Stack OverflowBest programming novel to take on holiday
[+71] [93] Ed Guiness
[2008-09-25 14:08:46]
[ untagged ]

I am about enjoy a two week break in Spain where I expect to have lots of time for relaxing and reading.

I normally read a lot of non-fiction so I'm looking for novel suggestions.

If there is another Cryptonomicon [1] out there I'd love to hear about it!

UPDATE: In the end I took four books including Quicksilver. Quicksilver was fantastic and I look forward to continuing the series. I was disappointed with Gen X (Coupland) and Pattern Recognition (Gibson). Thanks for all the recommendations, I'm sure to return to this list when I have more free time.

What about on vacation? ;) - Neil N
[+91] [2008-09-25 14:44:30] Chris Porter

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy [1] is absolutely worth the time spent, many times over. I took it on vacation and found myself in tears of laughter more often than not. A great quote I share when describing HHGG "When you read HHGG, you feel as if you understand the book better than anyone else who has ever read it". I found this quote to be absolutely true. I trust that you would not be disappointed.


What do you think of the news that Eoin Colfer has been commissioned to write a new HHGG book? - Jonathan Webb
(2) We think it is not canon. - Karl
(8) God I really want to vote this up, but 42 votes... - annakata
[+77] [2008-09-25 14:16:42] Bill the Lizard [ACCEPTED]

William Gibson's Neuromancer [1] comes to mind, although I liked Cryptonomicon [2] better.

Neuromancer [3]

Stephenson's own Baroque Cycle [4] trilogy and Snow Crash [5] are all outstanding.


Don't forget Diamond Age! There's also a new book from Stephenson just released: Anathem - ComSubVie
Getting Anathem today :-) - Jonathan Webb
Anathem is great! Just expect to do a lot of research :-) - CMPalmer
(2) You mean just reading a Neal Stephenson book alone doesn't count as research?? :-) - Jonathan Webb
Yeah snow crash is pretty cool. Especially if you have tried Second Life. - Anders Rune Jensen
Two authors I've never been able to get into for some reason, particularly Stephenson. His books always seem to end either two or three chapters too short, or two or three chapters too long. - Evan
Second Life - heck, who here remembers MOOs? - romandas
Anathem is awesome. The whole Neuromancer trilogy is great. - mmcdole
@Romandas, Not only do I remember MOOs I use to maintain a neuromancer esque MUD - mmcdole
+1 for Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash. I found Neuromancer to be uninspiring and the Baroque cycle to be interesting parts yet tedious all things be told. - cletus
Loved Cryptonomicon! - Duke of Muppets
I think I'm the only geek that didn't like Neuromancer. I like the idea of cyber-punk but I've very rarely seen an execution of it that doesn't leave me entirely "meh." - Dinah
I re read this a while back, and I still didn't rate it much. It has dated so fast, it makes it a awful book to read. (More like WTF is going on?) Still Gibson has written some much better books. 'All Tomorrow's Parties' is the work of a genius. - Adrian
"Diamond age" is probably the most programming Stephenson book, and perhaps his best story (that is to say it has a beginning a middle and an end, a concept which generally eludes him) - Martin Beckett
[+68] [2008-09-25 17:38:58] Adrian

More of a warning: DO NOT READ Dan Browns Digital Fortress - I rank it as the WORST book about computers and Cryptology!

it is SOOOOOOOO bad it is almost worth reading , really really dreadful.

(6) I wish I could vote more than once on this. Digital Fortress is trash; it was my first and last Dan Brown novel. - dwj
I too wish the same... However, in my case it was the only Dan Brown novel I didn't like. It was... crap! - sundar
(5) Voted up. Everyone must be warned. - jop
Agreed. But Brown's later novels are much better. - JesperE
(2) Da Vinci Code? snicker - Epaga
(11) I think you're being unfair. Consider the context. This is a mass-media book, not a geek book. I haven't read Digital Fortress, but I've read similar, and I find that you have to suspend your disbelief, just like with any fiction. So ... enjoy ... or not :0) - AJ.
I thought Deception Point wasn't too bad. Certainly a lot better than Digital Fortress. - Jonathan Webb
The only thing shallower than the plot are the characters. - Uri
(1) I bet, that when they will have their own for renaissance archeologist, they will say the same for the "Da Vinci Code" and other his books :) - Kasprzol
+1 - Digital Fortess is laughable - romandas
Probably the worst book I have ever read. By far. - timday
(3) I'm about to say some CS blasphemy, but I liked Digital Fortress for what it was. It is us geeks who watch a tv show and snort at some technical statement someone makes. If you can suspend your insider knowledge and enjoy it as a pseudo-action book, it was fun! - mmcdole
(6) When I finished Digital Fortress, I took actual visceral pleasure out slam dunking it into a garbage can. Only the dream of doing that dragged me through the final four chapters... Man did I really hate that book. :) - Jeff Allen
When I start reading a book, I finish it. With Digital Fortress I made an exception. - Pondidum
(3) You had me at "DO NOT READ Dan Brown." - jason
I've not read any Dan Brown yet, but I enjoyed this review:… - TRiG
I really hated the romance stuff in this book! - Secko
(1) so many negative comments is actually making me want to read it... - GxG
@Simucal: Entertainment and mass-appeal doesn't require writing total bull. Stupidity is curable. - peterchen
(2) Well it does have a warning label on the cover - "this book is by Dan Brown", what more do you want? - Martin Beckett
[+53] [2008-09-25 14:14:52] jk.

