it, which means that King really had time to go into their development. And, in fact, it really focuses on one of them, who is an ex-poet and recovering alcoholic.

There’s not much to say about this book, except that it’s a really solid read. If you’re a Stephen King fan, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Last updated: June 20th, 2007