Monday, August 17, 2009


This was originally written as a tag on Facebook. The idea is to list 15 books that I’ve “read that will always stick with (me)”, and do it in 15 minutes. Obviously I’ve cheated on both parameters…

I’ve decided to post it here, with one addition to the list which I have read after the original posting was made.


===== Start =====

In no particular order:

1. Space Encyclopedia, by Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest

My aunt bought me this book. That was in 2000 (I think...) and I saw it in a shop selling, amongst other stuff, space food and chemistry kits. I should be thankful, it costs a bomb in Malaysian money. But by now, I've gone through it so many times that it has taken quite a bit of damage.

The book in an illustrated encyclopedia, covering what we know about the cosmos, how have we come to know it to be so, and what the future holds for us in the heavens above. Each topic is covered in a very graphic 2-page spread, mixing stunning images (sometimes weird too, such as the one where an astronaut gets too close to a black hole and gets spaghettified), simple language, and depth.

A lot of what I know about the cosmos comes from this book.


2. Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy

What is it like, to watch not just one battle on an isolated battlefield, but the whole theatre of operations?

This book is about a hypothetical WWIII, where a desperate and oil-strapped Soviet Union politically divides NATO and disables their nuclear arsenal, invades Germany so that they can invade the Mid-Eastern oil fields later without US interference.

It takes readers through the sneaky special operations, brazen air raids, frantic defences against a swarm of cruise missiles, the nerve-wrecking submarine warfare, the relentless tank charges, the steadfast defences, and even a coup de tat. Seriously, this conflict is immense. It takes place in the Atlantic, on Iceland, and of course, Germany. Air, sea, and land, all vividly described. Its frightening sometimes.

Fortunately, the Cold War ended before anything remotely similar happened. Funny how the author rightly predicted the vulnerability of combat helicopters and effectiveness of dedicated ground attack aircraft, well before the former was demonstrated in Afghanistan and the latter in Desert Storm.

The only thing I can't stand about this book is the out-of-place romance... I can think of better places to be woo-ing girls than while dodging helicopter patrols in Iceland's mountains for days.

3. Addicted to War: Why the US Can't Kick Militarism by Joel Andreas

You can actually read this book at the link above.

This is a comic journal about US militarism, the close links between the US government and the defence industry (too close for comfort), and the socio-economic cost of a perpetual state of war for the US and the rest of the world.


4. The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks

I've got the e-Book version of this.

Its a spoof of survival manuals, army manuals, and works of that genre... complete with line drawings and even a section dedicated to the differences between "real" zombies and Hollywood zombies. Yup, never trust Hollywood anymore that you believe in faeries! Ever!

Although the subject matter is supposed to be scary, the writing style is actually quite humorous. Dead pan humour, some might call it. The book starts out describing a fictitious virus and its effects on its victims, how to kill it, how to deal with an outbreak (run!), how to live in a zombie-infested world if we lose, and finally the "recorded attacks". It is so well written (especially the last part) that some people thought it was real. This makes me wonder how gullible can people get.

Perhaps because it feels so real, the author will be releasing a comic version of the "recorded attacks" in 2 months or so. I wonder how many people will fall for it this time.

Why is it on this list? I thought its interesting so consider an alternative history, even if a zombie would be essentially a perpetual motion machine (means: impossible according to known laws of physics). Consider a whole other reality, what would life be like? Hmm... I didn't think that a semi-automatic carbine firing tiny bullets would actually be that effective, I was thinking along the lines of multiple machine gun nests with interlocking fields of fire, but this book argues against it. Hmm... food for thought.


5. & 6. Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things Vol. 1 and 2 by Amir Muhammad

"When one is short, one should stand on a box to get a better view. The Twin Towers is to our ego what the box is to the shorties"

-- Dr. Mahathir Muhamad

Yup, get this and more! Its sometimes witty, sometimes stupid, but always funny! (at least until you remember that you live in Malaysia too)
ROFL... wth. Anyway, I can't wait for volume 3.


7. In Good Faith by Zaid Ibrahim

In a series of articles, some published before and some not, former de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim details what went wrong with the Malaysian democracy, and what it takes to fix it. I wonder how would this book look like if it was published post-March 8 though.


