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The following are mini-reviews of books I read in 2007.
Also see the full index of books I've read.

  [Book cover]

The Sleuth of St. James's Square

by Melville Davisson Post (1869-1930) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1920)


Project Gutenberg eBook: The Sleuth of St. James's Square

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by Suelette Dreyfus (Wikipedia)

"Tales of hacking, madness and obsession on the electronic frontier".

(Never caught my interest, so I didn't finish reading it.)

The official book site—Underground: Hacking, madness and obsession on the electronic frontier—with reviews, ordering information, and links to free downloads of the book.

Project Gutenberg has the eBook in additional formats: Underground

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Bleak House

by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1853)


Project Gutenberg eBook: Bleak House


The Phial of Dread and Other Stories

by Fitz Hugh Ludlow (Wikipedia) (pub. 1859)


Fitz Hugh Ludlow eBooks are available at Project Gutenberg Australia (public domain in Australia).


The Man Upstairs and Other Stories

The Man with Two Left Feet and Other Stories

by P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1914 and 1917)


Project Gutenberg eBooks:

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A Passage to India

by E. M. Forster (1879-1970) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1924)



Communion of Dreams

by James Downey


At the time I'm writing this, the author is looking for a publisher; meanwhile the 300-page book can be downloaded for free in PDF format at the official book site. To avoid spoilers, be sure to read the book before visiting the book's blog!

I used Xpdf's pdftotext program to extract the text and then txt2pdbdoc to create a plain copy of the book readable on my old Palm Pilot M105.

  [Book cover]

Elements of ML Programming, 2nd Edition

by Jeffrey D. Ullman

An excellent book, but I got sidetracked by Forth, so I didn't finish reading it.

Also see the book's web page, which includes an errata sheet, answers to selected exercises, and links to other ML resources.

R.I.P. Robin Milner, 1934-2010, inventor of ML.

  [Book cover]

Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals

by Robert M. Sapolsky (Wikipedia)


  [Book cover]

A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market

by John Allen Paulos



Half A Chance

by Frederic Stewart Isham (1866-1922) (pub. 1909)


Project Gutenberg eBook: Half A Chance


The Loudwater Mystery

by Edgar Jepson (1863-1938) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1920)


Project Gutenberg eBook: The Loudwater Mystery


Lost Horizon

by James Hilton (1900-1954) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1933)


James Hilton eBooks are available at Project Gutenberg Australia (public domain in Australia).

  [Book cover]

Look Homeward, Angel

by Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1929)

(Never finished this, but I do want to get back to it eventually.)

Thomas Wolfe eBooks are available at Project Gutenberg Australia (public domain in Australia).

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Programming Forth

by Stephen Pelc

Halfway through Dr. Ullman's Elements of ML Programming (above), I got FizzBuzzed - in Forth no less (comp.lang.forth thread)! As a result, I was sidetracked into brushing up on my Ficl Network Commands and reading numerous articles about Forth—and this excellent (unpublished?) book. I'm still having trouble wrapping my mind around the subtleties of CREATE ... DOES>; everyone uses the definition of CONSTANT as an example, but some of the compile-time (or perhaps the parse-time) aspects of CREATE are not clear to me—yet!

A pre-publication copy of the book can be downloaded in PDF format (190+ pages) from MPE Forth's "Books on Forth page.


Stories by English Authors: The Sea

by Various Authors

Great Sea Stories

edited by Joseph Lewis French


Project Gutenberg eBooks:

  [Book cover]

Starting Forth

by Leo Brodie

After reading Stephen Pelc's book above, I still had some questions about CREATE/DOES> and a search on the web quickly found Marcel Hendrix's free, on-line, ANSified version of Leo Brodie's classic, but now out of print, Starting Forth. I began by printing out selected chapters and ended up reading most of the book. It answered my questions and taught me even more, especially thanks to the many colorful pictures and diagrams that illustrate the internal workings of the Forth compiler and interpreter.

