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5 Non-Programming Books That Inspire Me to Become a Better Programmer

Who's this for?

For the individual who loves to color outside the lines sometimes; the sort of person who thinks of programming as yet another professional attribute that can benefit from a broader approach to understanding life.

Why do we read?

Since the beginning of July, I've decided to inject a bit of consistency in the way I read. Like everyone else, I read something every day - a blog post, a news article, or something that ranks high on Readup, one of my favorite places to discover high-quality reading material.

As a programmer, however, whenever I find myself reading anything, I also find myself wondering if I wouldn't benefit more from reading Mozilla's (MDN) JavaScript documentation for some obscure JS use case, or completing Wiley's Poignant Guide to Ruby, or Eloquent JavaScript, or 'Think Like a Computer Scientist' get the idea.

So in July, I decided to return to reading about things that would enrich my reading experience overall, biasing in favor of things that will make me a better programmer. Here's a list of some books I have read in the past, and books that are on my in-progress tab which I think help me appreciate programming more instead of distracting me from the noble goal of becoming a 10X developer.

The Drunkard's Walk, by Leonard Mlodinow

This is probably my favorite book this year. I consider it a love letter to randomness, and the school of thought that formed around it: probability theory, statistics, even quantum theory.

It's perfect for people who enjoy prose, or cleverly-written essays. It is written from the perspective of an exploration into the history of the mathematics around randomness, and you'll discover that a lot of what we know about randomness was inspired by gambling, gaming, and the worship of gods! No wonder Einstein said God does not play with dice.

I started reading this book because I wanted to understand randomness more. It started one night when I was writing several functions to help with creating generative art. I was using a library that piggybacked off of the default Math.random() method to create 'noise' that ensured every generative art piece was different from the last. It piqued my curiosity about randomness and led me to this golden book!

Check out the book on Amazon

Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

This one is based on history - so probably accurate to call it historical fiction. Neal Stephenson is a masterful storyteller, and I can already see that (disclaimer: I'm about 20% into the book, which is about 1,539 pages on my Apple Books).

For anyone who's looked up Alan Turing (or watched The Imitation Game), you'd remember that in the Second World War, the Allies decrypted the Enigma Code, then spent a considerable amount of time throwing the Nazis off that scent. In Cryptonomicon, the story goes between two timelines (one set in the 1940s and 'present-day').

A fictional version of Dr. Alan Turing (among other notable scientists of history) is in this book as well, and they work with the protagonists to decode Axis communications, use it to thwart their enemies while simultaneously hiding the fact that they've compromised Axis communication codes.

In the present-day timeline, the grand-children of the World War II codebreakers continue the tradition, finally confronted with an unbreakable code that throws weirdness in the mix.

I started reading this based on a Twitter recommendation for some of the best speculative fiction (it started with someone complaining about SF being watered down nowadays), and I found this 'chunky' enough to take a stab at.

Get Cryptonomicon on Amazon

Pure Mathematics For Beginners, by Dr Steve Warner

I know, I know. Screw Mathematics. All my friends hate Mathematics. But, you gotta admit - math doth rule everything about us.

I was never one for Math, and I blame the way it was taught to me as a kid - it was just one more class to pass, with no immediately-apparent connection to my real world. Who cared if a plane traveled 30 degrees west, huh?

As soon as I entered the fantastic world of algorithms, it became apparent to me how much simpler my life would be if I returned to some math concepts. Here's my unpopular opinion: many tutorials and courses will tell you you don't need to know math to be a good programmer. That's probably true, but knowing math definitely makes you a great problem-solver!

This book starts with logic, which adds the spice to your || pipes (or logical ORs) and logical ANDS (&&), explains Set Theory, the principles of vectors, number bases, linear algebra among other things.

You don't need to read this deeply. Even a casual read of this will make you a better human being by far, I guarantee it.

Get Pure Mathematics for Beginners on Amazon

Our Final Invention, by James Barrat

I began reading this after getting high on The Last Invention of Man from Issue 43 of Nautilus.

If you've been infected by Elon Musk's paranoia about AI, then you should read this. Haha.

Musing on these topics reminds me of Rita King, who said: "Being human is a fleeting moment between stardust and robots."

Our Final Invention

The Tyrannosaurus Prescriptions, by Isaac Asimov

I love Isaac Asimov, and you do too - you just don't know it yet. This book is a collection of essays his sponsors asked him to write about the future, sociopolitical events, and anthropological observations in general.

Published in 1977, Asimov made attempts to guess the future of humanity. He was uncannily accurate in some regard and hilariously off-course in others, but the main reason I'm recommending this is that it gives you a precious insight into how people think about life in the meta, or the macro if you will.

In reading the Tyrannosaurus Prescriptions, I found myself yearning for an opportunity to think about the broader implications of things (Moore's versus Eroom's law, for example). and that is a rewarding exercise in itself. It can help shake the tedium from programming (let's face it: programming does get tedious sometimes!) and offer you a new perspective about your role in the universe.

I recommend for thinkers and dreamers alike!

Take a peek into The Tyrannosaurus Prescriptions here

Final notes

I am not affiliated with any of the links I shared, so this article is not a sinister plot to earn money off affiliate marketing. I just rather love recommending books!

Also, if you have interesting books I should check out, reply to this!

Have a great day, DEV sloths!

Top comments (15)

brainuso profile image

Nice work Justin. I'm sure I'll love everyone of them. My maths has been slacking of late, quarter life crisis maybe. I'll look to read them some time soon. I'm currently on CS Lewis' Mere Christianity and Ben Horowitz's The hard thing about Hard Things.

refilwe_sm profile image
IG: Refilwe_SM

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your review of these books you've recommended and you've got me so amped in reading them. Thank you :)

vunderkind profile image

Haha, thank you!

soloxpress profile image
Solomon Osadolo

This is dope, Justin. I haven't read SF this year yet, and I suddenly feel the need to. Coming to hound you for the books now.

PS: I love maths. So... Update that line, maybe :')

vunderkind profile image

Ah, foiled by my own friend! 💀

sontru profile image

I would recommend Simon Singh's The Code Book and Fermat's Last Theorem.

vunderkind profile image

Thanks for your recommendation. Will add these to my library tonight!

konaduakuoko profile image
Akwasi Konadu Akuoko

Thank you.

greatnonso7 profile image
Ichoku Great Chinonso

Thank you very Justin for this piece, I enjoyed every piece of it till the end.

rubsgs profile image
Rubens Guarnieri dos Santos

Created an account just to save this.
Great text, thank you for sharing all this! <3

vunderkind profile image

Let me be the first to welcome you to DEV, Rubens! Thanks for reading!

couragetheman profile image
Cowardly Man

This is great

vunderkind profile image

Thank you for reading!

kaspra_dev profile image
LemonSpike • Edited

Awesome, nice variety of books! I read this article and then I realized that I need to read more books.

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