Matt’s Desert Island booklist:


These are pretty much my favorite books, or at least ones which had a big impact on me.  They may not all be great, but I think so.  This list was inspired by Tomm's Bookshelf

These were all injested before I created this website.  Look over here for newer best books, by year: 2004; 2005




The Discoverers, by Daniel Boorstin, Can’t be beat...the history of invention and exploration. If I had only 1book for the rest o'm'life.

The Ancient Engineers, by L. Sprague de Camp  Wow we used to be smart!

April 1865, Jay Winik   Simply beautiful. If you don’t cry somewhere in this book…

Apollo, by Murray and Cox, tells the Apollo story the way I wanted it told, from the point of view of the engineers who had to

          invent, test and revise all that hardware that took the canned spam to the Moon.  Great telling of the story, on whose

          broad and authoritative shoulders several much inferior histories, such as Moon Shot, were closely patterned. 

Longitude, by Dava Sobel  The story of how John Harrison solved the problem of determining longitude at sea.

Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos, by Allan Hirshfeld  The story of finding the distance to the stars.

Every Man a Tiger, by Tom Clancy, is important nonfiction about the reform of the US Air Force after the

          disaster in Vietnam

 Lies My Teacher Told Me, and Lies Across America, by James W. Loewen  Illuminating! Shows and tells why high school history

          texts suck…

The Face of Battle, by John Keegan  A detailed look at the lives of soldiers fighting on the same few square

          miles of Flanders, beginning with Agincourt, 1415, thru the Battle of the Somme

In the Wake of the Plague, by Norman F. Cantor

The Story of English, by Robert McNeil

A History of Pi, by Petr Beckmann 

A History of Warfare by John Keegan  excellent!

Operation Iceberg  by Gerald Astor  the US invasion of Okinawa, 1945

Sink the Bismark!, by Ludovic Kennedy

The Lessons of Terror, Caleb Carr, is a short book on the long history of terrorism, state and otherwise, and

           why it always fails, that I found very illuminating.  And edifying for the long war to come against Islamofascism

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer  The first and still the best history of the Nazis

The Guns of August,  by Barbara Tuchman, on WWI. 

The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and Dark Sun, by Richard Rhodes   Excellent! Wonderful histories

Babi Yar   by Anatloy Kuznetsov  devastating story of Nazi barbarities near Kiev, by a survivor

Undaunted Courage, by Stephen Ambrose  Lewis and Clark

Band of Brothers, by Stephen Ambrose  E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne,  1942-45

The Map that Changed the World, by Simon Winchester, read anything by Simon you can get

Krakatoa, the Day the World Exploded, by Simon Winchester

The Professor and the Madman, and The Meaning of Everything  Simon again on the OED and the fantastic English language

Blind Man's Bluff, by Sontag and Drew.  At last, the Submarine history of the Cold War, and it is a Blockbuster!  Amazing...

Last Stand of the Tincan Sailors, by James Hornfischer. Wonderful detailed personal perspective on the Battle off Samar, 10/25/44

Anything by Shelby Foote, James McPherson, or Bruce Catton on the American Civil War.


Biographies and Autobiographies:


 Dancing Naked in the Mind Field, by Kary Mullis adventures in life, science and mind

 Seven Roads to Hell, by Don Burgett,  A Screamin’ Eagle’s year in Europe, 1944-45, particularly Bastogne

 Memoirs of the Second World War, by Winston S. Churchill--he was a terrific, and biased, writer and thinker

Truman, by David McCullough  Fabulous biography of my second favorite president!  After Lincoln,

       Harry’s tied for Place with TR. These rankings exclude the Founders, who remain in a class and temporal bubble of their own.

The Diary of Anne Frank

Inside the Third Reich, by Albert Speer

Alive, by Pier Paul Read  horrifying tale of survival and cannibalism among Andes plane crash survivors. 

Dispatches, by Michael Kerr   soldier’s story in ‘Nam

Rumor of War, by Philip Caputo  soldier’s story in ‘Nam

Goodbye, Darkness, by William Manchester.  A Marine and great historian tells the story of the Pacific war.  One of the best.

Panzer Commander, by Hans von Luck  Amazing man in amazing circumstances in horrible times.

