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2009 Reading List

This is a partial list of the books I read in 2009, with some (short) thoughts on each. It’s partial, as I’m current 1200km away from my bookshelf (the horror…) and didn’t keep a list. Here we go:


Fermat’s Last Theorem (Simon Singh)
My favourite read of the year – Simon Singh takes us on a fascinating tour of the history of Fermat’s Last Theorem and of Andrew Wiles’ approach to proving it. One of its best attributes is its wide appeal – you don’t know any great deal of mathematics to follow it completely and enjoy the story, yet I don’t think it will disappoint enthusiastic mathematicians.

Prime Obsession (John Derbyshire)
Another book I’d highly recommend is John Derbyshire’s Prime Obsession, concerning the Riemann hypothesis. The book is more technical than Fermat’s Last Theorem, but nonetheless still perfectly approachable for a non-mathematical reader.

A First Course in Coding Theory (Raymond Hill)
I was set this book as a textbook for an introductory coding theory course this year, but I thought it was so well-done that I’m including it here.

Evolutionary Computation

An Introduction to Genetic Algorithms (Melanie Mitchell)
A solid and well-written introduction to some of the theoretical aspects of genetic algorithms, including genetic algorithms. Good for beginning researchers in the field (such as myself!)

A Field Guide to Genetic Programming (Poli, Langdon, McPhee & Koza)
Like Melanie Mitchell’s An Introduction to Genetic Algorithms, this is a theoretical treatment – you won’t learn how to implement genetic programming here. Rather, it is a tour of several aspects of theory that one should learn to better understand the literature. Even better, this book, written by some of the top genetic programming researchers, is available for free download (a low-cost printed paperback is also available). One thing that does attract some confusion: this is a book about genetic programming, not genetic algorithms.

Essentials of Metaheuristics (Sean Luke)
Unlike the introductory evolutionary computation books in this category, Essentials of Metaheuristics is a very pragmatic – full of pseudocode samples and the sort of information that you’d actually want to implement genetic algorithms, genetic programming and other forms of metaheuristic searches. Also available for free download, and a print version is coming (for now, the online version continues to be updated – I started with version 0.1 and it’s now up to version 0.6).


Wonderful Life (Stephen Jay Gould)
Wonderful Life comes in as a close second to Fermat’s Last Theorem as my favourite read this year. Stephen Jay Gould takes us on an enchanting and ever-fascinating tour on the fauna of the Burgess shale. This book rather dramatically changed my understanding of evolution – a must read.

The Greatest Show on Earth (Richard Dawkins)
Full review.

The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science (Natalie Angier)
While some reviewers expressed distaste for the rather verbose language of the book, I didn’t find it troubling – it’s certainly there, but I didn’t find it detracted from the book. The Canon is a well-written and interesting introduction, and perhaps can help ameliorate some of the “it’s-too-hard” attitudes that some people have towards learning science. That said, when I was reading it on the bus, a nearby passenger asked me what I was reading and, on seeing the cover, remarked that such a book was much too complex for her. I can only hope my response helped convince her otherwise!

Six Easy Pieces (Richard Feynman)
A light and enlightening glimpse into physics.

The Weather Makers (Tim Flannery)
Good, but left me wanting more (though that, I think, is also a plus).

Science & Society

Climate Cover-Up (Hoggan & Littlemore)
Climate Cover-Up is a damning look into the political motivations of global warming denialists. A must read!

Unscientic America (Mooney & Kirshenbaum)
Full review.

The Double Helix (James Watson
Well-written, but I couldn’t help feel that large parts of the narrative seemed rather (ahem) absent.


The Bromeliad Trilogy: Truckers, Diggers, and Wings (Terry Pratchett)
A wonderfully imaginative and humorous series of books, The Bromeliad Trilogy follows a group of Nomes as they come to understand their place in the universe – which, it turns out, is much larger than The Store in which they’d lived all of their lives.

2010 Reading List

Here are a few books which are right up at the top of my queue for 2010:

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January 6, 2010 at 3:00 pm
  • March 12, 2010 at 11:18 pmslim

    Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.

  • September 10, 2010 at 11:01 pmAshley

    hey, nice blog…really like it and added to bookmarks. keep up with good work

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