Espen's favorite booksIn association with

As of Summer 2004, this page will no longer be systematically updated.
Instead, I will put whatever I write about books in Applied Abstractions (my blog) - choose Category:Reading.

I am constantly asked by students to recommend books to read--mainly books on IT management or electronic commerce or other business school subjects, but sometimes on other subjects as well. So I thought I would put together a list of books I like and why I like them. Then, why limit yourself to non-fiction or your own subject--why not put together a list of all kinds of books that you like? Very quickly the list expands, and the next logical step is to become an associate, to see if this electronic commerce thing really works. (It does: in 2000 I made $40.60, in 2001 48.89.  This is more than most .coms....)

Incidentally, lest you see this as merely a pretentious attempt to earn a buck, I have throughly enjoyed putting together this list.  For one thing, you start to seriously investigate which books you haven't read (way too many, I'd say) and to put together a shopping list.  For instance, I found Hugh Laurie's book The Gunseller, which sounded interesting (turned out bit of a disappointment, though).  I found Paul Fussell's Wartime and Doing Battle, which were excellent.  You also come to understand how many books you have read, how you spent all that time that seems to disappear into nothing, and how few of the books you read really make an impression (I tend to forget updating this page).  If you are looking for a similar personal book-lists, the Global Business Network has a bookclub which used to be run by Stewart Brand--excellent place to look for new titles in the area of futurism, history, and innovation. Quite a few books are available in full text online.  If you have comments on this list, or anything else--drop me a line.

[Current favorites | Fun & relaxation | Serious fiction | Books to learn from | Technology and thinking | Business, electronic & not | Grab bag | The quick take]

Current favorite authors

(These are authors whose stuff I just buy whenever there is something new out.)
  • While I am at it, let me mention Stephen Levy's Crypto. This is a description and discussion of the discovery of secure digital communication, DES (by IBM), and public key encryption - as well as the NSA efforts to twart the spreading of the knowledge and the tools.  Takes over where Simon Singh leaves off. This book is more reportage than history writing, a bit breathless in its heroic portrayals of cryptographers and crypto-anarchists, but does a very good job of explaining the tug-of-war between comercial companies, the US government, and various libertarian groups over cryptography during the 1990s.

 Fun & relaxation

Serious literature

Just what it sounds like--real books.

Books to learn from

(that is, I learned something from them...educational non-fiction, perhaps?  Great reads)

Technology & thinking

(because technology is about thinking and thinking, it seems, is more and more about technology)

Business and organization, electronic & other

Business books in general, diplomatically speaking, are not that well written.  For the business books, the essence can often be well captured in a Harvard Business Review article (and usually is, which means you don't have to read the book).  For the denser organizational books, you often do better with a well told illustrative anecdote.  But there are numerous exceptions, here are some classics, and some personal favorites of mine:

Grab bag

The quick take

Books to read (for no particular reason) Books to avoid (because it is no fun setting up a page like this without being able to make this list)
  • Woody Allen's Getting Even and Without Feathers to improve your cynical joke repertoire.  Getting a bit 70s and dated, though.
  • Most stuff by Dave Barry and P J O'Rourke.  In measured doses (a chapter a day).  O'Rourke's Holidays in Hell has the best description of the international sailing culture (or lack of it) I have ever read, Parliament of Whores explains US politics for the unitiated.  Eat the Rich actually contains an excellent understanding of (liberalistic) economics, with examples to spare.
  • Isabel Allende: House of Spirits
  • Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  If you really get hooked, try the rest of the series, but I overdosed and that was it.  And take a peek at The Meaning of Liff, which will give you words for all those little everyday concepts that need a label.
  • Po Bronson: Bombardiers.  Fun about trading and overwork.
  • Italo Calvino: If on a Winter's Night a Traveller and The Baron in the Trees
  • Winston Spencer Churchill: Memoirs of The Second World War
  • Doctorow: Billy Bathgate and The Waterworks
  • Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose.  Perhaps Foucault's Pendulum.  Definitely How to Travel with a Salmon.  But not The Island of the Day Before, and not The Search for the Perfect Language (unless you are a linguist, that is)
  • Richard P. Feynman: Surely Your're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?  (and if you are interested in a serious biography on Feynman, try James Gleick's Genius)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby and perhaps The Last Tycoon
  • C.S. Forrester's Hornblower series (because, for a boys book character, Horiatio Hornblower is more complex than most.  And the historical details are correct to the extent they can be in a work of fiction).  Incidentally, for a funny book in the same tradition, try Midshipman Easy by Captain Maryatt or Patrick O'Brien's series about Captain Jack Aubrey and his sidekick Stephen Maturin.
  • Kenneth Galbraith: A Tenured Professor, a funny little satire about contrarian investing and academic pomposity, sort of an Ameican version of David Lodge.
  • Jean Genet: Diary of a Thief
  • Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (the shortened Penguin version, by all means).  In one part, he refers to an area called Slovia, which Caesar never was able to conquer - and marvels (in 1790) that they are still fighting among themselves there.  How little the world changes.
  • William Golding: Lord of the Flies.  Scary about a flock of schoolboys marrooned on a deserted island, and the tribal society they form.
  • Guenther Grass: The Tin Drum. The film was great, too.
  • Graham Greene: I particularly enjoyed Travels With My Aunt (middle-aged retired bank  manager discovers the worl through his delightful and very cosmopolitan aunt Augusta.  Great description of Heathrow Airport and its baggage system, wonderful anecdote of the old man who wanted to spend his life travelling and therefore got himself a 52-room house); The Power and the Glory (about an alcoholic priest in a Mexican province, fleeing from authorities); Monsignor Quixote, The Tenth Man, and of course Brighton Rock, a study in evil through the mind of a 17-year-old gangster who cares about nothing but self-preservation.
  • Egil Fosnes Hansen: Psalm at Journey's End. Titanic seen through the eyes of the members of the orchestra.
  • Joseph Heller: Catch 22 (but not Something Happened)
  • Ernest Hemingway: Anything, really.  Particularly In Our Time, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bells Toll and of course The Sun Also Rises.
  • James Herriot: All Creatures Great and Small (sentimental but endearing about a Yorkshire vet.  He has written plenty more, but the first one is the best)
  • Aldous Huxley: Brave New World
  • John Irving: A Son of the Circus (his best in my opinion), Hotel New Hampshire, The World According to Garp and maybe A Prayer for Owen Meany
  • Frans Kafka: The Trial and definitely The Transformation (short story beginning with Gregor Samsa waking up and finding himself transformed into a large insect.)
  • Ken Kesey: One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • Rudyard Kipling: The Jungle Book
  • John Le Carré: The Little Drummer Girl and perhaps Smiley's People
  • Primo Levi: If Not Now, When? (about a band of Jewish partisans in Russia and Poland during WWII) and The Monkey's Wrench (collection of short stories about the joy of work)
  • David Lodge: Nice Work and Small World, Thinks..., but I thought Therapy was a bit boring.  Clever books about academics and career people and how they mess up their private lives while having success professionally.  Thinks... is not to bad as an introduction to cognitive science, either.
  • Jack London: Sea Wolf and perhaps Martin Eden.  And maybe The Abyss.
  • Gabriel Garcia Márques: Love in a Time of Cholera.  But not Hundred Years of Solitude.
  • Armistead Maupin: Tales from the City (followed by More Tales From the City, Baby Cakes etc. until you overdose on PBS-type San Francisco contrarian soap opera)
  • David Morell: First Blood.  This was the book behind the first Rambo movie, and it must be the ultimate example of a book being infinitely better than the film (not that it would take much to be better than that film.)  Rather readable, actually.
  • Martin Andersen Nexø: Pelle the Conqueror, harrowing tale of a young boy growing up in rural and small-town Denmark arond the term of the century.
  • David Niven: The Moon is a Baloon and maybe Bring on the Empty Horses.  Best actor autobiography (and semi-autobiography) I have read.
  • Michael Ondaatje: The English Patient.
  • George Orwell: Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • J. Parini: John Steinbeck: A Biography
  • Dorothy Parker: The Collected Dorothy Parker. (Repartee and self-conscious self-depreciation, if there is such a thing)
  • R. B. Parker: Early Autumn (Parker writes tons of books about a private detective named Spenser who lives in Boston, specializes in self-ironizing repartee, has read a lot and dates a rather unbelievable psychologist.  Easy reads for days when you want to relax, but rather repetitive. This one's more ambitious.)
  • Chaim Potok: My Name is Asher Lev and The Chosen
  • Mario Puzo: The Godfather
  • A. Read and D. Fisher: The Fall of Berlin
  • Erich Maria Remarque: Three Comrades (for some reason, a book I come back to all the time.  Have to say I read the Norwegian translation first, it was excellent, then read the English, and it wasn't nearly as good.  The Norwegian version had a certain old-fashioned wistfulness and poetry in the language), All Quiet on the Western Front, Arch of TriumphA Time to Love and a Time to Die is a bit full of cliches, I wonder if he was trying to write a new All Quiet on the Western Front for WWII and didn't succeed.
  • J. D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye.  Coming of age in New York.
  • H. Selby: Last Exit to Brooklyn
  • Shakespeare: anything
  • A. Solzhenitsyn: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  • John Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Travels with Charley, Sweet Thursday, Cannery Row, The Winter of Our Discontent, maybe Once There Was a War, but not The Moon is Down, that Pony book and The Wayward Bus
  • Tolstoy: War and Peace.  Really, it is great.
  • John Kennedy Toole: A Confederacy of Dunces
  • Tom Wolfe: The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby
  • Peter Wright: Spycatcher.  (le Carre with less soul and more hilarious detail.  Not necessarily less fiction).
  • John Gray's Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.  This guy took a rather shrewd observation (how men and women communicate differently) and then trivialized it with poppy psychology, endless repetition and co-dependency advice in the tradition of Miss Manners columns everywhere.  Blah.
  • Most of Jeffery Archer's books.  Except maybe Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less.  Nope, that one's pretty bad, too, I just hate books that use brand names to describe the class, fortunes and status of characters.  Same goes for Bret Easton Ellis.
  • Any Michael Crichton book.  Except Airframe and The Great Train Robbery.
  • Anything by Tom Clancy.  Except perhaps Patriot Games.
  • Khalil Gibran: The Profet
  • Vikram Sethi: A Suitable Boy.  Man, that's a long book.
Outright frauds:

Last updated August 2003. Updated whenever the owner feels like it.
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