15 Books That Changed Me

Since a lot of folks are talking about the books that influenced them, I thought I’d add my own take…

  1. The Practice of System and Network Administration, by Thomas A. Limoncelli and Christine Hogan. This book is perhaps the first to put the practice of system administration all together into one book; something for everyone to learn.
  2. Programming Ruby, by Dave Thomas. It was this book that introduced me to the joys of programming in Ruby – finally an object-oriented scripting language that was easy and fun and everywhere.
  3. OpenVMS System Management Guide, by Lawrence L. Baldwin, Jr., Steve Hoffman, and David Miller. Through this book I learned OpenVMS administration, and indirectly, found HoffmanLabs.
  4. Starting FORTH and Thinking FORTH, both by Leo Brodie. I learned FORTH through these books and never stopped loving it.
  5. The Towers of February by Tonke Dragt. I read this book in middle school (age 11 perhaps?) and never stopped looking for it since. I now have a copy (after 30 plus years looking for it). It’s a beautiful science-fiction book about alternate worlds written as a diary.
  6. Learn Any Language by Barry Farber. Foreign languages can be fun and help you to expand your mind. I’m still working on French and Russian.
  7. Code Complete by Steve McConnell. This book shows you how to write understandable – and maintainable code. Every programmer should be required to read this book.
  8. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. This novel cemented my love for 19th century classics…
  9. Re-imagine! by Tom Peters. Who knew that a business book could be beautiful and pithy? This is a wonderful book, and is a lesson in business as well as an example of excellent graphic design. Business was never this fun!
  10. Getting Things Done and Ready for Anything by David Allen. These books really show you how to get it done – and can change your life.
  11. The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison. Not only did I fall in love with Jim diGriz (the “Stainless Steel Rat”) but it was through these books that I was first introduced to Esperanto. Learn it!
  12. Quick and Easy Math by Isaac Asimov. This book is a delightful and easy read (like all of Isaac’s books) but also shows you how to do math in your head. Best reading on the subject in my opinion.
  13. Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. Optimism never appeared so critical. Martin’s experiments show you exactly how costly pessimism can be in all areas (well, except one….).
  14. The Memory Book by Harry Lorrayne and Jerry Lucas. This is one of the books I’ve owned the longest. It covers a lot of memorization techniques and applications as introduced by the two authors through an interview they had with each other. This is a delightful book.
  15. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. After you read this book, you will never look at checklists in the same way again.

A Productivity Reading List

If you are serious about gaining control over your time and your productivity, there are a number of books you should read. Here is my list of well-worn productivity books for you to consider – most of them seminal classics in their field:

  • How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life by Alan Lakein. This is a classic tome in productivity, and should be read by all. In particular, adherents of GTD will find parts of the process delineated here 30 years before David Allen brought it all together.
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen. This is the modern classic and the definition of GTD. David is very readable, never boring, and always enlightening and delightful. If you want a treat, get the audio version also: hearing David read is also classic and wonderful.
  • The Time Trap by Alec McKenzie. Another time-worn classic on time management.
  • Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. A psychology classic about “getting into the zone” and making it work for you and how it works.
  • The Mind Map Book: How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain’s Untapped Potential by Tony Buzan and Barry Buzan. This is where mind maps where first explained and created. After reading this, you’ll wonder how you ever thought computers could do mind maps – and will find out what mind maps are really all about.
  • Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E. P. Seligman. This book is wonderful and describes how optimism in life and outlook is truly a benefit in all ways and all round (well, except one – you have to read it…)
  • The Memory Book by Harry Lorrane and Jerry Lucas. This is a fun, readable, and memorable book. This is quite possibly the oldest book I own (that is, I’ve owned it longer than any other). You will not regret getting this book – and won’t need any other memory book ever.

What’s on your shelf?

Learning resources

A lot of the stuff an admin deals with day to day isn’t based on what we know, but on what we can find out. We spend our days researching problems and looking for solutions. What are the best resources?

Each operating system vendor has their own knowledge base or forums. For example, HP has the HP ITRC (IT Resource Center) which provides a one stop source for forums, documentation, technical notes, patches, and more. Other vendors have similar portals for technical support.

Another lesser-known resource is Usenet. The people in the Usenet newsgroups include some very knowledgeable people, and often can help resolve problems faster than you can alone.

There are a number of books that one can turn to as well; however, books on certification may often be overlooked. These books cover more obscure areas of an operating system and its maintenance, and can point you in the right direction when nothing else will. Many times, these tomes are also written to be on-desk references as well, and as such include the author’s experiences and knowledge beyond what is needed for certification.

Books that every sysadmin should read (but probably hasn’t)

There are a number of books that a system administrator should be reading. In this new weekly series, I plan to cover specific books and review them and their importance to the system administrator.

Book One: Re-imagine! by Tom Peters.

This book covers many things about business and conducting business in the new century. The book itself is a marvel of disruptive and in-your-face design (which is just the way Tom wanted it).

Probably the most important concepts covered (in depth) are the fact that you are a “professional service firm” of one, and that the customer (not the shareholder) is king – that is, provide the best service possible even at a cost to the company or to the employees.

The One Book Meme

Well, I’ve been tagged – how can I pass this up. My good friend Thomas handed off to me. The One Book Meme started two years ago (!) and is still running. It was even translated into Italian.

This will be a nice diversion from the usual, I promise.

One book that changed your life: Getting Things Done, by David Allen

One book that you’ve read more than once: Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

One book that you’d want on a desert island: Where There is No Doctor, by David Werner et al (or possibly Victory, by Joseph Conrad)

One book that made you laugh: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes (3 vol. set) by Bill Watterson

One book that made you cry: Please Stop Laughing at Me, by Jodee Blanco

One book that you wish had been written: My Story, by Joan of Arc

One book that you wish had never been written: Can’t think of any off hand.  Most every book has its good points, and all can be learned from in some way.

One book you’re currently reading: OpenVMS System Management Guide, by Baldwin and Hoffman

One book you’ve been meaning to read: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë

Now tag five people. (Hm, the hard part…)

Well, I got four anyway.  Hard to come up with just one book….