Holiday Readings

Now that the Winter break is coming, what to read in between decorating, cooking, eating, drinking and being merry?

The most exciting theoretical computer science development of the year was the improved efficiency of matrix multiplication by Stother and Vassilevska-Williams. Virginia’s 72-page write-up will certainly keep many people occupied.

Terence Tao is teaching a class on expanders, and posting the lecture notes, of exceptional high quality. It is hard to imagine something that would a more awesome combination, to me, than Terry Tao writing about expanders. Maybe a biopic on Turing’s life, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, written by Dustin Lance Black and directed by Clint Eastwood.

Meanwhile, Ryan O’Donnell has been writing a book on analysis of boolean function, by “serializing” it on a blog platform.

Now that I have done my part, you do yours. If I wanted to read a couple of books (no math, no theory) during the winter, what would you recommend. Don’t recommend what you think I would like, recommend what you like best, and why.

16 thoughts on “Holiday Readings

  1. Although this is not a series of 2011, you should most certainly read it if you have not been exposed: The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King. An excellent series that is at the heart of all his novels and the King Universe. I cannot even begin to describe why you should read this because there are too many reasons why! But, you should at least pick up the first book (The Gunslinger) and read it. It’s short. And amazing. King writes with such power in these series that it leaves you craving for more.

    Also, The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett is an excellent, fun book to read. It is the first in a massive series (around 20 something) but also a short read and extremely entertaining and funny!

  2. I nominate my favorite book: “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles”. by Haruki Murakami. Perfect for Christmas, if you ask me.

    That Turing biopic with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dustin Lance Black and Clint Eastwood looks to me like a “one of these three doesn’t belong” riddle,

  3. I suggest the crime story “The Devotion of Suspect X” by Keigo Higashino. One of the characters it is a mathematician, and it uses logic in a different way than the expected one in most crime novels (i.e., for solving the crime).

  4. Even if they are not Christmas related I would suggest

    Sukkwan Island: A Novella from Legend of a Suicide by David Vann


    The road by Cormac McCharty.

    Both the novel use a beautifull bu indifferent nature as the fondal for father /son relation

  5. I suggest what I consider to be the most exciting TCS result of the year, which is the Moemke-Svensson algorithm for graph TSP.

  6. I second the road, a beautifully written book. But you should know that it’s as bleak as they get.

  7. I suggest what I consider to be the most exciting TCS result of the year, which is the Moemke-Svensson algorithm for graph TSP.

    I agree. This is far more exciting than the “progress” on matrix multiplication. This paper offers real understanding and the serious potential to reach 4/3. It’s funny that Luca (and many others) would refer to the “result of the year” even though they have not read the paper and do not understand its contributions.

    Also, the Stother improvement to matrix multiplication should be the result of last year, I guess. Or maybe his write-up is not long enough to be considered “difficult”? Is page count now a virtue?

    Virginia’s work is impressive as an achievement of humanity. It is a testament to her dedication and force of will that she was able to squeeze blood from a stone. It is unfortunate that it does not lead anywhere; alas, that is often the way of science. Congratulations to Virginia, but my condolences to anyone who tries to read 30 pages of computer-generated text over their holiday vacation.

  8. I have read The Road (and Wind-Up Bird Chronicles), and thanks for the recommendation of Sukkwan Island, and all the others.

    Please, I said no theory and no math, but if you really have to recommend technical work, do not engage in Italian-style marketing.

  9. This is not exactly reading, but have you finished watching the 2010 TV Series of “Three Kingdoms”? What about “The Water Margin” or “Journey to the West”?

  10. I second King’s Tower Series, and you can jump straight to Wolves of the Calla.

    In the non-fiction department, I like Guns, Germs & Steel, and also A Problem from Hell. Both are Pulitzer Prize winners. Also two books by Simon Singh, The Code Book and Big Bang. All four of these give series treatment of their respective topics, and I’m better off for having read them.

  11. I have been recently enamored of _The City and The City_, by China Mieville. The core concept is that two cities overlap in physical space, yet remain rigorously separate through a social convention to “unsee” members of the opposing city. There’s a detective story involved, a bit of rote anti-capitalism, MacGuffins and red herrings to spare…but the real pleasures of the book are the awkward, terrible moments when citizens of one city find themselves confronted with the possibility that they might be forced to see each other.

    Currently reading _Smart Mobs_ by Howard Rheingold. A short book in 2001/2002 about how communications will change politics, culture, and socializing. Worth comparing to what has happened in the past decade, including Facebook and the Arab Spring. Touched with a bit of the late-90s optimism for the liberating power of the Internet. Not too much, but enough to evoke the line from “The Gernsback Continuum” about “a dream logic that knew nothing of pollution, the finite bounds of fossil fuel, or foreign wars it was possible to lose.”
    (That story, a classic in its own right, is here )

    Finally I’ve been following Charlie Stross’s “Laundry” series of novels. Basic premise: it is possible to contact Evil Beings From Beyond Space using eldritch rites and use them as oracles (it’s implied in the text that said oracles can solve NP-hard problems but unfortunately the exact complexity class is never explicitly specified). Unfortunately doing so tends to bring them closer to crossing into our world. _The Atrocity Archives_ is the first in the series, and a new one came out last month _The Fuller Memorandum_. Fun pulp slapstick. A much darker take is in his short story “A Colder War,” which is one of those secret histories that keeps coming back to haunt:

  12. Try “The Procedure” by the great Harry Mulisch. It is engaging, intelignet and has an original and somewhat cynical take on scientific progress and how it is recognised.

  13. Albert Cossery’s “The Jokers” was the finest political novel I read this year. Halldor Laxness’ “Under the Glacier” mines the comic possibilites of glacier-worship.

  14. “The Heathen in His Blindness” by S. N. Balagangadhara, an excellent book that questions the widely held belief that Religion is a cultural universal.

  15. Comedy in a Minor Key.
    A very laid back, very Dutch novella, written just after WorldWar II. A different history of everyday heroism, very believable, very civilized.

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