The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage [1] is a 1990 book written by Clifford Stoll [2]. It is his first-person account of the hunt for a computer hacker who broke into a computer at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL).

I forgot to mention, ther is a Movie called " 23 [3]" wich covers the other side of the story.


This URL will redirect to the original one: - Graeme Perrow
Yes, but only because some one created a redirect in Wikipedia for this URL. But it fails to display correct when using [text][1] oder <a href="..."></a>. Both will be rendered as text and not as link. Even when the preview handles this without problems. - jk.
I actually have two copies of this book. Sadly out of print. - Rich
This is a great easy to read story that describes the feel of I.T. in the 80's. Even my mother enjoyed it. - Chris Samuels
@Rich - The books is still for sale on Amazon -… - rjzii
(1) The book isn't out of print, I just bought it. I enjoyed it a lot... the ending was a little anticlimatic for me but overall a very enjoyable read. - mmcdole
[+53] [2008-09-25 14:21:11] David McLaughlin

Microserfs [1] by Douglas Coupland.

Good reminder that, at the end of the day, programming is just a job and you need to make the most of the rest of your life too.


(1) Great book. Jpod is another more recent by Coupland but it was just ok whereas I really enjoyed Microserfs. - Alex Miller
Wow Microserfs was just wonderful. I just read JPod about two months ago, and I thought it was great too. Didn't have quite the same impact on me, but I still found myself wanting more when it was over. - Jerry
(1) I didn't really care for Microserfs. If you live and work in the US it might be able to relate to it a little more than I did. - cam8001
(1) I read Microserfs when I was ~14 and adored it, it was the first thing that made me consider programming as a career. - John Carter
[+35] [2008-09-25 14:57:25] Jonathan Webb

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency [1] by Douglas Adams.

One of the main characters is a programmer and it's a very funny novel. I love this book!


[+30] [2008-09-25 14:38:54] marc

Snow Crash [1] is the best, IMO. Of those not recommended by others, Michael Crichton's Prey [2] has some cool techy aspects.


I love Snow Crash - Jacob Krall
For programming-related, Snow Crash can't really me topped. Cryptonomicon is in another class altogether. - romandas
I would easily include all of Michael Crichton's books, not just Prey. While they're not all computer-esque, I'd dare someone to find a programmer that didn't appreciate the actual intelligence contained in every one of those books. - drharris
[+28] [2008-09-25 14:18:26] Vinko Vrsalovic

Any book by Stanislaw Lem [1].

I particularly liked:

  • A perfect vacuum
  • The futurological congress and, of course
  • The Cyberiad

They have made a small TV series in Germany called "Ijon Tichy", see <a href=""></a>;, it's very entertaining when you understand german (with a big polish accent). I don't know if there is any translated version available... - ComSubVie
(1) I Vote for "Cyberiad" - AJ.
(3) Lem's books truly are books for programmers. There are so many logic traps, looping problems, and use case mayhem scattered through his stories. Personally I can't wait until my son is about 6 or so to start reading Lem to him at bedtime! - defmeta
+1 for The futurological congress - Michał Piaskowski
[+23] [2008-09-25 14:31:22] MusiGenesis

I'd recommend the original Dune trilogy by Frank Herbert. Herbert imagines a future universe where humanity has risen up Luddite-style and destroyed all computers.

So it's a nice break from programming.

Actually, there were six original Dune books, and the final book (Chapterhouse: Dune) was nearly as good as the first one! - Brad Wilson
Sorry, I can still only recommend the original trilogy, although Dune: Messiah (#4) was OK. :) - MusiGenesis
I loved the original 6 books; his son Brian has produced another 9 (soon to be 12) from Frank Herbert's notes and discussions they had before he died. Well worth reading (and in a slightly more accessible style than the originals) - Mitch Wheat
Are you saying there are 15 Dune books currently? Is Dune a magazine now or something? - MusiGenesis
Dune: Excellent, Dune Messiah (2nd book): Eh, Children of Dune: Good, God Emperor of Dune: Good, the rest of the Frank Herbert ones: I don't know, I didn't read/couldn't finish them, Brian Herbert ones: Blech - Dune turned into Star Wars. Avoid. - CMPalmer
How much cooler would the 70's have been if George Lucas had thrown his special effects at a well-crafted SF universe like Dune instead of his own 10-year-old-boy nonsense? Jar-jar Binks might never have come into being. - MusiGenesis
@MusiGenesis - I see what you mean, but without the rabid 10-year-old fan boys (I was one of them) the first movie wouldn't have made enough money for the studio higher-ups to approve a sequel. Lucas didn't have the cash or the rep to call all the shots back then. - Sherm Pendley
@Sherm: I kind of don't think either the 10-year-old boys or the studio highers-up would have cared either way whether the story Lucas was telling was fundamentally stupid or not. Lucas has all the $$$ in the world now, but his stories are worse than ever. - MusiGenesis
Only ever liked the first book. I think I got though to Heretics of Dune and thought, "why bother?" - Evan
@MusiGenesis: Where do you think Lucas got the idea for the desrts of Tatooine? - Treb
@Treb: driving to Las Vegas, I would guess. I'd buy your thesis if Tatooine had been filled with giant sandworms, but then again maybe he was just saving the giant worms for that stupid scene in the asteroid belt. - MusiGenesis
[+20] [2008-09-25 14:56:39] corlettk

