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Bret Victor's favourite books (worrydream.com)
219 points by neel8986 on Apr 12, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments

I really like "Reading Tip #1" in the "Links 2013" page, reproduced below:

It's tempting to judge what you read:

I agree with these statements, and I disagree with those.

However, a great thinker who has spent decades on an unusual line of thought cannot induce their context into your head in a few pages. It’s almost certainly the case that you don’t fully understand their statements.

Instead, you can say:

I have now learned that there exists a worldview in which all of these statements are consistent.

And if it feels worthwhile, you can make a genuine effort to understand that entire worldview. You don't have to adopt it. Just make it available to yourself, so you can make connections to it when it's needed.

> I agree with these statements, and I disagree with those.

I find both of these reactions to be equally subversive. Whenever I find myself agreeing with something, I'm unwilling to poke around for holes in arguments or question the accuracy of facts presented. Similarly, whenever I disagree with something, I'm unwilling to concede the strong points of an argument or approach the problem from the presented perspective.

To minimize the effects of these emotional reactions, it helps making my judgments as granual as possible. (Don't judge the person: judge each individual action separately. Don't judge actions, judge consequence and intention separately, etc.)

Furthermore, to minimize the polarizing effects of true-false dichotomies, I instead assign ratings (1-6) for a statement's probability of being true.

For opening myself to contradicting world views, it helps to ask what would have to change in the world for this statement to be true?. Instead of forward-reasoning, where you admit your world view and reason forwards to correct conclusions, this mental trick fixes the conclusion and makes you reason backwards towards hypothetical worlds and asks you to identify their properties. It's then easier to diff your view against the proposed worlds and shift your beliefs accordingly.

Tha reasoning backward trick sounds very interesting. Certainly a cool idea I have to try!

Also, it sounds you might be interested in LessWrong.com - if you haven't stumbled upon it yourself already.

I thought Godel, Escher, Bach was a total snooze. It was like 800 pages of Hofstadter trying to prove he was clever.

If you're not into his style, GEB can be a bit perverse, but Hofstadter is genuinely excited by the ideas (and the games and wordplay he uses to convey them). If you look at the sum of his work, its tone comes across as pretty humble - humble for himself, that is; not apologetic for the ideas.

His latest with Emmanuel Sander, "Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking", is comparatively much more straightforward and less obfuscated, and still fascinating.

If you're interested in the Hofstadter's opinions of consciousness, "I am a Strange Loop" is a much, much easier read. I couldn't even penetrate the start of GEB, but I found myself burning through "I am a Strange Loop".

Have a look at the "The mind's I" [1]. It is a collection of essays and other short texts on consciousness, self, AI and strange loops with added commentary by Hofstadter and Dennett.

[1]: http://www.amazon.com/Minds-Fantasies-Reflections-Self-Soul/...

Ha, totally. I often think of that book as a bunch of him saying "hey, isn't this kinda weird/cool?"

Oddly, I felt the same.

Not sure Howard Zinn's "A People’s History of the United States" is a good pick unless you are already very well versed in history (and many other subjects) and know what to ignore. While an interesting read he takes a strongly biased point of view and many of its claims have not stood the test of time (e.g. Rosenberg's atomic spying). So you may learn may things but many of them will be false.

I agree with you. I thought I was buying that book to read about US history, but it's more of an alternate US history for those who already know US history pretty well. His writing style also annoyed me very much as he'd jump from timeframe to timeframe which makes it hard for you to follow.

Undoubtedly these excellent books call for a unique presentation. I, however, would like to see simple text-only list companion to go along with it. Turns out, this is not just a matter of grep'ing through the source: the only actual "text" are the link URLs.

I wrote a script[0] to create the list for amazon links at least:

    # Script redacted - I think HN isn't happy
    # with my scraping.  Fair enough.
The list contains 44 entries -- to much to post here, I'm afraid.

[0] Using the `mojo` cli tool for ad-hoc HTML parsing from http://mojolicio.us/

Here's the beginning of the list[0] ('Design' and 'Engineering') in plain text (Markdown), using the "I can just type it out faster than I can try to parse it" approach. I'll do more later, maybe.

The 'unique presentation' also seems to mean no alt-text (bad) and no title-text (disappointing)...

[0]: http://pastebin.com/9NKtqJSw

Edit: Added a little more[1]. Maybe someone else will add some while I go write an exam :)

[1]: http://pastebin.com/J0vi5uvJ

While by no means as well-formatted, the following list contains the output of my now-redacted script: http://pastebin.com/NT2TKRTM

A much more thorough version: https://gist.github.com/nickloewen/10565777

Viewing the page in IE11 gives a text-only version that - unfortunately - appears to be outdated and incomplete.

Hamming's "The Art of Doing Science and Engineering" is available online as a series of video lectures:


Isn't there some book about not displaying all of your website's text in images?

Could never view that site on my iPhone (4S/iOS7.1). Mobile Safari crashes within a few seconds! Bad design from my 'user' perspective.

In July 2012, it was announced that active development on Fortress would cease after a brief winding-down period, citing complications with using Fortress's type system on existing virtual machines.




I'm just putting this here as Bret Victor's link no longer works.

This should be on this list http://www.amazon.com/How-Solve-It-Modern-Heuristics/dp/3540... single best technical book I have ever read.

Also, if you ever need to give a gift, http://www.amazon.com/The-New-Turing-Omnibus-Excursions/dp/0...

Literature is notably absent...

Yeah, for some reason it is culturally unacceptable in our society to claim that fiction literature is unimportant.

