The Oil Drum BookCollage -# 3 of 3 - General Recommendations For the Library

Earlier this week we had two threads for listing book recommendations, Thread 1 on energy, ecology, systems, etc. and Thread 2 on practical knowledge. This 3rd thread is for general book recommendations from Oil Drum readers. We don't always have to learn something from what we do or what we read - sometimes it can be just for fun or enjoyment.

I try to live my life using a barbell strategy. One one end I try to do things of meaning, importance and value. On the other end, I live with 'wide boundary hedonism', which basically means I laugh, love, sleep, eat, hike, read, play, consort with animals, spend time in nature, think, wonder, etc. (I try to cut most of the stuff between these two extremes -like typical social conformities, television, monotony etc. but I occasionally get pulled in like we all do.) In any case, reading has been a lifelong passion of mine. Whenever I was in a blue spot, perhaps from breaking up with a girlfriend, etc. I could lose myself in a good book for a few days and it would equilibrate my sense of self. In recent years (probably due to reading much on this site), I haven't had as much time to read 'for enjoyment'. But I intend to do that more in the future.

Here are a few selections that I enjoyed and have read more than once. I am a science fiction/fantasy nut so two of the three are from that genre.

Freddy and Fredericka Mark Halperin.

A well written book like many others by Helperin. I particularly liked the plot: a Prince on England was only able to become King if he could conquer America, with no money or no help - just being parachuted naked into New Jersey. As such it was inspirational that skills, integrity and leadership could rise to the top on their own merits rather than by birth, status or wealth. Cool idea.

The Foundation Trilogy Isaac Asimov

Oft mentioned in TOD threads was Asimovs theory of "pychohistory" which combined math, sociology and psychology and statistics to make predictions about large social groups. I have reread these books twice but it has been about 10+ years so I think I am due for a reread..;-)

Farseer Trilogy Robin Hobb

There are actually 9 books in this fantasy series. Hobb is my favorite fiction author - her character developments are so real that you are pulled into the story and forget about reality, which I imagine is good reason for reading fiction. This series is set in a kingdom where some people have the ability to mentally telepath/bond with animals, which I found to be a cool concept. Hobbs books also seem to not be candycoated. Many of main characters die, etc.

(Note: I have always wanted to write a sci/fi book. Perhaps a future earth traveler who visits many different areas of planet, which all pursued different peak oil social strategies - the traveler might engage with these future humans and via conversation provide insight/speculation as to the many complexities that the one big human tribe now faces..)


Please add up to 3 choices for general reading enjoyment to the list. Who knows - books might be a great store of unexpected reward someday....

My favorite handbook is BUNKHOUSE LOGIC written by Ben Stein of all people. I don't remember where I bought it (it was written 30 years ago) but it is literally my one desert island book (or starting a new life book). A great book for ADD sufferers as the author doesn't waste a word anywhere.

I doubt that many posters have read Make Room! Make Room!, nor have I but I have seen the movie that it inspired, Soylent Green. The movie added an unusual twist at the end. The book is now available on Kindle and in paperback. I hope to read it soon. During the 60's, the ZPG/Paul Ehrlich days, there was some thought that what is happening now would occur before the end of the 20'th Century. There were certainly unknown factors including nuclear power and the cold war. And the agricultural revolution was not anticipated. I have read that a remake of Soylent Green is in development.
-- One book that I encountered during that
period was War With the Newts by Karel Capek, translated from the Czech. It was an unusual science fiction story about overpopulation, war and politics.
Capek in another book was said to be the first to use the term robot.
--Then there is the 1928 Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley that included repeated discussions of population and resources. I had the good fortune to meet and talk to Huxley at a conference held by the Population Reference Bureau in Washington DC circa 1960. By coincidence I had heard his brother the biologist Julian Huxley lecture at McGill a year or so earlier. Julian was probably the source of some of the material in Point Counter Point.
Scroll down the the Amazon review, particularly the paragraph on phosphorus.

Richard Feynman, Six Easy Pieces, California Institute of Technology, 1963. These six "lectures" from Feynman's famous lectures on physics, show the spirit and method of science at its finest.

Tobias Dantzig, Number: The Language of Science, Doubleday, many dates from 1930 to 1954. Recommended by Einstein, this little book can help nurture scientific thought, and particularly its most powerful tool, number. If civilization collapses, I'd want to have this as a "reference."

Peter Ward, The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive? Princeton University Press, 2009.
A University of Washington paleontologist, the author argues that if life is left to the nurture of Gaia (or nature), it will become extinct because Gaia is ultimately malevolent, not benign, chaotic, not orderly; the only alternative is to engineer the conditions for life, which includes never letting CO2 get too low, for if CO2 reaches 10ppm, that's it, forever, for life on this planet, not just our life, but any life whatsoever. Should be an interesting read.

10ppm? I think we can manage to stay above that.

Over the long haul, like millions of years, harder than it looks. Read the book.

Ok, I'm afraid I'm a scientific theorist first, a scientific theorist second and a scientific theorist third (with a bit of musician, composer, technologist and comedian added in for spice).

So nothing moves me more than a great idea (even if less than brilliantly presented as per my selection 2).

First, Charles Darwin, Origin of Species. I haven't read the book (as as a chronic fatiguer there are many books I've never read) but the basic concepts are such a stupendous revolution of perspective. And have underlain so many of my own thoughts (eg, etc).

Second, Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History. Again I haven't read the 6 doorstoppers, not even the whole of the 2-vol abridgement. But again, such a fantastic sense of the whole into which so many events fit.

Third, even though I am an atheist, The Gospels and The Acts of the Apostles. These have been the most powerful stories in history, and with good reason. The Acts in particular gives a fabulous account of how the most powerful ideological/intellectual movement in history got launched.

Fourth, The Qur'an. This breaks the rule of being something that would be enjoyable, indeed as one ex-Muslim put it, "the sickest book ever written". But please do read it, armed with the knowledge? that it is the words of Allah himself, who is the All-Powerful and All-Knowing, so could not possibly have a communication handicap, so you will be able to understand exactly what those bloodcurdling hate-bursting words mean without need for "interpretation". You could start where Allah enthuses about the victorious start of Saint Mohammed's ethnic cleansing of the Jews from Arabia, in Qur'an 59:2-7.
(And after reading the core Christian texts above, some things should be very obvious.)

I'm sorry to admit that I don't spend enough time reading for pure pleasure.
These books have been an exception that.

Life of Pi.
by Yann Martel

Probably one of the best books I've ever read! The ending is a bit of a shocker.

The "Story of Pi" is a novel, whose main character is a 16-year-old Indian boy
named after a French swimming pool. Piscine Molitor Patel, otherwise known as
"Pi" and the son of a Hindu zookeeper in Pondicherry, fancies himself to be,
all at once, a good Hindu, a practicing Muslim, and a devout Catholic. The real
story of Pi begins when Pi"s family decides to uproot and emigrate from India
to Canada on a Japanese cargo ship, with many of their zoo animals on board,
which they hope to sell on arrival in North America.