I love the classics:

"I, Robot" by Isaac Asimov

  • The three laws of Robotics.
  • Thoughtful and moving.
  • The movie did it no justice at all.

"2001: A Space Odyssey" by Arthur C Clarke

  • "What are you doing Dave?"
  • The movie did it no justice at all.

They're not exactly "programming novels" but they are excellent reads.

P.S.: I really loved The Cuckoo's Egg, and Neuromancer was good, but it lost me in places... Digital Fortress was pure crap coming (for me) after The Da Vinci Code.

The Digital Fortress is an excellent novel. Definitely a must! - ramayac
(4) It's a bit funny to accuse the movie of not doing it justice when Clarke wrote the novel using his own screenplay as a starting point. - Tommy Herbert
(4) The three laws should be on every compiler. those things are getting smart.. - Liran Orevi
@ramayac: It's not only crap, it's BAD crap. - Treb
[+18] [2008-09-25 14:56:44] CMPalmer

I'd suggest just about anything by Greg Egan, Rudy Rucker, Cory Doctorow, and/or Vernor Vinge. If I had to pick one from each:

Permutation City [1] by Greg Egan [2] A trippy novel about AI, human consciousness, virtual universes, and a lot more. Egan is an excellent novelist, but also a first rate hacker and his website has some cool Java apps that illustrate some of the concepts from his novels. Several free short stories on his site as well.

Postsingular [3] by Rudy Rucker [4] Rudy Rucker's books also play around with ideas about computer science, AI, and robotics. This latest novel of his examines ideas of what the world might be like after a technological singularity. Even better, the link above leads you to a page where you can download a free e-book!

Little Brother [5] by Cory Doctorow [6] Another hacker/blogger (he's one of the founders of Little Brother is a young adult SF novel set not too far in the future. Also available as a free download (actually all of Doctorow's books are available as CC-licensed downloads). Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is also great.

Rainbows End [7] by Vernor Vinge [8] Vinge was a computer science professor at UCSD and is an award winning SF writer. Rainbows End is another near future novel related to the concept of the Singularity [9]. Appropriate since Vinge coined the term and wrote the first papers on the concept. It was available as a download, but doesn't seem to be anymore.

None of these are "space opera" type SF, all are related to computer programming and computer science, and all of them are written by people who know a lot about computers, programming, hacking, and cutting edge research and trends.


Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom was good, but it was really hard to follow I thought ;-) - Anders Rune Jensen
+1 for Little Brother. Great book. - Kibbee
+1 for Greg Egan - his other work is worth checking out too - Chris Lätta
(1) Permutation City blew my mind. Egan is king of geek fiction. - timday
+1 for Vernor Vinge... and probably add in his "Deepness in the Sky", if only for the advantage one of the protagonists gains from some legacy system understanding. - Richard
[+17] [2008-09-25 14:15:12] paxdiablo

Not fiction but very good:

The soul of a new machine.

Thats a great Tracy Kidder - epatel
[+16] [2008-10-05 02:53:29] Rydell

Well the answers are now three pages in. I'm going to have to put in a vote for Ender's Game [1] by Orson Scott Card. It's a fast read, and enjoyable. I actually read it on a beach in St. Croix.


While an excellent story, how is it programming-related? - romandas
Ender's Game starts out awesome, but I feel like he didn't know how to end it. - cdmckay
I agree, it was a little disappointing in the end. And @romandas, I know it isn't programming related, but I couldn't resist. - Rydell
[+15] [2008-09-25 14:43:54] The Brawny Man

Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash are both really great. Stephenson also wrote a really great short book called In The Begining Was the Commandline [1] that was really interesting, and at one point free online in electronic format. I also read a book simply called Code a while back that was interesting,

EDIT: I was able to find the electronic copy of In The Begining Was the Commandline, which can be found HERE [2]


[+14] [2008-09-25 17:43:49] Lewis Baumstark

The Code Book by Simon Singh(a light history of crpytography/cryptanalysis) is the only non-fiction book I couldn't put down. I think I inhaled it in less than a day.

I'm currently reading Charles Stross' Accelerando and it's fun in a computer-geek way. The first several chapters are a constant barrage of "what-ifs" that come from extrapolating current tech (and tech policy) to near-ludicrous extremes.