Chapter 5, "The Philosophy of Fixed Point", has this fascinating, "Handy Table of Rational Approximations to Various Constants":

Number Approximation Error
π = 3.141… 355 / 113 8.5 x 10-8
π = 3.141... 1068966896 / 340262731 1.0 x 10-20
√2 = 1.414... 19601 / 13860 1.5 x 10-9
3√2 = 1.732... 18817 / 10864 1.1 x 10-9
e = 2.718... 28667 / 10564 5.5 x 10-9
√10 = 3.162... 22936 / 7253 5.7 x 10-9
12√2 = 1.059... 26797 / 25293 1.0 x 10-9
log(2) / 1.6384 = 0.183... 2040 / 11103 1.1 x 10-8
ln(2) / 16.384 = 0.042... 485 / 11464 1.0 x 10-7

I'm not sure what some of the constants are used for, but 12√2 is used to determine note frequencies in music. Going up an octave doubles the frequency, so the 12 half-steps in between are obtained by multiplying by 12√2. For example, given A-440, multiplying 440 Hz by 12√2 gives the frequency, 466 Hz (rounded down), of the note one half-step up, A♯/B♭. And so on. (Interestingly, the frequency of the A above middle C has varied throughout history, only becoming standardized at 440 Hz in the twentieth century.)

  [Book cover]

Eureka!: 81 Key Ideas Explained

by Michael Macrone


  [Book cover]

The Wisdom of George Eliot

edited by Jerret Engle

Shamelessly stolen from my very own The Wit and Wisdom of George Eliot? No, but I was surprised not to see any quotes from The Impressions of Theophrastus Such and the title of the book is entirely accurate in that very little of Eliot's wit is on display. Ignore my rant, however! Aside from wishing Engle had included more of Eliot's humorous quotes, I found the book to be a very enjoyable and rewarding browse.

The book begins with a brief but excellent biography of George Eliot. Much of it I knew from other longer biographies, but I was fascinated to learn that there was actually some rhyme and reason behind the evolution of her name from Mary Anne Evans to Mary Ann Evans to Marian Evans. (Maybe the other biographies mentioned it, but it never sank in.) The numerous quotes that make up the bulk of the book are helpfully categorized by subject.

Oops! I took a look at the title page and found that the full title of the book is The Wisdom of George Eliot: Wit and Reflection from the Writings of the Great Victorian Novelist, Marian Evans, Known to the World As George Eliot. More wit in the next edition please!


Stories by English Authors: Africa

by Various Authors


Project Gutenberg eBook: Stories by English Authors: Africa

  [Book cover]

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams

by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister

The classic book that every person in a software development environment should read.

One of the authors' final pieces of advice is to not "wrestle the bull" when pursuing change in the workplace:

In one interview, a reporter asked El Cordobes what regular exercises he did to stay fit enough for the ardors of bullfighting.
"Yes. You know, jogging or weight lifting to maintain your physical condition."
"There is something you don't understand, my friend. I don't wrestle the bull."

Also see the publisher's page.


The Strange Case of Cavendish

by Randall Parrish (1858-1923) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1918)

A New York murder mystery moves out west to a land of cowboys, gold mines, treachery, and Mexican bandits.

Project Gutenberg eBook: The Strange Case of Cavendish

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Tales from Shakespeare

by Charles Lamb (1775-1834) (Wikipedia) and Mary Lamb (1764-1847) (Wikipedia) ; Arthur Rackham (Illustrator) (1867-1939) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1899)

I re-read this classic children's book and John Mortimer's Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders while trying to decide what to read next after The Strange Case of Cavendish (above).


The Mark of Cain

by Andrew Lang (1844-1912) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1886)


Project Gutenberg eBook: The Mark of Cain

  [Book cover]

Chances Are ... Adventures in Probability

by Michael Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan

"... Your chances are ... aw- ... fully ... good!" I had been reading this book for about a week before the Johnny Mathis song popped into my head and I realized where the title came from—I'm not too quick on the uptake!


Also see The Math Circle.


The Laurel Bush

by Dinah Mulock Craik (1826-1887) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1876)

I'm of two minds about Dinah Mulock Craik. On the one hand, some of her novels actually tell very interesting stories. On the other hand, she didn't quite achieve the consistency of writing genius that I, at least, see in George Eliot's novels. And some of Craik's very interesting stories—The Laurel Bush, for instance—are overloaded with brief but too frequent discourses on the proper role of women, not as the weaker sex, but as the subservient sex.

Sally Mitchell's scholarly but readable Dinah Mulock Craik, originally published in 1983, is available on-line. Chapter 7, "Dinah Craik and the Feminine Tradition", examines the relationship between Craik and Eliot.

