Fanning Software Consulting

Book Recommendations from IDL Programmers

I've been curious to know what kinds of books IDL programmers like to read, so I've started to ask them. If you would like to participate, send me your list of your five favorite books, in any category. Include a sentence or two of description for why you like each book. I'll publish the list here, along with your name, for others to ponder and enjoy.

The IDL programmers have put together a separate list of children's book recommendations for those of you who mostly have time to read to your children. And I have been keeping my own list of books I have read this year, to compare with a list I made in 1976.


The IDL Programmers


Robbie Barnett

Nowadays, I restrict most of my non-fiction reading to within my field of expertise. However, I've read at least one of the physics books on your 1976 list. I sometimes read fiction books recommended to me by close friends. After reading your email over my shoulder, my wife is trying to convince me to read some William Shattner novels.

A Few of My Favorites

  1. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
    This novel was first published in 1963 and is about the main characters quest to understand the human aspect of the “founding fathers” of the atomic bomb. I read this in late February 2007 on a national coach service from London to Edinburgh and I think that it will certainly remain a favourite for some time.
  2. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
    This as written in 1974 and is about an interstellar war, which takes place over 100,000's years because of time dilation effects. The book is written from the perception of a solider who lives through the entire war because he spends most of the (cosmic) time at near light speed.

Peter Clinch

Five of My Favorites

  1. Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut
    A book that gives some excellent insights into the nature of art, and artists. Probably a good thing for scientists...
  2. The Bridge by Iain Banks
    though one of Iain Banks' “contemporary” books, it features an amazing Edwardian-esque dream fantasy centred on my favourite structure, the Forth Rail bridge. Imagination in spades (probably no-trumps, in fact!)
  3. The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse
    Charting the pitfalls of over-specialisation and being too clever for the sake of it.
  4. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
    As black a book as they come, and thus pointing out just what one can really expect of people when the going gets bad. Screamingly funny... as long as something like it isn't happening to you.
  5. The Wikipedia by various authors
    I can spend days in there just satisfying idle curiosity...

Andrew Cool

Crikey! You must have time on your hands! As a parent of two young kids, I can say that I read neither nearly as much as I'd like, nor as much as I ought to. My reading (at home) is confined largely to newspapers, listening to the little one read her Year 2 books after school each day, or for a special treat, proof reading one of my wife's bioscience papers or job applications.

Five Most Recently Purchased Books

  1. Leonardo da Vinci on the Human Body: The Anatomical, Physiological, and Embryological Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci by Charles D. O'Malley and J.B. de C. M. Saunders
  2. The Cracking Code Book: How to Make It, Break It, Hack It, Crack It by Simon Singh
  3. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
  4. Degrees Kelvin: A Tale of Genius, Invention and Tragedy a biography of William Thomson, Lord Kelvin by David Lindley
  5. Das Reich: The March of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Through France by Max Hastings

Five Oldest Books I Still Own

  1. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
  2. Stars of the Southern Hemisphere published by Rigby, 1968. [Possibly out of print, link is to newer book., ed.]
  3. Penguin Dictionary of Astronomy published by Penguin 1968. [Link is to newer book. ed.]
  4. More Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions by Martin Gardner
  5. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams


Six Books I Couldn’t Live Without

  1. The Complete Far Side 1980-1994 by Gary Larson
    I first saw these cartoons while goin’ along, looking for food in the Denver Museum of Natural History. The laughter was infectious.
  2. Girls Gone Wild: Spring Break 2005 - Anything Goes! Unrated
    It's not really a book, but it gets your blood going nonetheless.
  3. It's Not Funny If I Have to Explain It by Scott Adams

    Dilbert Cartoon by Scott Adams (25K)
  4. Garage Glamour: Digital Nude and Beauty Photography Made Simple by Rolando Gomez
    Charting the pitfalls of over-specialisation and being too clever for the sake of it.
  5. Sports Illustrated Suimsuit Collector's Edition 2007 Desk Calendar by Dateworks
    What do you mean it's not a book!? It has a cover and I've read it front to back!
  6. Sex With Spirit: An Illustrated Guide to Techniques and Traditions by Michelle Pauli
    You don't have to take my word for it. ;-)