8. Journalism: Investigation and Research by Stephen Tanner (ed.)

How do you go about digging out stuff people want to hide? Where do you even get started? What are the ethical issues involved? This book talks about all the issues involved, and even has first hand accounts of journalist's getting the story of their time. Political corruption, miscarriage of justice, cover-ups... ect.

Unfortunately, this being an Australian book, some of the lessons do not apply here. For example, we don't have a Freedom of Information Act to work with, we get its evil twin the Official Secrets Act instead. Still, I think some lessons will still come in handy.


9. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

For the early part of my life, I was somewhere between a nonreligious Buddhist and an outright nonbeliever. Even when my grandfather passed away, I prayed only for social and cultural reasons. Not even for a moment that I believe I was making the afterlife easier for him. He's just gone, just a legacy and a series of fond memories.

This is probably the only instance where I know about an author before coming across his book. Ok, maybe the first of very few instances.

It was a talk broadcasted on, on "militant atheism". I can agree with him on many points. Even before then, I suspected that most, if not all, religions have a less-than-divine origin. Besides, the idea of sending non-believing but otherwise perfectly nice person to Hell seems to be very incompatible with the notion of a compassionate God. Megalomaniac seems to be a more appropriate description. Buddhism is a lot more "benign", that's about it. But why spoil a nice dream for everyone to get a few extremist?

When I read this book, I understood why. It also provided evidence for some of my earlier suspicions. It was probably the single most intellectually uplifting moment I ever had.


10. What We Believe but Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty by John Brockman

Quite a start contrast with the last book isn't it? lol.
It asks the following question:

Great minds can sometimes guess the truth before they have either the evidence or arguments for it. (Diderot called it having the 'esprit de divination'.) What do you believe is true, even though you cannot prove it?

This question was directed to over a hundred of the most eminent thinkers of our time. Seemingly to make things more interesting, almost all of them work in the empirical world where everything needs to be clearly demonstrated.

I must say I was quite annoyed when I found out in the preface that this question was posed online. Indeed, you can read it ALL, plus the questions asked before and after this one, here:


I shall take consolation that I can easily read this at a bus station without doing terrible slaughter on my laptop's meagre 3-hour battery life. In any case, its good food for thought.


11. Mastering Digital Photography by Michael Freeman

I paid RM174.75 for this damn book, so it'd better be on this list rawr! lol, insufficient justification dissonance alert.

This book is the biggest one on this list (when airborne, its momentum can kill), and covers many aspects of digital photography. Not so much on the digital part - the focus is on photography. Colour harmonies, composition... ect. The shortcoming is, despite the sheer size of this monster, it fails to describe some aspects in sufficient detail.


12. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association

(wtf? 6th edition already?!)

Also known as the APA style manual. This book basically dictates how I write my assignments at present. Everything from the font to the overall "look" of the paper. Heck, it even states that I should use a paper clip instead of a staple, although the lecturer thinks that's just going too far.


13. Lies, Damned Lies, and Science: How to Sort Through the Noise Around Global Warming, the Latest Health Claims, and Other Scientific Controversies by Sherry Seethaler

Master the art of baloney detection!

I don’t know if journalists are ignorant, plain lazy or are just trying too hard to sell news, but they get science stuff wrong quite often. Malaysian journalists are probably among the worst of the lot – bunk never seems to get corrected or debunked in the same paper. Try to spot-the-not here, published on one of Malaysia’s finest paper (won several SOPA awards for its investigative work):

The article is somewhat old (at the very least, more recent ones do exist), but for some reason I just love to use it as an example when talking about such things.

This book is about how science REALLY works (prepare to abandon your science textbooks recipe + trivia books), understand what scientists are really saying, common ways used to deceive people, and how to tease the issue apart. I hope you are used to seeing things for what they are and not in black and white, because you will appreciate this skill very much halfway through this book.

The beauty of this book is not just telling people why View A (say for example, anthropogenic global warming) is correct and View B (what warming?) is not, but also how to find out for ourselves. This can be used to investigate any scientific claim, and I think the lessons learned can be applied in a wider context, such as politics. This book should really be about critical thinking than just debunking pseudoscience.

Have you found out what went wrong with the previous article yet? No? Read this:


===== End =====

Phew, that’s a long post…


Blogger Titus Tang said...

that was loooooooooooong

At least you've read so many. I would've stopped at 1.

August 18, 2009 12:41 AM  

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