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Computer Books


I've got quite a large collection of computing books ranging from computer humour ("PC Roadkill", "The Devouring Fungus") through to programming ("C Programmer's Guide to Serial Communications", "Tricks of the Game Programming Gurus") and along the way taking in microprocessors, history, companies, hardware, operating systems, etc. The collection is too large to add it to this site all in one go, I'll try to add it bit by bit. Many of these books have sample chapters available for reading on Amazon, so I've included links to Amazon where available for those that would like to buy a book or read reviews or sample chapters (just click on the book's title to be whisked off to Amazon).

Gaming | Hacking | Hardware | History | Humour | Microprocessors | Operating Systems
Programming | Software


Game On! From Pong to Oblivion - The 50 Greatest Video Games of All Times
by Simon Byron, Ste Curran, David McCarthy

A lavishly illustrated book that tries to select the 50 greatest video games of all time. Any book that claims to rate the best of anything is bound to draw criticism and I certainly would argue with many of the choices that the authors selected. Some of the games I'd never heard of, while others I would consider "interesting" but not "great".

If you're into retro-gaming then you'll be sadly disappointed at the authors selections. A break down of the games by the decade they were released in:

Decade Games Selected
70's 3
80's 4
90's 15
00's 28

Clearly the authors don't rank early games from the 70's and 80's very highly, and predictably they've chosen games such as Space Invaders, Pacman, and Asteroids from this period. The book is filled with quite a bit of hype, in some places even contradicting itself (in the section on The Sims the authors say it is "the number one best selling game of all time" but in the Super Mario Bros 3 section they say "the most successful videogame of all time, selling 18 million copies").

Still, the book is fantastically illustrated and is worthwhile just for the imagery if not the game selection and prose.


High Score! The Illustrated History of Electronic Games
by Rusel DeMaria, Johnny L. Wilson

This is a photo-filled look back at our favourite electronic games, the personal histories of the people who made them and the history of an industry that rose from obscurity to mass-market popularity in 30 years.

There's only one word that adequately describes this book: "lavish". The authors must have put in a fantastic amount of time doing all the research and tracking down the hundreds of photos: pictures of developers, screen-shots, box-shots, etc.

This is definitely a five stars out of five book!

Joystick Nation: How Videogames Ate Our Quarters, Won Our Hearts, and Rewired Our Minds
by J. C. Herz

Joystick Nation traces the brief history of computerized entertainment – the industry and its social effects – through the prism of someone who was born the same year as the first coin-operated videogame.

I had high hopes for this book but by the time I had reached the last page I was very disappointed. The hard facts are few and far between and many pages are devoted to the author's own interpretations and ideas on why games are popular (a little bit too psychological for my tastes).


Hugo Cornwall's New Hacker's Handbook
by Steve Gold

Written back in the late 80's when hacking (in the meaning of illegal entry of computer systems) was all the rage. I personally hate the way these kids took the honourable word of "hacker" and subverted it for their own means. Would-be hackers probably wouldn't get much out of this book, it's mostly to do with how targets are found, social engineering to get info, and basic computer comms stuff. Some techniques are briefly outlined but not gone into in any real detail.

Out of the Inner Circle : The True Story of a Computer Intruder Capable of Cracking the Nation's Most Secure Computer Systems
by Bill Landreth

While this book was an interesting read when it first came out in 1985 it has dated considerably. It was written around the time when the media were getting interested in hacking and there were a few high-profile cases. Lots of people were coming forward and admitting they were "ex-hackers" and were trying to cash in on the public interest. My copy of this book even has the typical photo of the author with a black box over his eyes!

The New Hacker's Dictionary
by Eric S. Raymond

"Hacker" as in the original meaning of the word. Based on the famous Jargon File, this book is full of in-jokes, slang and clever essays from the early days of computing at MIT's AI lab and Stanford's AI lab. Now you can get the definitive meaning of "foobar"!

While I was on holiday in Australia in 2001 I found a copy of "The Hacker's Dictionary" in a second-hand bookshop. This is the first edition, published in 1983. Only 139 pages long, I believe this was the first publication of the Jargon File. I don't know if this book is rare, but since I had never seen a copy I bought it for AU$6.00


Computer Connection Mysteries Solved
by Graham Wideman

I bought this book back in the 80's when I first started playing around with modems and bulletin boards. It mainly covers RS-232, parallel, video and MIDI interfaces, but also touches on keyboards, joysticks, mice, etc. Very good descriptions on various pinouts, what the different signals are used for, etc.