It's Simon Singh, not 'Singe'. - talonx
[+12] [2008-09-25 14:34:36] user9282

(4) Masters of Doom was fantastic for nostalgic reasons. I'm not sure what interest it might hold for anyone who wasn't a part of the culture that grew around the id software games. - Trevor Bramble
+1 for iWoz, I found it a great book for something that was gifted to me. - Pat
[+11] [2008-09-25 14:32:22] Mark Biek

The Story of Ping [1]


Oh my, very funny. - Travis
+1 I don't know how they wrote it - UNIX wasn't around then! But the coincidence that the duck's name is Ping is truly incredible. - new123456
[+10] [2008-09-25 15:03:02] Konrad Rudolph

I must add a classic that is sadly missing: Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos [1]. Arguably the best far-future novel ever, apart from being one of the general all-time favourites, and it contains quite a bit of stuff related to programming (although that's not always the focus).


The Hyperion Cantos starts great, turns to crap, then staggers back to passable. It's Canterbury Tales in a distant galaxy but not as good. - Richard Morgan
“turns to crap” … “back to passable” – not my impressions. - Konrad Rudolph
Definitely up there amongst my favorite SF! - AR.
@Richard Morgan - I 100% disagree. Also, it's only modeled after Canterbury Tales in the first book. - cdmckay
Only read the 1st 2 books. The 2nd 2 are wretched. - Dinah
[+10] [2008-09-25 15:06:40] Jason

Neal Stephenson just published a new book, "Anathem". Almost 1000 pages - very dense read, but very good.

Daemon was also good.

Anathem is such a freaking good book. Took me about 100 pages before I had most of the glossary down but then it was all gravy there. - mmcdole
[+8] [2008-09-25 17:06:31] Timothy Lee Russell

I second The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy [1], which is about Earth, the computer created to figure out the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything.

Along the same lines, check out the Red Dwarf [2] novels which are a light and fun read.

My favorite author of all time is Philip K. Dick [3]. Your mind will be blown into tiny particles and then reassembled with a new outlook on life.


[+8] [2008-12-10 21:38:59] Phil.Wheeler

I'm surprised there's been no mention yet of any of Terry Pratchett [1]'s books. Any of his Discworld titles are well appreciated by the other devs I work with. They're a good, fun read and easy to get through after your brain has turned to putty after a tough day at the office.

Try The Colour of Magic [2] or Mort [3] for starters.


'Small Gods' is a good read. Interesting comments on religion. - Skizz
[+7] [2008-09-26 17:56:09] zaca

Brave new World. [1]
You are a Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta... or Epsilon?


For a moment I thought it was a guide about the popular word prosessor :S - Anax
[+6] [2008-09-25 14:26:14] Kodein

I'd suggest The Wiz Biz [1] by Rick Cook. It's a nice take on fantasy, having a programmer as the main character.


I Just read this based on your recommendation. Thanks! A very easy read with a simple plot but its fun, clever, cute and good. Coding plays a big role in the story. The programming language parts of it are pretty cool and well done. - Eric Johnson
Happy to have been of service. :) - Kodein
[+6] [2008-09-25 15:02:06] Dana

I'll add a vote for Pattern Recognition, also by William Gibson.

Neat story, easy read, good characters and touches on a lot of tech-related topics.

[+6] [2008-09-25 15:15:03] Ryan Spears

The best SF/programming/security novels that I have read recently include:

  • Cryptonomicon
  • Neuromancer
  • The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage
  • Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
  • Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software
  • Otherland
  • Halting State
  • Excession
  • The Code Book

You've read all of that? I hereby declare that I sincerely and vehemently envy you... :) - sundar
[+6] [2008-09-25 17:48:11] Kent Brewster

Forgot to mention my current favorite author, Charles Stross. Check out Accelerando, available at fine bookstores everywhere, or downloadable here:

Also don't miss either of the books featuring intrepid necro-IT agent Bob Howard, The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue.

Heck yes, here's a quote about the main character: In IP geek circles, Manfred is legendary; he's the guy who patented the business practice of moving your e-business somewhere with a slack intellectual property regime in order to evade licensing encumbrances. He's the guy [Continued] - Karl
He's the guy who patented using genetic algorithms to patent everything they can permutate from an initial description of a problem domain – not just a better mousetrap, but the set of all possible better mousetraps. - Karl
The best programming put down ever comes from Accelerando - "...[that person] has got to be more than a few methods short in the object factory..." - jschrab
[+5] [2008-09-25 16:35:02] Kent Brewster

See if you can run down " The Adolescence of P1 [1]," by Thomas J. Ryan:

Holds up extremely well, especially considering it was written in 1977.


That's a great book-- I remember reading it (and loving it) when it came out. - Michael Dorfman
Seconded, this is a real gem. - Mike
[+5] [2008-09-25 20:33:49] Geek

For your two week break in Spain I'd suggest you read something about Spain. It would do you good to read about the country while you are there.

Certainly, and as always I have a Rough Guide with me. - Ed Guiness
[+5] [2008-09-26 17:46:16] RonM

A lot of Neal Stephenson has been mentioned but my favourite apart from Cryptonomicon is Diamond Age.

[+5] [2008-09-29 07:50:27] Adam Davis

"Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond" by Gene Kranz.

