Technology is that rare industry in which billion-dollar products have a very short life span. Indeed, last year’s computer-related news and products are already things of the past. By contrast, books are around forever — or at least as long as people remain willing to read them. For this list, we’ve combined books and technology to come up with the 50 All-Time Classic Books About Computers and Computing. Some of these books have been around for decades, while others, such as Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography of Steve Jobs, are newer. But all 50 of these books have in common a lasting influence for programmers, designers, entrepreneurs, hackers, or anyone who finds their computer or iPhone fascinating. With few exceptions, we’ve left out textbooks, choosing to focus instead on books that put forth both technical and hard-earned wisdom.
1. The Art of Computer Programming
The fact that this tome has remained continuously in print since its first publication in 1968 should give one a good idea of its importance and influence. Currently consisting of four volumes, The Art of Computer Programming is considered to be the bible of all algorithms that have influenced today’s most successful software developers. It is, if you will, the creation story of computer programming. Bill Gates once said that anyone who had actually read all of The Art of Computer Programming should send him his or her resume. While Knuth hasn’t exactly finished this multi-volume epic quite yet, additional volumes come out every so often, while Knuth’s website is a treasure trove of information, ideas, explanations, and how-tos.
2. The Soul of a New Machine
A lot has changed since 1981, when Tracy Kidder first published The Soul of a New Machine. Now one of the most highly regarded books about computers to ever hit the shelves, The Soul of a New Machine tracks the drama, comedy, and excitement of the early years of computers, when one company made the effort to bring a new microcomputer to the mass market. Though much of Kidder’s tale is understandably dated, most of it offers the go-for-broke approach to business that so many high-tech companies still maintain.
3. Steve Jobs
Perhaps there has not been anyone as influential, or as controversial, as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. In this 600-page bestseller, Walter Isaacson zooms in on Jobs’ early life, the start of Apple, and the varied personality that was well known for being tyrannical one moment and an emotional wreck the next. Unlike the many other biographies on Jobs, Isaacson’s work stems from more than 40 interviews conducted before Jobs’ untimely death, and as a result, manages to create a moving portrait. It’s a must-read for anyone even remotely interested in technology and business.
4. The Little Kingdom: The Private Story of Apple Computer
Speaking of Apple, TIME reporter Michael Moritz wrote this in-depth portrait of the blossoming company back in 1984, long before iPods, iPhones, or iPads. While many Apple biographies have been written, Moritz’s remains one of the oldest and one of the best. Apple’s earliest history is all documented here as the current event it was then, when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak weren’t yet celebrities and the company was still hopeful that machines like the Apple III and The Lisa would become mega hits (they didn’t). Though an updated version entitled Return to the Little Kingdom has since been published, the original remains a classic view of a company when it was less legendary and more accessible.
5. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
Still considered required reading by some, Steven Levy’s wonderful book “Hackers” was written long before the idea of hacking took on such a negative connotation. Levy’s hackers include everyone from Steve Jobs to Bill Gates (before they were the icons we know now). But the most interesting portraits here are those of Spacewar creator Slug Russell and Osborne 1 designer Lee Felsenstein, both of whom played a pivotal role in the development of the PC. Modern day purists will love Hackers for its charmingly optimistic Hacker Ethic, which includes such noble concepts as “Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not criteria such as degrees, age, race, sex, or position;” “Computers can change your life for the better;” “All information should be free;” and “You can create art and beauty on a computer.”
6. The Road Ahead
There are few people who have been more influential to the world of computers and computing than Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, and readers can get the low down on Gates’ and Microsoft’s early years from The Road Ahead. Although much has happened since Gates’ book was originally published in 1995, The Road Ahead remains a classic because it documents Gates’ journey and ideas at the point when he was still becoming a household name. Gates fans will certainly love this insight into such an influential mind, while his critics will find that Gates’ shortcomings in later years were certainly his inability to see the world of computers past his own PC.
7. The Cluetrain Manifesto
Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger
Published in 2000, The Cluetrain Manifesto initially began as ninety-five theses posted on the internet. Boiled down and combined into seven essays, The Cluetrain Manifesto takes a close look at the impact of the internet on marketing. Its biggest claim is that conventional marketing techniques are rendered obsolete by modern internet culture, and argues that companies need to evolve in order to succeed in this brave new world — an interesting topic considering, one one hand, how much the internet world has changed since 2000, and on the other hand, how immensely important the internet has become in selling everything from antiques to sex.
8. Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution
Who better to learn about the tech industry’s behind-the-scene’s battles from than Fred Vogelstein, a journalist who spent decades reporting on Silicon Valley. In Dogfight, Vogelstein cites countless sources, events, and snippets of information to illustrate a story about how the major tech companies lie, betray each other, and engage in endless battles over billions of potential dollars. He reveals all of the “yelling, screaming, backstabbing, dejection, panic, and fear” that happens right before a seemingly perfect new-product presentation by one of the major companies. But even with all of this chaotic entertainment, what is not lost is Vogelstein’s assertion that this ruthless behavior has created competition and driven the rapid and unparalleled progress brought about by these same companies.
9. Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of Kevin Mitnick, America’s Most Wanted Computer Outlaw — By the Man Who Did It
John Markoff and Tsutomo Shimomura
Kevin Mitnick is perhaps the most infamous name in the history of computer hacking. His exploits began at age 13, when he manipulated the Los Angeles bus system so that he was able to ride the bus anywhere for free. Later, he mastered the art of social engineering, a skill with which he committed computer and wire fraud, cloned cellular phones, stole millions of dollars in credit card numbers, and created multiple pieces of false identification. Takedown is the fast-paced story of Mitnick’s crime spree and his arrest that led to five years in prison.
10. Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture
In Masters of Doom, David Kushner summarizes the evolution of the computing gaming industry, from the mid-1980s to its current status as a bigger industry than Hollywood. The two titular guys are John Romero and John Carmack, who founded id Software and such games as Wolfenstein, 3D, Doom, and Quake, to name but a few. Kushner takes readers on a ride through the two guys’ earliest years, from the worst fights to the greatest triumphs, and in so doing illustrates a fascinating portrait of obsession, skill, and creativity.
11. The Golden Age of Video Games: The Birth of a Multibillion Dollar Industry
Remember those classic video games, the ones like Super Mario Brothers and Sonic the Hedgehog? They are all here in Robert Dillon’s The Golden Age of Video Games, which takes readers on a journey through the history of video games, consoles, and home computers from the very beginning until the mid-1990s. Dillon profiles the pioneers of the video game “golden age,” and offers brief analyses of the most popular and innovative games, events, and systems. Updated versions have even discussed a bit about the history of handheld games and an overview of the retro-gaming scene.
12. The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
If you haven’t figured it out yet, human beings have become what James Gleick calls “creatures of information.” In his engrossing book The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, Gleick describes the history of information theory that has led to our world in which a “bit” — a fundamental unit of information — can be anything from a gene, to a quantum particle, to a magnetized fleck on a hard drive. Peppered throughout are snippets of information on such pioneers of information theory as Claude Shannon, Alan Turing, and Ada Byron, to name but a few.
Carol Kaehler and Apple
Originally printed in 1984 to accompany a newly purchased Macintosh computer, this little gem of a book began, “You’re about to learn a new way to use a computer. If this is your first experience with a computer, you’re starting at a great time.” While the format, which is as elegant as Apple’s first machine, and the personable tone are impressive even today, what makes this little guide such a classic is the glimpse it offers into a time when very few people had ever played with a computer. This guide includes whole sections on things like “Where Does Your Information Go?” and “Using Scroll Bars to See More,” while handy tips like “Save your files every fifteen minutes just in case the power goes off” are sprinkled throughout.
14. The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That is Connecting the World
David Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook Effect tells the story of the founding of Facebook from beginning to end — from the time Mark Zuckerberg started the social media site in his dorm room to the time it became a world-changing empire with a billion users. While most people know the story of Facebook from Ben Mezrich’s partly-fictitious The Accidental Billionaires (which then inspired the Oscar winning film The Social Network), The Facebook Effect differs from those popular titles because its creation had the full cooperation and support of Facebook’s executives and investors, and is therefore much more accurate. But no less fascinating.
15. Outliers: The Story of Success
Like most of Malcolm Gladwell’s fascinating bestsellers, Outliers is more of a psychology book than a title strictly about computers and computing. Still, tech lovers should appreciate Gladwell’s thesis, and find interesting his observations about such people as Bill Gates and Bill Joy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems. For instance, Gladwell points out that both Bills dedicated themselves to more than 10,000 hours of training and practice writing code before undertaking their most ambitious creations. As Gladwell points out, no one has ever found extreme success simply by being a genius.
