The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive


BOOK REVIEWS


These are books I have been working with recently; I recommend all of
them.

First TECH:

Amazon Hacks, 100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools, Paul Bausch, O'Reilly.
This book follows on Google Hacks - there is now a series of Hacks works in
progress. Amazon Hacks is useful, not only for buying and selling, but for
the model of commerce it presents in detail. As a voracious reader, I plan
to use the book in selling some books - only in order to buy others of
course. The chapter sections include Browsing and Searching; Controlling
your Information; Participating in the Amazon Community; Selling Through
Amazon; Associates Program; and Amazon Web Services. I requested the book
as a review copy.

Windows XP Unwired, A Guide for the Home, Office, and the Road, Wei-Ming
Lee, O'Reilly. This book fills a large gap in my library; I don't
understand WiFi that well, and this is enormously useful, WinXP or not.
There are case studies, coverage of infrared and Bluetooth, etc. I've
needed this work. It accompanies The Wireless Networking Starter Kit, The
practical guide to Wi-Fi networks for Windows and Macintosh, Adam Engst
and Glenn Fleishman, Peachpit Press. I'd still like to know why tmobile
goes out every so often on the Zaurus, the details of Wep (which I can
find online), but both of these manuals cover the field for someone just
wanting to get on, wardrive, transfer/transfer/transfer, and so forth.

Two more tech books:

Google Pocket Guide, Tara Calishain, Rael Dornfest, DJ Adams - this is
fine, not nearly as detailed as Google Hacking, but quite useful for
someone who isn't that interested in programming with the Web API. (This
is also a requested book.)

The Official Blender Gamekit, Interactive 3d for Artists, Ton Roosendaal
and Carsten Wartmann, Blender. I just ordered this; it comes with Blender
Creator, and 10 sample games - all of which can be modified. I'm really
excited about playing around with this. The Publisher version is 2.24;
Blender is moving towards 3.0 and a new gamekit, so this was on sale ($35
US). What can I say? I love Blender, its small footprint, quirkiness,
ability for fast-fast modeling (as long as it isn't human!), and so
forth. It's one of the few programs that have let me constantly amaze
myself. You should have some knowledge of Blender itself before using this
book, but there is an introduction in it, and it does come with the 2.28
version.

Onto other work:

Hacker Culture, Douglas_Thomas, Minnesota. I love this book; it's the best
analysis of the title concept I've seen (although Levy's Hackers runs a
close second, as old as it is). It's not based on tech or exploits, but on
analysis from within and without - internal phenomenology of hacking and
hacking communities, and cultural studies analysis of the reception of
hacking etc. within the social - ranging from film to legislation. The
sections follow suit: The Evolution of the Hacker; Hacking
Representation; and Hacking Law. There are sections on Phrack and the
"Hacker Manifesto" - I couldn't ask for better. The epilogue goes over
Mitnick/Lamprecht. I recommend this book to everyone interested in
computer culture.

A Mind So Rare, The Evolution of Human Consciousness, Merlin Donald,
Norton. I'd read and loved his Origins of the Modern Mind - and mind you,
I'm very wary of titles like these - but the books are exceptional, and
offer a foundation for thinking about mind in relation to the external
world - ranging from hammers to computers, digging to databanks. (I had to
try at the alliteration.) David Antin mentioned A Mind So Rare to me; I
hadn't known about it. Antin's recommendation is _always_ worthwhile; I'd
argue this book is a necessity in thinking through the philosophy of
information, philosophy of consciousness, cog psy, and so forth.

Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace; and The Future of Ideas, The Fate of
the Commons in a Connected World, Lawrence Lessig, Basic Books and Random
House. Both of these books are exciting - they deal with code,
legislation, community, the "commons," and other issues relevant to the
present and future of the Net. Now that we have 30 billion spams a day -
over 60% of all email - the issues he discusses are absolutely crucial.
I would also advise _everyone_ to join the Nettime email list, which
discusses cultural/political issues; Lessig has been one of a number of
reference points.

