What are your must-read programming books?

ben profile image Ben Halpern Jan 11, 2017

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Robert C. Martin
Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship

Distributed counting is hard. 😜

Essential JavaScript - Solid introduction to JavaScript and common programming principles
Secrets of the JavaScript Ninja, 2nd Edition - Function context, closures, ES6, oh my!
Learning JavaScript Design Patterns - Because fundamentals are good, and you should work on them.

The Swift Programming Language (ie: the docs!) - It's literally the docs. That's how conversational the documentation for Swift is; they took it and put it in a book and it actually reads like one. 10/10 pretty much my only resource for learning Swift.

Learn Python The Hard Way - It's. Uh. Amazing.
Learning Django Web Development - Django documentation is great tbh, but it can be a little overwhelming given how deep every section goes. This book is a solid way to gain clarity on some of the verbose sections in the documentation.

Written in order of recommendation per topic. Eloquent JS is a great lead-in into SotJS (which has become my favorite JS book), and once you've got a firm grasp on those core concepts understanding the various implementations of modules and stuff is covered pretty well in Learning JavaScript Design Patterns. Swift docs genuinely are as awesome as I hype them up to be.

Python, if Learn Python the Hard Way is too much, 'Automate the Boring Stuff w/ Python' is more interactive.

"Learn Python the Hard Way" teaches you all the wrong lessons in the wrong way. I learned using those books, and unfortunately had to relearn most of the lessons taught to me from that and "Learn C The Hard Way". Try "Dive Into Python".

TDD by Example, by Kent Beck. This is the one programming book I go back to every few years, and even though it's not a huge book, I always come away with something new.

Refactoring, by Martin Fowler. Though I don't revisit this one quite as often (except maybe to look up one of the less common recipes, I think it's still a book ever programmer should read at least once.)

Both of them are excelent pieces.

Definitely all of the following:

  1. Clean Code by Robert Martin
  2. Design Patterns Explained by Shalloway and Trott
  3. Joel on Software by Joel Spolsky

My "good to read" list includes:

  1. Working Effectively with Legacy Code by Michael Feathers
  2. More Joel on Software by Joel Spolsky
  3. Smart and Gets Things Done by Joel Spolsky
  4. Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman
  5. Return on Software by Steve Tockey

Software Engineering by Ian Sommerville. This is not a book about writing code. It is instead about all the non-technical aspects of programming, such as the trade-offs of code reuse, managing risks to projects, dealing with complex "socio-political systems", and handling ethical dilemmas. It's a college textbook but it has practical advice for dealing with real-world situations, and it is the first book that I read that made me scared for programming. Even the textbook questions at the end of each chapter can give me pause.

Oh, this sounds great.

You don't know JS by Kyle Simpson
Eloquent Javascript
Professional JavaScript for Web Developers by Nicholas C Zakas

Between Eloquent Javascript and Professional JavaScript for Web Developers, which should I read first?

Eloquent Javascript

  • clean code
  • the clean coder
  • design patterns
  • Apprenticeship Patterns: Guidance for the Aspiring Software Craftsman
  • Test Driven: TDD and Acceptance TDD for Java Developers
  • Test-Driven Development: A Practical Guide: A Practical Guide

I am on my second, dog-eared copy of The Pragmatic Programmer by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas. Cannot recommend this book enough as a blueprint for your minimal skills base

This one is great for any developer

I second that. This is probably my favorite book about software.

Release It! by Michael T. Nygard - lots of solid advice on building robust systems.

Effective Java - does what it says on the tin.

Paradigms of Artificial Intelligence Programming by Peter Norvig - the content is out of date, but one of the best books on programming I've ever read.

Essentials of Programming Languages (1st edition) by Friedman, Wand and Haynes. My first introduction to Scheme and Lisp many years ago and it blew me away.

Concepts Techniques and Models of Computer Programming - Peter Van Roy and Seif Haridi. Comprehensive coverage of pretty much every programming paradigm ever invented. It's a big book!

Other good older books that I learned a lot from: ML for the Working Programmer, The Craft of Prolog, Practical Programming in Tcl/Tk.

For testing: the RSpec book. I know it's old and dated, but nothing made it click for me like that book did.

For understanding programming: the Elements of Computing Systems. Amazing book (people are calling it "Nand to Tetris" these days). That book is the reason I have understand hardware (the big patterns, not like all the nuances of modern complex hardware).

For Ruby: The Pickaxe and Ruby Under a Microscope. The pickaxe is shockingly practical. I wasted so much effort trying to learn stuff that was in that book. A lot of it is just docs, too, which makes it thick and scary, but the first half is a wonderful collection of super practical information. Ruby Under a Microscope is basically "how does Ruby work", pick that one up if you're writing Ruby based on syntactic patterns you've seen and you want to actually understand why anything does what it does.

The book Absolute Java was wonderful when I read it, too. At that time, I was very new, so their lengthy explanations of how things worked were very useful and enlightening. Now it's an obvious / boring read for me, but I'm not its audience any more. So if you've got less than a year or two of experience, this book does a good job of helping you understand how language level stuff are implemented. If you've never worked with a typed language before, it's also worth reading for that reason (any typed language will be good for your programming brain, it will make explicit and obvious a class of errors and ways of thinking that dynamic languages leave implicit).