16. The Chip: How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution
In The Chip, T.R. Reid goes back to the spark that ignited the electronics revolution: the invention of the microchip. While a race to create the first chip was well underway at the major tech companies, Fairchild Semiconductor employee Robert Noyce and Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments took it upon themselves to individually create their own versions of the chip. What ensued was a long and foggy legal battle about which one had come up with the microchip first. Reid describes the whole story in fascinating detail, though the book was published just as Noyce was gaining fame as the industry’s statesman, and fifteen years before Jack Kilby received the Nobel Prize for physics.
17. The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story
Michael Lewis has a knack for finding the unheard of stories in popular topics and turning those stories into bestsellers. He’s done it again and again with titles like Moneyball, Liar’s Poker, and The Blind Side, to name but a few. In The New New Thing, Lewis tells the inside story of Jim Clark, the founder of Silicon Graphics, Netscape, and Healtheon. Clark became the most important entrepreneur in the Valley in the 1990s, and not long after, the tech industry’s first billionaire.
18. Alan Turing: The Enigma
Thanks to the Oscar-winning film The Imitation Game, many people outside of the world of computers and computing know the name and significance of Alan Turing, the genius who created a universal machine — the first computer, really — to break the German Enigma ciphers during World War II. In this comprehensive and thorough biography, Andrew Hodges tells the tragic story of this British hero who, despite his service to his country and humanity, was ultimately arrested, stripped of his security clearance, and forced to undergo a humiliating treatment program — all because he tried to live honestly in a society that defined homosexuality as a crime.
19. Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built
Though so many attempt it, very few entrepreneurs successfully build a company that becomes so successful, it rivals the likes of Amazon and Walmart. And yet, that’s exactly what Jack Ma did when he created the mega-successful Alibaba, an e-commerce empire on which hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers depend. Duncan Clark describes Jack Ma’s rise from modest beginnings, through his start as an English teacher, and onwards through the creation of Alibaba and its $25 billion IPO in 2014 — the largest global IPO ever. Besides being a fascinating glimpse into the ideas and life of an entrepreneurial genius, Clark’s Alibaba is an interesting commentary on business in China.
20. Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation
Blake J. Harris
Console Wars is a real-life thriller that tells the story of how Sega, a small gaming company with an unlikely team at the helm, battled the giant video game company Nintendo in the 1990s. The vicious, and highly profitable, battle is recounted dramatically by writer and filmmaker Blake J. Harris. In addition to rave reviews and a spot on the New York Times Bestseller list almost immediately upon its release, Console Wars is currently being produced by Scott Rudin, Seth Rogen, and Eva Goldberg as a Sony feature film.
21. Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success
Conventional wisdom may say that overnight success comes after ten years of hard work and persistence, but in his book Smartcuts, author Shane Snow argues that the smartest people are those who refuse to follow traditional paths to success. Additionally, sustainable success comes from knowing how to think laterally as opposed to steadily climbing the corporate ladder. To illustrate his point, Snow draws from a variety of industries, including hackers and Silicon Valley CEOs from the tech industry.
22. How Google Works
Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg
Google has become famous as a place of employment, and Google or Google-like companies have appeared as the main locale in both movies and television shows (“The Internship,” “Silicon Valley,” etc.). Its evolution into a powerful company with a seemingly endless list of life-changing products has inspired countless companies and entrepreneurs worldwide. How Google Works, written by two Google veterans, takes readers behind the scenes with equal parts unique management secrets and glimpses into daily life as a Google employee.
23. The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
Walter Isaacson followed up his hugely successful Steve Jobs biography (number three on this list) with the bestselling The Innovators. Isaacson’s carefully researched and detailed story describes the various people throughout history who contributed to the computer and the internet. The self-described saga includes such notable figures as Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, who pioneered computer programming in the 1840s; Vannevar Bush; Alan Turing; John von Neumann; J.C.R. Licklider; Doug Engelbart; Robert Noyce; Bill Gates; Steve Wozniak; Steve Jobs; Tim Berners-Lee; and Larry Page.
24. Zero to One
Peter Thiel and Blake Masters
Though he is best known as the co-founder of PayPal, the first investor in Facebook, and one of Silicon Valley’s more freethinking superstars, Peter Thiel was also a popular professor at Stanford, where he first taught his business philosophy as it related to his success in the world of computers and computing. Zero to One is a concise, straightforward treatise collected and compiled by Thiel’s former student Blake Masters. Thanks to Masters, readers are able to experience Thiel’s unique theories and concepts, such as why “monopoly” should be something for which to strive, and why and how Silicon Valley has steadily moved away from a culture of true innovation.
25. Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble
Those who have braved a start-up (or who have ever thought about braving a start-up) will love Dan Lyons’ Disrupted. At 50 years old, the long-time Newsweek reporter found himself jobless with a wife and two kids to support. Landing a job at HubSpot, a Boston start-up, Lyons fell head-first into a world of work-wide push-up clubs, breaks turned into Nerf gun fights, walking meetings, and “bouncy-ball desk chairs.” Luckily for us, Lyons describes it all with hilarious wit, and in the process describes all of those start-ups that lavishly blow money on perks while simultaneously trying to survive long enough to reach an IPO and a massive payout.
26. Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution in Economics and Technology
Those in the technological know have heard of Moore’s Law — the idea that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every couple of years. In the bestselling Microcosm, George Gilder makes a strong argument for entrepreneurship in the face of this constant increase. Most notably, Gilder believed that the problems of the world would eventually dissipate once we hit the billion-transistor chip. Gilder’s book was published in 1990, and though we have since reached the billion-transistor point, not much of Gilder’s claims have come to fruition. Still, the book has lasting value. Indeed, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus has stated that it was George Gilder’s Microcosm that initially inspired him to move into a career in technology.
27. World War 3.0: Microsoft and its Enemies
Ken Auletta’s World War 3.0 tells the story of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, government attorney David Boies, and judge Richard Posner during the “war” in which the government attempted to rein in Microsoft’s monopolistic practices. Really, this is a David and Goliath story, and describes what happened when a random group of people dared to stand up against the tech industry’s most powerful company. In one particularly interesting moment, Craig Barrett, then the CEO of Intel, found himself in a threat-filled screaming match with one of his technologists as he attempted, but ultimately failed, to convince the man not to testify against Microsoft and Gates.
28. Free: The Future of a Radical Price
In Free, a follow-up to his first book, The Long Tail, Chris Anderson discusses the idea of “freemium,” a business strategy that has become extremely popular in the age of the internet. Driven mostly by app and game publishers, businesses are now creating extreme success by giving one thing away, yet charging for something else. Google, Zynga, Facebook, and Twitter are all doing it; that is, they are surviving the extreme competition created by the internet by selling a basic, but extremely popular something, and then making the inevitable millions by selling the smaller but necessary extras.
29. The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture
When you search for something on the internet, chances are good that you use Google after immediately thinking “I’ll Google it.” In The Search, John Battelle describes how Larry Page and Sergey Brin painstakingly battled other search engines, including Yahoo, to make Google what it is today. Part of Battelle’s thesis is the idea that Google’s database of intentions — the repository and use of human curiosity, desires, and exploration — will prove to be the driving force behind the future of the tech world.
30. The Singularity is Near
When sci-fi author Vernor Vinge coined the term “technological singularity” — whereby a super intelligence will arise that exceeds what humans can do in terms of thinking — he likely didn’t know he was inventing an idea that would be picked up and debated over by everyone from Hollywood filmmakers to sociologists. One such person Vinge’s term inspired is Ray Kurzweil, who argues in The Singularity is Near that mankind is indeed approaching such a time. He describes what life might be like after The Singularity is reached, presenting such ideas as human aging will reverse, and world hunger and pollution will become problems of the past.
31. Snow Crash
Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash may be a novel, but according to game designer Will Wright, it has also been the unofficial business plan for a number of Silicon Valley startups. Indeed, Mike Abrash, a researcher at game publisher Valve, said it was Snow Crash that inspired him to first research wearable computers and technology. First published in 1992, Stephenson’s novel is impressive because of its prescient view of what technology, computers, and cyberspace would become. It is the story of Hiro Protagonist, a computer hacker who travels through a virtual world while being chased by a computer virus that is destroying the minds of hackers. Additionally, Snow Crash was included on Time magazine’s list of 100 best books written since 1923.
32. The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail
Named one of the most influential leadership books of all time by Fast Company, Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma tells the stories of some of the best-known thinkers and innovators — from Steve Jobs to Malcolm Gladwell. By pinpointing various waves of innovation, Christensen aims to show readers how companies can often miss out on true and successful progress by moving too quickly, taking on too much, or sticking too closely to traditional business practices.
