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Ask HN: What are some of the best written programming books?
57 points by ishanr on June 22, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 61 comments
I recently read Russ Olsen's Eloquent Ruby and I loved it.

It is incredibly readable; the code and the stories mixing amazingly with real world examples and what not.

What are some of yours?

Some love for - The C Programming Language - Kerninghan & Ritchie -


I have this book at home, have read it and although it covers a lot in a short volume, I didn't get out of it as much as I did out of C Programming: A Modern Approach by KN King. Once I bought King's book, C made a lot more sense, the book was fun to read and follow. K&R's book was, to me, less "how & why" but more "how". Pointers, in particular, is what I enjoyed more in King's book. That chapter alone made buying the book worth its money.

Any book written by Charles Petzold is an enjoyable read, though particularly the non-MS specific titles Code and The Annotated Turing.

Java Concurrency in Practice (2006) is older but relevant and clearly describes concurrency on the JVM. A must read for any Java, Scala, Clojure, etc. software engineer; well-written, enjoyable, concise.

Practical Object Oriented Design in Ruby by Sandi Metz is a fun read packed with good principles for working in Ruby that are applicable in general to object oriented programming.

Smalltalk Best Practice Patterns by Kent Beck is worth a read because the general principles are applicable to any OOP language.

Clean Code by Robert Martin is excellent but a time commitment. (If you had to pick between SICP and Clean Code because time is at a premium I'd err on the side of Clean Code for practicality. Writing maintainable code is paramount.)

The Joy of Clojure (Fogus/Houser) is excellent and mentally digestable even if you have no Lisp or Clojure background.

I second this recommendation. "Code" is a very enjoyable read indeed.

The Little Schemer By Daniel P. Friedman and Matthias Felleisen - https://mitpress.mit.edu/index.php?q=books/little-schemer

Why's poignant guide to Ruby - http://mislav.uniqpath.com/poignant-guide/book/

SICP (Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs) - https://mitpress.mit.edu/sicp/full-text/book/book-Z-H-4.html... (free version)

When talking about the very best books of our area, this is first one that always pop in my mind.

Uncle bob have put beautifully here (5th paragraph): http://thecleancoder.blogspot.com.br/2010/08/why-clojure.htm...

Knuth: he's an excellent writer with a sense of humor.

Anything coauthored by Kernighan is a good bet, though the material is not quite so ageless. Similar remarks for P.J. Plauger.

Norvig doesn't just write exquisite code, but good prose too.

I always liked Abelson & Sussman's style, even though it's more textbookish. Abelson also co-wrote Turtle Geometry, which is almost unknown these days and still eye-opening. (It's more of a math book than a programming one, but its point is to be both.)

Daniel Hillis: The Pattern on the Stone, The Connection Machine.

Richard O'Keefe, The Craft of Prolog.

Jon Bentley.

I remember pg's On Lisp as good.

Programming Pearls: Jon Bentley

The Pragmatic Programmer: Hunt and Thomas

The C Programming Language: Kernighan and Ritchie

Seconding Programming Pearls by Jon Bentley. Although a bit dated, I reread this book for its insight in to problem solving. It is a great primer for programming problem interviews.

Check out the Stealing The Network series if you're into security -

it's a bunch of short stories about network security usually written from the POV of a hacker who's trying to gain access to a system. The stories are very tech-heavy to the point that parts of the stories are non-fiction, with huge excerpts from console sessions and the like.

Might be an unpopular language but "Learning Perl" was pretty helpful for me when I was coming up.

Learning Perl is an excellent book. It's one of the reasons I still consider Perl a pretty good teaching and learning language, despite it's bad reputation among some programmers. All of the big O'Reilly books for Perl are truly excellent, in fact, and a big part of why O'Reilly developed such a reputation for excellence (which, I think, has faded somewhat in the past decade or so...at least for me...I don't tend to automatically choose the O'Reilly title, anymore, whereas that used to be what I always picked up first).

Great book, my first general purpose programming language was going to be Python but the book I was reading was so poorly written that I picked up Learning Perl and have been doing Perl all my career.

It's a real shame that Perl isn't a popular language anymore. At least there's still an active community.

My favorite is Javascript: The Good Parts by Douglas Crockford. It's clear, concise, the railroad diagrams are super helpful, and from what I've seen of Crockford's lectures on YouTube, it also really captures his voice.

My favorite one is Paradigms or Artificial Intelligence Programming: http://norvig.com/paip.html

Programming in Lua by Roberto Ierusalimschy is one of the best introductions to any programming language. Hw writes the new version along with each language release now, on the grounds that if you cannot explain it right then the language feature probably needs fixing.

That was one of the rules for the Qt documentation too, back when I worked on it. It's a great rule.

I really enjoyed Land of Lisp http://landoflisp.com

Operating Systems: Design and Implementation - Andrew S. Tanenbaum

Always a good one when you want to brush up on arcane knowledge.

I like The Little Book of Semaphores: http://greenteapress.com/semaphores/

Common Lisp: A Gentle Introduction to Symbolic Computation by David S. Touretzky is solid for learning the fundamentals of thinking in and writing lisp.