When the ship unexpectedly sinks without explanation, Pi finds himself the only
human survivor in a lifeboat with several of the animals--a hyena, an
orangutan, a zebra, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger. The hyena quickly does in the
zebra, after which the tiger makes short work of the orangutan and the hyena,
leaving Pi and the tiger--called Richard Parker, after the hunter who captured
him, owing to an uncorrected clerical error when the form was originally filed
at the zoo--as two of the most unlikely traveling companions crossing the
Pacific Ocean in Kon-Tiki style during the years 1977-78.

The Art of Racing in the Rain
by Garth Stein

Wonderful book!

Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human
soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by
watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of
his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.
Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and
he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast. Using the
techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of
life's ordeals.

Swimming to Antartica
By Lyn Cox

Inspiring! If you ever feel like giving up on something read this book first.

"This is the story of Lynne Cox, a swimmer of extraordinary strengths and
achievements. She humorously refers to her success as being due to her 36% body
fat, which gives her natural bouyancy and protects her internal organs from
cooling down.

At age 15, she beat the men and women's record for swimming the English
Channel. Pretty good for the 'fat' girl in school! She continued to beat
records or make new records by swimming in open water where no one else has
ever swum before. She performed one of the first acts of glasnost, by swimming
from Alaska across the Berring sea to Russia! She made most of her swims
without the corporate sponsorship that many atheletes require for training and
even to travel to swim locations.

Her greatest achievement was to swim 1 mile in the open sea of Antarctica!
And she has done all her swims around the world in a regular swimsuit, a
bathing cap, and goggles. Nor does she use shark cages and the like when

Asking someone like me to pick out ONLY THREE books is cruel.MAYBE I CAN LIMIT MYSELF TO ONLY THREE authors.

Twain's Huckleberry Finn,A Conneticut Yankee in KinG Arthurs Court,Puddnhead Wilson,and a
couple of thick volumes of his short stuff. The best American writer ever,and probably among any honest top twenty five all time.

Robert Hienlin'sTime Enough for Love in particular,almost anything he wrote.

The (King James in my case) Bible-undoubtedly the greatest book ever written in terms not only of it's influence but also,if you choose to read it as such, the greatest and most sublime commentary on the human race ever written.There is nothing left out that matters from not always so subtle erotica to power politics to the meaning of family,community,and nation.More and better practical advice that leads to the good life than any other shelf of books. Many authors of course,and lots of names lost.Really more of an anthology/synthesis of Christianity than a book in the usual sense.

I'm going to piggyback on yours for one of my favorite Heinlein novels,
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which has a Lunar Revolution triggered by the awareness of Resource Constraints, water and nutrients being force-shipped down to the overlords on Earth.. (besides which, it's just good campy fun and rebelliously self-righteous to boot!)

"Every load you ship to Terra condemns your grandchildren to a slow death. The miracle of photosynthesis, the plant and animal cycle, is a closed cycle. You have opened it- and your lifeblood runs downhill to Terra. You don't need higher prices, one cannot eat money! What you need, what we all need, is an end to this loss. Embargo, utter and absolute. Luna must be self-sufficient!" Professor de la Paz

Asking someone like me to pick out ONLY THREE books is cruel.MAYBE I CAN LIMIT MYSELF TO ONLY THREE authors.

I'm sure the same applies to 99.999% of all TOD readers :-)
I don't know what the global literacy rate is but I suspect that most here at TOD are part of the privileged minority who have read more than a dozen books in their lives. I personally know people, living in the US, who proudly proclaim they have never read a book cover to cover, to them it is a badge of honor. My own brother, despite the fact that he has a university degree, admitted to me that he didn't really start to read books, (other than the ones absolutely necessary to get his degree) until well into his forties...

A dozen books? It must be an average over 100 per regular reader of TOD. I myself is a member of library since age 6 and used to read two books per day between age 7 and 12 and then one from 12 to 15. It was not all kids' books. I have read a lot of fiction books including alif laila, urdu literature, english literature, islamic history, world history, geography, islamic rules etc.


A dozen books?

It was meant tongue in cheek with regards the average TOD reader but also in all seriousness with regards even the literate population of the US. I'm quite sure that in my 56 years I have personally read quite a few more than 100 books. I am fluent in 3 languages and can read quite well in another 3.

Much of what I say, comment, is intended to be somewhat ironic,satirical usually with a good dash of sarcasm. I try to be thought provoking by saying things that may at first take sound a bit off the wall, unless I am truly angry I try to do this with a touch of humor.

So do not take me too literally. I usually come off better in actual face to face dialog.
However even people who know me well usually fall for my absolute poker face and deadpan delivery time and time again. Only a very few can read the twinkle in my eye and the slightest hint of a smile in the corner of my mouth.



I'd like to second Time Enough for Love. The sections of quotes in it are priceless. Heinlen's Stranger in A strange land is worth your time too.

On a religious note, I must say my two top picks are Tao Te Ching and A Course in Miracles (ACIM) ACIM is a bit like philosophy boot camp, it gets you to challenge most of your assumptions about reality, happiness and MSM religion. For those seeking deep peace of mind (even in the midst of TSHTF) it's worth a read.

Lastly, I love to travel and my two favorites are Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck and The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller. Both great summer reads by master authors. They're best read by the beach or even better aboard a boat!

Neal Stephenson, "Cryptonomicon" and "Snow Crash".

Stephen King, "The Stand".

Douglas Adams, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", the whole four-book trilogy.

four-book trilogy

Written in the era of 2+2=5 of course.

6 x 9 = 42, actually...

Into Google's search engine, type: "the answer to life, the universe, and everything" and see what the Google Calculator returns.

I posted a mathematical proof of this, here on TOD once ;-)

It works out.. since Doug Adams was working at 133% when he wrote that series!

OK, entertainment it is; although on a different day in a different mood I might pick differently. So now I close my eyes and try to think back on books I'd recommend to this crowd....

Cat's Cradle, by Vonnegut. I assume most of you have read it, and I'm remembering it from many years ago. But I think there are some resonances there with the whole "peak everything" situation, the end of the world, and operating outside mental boxes for better or worse. And of course the intentional belief in the lies of Bokononism. If taken together with the "block time" philosophy of the Tralfamadorians of "Slaughterhouse five", there's a perfectly useful philosophy at offer. I think we may be entering Vonnegut times, if indeed we ever left.

Lord of Light, by Zelazny. In my opinion the best fusion of scifi with mythology that was ever done. A single too-short book, but if you like it, there's a lot more Zelazny worth reading - pretty much all of it. Where he hits his stride is the storytelling of powerful mythical beings who both live up to the mythology while also having to put up with all the little annoyances of life that we all do. Demigods with feet of clay. I have a fondness for them.

and maybe end my three for TOD with

Day of the Triffids by Wyndham. I offer this as both a tip of the hat to post-apocalyptic scenarios, and as a quite good read. Written all the way back in '51, I think it'd still be a very good read today. I read it at about age 13 and was impressed, and am still impressed at the memory lo these many years later. Not to be confused with the cheesy movie of the same name. A classic which too few have read.