Tesla: Man out of Time, by Margaret Cheney

Any of Richard Feynman’s bio-romps



Science Faction:


Ancient Encounters, by James Chatters, about Kennewick Man and the first Americans. 

A Wonderful Life, by Stephen Jay Gould

First Light, by Robert Preston, about Palomar Mountain, James Gunn, quasars and the Shoemakers, before

         they were famous. 

 The Cosmic Serpent and The Cosmic Winter by Victor Clube and Bill Napier  Brilliant original work on

         comets and civilization

The Secret Life of Quanta, by M Y Han  how quantum mechanics makes things that we like go

 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  by Thomas S Kuhn

Seeing Redand  Quasars, Redshifts and Controversy, by Halton Arp  Famed observational astronomer’s

         refutation of the “redshift equals distance” interpretation of big bang cosmology.

Coming of Age in the Milky Way  by Timothy Ferris is the best overall story of astronomy, and great fun to read

Extreme Stars, by James Kaler

Faster Than the Speed of Light, by Joao Magueijo  fascinating ideas and critique of modern science practices

Engines of Creation, by Eric Drexler  nanotechnology

Deep Sky Wonders, by Walter Scott Houston  collected monthly highlights from the great deepsky

          observer’s Sky and Telescope column

The Guide to the Galaxy, by Nigel Henbest and Heather Couper   Fabulous and just what it says it is.  Great

          maps, and galactic details in all spectra and at all scales

The Scars of Evolution, by Elaine Morgan.  Overall summary of the reasons we evolved as aquatic apes



  Science Fiction:


Any novel by Arthur C. Clarke before 1980.  I haven’t enjoyed too many of the newer ones

All anthologies of Arthur C. Clarke's short stories, like The 9 Billion Names of God, the Sentinal , Across

           the Sea of Stars, The Other Side of the Sky, Expedition to Earth and most especially Tales

           from the White Hart

Stranger in a Strange Land (unabridged version), by Robert Heinlein. 

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Ringworld, by Larry Niven

Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

The Mote in God’s Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

The Gripping Hand, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Contact, by Carl Sagan


Deep Thoughts:


A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking

Cosmos, by Carl Sagan

Consilience, by EO Wilson

The Future of Life, by EO Wilson

The Life of the Cosmos, by Lee Smolin

The Elegent Universe, by Brian Greene

Hyperspace, by Michio Kaku

What's So Great About America, by Dinesh D'Souza (good to read an immigrant's take on the USA).

The Painted Word, by Tom Wolfe rips the art world a new one

The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joe Campbell. 

Adam, Eve and the Serpent, by Elaine Pagels  on early Christianity

The Enlarged Devils Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce

Heaven’s Mirror, by Robert Bauval  on Egyptian and other megalithic religion's connection with the stars

Understanding Media, by Marshall McLuhan

Off With Their Heads, by Dick Morris

Unholy Alliance, by David Horowitz

Reckless Disregard, by Buzz Patterson

The End of Faith, by Sam Harris

Parliament of Whores, by P.J O'Rourke

Give War a Chance, by P.J O'Rourke

All the Trouble in the World, by P.J O'Rourke




   The Collected Works of William Shakespeare

   The Once and Future King, by T. H. White

   Across Five Aprils, by Irene Hunt

   A Confederacy of Dunces.  by John Kennedy Toole

   Huck Finn. Tom Sawyer, anything else by Sam Clemens or Mark Twain—a favorite human!

   Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck

   Blood Music, by Greg Bear is awesome, short fiction about bio-nanobots run amok. Really creepy good. 

   The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings,  by J.R.R. Tolkein

   The Watermelon Kid, by Bill Terry, yes, my dad

   Catcher in the Rye, by that dirty old man, JD Salinger

   Wolfpack, by William Hardy

   Up Periscope, by Robb White

   The Bridges at Toko-Ri , by James Michener

   Centennial, by James Michener

   The Dogs of War, by Fredrick Forsythe

    Day of the Jackel, by Fredrick Forsythe

    Papillion, by Henri Charrier

   The Caine Mutiny, by Herman Wouk

   The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy  All the rest of his novels I’ve read suck. His non-

        fiction is generally very good.  He knows his shit about the military, and tells it well.