I am a nerd by nature, and always have been. When other boys were playing football outside, I was usually squirreled away somewhere with a book. Growing up an only child, and in a trailer court with few others my age, there were few chances for getting together a neighborhood game of baseball (although I did build a cool dugout fort with the Vaughn brothers one summer - it is now buried under the basement of a condo).
- World Book Encyclopedia - every single programmer of my generation that I know, at least the good ones, all have a variant of the same experience growing up. Some time around their entry into adolescence someone gave them a set of used "World Books" and over the next few years they then proceeded to read them cover to cover. When I got mine in the early 1970s, I think the set was from the late 1950s. I can still remember some of the articles, charts and diagrams. Even now I love to spend hours "Wiki spelunking," just hopping from article to article, opening tabs with interesting links while I read one article until I have ten or twenty open to go through. I just recently moved a set of Britannicas out of our bookshelves and I just can't bring myself to throw them out, even though no one will take them - you literally can't give them away any more!
- The Whole Earth Catalog - I don't know which was better. The ethos of self-determination, independence and community, or the writing. Stewart Brand and company could wield words, that is for sure. The content and focus changed over two decades, but the goals of making us all true autonomous citizens never did. I miss it.
- Times Atlas of World History - combining two of my loves, history and maps, this beautiful (beautiful) book is full of fascinating details and yet presented in such a wonderful format. It was recommended by the Whole Earth Catalog in their "Best -of-the-Best" book list and it took no more recommendation than that. I bought my first copy and fell in love. I later gave that copy away to a neighbor (Vaun Minden, if you ever google your name and stumble across this, get in touch!) because I had bought an updated version. Wonderful book. Check out the "upside down" map of agriculture spreading from the Turkish/Syrian highlands. Or the kaleidoscopic map of the hundreds of duchies, bishoprics, free towns and other "powers and principalities" that was Germany in the 17th century. Wonderful.
- System/370 Principles of Operations - I read this over a period of six months while at my first "programming" job. It is hard to explain to a non-techie, but basically it is a manual covering the "machine language" of a certain type of computer. You can imagine reading a dictionary, then imagine it being a dictionary describing a language that is quite foreign, artificial and precise, and you can get a hint of what it is like. It was quite a feat and truly helped change the course of my career.