Philip Guo (Phil Guo, Philip J. Guo, Philip Jia Guo, pgbovine)

Recommended Reading (from childhood and student years)

Here are some of my all-time favorite books from my years as a kid and college/grad student, arranged into categories.


  • Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi - presents a theory of what makes human beings feel happy and fulfilled by aspects of life, without resorting to spirituality or religiosity; provides scientific credibility and rigor to hunches about happiness that many people have intuited from their own life experiences and self-reflections; not a hokey self-help book; if you want to read only one book on this list, then read this one!

  • How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker - presents a comprehensive overview of the human mind as a product of evolution; enthusiastically demonstrates that scientific curiosity and understanding enhances rather than diminishes one's perception of the beauty and wonder of the natural world


  • Algebra the Easy Way by Douglas Downing - teaches algebra concepts using a fantasy adventure story illustrated with cute cartoon drawings; when I was a kid, I loved following along with the storyline as I learned math for fun (sorry for sounding cheesy); the same characters appear in these two follow-up books:

  • Number: The Language of Science by Tobias Dantzig - chronicles the development of mathematics from ancient times to the 20th century; quite concise and readable, definitely not a dry math textbook; even has a glowing endorsement from Albert Einstein on the cover!

  • Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick - a contemporary classic bestselling popular science book (lots of adjectives!) introducing the implications of non-linear dynamical systems (more popularly known as chaos theory); highly recommended for high schoolers curious about theoretical aspects of math and science

  • The Cartoon Guide to Statistics by Larry Gonick and Woollcott Smith - a really good introduction to statistics, as taught by wacky cartoon characters; the idea of cartoons teaching math and science seems cheesy at first glance, but the Cartoon Guide series of books is quite effective; recommended as the first primer on statistics before progressing onto traditional textbooks

Physical Sciences

  • Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension by Michio Kaku - the first popular theoretical physics book that I read (in 9th grade); I loved the vivid analogies and thought experiments; popular science books like this one are great for getting kids interested in science, since they explain the 'sexy' aspects without diving into abstruse mathematical and experimental details

  • The Cartoon Guide to Physics by Larry Gonick and Art Huffman - the Cartoon Guide series of books presents technical topics using two hundred or so pages of humorous hand-sketched comic-book style cartoons; highly recommended as a way of teaching teenagers about introductory physics

  • The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design by Richard Dawkins - a great book to read if you want to understand Darwinian evolution at a more intuitive yet deeper level and not simply take it 'on faith' because a bunch of scientists told you that it's valid; a shining testament to the power of the scientific method in understanding the natural world and overcoming superstition

Computer Science

  • Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs by Harold Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman - a classic that belongs on every Computer Scientist's bookshelf; one of the most inspirational and beautiful books on computer programming ever written; transcends trends and fads that have risen and fallen throughout the decades since its publication; available for free online

  • Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age by Paul Graham - a must-read for anybody who wants to learn more about the culture of the nerds who love to program computers for fun; contains a collection of essays that can be found on Paul Graham's website; written with great clarity, insight, and wit

  • Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us by Rodney Brooks - Professor Brooks is one of the world's foremost authorities on robotics; gives an overview of the history of robotics research and a glimpse into what lies ahead in the near and distant future, with an emphasis on how robots will change our daily lives and even our own bodies

  • Beautiful Code: Leading Programmers Explain How They Think - a collection of essays by prolific programmers, each explaining a piece of code they wrote that they found particularly elegant, beautiful, or downright cool; covers diverse types of software projects (mostly open-source); fun reading for anyone who is a programmer

Social Science

  • Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another by Philip Ball - applies some laws of modern physics and observations of complex physical phenomena to social science and economics; a fun introduction to contemporary theories of social networks, network 'snowball' and 'epidemic' effects, and other physical phenomena applied to human group behavior

  • Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell - presents case studies of people and social phenomena that reinforce the thesis that social environment, timing, and sheer luck are highly important but often uncredited factors in making someone wildly successful

  • Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs - hundreds of short profiles of different kinds of jobs in modern American society, as told through firsthand interviews.


  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond - a broad overview of the history of human civilizations, as explained using a combination of physical and social science research; presents an interdisciplinary theory of the root causes of why certain civilizations triumphed while others were decimated; recounts the rise, fall, and clash of cultures throughout human history

  • The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang - a heartbreaking and highly gruesome detailing of the slaughter of Chinese civilians by Japanese soldiers during World War II, an atrocity often unknown to people in the Western world; a must-read for Asian-American youth to learn about 20th century Asian history, and highly recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about the atrocities of war


  • Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson - A nuanced look at the environments that foster innovation; shatters the myth of breakthroughs coming from the genius lone inventor having "EUREKA!" moments.

  • The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman - an easy-going, enjoyable book about what constitutes good and bad design for products that we use in our everyday lives; filled with numerous concrete and relevant examples of both great and horrendous product designs; a must-read for anybody interested in becoming an engineer or product designer


  • 'Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!' (Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard Feynman - Nobel prize winner Richard Feynman was one of the most prominent physicists of the 20th century, and also an amazing storyteller; this autobiography describes his many exploits and provides non-stop laughs for any nerd; he exudes such an inspirational passion for scientific discovery and a fierce yet fun-loving American-style intellectual independence that many people admire but can't even dream of replicating
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Created: 2007-01-01
Last modified: 2012-03-29
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