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Ask HN: Which books are “must-read” for anyone trying to learn about your field?
74 points by jackallis on July 27, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 30 comments
Books that are easy to read and beginner friendly.

For software development - I favor books that are about good practices generally rather than books about particular languages which work well as references.

I usually recommend:

* Code Complete (Steve McConnell)

* The Pragmatic Programmer (Andrew Hunt and Dave Thomas)

* Clean Code and The Clean Coder (Robert Martin)

* The Mythical Man-Month (Fred Brooks)

* Test-Driven Development By Example (Kent Beck)

I also recommend blogs for more bite-sized knowledge. Jeff Atwood's blog at https://blog.codinghorror.com and Joel Spolsky's at https://www.joelonsoftware.com in particular have been helpful to me.

The TDD book only applies if you ascribe to the TDD philosophy, which not everyone does. The others are fairly universal though.

As a programmer turned musical theatre composer, I recommend these books on the craft of writing musicals:

Stephen Sondheim - Finishing the Hat / Look, I Made a Hat

Sondheim (Sweeney Todd, Company etc) breaks down his own lyrics and explains how they work and why. He has a very analytical mind and thinks so lucidly and mathematically about his work, a true engineer and artist. Highly recommended.

http://amzn.eu/8p4E1LC http://amzn.eu/jhRmjFA

Aaron Frankel - Writing the Broadway Musical

A great overview of the process of writing for musical theatre, how musicals work and pitfalls to avoid


Jack Viertel - The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows are Built

I haven't read this book fully, but I'm looking forward to finishing it. A great breakdown of musicals and how they are put together.


> As a programmer turned musical theatre composer

Wow, that's a fascinating career path! How did you end up making that transition?

My field (programming) has been well covered so I'll share books about my side-field, writing.

- On Writing - Stephen King

- Bird by Bird - Anne Lamott

- Story - Robert McKee (screenwriting)

- Do the work - Stephen Pressfield (he's more famous for The War of Art but I haven't actually read that one yet)

Also there are some great blogs out there

- Terrible Minds by Chuck Wendig

- The Creative Penn - Joanna Penn

- Mary Robinette Kowal's blog

- John August (screenwriting)

Not sure it qualifies as an introduction to any particular field within tech, but for a general deep dive into the inner workings of computers:

Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

I just love this book! It was a joyous adventure of discovery the first time through. Subsequent reads always yield new insights.

The Elements of Statistical Learning

or the more beginner friendly

An Introduction to Statistical Learning: With Applications in R

For getting into DevOps, I believe The Phoenix Project (by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, George Spafford) is pretty good.

Personally I think that's a great book for anyone who is involved in the process of delivering software, from developers to project managers.

I work in residential construction. Beginner friendly, 'find out if you find this interesting' kind of books:

"This Old House: Restoring, Rehabilitating, and Renovating an Older House" by Bob Vila.

An older book, only the carpentry is relevant today, but a nice picture-driven exploration of sensitive home renovation.

"A Place of My Own: the Architecture of Daydreams" by Michael Pollan

I didn't get a lot out of this because it was a pretty simple project that was being described, but it's a good look at the challenges of design, and a good primer if you're looking to do your own small project. Plus, Michael Pollan is an enjoyable writer.

"House" by Tracy Kidder

Follows the construction of a home in MA with a lot of builder perspective. Explores the common issues associated with running a small carpentry company frame to finish. There is also "The Apple Corps Guide to the Well-Built House" by Jim Locke which is written by a member of the firm profiled in "House" - haven't read it yet.

"Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville" by Witold Rybczynski

Follows the evolution of a farm field into a subdivision.


A little more challenging:

"The City in History" by Lewis Mumford

Best described as a "Tome" - a staple in intro level planning classes.

"building Construction Illustrated" by Francis Ching

A good illustrated primer on basic residential construction assemblies, will help with visualization of written descriptions and vocabulary.

"Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn" by Thomas Hubka

The evolution of farm yard structures, of interest if you've ever wondered about the repeating patterns you see on New England farms.