David Fanning

Books I Would Take With Me to a Desert Island

  1. Desert Notes/River Notes by Barry Lopez
    Barry Lopez is probably better known for his non-fiction essays and books, but these two books of fiction (part of a trilogy, along with Field Notes, and often published together because they are so short) might well be my favorite book of all time. It is certainly the book I have read the most over the years. It takes me months to get though it. Not because it is hard reading, but because the stories are so beautiful that it seems a sacrilege to move onto the next until the current one has been fully savored.
  2. Myths to Live By by Joseph Campbell
    I would prefer to take my battered boxed set of six cassette tapes, entitled The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, put I presume the batteries of my cassette player would run out, and this book is almost as good for stimulating deep thinking about what life is all about.
  3. Crossing Open Ground by Barry Lopez
    The finest book of essays and beautiful writing I have ever read. Lopez is a master of evoking a sense of geography and place. These essays about the Arctic are best read after a hot shower and working all day on the ice in minus 20 degree weather. I had the privilege of seeing some of the things he writes about, but I felt as if I had known them already, just from the writing.
  4. The Essential Rumi translation by Coleman Barks
    Jalal al-Din Rumi was a thirteenth century Persian poet whose passionate poems always evoke the Mystery for me. Coleman Barks' translations are superb. If you can find a tape of Barks reciting this poetry with his jazz band accompaniment, buy it. You will never regret it. My well-thumbed copy goes on lots of business trips with me, always reminding me of what this life is really about.
  5. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
    You would have to have one novel with you on a desert island, and I have agonized over which one to take with me. I grew up in the American West, so it would have to be a Stegner novel. I guess I would probably end up tossing a coin to see if it would be this one or Crossing to Safety. Either would do nicely for my purposes.

Vince Hradil

Five Favorite Non-Fiction Books

  1. Numerical Recipies in C: The Art of Scientific Computing by William H. Press, Brian P. Flannery, Saul A. Teukolsky, and William T. Vetterling
    I took the course from Saul Teukolsky at Cornell - probably the most valuable grad course I took. Great reference, too.
  2. Data Reduction and Error Analysis for the Physical Sciences by Philip R. Bevington and D. Keith Robinson
    Essential reference. I re-read it every now and then to refresh my memory.
  3. The Image Processing Handbook by John C. Russ
    Well-written, straight-forward, with good examples.
  4. The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
    Just finished reading this. Excellent intro to “The Way” and a fun read, too.
  5. The Holy Bible by, well, you know... in the English Version
    My day doesn't go too well if I don't read this regularly.

Five Favorite Fiction Books

  1. Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson
    Great imagination. This and The Diamond Age are chock full of pictures and ideas for the mind to explore.
  2. The Diamond Age by Neil Stephenson
    I loved the book that could teach, learn and adapt. Cool idea.
  3. Dune by Frank Herbert
    I think the best Sci-Fi novel ever written. He's able to fully develop a far future society without dumbing down for the casual reader.
  4. Hyperion by Dan Simmons
    Great character development. And the way the characters interact is wonderful, too.
  5. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
    I just re-read this one, having read it for the first time in High School. The young man's quest to find truth and to find himself is something I could really identify with.

Mike Galloy

Eight Books that Changed Me

  1. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte
    This book made me think about why every mark of ink on paper and every pixel on my computer screen should (or shouldn't) be there.
  2. Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson
    A compelling vision of the high-tech future.
  3. Neuromancer by William Gibson
    I heard him read from Pattern Recognition and it has expanded what I thought I thought could be done in prose.
  4. Code: Version 2.0 by Lawrence Lessig
    Both code and law will draft our online Bill of Rights.
  5. The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey
    I read this shortly after coming to Colorado and it has colored my perception of the West since then.
  6. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
    This book made me eventually get rid of my TV.
  7. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
    Any Tom Robbins book lets my "non-nerd" side come out for a bit.
  8. The C Programming Language by Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie
    I don't even use C that much, but this book always tells me exactly what I need to know in a concise, clear manner.

