Personal Canon

Inspired by Duncan Graham’s canon, and transitively, by David Cole’s, here is a list of people and works that have inspired me. Individually beautiful and interesting; together they make me who I am.

This is a work in progress.

Math / Computing / Physics

  • Scott Aaronson writes about quantum computing.
  • John Baez is prolific, but does amazing work in category theory and quantum computation.
  • Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (and Classical Mechanics) — I somehow discovered SICP at around the same time as Gödel, Escher, Bach (must have found a list of classics online). The combined force of the two of them turned me on to Computer Science. Though it’s an introductory book, it goes deep.
  • Epigram, NuPRL — For shaping my view of how programming languages can and should work.
  • The HoTT book
  • Per Martin-Löf
  • Conor McBride
  • Simon Peyton-Jones
  • You and Your Research — Richard Hamming
  • Richard Feynman — For his tireless push to simplify and understand (then explain). “Surely you’re Joking” is a template for living a good life while doing good, intellectual work. Also great: What Problems to Solve.
  • Bertrand Russell
  • John Carmack




  • Calvin & Hobbes — My favorite comic ever. I think every reader saw themselves in Calvin, his imagination and refusal to follow the rules. Credit to Bill Watterson for creating consistently great content and ending the strip before the content ever got stale.
  • Asterios Polyp
  • Musashi
  • Visual Complex Analysis — This book takes an intimidating subject, tells you to ignore the equations and focus on the intuition. Wonderful visualizations. This is what I’m all about.
  • The Diamond Age
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach — This book (along with SICP, next) profoundly influenced my direction in life. Beautifully written and fascinating.


  • Bret Victor — Inventing on Principle is a classic closely related to my interests, but it’s just one example of consistenly great work from Bret.
  • Ben Kamens, Andy Matuschak, Ben Alpert, Craig Silverstein — Enough people I’ve never met. These are some of the best engineers I’ve ever worked with, who each taught me something about making great software. I’m grateful for having learned from each of you.
  • Elon Musk. Probably the biggest inspiration on this list.
  • Maxwell’s Equations / General Relativity / QED