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Best written programming book

Posted on 17/4/08 by Felix Geisendörfer

Hey folks,

just a quick question to all of you: What is the best written programming book you know? I don't care what language or technology it is about. I'm looking for a book on the topic of programming that has the atmosphere of a good novel and really sucks you into it. A book you take with you everywhere b/c you want to know how it continues ; ).

The thing is that most programming books that I know are not like this. They usually tend to either be way to simple and stupid throughout the entire book. Or way too intimidating and difficult so that you need to re-read every page from the first chapter to get it. Or some of them just loose their bite after 150-200 pages and you find yourself skipping lots of pages.

So if you have any suggestions on *must-read* programming books please let me know. An exception would be books that are written about programming and team work itself and don't really contain code examples.

thanks a lot,
-- Felix Geisendörfer aka the_undefined


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Emil Ivanov said on Apr 17, 2008:

The C Programming Language:

Less than 300 page. Beautifully written.

Mariano Iglesias said on Apr 17, 2008:

I have read lots of programming books, and none of them have ever made me feel as excited, interested and thrilled as the day I read "Born to Code In C", by Herbert Schildt. I started with Basic and then quickly moved to C, and that was the book that did it.

It's an old book (1989), I bought it the same year it came out, and amazingly enough it is still up for sale in Amazon:

When you come down here, you'll see it in my programming bookshelf.

Richard@Home said on Apr 17, 2008:

+1 for "The C Programming Language"

I have a first edition copy :)

Lucian Lature  said on Apr 17, 2008:

Hi Felix!...

Glad you're back...

Not really about programming, sorry, but I recommend you two books:

- "Don't make me think!" by Steve Krug ( )

- "The Pragmatic Programmer" by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas.

Have fun!

Felix Geisendörfer said on Apr 17, 2008:

Lucian: Was I gone : )? No, I'm really looking for programming books. I need some good stuff to do research for my own book project : ).

Everybody else: Thanks for the recommendations so far.

Daniel Hofstetter said on Apr 17, 2008:

I like the style of the books of the "Head first" series from O'Reilly. They are completely different than other programming books ;-)

sam d said on Apr 17, 2008:

My two current favorites (from a writing perspective) are Code Complete by Steve McConnell and "Practices of an Agile Developer" by Venkat Subramaniam and Andy Hunt. From a language perspective the Aaron Hillengass "Cocoa Programing for Mac OS X" is a good introduction to the language.

Sam D

Brian D. said on Apr 17, 2008:

I'm going to second Sam on the "Code Complete" by Steve McConnell. The book is fantastic, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is serious about software development in general.

"The Pragmatic Programmer" is pretty good, too, but nowhere near as good as CC.

- Brian

Felix Geisendörfer said on Apr 17, 2008:

sam, brian: Yes, I know those books are good. But again - I look for books that focus on code itself, not the meta-physics of programming ; ). Got any of those to recommend brian?

Dan Bair said on Apr 17, 2008:

This was by far the best book I ever read on the subject of programming and just technology in general. It's called "Hackers and Painters".


Felix Geisendörfer said on Apr 17, 2008:

ok ... I'm not going to say anything anymore ; p

Patrick said on Apr 17, 2008:

The most, I enjoyed "The Art of UNIX Programming" by Raymond.

Bruno Bergher said on Apr 17, 2008:

I'm not sure this fits on what you're requesting Felix, but I'm reading Ben Fry's "Visualizing Data", and I'm having a great time.

The book is primarily focused of the design and implementation of small data visualization applications, targeting specifically the Processing environment (a 'wrapper' for Java for easier access to screen drawing methods).

Fry gets both on the conceptual and practical aspects of coding, and does it extremelly well, in a way that it seems just as if he were by your side, giving tips and suggesting changes in the code, exposing his thought process.

The thing is Processing is pretty simple (you can get away with no OOP at all and have great results) and that the kind of code he suggests can be pretty ugly, in an entreprise maintenance type of point of view.

But since what you're asking is for an engaging way to teach code in a book, I think you should definitely use it as a reference.

And keep us posted on this project of yours : )

nukem  said on Apr 17, 2008:

O'Reilly Media's Beautiful Code

nukem  said on Apr 17, 2008:

Principles of Compiler Design by Alfred V. Aho ,Jeffrey D. Ullman

I have it for almost 20 years and I am not yet done reading it or re-reading it. a very good read if you can still find a copy.

brian  said on Apr 17, 2008:

I can't believe noone has mentioned the series by Donald Knuth, The Art of Computer Progamming

Martin Bavio  said on Apr 17, 2008:

Not a programming book, but a web design book:

I really love that book, very interesting and funny at the time. A must-read for every developer who claims to design websites.

Brian D. said on Apr 17, 2008:

Okay, okay... as far as "programming" specific books (e.g., language specific, syntax, etc) I'd have to say Matt Zandstra's "PHP 5 Objects Patterns & Practices" was pretty good.
It's hard (impossible?) to write a "hard information" book like that, though, and avoid being at least a little dry.

Doctor Werewolf said on Apr 17, 2008:

+1 for Head First series, Head First Design Patterns in particular.

Wee Keat said on Apr 17, 2008:

Here's my list of what I think are must reads for any programmer:

* The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master
by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas

* Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction
by Steve McConnell

* Art of Computer Programming (Vol 1-3)
by Donald E. Knuth

Dardo  said on Apr 18, 2008:

This was one I have found really interesting:

leveille said on Apr 18, 2008:

I had Matt Zandstra’s “PHP 5 Objects Patterns & Practices" in my Amazon Queue for over 2 months until finally I received a notice that it couldn't be shipped because it was out of stock ... believe it or not.