The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey. It was tempting to - tongue in cheek - put this in the "how to" books last time, but I held off. Quite entertaining, and in general Abbey's books are a nice breath of fresh desert air with a nice irreverent take on human institutions.

Cartoon History of the Universe by Larry Gonick. Really a delightful book, and series, in comic-book form which does a damn fine job of getting the basic story straight in a very lucid and humorous way. Pick this up and have a read, and you'll be recommending it to people young and old who need to "get a clue" about the world. Too bad there isn't a "peak oil" edition.

Finally, I'd like to suggest that TOD readers sample the books of Farley Mowat, whose books chronicle a little of what we have lost while not paying attention to the natural world.

(and hey, is nobody going to mention the original Dune books by Herbert? They're darn near ABOUT peak oil, metaphorically).

I'll second Mowat's works. All very impressive, by a writer who originally started as a biologist for the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Also second another poster's Steinbeck, but read Cannery Row for a look at "Doc", modeled after the real life Ed Ricketts (Between Pacific Tides) and a penetrating yet endearing look at ourselves and our foibles.

I really enjoy reading any of Jim Harrison (Farmer, Return to Earth) and much of Ivan Doig (This House of Sky, Sea Runners).

But for pure pleasure and laughs, the Bernie the Burglar series by Lawrence Block is as entertaining as reading gets.

re; Farley Mowat- just has me thinking of NEVER CRY WOLF ..(only saw the movie, have to admit) and the cases of toiletpaper, triplicate forms and lightbulbs they sent to the tundra with him.

and DUNE! yes. 'Arrakis', ruled by the Families of the lush, green and technocratic worlds.. what could he possibly be saying?

Serpent's Reach by CJ Cherryh; Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner; The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolf - all good reads - none of them new;


The decline and fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon.

A ripping read, and what is more, even as he wrote to an agenda (christianity was the cause of the downfall), his style is grand, and his research and citation of sources so complete, that he becomes an essential tool to understanding and analyzing the flow of history. And a fountain of dirty anectodes to boot, one or two of which are hidden in untranslated greek in the notes.

The Ancestors Tale by Richard Dawkins

A wonderful book, a bookful of wonders. An amazing and dizzying trip back into deep time. Structured on the premise of meeting our ancestors as pilgrims in a journey back into time, Dawkins not only gives a most enjoyable overview of life on earth in all its amazing diversity, he also provides a truly impressive overview of recent theoretical and practical work on the history of evolution, but the cherry on the cake must be the almost mystical experience of deep time, and the sense of comprehending how life works. This book tells you almost everything you need to know about how we got to be who we are, which is pretty close to explaining why we are here.

The Great French Revolution by Peter Kropotkin

Another ripping read. After having been taught the Catholic version of the French revolution in a catholic school, and later studied the republican version, I have been amused by a royalist version, and intrigued by a study of the evolution of reading habits and reading matter during the century leading up to the french revolution, but Kropotkin's reading of the story must be the most thrilling, and probably the closest to how things really happened during those exulting and terrifying years of the Great French Revolution.

That is quite a list! I didn't think any of the engineers who hang here at TOD would of read Kropotkin, one of my heros.
Gibbon's book is a true classic also, and way ahead of it's time on the analytical track it takes.
Dawkins is a defender of reason and observation, the The Ancestors Tale a great read.

For the xxer's here. That is, us girls.

Secret Life of Bee's by Sue Monk Kidd

The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee

Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

And for all of us the wonderful non-fiction Don't Sleep There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazon Jungle by Daniel L. Everett

Sorry for the second post, but I also just remembered a dystopian novel that, given 1984 and Brave New World, doesn't get much attention anymore.

Ira Levin, "This Perfect Day".

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Sharecroppers lose out to the Dust Bowl and travel west on Route 66 with the idea they'll find work on the produce farms in the Central Valley in California. Its fictional, but factual in the sense that Steinbeck based the story on what he actually say. Its a chilling read.

The movie is at google videos. Directed by John Ford and featuring a young Henry Fonda.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown - Lest we forget how arrogant and cruel we can be.

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier - War, Death, and Hope

The Stars, My Destination (Tiger, Tiger) by Alfred Bester - Brilliant classic Sci-Fi. The amazing power of the mind in a believable future.

The Foundation Series (The first five...I haven't warmed up to the prequels, maybe I will try them again)

2001: A Space Odyssey

The Depths of Time/The Ocean of Years/The Shores of Tomorrow

Not so much for the writing styles or characterizations but for the cosmic sweeps of the stories over distance and time, and for the embedded questions about the evolution of humanity.

The Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. Ridiculously brilliant and it will take a decade to find and read all of them.

The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks. Scifi on a galactic scale which manages to paint an incredible universe without compromising its characters.
A strong political theme also ties this book to the real world. I hope it is never made into a movie and ruined.

The Mars trilogy and The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson. Not so much scfi/fantasy as "speculative histories".

The Revelation Space novels and Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds. Written with a physicist's attention to detail and a story teller's imagination. The span of time covered in these books makes our little industrial revolution seem quaint.

Kim Stanley Robinson

Never, ever read 'Antartica'. It is the only fiction book I have ever paid money for, and conciously decided not to finish, so awful was the writing.

The three series which likely had the most impact on my development ...

Maybe I should have posted this in "Thread #1: energy, ecology, systems, etc ... "
Frank Herbert: Dune "The Spice Must Flow!"

The following two made me think more about the nature of consciousness and intelligence than any other:
David Brin: The Uplift Series
William Gibson: Neuromancer

I'll add a fourth in the spirit of this forum.
A strange 'collapse' novel few have heard of but which sticks with you
John Calvin Batchelor: The birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica

I would put Herbert (Disclaimer: I had him as a professor in a Future Of Man class at UCSB, along with Skinner and Buckminister Fuller) and Gibson (with Neuromancer) in a higher category than Brin. I'm not familiar with Batchelor (I would recommend the reading of Stephen Batchelor highly, however)

"Higher category?" I don't know. I've read most everything that Herbert wrote. The only other think I found memorable was the The Dosadi Experiment which, for me, echoes the travails of Gaza and Beirut. For sheer "literary-ness," for "word-smithing," I suspect Samuel R. Delany beats them all. Of course, that's just my opinion. For fun I googled "greatest science fiction." Both Dune and Neuromancer made that list. Uplift does not.

But Brin succeeds for me because he, like my other two picks, causes the reader to expand their vision of what it means to lead a human life while being entertained by a fantastic journey. Is uplift a plausible idea? Just read the headlines 20 years later. Today it is easier for us to imagine creating artificial intelligence than it is for us to create 'animal' intelligences. Today the later still sounds more like Dr. Moreau abomination than a creative teleological gift. But tomorrow ...?

Why Can We Talk? 'Humanized' Mice Speak Volumes About Evolutionary Past

Try 'Overshoot' by Catton. Intellectually a masterpiece the way he writes, uses multiple metaphors, eloquently delivering a message that mankind is overshooting the carrying capacity of the Earth, via the use of inherited, finite energy sources. The message is so poignant in today's post peak oil, yet it was written in 1980!