From one review:

Gene Kranz was a flight director for most of the U.S. manned space program, and was on duty for some of the most critical events - including the first moon landing, and, of course the Apollo 13 accident.

In "Failure Is Not an Option," Kranz tells the story of Mission Control from the begining (he wrote some of the intial procedures manuals) through the Space Shuttle program. He shows how the ground controllers developed into a team, not only with each other, but with the astronauts on board the spacecraft.

Kranz may not be the most polished writer, but this is a first-person account from someone who helped make history. One of the things I really liked about the book is that Kranz not only took detailed notes during the missions (that was his first flight assignment), but he held on to them and used them to provide a more detailed account than I have seen before of the key missions from the perspective of Mission Control. He doesn't pull punches, and he's not afraid to admit mistakes, and this gives this book an air of honesty that you don't always find in an autobiography.

[+4] [2008-09-26 18:13:43] Ben L

I'm surprised no-one's mentioned Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy [1] yet. The first one is called Red Mars and is followed by Blue Mars then Green Mars. You can probably guess the general theme. They're all fairly lengthy - just one of them would keep you busy a while.

I suppose you'd call it 'future history' as they give a pretty comprehensive view of what the colonisation of Mars might be like in the near future. It's fiction with quite a bit of politics, sociology, geography, technology and geology thrown in. Epic!


[+3] [2008-09-25 14:12:24] Brian Ensink

You could read Stephenson's next book after Cryptonomicon: Quicksilver.

...except for that it kinda sucks. - Jason Sundram
Disagree! Quicksilver, and the entire Baroque Trilogy, was an epic, unbelievable dense, analysis of human evolution in terms of how money, and abstracting what money represents, have raised our culture up. Plus, they were a swashbucklingly good read! - defmeta
The Baroque Trilogy as a whole was a great read. Quicksilver by itself was the worst of them, I would not consider it a good read other then to get to the other books in the trilogy. - Primetime
[+3] [2008-09-25 14:18:29] Marcos Bento

I have read "The Deadline: A Novel About Project Management" by Tom DeMarco a couple of month ago. It is not essentially focused on programming activities, but it takes a funny look at all software development process.

I saw many of my mistakes (and virtues) detailed by the story of this book!

That sounds like the ultimate horror novel to me... - CMPalmer
[+3] [2008-09-25 14:21:44] Kevin Fairchild

Not strictly "programming", but Daemon [1] by Daniel Suarez (sometimes listed under the pseudonym Leinad Zeraus) is a pretty good read. ...and, of course, anything by William Gibson is usually a good choice.


Daemon's sequel, Freedom(tm), is also excellent. - Ophidian
I LOVED Daemon and will be getting Freedom soon. Daemon is going to be made into a movie BTW. - HitLikeAHammer
[+3] [2008-09-25 14:22:55] codeulike

Turing: A Novel About Computation by CH Papadimitriou

"Our hero is Turing, an interactive tutoring program and namesake (or virtual emanation?) of Alan Turing, World War II code breaker and father of computer science. In this unusual novel, Turing's idiosyncratic version of intellectual history from a computational point of view unfolds in tandem with the story of a love affair involving Ethel, a successful computer executive, Alexandros, a melancholy archaeologist, and Ian, a charismatic hacker."

[+3] [2008-09-25 17:31:34] Jerry

I happily second any recommendations of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Microserfs or JPod.

I also enjoyed Close to the Machine by Ellen Ullman. Not fiction, more of a memoir; entertaining stories and interesting characters.

[+3] [2008-09-25 18:43:00] Yorgos Pagles

"Dreaming In Code" [1] by Scott Rosenberg is an excellent book, although I don't know if it counts for a novel. It's more like a documentary.


[+3] [2008-09-25 18:57:00] bill weaver

Since you're looking for a programming novel, The Adolescence of P1 [1] by Thomas J Ryan has to be on your list. As mentioned, it holds up well--though the first chunk of it is kinda trashy.

Another, better, read is Enigma [2], by Robert Harris. It's a historical novel about cracking the Nazi codes, Turing, and all that intrigue.

Browse cyberpunk reading lists [3] for other ideas, but they're often not related to programming, per se, but rather electronic fantasy (usually nightmare) worlds. The Matrix is pretty typical of this genre.

Probably the first of these that i--and many others--read was Gibson's Neuromancer [4], followed by Count Zero [5], Mona Lisa Overdrive [6], Burning Chrome [7], and Johnny Mnemonic [8].

Other interesting reads include True Names [9] by Vernor Vinge, Blood Music [10] by Greg Bear and most of Bruce Sterling's work.


[+3] [2008-09-25 19:59:16] TonyOssa

Not exactly "the best", but worthy enough for this list.

The Bug (Ellen Ullman) [1]


This is my all-time favourite programming novel, though I've probably only read 2 or 3 in total :) - Dónal
I really like this book. A proper novel and about real coding. How many code review meetings do you see in novels? - Abizern
[+3] [2008-09-29 15:41:53] derby

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time [1] ... since it appears a good number of devs and admins display Asperger like personalities.


