It's an extremely well written book, starting from the very beginning at the time of WWII, tracing people, ideas, struggles, and achievements of great milestones in computer history. It's not your typical dry historical material, but somehow the author made it personal through the eyes of key people that influenced important computer science progresses, and in particular J.C.R. Licklider (Lick), who galvanized a lot efforts across the U.S. in the sixties that resulted in making computing interactive and ultimately personal, rather than batch and business-focused. Many important milestones are discussed, starting with the early days of mechanical computers, vacuum tubes, relays, ENIAC, UNIVAC, through MIT's various efforts during the cold war to help with real-time computing with Whirlwind and the SAGE project; IBM's mainframes dominance in the fifties, and the hacker culture that arose against it at MIT to build interactive computers like the TX-0 and TX-2, to the spin-off of DEC and its minicomputers that changed the game; to building time-sharing systems, and the groundbreaking inventions of Douglas Engelbart and his team at SRI; the rise of the ARPA network; the many great ideas developed at Xerox PARC; and ultimately the personal computer revolution and the Internet.
Also worth checking out in this vein is Showstopper about the development of Windows NT which focuses on the role of Dave Cutler.
Also on computer architecture / story of developing a new processor, "The Pentium Chronicles" by Robert Colwell is a really interesting book on the story of the Pentium Pro, the first out-of-order CPU from Intel.
"The Second Coming of Steve Jobs" was eye opening for me regarding the life of Jobs, his family life, and his business involvements.
"Masters of Doom" by David Kushner chronicles the history of id Software and its creators. It's an entertaining book for sure, especially the part where id has Gwar show up at Microsoft.
"Close to the Machine" by Ellen Ullman is the memoir of a software developer in the 80s. I need to read this one again, but it was enjoyable. I think about one part in particular from time to time where the author recounts being offered a job to work on an aging mainframe. The man pitching the job is probably the last person around who's dedicated to maintaining it. She would have made a lot of money doing it, but the work itself looked to be soul draining, so she skipped it fpr pther opportunities
"The Fugitive Game" by Jonathan Littman documents the story of Kevin Mitnick, the so-called most wanted hacker alive. Certainly has some surprises and is a fun read.
Pretty much anything by Norbert Wiener regarding cybernetics is interesting from a historical perspective. I've read several but the one that comes to mind immediately is "God and Golem, Inc". While unfinished, it goes into cybernetics, which was a practice or idea that technology could interface with biological life in a complementary way and those ways should be pursued. I think he was ultimately successful since we take a lot of those ideas for granted today.
"The Computer and The Brain" by John von Neumann is a great and short read. It mostly talks about how binary signals can be fired by synapses in the brain.
"Show-Stoppers: The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft" One of my favorite, exposes how large software project can really grind on people. Dave Cutler an interesting character and some of the connections between the NT team, DEC and Cutler hate of UNIX is fun.
"Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government--Saving Privacy in the Digital Age" - Others have mentioned Hackers by Levy but this one is also really interesting. Talks about the story of Whitfield Diffie and Marty Hellman (Of diffie-helman fame) and others.
"Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet" Cover the early creation of the internet.
"What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry" - If you've heard of the mother of all demos, this covers Doug Englebart and a few other important folks from the 60s.
One thing I learned from the "Colossus" book was the contribution of British engineers to early computers (Tommy Flowers in particular). They didn't get the credit they deserved because their work was kept secret for so long.
Stephenson, Neal. "In the Beginning...Was the Command Line" 1999. --History of the evolution of UI's and their impact on people, culture, productivity, especially 80's and 90's.
Van Wyk, Christopher J., Bell Labs. "Data Structures and C Programs" 1988. --D & A textbook, 80's style. Like Bently, more focus than we are now used to on things like space time trade offs, resource constraints, in-place operations, etc.
Adding Clifford Stoll, Cuckoo's Egg; white it's not so much a history of computing as a personal history of a geek astronomer catching a hacker, it represents a lot of early computing culture, and I enjoyed it a lot.
It's a modern classic (2000). It's less technical and more about the history behind the idea/theories of coding itself. It also explains some basic principles of how computers work, at a high level. Very well written.
Charles is great at explaining how computers actually work with circuit diagrams from the ground up in a way that's articulate, clear, and engaging. I think I learned more from this book than I did in my CS architecture class.
The historical context he puts it in helps with clarity since it's easier to understand when you know how each successive step built on the previous one.
In addition to the Dream Machine, I'd also mention Steven Levy's Hackers as an obvious one to read.
Some others I've read:
- What the dormouse said (this one was just okay, but interesting to see some of the cultural context at the time).
- Crypto (about the history of cryptography). I really liked this one, but people I've recommended it to found it dry.
- In the Plex (history of Google)
- Masters of Doom (John Carmack, John Romero and Id Software)
- The Soul of a New Machine
- The Phoenix Project (fiction paired with the Dev Ops Handbook)
I guess the narrative style made it feel like a novel to me and I just impulsively classified it incorrectly.
On a side note, people keep recommending masters of doom to me, I definitely need to check it out myself.
The dev ops handbook is a good compliment for real world examples. I’ve personally seen good dev ops turn things around and make products way better.
There's a software-industry version of that book about the startup Ask Computer Software killing it in the MRP business software space with a product called MANMAN. Maybe somebody remembers the title?
It's like reading a long version of one of Paul Graham's essays.
Some of the things it covers:
- Ask's actual relationships with customers. One of them interviews all other existing clients before buying (like 200 companies.)
- the software team dynamics. One "rockstar" polyfills over all the weird OS bugs at the time, so the others can work on the actual application.
Ask eventually acquired Ingres.
* "IBM's 360 and Early 370 Systems
* "Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35953464-broad-band
* "Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1427580.Fire_in_the_Vall...
Creating a software company
In the 1960s!!!!
How was it possible??
Easy "programmers" programmed flawless programs in their homes with pencil.
Which would later be typed in Punch cards in the "office".
She also struggled family life raising a heavily autistic son, when the condition wasn't well understood. And then became a philantophist.
I think every woman in tech should read that book.
How the Internet Happened is very good. The podcast that was created while writing the book is also worth a listen.
Accidental Empires is also very good
While i'm at it, the book
'Minitel, Welcome to the Internet' - https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/minitel is about the history of the french Minitel (previous HN discussion on the Minitel - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14681561 )
* Making Software, edited by Oram & Wilson. A bunch of papers about evidence-based software engineering.
* Beautiful Code, also edited by Oram & Wilson. A bunch of papers about especially elegant pieces of software.
* Eiffel, by Bertrand Meyer. What Java should have been.
* The Devil's DP Dictionary, by Stan Kelly Bootle. A satirical look at the computer industry circa 1980.
* The Jargon File. (http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/). The language of the Elder Days.
* Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering by Robert Glass.
* The Pragmatic Programmer by Hunt & Thomas.
• Turner, Fred (2006) From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism
• Slatalla, Michelle & Quittner, Joshua (1995) Masters of Deception: The Gang That Ruled Cyberspace
• Schlender, Brent & Tetzeli, Rick (2015) Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader
• Isaacson, Walter (2011) Steve Jobs
This one might also be worth lookin in to:
Hertzfeld, Andy (2004) Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made
I haven’t read it in book form but AFAICT the contents of the book are also available over at https://www.folklore.org/
By the way, you might also want to have a look at this project someone published recently:
Meta book recommendations from Ask HN threads https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22693634
Sadly, now that I look into it, it looks like it's out of print. There are a few copies available on Amazon, so act now!
The Soul of a New Machine - Tracy Kidder
What about Yahoo and Amazon and Pets.com and Webvan and eBay? What about stock being used for toilet paper and employees wheeling their Aeron chairs home when the company folded? What about Enron? How did 9/11 impact the Dotcom bust? Hell, what programming languages/frameworks were they using?
You can read the first (and best) chapter here: https://www.wired.com/1999/07/pilgrims/
For some lighter fare that others in your family might also connect to, there's Ashton Kutcher's A lot like love but there the dot-com thing is just a side plot.
Also, Antitrust with Ryan Phillippe. Not specifically about the dot-com boom but roughly the same time period.
I mean none of those movies are masterpieces but I think they impart some sense of the time period.
Of interest, eBay started as a site to distribute information about the then Ebola outbreak.
A great book on history of the information economy over the periods of Radio, Telephone, and cable TV that has a lot to say about how the longer cycles of technology play out.
The Design and Evolution of C++ by Bjarne Stroustrup: This book is quite old itself now, but it talks about the early days of C++, and does a good job of describing how we ended up with the language we did.
The Old New Thing, Practical Development Throughout the Evolution of Windows by Raymond Chen. You can also read lots of the parts of this book on Raymond's blog, of the same name. This book really gave me a lot more respect for Windows and Microsoft on a technical level, giving many small fun stories on how functionality evolves over time, and how sensible decisions cause pain 10 years later.
* Brian Bagnall trilogy on the history of Commodore/Amiga: http://variantpress.com
* Severo Ornstein's "Computing in the Middle Ages", about how it used to be a professional programmer back in the early days. You can find his CHM oral history interview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q243lfVdQ9E.
* "Stan Veit's History of the Personal Computer". A candid view about how the PC industry unfolded.
* "Introduction to Algorithms" by Udi Manber. IMHO one of the best books about how to approach problems with a programmer's mindset.
2. The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray and the Technical Wizards Behind the Supercomputer
3. The idea factory - Bell Land and the great age of American innovation
4. Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age
5. The Chip: How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution
7. Intel Trinity,The: How Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove Built the World's Most Important Company
8. The Dream Machine
9. The Soul of a new machine
I read it after seeing a recommendation here, and I've been recommending it ever since. I loved reading the early history of the development of UNIX and all the command line tools we use on a regular basis. The history was wonderful to read, and it made me a little better at the command line as well.
Joy Rankin draws on detailed records to explore how users exchanged messages, programmed music and poems, fostered communities, and developed computer games like The Oregon Trail. These unsung pioneers helped shape our digital world, just as much as the inventors, garage hobbyists, and eccentric billionaires of Palo Alto.
It’s a long read, and I opted to do the audiobook option, which I found entertaining and captivating. It covers the origins of computing from the WWII days, to the early debates in the computing world, to ARPA and all of its resulting projects, Xerox PARC formation, and finally the emergence of microcomputers.
> Here was a messaging system that outpaced the best couriers, the fastest horses on good roads with way stations and relays.
From "Polynesian People Used Binary Numbers 600 Years Ago" https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/polynesian-people... :
> Binary arithmetic, the basis of all virtually digital computation today, is usually said to have been invented at the start of the eighteenth century by the German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz. But a study now shows that a kind of binary system was already in use 300 years earlier among the people of the tiny Pacific island of Mangareva in French Polynesia.
Platform studies book series in general cover a lot of this https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/series/platform-studies.
The comic itself is pure fiction of a zany cartoon comedy variety.
The writer is obsessed with the actual history, though, to a point where her footnotes sometimes take as much space on the page as comic panels.
It's a glorious thing and provides more insight into who Babbage and Lovelace really were than anything else I've personally read.
One of my favorite books, it covers everything from braille to microprocessors. A great book for anyone interested in technology.
Bowden, Mark (2011) Worm: The First Digital World War
Brooks, Frederick (1995) Mythical Man-Month, 2nd ed.
Christensen, Clayton (1997) Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail
Hafner, Katie and Matthew Lyon (1996) Where Wizards Stay Up Late: Origins of the Internet
Hunt, Andrew and David Thomas (1999) Pragmatic Programmer
MacCormick, John (2012) Nine Algorithms that Changed the Future
McConnell, Steve (2004) Code Complete, 2nd ed.
Mitnick, Kevin and William Simon (2002) Art of Deception
Poulsen, Kevin (2011) Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cyber-Crime Underworld
Raymond, Eric (2003) Art of Unix Programming
Stone, Brad (2013) The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
Torvalds, Linus and David Diamond (2001) Just for Fun: Story of an Accidental Revolutionary
Wallace, James and Jim Erickson (1992) Hard Drive: Bill Gates and Making of the Microsoft Empire
Williams, Sam (2002) Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software
Wilson, Mike (1996) The Difference between God and Larry Ellison: Inside Oracle Corp
Fatal Defect by Ivars Peterson
It's a few stories about the impact software bugs can have on real life. For example, the THERAC-25 bug that literally killed people.
It's been eons since I read the book, but I recall a passage about how computer scientists had been so opposed to Reagan's Star Wars program, Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), not because it's a war machine, but because it was so complex that there would be no way to be sure it was bug free. I'm sure it was more nuanced than that but that's my 20+ year recollection of that part of the book.
The soul of a new machine
Not much history, but more on how a small computer manufacturer in 70s. It's quite relevant today, as the process very much resembles a software startup's.
I also enjoyed "Masterminds of Programming: Conversations With The Creators Of Major Programming Languages" 
It's a collection of interviews with creators of languages (FORTH, C++, Python, Haskell, and many more) You learn a lot about language design decisions and their pitfalls.
And a shameless plug: I shared MapFilterFold as a Show HN earlier, a project that collects recommendations from Ask HN threads. Browsing the books tagged computer science might yield some interesting results
UNIX is the predecessor to Linux/BSD and was created at Bell laboratories. Also C was created there.
"Make each program do one thing well. To do a new job, build afresh rather than complicate old programs by adding new "features"."
One could say Micro services is a form that, do one thing and do it well.
Is it time to read "Godel, Escher, Bach?"
On the history of women in programming in Britain and how they got discarded from the profession.
- Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age
- From airline reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog - a history of the software industry
- History of programming languages Volumes 1 to 3
500 pages of straight quotes. It reads like everyone is gathered around a campfire talking about the past, and you're there with them. Great book
Pamela McCorduck's Machines Who Think, either the 1979 original edition, or the 2004 2nd ed, which adds a 100-page afterword covering 1979–2004.
Nils Nilsson's The Quest for Artificial Intelligence (2009).
They have somewhat different styles and focuses. McCorduck is a writer (of popular science and sci-fi), while Nilsson was an AI researcher. Which isn't to say that McCorduck lacks knowledge about AI or that Nilsson can't write, but their backgrounds are noticeable in how the books are organized and written.
Not technically a book (I think that was the original plan) but there are significant interviews on the History of Numerical Analysis and Scientific Computing
Also: Logicomix, about the development of modern logic up to Gödel.
He did Steve jobs bio, Ben Franklin bio, Leonardo davinchi bio, but this is my favorite since it's basically 30 biographies in one.
 I don't know where I got it 20 years ago but DDGing gave me https://jargon-file.org/archive/
This is based on papers presented at a 1976 conference by many of the original pioneers.
I found it both entertaining and informative and if you're looking for something to kill time while you exercise, this is a good option.
High Stakes, No Prisoners - history of the birth of the Internet written by the founder of FrontPage, with a keen critique of Netscape's history - Charles Ferguson
Computer Wars - a look at the decline of IBM by the early 90s - Charles Ferguson
Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley - An oral history of the Valley in the 80s and 90s.
It tells the story of a software team which has everything, money, talent, time... but doesn't find how to materialize their idea.
I've kept the warning in mind ever since
Bentley also wrote a less-often-mentioned gem of a book: Writing Efficient Programs.
It is about performance tuning of programs at many levels, micro to macro.
Free as in freedom, Sam Williams
Wasn't mentioned (maybe it's too recent?), the book is written as biographical snapshots of Richard Stallman, basically the story of the Free software, I think it's a great complement for The Cathedral and the Bazaar which was already mentioned.
Also Paul Cerruzzi has written in depth on computing history
I seem to recall there is also some special history group over on acm.org
has pretty good yarns about the people who worked on the original Macintosh.
- Turings’s Cathedral
- The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood
- A Mind at Play
- The Victorian Internet
- Dawn of the New Everything
Plus two that I haven’t read but hear amazing things:
- Dream Machine
Computer Power and Human Reason by Joseph Weizenbaum. From 1976. Not exactly a history, but now of historical interest as the first thorough ethical and humanist critique of computing and AI, by the MIT computer scientist who wrote the original Eliza program. The chapter on the hacking culture at MIT has been widely quoted and was one of the first popular accounts of that scene.
Computer Lib/Dream Machines by Ted Nelson. From 1974. Another book now of historical interest. Self-published, with a DIY look similar to its contemporary Whole Earth Catalog. Along with advocacy ("You can and must understand computers now!") it is also an opinionated survey of the computing world right before the personal computer appeared.
Nelson is now best known as the author of the Xanadu hypertext proposal, which does get a few pages here, but I think this book might be his most influential contribution.
It tells about history of Turing Machine and explains Turing's paper.
Sunburst and Luminary: an Apollo Memoir
The Brain Makers
Strategic Computing: DARPA and the Quest for Machine Intelligence
The Soul of a New Machine
Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet
Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn
Not a dedicated history book, but Hamming talks a lot about personal experiences and observations
UNIX: A History and a Memoir
Masters of Doom
https://www.amazon.com/Masters-Doom-Created-Transformed-Cult... linking to audiobook because it is read by Wil Wheaton :)
Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker
It might be just me, but I really enjoy reading biographies of people important to the science, for example here is one for John Tukey https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/pdf/10.1098/rsbm.2003...
- Turing's cathedral
- Hackers: heroes of the computer revolution
- masters of doom (game dev history more than cs)
- The Innovators