Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


What Sci/Tech books are worthwhile?

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:

  1. The Mythical Man Month
  2. Godel, Escher, Bach
  3. Internetworking with TCP/IP
  4. Art of Computer Programming (Knuth)
  5. 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?

5 comments on "What Sci/Tech books are worthwhile?"

  • I would add “Design Patterns” and “Computer Security Art and Science” to the list; and Tufte’s three books should definitely be there.

  • adam says:

    Design patterns is an interesting suggestion, but I think it’s too technical. Bishop’s Art & Science I have not read, but some reviews suggest it has a lot of hard formalism in it. How would you compare it to Anderson?
    Tufte I agree with, I don’t think of as technology books.

  • Izar Tarandach says:

    “Applied Cryptography”, by Schneier, in my opinion one of the best examples of a technical book that reads like something else, more accessible, and definitely worth the (repeated) read and reference. Sits on my table right next to “TCP/IP Illustrated” Vol 1&2, by Stevens (z’l…)

  • Wordman says:

    I’d put “Security Engineering” at the top of the list as something generally readable. The unfortunately out of print “Devouring Fungus” is more folklore than tech, but I’d put it on the list. Another vote for “Desgin Patterns” and the equally good “AntiPatterns” and the even better “Enterprise Integration Patterns”, though these speak more to programmers than mundane people.

  • Nudecybot says:

    Returned from a sabbatical from blogging, I just want to commend your choice of GEB and will follow up with my own post on this topic!

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