The Bible:


Watership Down by Richard Adams:

A fantastic guide for developing effective leadership skills.

The Foundation Trilogy

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. A completely absorbing true story, of a Kiwi who escapes from a maximum security prison in Melbourne in broad daylight, and ends up hiding out in the slums of Mumbai. One of the most beautifully written books ever, although the book is huge it is one of those books that you can't put down once you get into it. A vivid insight into the world (and underworld) of India. Johnny Depp bought the movie rights to it and the film is due out soon, I'm not sure the film will be able to do justice to this epic. This is a book that you will want to pass on to others.

1421 - the Year China Discovered America and the follow-up 1434 - the Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance by Gavin Menzies. Menzies is a former Captain of a British nuclear submarine, and as such has studied navigation and ocean currents for most of his life. 1421 is the story of a massive Chinese fleet that set sail in the early 1400's, discovering America, Australia and New Zealand long before the official Western history of Columbus, Tasman, Cook etc. The evidence he presents is extremely compelling, and is further backed up by a vast amount of information supplied by readers on his web site. 1434 shows the remarkable similarities between Leonardo da Vinci's drawings, and the accumulated knowledge of the Chinese empire which was traded to the Italians during an expedition to Florence in that year. It always amazes me how none of my erudite American friends have ever heard of 1421, and how few of them are prepared to read it even after my impassioned recommendation. Most of my friends in Europe, AsiaPac and the middle east have read it. An amazing, fascinating, mind-blowing book, I recommend it to anyone interested in history.

Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore. A lot of the discussion on this site comes from the mind - logic, reason, analysis. It is important in life to also cultivate the Soul. This is a spiritual book without pushing any particular religion, and even atheists will find its perspective helpful.

Haven't read the book. I am quite open minded about history that may be hidden/washed away. I think we know a very small percentage of the true history of humankind, and virtually nothing of our pre-agricultural history.

The ships the Chinese built were incredibly huge, and advanced, compared to their European counterparts and certainly could have made the voyage. It is also believed there were voyages to SE Asia and reaching as far as the shores of Africa, but these were cut short by Chinese insularity. However, Menzies' work has serious issues.

Wiki says, in part:

"reckless manner of dealing with evidence"... numerous errors of fact... Menzies cannot read Chinese,[7] so the book lacks any citation of Chinese sources...

The 1421 hypothesis is based on some documents of debatable provenance (e.g., the Vinland map[9]) and on unique interpretations of already accepted documents (such as the Fra Mauro map, de las Casas) as well as purported archaeological findings.

...The absence of any European records corroborating such an exploration is glaringly absent. Such a record, if it existed, would certainly have been handed down.

...he displays a lack of chronological control e.g. p138 with a story of a map dated to 120 years before 1528; Menzies dates the map to 1428 not 1408.

...Menzies did not consult the most obvious source of information on the Zheng He voyages, namely the Chinese records from the period themselves... While it is possible that most of the records have been destroyed, there are sets of records that remain in extensive form, including the books written by Ma Huan (馬歡, accompanied Zheng during 3 voyages as interpreter) published in 1433, by Fei Xin (費信, accompanied Zheng during 4 voyages as interpreter) published in 1436, by Gong Zhen (鞏珍, accompanied Zheng during the 7th and final voyage as secretary) published in 1443, and other governmental and civilian historical records and writings of the Ming Dynasty. Some of these records have even served as the basis for previous historical accounts of the Zheng He voyages, such as that by Louise Levathes.

Etc., etc.

I recommend read the book and make up your own mind - don't rely on Wikipedia to be the last word in myth-debunking. It's a great story anyway.

From Gavin Menzies' web site 1421 FAQs

How has China reacted to the book?

The key speech made by the author to 36 different countries, with a population of some two billion people, via television at the Royal Geographical Society in March 2002, provoked a great deal of interest from all over the world. The main protagonist in our story, China, was obviously overwhelmed that their claim to have circumnavigated and charted the world before the Europeans, had been substantiated by a neutral participant. Despite many of the records of the voyages being destroyed at the hands of the mandarins in the sixteenth century, there still remain several Chinese accounts of their achievements, although sceptics have often doubted their veracity. China has already hosted several conferences on Zheng He Studies, which Gavin Menzies attended to give keynote speeches, and was honoured by being awarded a visiting Professorship at the University of Yunnan, to which he returns several times a year to lecture. Other projects include television documentaries, various museums, exhibitions and amusement parks, an epic movie and a historical replica of one of the huge treasure ships.

Why should we believe anything the book says?

In total, some 34 different lines of evidence have been found to support the theory that the Chinese circumnavigated and charted the globe, a century before the Europeans staked claim to having done so. The evidence is overwhelming, and encompasses both physical entities, (such as shipwrecks of Chinese junks in America, Australasia and Indonesia,) and examples such as the carved stones of Africa, the remains of Chinese peoples in South America, and artefacts scattered all over the world, inscribed with Chinese characters, in Chinese styles, and some successfully dated back to before the arrival of the Europeans. There also exists more circumstantial evidence such as the linguistic, ceremonial and spiritual similarities between the Chinese culture and those of other parts of the world in the fifteenth century. The linguistic similarities found between place names in Peru and Chile are heavily supportive of the notion that the Chinese exerted a huge influence there, in pre-Columbian times.

Always a challenge to pick only 3 but if I try to select with some resonance to TOD then I would go for;

Lord of the Flies by W Golding

A short and sparely writen account of the descent of a group of children from civilization to savagery. Would adults fare any better?

The Cosmic Trilogy by CS Lewis

Even though I'm not religious these books offer a wonderfully told counterpoint to materialism and greed.

Winters Tale by Mark Helprin (check your spelling, Nate ;-))

A book whose scope transcends my ability to summarise but at its heart is both a love story and an attempt to rise above the seeming mediocrity of everyday existence.

Many others of course.


Earth Abides by George R. Stewart.

I can't believe it hasn't already been mentioned--not that this is LATOC--but it is a damn fine work, and a quick, fun read. Brilliant IMO.

(Unintentional early doomer porn.)


My three desert island books (excluding anything to do with energy/climate):


Stephan Courois: The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression

The introduction, by editor Stéphane Courtois, asserts that "...Communist regimes...turned mass crime into a full-blown system of government". He cites a death toll which totals 94 million, not counting the "excess deaths" (decrease of the population due to lower than the expected birth rate). The breakdown of the number of deaths given by Courtois is as follows:
• 65 million in the People's Republic of China
• 20 million in the Soviet Union[3]
• 2 million in Cambodia
• 2 million in North Korea
• 1.7 million in Africa
• 1.5 million in Afghanistan
• 1 million in the Communist states of Eastern Europe
• 1 million in Vietnam[4]
• 150,000 in Latin America
• 10,000 deaths "resulting from actions of the international communist movement and communist parties not in power."(p. 4)
Courtois claims that Communist regimes are responsible for a greater number of deaths than any other political ideal or movement, including Nazism. The statistics of victims includes executions, intentional destruction of population by starvation, and deaths resulting from deportations, physical confinement, or through forced labor

Numbers two and three coming later …

The first sci-fi book I ever read was given to me as a present when I was 9 years old. At the time, I devoured it, and I'm sure, as I think about it, that it had a profound influence on me ever since. Also, maybe it was the first sci-fi book ever written:

Mysterious Island, Jules Verne (little to do with the film by the same name).