[+3] [2008-11-03 14:22:26] Stephen Darlington

" The First $20 Million Is Always The Hardest [1]," Po Bronson


[+3] [2008-12-02 23:58:57] Anders Rune Jensen

Read Peopleware [1]. It might look like a book only for managers, but it's filled with lots of great stories and tips about how to get in flow, how to not break flow and how to get motivated. I know it's not a novel, but you'll thank me after reading it :)


[+3] [2009-01-08 12:37:24] Jonas Elfström

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein is not about programming but it might help you to grok grok.

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard Feynman also not exactly programming related but a lot of interresting problem solving and that never hurts.

[+3] [2010-05-26 16:53:07] SztupY

Although it's more of a non-fiction than a fiction Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid from Douglas Hofstadter is a good book to get.

GEB cover [1]


For sure. Blew my mind when I read it as a teen. - Ed Guiness
[+2] [2008-09-25 14:43:00] StubbornMule

There is the Wiz series by Rick Cook [1]. I loved that series. A programmer gets transported to a world of magic and fun ensues.

There is the Otherworld [2] series by Tad Williams. It is about a group of people that get trapped in a VR world.

I also liked Caverns of Socrates [3] by Dennis L. McKiernan.


[+2] [2008-09-25 18:48:04] Martin

Diaspora [1] by Greg Egan. In fact, just buy all his books and take them with you - they are short enough to read in a single sitting and great to boot!


[+2] [2008-09-26 01:11:49] rickumali

I highly recommend The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker. This is a mesmerizing story about an office worker's one afternoon at work. It's got spellbinding detail, and when you're on vacation, I think it'll make you appreciate your time off even more.

[+2] [2008-10-05 01:06:02] Rich

Greg Egan — Diaspora [1]. If ever there was a novel about programming reality, this is it.

(Apparently not readily available in paperback, but here's the Amazon linkage [2])


[+2] [2008-10-05 03:13:32] HokeyWhiteBoy

There are a whole bunch of books on the subject, but I read this the other day and literally could not put it down... which it pretty damn amazing given the subject matter!

The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer [1]


The Gibson/Sterling book of the same name is also worth reading! - Stephen Darlington
+1 I'm reading this right now. His personal story is a little depressing but true genius is never recognized until years later when everyone else has caught up. That said, it's still a good read. - Dhaust
[+2] [2008-10-13 15:30:19] Ed Davies

The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner. Old (1975), but in some ways prescient, view of society dominated by ubiquitous networking and (perhaps overblown - though I'm not sure) effects of too-rapid change.

[+2] [2008-11-11 17:11:55] Matthew Scouten

The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect [1] is an odd but fun story of a post singularity dystopia.


[+2] [2008-11-11 17:40:44] apolinsky

Though dated, (who nowadays uses a Data General???) I loved The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder.


[+2] [2009-10-02 00:49:27] λ Jonas Gorauskas

The Glass Bead Game [1] by Hermann Hesse [2]


[+2] [2011-01-14 18:49:00] MPelletier

For the sake of completeness, Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer [1].

Wherein a young lady receives an AI book which is programmed to educate her and give her the proper tools in life.

SPOILER: She learns programming via her avatar in the book, who learns how to program Turing machines!


[+1] [2008-09-25 14:17:08] Mitch Wheat

"This Alien Shore" by CS Friedman

"Snow Crash" by Neal Stephensen

Non-Fiction, but an interesting read nevertheless, "The Medical Detectives" by Berton Roueche

[+1] [2008-09-25 14:20:47] Graeme Perrow

Fire in the Valley [1] is the history of the PC, beginning with the Altair, Jobs and Wozniak forming Apple, Gates and Allen forming Microsoft, and lots of other people and companies who were instrumental in the creation of the industry. It's long but interesting.

The Cuckoo's Egg is also very good.


The movie based on the book, Pirates of Silicon Valley, is really good , too. - user9282
[+1] [2008-09-25 14:37:04] mattruma

I just finished Fox Tales [1] by Kerry Nietz ... fantastic book about a software development company!

Fox Tales

This memoir of Fox Software details the company's growth from a college professor's side project to a 300-employee organization before its acquisition by Microsoft for $160 million in the early 1990s. Recounted are the...


[+1] [2008-09-25 15:01:20] RAGNO

The Blue Nowhere by Jeffery Deaver, its a fantsastic hacker/ crime thriller which is set in the very early 90's. A fantastic read and a genuinly unique story.

[+1] [2008-09-25 15:06:55] lucusc

I just finished The Raw Shark Texts [1] by Steven Hall. It was a really good book which had me reading furiously. I think I have to read it again soon. It is a great tale with lots of twists and quarks.


[+1] [2008-09-25 15:51:14] flamingLogos

If you like spy novels like The Cuckoo's Egg, read both sides of the Kevin Mitnick story with Takedown [1] by Tsutomu Shimomura and John Markoff, and with The Fugitive Game [2] by Jonathan Littman.

Shimomura, a computer security expert that Mitnick allegedly targeted, and Markoff, a New York Times writer, tell the glamorous side of the story of a dangerous criminal mastermind. And Littman, a journalist who knew Mitnick at the time, tells a much different story of the events and raises questions about the motives behind the former book's authors.

