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Stranded: 12 Desert Island Reads for the Marooned Architect July 19, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.

What one book would you take with you to a desert island?

Growing up, my uncle, a high-powered attorney, once said to me that his best friends and favorite people were architects.

They’re fascinating, he said.

With all architects need to learn, keep up with and know, fascinating is not a word you often hear these days associated with most architects.

Part of what I always believed made architects fascinating – in addition to their life experiences, tastes and travels – was the books they read.

There are always must-read architecture books and you could do far worse than read the hottest summer business books such as Rework by 37signal’s Jason Fried, or Seth Godin’s Linchpin, or Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy.

Read them along with the rest of the world, that is.

This is a time to stand out, to distinguish yourself, in all ways but especially in your reading material.

A time to read a book for you and you alone.

Pick a Book, but Not Just Any Book

Not necessarily a favorite book. Just a book, that for sentimental, hard-to-explain reasons, you can’t live without.

Here are twelve books I cannot live without.

Why these twelve?

Each is guaranteed to provide you with a transformative experience.

No summer escapism here – you can get that from any old beach book.

Here’s the criteria I used to select these books:

  • not fiction, not about architecture or self-improvement
  • will force you to open your mind and get you out of your rut and help you to see things differently and to see the bigger picture
  • make you more interesting to your peers, contacts and clients
  • enlightening, interesting, fun-to-read books – architects used to be interesting and fun. These books promise to keep you that way
  • girth, length, substance but also weighty – these are doorstoppers – page for page you really get your money’s worth
  • can be found in paperback or Kindle for under $10 (though your Kindle may be hard to recharge on the island)
  • not pimping or promoting a book by a living author – these are all 5-star books – all recognized living classics. Titles that could be considered by a reading connoisseur as their one and only book they’d take with them to a desert island
  • all will provide you with memorable, unforgettable, guaranteed to be a favorite, life-changing experience
  • nominally obscure and forgotten chefs d’ouevre that can be found at a bookstore, such as The Strand in NYC

Thus the double entendre title of this post: stranded.

No Architect’s Education is Ever Complete

These are the books I’d take with me if stuck on an island for a year.

In fact, with 12, there’s one for every month of the year.

I could explain how and why each is relevant to me or you, the architect, but instead I’ve provided you with the title and a link – and left the rest up to you.

Have fun exploring!

Here’s to a year of exceptional reading.

1. Life of Johnson

James Boswell

Visit Amazon’s James Boswell Page

4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)


…2. A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science

Michael S. Schneider

Visit Amazon’s Michael S. Schneider Page

4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)

link3. Michel de Montaigne – The Complete Essays

Michel de Montaigne (Author), M. A. Screech (Editor, Translator, Introduction)

4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

link4. The Anatomy of Melancholy

Robert Burton

Visit Amazon’s Robert Burton Page

4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)


5. The Seven Mysteries of Life

Guy Murchie

Visit Amazon’s Guy Murchie Page

4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)


6. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York

Robert A. Caro

Visit Amazon’s Robert A. Caro Page

4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)

link7. Annals of the Former World

John McPhee

Visit Amazon’s John McPhee Page

4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)


…8. The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos

Joel R. Primack (Author), Nancy Ellen Abrams

4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)

link9. The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View

Richard Tarnas

Visit Amazon’s Richard Tarnas Page

4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)


Also by the same authorCosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View

Richard Tarnas

Visit Amazon’s Richard Tarnas Page

4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)

link10. Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Douglas R. Hofstadter

Visit Amazon’s Douglas R. Hofstadter Page

4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (262 customer reviews)

link11. Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences

Lawrence Weschler

Visit Amazon’s Lawrence Weschler Page

4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

link12. A Short History of Nearly Everything

Bill Bryson

Visit Amazon’s Bill Bryson Page

4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (797 customer reviews)


There’s now even a kid’s version

And lastly, 2 bonus books you no doubt never heard of – but would be remiss to overlook – of such fantastical proportions they can be said to not exist at all…Codex Seraphinianus

The Codex Seraphinianus is a book written and illustrated by the Italian artist, architect and industrial designer Luigi Serafini during thirty months, from 1976 to 1978. The book is approximately 360 pages long (depending on edition,) and appears to be a visual encyclopedia of an unknown world, written in one of its languages, a thus-far undeciphered alphabetic writing. (Wikipedia)


Find it here for free




andLe Macchine Celibi / The Bachelor Machines

Marc Le Bot (Author), Bazon Brock (Author), Michel Carrouges (Author), Michel de Certeau (Author), Jean Clair (Author), Peter Gorsen (Author)

Publisher: Rizzoli; 1st US Edition edition (1975) Language: English, Italian


Is there a book you would recommend that you don’t see here? Have you read one of these books and disagree? Should architects just stick with reading architecture books? Let me know.



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[…] Stranded: 12 Desert Island Reads f&#959r t&#1211&#1077 Marooned Architect … […]

2. Anne Whitacre - July 19, 2010

I don’t have a dozen (you don’t allow fiction), and some of these are pretty slim, but here’s a list:
From Dawn to Decadence: 500 years of Western Culturnal Life; Jacques Barzun. (if for nothing more than “music is sculpting huge clouds of air”)
Barcelona, the Great Enchantress; Robert Hughes
Double Flame: Love and Eroticism; Octavio Paz
Collected poems, bilingual edition; Pablo Neruda
Awakening Heroes Within; 12 Archetypes; Carol Pearson
The Architecture of Happiness; Alain de Bouton (I changed jobs because of this book)
Meditations; Marcus Aurelius

if I were to include fiction, the entire Lanny Budd series by Sinclair Lewis would be tops on my list — its more or less a cultural history of the first fifty years of the 20th century, told from a european point of view and is in 28 (I think) volumes.

3. Randy Deutsch - July 19, 2010

Wow, Anne, thank you! This is a marvelous list. (How could I have left out Barzun?!) I guess I’m going to spend more time on the island thanoriginally anticipated – but it looks like I’m going to be in very good company. Thank you for sharing these great titles. Randy

4. Ted Pratt - July 30, 2010

Randy and Anne here is my list of ten books I am reading or about to read. Before my itemization though I’d like to recommend Barcelona, The Great Enchantress by Robert Hughes if you haven’t read it yet. It is wonderful. I really enjoy Hughes’s writing style.

Here is my list:

Thelonious Monk, The Life and Times of An American Original; Robert D. G. Kelley
Travels With Charlie; William Steinbeck
Why Architecture Matters; Paul Goldberger
Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?; Harold Bloom
Golden Gate, Life and Times of America’s Greatest Bridge; Kevin Starr
The Dream Endures, California Enters the 1940’s; Kevin Starr
Universe of Stone, Chartes Cathedral and the Invention of the Gothic; Phillip Ball
Biomimcry, Innovation Inspired by Nature; Jannie M. Benyus
A Whole New Mind; Daniel H. Pink
The Ten Faces of Innovation; Tom Kelley

My list does include titles about architecture but it does cover a lot of ground outside of architecture.

Thanks Anne, like Randy I have a lot more reading to do. Oh and before I forget a tip of the hat to Randy for making sure the size of my library grows.

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