33. The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour Through Alan Turing’s Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine
As Alan Turing was creating what would become the very first computer during World War II, he wrote his now famous 36-page paper “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem,” a science-heavy work that only the very adventurous (and slightly masochistic) among us might attempt in its original form. But luckily, Charles Petzold published The Annotated Turing, in which he provides a painstaking, line-by-line, and awe-inspiringly clear “translation” of Turing’s ideas and work. By the end, readers will both understand what the Entscheidungsproblem actually was, and will have gotten a glimpse into the great mind that changed our world with the development of the Turing Machine.
34. The Bug
While computers and computing hardly seem like literary topics, Ellen Ullman’s novel The Bug is a beautifully written story about a programmer’s attempt to find, fix, and vanquish a computer bug known only as “The Jester.” As the reader journeys along with the protagonist in an attempt to outwit this ever-vanishing and reappearing bug, it becomes more and more clear that Ullman’s novel is actually a timely and subtle commentary on the effect technology has had on humans.
Another work of fiction, Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs is so much more than simply a novel. Originally published in 2008, Microserfs has held up well against the myriad of changes that have occurred in the world of computers and computer programming, and remains an interesting social commentary on a fascinating industry. Readers will get a kick out of this inside look at what it is like to be a “serf” inside the machine of a software production start-up.
36. The Computer Boys Take Over: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise
Mostly a history book, The Computer Boys Take Over is a fascinating look at the computer revolution of the mid-twentieth century and the people who made it possible. But what sets this book apart from so many others on this topic is its focus on the [oftentimes anonymous] groups of people who helped the scientific curiosity that was early programming evolve into the most important technology of the modern era. While Ensmenger’s book portrays both men and women, some critics have called the author out on his ideas that the later exclusion of women from programming was purposeful, as “‘professionalization‘ requires masculinization.”
37. Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software
We are surrounded by computers, yet very few of us have much of an idea about how they work. That’s where Charles Petzold comes in. In his bestselling book Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software, Petzold clearly and eloquently describes the basics of computers. In one especially interesting chapter, he describes the way our machines use basic logic to compute numbers. Pick up Code, and you aren’t likely to look at your personal computer the same way again.
In Neuromancer, bestselling author William Gibson tells the fictional story of Case, a brilliant data-thief living in a world run completely by giant corporations. When a mysterious employer recruits Case for the task of destroying a powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth, Case embarks on an exciting adventure that is a little bit 1984, a little bit Blade Runner, and a little bit The Matrix. Neuromancer, a bestseller, was one of the first books to glorify hackers and portray them as cool anti-heroes.
39. Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American
Richard S. Tedlow
Before there was Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg, there was Andy Grove. The original rags-to-riches story, Grove was born a Hungarian Jew in 1936 and was the only one in his family to survive the Holocaust. Grove fled during the bloody 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and arrived in American penniless. What came next is a thrilling tale of persistence and brilliance, as Grove worked his way up to his eventual position as chief executive of Intel.
40. Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software
The thesis of Scott Rosenberg’s bestselling book Dreaming in Code is that failure can actually be a virtue, as long as the one failing fails honorably and is then able to learn from said failure. To illustrate his point, Rosenberg describes a number of different projects and companies in order to show the reader why large software projects fail more than they succeed. As evidence, he offers fair and balanced commentary of various efforts and comebacks, including that of programmer Mitch Kapor, who after a number of virtuous failures became the creator of Lotus 1-2-3.
41. The Magic School Bus Gets Programmed
In this installment of the classic children’s book series, everyone’s favorite fictional teacher, Mrs. Frizzle, takes her class on an adventure inside the school’s malfunctioning computer. While there, the students — and readers aged 4 to 8 — learn a number of basic facts about computers and how they work. Similarly, other children’s books about computers include The Berenstain Bears’ Computer Trouble, Arthur’s Computer Disaster, and The Computer Teacher from the Black Lagoon.
42. Death March
Taking its title from the colloquial “death march project” — i.e. projects whose schedules are so compressed, and whose budgets or resources are so constrained, that the only “obvious” way to succeed is for the entire team to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no vacations until the project is finished — Ed Yourdain’s Death March breaks down the reasons behind why death march projects have become so common in the modern tech industry. Highlights include stories about various companies and projects, practical advice for surviving a death march project, and even questions to help decide if one should look for a new tech job.