Both books are worth checking out if you enjoy computer espionage stories, especially since the stories events that inspired them are true.


[+1] [2008-09-25 17:50:23] Chris

Coding Bob Reselman.

[+1] [2008-09-25 19:32:02] Jason

Max Barry writes very funny novels. Not strictly computer related, but "Company" was about being a drone inside a large corporation.

[+1] [2008-09-25 20:51:02] Jennifer

Personally, I spent my holiday reading no programming books - as much as I love my job, it is a holiday remember! If you want to look at it as a learning experience, allowing yourself to explore other classics (maybe more Kafka than Austen if you like) bends your brain in a different way so you can come back with a different perspective on things. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance gets kind of close...

... code complete would have taken me over the luggage limit !

Yes indeed, that's why I'm looking for novels rather than non-fiction. - Ed Guiness
[+1] [2008-09-26 05:27:02] jake

i can't believe that no one has mentioned Jason K Chapman [1]'s The Heretic [2] i must be getting old or something


[+1] [2008-09-26 18:01:44] Leigh Caldwell

On another thread, someone recommended The Pillars of the Earth [1] by Ken Follett. I'm now halfway through it and it's pretty good. So far, the advertised similarity of cathedral-building to software-building is only vaguely apparent, but that doesn't stop it being a very enjoyable novel.


[+1] [2008-09-26 18:17:56] JesperE

Chasm City [1] by Alastair Reynolds.


[+1] [2008-09-26 18:30:22] Milner

I liked Arthur C. Clarke's Rama series, though it's not nearly as dense as some others listed here. I'm going to check out Stephenson's Anathem (which was recommended above) as I've heard good things about it. Good thing I'm going on holiday in Canada next week!

[+1] [2008-10-05 00:49:59] just mike

i've always liked "ME" by Thomas T. Thomas [1]:

ME by Thomas T. Thomas [2]

it reminds me very much of "The Adolescence of P1".


[+1] [2008-10-05 01:18:52] Knobloch

Cubicle Farm Fantasy: An Indian IT worker's dream about escaping the rat race

This book was written by a good friend and mentor of mine at the first company I worked for. It is really funny to think of him as the main character of this book.

[+1] [2008-10-05 02:37:07] questzen

There is a lucid narration by 'Simon Singh' about fermat's last theorem. He narrates about the various contributions that have finally led to the solution and they themselves are worth every penny. Thanks for the interesting post by the way.

[+1] [2008-11-03 14:35:05] Klelky

JPod [1] - for voting purposes since I haven't seen it listed on its own in the answers yet. I liked it better than Microserfs.


[+1] [2008-11-04 10:22:58] user34043
  1. Soul of A New Machine -- Tracey Kidder

  2. Showstopper -- G. Pascal Zachary.

  3. Boo Hoo -- Ernst Malmsted.

[+1] [2008-11-04 10:35:35] peterchen

+1 for Snow Crash. It's tightly packed, intense, for me the best new book in the recent years - including any non-sci fi

His Baroque cycle though, not so much. To much meandering, to inconclusive, incoherent. It does have goodness, but not everyone is willing to put up with the packaging. It's very polarizing for Stephenson fans: you might love it, or it might bore you stiff and stinky.

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland. Interesting is to see which things have changed, and which didn't.

Not strictly programming, but in a similar cloud: Spin by Robert Wilson. Very bold setup, excellently executed and - against my expectations - the resolution doesn't fall short. The followup, Axis is good but can't compete.

[+1] [2009-01-08 13:22:10] Paul Mitchell

Mr Bunny's Guide to ActiveX.

The funniest coding book ever written. Also

Mr Bunny's Big Cup O'Java

Not quite so funny.

[+1] [2009-01-09 01:32:32] Doubting Thomas

The Commodore C64 user manual.

(1) LOL! I still have this somewhere!! In Spanish! - Mauricio Scheffer
[+1] [2009-04-08 06:18:50] Cadoo

Catch 22 - Joseph Heller - One of my favourite books I have ever read. It will ring true with any one who has been part of large organization. This book is both very funny and tragic.
1984 - George Orwell - I was hesitant to read this but glad I finally did.
Brave New World & Brave New World Revisted & The Island - Aldous Huxley - BNW revisited is a series of essays about the topics in BNW(slightly dated but cool).
Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger- Awesome
Ham on Rye - Charles Bukowski - For the more brave. Beowulf - Cool fable.
robot series(Caves of Steel) or Foundation - Isaac Asimov
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky - Kind of a hard read but I found it amazing.

A great list! And a nice way to make the point that classics dwarf programming novels ;-) - Vincent Buck
[+1] [2009-10-02 01:11:18] Abby Fichtner

Nonfiction, but awesome awesome stories about some totally kick ass programmers:

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy [1]

Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution by Michael Rubin [2]

Oh and equally cool in the hardware space:

The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray and the Technical Wizards Behind the Supercomputer by Charles Murray [3]


[+1] [2010-04-14 09:42:55] Mel

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth (Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos Papadimitriou)

A graphic novel based on the life of logician and philosopher Bertrand Russell. Great artwork, great story and I really liked their narrative style.