Bump for the K&R as well, great book, helped me get my feet wet with C quickly and effectively.

Michael Kerrisk's The Linux Programming Interface is truly great.

My favourites are more about the general craft of software development than specifics e.g.

The Pragmatic Programmer: Hunt and Thomas

The Mythical Man Month: Frederick Brooks

You may also enjoy Glass' Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering, it's similar to Mythical Man Month (and cites it and overlaps in parts) but the focus is a bit wider, with many small essays on a particular problem in programming or management of programmers

Functional Programing in Scala (http://www.manning.com/bjarnason/)

More recent than most books mentioned here, but I found it remarkably well-written. Irrespective of what happens to Scala, this book has a good chance to be useful 10 years from now.

Computer Systems: A Programmer's Perspective by Randal E. Bryant, David R. O'Hallaron


"Effective Java" by Joshua Bloch is very good.

I really enjoy the Big Nerd Ranch books, although I am a bit biased because they sign my paychecks.

I love the one for iOS development. It's perfect even for people new to programming. Will you ever re-write the Andriod version to be just as beginner friendly? I would love to hand it off to my girlfriend so she can learn how to do apps. Right now it is harder to grok than the iOS one.

A curated PLT (Programming language theory) list : http://steshaw.org/plt/

A Github hosted list of free programming books (merging SO and other sources): https://github.com/vhf/free-programming-books/blob/master/fr...

It's not even published yet, but based on the 7 of 11 chapters available I can say the book gonna be really fundamental.

Designing Data-Intensive Applications

The Big Ideas Behind Reliable, Scalable, and Maintainable Systems

By Martin Kleppmann



The author has great sense of humor.

This gem is too often left out:

How to Design Programs - An Introduction to Programming and Computing


In addition to those already mentioned:

- Stevens: Advanced Programming in the Unix Environment

and more recently,

- Kerrisk: The Linux Programming Interface.

Also, almost anything by Kernighan (with several different co-authors).

For both entertainment value and incisive exploration of dark corners in the language, "Expert C Programming: Deep C Secrets" is a fantastic book.

Accelerated C++ by Andrew Koenig and Barbara Moo (http://www.amazon.com/Accelerated-C-Practical-Programming-Ex...). One of the best introductory programming books, and one of the best introductory books in general, that I've ever read.

Clean Code -- Robert C. Martin

C# in Depth by Jon Skeet is amazing and is great to brush up your C# skills! A word of warning though: it's excellent for developers with experience in .NET, but does not serve as an introduction to the language/framework. The knowledge is not easily applicable to other languages either. That aside - it is still the best programming book I've read thus far.

Eloquent Ruby is one of my favorite books, too. That book really motivated me to learn how programming languages work. Here are a few other books I found to be enjoyable and well-written:

Programming Erlang by Joe Armstrong

Programming Elixir by Dave Thomas

Seven (more) Languages In Seven Weeks by Bruce Tate

Think Bayes, Think OS, How To Think Like A Functional Programmer (Think OCaml) and The Little Book of Semaphores by Allen B. Downey

Higher-Order Perl http://hop.perl.plover.com/

The Elements of Computing Systems: http://www.nand2tetris.org. A great, fun, do it yourself projects with subtle hints to move forward. Helps you lay a good foundation for programming.

Helped me a lot when I ventured into 3D graphics and game programming.

Code by Charles Petzold

Not so much programming, but very good if you're interested in how your computer actually works.

Geek Sublime by Vikram Chandra. The connections between the worlds of art and technology.


"Large Scale C++ Software Design" by John Lakos

This book made me understand that writing software is not just about creating opaque binaries with _stuff_ inside. It's also about what does this binary depends on, which symbols does it exports, how is it built, etc.

While on this subject, would anybody recommend a book in french? It would be for my nephew who is quite smart, high-school age, and knows java an python. I would like to expose him to something different: lisp, or functional programming.


Might be jumping in at the deep end if he's never seen lisp before, but it was originally published in french...

Thinking in Java, Java Generics and Collection, Head First Design Patterns

Any suggestions on theory books (not exclusively on a language) that isn't too dense? Not looking for a textbook, but something that is a lighter read that can help me with the logical parts of programming.

Fortran/ClearWin+ simple and to the point


Eloquent JavaScript by Written by Marijn Haverbeke

Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software http://www.amazon.com/Design-Patterns-Elements-Reusable-Obje...

Practical Object-Oriented Design in Ruby by Sandi Metz. http://www.poodr.com/

Maybe it's a matter of taste, but I found the GoF book really boring (and a little self hyped TBH).

If you want a good alternative to the GoF book try Head First Design Patterns. I findit much more approachable and much more enjoyable to read. http://www.amazon.com/Head-First-Design-Patterns-Freeman-ebo...

Yo progg'n books — I'm really happy for you, I'll let you finish, but The Poignant Guide is one of the best books on programming of all time. One of the best of all time!


The Design Patterns book

Parallel and Concurrent Programming in Haskell By Simon Marlow

the d programming language by andrei alexandrescu (ISBN-13: 978-0321635365)

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