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George Ruban's Book Recommendations

In association with These are the books that I recommend to my friends and acquaintances, books that I have enjoyed reading and using in my work and spare time. GeoCities doesn't allow many other Web gimmicks on their pages, but they have signed a deal with the online bookstore, so you can actually buy these books through this page by clicking on each book cover. The click doesn't commit you, merely takes you to the page for that book, where you can read other Amazon readers' reviews, see the price, and then order. Or, feel free to just read the book list and recommendations, and buy them from another source - the links are mostly for the convenience value, I don't expect to actually get my small percentage for selling them through this page often.

Another great book resource I recommend is The Library of Alexandria which will quiz you on books you have already read, and will then match your ratings profile with those of other users, in order to recommend other books that you should also like. It takes a while, both filling out enough book ratings to get a good profile (the better profile it has, the more you can trust the recommendation), and getting recommendations afterwards (they seem to have a slow server, and/or the profile matching is complicated - two minutes for a recommendation list can be expected), but it works quite well as a way to be recommended good books that you would otherwise have never heard of, but which seem to be tailored for you personally.


In case you haven't yet realized, I work as a computer programmer. Here are my best tools.

Kernighan and Ritchie's The C Programming Language, second edition

The C Programming Language If you want to be a programmer today, you have to know C (Or COBOL ... but we won't talk about that :-) ). This is the best book to learn C from, and will stay as a complete reference throughout your career. The book is short, gets to the point quickly, and yet still covers it well. "C is not a big language and it is not well served by a big book." (from the introduction). The authors are not afraid to teach good programming practices along with language syntax, use real examples that fit their point - for example, you'll find a Shell sort quickly implemented in the book. And all this makes the book actually shorter and flow better. It doesn't hurt that it is the classic in the industry, defines the language, and was written by the creators of the language itself. Getting the second edition is important, not only because it covers the modern (ANSI or ISO) C language, but because the writing and examples have been improved.

Others have tried to imitate this book, and failed. Bjarne Stroustrup's The C++ Programming Language stands as an obvious example; though it is also a standard written by the language designer, the book is too thick, and too abstract and academic, to serve its purposes either as a tutorial or a reference. Therefore I haven't yet found a book I can whole-heartedly recommend for C++, and would be glad to hear recommendations.

David Flanagan's Java in a Nutshell, 1.0.2 and 1.1 editions

Java in a Nutshell This is my favorite because it is the closest equivalent to the C book for the Java language. It gives the facts, explains well, with as few wasted pages as possible. It stays useful as a valuable reference long after being a terse, effective tutorial, for someone who can already program in another language. The index cross-references the standard Java library better than the JDK javadoc HTML documentation, and more succinctly.

The editions question is harder. The 1.0.2 Java language edition was actually better written, terser, and more complete, and about half of the Java-enable Web browsers in use today still only support Java 1.0.2. (I still try to write for 1.0.2 when I can.) However only the 1.1 edition is apparently available at Amazon, or many other bookstores. Also, the current Java language standard is 1.1, or even 1.2, so eventually the earlier book will be less useful.


I tend to like Fantasy and Science Fiction, followed by Mysteries, Literature... in short, I read a lot, but here are some favorites.

Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds

Bridge of Birds This is probably my favorite fantasy book of all time, over than The Lord of the Rings or the Earthsea trilogies. It is an adventure set in "a China that never was" and I like it for so many reasons, I have to think it is nearly a perfect fit for my image of the ideal book. First, it induces a great "sense of wonder", by its use of the ancient Chinese culture throughout (I don't know if it's authentic, but it certainly feels that way). There is a wonderful politeness, a sense of extreme civilization and formality bestowed by a thousand years of recorded history - a different history than most Western readers are probably used to. Second, it has a glorious, magical, mystery as its core, that is enjoyable to solve with the characters not only the first time, but again and again on each re-reading. It is fantastical, somehow without being unbelievable. It has wonderful characters, from the heroes, the immensely sympathetic Number Ten Ox, and Master Li Kao ("a sage with a slight flaw in his character"), to the villains and even the minor characters, each given a realistic, memorable, personality. It is funny, without making an effort to be; it achieves its humor by not taking itself too seriously, able to laugh at the characters, the plot, and the world, all without becoming a farce and breaking the reader's suspension of disbelief and sense of wonder. Finally, like the programming books I recommend above, or a piece of poetry, it is concise, tight, with a feeling of not a wasted sentence, paragraph, or event. There is an idea on every page. Characters and events that have seemingly more than adequately advanced the plot or served their time on the stage, come back again and again to develop even further, marvelously.

