Adams, Douglas The Hitch-Hikers Guide to
Pan, 1979 Essential reading for
anyone who doesn't yet know "the answer to the world, the universe and
Adams, Richard Watership Down
A major inspiration to me in revealing the limits to our perception of
large numbers, through the eyes of an appealing colony of rabbits.
Blanchard, K and Johnson, S The One Minute
Manager Berkeley Books, 1982
One minute is about the amount of time I have for modern management
techniques — but provided you keep them in balance there are lots of
good ideas here.
with Risk The British Medical Association Guide John Wiley,
A well illustrated guide to putting the relative risks of modern life
into rational perspective.
Capra, Fritjof The Tao of Physics
The classic account of the extraordinary parallels between
contemporary physics and traditional Eastern Mysticism. Typically, I
read the sequel, The Turning Point Flamingo, 1983 first.
Dawkins, Richard The Blind Watchmaker
Another highly accessible book by a prominent scientist. Intended to
be a definitive answer to those who question Darwinian evolution it
incorporates some of the most beautiful descriptions ever written of
the incredible refinement of biological systems.
de Bono, Edward Lateral Thinking
De Bono's ideas only seem obvious when you know them. The richness and
variety of his insights into the generation of new ideas is itself
indicative of their efficacy. I always find his books stimulating.
e.g. Teaching Thinking Pelican,
Eliot, George Middlemarch
Penguin Classics (originally 1871)
I read Middlemarch relatively recently but before the television
dramatisation and was fascinated to find that George Eliot had been
thinking about the impact of technology on human values more than a
century ago. What's more she knew the answers.
The Technological Society Vintage
1964 (Originally La Technique ou l'enjou du siècle 1954)
Jacques Ellul was a professor in the Faculty of Law at Bordeaux
University who had been a leader of the French Resistance. His book
describes what he saw as the tragedy of a civilisation in which
traditional human values were being relentlessly usurped by the alien
forces of technique. He may have been too gloomy and overstated his
case, but I'm not sure.
Evans, Christopher The Mighty Micro
Victor Gollancz, London 1979
I include this out of nostalgia because it was the book which more
than any other introduced the British public to the computer
revolution, just in time for the Sinclair ZX80, a real computer for
Feynman, Richard P Surely You're Joking,
Mr Feynman! Adventures of a Curious Character. Bantam,
Nobel prize-winning theoretical physicist, bongo drummer, painter of
nudes, adventurer, teacher, storyteller — a true generalist and one of
the great personalities of theoretical physics describes an
astonishingly varied selection of incidents from his personal and
scientific life with boyish glee.
Gleick, James Chaos Heineman
There is much more to chaos theory than pretty patterns and
butterflies’ wings affecting the weather on Mars; it is fundamental to
the emerging understanding of the relations between causes and
effects. Good material if you believe that the world can’t be modelled
in simple formulae.
Gould, Steven Jay Wonderful Life - The
Burgess Shale and the Nature of History Hutchinson Radius
A fascinating account of recent fossil discoveries that confounded all
expectations and showed that there was a vastly greater diversity of
life forms when animals first began to emerge than there is today,
most of the prototypes having been eliminated by natural selection.
Gould goes on to a typically far-reaching discussion of how new things
in general develop. His books of essays are also excellent.
Gribben, John In Search of Schrödinger's
Cat Corgi, 1984
A brilliantly lucid account of quantum physics by a scientist and
professional writer. Purely as a historical account of the emergence
of a fantastic new idea it makes for thrilling reading. As an account
of how the scientific community now view the world we live in it is
more stimulating and astonishing than any fiction.
Hawking, Stephen A Brief History of Time
It is sometimes thought smart to say that this is the best seller
nobody finishes. Nobody, however, quite manages to shrug off the
symbolism of someone who can't speak explaining such profundities so
clearly. Black Holes and Baby Universes and other essays Bantam,
1993 is also a fascinating read.