I'm sure there are others, but my books are in storage.

"Dependency Injection in .NET" by Mark Seemann. It teaches you so much more than what the title says.

"C# in Depth" and "C# in a Nutshell" are very good.

As a non-techincal book but excellent nonetheless, "The Clean Coder" by Uncle Bob.

+1 for DI in .NET. That book helps me deal with coworkers who have learned one of the many DI antipatterns and misconceptions. Must read for anyone who is learning about DI, no matter what language they use.

It's not about programming but definitely can help with development-related or documentation stuff:

Practical Typography by Matthew Butterick

Basically it's a book about writing professional documents properly. And it's "free".

"Relevant Search" is a good, practical book on solr/elastic search

I like "Natural Language Processing with Python" as an introduction to text processing problems (techniques are dated but I thought the examples were helpful)

Code Complete is a good general coding book

"Secrets of the javascript ninja" and "3rd party javascript" taught me a lot about javascript, and tend to have a lot of practical lessons

I really loved Steve McConnell's Code Complete

+1. Such a great book!

Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture - our goto resource for breaking down development and design problems.

Continuous Delivery by Jez Humble and David Farley. One of the best books for clearly justifying the costs and processes of CI/CD patterns to non-IT people.

Pragmatic Programmer and Code Complete.

As a Front End Developer, I would recommend to read "Eloquent JavaScript" by "Marijn Haverbeke". A great book that not only teach JavaScript languange, but also teaches programming.

The Mythical Man-Month by Fred Brooks.

A timeless classic in various aspects to software engineering and project management.

Code Complete Second Edition by Steve McConnell

I'm surprised no one's mentioned anything about books on shader code. I'm compiling a list and its the only thing missing so far :(

I apologize because these aren't books, but I think they deserve an honorable mention (forgive me!).

For shaders:
The Book of Shaders - thebookofshaders.com/ - (not really a book)
WebGL Fundamentals - webglfundamentals.org/

For graphics:
LunarXchange by Valve - vulkan.lunarg.com/sdk/home - host of VulkanSDK and tutorials and tools on how to implement Vulkan in C++
Open.GL - open.gl/
OpenGL Turotial - opengl-tutorial.org/

By far, it's Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (mitpress.mit.edu/sicp/full-text/bo...).

"Working Effectively with Legacy Code" by Michael C. Feathers, and "C++ Coding Standards" by Herb Sutter and Andrei Alexandrescu.

"Code Simplicity: The Fundamentals of Software" by Max Kanat-Alexander

Grokking Algorithms by Aditya Bhargava. Really good even for non CS people.

Being Geek and Team Geek are my favorite.

Agile Web Development with Rails # by Sam Ruby

Any good book about continues integration and continues deployment?

"Dreaming in Code" by Scott Rosenberg should be read by anyone who works with tech in any capacity.

"Game Programming Patterns" by Robert Nystrom, meanwhile, should be read by any coder with a pulse. :)

The Pragmatic Programmer
Head First: Design Patterns
Refactoring - Improving the design of existing code

Java: Effective Java
C#: C# In Depth
JavaScript: You Don't Know JS series
[Haskell: Learn You a Haskell for Great Good]

General: Clean Code, The Mythical Man-Month

Think Python by Allen B. Downey - Especially good for new programmers.
Fluent Python by Luciano Ramalho - Good for those moving to Python from other languages.

Eloquent JavaScript
Introduction to Algorithms 3rd Edition

The art of readable code.
Not focussing on any tech/language, but on general thoughts, ideas and tips regarding how to write beautiful code. :-)



  • Javascript: The Good Parts,
  • Javascript Design Patterns.


  • Airbnb Style Guide,
  • Clean code in JS,

for newcomer:

  • Learn You Some Erlang for Great Good! (Fred Hébert)
  • Erlang and OTP in Action (Martin Logan und Eric Merritt) for advanced:
  • Designing for Scalability with Erlang/OTP (Francesco Cesarini und Steve Vinoski)

For Beginners: Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, by Abelson and Sussman.

For XML-oriented functional programmers, I would recommend these books:

XSLT 2.0 and XPath 2.0
by Michael Kay

XSLT Cookbook. Solutions and Examples for XML and XSLT Developers
by Sal Mangano

as an aside: forget XSLT 1.0. XSLT 2.0 and 3.0 are real fun.

The C Programming Language, Second Edition
The Practice of Programming
The Unix Programming Environment
C Unleashed
21st Century C
Autotools: A Practitioner's Guide to GNU Autoconf, Automake, and Libtool

Growing Object Oriented Software Guided by Tests
Nat Pryce and Steve Freeman

"Building Scalable Web Sites" by Cal Henderson.

"Python 201 - Intermediate Python" by Michael Driscoll.

And of course "Web Development with Django Cookbook - Second Edition" by me. :)

All from Scott Meyers.

The Practice of Programming
The Pragmatic Programmer
The Art of UNIX Programming