Darwin's Radio, by Greg Bear.
Living through an evolutionary shift in human-ness

Island by Aldous Huxley describes his low-tech utopia. It's years since I last read it, but it's a sort of village economy writ large. On this island they have oil, which they use small amounts of, but of course the bad guys want to gain control of it for personal enrichment...

Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. A retelling of the Arthurian legends from the point of view of Morgaine (Morgan la Fey), King Arthur's half-sister. Gripping.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. A travelogue; earthy and spiritual.
The Gift "Poems by Hafiz, the great Sufi master". Translations by Danial Ladinsky. Inspiring.

Lots of great sci-fi books above. They put me in mind of some of the amazingly intriguing explorations I have read about how we modern folks still tend to follow predictable cycles in our societal desires, our collective moods, and our cultural actions.

Here are three books I enjoyed that explore those cycles. All three point towards some big shifts happening

1. " The Fourth Turning helps us understand the dramatic cultural changes and mood shifts in our times. Economic and technologic conditions alone, for example, would have told you little about the pessimism of the '90s. Surely similar shifts lie ahead, and The Fourth Turning gives us a tool for thinking through possible scenarios."

2. In making economic decisions, do we tune our individual preferences to some social ideal—a current vision of the good life?
Economic theory says no.
Schizomania says yes. A resounding yes. The influence of society on all preferences lies at the root of all economic behavior. For over two centuries, economic theory has cut us off from that root.
A society split by two incompatible visions good life produces uncertainty and an unstable economy. I call the final phase of that conflict "schizomania."
We are in the midst of an episode of schizomania that will likely persist until 2020. Until then, the prospects for a stable economy will continue to decline.

3. There is no question that Conquer the Crash foresaw and explained every chapter of today's financial crisis, years before it happened – including the plunge in stocks, the collapse in home prices, the subprime debacle, liquidity crisis, the Federal Reserve's failure to turn the trend, and lots more. The unsettling part is how much of Prechter's book includes chapters about what is yet to come.

Taken together, the make an interesting collage of the years just ahead...

If we are going to talk about books and dystopian novels, let's start with the one that ties these two together:

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
If you want the masterpiece of dystopian novels, this is surely one of them. Since we are discussing books and the value of books, what better place for a reread of Bradbury’s masterpiece? The movie version of the book is a work of art, but is a completely different work of art, much more about François Truffaut’s vision of modernist Europe (the costumes and monorail are almost campy now) than about Bradbury’s philosophical examination of televised media vs. literature, the continuing struggle between visual snips and literary depth. Read the book first, then watch the movie, you will get two views of the modern world under the same title, both great fun and fascinating.

Herzog by Saul Bellow (1964)

“Crucial to the restoration of American culture, Herzog believes, is a condemnation of the "wasteland outlook." Referring to an intellectual tradition based on the bleak diagnoses of modern civilization by Nietzsche, T. S. Eliot, Spengler, Heidegger and other existentialist philosophers, Herzog laments the wasteland outlook as "the full crisis of dissolution...the filthy moment...when moral feeling dies, conscience disintegrates, and respect for liberty, law, public decency, all the rest, collapses in cowardice, decadence, blood." Real transcendence, according to the wasteland outlook, is only possible in the immoral, "gratuitous" act. In opposition to this philosophy, Herzog offers the wisdom of Blake: "Man liveth not by self alone but in his brother's face...Each shall behold the Eternal Father and love and joy abound.”

Sounds serious doesn’t it? Don’t let the above fool you, this book is a comedy as well as a thought piece. Imagine a scene in which an aging Jewish intellectual takes it upon himself to kill his ex-wife’s lover with a decrepit old pistol, it is hilarious…think of George Castagnza of “Seinfeld” with a brain and lots of existential angst! Bellow was already suffering from beatnik disillusionment in 1964 and this book has great fun previewing the decade to come with questions that touch the personal soul. Great fun.

Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson (2004)

I have fallen in love with this novel, which I found by accident in a discount bin at Barnes and Noble. Jeanette Winterson is so eclectic in her subject matter that her work does not easily fall into categories.

This story is ostensibly about an orphan girl named Silver who is given to an old seemingly blind lighthouse keeper named Pew as an apprentice lighthouse keeper after her mother is literally blown off the windy hillsides of Scotland. The book is so much more than that, a sort of lyric poem about loss, change, human frailty, darkness and light, passion,love and growing up. It is a very beautiful novel, and the poetic tone of Winterson's writing can best be given my way of a few short extractions:

“Tell me a story, Pew.”
“What kind of story, child?
"A story with a happy ending."
"There’s no such thing in all the world."
"As a happy ending?”
“As an ending.”

"There’s a booth in Grand Central Station where you can go and record your life. You talk. It tapes. It’s the modern-day confessional-no priest, just your voice in the silence. What you were, digitally saved for the future.
Forty minutes is yours. So what would you say in those forty minutes-what would be your death-bed decisions? What of your life will sink under the waves, and what will be like the lighthouse, calling you home?"

"...the stories I want to tell you will light up part of my life, and leave the rest in darkness. You don’t need to know everything. There is no everything. The stories themselves make the meaning.
The continuous narrative of existence is a lie. There is no continuous narrative, there are lit-up moments, and the rest is dark."

“In the fossil record of our existence, there is no trace of love. You cannot find it held in the earth’s crust, waiting to be discovered. The long bones of our ancestors show nothing of their hearts. Their last meal is sometimes preserved in the peat or in the ice, but their thoughts and feelings are gone.”
(Jeanette Winterson, from "Lighthousekeeping")
So touching and so reflective in a meditative sort of way...As the years go by, I am more prone to reflective matters of the heart, the little personal struggles to find meaning and love and to find our way home than I am by the so called "big issues" and great causes, the endless struggles of the classes, the clatter of the ignorant elites. I will no longer carry the world on my shoulders, no longer dwell in concerns about outcomes 20 or 200 or 2000 years in the future. I am too old for that. I have wasted my life on worry. It is time to live, not worry.


Regarding your 'reflective matters of the heart'.

We have much in common I believe. Perhaps age as well, the time when all the chickens tend to come home to roost.

The reflective heart, for me is the thought of my first love, teenager and then early 20s and how when I married another she later committed suicide and was given a rude burial by her husband as payback.

But its really the wife who stayed with me for 40+ years and also tried to commit same by ODing yet stayed up til the time we separated leaving me alone to ponder those reflective matters of the heart for the remaining years of my life here on my farm/homeplace of my ancestors.

A one time fling with a rich Italian headquarters female who stalked me and later went somewhat crazy as well. She is the one I never think of. The other two seem to never leave my mind.