Paolo Grigis

Seven of My Favorite Books in No Particular Order

  1. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
    Made me fall in love with science fiction at age 12 or so. And I haven't managed to get over it yet.
  2. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
    If only I could have gone to battle school too...
  3. The Dreaming Jewels by Theodore Sturgeon
    Sweet and sad ... who said science fiction is “dry?”
  4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
    The coolest title ever, and the moronic hollywood guys called the movie blade runner...
  5. Stories of Your Life, and Others by Ted Chiang
    Ted just happens to be the best new science fiction writer, though he only produced a handful of short stories.
  6. Burning Chrome (collection) by William Gibson
    Hail the father of cyberpunk!
  7. Sandokan: Le Tigri di Mompracem by Emilio Salgari and Nico Lorenzutti
    Every boy dreams of becoming a pirate, and Sandokan was the best of them all. I don't know if this has ever been translated into English.

Liam Gumley

Five of My Favorite Books

  1. Shackleton by Roland Huntford
    Quote from Sir Raymond Priestly: “For speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen. For scientific discovery, give me Scott. But when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.” A brilliant biography of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton. Required reading for anyone interested in what it takes to be a leader.
  2. Scott and Amundsen by Roland Huntford
    In this account of the race to reach the South Pole, Huntford contrasts the styles of two of the most famous polar explorers. Amundsen was careful, precise, scientific, and successful in reaching the Pole first. Scott was stubborn, amateurish, and vain, and died in the attempt.
  3. Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield
    Extraordinary fictionalization of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC (the “300 Spartans”).
  4. A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin
    Detailed account of Project Apollo with in-depth descriptions of each Apollo mission. This book was the basis for the HBO series From the Earth to the Moon.
  5. About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design by Alan Cooper
    We've all been insulted by rude software applications which interrupt our work flow with idiotic dialog boxes and error messages. Cooper gives numerous examples of ways to make users feel stupid, and presents a strong case that the top priority of a GUI application should be to not make the user feel stupid.

Dick Jackson

Books That Have Made a Difference to Me

  1. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
    Metamagical Themas: Question for the Essence of Mind
    I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter
    After Gödel, Escher, Bach had turned me onto some fascinating directions in my studies, Metamagical Themas showed me a great many things about the world. And I just discovered now that he has a new book out, I Am a Strange Loop, which I'll put on this list in advance!
  2. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte
    This book brought into focus the vague ideas about graphical clarity that I'd been trying to chase down for a long time.
  3. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin
    A wonderful, eye-opening science fiction book.
  4. A Cure for Gravity by Joe Jackson
    By the British singer-songwriter-composer, “a book about music thinly disguised as a memoir.” His music has meant a lot to me, and it was enlightening to read about his early life.
  5. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
    ... and any of his other books of clinical tales. At times heart-warming, head-spinning and jaw-dropping.

Ronn Kling

Five Favorite Books

  1. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
    I read this in college and they were the first fantasy books I ever read. I was (and still am) amazed at the details of the world he created.
  2. The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis
    Most people call these books science fiction, but I disagree. They are really philosophical fiction and I have never run into anything else like them.
  3. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond
    Great book on the interplay between environment, societial mores, and economics determine whether civilizations last or fall.
  4. Thomas Jefferson Any biography of Thomas Jefferson!
    My favorite period of history is the American Revolution and old TJ was in the middle of it all. Beside being an outright genius he also had a very complicated personality which just fascinates me.
  5. Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell
    Great philosophical book on redefining Christianity away from its modern western tilt back to its original eastern roots, and what that means to modern culture.

