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Ask HN: Best books (fiction?) written about *real* computers/computing.
15 points by cmod 1665 days ago | hide | past | web | 8 comments | favorite
What's the best book (fiction or otherwise) you've read about 'real' computers and/or computing (including programming, of course)?

Just to be clear: not sci-fi books about future computers, or computers in outer space, or imagined AI. But books about what it's like to use a computer at some real moment in time. Books that capture the gestalt of living inside of a screen, hacking away. Books about the isolation of computing.

There's probably some similarity to books about artists or writers (the isolation, the focus) but there's also something unique about the split between our physical bodies in meatspace, and our minds in digital space — from punchcards to touch screens. I'm looking for books that capture that dichotomy.

Ellen Ullman is one of the few non-explicitly geek-facing fiction writers that easily comes to mind (Close to the Machine [0]). As are parts of The Information [1] (Turing machine construction, for ex ...). Beautiful Code [2] is yet another, but skewing a bit too technical ...

A friend recommended grabbing computer instruction manuals and looking at the forewords — authors who have spent years writing up technical documentation start to stretch their legs and get a little philosophical there. Has anyone compiled a collection of such forewords?

Anyway — would love to hear your suggestions!

[0] http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007FU83DY/

[1] http://www.amazon.com/The-Information-History-Theory-ebook/dp/B004DEPHUC/

[2] http://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Code-Programmers-Practice-ebook/dp/B0026OR2NG/

(edit: footnote formatting)

I'd highly recommend The Soul of a New Machine as well.

It definitely fits your quest for capturing a real moment, and anyone who's been an engineer for a any amount of time can go "Oh. I totally know that feeling" after reading any section of it.

J.M. Coetzee wrote a novella called Youth: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/may/04/fiction.jmcoetze... – it features a great section about programming at IBM during the 60s, and although the book itself is not wholly about computers or programming, it does deal with some of those themes (isolation, poetry).

I think it should go without saying, but Steven Levy's Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution is excellent, and deserving of a read by everyone even mildly interested in the history of computing.

Another interesting book I read was Boris Malinovsky's Pioneers of Soviet Computing. The author recounts his experience building computers for the Soviet Union, while at the same time providing a history of computer development in the USSR. At some points it's a bit of a slog, and the chronological structure of the text leaves something to be desired; but overall I found it very interesting. [0]

[0]: http://www.sigcis.org/files/SIGCISMC2010_001.pdf (CC licensed PDF.)

I really enjoyed reading "The cuckoo's egg" by Clifford Stoll. The book covers real events that happened when computers weren't really personal.

The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier by Howard Rheingold http://www.amazon.com/The-Virtual-Community-Homesteading-Ele...

I have found Crytponomicon and Snow Crash, both by Neal Stephenson, very good. Both fiction

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