Yet these latter years alone are my time to live free and die. I use them well doing exactly what I please but still I am married to the second one (for 48 years and counting but apart) and the heart is still pierced from the memories.

The above is my life in a capsule. Your thoughts rang a bell loudly.
So I plant my gardens. The garden of the heart-soul and the garden of the soil and count my times as blessed.

I have no book recommendations. I have read many of those posted above. The expanse is too wide. So I reread then. Over and over as time slows down and down. Currently three books I am reading and rereading.
The Stand by King
The Haj by Uris
Exodus by Uris

as well as a very short booklet titled:
The Story of The Cherokee People by Tom B. Underwood which I picked up at the Trail of Tears museum in 'Hoptown',Ky.

I await the end times,not worrying but just watching.This country or my end time. Doesn't matter much but like a book I would like to know the ending if possible.I think the best medicine for my time in life is the two Jack Russel's who share my life willingly and with much affection and hardly ever leave my side. Lately a banded king snake has seen fit to volunteer to join my living quarters as well. For mouse control.


Yet these latter years alone are my time to live free and die. I use them well doing exactly what I please but still I am married to the second one (for 48 years and counting but apart) and the heart is still pierced from the memories.

Airdale, I'm only 56 but have been around the block, married, divorced, other relationships and am currently in a long term relationship with a wonderful woman, we live in our own homes, that may be part of the secret to our current success. The point is if you are apart it's by choice. I find it hard to conceive of being with some one for 40 plus years and then not having any contact with that person.

I still maintain contact with my ex wife if only because we had a son together. If you are still pierced by the memories (granted it's non of my business) pick up the damned phone and dial her number. You may find she's willing to reminisce. You don't have to live with each other but 40 years is lot to just toss. Just sayin


Ahh we still are in contact. Just by cellphone on occasion. Since I send her money monthly as per our agreement we do chat but its very limited.

She wanted it this way.
End of story. Life goes on.

Thanks for the reply however and the advice. As of now its rather impossible for me to start over under any circumstances.Age tends to put down very deep ruts/furrows in the road of life. For me anyway.


Thanks for the reply however and the advice. As of now its rather impossible for me to start over under any circumstances.Age tends to put down very deep ruts/furrows in the road of life. For me anyway.

I hear you and I understand. However, never say never and it ain't over till the fat lady sings...




I have finally began to use some of the tools I have learned from years of reading, working in lower level management and watching the so called smart folks and their servile fawning minions, and yes, relations with the other gender (someone once said that solitude is an underrated commodity).

As I approach my 50th year, time speeds up, and I watch us (by which I mean the nations and "firms" and so called "power brokers") run faster around the same squirrel cage, trying to measure how far to the right or left we are,terms that no longer mean shit in a world with no left, right or center, chasing the same (but now wider) skirts and the same painted faces and expensive dyed hair, looking increasingly foolish in the effort, trying to hoard our stash of nuts in "safe places" and depositing them with dens of thieves.

My body is no longer up to the task, my heart is not really in it, and I am in less and less demand as I become the old timer who recalls old stories, a splinter of memory in a land with permanent amnesia. I am searching for my second wind, not yet willing to "Contract my firnament to compass of a tent" as Emerson said, but not yet sure how to apply the years,health and talent I may have left. ""Vanity of vanities, all is vanity" says Ecclesiastes, but what to do in the meantime...?

For now I look for the humor in things, seek the more peaceful places, museums and old buildings, the remaining remnents of culture such as it is, and take some pleasure (whether I should or not I do not know) in the absoluteness of the humiliation of the one time "lords of the universe" in the recent financial collapse. My hope that this time we would remember is already fading as the same pretentious thieves are already rising back to the top and receiving once again the respect they never deserved in the first place. Such is life.


IT is time to be old,
To take in sail:
The god of bounds,
Who sets to seas a shore,
Came to me in his fatal rounds,
And said: “No more!
No farther shoot
Thy broad ambitious branches, and thy root.
Fancy departs: no more invent;
Contract thy firmament
To compass of a tent.
There ’s not enough for this and that,
Make thy option which of two;
Economize the failing river,
Not the less revere the Giver,
Leave the many and hold the few.
Timely wise accept the terms,
Soften the fall with wary foot;
A little while
Still plan and smile,
And—fault of novel germs—
Mature the unfallen fruit.
Curse, if thou wilt, thy sires,
Bad husbands of their fires,
Who, when they gave thee breath,
Failed to bequeath
The needful sinew stark as once,
The Baresark marrow to thy bones,
But left a legacy of ebbing veins,
Inconstant heat and nerveless reins,—
Amid the Muses, left thee deaf and dumb,
Amid the gladiators, halt and numb.”
As the bird trims her to the gale,
I trim myself to the storm of time,
I man the rudder, reef the sail,
Obey the voice at eve obeyed at prime:
“Lowly faithful, banish fear,
Right onward drive unharmed;
The port, well worth the cruise, is near,
And every wave is charmed.”

Hi, RC.

Obviously our tastes overlap.

Fahrenheit 451 - already read
Herzog - already read
Lighthousekeeping - I've just ordered the book on the strength of your persuasive recommendation.

I read everything Winterson. Oranges and Passion are my favorites.

RE: "I have wasted my life on worry. It is time to live, not worry."

Winterson writes in Myths:

"Atlas looked around at the jigsaw of the earth. The pieces were continually cut and re-cut. But the picture stayed the same. A diamond blue planet, ice capped, swirled in space, nothing was as beautiful. Not fiery Mars. Not clouded Venus. Not the comets with their tails blown by solar winds. And then Atlas had a strange thought. Why not put it down?"

The outlander Series (7 in all) - Diana Gabaldon
A combat nurse from WWII who visits Stonehenge on vacation and accidentally walks through a time portal to 1743 Scotland, prior to the battle of Culloden. Follows her experiences to the American Revolutionary War. She uses her 20th century knowledge to treat illness and injury within the time periods limited resources,superstition and ignorance. Historically detailed and accurate. Excellent series.
Just for fun - Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series (17 so far) - Laurelle K. Hamilton
Kick-ass heroine, a necromancer, who deals with shapeshifters, wereanimals and vampires in modern day St. Louis. The character developement is fascinating. The author melds human qualities and animal instinctual behaviors in a very believable way. Violent and sexually explicit - not for the sqeamish!!

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Aldo Leopold: Sand County Almanac
Wallace Stegner: Wolf Willow

I agree and recommend--

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

first time a book made me sob.

Lord of the Rings

I completely disappeared into that trilogy.

And anything by Dumas

I think the classic sci-fi making this list is very cool. Let me add a newer book that I think is right up the alley of many people who read The Oil Drum ...

"Jennifer Government" by Max Barry.

The novel is set in a dystopian alternate reality in which most nations are dominated by for-profit corporate entities while the government's political power is extremely limited. Many readers see it as critical of globalization, although Barry claims he is not anti-globalization.

