Another question from a generous donor, in this case Natalie, who asks:

As for my question, how about “who is your favorite author, and why?” or, if you’d rather, “what’s your favorite book, and why?”

This is a difficult question, because it’s subject to a sort of quantum projection noise. That is, my “favorite book” and “favorite author” exist in a sort of quantum superposition of all the various possibilities. When someone asks, I can give an answer and either the wavefunction collapses to that value at that instant, or the universe splits into many parallel universes, each with its own “favorite.” If you repeat the measurement some significant time later (a week, a month, a year), the state will have evolved back into a superposition, and you’re not guaranteed to get the same result.

And, of course, there are many different genres of books and authors, which are linearly independent of one another. thus, I can honestly have multiple favorites, one for each genre.

For that reason, I’ll give two answers, one book and one author, subject to the above caveats:

For a favorite book, I’ll say that the best pop-science book I’ve read recently is probably The Theory of Almost Everything, Robert Oerter’s book on the Standard Model. It’s an excellent, concise description of the Standard Model of physics, making it somewhat unusual in the pop-physics world, as it’s mostly dedicated to things that we absolutely know to be true, rather than wild speculation about things that might be true, but can’t be tested.

The book is probably the most complete and concise description of modern physics that I’ve read. Like the theory it describes (which normally only gets mentioned as something people are trying to overturn or move past), it could use more good press, so I’m happy to plug it here.

For a favorite author, how about Steven Brust. He’s best known for his Vlad Taltos series of novels, about a human assassin in an Empire of long-lived elves, who has a series of adventures that start with the mundane struggles of a minor organized crime boss, and become something much bigger (the most recent, Jhegaala, has only recently been published, but it’s a bad place to start– read them in publication order, as seen on this page). He’s also written a series of Dumas pastiches in the same world, and a number of other stand-alone books, but the Vlad books are the main attraction.

The books are great fun, and endlessly re-readable, because Vlad and his friends, in the immortal words of Graydon Saunders, simple “ooze panache.” The majority of them are told in the best First Person Smartass narration you could ever want. Vlad is often in over his head, but never at a loss for a smart comment, and the snappy dialogue alone is worth the price of any of the books.

So there are the answers for this measurement-induced wavefunction collapse/ parallel universe. Check back again in a while, and you’ll get something different.

Comments

  1. #1 Simon
    October 22, 2008

    I started reading Steve Brust thanks to one of your previous posts. I’ve read the first 3 so far, and loving them. They’ve got a very different feel from the fantasy books I grew up reading, but abandoned a decade or so ago.

  2. #2 bumblebrain
    October 22, 2008

    I’ve been reading Robert Oerter’s book and was happy to see you praising it since it is a wonderful read so far (I’m only two chapters in). He tells terrific stories illustrating the principles, and for someone who has just realized that physics is interesting, I am learning a lot. Another I got a lot out of was Simon Singh’s “Big Bang: the origin of the universe.”

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