Levi, Primo The Periodic Table
Abacus, London 1986
A work of superb artistry by a chemist who survived Auschwitz. Levi
gives us deft little glimpses of his world in astonishingly contrasted
chapters — each taking a different chemical element as its theme. A
Popper Fontana, London, 1973
Not just a concise and lucid account of the work of a man whom Sir
Peter Medawer, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, described as,
‘incomparably the greatest philosopher of science that has ever been’,
but an illustration of how a skilful writer can make knowledge
accessible to people who haven’t the time or energy to plough through
the original texts.
Mill, John Stuart On Liberty
Penguin Classics (Originally 1859)
‘The only purpose for which power can rightfully be exercised over any
member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm
to others...’ The classic account of the importance of individual
Morrell, David The Art of General Practice
Of the descriptions of general practice I have come across,
this is the one I most consistently identify with.
Munthe, Axel The Story of San Michele
An extraordinarily poetic autobiography by an outstanding doctor and
man, which enjoyed great popularity earlier this century. The autonomy
society allowed to such practitioners in the past obviously stimulated
some to greatness, whilst it undeniably allowed others to sink.
Parkinson, C Northcote Parkinson's Law or
The Pursuit of Happiness John Murray, 1958
Funny and readable. 'Parkinson’s law'
is now part of our language but we haven’t learned a thing.
Penrose, Roger The Emperor's New Mind -
concerning computers, minds, and the laws of physics
Roger Penrose’s classic argument, using impeccable science, that there
are elements of mystery in the workings of the human mind which
distinguish it fundamentally from any machine we can conceive of
constructing. Reading it I was conscious that I had reached the same
conclusion from an entirely different approach.
Philip Rhodes The Value of Medicine
George Allen and Unwin, 1976
A scholarly, thoughtful and unusually objective account by a doctor of
the purpose of medicine in the modern world. Professor Rhodes was Dean
of St Thomas’s Hospital and later of the Faculty of Medicine in the
University of Adelaide. He was the first to encourage my efforts
towards this book when he later became Postgraduate Dean at
Southampton Medical School.
Pirsig, Robert M Zen and the Art of
An indescribable exploration of the interface between art and
technology. My copy has got green high-lighter on almost every page —
would whoever I lent it to please let me have it back! I also enjoyed
Lila - an inquiry into morals,
Pirsig’s eagerly awaited second book which appeared in 1991.
Skrabanek, Petr and McCormick, James
Follies and Fallacies in Medicine Tarragon Press, 1990
A brilliant, sustained and funny assault on fashionable but
unscientific preoccupations in medicine. Rare common sense.
Stoppard, Tom Hapgood
Faber and Faber, 1988
Act 1 scene 2 of this rather baffling play contains a brilliantly
lucid account of the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics —
which Richard Feynman described as the only mystery. I include
this as another example of how we can gain understanding from a blend
of art and science.
Toffler, Alvin The Third Wave
Toffler followed Future Shock (which I didn’t read) with this
detailed analysis of where a society goes when it no longer needs most
of its members to be working in industry.
Wood, Barbara Alias Papa - A Life of Fritz
Schumaker Oxford Paperbacks, 1984
The brilliant economist who left Hitler’s Germany before the outbreak
of war because, unlike his family and friends (and Time magazine), he
could not accept what was being done to truth. Originally the epitome
of an establishment figure, he was one of the intellectual giants
whose authority formed the backbone of the alternative world view as
it emerged in the early nineteen seventies.
Having decided to include this list I found I could make it neither
short nor complete — two corollaries from what I have said in the
text. Thus, although I have included most of the books I have read
carefully and found helpful, I am sure I’ve forgotten others and left
out far more into which I only dipped. I have not attempted to include
countless magazine and newspaper articles (for example I have
subscribed to New Scientist weekly for most of my adult life).
Nor items gleaned from radio, television or other media. Nor the
professional books and journals which are the staple of my trade. I
haven’t mentioned the many, massive computer manuals that have taught
me a succession of languages and programs over the past fourteen
years, nor the books about design, gardening, music and all the other
things that have contributed to my life. Finally, the reader may be
surprised to learn that I have read a little about writing, language,