As for sci-fi classics, no one has mentioned Jack Vance yet. His five-part Demon Princes series, about an obsessed man chasing down 5 galactic supercriminals, is heroic fantasy of the best sort. Vance's "Tales of the Dying Earth" is also jaw-droppingly good.

Finally, let me ask for opinions on a book I'm about to order from Fitzpatrick's War, by Theodore Judson. It's a future history written after a power-down and great famine. Again, it sounds like the kind of book people on this board have probably read.

1. Cox, Little, & O'Shea, "Using Algebraic Geometry"
It goes a bit beyond the usual material in algebraic geometry for solving systems of multivariate polynomial equations and gets into how to translate the systems of multivariate polynomial equations into eigenproblems.

2. Whittaker & Watson, "A Course of Modern Analysis"
Tons of material on "higher transcendental functions" and some material on near-extinct topics like infinite determinants. The material on Jacobian elliptic functions is grossly disproportionately valuable in comparison to its length.

3. Greenhill, "Applications of Elliptic Functions"
Nowhere near as dense as Whittaker & Watson's chapters, but exclusively devoted to the Jacobian elliptic functions, and it does go on in quite some detail. This one's available for download on the web, linked from wikipedia.

I'll stop here since it's probably getting painfully obvious that my notions of what constitutes interesting books is widely divergent from the rest of humanity's.

Thanks to Nate and all those who have made suggestions. I've put together a reading list already.

For a time I became interested in science-fiction portrayals of a future following cultural collapse. Kunstler did a creditable job with his A World Made By Hand". Two others:

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

This is also worthwhile, but with its roving bands of cannibals and the like it was too much a zombie horror movie. It is interesting in showing how humanity endures and how social networks reorganize during and after a disaster.

Into the Forest" by Jean Hegland

This is the gem of the genre. The prose has poetic qualities. It is a story of how two sisters cope on their own, isolated in a post-civilized future. When I first read it I thought the ending was unrealistic. In retrospect it seems perfect and provokes further thought about our essential relationship with the natural world. It is the kind of book that stays with you over time.

John Gray's Straw Dogs.

Short, almost poetic, rumination on the human condition. A sample:

From John Gray's "Straw Dogs", Granta Publications, 2002, pp. 5-6:


Humans are the most adventitious of creatures--a result of blind evolutionary drift. Yet, with the power of genetic engineering, we need no longer be ruled by chance. Humankind -- so we are told -- can shape its own future. According to E.O. Wilson, conscious control of human evolution is not only possible but inevitable:

...genetic evolution is about to become conscious and volitional, and usher in a new epoch in the history of life. ...The prospect of this 'volitional evolution' -a species deciding what to do about its own heredity -will present the most profound intellectual and ethical choices, humanity has ever faced. ..humanity will be positioned godlike to take control of its own ultimate fate. It can, if it chooses, alter not just the anatomy and intelligence of the species but also the emotions and creative drive that compose the very core of human nature.

The author of this passage is the greatest contemporary Darwinian. He has been attacked by biologists and social scientists who believe that the human species is not governed by the same laws as other animals. In that war Wilson is undoubtedly on the side of truth. Yet the prospect of conscious human evolution he invokes is a mirage. The idea of humanity taking charge of its destiny makes sense only if we ascribe consciousness and purpose to the species; but Darwin's discovery was that species are only currents in the drift of genes. The idea that humanity can shape its future assumes that it is exempt from this truth.

It seems feasible that over the coming century human nature will be scientifically remodelled. If so, it will be done haphazardly, as an upshot of struggles in the murky realm where big business, organised crime, and the hidden parts of government vie for control. If the human species is re-engineered it will not be the result of humanity assuming a godlike control of its destiny. It will be another twist in man's fate.

I haven't read John Gray but I have read quite a bit of Wilson.I am not aware of his being attacked in any meaningful way by other biologists except for a couple of long running disputes about punctuated versus steady evolution,which really don't amount to beans.There are some minor details that might play out in favor of either side,but both sides are in 99.9percent agreement overall regarding evolution.

Your last two paragraphs seem to contradict each other.If you want to mention mirage and EO Wilson in the same sentence in the same paragraph where you acknowledge him as the "greatest contemporary Darwinian" you need to explain your ideas in a little more detail.

The evolutionary theories of biology have long since steamrollered the "blank slate "school of the social sciences.The only people still disputing this simple fact are like the character in the Monty Python show with his arms and legs chopped of yelling at the other guy to come back and fight.

Brodie's Report (El Informe de Brodie)
Prophetic powers have been ascribed to Borges. In this dystopian story he asks for the salvation of degenerate Argentina by a British invasion, it kind of happened.

The Calcutta Chromosome Amitav Ghosh. In the near future the intricate relationship between human and its parasitic protozoan.

Los Episodios Nacionales by Pérez Galdós.
Episodios Nacionales (National Episodes) are a collection of forty-six historical novels written by Benito Pérez Galdós between 1872 and 1912. They are divided into five series and they deal with Spanish History from roughly 1805 to 1880. They are fictional accounts which add characters invented by the author within historical events, different styles. From Trafalgar to the War in Cuba, BPG is Tolstoi and Dickens and more. 46 novels, yes! but they are short and each one can be read at one sitting, you'll known the 19th century as you never did. There are translations, out of print, but you can download the full set (in Spanish) from the Wikipedia website.

Borges is a trip, but not for casual reading.

I never seem to find time to read full length books these days, so make do with magazines:
Analog Science Fiction and Fact


Home Shop Machinist

Quilters Newsletter

Plus many many more!

All of Carlos Castenada; profound epistemological insights. 100 Years of Solitude, magical. Don Quixote, the funniest book ever written. Moby Dick, the dullest book ever written (except when Queeqeg falls into the blow hole). Anything by Mark Twain, the Great American Author. Henry Miller for old fashioned lack of reverence. The Book of Mormon, the most redundant book ever published; but transcribed (with the aid of the urum and thumum)by a 14 year old from golden plates delivered to him in the woods by an angel. I could go on; there are categories still to mention.

Oh, and forgot one, on the Very Best List, and that's "The Death of Artemio Cruz" by Carlos Fuentes. Very worth while. And, then there is the Ballad of Martin Fierro, a Gaucho of the Pampas, a large epic poem that will capture, enchant, and entertain: maybe. It did me.

I cant believe nobody has mentioned JRR Tolkien yet.

Farmer Giles of Ham

The Hobbit

The lord of the Rings Trilogy

Every body I know who has read Tolkien has read him at least two or three times over.

Don't buy the Simirilion(?spelling) until you read a little of it first.It is imo just not in the same class,but fantasy lovers love it.

Freddy and Fredericka Mark Halperin.

A well written book like many others by Helperin. I particularly liked the plot: a Prince on England was only able to become King if he could conquer America, with no money or no help - just being parachuted naked into New Jersey. As such it was inspirational that skills, integrity and leadership could rise to the top on their own merits rather than by birth, status or wealth. Cool idea.