If you're looking for a well written book, I would recommend Absolute C++ by Walter Savich. I've read a lot of programing books, and when I read a Savitch book for the first time I was amazed at how well written it was. Truly, not only did I learn a great deal from the book, which often doesn't happen for me with books that are written like textbooks, but I enjoyed learning from this book. The downside is that he writes mostly College textbooks, and they're not cheap.

Pete  said on Apr 18, 2008:

I've always wanted to finish reading this one. It's an old classic but it'll give you a different viewpoint since it's about scheme/lisp.

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs

Plus you can get the whole book from here:

SkieDr said on Apr 18, 2008:

Martin Fowler - Refactoring.

Jérémie  said on Apr 18, 2008:

Thinking in Java -

nimeni  said on Apr 18, 2008:

+1 for Head First stuff. Ms. Sierra really knows how to keep you interested.

majna  said on Apr 18, 2008:
but only AntiPatterns: The Survival Guide is available as book

lindsay  said on Apr 19, 2008:

i don't know if other people found it as funny, but "Programming Perl, 2nd edition"
I purchased my copy in 1995 when i was just figuring out CGI programming for the brand new WWW.

I don't know if newer releases contained as much humor as the 2nd edition, but i would hope so.
Seriously, i found myself laughing periodically at some of the stuff Larry Wall and gang were writing in that book. Part of the humor itself was in how flexible Perl is as a language. And then there was the whole obfuscated Perl poetry contest that was constantly going on.

Made it a joy to learn Perl. Not that i write anything in it anymore, but, it fits your criteria of a Programming book i think, and i was genuinely interested in reading further to see how else the writers could relate the code to something completely unrelated

Chris Forrette said on Apr 20, 2008:

Hey Felix,

Two books comes to mind for this and oddly, they are both for Flash/Actionscript which I don't really use so much anymore. But Colin Moock's books have always been spectacular. I haven't read his newest one (for AS3) but he's always been very good at explaining things from top to bottom without being too boring, and I remember reading his books as a beginner and at a more advanced level and still being able to comprehend and learn from the reading:

the other Flash book is 'Flash to the Core' by Joshua Davis. This book was awesome to read because, in the style of Joshua Davis, it is very artistic and technical at the same time. I found myself using it as both a technical and inspirational reference:

Sadly, I'm sure it is pretty much out of date. Great idea for a post--I'm a gigantic fan of good programming books and very proud of my large and ever-expanding library...

Felix Geisendörfer said on Apr 20, 2008:

Thanks everybody for the great recommendations. I really want the book I'm working on to disprove the notion of programming books having to be at least a bit dry, so I'll see what I can learn from some of those books.

Reminds me, I should publish my amazon wishlist and collect donations, haha : ).

Siegfried said on Apr 23, 2008:

I like these kind of books

also available in english ;)

Justin  said on Apr 23, 2008:

Two come to mind, both great.

If I had to pick the order, first it would be "Code Complete, 2nd Edition" by Steve McConnell. (I think someone above said this too.) It's just a great book, well written, and applicable to any software developer, regardless of language/platform.

Second, Aaron Hillegass's "Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X". The third addition should be out in late May 2008. This book is known as pretty much the defacto bible for learning the Cocoa framework. It's relevance is even more expansive due to the iPhone SDK and the increasing popularity of the Mac platform. Written in a good style.

Justin  said on Apr 23, 2008:

Sorry, I didn't ready your comments until after I posted. My second book (cocoa by aaron hillegass) would be pretty good to look at.

But I'm 100% in agreement with Chris Forrette above... Colin Moock's books are probably the best written. By that, I mean they feel less like dry book, yet they still manage to get you going easily. I've read his latest AS3 book also, which is very good like the earlier ones. Worth looking at.

Tom said on Apr 24, 2008:

Umm programmers aren't that smart, OR more likely they "skimmed" your request. Also to some, as they read the "art of" books, they are really programming it in their heads.

My vote is "Beginning Ruby on Rails". A little dry however I read it cover to cover and will go back and do the programming contained therein.

# ISBN-10: 0470069155

# ISBN-13: 978-0470069158

SQL for mere mortals, if SQL is considered programming. Absolutely awesome book. Deconstruction is my weakness. When its done right, I HAVE to buy the book.
Here is the one I have

# ISBN-10: 0201433362

# ISBN-13: 978-0201433364

Here is an updated version
# ISBN-10: 0321444434

# ISBN-13: 978-0321444431

Having problems posting the links(??). It kept saying Only Simple HTML. Don't have time to figger it out ;-)
Good luck with your book.

If you need an in-your-face proof reader, feel free to email me. Spelling, grammer, usage will all be caught. I even email Andrew Tannenbaum some errata in his OS book.

CSdread said on Apr 30, 2008:

I would second the thought on Beautiful Code by Oreilly. That book is amazing. Also I would say that Design Patterns by Gamma, Helm, Johnson, Vlissides is one of the most handy in my shelf. I also love the book The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs from MIT and the Little Schemer.
All great books!

Tim Koschützki said on Apr 30, 2008:

I personally love the writing style of "JUnit Recipes" by J.B. Rainsberger. :]

leveille said on Apr 30, 2008:

Just read this post (Programmers Don't Read Books -- But You Should) over at Coding Horror. Great read.

kvz said on May 25, 2008:

My favorite so far is The Pragmatic Programmer. Practical teachings on every page, and catchy metaphors that will stick with you for a long time.

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