Project Gutenberg eBook: The Laurel Bush

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A Life for a Life

by Dinah Mulock Craik (1826-1887) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1859)


Project Gutenberg eBook: A Life for a Life, Volume I, Volume II, & Volume III


The Simple Book: An Introduction to Internet Management, 2nd Edition

by Marshall T. Rose (Wikipedia)

According to Mappa.Mundi Magazine, "[Marshall T.] Rose lives with internetworking technologies, as a theorist, implementor, and agent provocateur." In other words, he has designed, implemented, and evangelized many internet protocols and technologies, including SNMP, the subject of The Simple Book. This edition was published in 1994 and, a few years later, I picked up a copy for $6 from the bargain shelf in a Barnes & Noble bookstore.

Dr. Rose is an excellent writer and presents SNMP clearly—with a touch of humor and occasional attitude—from the high-level management concepts down to the low-level implementation details. In frequent "soapbox" asides, he delves into the politics of developing the SNMP standards. Many of the digressions target OSI (Wikipedia); readers too young to remember OSI's failed attempt to become the internetworking standard in the early 1990's may wish to peruse the Wikipedia article.

Also see:

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Exploring Requirements: Quality Before Design

by Donald C. Gause and Gerald M. Weinberg


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by Tony Ballantyne

At the author's website: plot summary and extract (no spoiler).

  [Book cover]

Jacquard's Web

by James Essinger

This book was quite good as French history, but less than convincing when presenting Jacquard's mechanical loom as the basis for all of modern computing.

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Compass: A Story of Exploration and Innovation

by Alan Gurney

A fascinating look at the development of the compass and especially at the elimination of errors in compasses (which are affected by any iron around them). The latter attempt has not been successful, as I found when reading a recent article in a small-boating magazine about tweaking your compass. It's a wonder sailors ever got where they were hoping to get in pre-GPS days.


Riders of the Silences

by John Frederick (Frederick Schiller Faust, also known as Max Brand) (1892-1944) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1919)


Project Gutenberg eBook: Riders of the Silences

  [Book cover]

The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime

by Miles Harvey

(This book never caught my interest and I finally laid it aside.)


Overdue: The Story of a Missing Ship

by Harry Collingwood (pseudonym of William Joseph Cosens Lancaster) (1843-1922) (Science Fiction Encyclopedia) (pub. 1911)


Project Gutenberg eBook: Overdue: The Story of a Missing Ship


The Voice on the Wire

by Eustace Hale Ball (1881-1931) (pub. 1915)


Project Gutenberg eBook: The Voice on the Wire


The Ghost Ship: A Mystery of the Sea

by John Conroy Hutcheson (1840-1897) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1903)


Project Gutenberg eBook: The Ghost Ship: A Mystery of the Sea


The Floating Light of the Goodwin Sands

by R. M. Ballantyne (1825-1894) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1870)

A story, published in 1870, about a lightship (floating lighthouse) on the dangerous Goodwin Sands (Wikipedia) in England. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the Sands were a "major plot point" in Ian Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which I haven't read in years (and which is much better than and bears almost no relation to the Dick Van Dyke movie).

Project Gutenberg eBook: The Floating Light of the Goodwin Sands

  [Book cover]

Life of Pi

by Yann Martel (Wikipedia)

Pi is a boy whose father owns a zoo in India. For various reasons, the father packs up the zoo and the family sails for Canada. Unfortunately, the ship sinks a few days out with all hands lost except for Pi, who is stranded in a lifeboat with some animals, most notably a tiger. The tiger eventually eats the other animals, but maintains an uneasy peace with Pi. This book is a must-read, not just because it is well-written and a good story, but because it is so out-of-the-ordinary!

  [Royal Doulton figurine]

Moll Flanders

by Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1722)


Project Gutenberg eBook: Moll Flanders

  [Book cover]

Jude the Obscure

by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1895)

My favorite Hardy book after I first read it thirty years ago, but not quite so much now. As always with Hardy novels, life goes from middling to bad to worse ... and then even worser!

Project Gutenberg eBook: Jude the Obscure

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Shock Therapy: A History of Electroconvulsive Treatment in Mental Illness

by Edward Shorter and David Healy

A jumbled history of ECT, chronologically speaking, but nevertheless a heavily footnoted book well worth reading (if you're interested in the subject), even by the layman.



by W. W. Jacobs (1863-1943) (Wikipedia) (pub. 1908)


Project Gutenberg eBook: Salthaven


The Captains

by RH Wood (blog)


Practical Press full text on-line: The Captains

  [Book cover]

Rumpole Misbehaves

by John Mortimer (1923-2009) (Wikipedia) (pub. 2007 as The Antisocial Behaviour of Horace Rumpole)


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