Re: poly: canonical texts

From: Robin Hanson <>
Date: Mon Jun 14 1999 - 11:34:43 PDT

At 02:47 AM 6/14/99 -0700, you wrote:
>What are the canonical texts which define a subject area? Having a
>structured list of such texts would be of great use to those interested in
>self-education, and could form part of the core of any good library.

The way I find this out is to browse through the textbook section of
a local university bookstore. With that in mind, here's a simple
idea for a web business: Create a place where folks can find out what
texts big name universities are using for various courses. Maybe call
it YouU, and market it toward the self-education crowd.

That is, a user types in some keywords, and gets a sorted list of
related course names, paired with textbook titles. Textbook
titles are linked directly to a web bookstore where you can buy them,
and priority on the list might be given to "top" schools.

Alternatively, the site might collect courses which are "the same"
under a single label, and give users stats on which books are how

The income from the site would come from bookstores like
paying for people forwarded to their site. And the expenses would
mainly be finding out what texts are being used in different
schools. A network of student assistants at the schools, paid in
textbook discounts, might get you enough info.

Now, how many of you polymaths would use such a service?


>Such texts should be well-written, provide comprehensive coverage of an
>important subject area, and be correct. Moreover, such texts should be
>timely, in the sense that they take a snapshot of a field at a choice
>time when the field is relatively stable, and it is possible to set down
>what is important and what is not.
>A few suggestions for such a list:
>Computer Programming: Knuth's "The Art of Computer Programming".
>ELectronics: Horowitz and Hill's "The Art of Electronics".
>Elementary Physics: The Feynman Lecturs on Physics.
>Special Relativity: Taylor and Wheeler's "Spacetime Physics".
>General Relativity: Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler's "Gravitation".
>What other suggestions can people make for this list? What defines a text
>as canonical? What would be the best way of structuring such a list of
>texts, in order to maximize its utility as a tool for learning?
>(This suggestion inspired by Stewart Brand's "The Clock of the Long Now".)
>Michael Nielsen
>Ph: 626 395 8431 Email:
>Fax: 626 793 9506 Web:

Robin Hanson
RWJF Health Policy Scholar FAX: 510-643-8614
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 510-643-1884
after 8/99: Assist. Prof. Economics, George Mason Univ.
Received on Mon Jun 14 11:39:03 1999

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Mar 07 2006 - 14:45:30 PST