Issue #8 June 2005

Red Hat summer reading list: See what turns our page

For the last few years, we've published a summer reading list here on This year is no different (except that the list is now in the magazine instead of our documentation section). We know it's not summer everywhere, and maybe we should just call it a non-seasonal reading list, but it is summer here. Our offices aren't but a couple of hours from the beach, and we needed something to keep us busy while sipping our fruity drinks and basking (or broiling) in the NC sun. You can enjoy your copies in the tub, at the 19th hole, or at the ski lodge—a good book is always a nice accessory!

Without further ado, here's our fashionable paper picks for this year:

American Prometheus
by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin

Recommended by: Matthew Szulik—Chairman, CEO, and President

American Prometheus is the biography of one of America's greatest mathematicians, Robert Oppenheimer. It is an enlightening story of the lead mathematician behind the Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer—post the bombing of Japan—was a visible and vocal critic for nuclear disarmament and was eventually disgraced by the US government for taking an anti-nuclear position.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
by Robert A Heinlein

Recommended by: Matthew Szulik

Classic science fiction from a great science fiction writer; a tale of the Lunar revolution. Among the best-known of Heinlein's works, Moon is told from the perspective of a small band of men, women, and hardware that form the nucleus of the rebellion. [Ed. : a must-read for anyone who has ever watched Babylon 5.]

The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime
by Mark Haddon

Recommended by: Matthew Szulik

Goofy light reading about a man investigating the suspicious death of a dog.

Massive Change
by Bruce Mau

Recommended by: Michael Tiemann—VP, Open Source Affairs

Early on in my days of free software, Richard Stallman encouraged me to disregard people who tried to argue that free software was absurd because it failed, as a model, to work for hardware, highways, or hops. In fact, it was probably about then he had the insight to say "Free as in speech, not as in beer." Who ever heard of free beer, really?

For years I've accepted that wisdom and politely declined any attempt to think too far beyond the software box when explaining the unique value of software freedom that derives from its idea-ness. And often I found myself quoting Thomas Jefferson, who pointed out that an idea is like a light on a candle that could be shared without diminishing the light of his own. But he never argued that candles, therefore, could be freely shared at no marginal cost. Only ideas.

Then along comes Bruce Mau and shows not one, but more than 50 ways in which knowledge, possibilities, and their practical achievement are related by design. He informs that the GPL is (and I knew this, I just didn't quite appreciate it) a design for software licensing. A design that is uniquely compatible with a larger design--one that makes the welfare of the whole human race a practical objective. This book will take anybody who is just a little too comfortable with their own assumptions and expose the design (good or bad) intrinsic to all of them. Massively cool!

by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Recommended by David Burney—VP, Marketing Communications

Lest you believe this is yet another boring market economics book, skim the subtitle: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. Levitt is not a chart-and-graph-lovin' economist, he is a rogue economist. The kind of economist who examines the organizational structures of street gangs. Who sees patterns in baby names and Sumo wrestling. Who thinks some of the most divisive political stances of the day can be solved—or at least explained—by previously unrelated statistics. But not boring statistics. This book could be all the econ and stat classes you took in college... if they were actually interesting.

Bone in the Throat
by Anthony Bourdain

Recommended by Tammy Fox—Editor, Red Hat Magazine

Those of you who recognize the author's name as the Food Network host of "A Cook's Tour" admire his amazing ability to describe food in a way that either makes you want to fly around the world just to have a bite or fly around the world just to avoid ever coming into contact with the food. His tough New York demeanor translates perfectly to this fiction book about a guy trying to make an honest living as a chef in his uncle's Little Italy restaurant and not get killed by the mob all at the same time.

Free Culture
by Lawrence Lessig

Recommended by Greg DeKoenigsberg—Community Relations Manager

Want to see how big corporations are monopolizing not only certain ideas, but the very process of creating ideas? Larry Lessig tells you all about it.

A Short History of Nearly Everything
by Bill Bryson

Recommended by: Karsten Wade—Technical writer

This book is most of all a great story. One of the secrets of science writing is that science goes hand-in-hand with history, which is nothing more than a series of ripping yarns. Using a great narrative thread, Bryson takes us from the beginning of time-as-we-currently-understand-it through to the present, touching upon nearly all branches of science and some of the greatest stories told (and forgotten.)