Snap To Grid, A User's Guide to Digital Arts, Media, and Cultures, MIT,
Peter Lunenfeld - one of the most intelligent books I've seen on digital
aesthetics. From Stelarc to jodi to listservs, the work is an immensely
valuable guide and analysis of the digital domain. It's already 2 years
old, but doesn't seem dated - but then perhaps the 'classic' era of
digital art/media is already past.

Collective Intelligence, Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace, Plenum.
Post Deleuze/Guattari/Fuller/perhaps de Chardin visionary - irritating
like the Krokers can be irritating (well, not _that_ irritating) but
exciting at the same time; it gives some sort of distant spirituality or
otherness to what we're doing at the moment. Makes me feel good and the
analysis is fascinating.

Some other work I'm reading at the moment:

The History of the Calculus and its Conceptual Development, Carl Boyer,
quite quite old Dover book, but for me really useful in thinking about the
ontology of infinitesimals and the continuum. It does come before
Robinson's work on infinitesimals, so its development is classic, but
extremely detailed.

Opal, A Life of Enchantment, Mystery, and Madness, Katherine Beck, Viking,
which just came out. If you haven't read the work of Opal Whiteley, you
should; it's almost unbelievable - I'd recommend Hoff's edition of the
Mystical Nature Diary. Her work and life have been crucial for my own
thinking of the natural world and issues of naming - even though the Diary
was written by and large when Whiteley was 6. (No, I'm not exaggerating.)

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley. I'd never read this before and was astonished
at the incandescence of the writing and the fulfillment of romantic
destiny - it is _nothing_ like any of the popularizations I've seen.

Studies in Chinese Folklore and Related Essays, Wolfram Eberhard, Indiana,
1970. This is wonderful; there are translations of pounding songs,
children's essays, poems scrawled on walls. I haven't seen any of this
literature before, and the Eighteen Short Men, Eighteen Red Men, etc.
pounding songs are amazing. I'm always excited when new domains open up in
the world and suddenly one is born anew - it's like that.

Saving the Image, Art after Film, Tanya Leighton and Pavel Buchler,
editors, CCA/MMU, complete with a long essay by Tom Zummer among others
(Laura Mulvey, Chrissie Myles, John Waters, etc.). I just received this
(from Tom; I'm mentioned in his essay), but the issue is an important one
to many of us who have moved from film's physicality through video's
mechanisms to flash memory, packets, and the electromagnetic spectrum.

The Medieval Castle, Life in a Fortress in Peace and War, Warner, Penguin
- if you're interested in the theme, and I am.

Montaigne and Melancholy, The Wisdom of the Essays, M.A. Screech. I've
always liked the Essays; this book transforms them in relation to theory
of body, ecstasy, self, and melancholy itself. I'm rarely interested in
litcrit, but this work is rather amazing, opening up new territories of
the text. Rather old, 1983, republished with new intro by Penguin in 1991.

Of course if you haven't looked at Wolfram's A New Kind of Science (there
was also a great review of this in Dr Dobbs a while ago) - please please
do - the paradigm is easy to understand, the writing lucid, examples
exciting, programming somewhat easy if you want to go that way, and the
weight of the thing will make a great doorstop.

I've also been reading the poetry of Nada Gordon on and off for months
now, and really love the intensity, interstitial writing, and sheer
quality of language. Just thought I'd mention it.

Also:

The Selected Prose of Fernando Pessoa; some books on Korean for tourists;
Sibley's guides to birds and bird behavior; Heisenberg's The Physical
Principles of the Quantum Theory; the most recent Sara Paretsky novel,
Blacklist, more of Shelley, Mary Shelley's notebooks...


- I've wanted to cover a lot of this territory, particularly the opening
technical works, for a long time. Hope this at least interests you.

- Alan

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