"A Field Guide to American Houses" by Virginia Savage McAlester

This book will tell you what every type of house is. If I remember right, I believe it also has a section on vernacular houses. A similar book that I own but have not read is "A Field Guide to American Architecture" by Carole Rifkind. I also like, and have read, "American Vernacular: Buildings and Interiors, 1870-1960" by Herbert Gottfried

"How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built" by Stewart Brand

A great look at what happens after construction is completed, I love this book for it's treatment of a seldom-discussed reality of the construction trades.

"Builders Guide: Cold Climates" Joseph W Lstiburek

Lstiburek is opinionated, and usually right. Find more books of this style at: https://buildingscience.com/

"The Checklist Manifesto" by Atul Gawande

Changed how I approach documenting and completing tasks - in a business like construction where it's hard to go in reverse, it's been a major component of my success since I first read it in 2011. Simple in concept, hard in practice.

Created an account to say thanks for this list. It's been something I've been looking at recently and you gave me a lot of homework :) Thanks!

You're welcome. My email address is in my profile if you have any questions in the future.

For front-end development I would recommend Eloquent JavaScript by Marijn Haverbeke - it's available for free.

Nowadays more often than not I see beginners doing mistakes that are caused by the lack of understanding of JS's syntax alone.

These are usually easily aviodable problems which still do cause the ones that have them a lot of grief.

EDIT: emphasis.

I usually recommend a few different books:

Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship


This book really helped me focus on code organization and seeing maintainable code as an overall goal whilst building long-term applications. I'd say that one of the reasons why the work I've done 3-4 years ago can still be used, expanded, and maintained today is because of this book. Short functions, code organization, and naming conventions all stuck with me.

I'd say that unlike other programming books, this one focuses on the "art" and "organization" rather than syntax and other aspects of programming.

The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master


This book tackled real-world application building and practices. I'm still reading it. I liked how it tackled not only some basics of programming (resource management practices) but also project management to a certain extent. Eg. how to use prototypes, how to use "trace bullet" programs, etc.

Game Programming Patterns

I think one of my favorites has been "Game Programming Patterns" http://gameprogrammingpatterns.com/ which is free online or you can get an ebook/print version http://amzn.to/2veRdiO

The book introduces several basic design patterns, it explains WHY they're used, how to implement them, etc. in the best way I've read so far. No CS book or online article has been able to explain these patterns as this book did.

And I'm not even a game developer.

Also, check out this post on dev.to -- https://dev.to/ben/what-are-the-most-interesting-readable-so... it has some good answers! :)

I just started Snow Crash by the same author.

For a general software developer, I have seen Code Complete (Steve McConnell) and Clean Code (Robert C. Martin) recommended a lot. I have copies of both on my desk at work.

Design Patterns (GoF), The Mythical Man-Month,

I'm skeptical about the GoF book. To often, it's been the proverbial hammer that makes you see nails everywhere.

The Pragmatic Programmer (Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas) is the other one that springs to mind for me.

I'd add SICP.

Physics of the interstellar and intergalactic medium by Bruce Draine for astronomy and study of the interstellar medium.

Ogilvy on Advertising still the best intro to not just advertising, but marketing and communications.

how to win friends and influence people. Doesn't matter what field. I could be a bus driver or a CEO.

For software development, I recommend "Understanding Software" by Max Kanat-Alexander


For JavaScript / Front-End, "Secrets of the JavaScript Ninja" by John Resig (jQuery creator) is fantastic. The Second edition includes clarifications and explorations of ES6 & ES7 features.

For direct marketing, "Being Direct: Making Advertising Pay"

Molecular Biology of the Cell (Alberts)

sorry, the books for my field just aren’t beginner friendly.

Oppenheim, Schaffer and Nawab, “Signals and Systems” is a foundational text but it’s a total bear.

Linear Systems and Signals by B.P. Lathi is slightly more approachable and is a good foundation book in signal processing.

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