During all this, Bryson neither talks down nor up to the reader. He does an excellent job of introducing a concept, giving the technical understanding to continue with the reading, and going on. As an amateur scientist and writer, I was deeply impressed with his skills in this area. One example I recall was when he introduced scientific notation. He gave it a good footnote, and explained how powers and notation worked, and put it all in a real world scale. Then, in the book, he brought back that learning by occasionally not scientifically notating a number, saying he did it to give the reader a real feel for the size of something and a reminder of the amazing numbers we throw around in science.

Mind Wide Open
by Steven Johnson

Recommended by: Jonathan Opp—Marketing Communications Manager, writer and photographer

"Mind Wide Open" is a look into what modern brain science teaches us about how we think, react, and interact with the world. An owner's manual for your mind. What happens to your brain when you fall in love, are paralyzed by an irrational phobia, or come up with a brilliant idea? In the mix of chemicals and firing neurons, the brain conspires (most often behind the scenes) to keep us safe, help us procreate, and push a potentially crippling amount of detail below our consciousness. Johnson writes, "The more you learn about the brain, the more you understand how exquisitely crafted it is to record the unique contours of your own life in those unthinkably interconnected neurons and their firing patterns." You are how you're wired. Johnson is also the author of "Emergence," a fascinating and readable book about the unified brilliance of interconnected elements.

Knitting Workshop
by Elizabeth Zimmermann

Recommended by: Bascha Harris—Web developer, writer, editor

A recent resurgence in the hobby of knitting has bookshelves bursting with hipster pattern and how-to manuals. None are worth really reading, though, cover to cover. They come down when a pattern is needed, get thumbed through for ideas, but they're not really books. Elizabeth Zimmermann's knitting books are books. The best of the series, Workshop, can take both impassioned beginners or highly amused master knitters from the daintiest of baby hats through to the most beautiful one-piece sweaters, laughing out loud the entire way. She is both a deft writer and a hilarious comic, and her frequent conversational meanderings make the book one that even non-knitters could probably appreciate. Her other books include Knitter's Almanac and Knitting without Tears. Sadly, there will be no more Zimmermann knitting books, as she passed away in 1999. Her daughters have continued her work, and recently released a collection of her letters about—what else—knitting.

"Don't knit when you are in a rage, or tense for any reason. At least, you can knit, but confine this to working on a very tight, strong pair of booddees, or a sock. Put them in a special place, and take them out only when peeved." [p17]

The Art of Computer Programming
by Donald E. Knuth

Recommended by: Brian Brock, QA engineer

The Art of Computer Programming explains the core of Computer Science. That's a lot to explain, as it bridges the gap between academic mathematics and the applications that solve problems. Knuth does so with a unique sense of humor, and provides many helpful exercises along the way to show his points. This series fits the bill as both a classic, and comprehensive. It's not the lightest of material, but it's a good text to read before embarking on grad-student work.

Chris Blizzard, engineer, merely provided a list of Amazon links. Leave it to the hard-core geek to cut straight to the chase. The tomes he recommends for a little "light" beach reading include:

Forgotten Prophecies
by Anthony R. Karnowski

Recommended by: Shane O'Donnell, Red Hat Magazine reader

I'm recommending this book to all my friends—especially those interested in sci-fi, the art of writing a novel, or both. What's great about this book is that you get the rare opportunity to find a young author writing his first book and as the engaging story unfolds, you feel him "find his voice." The first chapters read like Karnowski is trying a bit too hard to be "an author," but as the book continues, he settles into a style that's both readable and well-suited to telling a gripping story.

You'll most assuredly hear more from Karnowski, and with Forgotten Prophecies, you get the opportunity to say, "Yeah, I was reading him back when..."

by George Orwell

Recommended by: Matthew Nuzum, Red Hat Magazine reader

An excellent book because it is at the same time thought-provoking and enjoyable, 1984 brilliantly demonstrates the loss of freedom, stifling of creativity, and suppression of human nature that occurs when a single entity has complete dominance. In this book's case, the entity is a fascist dictatorship, but the same effects could easily be realized when a single important business sector is dominated by one organization. 1984 originates several well-known counter-culture catch phrases such as "thought police," "big brother," and "double-think." It helps us realize the dangers of abdicating freedom and the ability to make choices. This book has been an inspiration to many, and if you have not yet read it, make sure it is on your short list this summer.

The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy

Recommended by: Biju Krishnan, Red Hat Magazine reader

It's wonderful to know how a million stories can spring out from what seems to be the simple tale—this one about twins Rahel and Estha and their family. Set in "God's own country" of Kerala, India, the story combines family tragedies with local politics, social taboos, and history. It is a sad story, so be prepared to know how lucky you are to be happy.