We live in a society where it's fine to make shocking arguments about just about anything, but if anyone were to dare argue "What Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare had to say is pretty irrelevant and uninteresting at this point" they are a social pariah.

You've touched on something incredibly deep here.

Fact and fiction are one and the same in storytelling, that is, in the conveying of ideas from one person to another.

A mathematical system of symbolic logic is just a strange loop. It is a fiction. It is rooted in nature, in the world that we observe, but so is a poem.

There's been a trend since the Enlightenment to split the world in to RATIONAL SCIENCE and OTHER THINGS. The goal was mainly to finally remove all of the religious mumbo-jumbo and superstition from the realms of science. In the process however, we ignored our qualities of perception and language. Not only is the majority of what is important and true in our lives expressed through words and feelings but it also colors every aspect of mathematics and science. It basically took those fields eating their own tails to realize the ultimate folly of their philosophical pursuits.

Thoughts like these are often misinterpreted as attacks on reason and rationality. They are merely illustrations of the limitation of pure reason, a topic that has been broached by the great thinkers time and again. The lessons never seem to sit. Language and metaphor are constantly shifting yet our written records are set in stone, destined for misinterpretation.

But life without folly, without mystery, what life is that?

I used to read a lot more fiction before I got into computer science. I still have a fairly large library of fantasy novels and other fiction. I would like to get back into reading that sort of thing, but it seems like I never have the massive amount of time it takes to get into stuff like that now that I spend a lot of time reading technical literature as well. Any ideas?

Edit: I also find a lot of technical/programmer/etc... types don't really know much about film, which is really an amazing art form if you look beyond the typical hollywood stuff (e.g. Kurosawa, Herzog, Tarkovsky, etc...)

But by the same token is it not culturally unacceptable to say that science is irrelevant?

Unless you consider Watchmen literature

I knew there was something I liked about this list. (aren't there enough of those already?)

No. I just think it's odd he hasn't included it that's all.

it is odd, but I chalk it up to the fact that bret is a young man who's poured his productivity into a field that's fairly broad already. can't fault him for not being as well read in other areas so far in his life, but i'm sure he's interested in getting around to enjoying literature some day

you make much assumptions about how well read Bret is in other areas.

I don't find it so odd.

If you read more than a few interviews with professional writers of literature, you'll see them mention how they don't read much fiction but a lot of non-fiction.

$13,000 for used copy of Art of Doing Science and Engineering


Or, free:


But better yet, all his lectures from which the book is derived are on youtube.


I got a copy for $150 or something. I should do a scan.

Aside from the comics, no fiction. That makes me sad.

In case someone is looking for Hamming's Art of Science and Engineering book:


And the entire series of lectures is on youtube:


he would likely enjoy Lawvere's conceptual mathematics.

This is a very interesting book, but I'm curious as to why you make such statement?

Outside of the comics section, this includes virtually nothing written by women. May be that there's lots of good and important stuff out there Bret is missing.

I really enjoy Bret Victor's work, but I found the UX of the favorite books site really hard to navigate and enjoy.

This looks like something for the bookmarks, and that's exactly where I've put it now, thanks!

Bret Victor is a wonderful man.

Why is he using links to Amazon? Any reason why Amazon is preferred over other book stores? Is he getting an money from Amazon?

How about supporting smaller local book stores, instead of making billionaires richer?

>> Any reason why Amazon is preferred over other book stores?

Personally, for the reviews, the price and the very fast workflow from "What's this book about, is it good?" to "It's on its way".

>> Is he getting an money from Amazon?

Hopefully.. why not?

>> How about supporting smaller local book stores, instead of making billionaires richer?

In my book stores, there are unfortunately very few books about business and technology. I don't buy from amazon "to make the billionaire richer" but just because they're great at what they do.

There are community sites for reviews.

I have several books stores in my town where I can order these books. Even online.

No need to support ONE particular book store.

Do these several book stores in your town send books overseas? Are their prices (including packaging and shipping cost) reasonable? Do they provide a site where i can find reviews about books i am interested in while ordering?

If you're going to link to something (which is a reasonable thing to do), you have to pick one and exclude the rest. So regardless of who he links to, you could make the same argument you're making (Why this over that? Is he being paid to promote?).

As for the idea of supporting large corporations vs. local stores, it's a complicated economic argument. I don't really know enough to say which is better for the society, but I'll just note that Amazon seems to be a very customer-centric company, and their size and talent lets them innovate in ways that small stores can't, thus benefiting the customer.

I use www.librarything.com to manage books, find books, read/write reviews, search libraries, link to book stores, ...

Isn't Amazon is a tax avoider, union hostile and privacy hostile company?

Yes, but apparently being a tax avoider, union hostile, horrible sweat-shop like employeer and privacy hostile company is not as bad as having a CEO that, in his private life, backed a compaign people don't agree with, to cause the same kind of outrage.

As far as I know Amazon's affiliate service uses a special link with an affiliate code in it. Based on this it would appear he's NOT receiving a referral fee.

>Is he getting an money from Amazon?

Well, it's his blog, and he can even put refferal ids in those links if he likes.

>How about supporting smaller local book stores, instead of making billionaires richer?

You can go and buy those books anywhere. The existence of Amazon links doesn't prevent this. They are just useful to gauge the price, read book details (pages, publisher etc) comments and reviews, find other works by the same author, see the cover, etc.

you are a salty mofo. Bret Victor is dedicating his life to making tools that will augment our intelligence, putting out A+ caliber design theory lectures on his personal site at free of charge.

What have you contributed?

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