Wayne Landsman

Books that Made a Great Impression on Me

I vaguely remember the concept of reading for pleasure, in those misty days before I became an old father. (My daughter is now almost four, and my son is now almost two and one-half.) Anyway, below are five books that made a great impression on me.
  1. The Defense by Vladimir Nabokov
    Nabokov is always a brilliant writer, but this portrait of a chess master's descent into madness has a warmth not present in his other novels.
  2. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
    The historical murder of three sisters in the Dominican Republic in 1960 provides the backdrop for this novel, but Alvarez brings the sisters back to life.
  3. An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks
    Essays by a neurologist with the perfect blend of scientific and human insights.
  4. The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language by Stephen Pinker
    We learn language not on a blank slate, but with a genetically programmed aptitude. I've known this since childhood, but I never knew the consequences for the study of language, until I read this book.
  5. The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien
    A brilliant, comic novel which always keeps its own mad internal logic.

Ben Panter

First Five Books that Come to Mind

I've been pondering the book issue, and trying to decide on “favourite” ones is tricky. It's a bit like trying to tell you whether I prefer the refreshment offered by Tegernseer Helles, the reassuring comfort of a pint of Caledonian 80/- or perhaps the warm glow that follows a sip of Ardbeg. I'd have to worry that I'm missing the whole gamut of drinking pure water fresh from a highland stream, or the bite of home-made lemonade, just because of the environment in which I drank them. Do I give you science books? Fiction books? Anyway - to reduce the navel gazing I decided that I should just blast through it and give you the first five that came to mind, since they must be near the top of some mental hierarchy, be it the right one or otherwise.
  1. The Complete Aubrey/Maturin Novels by Patrick O'Brian
    Full of sea battles, sailing by the fingernails, treasure and adventure. I managed to sneak in 20 for the price of 1 here, but hopefully by now you're used to that sort of thing from astronomers. I got through the entire series in six months, and was quite depressed when I realised there were none left. Historically and technically accurate, thrilling.
  2. Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott
    Wonderful. I once thought I understood the implications of this book, I know now that I can barely comprehend them. What seems to be a very simple story becomes more complex the more you think about it.
  3. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
    Beautiful book, wonderfully written with fascinating development of the characters.
  4. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet
    Follows the building of a medieval cathedral very similar to the one that I went to school in. I read this when I was about 17 and it led to a much greater enjoyment of the services we were forced to attend every Friday morning.
  5. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte
    A book to live your scientific life by - beautiful ways of putting complex, multivariate data down on paper without giving the reader a headache. Should be read by anyone who plans to communicate anything without words.
  6. Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival by Joe Simpson
    You said 5 not 6? Oh well... Gripping, terrifying, awesome. Read it on a winters evening when the wind is howling outside and you don't need to be up early the next morning.

Karsten Rodenacker

A Few of My Favorites

  1. The Fortunes of Wangrin by Amadou Hampaté Bâ
  2. The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna
  3. Grimm's Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm
  4. The Táin by Thomas Kinsella
    The last three books help me to accept the world (and so my IDL-co-programmer colleagues) as they are (!) and lead directly to the two following work related books.
  5. On Growth and Form by D'Arcy Thompson
  6. Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation by E.H. Gombrich

JD Smith

If you asked me again in a year, I'd probably return an entirely different set.

Five Books I Would Choose Today

  1. Light in August by William Faulkner
    Faulkner evokes. Almost any Faulkner novel could have made this spot. I think I must have fond memories of the summer I read this one. And verbena.
  2. Ulysses by James Joyce
    Really more of a modernist meditative stream than a novel. It took me a half year to read, but that didn't lessen the impact. For an easier Joyce intro, try the cohesive collection of short stories Dubliners, the final story of which contains perhaps the most beautiful alliterative prose I know:
    The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns.
  3. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
    The most complete and scientific explanation of the development and occasional retrograde movement of human society I've ever encountered. The Journey of Man, by Spencer Wells, is also high on this list, not because it is captivating writing, but because Y-chromosome DNA genealogy is to me utterly fascinating.
  4. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
    Writing this down reminds me I should re-read it after all these years, in particular the uncut edition. I consumed science fiction when a young man. Heinlein sticks with you.
  5. My Ántonia by Willa Cather
    There's just something about the American plains.

