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Ask HN: Programmers – do you still buy/read technical books?
40 points by aviCC 3 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 46 comments

Yes. Technical books are an opportunity to have a coherent, well-edited and deep dive into some topic, at a pace I can manage myself. I’d say that I’m not likely to use reference manuals or “cookbooks” like I did in the 90s or 00s, but there’s no replacement for the depth of a good book.

Absolutely. Comprehensive deep dive where an editor has made the text coherent, the code has been reasonably tested and several technical reviewers have read through the content and provided feedback before it went to print.

I used to purchase many physical technical books, but now only keep a select few (which is still probably a good 200+ books) on my shelves, mostly the classics, e.g. GPU gems, game programming gems, numerical recipes, etc. Now I pick up digital versions of the books and make sure I can get them in PDF format. I have a few of the Fujitsu Quadernos for reading books these days, which makes a huge difference to trying to read on a smaller tablet.

Generally I avoid picking up books on "fast moving topics" e.g. the latest web framework de jeur that has gone through 19 versions since the author started writing the book and when I eventually purchase it.

Yes. Books still have their place. I got some new ones recently, one on mathematics, one on ARM assembly, and before that some electronics books, a Lua book and a few more for Vulkan programming and another for C++ concurrency and yet another for FreeBSD internals. I like to read a broad range of material, and I have an entire bookshelf of technical stuff.

Some have commented that a Google search is sufficient. It might well be for asking a single focused question. But a book will provide both breadth and depth. If you want to actually understand a whole subject area, then you can read the comprehensive coverage of a topic by an expert which has been properly written and reviewed. It's a lot more productive than random blog posts and stack overflow discussion in the longer term.

When I compare my knowledge and understanding on multiple subjects with younger co-workers in several of my previous jobs, one common theme is that they haven't read up in detail on many subjects, and it really does show. I'm someone people go to when they get stuck, and a frequent comment is how I know all the esoteric details of systems and understand how everything fits together. The answer is that I read, learned and understood many many shelves worth of books, while others couldn't be bothered. Randomly hacking and googling stuff can only take you so far; becoming an expert takes a bit more effort.

I buy them, but don’t read them.

Makes sense. They are very useful as a monitor stand.

They sure do make for a great Zoom background!

Same here, sadly.

I do this with fiction books, too.

I'd say that the technical books are a bit of a stretch, as most things in tech and entropy of their usefulness like apps over time, break.

I might suggest something more above the free of technology and more in the design of software. Ideas that last are the ones around approaches to design vs. actually technology that they are implemented with.

My co-worker (a younger version of me, actually and way smarter is wise beyond his years) gave me this book - which is as old as my career and has relevance on how we design software at my day job.


I've had that on my 'to buy' list for too long. In such a rapidly changing field like computing, books have to be really special to reach the 'classic' accolade.

I just purchased Jon Gjengset's "Rust for Rustaceans", since most online documentation I've found on Rust assumes you don't understand or just don't care about how computers actually work.

that summarizes how rust developers think. we made a “better” language so we don’t need to know how all this underlying stuff works. which is why rust should never be allowed in the linux kernel source tree.

At the beginning of diving into a topic area or when I want to go very deep on a subject.

Books tend to have good comprehensive overviews of an area/technology, whereas most online tutorials are very shallow, even if more current.

On the flip side, when I need /deep/ understanding it’s almost always a combination of a book on the topic to fill in holes I missed, the docs, and live repos if available.

If it’s just for day to day use, or a technology I’m only using in passing - no.

I do vet the authors though. A lot of trash is published.

Sure. How else could you acquire fundamental, consistent knowledge about a topic? By random, volatile blog posts?

Did you know there is more on the internet than just hn?

Seriously, there's just random angry blog posts. You can't get the equivalent of a 300 page book teaching you programming concepts from the @*#& on the Internet.

Yes! Reading programming books have been one of the best choices I've done with my career.

I got so inspired by reading that I created a website just to try and help people read more programming books. The biggest hurdle is usually finding a book that is not too hard or too long to start with.


Yes. Mostly in digital form (O'Reilly Safari or whatever it's called now, though I don't know if I can heartily recommend, quality of titles has seemed to diminish in the offerings).

Occasionally will spring for a hardcopy book form.

True, most are outdated fairly quickly and few have long lasting value beyond 1-2 years. But when done right, nothing is better than a good text to guide you from beginner to intermediate, or intermediate to advanced. I've tried watching video but it just doesn't seem like an efficient mode (for most video courses, there are exceptions and wonderful video courses).