43. The Cathedral & the Bazaar
Eric S. Raymond
Open-source software has long been a hot topic in the world of computers and computing, and most of today’s debate can find its root in Eric S. Raymond’s 1991 title, The Cathedral & the Bazaar. Raymond lays out two scenarios: the cathedral, in which code is kept in the hands of a small group, and the bazaar, in which just about anyone can participate. Raymond’s arguments and scenarios are still fun to read, even now that his bazaar situation seems to be closest to that which has come to fruition.
44. Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date
Robert X. Cringely
A more sarcastic, disdain-filled report than Hackers (see above), Robert X. Cringely’s Accidental Empires is a snarky look at some of the biggest names in computer history. Thanks to lines like, “Alas, I’m not giving very good odds that Steve Jobs will be the leader of the next generation of personal computing,” Accidental Empires is more of an entertaining, book-length gossip column than a true historic account. Still, it’s fun (in another part, Cringely equates Jobs to Saddam Hussein). Amazingly, Accidental Empires is still in print, and a sample excerpt is available on Google Books.
45. The New Hacker’s Dictionary
Eric S. Raymond
Eric S. Raymond’s ambitious hacker’s dictionary is now available online, but was originally published in book form in 1991 (with updated versions released in ‘93 and ‘96). Based on a list of slang words related to artificial intelligence, The New Hacker’s Dictionary is a fun compendium of reference words, even if none of those words are particularly helpful or educational when it comes to hacking how-to. While some words, like ‘fanboy,’ might sound familiar, others, like ‘maggotboxes,’ will have you shaking your head, though at least you’ll be thoroughly entertained.
46. Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer
Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine
While a number of books exist that document the major players in computer history, Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine’s Fire in the Valley is a comprehensive biography about the machines, companies, and specific moments that ignited and propelled the personal computing revolution (though icons such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are mentioned, of course). MIT’s Altair (the first major PC), the earliest computer stores, the first articles in computer magazines — those stories are all here, carefully documented while everything was still a current event. Sadly, the original 1984 publication and the revised 2000 edition are both out of print, though die-hard historians might be lucky enough to find a copy on the internet marketplace.
47. Inside the IBM PC
When Peter Norton first published Inside the IBM PC in 1983, he quickly became the most trusted source for anything related to the fixing of that mysterious machine they called a computer. Norton spent two decades with such a reputation, and his guides, which have since evolved into Peter Norton’s New Inside the PC, have continued to sell well, even as they’ve fallen out of print. Norton’s success can almost certainly be chalked up to his use of plain English to discuss the nuts and bolts of motherboards, processors, disks, and software. Last updated in 2002, Norton’s most recent book is horrendously out-of-date. Still, Norton’s influence on the industry was too massive and too valuable to take lightly.
48. The Word Processing Book
Though it’s hard to imagine such a world now, The Word Processing Book was originally published in 1982, when most people wondered why they should bother switching from their trusty typewriters to new and expensive word processors. In this oldie-but-goodie, McWilliams answers that question with passionate rants, jokes, old ads, and even cartoons. Though he certainly wasn’t the only one to write such a book, McWilliams produced a read that was more entertaining than most. One can even argue that with The Word Processing Book, McWilliams created the very first For Dummies title.
49. Computer Lib / Dream Machines
Ted Nelson’s Computer Lib/Dream Machines is actually two books in one; computer Lib is subtitled “You Can and Must Understand Computers NOW,” while Dream Machines offers readers an overview of computer graphics and hypermedia. Together, they form an inspiring and timless manifesto about the creative means of computers. Through essays, doodled illustrations, and handwritten annotations, Nelson discusses everything from gesture-based input, to undo features, to virtual reality. Unfortunately, this gem is no longer in print, though lengthy PDF excerpts can be found in multiple corners of the internet.
50. Basic Computer Games
David H. Ahl
The earliest programmers, those who were writing their own BASIC software in the 1970s, will surely have a soft spot in their heart for David H. Ahl’s Basic Computer Games. Back in the day, when software wasn’t written but typed in from listings in magazines and books, Ahl’s reference book was a computer game bible that included the codes for everything from Nim and Hammurabi, to Mugwump and Super Star Trek. While its usefulness as a how-to guide is a bit questionable today, popular interest and demand has led to Basic Computer Games becoming available again after more than a decade out of print.
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