[+1] [2010-05-26 16:54:13] Nathan

River of Gods - by Ian McDonald

Depicts a 21st century India where Artificial intelligences take the roles of common gods. not much programming in the book, but the author is definitely intelligent and keyed into the nuances of a programmer's interests.

[+1] [2010-06-20 15:42:59] Adrian

William Gibson's - All Tomorrow's Parties [1]


William Gibson - almost everything :) - peterchen
[0] [2008-09-25 14:13:02] tjrobinson

There's Dan Brown's Digital Fortress [1] but I've heard it's not very good.

Update: See comments.


You never know, you might like it... - tjrobinson
Not down-modding you, but it sucks. - Bill the Lizard
(1) I've read it, its not completely terrible, but its nothing compared to Cryptonomicon. - Brian Ensink
(1) Don't waste your time. - Alex Miller
Sounds like the comments I've heard about it from others are correct then. Should I just delete the answer or leave it in here for reference? - tjrobinson
Well, I found it amusing. Every five minutes, it was like "code doesn't work that way". A very refreshing rant was had by all. It helped that I was able to rant about it to one of my colleagues who was also reading it... - Bill Michell
(1) Leave it as a warning to others. - Bill the Lizard
I think it's the only programming novel I have read and it wasn't that bad, but you know what they say: "De gustibus non est disputandum". - hyperboreean
[0] [2008-12-02 14:55:28] Geoglyph

The Atrocity Archive and The Jennifer Morgue, both by Charles Stross. Maybe more sysadmin than programming, but definitely worth reading - biting satire. Saving the world involves a surprising amount of meetings.

Not programming related, but also recommended - the Merchant Princes series, also by Charles Stross.

[0] [2008-12-06 23:28:12] David Rodríguez - dribeas

For those that can read spanish and manage to grab a hold of a quite unknown novel:

No he venido aquí a hacer amigos from Jaime Miranda.

The author is a consultant and programmer, and the novel is a hilarious road novel with the main character traveling with the corpse of his manager in search of a witch to resurrect him. It does have quite a strong criticism against how managers deal with programmers and viceversa

[0] [2008-12-08 22:15:42] Tommy Herbert

Big If, by Mark Costello.

alt text [1]


[0] [2008-12-08 22:31:51] Travis

I don't know that it's 'the best' book, but an entertaining read (if not without problems) is "Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of Kevin Mitnick, America's Most Wanted Computer Outlaw-By the Man Who Did It" [1]

A lot of people who care a lot have complained about this book, but if you're just looking for a light read, it's quite enjoyable (if a bit old).


[0] [2008-12-12 00:13:57] defmeta

Some great suggestions in these 3 pages of answers but no-one's mentioned Theodore Sturgeon [1] yet!

2 I'd recommend for programmers:

More than Human [2] - this was the book that blew me away and made me a Sturgeon fan. Thinking back on it now, it may have effected how I ended up understanding OOP.

The Cosmic Rape [3] - The copy I read was titled To Marry Medusa under which it was also released as a shorter version. It is a brilliant speculation on the idea of the hive mind.


[0] [2009-01-08 12:20:59] CodeAndCats

I'd recommend Prey by Michael Crichton. It's about a nanobots escaping a lab and becoming a threat to our species.

[0] [2009-01-08 13:36:55] jules

jPOD by Douglas Coupland - the trials and tribulations of life in a dead end games programming team. Very funny, an easy read, and lots of programming, tech, web references.

[0] [2009-01-08 13:46:45] Ronny Brendel

I like the Dune [1] Saga very much (the books by Frank Herbert). Although it is kind of hard to begin with. Beginning with second or third book I'd say it is really good.


unfortunately somehow the brackets are not part of the url - Ronny Brendel
You need to escape them as my edit shows. (Also, I moved the link into the body of the text.) - Jon Ericson
[0] [2009-01-11 01:57:44] Jami

Since JPod is spoken for (and rightly so), I enjoyed Headcrash.

Neither JPod nor Headcrash [1] is the second coming of Cryptonomicon, but they're both fun reads.


[0] [2009-01-27 17:09:36] Eric Johnson

The Ultimate Rush by Joe Quirk.

Bomb deactivator. Crack dealer. SWAT rifleman. My job will kill you faster than any of these. And it won't just kill you; it'll crush you to a pulpy clot on the streets of San Francisco.

Read the rest of Chapter 1 [1] online.

cover art [2]


[0] [2009-02-27 19:32:11] cdmckay

I thoroughly enjoyed Red Mars [1] by Kim Stanley Robinson. It chronicles the terraforming and settling of Mars. For some reason I think of it as a programming novel, maybe because solving the problem of settling Mars reminds me of solving some difficult programming problems.

Edit: Whoops, someone already posted this.

alt text


[0] [2010-07-16 16:05:05] user394073

the Millenium trilogy by Stieg Larsson:

Almost pulp, but oh so entertaining. And a hacker that kicks ass.