For programming, no. Any programming question I’ve had in the last 15 years has been answered with a Google search, and any new language/technology I’ve picked up has been learned from online articles. Any programming books I still have are language reference manuals, which I keep purely for nostalgia. These too are all online these days.

For math/algorithms, yes. There are still many topics that do not have good online articles but are covered at length in textbooks. These topics are usually covered in journal articles too, but at a much more terse level than a textbook chapter.

Generally my answer also, but I do still sometimes buy programming books, as sometimes I find the online documentation inadequate for me to understand something.

One example: probably contrary to a lot of people on HN, I haven't done a whole lot of web programming, and a few years ago got involved in a project that touched on Angular, Node, VueJS, etc. I found reading (parts of) a few real books to be helpful in getting up to speed in general understanding, but now am back to just using web resources.

I stopped buying books about programming 20 years ago. They go out of date almost immediately. The internet made it possible to find sources online.

Yes, but I started reading recently. I got introduced to Eli Bendersky’s blog[0] and when I went through his reading summary & book reviews; I got motivated enough to start reading!

[0]: https://eli.thegreenplace.net/tag/book-reviews

What books have you chosen to read and why?

And, how did it go?

I have my own website where I focus to help developers find what book to read based on a roadmap to be a master craftsman.


Yes, I subscribe to O’Reilly.


That's where I do the majority of my reading (for technical books) these days. It's great, especially for the "I want to learn $LANG/$FRAMEWORK but I know the particular book will be outdated in 2 years or irrelevant to my future work." Unless I really like the language, I probably won't be buying the book (of course, if my employer will then I'll take a hard copy).

Somewhat… I find it hard to sit down and read technical especially if it’s dense… I used to buy them for reference as needed but Google has made it almost obsolete now. Technology is also changing so fast now - most technical books I bought a few years ago are mostly obsolete now - so I end up googling anyhow.

Here an idea that would make technical books relevant again in the age of blogs and Google: I think technical books needs to be live content (I don’t mean course like) - you buy a book and get an online subscription to it (almost like an ebook) but live in a sense that you get access to subsequent editions and updates examples etc.

Yes. Although instead of buying O'Reilly books, I'm usually buying paper/ebook bundles from No Starch Press these days.

If I'm learning tough new concepts, I usually start off with a good YouTube video and then fill it out with books. For whatever reason, although I read a lot of books, that seems to work better these days.

I've adopted the same philosophy with technical books as with other types of books: I'll buy and keep the "classics" around, but anything that is more fleeting I'll borrow from the library, conduct a web search for the info, or buy digitally.

Yes, I usually have a few (technical/non-technical) books laying around the house and enjoy randomly reading a few pages here and there. But I don't really make a point of reading them unless there is another motivation such as book club.

I generally find everything that I need online. Most of the languages I've learned recently have had their 'bible' books either online or included with the language tooling.

I tend to only buy them if they have a large number of reviews and they offer a digital preview of a table of contents.

There are some gems out there, but there are also a lot of mediocre books.

Yes, do buy and do read, though maybe pickier than before. Also, often just going with the e-book version of things for practical/portability reasons, but not all the time.

Of course, what else can I put on my book shelves to impress my managers? They love books from Martin Fowler, Bob Martin, etc.. Basically, anything useless but good sound bite.

If you want well researched content with working code along with the fact that a book in not connected to the internet(yet, smart book anyone?) it's still worth it.

I make a living selling programming ebooks. So, I guess there are programmers who still buy them.

Ironically, I go through documentation/stackoverflow/etc most of the time :)

I used to but it seems things move too fast now, my latest Python book was outdated in 5 years, so I'd highly recommend reading online documentation instead

I do, I think I have 240 in PDF format and 16 in physical formats. My interests of late has been around physics, mathematics and programming language theory.

Absolutely. Especially for system design related books. I like the Author Alex Xu. His book explains things very well with visuals and charts.

Absolutely - nothing beats reading, highlighting and making notes in the margin!

Yes, I love good technical books. I also prefer reading on paper vs. on screen (which I already stare at the entire day otherwise).

I read them, don't really buy them as - price/EU/Southern Europe.

heck yes I do; it's the only way to keep up!

however, i don't reference them as much as i did when I was starting out. stack overflow and the like (along with _good_ man pages) have reduced the need for that

Of course, now that all the software is free.

every year there is new and more shit to learn and the counter is reset to stay “relevant”. meanwhile those in other professions carry on with their lives in their slow moving field.

Are you asking because you're planning to write one?

Lol, absolutely not

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