Friday, November 22, 2013

My Ideal Bookshelf

My Ideal Bookshelf, by Thessaly La Force, with artwork by Jane Mount.
My Ideal Bookshelf,
by Thessaly La Force, with
artwork by Jane Mount.
While browsing at the library recently, I ran across the book My Ideal Bookshelf, edited by Thessaly La Force, with artwork by Jane Mount. Their preface describes the book well.
The assignment sounds straightforward enough. Select a small shelf of books that represent you—the books that have changed your life, that have made you who you are today, you favorite favorites. You begin, perhaps, by walking over to your bookshelf and skimming the spines on the top shelf. You pull down a handful that you remember loving; you grab a couple that you read over and over again. Some you know just by the color of their dust jackets. One is in tatters—it was passed down by your mother—and it’s dog-eared and carefully held together by tape and tenderness. The closer you look, the trickier the task turns out to be….

We asked more than one hundred creative people in a variety of disciplines from around the world to do exactly this. Chefs and architects, writers and fashion designers, filmmakers and ballet dancers all agreed to share their ideal bookshelves.
It’s not the words that make this book is so interesting; it is the pictures. Each contributor had their bookshelf painted. The dust jackets says “Jane Mount’s original paintings of the colorful and delightful book spines and occasional objects d’art from the contributors’ personal bookshelves showcase the selections.” You can probably guess where this is going. I just had to collect the ideal bookshelf for the 4th edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology. (Someone had too much time on his hands this week.) Here it is:

My Ideal Bookshelf, for Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.
My Ideal Bookshelf, for
Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.

My illustration does not have the charm of Mount’s quirky paintings (see her create one of these illustrations below). I put mine together in powerpoint, and every book spine is a rectangle. If you like this sort of thing, browse through My Ideal Bookshelf and enjoy her enchanting artwork. If you REALLY like My Ideal Bookshelf, you can pay big bucks and get prints of various book collections (see

How did I choose which books to include in my illustration? The book had to be cited in IPMB, it had to deal with either physics or the application of physics to biology, and I had to have access to a copy (either from my own office bookshelf or from the Oakland University library) so I could recall what the spine looked like. The towering blue volume of IPMB dominates the skyline that is my bookshelf. Some great authors are represented, including Edward Purcell, Philip Morrison, Art Winfree, Knut Schmidt-Nielsen, Leon Glass, and Howard Berg. Two volumes of the wonderful Berkeley Physics Course appear. Powers of Ten and The Machinery of Life are both beautifully illustrated, and would be the best choices from my shelf for mathophobes. I wanted to include Strogatz’s Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos, but I couldn’t reproduce the marbled coloration of the spine using powerpoint.

Do you want to learn more about books related to IPMB? I listed my top ten books in an earlier blog entry, and a catalog of 40 books can be found in an Listmania! list for IPMB that I put together a while back. Click one button on that webpage and you can buy them all (I hope your credit card has a high limit).

Whose collection of books in My Ideal Bookshelf is closest to my taste? I resonated with the bookshelves of Atul Gawande (doctor and writer), John Maeda (graphic designer and computer scientist), and most of all Jonathan Zittrain (legal scholar and professor). For you voyeurs who want to peak further into my personal bookshelf, see another of my Listmania! lists containing my favorite books.


  1. 1. The New Testament
    2. The Feynman Lectures on Physics
    n<10. IPMB

  2. Although I would add several more to my list, they serve only as applications of the basic foundation given in Frankie's list.