R. G. Stockwell

Five Favorite Non-Fiction Books

  1. Code Complete by Steve McConnell
    A fantastic book on general programming philosophy. Indispensable.
  2. IDL Programming Techniques by David Fanning
    I'm not above brown-nosing.
  3. Expert C Programming - Deep C Secrets by Peter Van Der Linden
    One word. Hilarious.
  4. A Random Walk down Wall Street by Burton G. Malkiel
    An interesting look at the statistical side of investing.
  5. Classical Electrodynamics by John David Jackson
    A very impressive tome, written and read by people way way smarter than I am.
  6. Numerical Methods that Work by Forman S. Acton
    Another great technical book.

Five Favorite Fiction Books

  1. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
    The canonical sci-fi story. The extrapolation of simple scientific hypothesis, the extension of statistical mechanics to the galaxy spanning human race. And the saviour of the human race is - a mathematician! And probably the only time where an author was able to sew up his entire life's work into one coherent story. Others have tried and failed miserably. (I'm looking at you Stephen King.)
  2. I Robot by Isaac Asimov
    Absolutely nothing in common with the abomination of a movie starring Will Smith. I Robot contains many short mysteries involving robots and the logical application of the famous three laws of robotics.
  3. 2001: A Space Odyssey
    2010: Odyssey Two
    2061: Odyssey Three
    3001: The Final Odyssey
    by Arthur C. Clark
    I still remember the first time I read this. An astronaut is on a space walk, and overshoots his destination on purpose in order to cancel out his momentum. A novel that has a scene where momentum is conserved. Awesome!
  4. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
    One of the very few realistic depictions of an interstellar war, and what implications relativity would have on it.
  5. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
    When you finish reading it, you feel like you lost a friend.

Christopher Thom

Six Books I Thoroughly Enjoyed

  1. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
    Fantastic, gripping stories, which are nicely linked and interwoven. And really, what's not to love about a novel that has its first formula on pg 10, and includes Turing as a character?
  2. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemmingway
  3. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter
    I like the somewhat tongue-in-cheek-defined "hofstadter's law".
  4. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart
    An insightful and visionary attempt to re-think, from the ground up, how we design everything -- from the products we consume to the whole of society. Plus...I had no idea what went into all the stuff in my house.
  5. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
    I re-read this every couple of years. I think it's the funniest series of books I've ever read.
  6. Data Reduction and Error Analysis for the Physical Sciences by Philip R. Bevington and D. Keith Robinson
    This thin and dense tome is my bible for all things statistical. Easily the most useful science book I've ever purchased. I'm not sure I'd want it on a desert island (who cares about statistics when you're trying to get the coconuts?), but I take it just about everywhere else.

Paul van Delst

Three Books I Have Great Affection For

  1. Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree by Tariq Ali
    A wonderful book that describes the how life and family should be enjoyed and how the misguided intentions of others can wreak untold havoc. Set in Moorish Spain during the Inquisition.
  2. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet
    One of those epic novels where the regular folks have the gumption to do the right thing. Follows the turbulent life of an English village during construction of a cathedral in the 1100's.
  3. The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox by Stephen Jay Gould
    Really, any book by Stephen Jay Gould. I'm struggling through his last compendium of essays; and not because of his voluble, parenthetical writing style. I bought it before he died and I'm finding it hard to finish because when I do, that's it.

Two Books I Use Everyday

  1. Programming Ruby: The Pragmatic Programmers' Guide, 2nd Ed. by Dave Thomas, Chad Fowler, and Andy Hunt
  2. Fortran 95/2003 Explained by Mike Metcalf, John Reid and Malcolm Cohen

Last Updated: 21 March 2011