Upgrading and Repairing PCs
by Scott Mueller

Undoubtedly one of the best series of books on PC hardware. The book is regularly updated with new editions coming out regularly to cover new hardware and software advances. This book presents updated coverage of every significant PC component: processors, motherboards, memory, BIOS, IDE and SCSI interfaces, drives, removable and optical storage, video and audio hardware, USB, FireWire, Internet connectivity, LAN's, power supplies, even PC cases. Also included is a detailed troubleshooting index designed to help readers rapidly diagnose more than 250 common PC hardware problems, as well as an extensive vendor contact guide, and a comprehensive PC technical glossary.


Electronic Brains
by Mike Hally

I first heard a series of 15 minute radio programmes on BBC Radio 4 called "Electronic Brains - Stories from the Dawn of the Computer Age" sometime in the mid 2000's. I was intrigued by these stories and while visiting the Science Museum in London I actually got to see one of the computers mentioned in the radio series; the Phillips Machine (invented by the New Zealander Bill Phillips, this was a hydraulic computer that pumped water around to simulate a national economy). Also while in London I picked up a copy of this book, which goes into much more depth than the radio series.

The computer that intrigued me the most was the LEO, invented by the J. Lyons and Co British company, famous for their tea shops throughout the UK, and designed to handle the company's accounts and logistics.

The remaining computers mentioned in this book (the ABC, EDSAC, ENIAC, UNIVAC, IBM 360, etc) have received quite a bit of recognition in other books, with the exception of what the Russians were doing.

The History of Computers
by Les Freed

Includes lots of gorgeous photos and colour illustrations. Time span is from the early mechanical calculators of the 1600's through to the ubiquitous PC of the late 1990's. Only 150 odd pages, tends to focus more on the hardware than the people.

Inside Intel
by Tim Jackson

The history of how Intel came into being and some of the people behind the company. Lots of interviews with the people that work (or worked) at Intel and an insight into the company's culture.

Piloting Palm: The Inside Story of Palm, Handspring and the Birth of the Billion Dollar Handheld Industry
by Andrea Butter and David Pogue

The history of how Palm came into being and its successes and failures along the way. Written by someone who was there for part of the journey, this is an interesting book for anyone that is into computer history or start-up computer companies from Silicon Valley.

The Palm Pilot was the first really successful handheld computer. Originally conceived from an idea of Jeff Hawkins, who brought Donna Dubinsky on board as CEO to start a company to develop what eventually became the Palm Pilot.

My only criticism is that the story appears to be somewhat sugar-coated. It is overly enthusiastic and makes it appear that Hawkins and Dubinsky can do no wrong. The story is short on technological details and long on struggles for survival and success, which means that there is very little nitty-gritty detail that I really would have enjoyed reading about, such as why certain design decisions were made. Also there is no mention of the numerous lawsuits that have been bought against Palm:

Whether these lawsuits had any merit or not, I still would have liked to read about them and what Palm did to defend themselves.

by Allan Lundell

Published in 1989, this book is seriously showing its age. But never-the-less the interviews with early virus hunters (i.e. John McAfee, who at the time was driving around in an old camper van that had been converted into a traveling viral laboratory) and virus writers (i.e. Basit and Amjad Farooq Alvi, the two Pakistani brothers that created the Pakistani Brain virus) are insightful and historical.

An interesting appendix covers the Morris Worm (also known as the Internet Worm) in some detail.

The Pegasus Story: A history of a vintage British computer
by Simon Lavington

This is the history of the innovative British-designed computer named Pegasus (first delivered in 1956). The Pegasus Story discusses the origins of the Pegasus project from wartime know-how through to the involvement of Ferranti Ltd, giving tribute to the remarkable achievements of the individuals involved in the design and building of this vintage computer. The book details the technical aspects of Pegasus from an engineering and programming perspective, as well as comparing its performance with other contemporary designs and modern PC's.

I first came across the Pegasus computer while visiting the Science Museum in London where they have the 25th Pegasus machine to be built in full working order. A little note said that a book about the Pegasus was available for purchase from the museum's bookshop. I duly tracked down a copy and devoured it cover to cover (not a long task as the book is only 58 pages long). The author writes in a very easy to follow style that makes reading the book a joy. Included are many excellent black and white photos of the Pegasus hardware and the key individuals involved in the creation of the Pegasus.


PC Roadkill
by Michael Hyman

A very funny book about the people, companies, products, trade shows, jokes, etc, that made the computer industry what it is today. Lots of funny stories and interesting facts. Techno geeks only!

