Two books that I've read and enjoyed recently:
  1. Philip Ball: Universe of Stone: A Biography of Chartres Cathedral. Ball uses the construction of the great Gothic cathedral as a lens through which to examine the intellectual and technical world of Medieval Europe. Like all of his books, there is sometimes more detail than anyone but a fellow enthusiast could want, but that's a minor quibble---his descriptions of the interplay between half-remembered Platonic philosophy, doctrinal disputes within the Church, the economic boom of the 1200s, and the invention of ever-more-sophisticated engineering practices is fascinating. I particularly liked the chapter that traced the development of the arches and flying buttresses that are the hallmarks of Gothic style: each new idea was a response to earlier problems that in turn created problems and possibilities of its own. There is much here for software architects to mull over...
  2. Andrew Bacevich: The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. A retired US Army colonel whose son died in Iraq, Bacevich now teaches history in Boston. "Caustic" doesn't even begin to describe this book: its cold analysis traces the failures of the American military-political complex in the last forty years to Americans' unwillingness to acknowledge that every bill must eventually be paid. While lip service is paid at the end to the possibility of renewal, Bacevich very powerfully makes the case that the US has already sown the seeds of its own demise. Democrats and Republicans alike are weighed, measured, and found wanting, as is the American public as a whole. There is much here for everyone to mull over...