The sequels to the book, The Story of The Stone, and Eight Skilled Gentlemen, carry on with new adventures of Number Ten Ox and Master Li Kao, but unfortunately are not as good as the original. They read as if the author spent less time on writing the sequels than on Bridge of Birds - while the first seemed as if he went over and over it, until nothing more could be made better, no idea could be added, and nothing wasted was left that could be cut away, these sequels feel as if half of the original quantity of ideas, characters, and plot development are spread among the same number of pages, and the rough edges, of plot and character, are still left on. They're not bad books in themselves - if you loved the original, you won't regret reading the sequels - but you might be disappointed that they are not as good. Barry Hughart hasn't written anything else.

Instead, you might want to try Tim Powers's The Anubis Gates, which has similar qualities of plot complexity, tightness, and historical, fantastical, "sense of wonder," and adventure, this time dealing with Victorian London and a bit of Egypt. It is a magic and time travel story, so the recurrence of certain characters and events in the plot might seem just a little more forced, but is still handled well. The main reasons in which I see it as less than Bridge of Birds is that the characters are less sympathetic, possibly because they are less fully fleshed out; and the sense of humor is a bit unpleasantly black. But that just makes it less than perfect, The Anubis Gates is still a very good book.

The Anubis Gates

Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash

Snow Crash Snow Crash has become one of the classics of Cyberpunk, despite coming out later than the beginnings of the field. It is set in the near future, after world governments have been made irrelevant by the global economy, technology, and corporations. Cities are largely independent, the Mafia is just another corporation, and the United States's world leadership is reduced to two areas - fast software, and fast pizza delivery. Yes, the book does not take itself seriously at all - the main character, for example is named Hiro Protagonist. In addition to the successful humor, there is a good exciting adventure plot (though the premise, that computer programmers may be infected by a computer-like virus by looking at certain symbols, is a bit unbelievable, everything else works well), and many well detailed, memorable characters. The whole thing is set in a vivid, believable, relatively hopeful world, actually being a reasonable extrapolation from current trends, with just a bit of humor injected. If we are doomed to a Cyberpunk future, I hope it is this one. I especially like it because the Internet software is believable, unlike that in most Cyberpunk novels. And like Bridge of Birds, or a good mystery (though this isn't one), Snow Crash seems complex and tightly scripted, with few plot details wasted, nearly every character interesting, and nearly every event becoming important.

Glen Cook's Black Company Series

1. The Black Company
2. Shadows Linger
3. The White Rose
4. Shadow Games
5. The Silver Spike

6. Dreams of Steel
7. Bleak Seasons
8. She is the Darkness
This is an ongoing series of books about mercenaries in a dark, cynical, Sword-and-Sorcery world. No humor here. The stories are mostly told from the viewpoint of Croaker, the Company surgeon and Annalist - keeper of the Company records. Magic is relatively rare, but powerful. The Company survives by its wits and experience. I like the feelng of realism in this series - war, even ancient, fantasy, magical war, is a dirty business. These books read like war stories told by veterans, without breaking suspension of disbelief by feeling "modern."

The author has many other fantasy books, of varying quality. The Garrett, P.I., series is slightly lighter, about a Raymond Chandler style hardboiled detective in a different swords-and-sorcery world. The first book of the series, Sweet Silver Blues, is good because it is tense, the rest in the series less so. The Tower of Fear is even darker Swords-and-Sorcery, but too dark: with everyone morally ambiguous, there are not enough sympathetic characters, and it ends with a moral let down. The Dread Empire (not recommended) series is politics and warfare against a Mohammed imitation; it is genuinely bad: it has no sympathetic protagonists, and drags on over many volumes without reaching a conclusion. The Swordbearer is surprisingly good despite being an Elric imitation. Cook even has some science fiction, but nothing memorable.

Web Pages:

The Glen Cook Fan Page is probably the best for overall author info.
The Linköping Science Fiction & Fantasy Archive has a complete Glen Cook bibliography in the form of a discussion.
The Black Company Outpost has a lot of useful trivia gathered from the series books.

Finally, if you don't like any of these recommendations, you can likely find any popular book in print today in using this search form. Type in author, title, or subject.

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