Ed Felten writes about a library survey in which few tech books, and none worthwhile, made the top-1000 list. He concludes:
It’s the technology books that really disappoint. These books are useful, to be sure, and it’s not surprising that libraries have them. What’s really sad is that no book about the intellectual content or impact of engineering or computer technology made the list.
This stuff is important! Are we as technologists failing to write engaging books about it? Are librarians or the public failing to recognize the value of the books that are written? Probably all of these things are true.
So, what books are worthwhile? By that I mean, broadly useful, defining, reference standard works.
I’ll offer a few candidates:
- The Mythical Man Month
- Godel, Escher, Bach
- Internetworking with TCP/IP
- Art of Computer Programming (Knuth)
- The Design of the 4.4 BSD Operating System
As you can see, the list degenerates pretty quickly. Mythical Man Month is broadly readable, and still applicable today. Godel, Escher, Bach is a challenging (but reawarding) read. Internetworking with TCP/IP? The Design of BSD 4.4? Both are outstanding, detailed, technical descriptions of their topics, but I wouldn’t replace “A Brief History” with either. ACP is a different beast. It should be the definitive reference on algorithms, but its not. People find it intimidating.
So, why do we not have better computer books?