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Matt Ventre


Less Well-Known Books to Read

@roccodesta made a list that inspired me and since I'm sitting next to a shelf filled with books I'd like to share with you a list of them that you may not have heard of. We'll look at both fiction and non-fiction books.

    1. Planetes (Vol 1 and Vol 2) by Makoto Yukimura

    A Japanese graphical novel (aka "manga") about the future where Earth's orbit is polluted with space debris from thousands of launches and the team of space junk garbage collectors whose jobs it is to pick up the trash.


    2. Casino Gambling for the Winner by Lyle Stuart

    A chronicle of Lyle Stuart's 1970's-era casino escapades where he teaches you the fundamentals of dice and card probability and documents his staggering six-figure profit in 10 consecutive visits to that fickle jewel of the desert, Las Vegas.

    More than a guide to gambling, it drills lessons that pay off in other areas of life: emotional control when things don't go your way, bankroll management (aka living within your means), risk tolerance and intelligent decision making, knowing the game is rigged before you put down dollar #1 (aka sizing up the fight).


    3. The Story of Civilization Series by Will and Ariel Durant

    Will Durant set out to compose the most comprehensive picture of civilization from the theorized Asian and African roots through the days of Napoleon's reign in France.

    It's dense, it's littered with footnotes, it's a tremendously engaging lifework that spans four decades of work on the part of the Durants.


    4. Myst: the Book of Atrus

    Written as a later supplement to the world-changing 1990s PC game "Myst", it explores the origins of the protagonist in the aforementioned game and builds out the incredible and mysterious (ha!) universe that comes to life in later works in the series. It's the first in a trilogy of books culminating in 2004's omnibus, "The Myst Reader".


    5. The Essentials of Casino Game Design by Dan Lubin

    A brilliant how-to by the late Dan Lubin, inventor of EZ Pai Gow (a faster Pai Gow Poker variant), that spells out the nuts and bolts of how to get a casino game from your head into a real, live gambling operation.

    This book would server beginning product designers particularly well, because it offers a layman's look at several fundamental concepts that early-career creatives need to master, but Lubin wastes no words on jargon or self-important blathering.

    These are outstanding lessons, taught by a master, but learned by few.

    Check this one out.


    6. The Worlds of Android by various authors on behalf of Fantasy Flight Games

    Fantasy Flight Games is perhaps best known for their collectable and tabletop games in the Star Wars, Legend of the Five Rings, and Arkham Horror lines. They're known for creating their own universes as well. Android, their cyberpunk dystopian-flavored universe, was the backdrop to a revolutionary card game called Android: Netrunner (we'll talk about the origins of that particular entry in another list). They released this supplemental tome as a lore-filled treasure trove for players so that they could learn more about the backstories of some of their favorite characters and locations from the card game.


    7. The Metaphysical of Avacenna by Parviz Morewedge

    We hear a lot about Marcus Aurelius, Plato, and the European philosophers, but rarely do we get a look at the influential ideas that originated in the Middle Eastern territories. Avicenna is one of those ancient voices who goes unacknowledged by the mainstream despite having contributed a major philosophical viewpoint to the discussion of the "proof of God's existence". This is a good commentary on his work, The Tome of Scientific Knowledge.


    8. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

    I could also add "Technopoly" to the list also by Postman, but AOtD is the original polemic by the ever-clairvoyant Postman who seems to have seen the rise of screen addiction and media manipulation well before the turn of the 21st century. I wish he were alive today to discuss how his theories panned out (he'd be horrified, I'm sure).


    9. Blood Bowl: The Game of Fantasy Football Official Rules by various authors on behalf of Games Workshop

    Blood Bowl is a niche tabletop wargame variant that is vaguely based on American football. It occupies the same universe of the more-popular Warhammer series.

    The 2020 edition of the rulebook is one of the most well-written, laid out, and thematically solid game rulebooks I've ever read.

    It's funny, it's sharp, it's to the point. It's a clean reference tome. Plenty of lessons to learn here if you're in the business of game design or even technical writing - instructions are hard! These folks do them well.


    10. Opening Concepts by Michihito Kageyama

    Michi pulls together his fundamental techniques for opening strategy in backgammon and turns them into easy-to-remember proverbs.

    It's not the highest quality production (and illustrations are a little wonky), but the writing is wonderful, Michi's personality shines through, and you get to learn how to wreck your poor opponent in the opening game from one of the giants of backgammon.

    Beautiful stuff.

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