Finbarr Timbers

Books I'm reading



  • Seveneves: "realistic" scifi. The moon is destroyed by an unknown celestial body, causing all life on earth to end within two years. Humanity comes together to allow life to survive on the ISS. Far, far better than that description implies. The sociological elements of this book were excellent, and the attention to detail & scientific realism are what make it great. Part of Obama's summer reading list.

  • The Martian: Similar to Seveneves, realistic scifi about a man surviving on Mars. The movie was great.

  • The Three-Body Problem: One of the strangest books I've ever read, in a good way. Hard to describe. Starts out as an imaginative retelling of an intellectual's experience in China during the Cultural Revolution, but becomes a story about scientifically advanced aliens, and delves deep into the philosophy of basic research. Obama's summer reading list.

  • The Dark Forest: Sequel to the Three-Body Problem. Discusses the sociological implications of alien life in a manner that's both relevant and fascinating. The concept of the Dark Forest makes sense to me as a solution to the contradiction implied by the Drake equation (albeit a bleak and depressing one).




  • Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life". A book that is nominally about surfing, but reveals itself to be a treatise on life, and aging. I've surfed a handful of times in my life, and found this book made me yearn to head to a beach and start swallowing sea water. The book is beautiful, describing surfing with clean, elegant prose, and describes Finnegan's life through his relationship with the water.

Atul Gawande

Dr. Gawande is an excellent writer, and I've read every one of his books multiple times, in addition to all of his articles.

  • The Checklist Manifesto: talks about how useful checklists are. Way more interesting than that implies.
  • Being Mortal: Talks about the implications of how (poorly) North American manages end of life care. Still reading. Palliative care is a particular interest of mine as my grandfather was in care for the last decade of his life.
  • Better. Talks about performance, and how to get better at what you do. Coming from the perspective of Dr. Gawande, a highly regarded surgeon, the book is fascinating.
  • Complications: Misc. stories about life as a surgeon. Focuses on the inherent unpredictability of medicine, which appealed to my inner statistician.


  • Quantitative Display of Visual Information: The classic book on statistical graphics, charts, tables. Theory and practice in the design of data graphics, 250 illustrations of the best (and a few of the worst) statistical graphics, with detailed analysis of how to display data for precise, effective, quick analysis. Design of the high-resolution displays, small multiples. Editing and improving graphics. The data-ink ratio. Time-series, relational graphics, data maps, multivariate designs. Detection of graphical deception: design variation vs. data variation. Sources of deception. Aesthetics and data graphical displays. This is the second edition of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Recently published, this new edition provides excellent color reproductions of the many graphics of William Playfair, adds color to other images, and includes all the changes and corrections accumulated during 17 printings of the first edition.


  • Softwar: Describing the rise of Oracle.
  • The Everything Store: The story of Jeff Bezos (and, incidentally, Amazon is, arguably, the most important technology company in the world. This book describes the company's rise to fame.
  • In the Plex: The story of Google. Describes how GOogle thinks & operates, and how they rose to be one of the world's most valuable companies.

Book lists I like: