I think knowing the history of how we got to where we are helps to understand ot more.
Soul of a new machine, previously mentioned. Where I first learned about mushroom management.
Just for Fun: the story of an accidental revolutionary  was fun bio on Torvalds from 2001
The Mythical Man Month  offers some insight into the management and thinking that went into OS/360
Masters of Doom : offers an enjoyable history of the shareware years and the rise of id software
The multicians site : is a collaborative history of Multics, one the most influential operating systems.
The Mother of All Demos : even better than Steve Jobs keynotes
Steve Jobs iPhone introduction : I’m not a huge fan of Mr Jobs, but this is one of the best presentations ever. It’s not history, per se, but very interesting through our eyes.
It was exciting and inspiring and fun. It covered a ton of different inventions that came out of Bell Labs from its inception through the 1960's. It had some fun factoids like how they selected the wood for the telephone poles. Just an awesome book.
Another is Dealers of Lightning, by Michael Hiltzik:
Exciting and inspiring like the first, but with a different feel. It's about Xerox PARC and all of their work and the people there.
There’s some good picks in the similar books I’ve been looking at: https://www.goodreads.com/book/similar/16750267-the-idea-fac...
If you haven’t read Ben Franklins autobiography it’s also pretty fun and inspiring.
Published in 1992, released on the Internet as a free ebook in 1994.
"The book discusses watershed events in the hacker subculture in the early 1990s. The most notable topic covered is Operation Sundevil and the events surrounding the 1987–1990 war on the Legion of Doom network: the raid on Steve Jackson Games, the trial of "Knight Lightning" (one of the original journalists of Phrack), and the subsequent formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation."
Another book I found interesting, but is focused more on the early history of Silicon Valley as a whole, not just computing, is _Valley of Genius_, by Adam Fisher.
If you prefer text, you can find it in Chapter 1 of his book "The Design and Implementation of the FreeBSD Operating System": https://www.amazon.com/Design-Implementation-FreeBSD-Operati...
(the chapter seems to be available in the book preview)
Eric S. Raymond also wrote a nice chapter on UNIX history in "The Art of Unix Programming": http://www.catb.org/esr/writings/taoup/html/historychapter.h...
It's a treasure trove of computer history, gathered from countless sources. I've spent many happy hours in the company of the author, amused and educated by the stories.
To give a glimpse, some of my favorites:
Will Wright's City in a Box - https://www.filfre.net/2016/06/simcity-part-1-will-wrights-c...
The Lemming Effect - https://www.filfre.net/2017/10/games-on-the-mersey-part-5-th...
Xerox PARC - https://www.filfre.net/2013/01/xerox-parc/
Macintosh - https://www.filfre.net/2014/02/macintosh/
The BBC Micro - https://www.filfre.net/2012/10/the-bbc-micro/
A Tale of Three Languages - https://www.filfre.net/2012/03/a-tale-of-two-languages/
Pascal and the P Machine - https://www.filfre.net/2012/03/pascal-and-the-p-machine/
Eliza - https://www.filfre.net/2011/06/eliza-part-1/
I'd highly recommend both of them for looking at specific topics of how the computing hardware worked:
- Marc's videos on old HP computers, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qn2Zz8X41dI&list=PL-_93BVApb...
- Marc's videos on restoring some old IBM hardware, that includes a good bit of the history that went into them, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WS-WtjwAAO0&list=PL-_93BVApb... and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtlrITxB5qg&list=PL-_93BVApb...
- In fact just look at his playlists directly, https://www.youtube.com/user/mverdiell/playlists
For Ken, I'd look at his chip teardowns and explorations, the AM2901 is on HN this very moment, http://www.righto.com/2020/04/inside-am2901-amds-1970s-bit-s...
A lot of his articles dig into why the different chip technologies were made and fell out of favor eventually too. http://www.righto.com/
I came away with a much clearer picture of how these systems were developed, and I am a little better on the command line for understanding the original philosophy better as well.
We also recently interviewed the creator of Microsoft Word who talked about working with Bill Gates in the 1980s:
For books I’d massively recommend:
- The Cuckoo’s Egg, a first-person account of the hunt for a computer hacker who broke into a computer at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
- Founders at Work, for early Silicon Valley startup stories
- The Nudist on the Late Shift by Po Bronson, for similarly wacky late ‘90s/early 2000’s startup stories
Start from the first attempt to automate calculation in a
Move to transistors, PC, Apple, windows, linux, google, and so on.
> ...is a 1974 book by Ted Nelson, printed as a two-front-cover paperback to indicate its "intertwingled" nature. Originally self-published by Nelson, it was republished with a foreword by Stewart Brand in 1987 by Microsoft Press.
> In Steven Levy's book Hackers, Computer Lib is described as "the epic of the computer revolution, the bible of the hacker dream. [Nelson] was stubborn enough to publish it when no one else seemed to think it was a good idea."
Buy directly from the author: https://computerlibbook.com/ it says it's "sold out" for now.
* professionalism vs individual creativity
* the value of credentials
* terrible interview practices
* gender roles / biases
* theory/academia vs pragmatism/industry
Recommend the book for getting some historical perspective on these topics.
* Datapoint: The Lost Story of the Texans Who Invented the Personal Computer Revolution, by Lamont Wood.
* The Soul of A New Machine, by Tracy Kidder.
* Books by George Dyson (son of ...): Darwin Among the Machines, Turing's Cathedral. (unrelated, but also give Project Orion: The Atomic Spaceship a go)
* The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley, by Leslie Berlin.
* Richard Feynman Computer Heuristics Lecture at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKWGGDXe5MA
* Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the Origins of Personal Computing, by Thierry Bardini.
__Lisp (programming language)__
The Structure and Implementation of Computer Programs (you need to use a search engine for this, there are many different versions of it).
Anything Paul Graham wrote about Lisp (e.g. http://www.paulgraham.com/avg.html)
__Smalltalk (programming language)__
Alan Kay Smalltalk is not about objects, it's about messaging: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21852444
Smalltalk is awesome and one of the historical predecessors of Objective-C.
Unfortunately, I don't know of any seminal paper or media piece. I just know they were hugely influential. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PARC_(company)
Alan Kay worked there.
(The opportunities that Xerox lost because of short-sightedness, political shenanigans and just plain incompetence will probably make you mad. It's a good cautionary tale).
This is a great attitude, especially in our largely ahistoric industry. I wish I thought this way when I started programming.
The book "The Dream Machine"  does a fantastic job going into the ideas driving the pioneers. It especially focuses on ARPA and PARC, so you'll get a nice overview of the ideas explored there. And it is a fun read too.
It was out of print for quite some time, until Stripe Press bought the rights and brought it back to print . They also give it away at conferences, as they want more people to be exposed to the ideas of the book.
Too many people confuse software innovations with other factors, such as the increasing speed of computer and network hardware. This paper tries to end the confusion by identifying the most important innovations in software, removing hardware advances and products that didn’t embody significant new software innovations. This paper presents its criteria for the most important software innovations and sources, the software innovations themselves, discusses software patents and what’s not an important software innovation, and then closes with Conclusions.
The results may surprise you.
The Supermen (Charles Murray), essentially a biography of Seymour Cray.
A Few Good Men from Univac (Lundstrom and Aspray), similar thoughts about the same era of computing.
Showstopper (Pascal Zachary), essentially a biography of David Cutler, plus a bunch of the development of Windows NT.
https://www.history.com/news/coding-used-to-be-a-womans-job-... (Please forgive the tone.)
Here some other interesting books and articles:
Or the history of the game Tetris, A Tale of the Mirror World: https://www.filfre.net/2017/06/tales-of-the-mirror-world-par...
Or the 8(?)-parter about Civilization -- the game and the philosophical concept --, The Game of Everything: https://www.filfre.net/2018/03/the-game-of-everything-part-1...
Don't miss his articles about the old Infocom text adventures, like the ones about the less-well-known gem Trinity, in which he also talks about nuclear weapons and the 80s in general: https://www.filfre.net/2015/01/trinity/
And of course many ‘primary source’ classic papers published by ACM are temporarily free.
Steve has written in detail about how early signal intelligence came to be, how eventually they shaped the Silicon valley and modern tech.
Other posts on Steve's blog are interesting too.
And, click around on Bret Victor's references page -- it's a real treasure. Despite my constant fear that mentioning it will make it go away, it needs to be shared to be useful. It's a big collection of classic papers and interviews. Someone mentioned "As You May Think", which is on there, as is Bush's follow-up from ~20 years later, and Douglas Engelbart's own partly annotated version of the original!
Also check out folklore, which is a great bunch of stories about working at Apple in its early days, by people who worked there (mostly Andy Hertzfeld, I'm pretty sure).
Lastly, look up "Ignition!" by John Drury Clark, which is a tangent, but is amazing -- it's about the history of the design of rocket engines, largely about the wild experiments and chemical science involved, and is very well written. I didn't feel right finding a pdf to link straight to, but they aren't that hard to find.
As a bonus, this isn't so much historical, but it's a great inspirational essay, Richard Hamming's "You and Your Research"(transcript, a video version). Talks about working at Bell Labs and the different cultural elements there across people as part of analysing what makes certain people truly great.
1 - https://www.doneyles.com/LM/Tales.html
2 - http://worrydream.com/refs/
3 - https://www.folklore.org/
4 - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Drury_Clark
5 - https://www.cs.virginia.edu/~robins/YouAndYourResearch.htm
6 - https://youtu.be/a1zDuOPkMSw
I am thankful to have taken a course with him in the 1980s.
The Youtube user has a lot of good material on restoring historical hardware.
Also, be sure to read the email thread linked in the video comments. It's a conversation between the restoration team and the compiler's original authors (now in their 90s).
If you're in SF and you want to see the 1401 in action, the Computer History Museum used to show it to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Hopefully those demos will resume once the coronavirus situation's resolved.
It speaks to the cultural influences at play in the early history of programming, and how situated the designs were. A visit to Von Neumann and Backus archives at the Library of Congress informed the work (an experience I would highly recommend!).
I hope to make a blog post about the paper soon if there’s interest.
My previous reco: Not a book, but a great video via Steve Blank: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTC_RxWN_xo
Also `Bret Victor The Future of Programming`, which is misleading as above is performance piece where title slide reads `1973` https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pTEmbeENF4
HOPL I: https://dl.acm.org/toc/sigplan/1978/13/8
It was a special day that day... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRDB_W6POys you can see me sitting on the floor at 1:40 :^)
1964 - John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz create BASIC, an unstructured programming language for non-computer scientists.
1965 - Kemeny and Kurtz go to 1964.
especially all the videos with professor Brailsford are great with many references to history of computing
and there are some with Brian Kernighan too
Also interestingly, Asia is rife with great history with respect to pre-Unicode input systems, romanization systems, glyph and font development, sorting, and so forth. Premodern international script efforts such as Phagspa are awesome, the use of Farsi as a lingua franca, Tamil innovations in keeping giant-keychain style records in lieu of inscribed palm leaves, abugidas, the development of the Korean script, non-Chinese pictographic scripts such as Nushu, Naxi and Yi, etc.
For early calculating devices and automata in China, especially hydraulic and astronomic, look no further than Needham's amazing Science and Civilisation in China, which is ultra expensive to get hold of in print but thanks for great glory of Kazakhstan many volumes of which are now available on libgen for your home learning pleasure.
A facinating video that is part of a series going into the restoration of a 1930 Model 15 Teletype. In this video, they use it as a terminal for Linux.
Fire in the Valley: The Birth and Death of the Personal Computer 3rd Edition
by Michael Swaine (Author), Paul Freiberger (Author)
Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet Paperback – January 21, 1998
by Katie Hafner (Author)
Here's a comment I wrote about it elsewhere:
One other essay that comes to mind is the 1945 piece by Vannevar Bush, "As We May Think", that lays out the vision for a "Memex", or memory extension device, in the direction of what PCs and smartphones eventually became.
I think it's nice to reflect on a time, not too long ago, where these devices were a mere figment of a scientist's imagination, only to materialize decades in the future. What can you dream up today?
"The History of Email"
I've always been curious as to why this pattern was adopted, because it seems to be unique to Java, and I don't know why.
Vannevar Bush is the person who came up with the idea that one could link information as opposed to methods that physical libraries use (catalogs, indexing, etc.). His implementation details are funny to read in hindsight. His conceptual ideas are nothing but amazing and a reality at the moment. It also highlights why we should separate conceptual ideas from implementation. The biggest reason is: despite the fact that you can't implement a certain system yet, having the conceptual ideas ready means that other people can be inspired by it when the technological requirements catch up.
Read his seminal essay "As We May Think" here:
If Vannevar Bush is considered the grandfather, then Douglas Engelbart is considered to be the father of multimedia.
Read Douglas Engelbart his seminal paper from 1962 on how multimedia would help humans process information faster. It's called:
Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework
Check out the mother of all demo's: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mother_of_All_Demos
and here: https://www.dougengelbart.org/content/view/209/448/
Engelbart just blew my mind. He basically prototyped a simple version of TeamViewer + Skype in 1968! And even still, it has features in there that I still haven't seen (dual mouse control when using TeamViewer).
I wonder if Bill Gates read about him because if he did, then it was either too hard to implement some of Engelbart's his ideas in Windows 95, or he simply didn't read about it and now we're lagging 10 to 20 years behind on certain aspects of our multimedia experience.
The "younger brother" (= same time, related but not the same ideas) of Douglas. Ted Nelson is a bit of a controversial figure. Nevertheless, I do think he deserves a spot on this list. I'll leave it at that.
__I wrote a bit more about this stuff__
If you like this stuff, I invite you to read some of the introductory stuff of my thesis .
First 3 paragraphs of: https://melvinroest.github.io/ximpel/
1.3.1 "In the beginning" of https://melvinroest.github.io/ximpel/documentation/theses/ma...
The thesis itself zooms in on an old concept called hypermedia (not hypermedia APIs, that came way later), which is a bit of an alternate reality of HTML5. While that's not really important to know about, it shares the same history up until the early 90's.
Very high level, but it spans 100 BC to 2018 CE, and it covers highlights from the Antikythera mechanism to the Mother of All Demos to Hypercard to the GDPR.
Dreaming in code, Scott Rosenberg
The Information: A history, a theory, a flood, James Gleick
Turing’s Cathedral, Dyson
The longitude prize, Joan Dash (for kids)
Soul of a new machine, Tracy Kidder
There is a active subfield of academic history of technology that deals with the history of computing. It's generally populated by professionally-trained historians who rigorously employ archival sources and tend to focus on the bigger picture, i.e. linking computing to wider historical trends and events (examples: the Cold War, Capitalism, the rise of programming as a profession, etc.). Some notable historians in this area are Mar Hicks and Nathan Ensmenger. The field is still growing and has a lot of ground to cover, but if you seek a deeper understanding (as readers of HN tend to do) then this is the place to go. Writing accurate history that also grapples with the big picture is hard, and it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that it takes specialists to do it.
There's of course an abundance of popular accounts of innovation, along the lines of Walter Isaacson's _The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution_. Academic historians of technology generally dislike these accounts because they focus on a small set of "heroic" individuals at the expense of the bigger picture. To pick on Isaacson a bit, he's generally most interested in personalities (Steve Jobs, say) and must less interested in digging deeper into the economic and social history that lies behind the "Digital Revolution". Nonetheless, these accounts sell very well, there are also tons of articles out there written in a similar vein, and there's nothing wrong with enjoying them provided you are aware that you're only getting one version of the story.
I also like some practitioner-accounts, really more memoir than history; they give you a nice sense of what it was like to live through a particular set of changes and to be part of building systems that we now take for granted. A good recent example, if you are interested in the genesis of UNIX, is Brian Kernighan's _Unix: A History and a Memoir_. Some excellent journalistic "on the ground" accounts also fall into this category of giving you a sense of what it was like to be there. The Soul of A New Machine, by Tracy Kidder is a good example.
Finally, there is some very good general history of technology that doesn't focus exclusively on computing. An example is the superb _The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900_ by David Edgerton (polemical, controversial, easy to read, and even if you disagree with his argument it will likely change how you see technology forever).