There is only two men in history that had rise from nothing and became rulers of vast empires, taimoor (tamerlane). Alexander had a father who left him a united greece, Caesar had a strong empire rome at its back, Stalin had former tsar empire still integrated etc. Rest had an ideology to gather people on. I wonder on what ideology would a prince from england gather americans under his flag.

One book that had helped me a lot in clearing my views about how the land must be ruled is "Kitab ul Khiraj" ("Book of Khiraj", Khiraj is the tax on farms and orchards). It was written by Imam Abu Yousuf in 2nd century hijra (8th century CE) on the request of then caliph. The book was the official law of taxation in the Abbasid Caliphat from then to five and a half centuries later. It was also used in making taxation laws in further muslim empires including the Ottoman Caliphat (1536 to 1922). This book tells that Islam force only two types of taxation, one is on crops and orchards called Khiraj and other is on import but only on foreign traders coming to your empire for selling goods.

Khiraj is only on land that came under muslim govt while being owned by non-muslims. The land that was owned by muslims when came under muslim govt has to pay Ushr but no khiraj. Rate of Khiraj is between 20% and 50%, the govt can adjust it within this range according to the need of time.

The tax on foreign traders is 10% of their income.

I read that book many times to understand it completely and memorize the laws when I was about 12 years old. This book is a great guide when you plan to make an empire. It also help in deciding number of soldiers and other govt servants an empire can sustainably keep because almost all of the govt income depends on land yield.

The book also tell about another income of govt which comes from mining. Govt can take 80% of the yield of mining.

The book also told about ancient area and monetary units and if read closely give an insight in the average yields of the time.

It also tell about rules of wells, canals etc.

I have read its urdu translation, i m not sure if an english translation is available.

If you really like to increase your power of imagination try "Flat Land". Its a wonderful book written by a mathematician of 19th century england. It tells about an imaginary two dimensional world inhabitants of whom have no concept of third dimension, all they knew was length and breadth or more expressively forward, backward, left and right. In this land people were shapes. The least shape in the social hierarchy was straight lines, these were women who (as in victorian era england) can't own land and can't do business. The lowest level for men was triangles and in each generation the level increase a step up, from rectangle to square to pentagon to hexagon and so on (perhaps making fun of the autocratic system of his era the author mentioned how a man inherit title and land without actually doing anything good to the society and his decendants only rise up). Well once a person from a third dimensional world (our world) goes there and talks to a two dimensional world. A lot of interesting things were told to happen like apparently voices coming from "nowhere" or "within", things getting stolen without breaking of any walls or vaults etc.

A modern era person further continued the story when its told that a being from 4 dimensional world came to visit our world.

My top recommendation is Ursula K. LeGuin's novel Always Coming Home (1985), a superbly interesting, imaginative and wise book. It's about a people, the Kesh, "who might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California." The Kesh are survivors of the cataclysm that ended the/our Current Era; and have developed a sustainable way of living. LeGuin has invented the entire culture (she knows quite a lot about anthropology; her father, Alfred Kroeber, was in the first part of the 20th century the leading authority on the California Indians.) Be warned that this is not a conventional novel, with a plot going from point A to point B. It's a collection of things, rather as if an anthropologist of the future walked around the place with a tape recorder -- so we encounter the stories the Kesh have to tell, their music (the first edition came with an audiocassette), poetry, even recipes. It's not a "novel" that needs to or even should be read from beginning to end, but explored at will and from time to time. She calls it a "carrier-bag novel," and in an essay written around the same time explains that just as the first anthropologists, all men, decided the first tool had to have been a pointed stick, the first novelists were also men and {had to) invent a pointed-stick book with a plot going from point A to point B. Later female anthropologists, looking at the archeological findings, pointed out that fruits, seeds, etc. were the main diet staple of early peoples, not meat, so the bag would have had to be invented to carry the food back to camp. So it's about time for a carrier-bag novel.

I also highly recommend LeGuin's earlier science fiction/utopian novel The Dispossessed, which I think would especially appeal to the scientists and engineers who inhabit TOD. And, if you haven't already, get her Earthsea trilogy (for children/youngadults, but works for me too), starting with A Wizard of Earthsea.

Climate Change: Picturing the Science - Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wolfe

This book is a pictorial of climate change effects with essays from various, I suppose in the style of the old Time/Life books some of you may remember.

Here is a book review from

and a Slide show featuring 12 pics from the text.


One that I would not recommend is "The End of Oil," by Paul Roberts. It is five years old, but still prominent in stores like Barnes and Noble. I picked it up when I needed something to read. It says that climate change should and will be the main driver of our energy policy because oil can be replaced by increased use of coal and natural gas. It repeats the misconception that biofuels are the easiest way to cut down on CO2. Sorry, this should have gone in the first post.

As others have also chosen multiple works by the same author, I'll commit the same sin:

  • Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian. Awesome historical novels depicting sea-going life during the Age of Sail, when ships were made of wood and men of steel.
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. I have to admit I haven't yet got even half-way through this, reading this is extremely slow going and I have restarted multiple times. But it must be one of the most clever books ever, and utterly fascinating.
  • Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy trilogy in four parts by Douglas Adams - needs no introductions, I suppose.

Love the idea of reading for fun. So much of my reading is for information, for work. Nothing like disappearing inside the pages of a good book. Being entertained, inspired and transported. Of course, what constitutes a good book and is entirely subjective. Forgive this shameless plug for my very entertaining novel, Devolution. I hope I'm not breaking netiquette.

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki.

Best book on Zen around. You hear the voice of a true master in it.

I would like to recommend some of John Updike's short stories.

Updike was born in 1932 (I think it was) and died this year at the age of 76. He was born at the start of the auto age and died in time to see the financial crisis start.

His story "Packed Earth, a Dead Cat, Churchgoing, A Traded Car" is a wonderful contemplation on the American love affair with cars.

There is also "The Indian"--a mysterious story that implies our suburban way of life is not timeless.

I recently read Ildefonso Falcone's The Cathedral of the Sea. Life in Medieval Spain---very pre-oil, very local, very Spanish Inquistion, very physically demanding, very difficult actually. So now I'm trying to get into shape in case I have to start carrying huge boulders for someone building a church after the oil goes!

Ecological Economics by Herman Daly and Joshua Farley. Island Press, 2004. This is academic but thorough.

Food, Energy, and Society. David and Marcia Pimentel, editors. University Press of Colorado, 1996. I include this as a reference. It's interesting that they dicuss the energy inputs into non-industrial agriculture as well as conventional agriculture.

Sorry, I should have included the two above in the Energy, Ecology, and Sustainability section which is closed for comments.

Becoming Vegan. The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-Based Diet. Brenda Davis, R. D. and Vesanto Melina, M. S., R. D. Book Publishing Company, 2000. Even if you don't go vegetarian, it's almost a cinch that most people won't be eating even half the meat that they are today, and a lot of people will be eating even less. Knowledge of nutrition is important. Sorry, this should have been in the "Human Capital" section which is closed for comments.

Something New Under the Sun. An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World. J. R. McNeill. W. W. Norton, 2000. This really gives you a visceral feel for what has been happening to the world for the past century.