Ever since I can remember, I’ve always loved reading, particularly non-fiction and reference materials. I remember my mother buying a Childcraft set back in grade school, and I remember summer afternoons poring over those books; years later, my mom would also buy an entire World Book Encyclopedia set— and this time, I would do the equivalent of what would be a wiki walk today, jumping from article to article. I fondly remember reading up on the article on the Apollo missions: the encyclopedia set being published at the 25th anniversary of the landings, there was a pull-out section on the CSM, and the astronauts.

Of course, I also love reading fiction too, and one of the books I remember quite fondly is The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Much later, in college, I borrowed a thick hardbound copy of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I remember just ingesting every word.

In college, and in the first few years of work, I would often find myself scouring the shelves of Booksale to see if any book would be neat to buy. To this day, I cannot resist dropping by any book store, especially Booksale, to see if I could make any really good book finds: I sheepishly found myself having bought an interesting academic text right after getting my NBI clearance, because there was a Booksale at a mall I ate lunch at, even if that particular hardbound book (800-plus pages and all) added literal weight to my commute home. I also once found a copy of a Heinlein book, Job: A Comedy of Justice at a Booksale, and that was a pleasant surprise.

Here are a few books I’ve read over the years; maybe you would like to read them too?

  • The Soul of A New Machine, Tracy Kidder

    This is the first book one should read when trying to understand the process of building a computer product— albeit this one is a whole computer system from the ground up. I remember seeing this at the university library, and checking it out to read; later on, I would buy a copy at a Books For Less across from school. Still very readable, even if it’s about building a minicomputer in the 60s.

  • Showstopper! The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft, G. Pascal Zachary

    I saw a copy of this book at yet another Booksale, on my way home from my first job, and was intrigued. If you want to get a picture of how software is developed, this is another good book to start with, even if you don’t write software yourself. Sadly, my copy perished from water damage from one of the typhoons.

  • Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco

    I read this before Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code came out; my then boss lent me a copy of Code, telling me I’d like it (I didn’t). This is a much more satisfying story, I think; there’s humor, and there’s a lot of skepticism.

  • Making Software: What Really Works and Why We Believe It, Andy Oram and Greg Wilson

    I first saw a video of a talk that Greg Wilson gave at CUSEC, and it struck a chord in me. A lot of things we do in building software can be still characterized as no better than folk medicine or folk wisdom. Here’s a book from Wilson and co-editor Andy Oram, collecting actual studies and more importantly evidence on what works in building software, as explained and presented by the researchers of those studies. If you write software as your job, I really think this is required reading.

  • The Programmer’s Guide to The IBM PC and PS/2, Peter Norton

    Okay, this book is positively ancient, but back in the grade school I pored over this constantly. I remember being in the school canteen and accidentally spilling some soy sauce on my copy. If you wanted to get into the details of some of the nitty-gritty stuff of the architecture of the IBM PC and compatibles, this was the book to read. Some of the info here is arguably no longer useful, but I think it still is, at least from the perspective of retrocomputing.

  • The Girl with The Dragoon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

    I haven’t finished the Millenium trilogy — I’m in the middle of the second book — but I think you can read just this book and get a pretty satisfying whodunit of a story. Also, a great scene where it’s a guy in distress, saved by the heroine.

Previously: Hypercritical (with apologies to John Siracusa)