Small List of Gigantic Books for Summer Reading!

Though I haven't formally been associated with an academic institution for a while now I personally like to continue observing the university notion of "summer" which starts sometime in May shortly after (or arguably shortly before) graduation. Being that it is "summer" now I've decided first to ease up a bit on the writing. Rather than weekly in-depth posts you can expect a post every other week (though I may experiment with more 'ad hoc' posts like this one).

Of course the only good reason to write less is to read more! I've never been very good at 'beach' reading so instead I tend to take a vacation from what I normally study to study something else. If your idea of summer fun is to pick up a textbook that will likely take the entire summer to work through here are some suggestions!

The Feynman Lectures on Physics

This is my pick for this year! I've spent much of my recent free time studying integration and measure theory but decided I needed a diversion from that. I'm currently on vol. 1 lecture 15 and it's difficult to overstate how amazing these lectures are. I have a long list of great technical books I've read over the years and this series is in a class of its own. Not only are they deep and rich but quite self-contained mathematically. Even if you never learned calculus or linear algebra Feynman teaches these ideas in context, making them seem obvious solutions to a problem. Best of all is that Feynman provides profound insights into how to think about the world quantitatively.

An online version is available free and there's always the print version (my older edition has wonderfully large margins for notes!)

Probability Theory: The Logic of Science

This is the only book from the blog's reading list that I'm adding. If Probability is your diversion then this is, as nearly always mentioned here, an amazing book. Even better is that I just came across a series of lectures on youtube walking through the chapters!

Jaynes is probably the most radical of the Bayesian thinkers, and he's also a fantastic writer. This book is incredibly dense but very hard to put down. Even if you are already fairly familiar with Bayesian analysis this book will likely expand your view on what probability means and how it should be used.

An earlier edition of the book is available freely online and here's the print.

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs

For readers of this blog without a strong background in computation this is probably the best single book to get you caught up. In many ways this book is for Computer Science what the Feynman Lectures are for Physics.  Both books claim to be "introductory" texts and are easily marveled at by experts in their fields. Getting through this book, with or without the exercises, is quite a challenge. It is not so much because of its difficulty but its density and the passionate curiosity of the book's authors. A few pages and a footnote could easily lead the reader on a month long tangent. Thankfully there is also a series of lectures from the authors to help guide you through this work.

The book is written in Scheme (a dialect of Lisp) which many first-time readers find a bit off-putting. I personally feel this is a great strength of the book as Scheme is a beautiful language for abstracting computation. The more pragmatically minded should be aware that under the hood the R programming language shares much in common with Lisps. So learning Scheme well will only help you write better real world code for statistical problems.

Like the other recommendations, there is a free version of the text online, and also a wonderful print edition.

Summer Reading or Lifetime Reading?

These books are also frequently mentioned on lists of "books everybody recommends but nobody reads", and I always find this a bit unfair. Reading any of these books cover to cover will give you a profound overview of a field, but a close reading of a single chapter (or sometimes even page) could provide intellectual fuel for years. These books are straight from Borges' Library of Babel in that they are seemingly infinite. No matter how much time you spent on these books I doubt anyone would ever feel "done" with them. So along with recommending these books to be read, I also strongly recommend reading them however you like. But spending an entire summer with one is not a bad place to start!

Feel free to leave any personal book recommendations in the comments!

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