The Devouring Fungus: Tales of the Computer Age
by Karla Jennings

This book is filled with anecdotes about computers and their devotees. You know the kind, a friend of a friend swears it really happened to them. Like the computer technician who asked a user to mail over a copy of a floppy disk and then received a photocopy of the disk. Or the phone support person who told the user to "Press any key to continue" and the user asked "Which is the 'any' key?"

The Devouring Fungua is a clearly written, and highly amusing, history of the beginnings of computers and the society surrounding them. Iillustrated with cartoons by Garry Trudeau, Rich Tennant and others.


68000, 68010, 68020 Primer
by Stan Kelly-Bootle and Bob Fowler

I bought this book back in the 80's when I was interested in doing some assembly programming on my Atari ST. Lots of good detail and covers all the stuff you'd expect to see in a microprocessor book (instruction set, addressing modes, etc). Also contains a very handy reference card.

Introduction to 6800 6802 Microprocessor Systems : Hardware, Software, and Experimentation
by R J Simpson and T J Terrell

Actually one of the first computer books I ever owned! Back in the Christmas of 1982 my father bought the family a Panasonic JR-100 home computer. It was a bit like the old Sinclair Spectrum, except it had a Motorola 6802 at its heart and a black and white display. I used this book to teach myself assembly programming (actually it was more like machine-code programming as I didn't have an assembler for the JR-100 and so had to hand assemble my programs and run a little JR-BASIC program that POKEd the programs into memory).

Operating Systems

A Practical Approach to Operating Systems
by Malcolm G. Lane and James D. Mooney

A comprehensive introduction to the study of the internals of operating systems. Used in many university courses. Covers process management and scheduling, user interface, interrupts, I/O, device management, memory management, file system, security, accounting and much more.

An Introduction to Operating Systems
by Harvey M. Deitel

An old text book from my tech days. Includes all the usual stuff you need to know: process management, storage management, networking, security, etc. Case studies on UNIX, VMS, CP/M, MVS and VM. I notice that the latest edition has changed these case studies to include OS/2, MS-DOS and Macintosh.

Operating Systems: Design And Implementation
by Andrew S. Tanenbaum and Albert S. Woodhull

Covers fundamental operation systems concepts such as processes, interprocess communication, input-output, virtual memory, file systems, and security. What's interesting about this book is that they created a small OS called MINIX to illustrate various concepts.

PICK for Professionals : Advanced Methods and Techniques
by Harvey E. Rodstein

An in-depth look at PICK. Covers file management, PICK/BASIC, list processing, process control, ACCESS programming, security, etc.

Practical Linux
by M. Drew Streib, Michael Turner, et al.

A very useful reference that isn't tied to any particular distribution. All the usual command line stuff is here, as well as lots of configuration and administration information, basic shell programming and kernel management, hardware configuration, etc. This book is valuable as a reference and a how-to guide.

UNIX : The Complete Reference : System V Release 3
by Stephen Coffin

I've never really liked UNIX (how does anyone remember those obscure command names?!?) but this book helped a lot. Covers commands, editing, shells, file system, etc.


C Programmer's Guide to Serial Communications
by Joe Campbell

650 pages of theoretical and practical discussion on the fundamentals of asynchronous comms, error-checking methods, flow-control, file-transfer protocols (XMODEM and Kermit, remember those?), modems, RS-232 interface, UARTs, interrupts, etc. All from a C programmers perspective. Also has an awesome ASCII wall chart.

Crafting A Compiler
by Charles N. Fischer and Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr

If you've ever wondered how a compiler works, or wanted to write your own, then this is the book for you! Covers scanning, grammars and parsing, symbol tables, run-time storage, data and control structures, code generation, optimisation, etc.

Software Engineering
by Ian Sommerville

Quite a good introduction to software engineering. Good diagrams, nice bite-sized chunks, quite a broad coverage of different topics; I found this book quite useful.

Pure Visual Basic
by Dan Fox

Pure Visual Basic is a substantial and focused reference for professional programmers. This book begins with an accelerated introduction to Visual Basic concepts from projects, forms, and controls to using the Windows API, debugging, and error handling. The heart of Pure Visual Basic is the hundreds of programming techniques, complete with well-commented code examples that you can immediately use in your own VB programs.

Covers VB 6. More for the professional programmer rather than the beginner.

Visual Basic 6 Unleashed
by Rob Thayer

Visual Basic 6 Unleashed provides comprehensive coverage of the most sought after topics in Visual Basic programming. This book provides the reader with a comprehensive reference to virtually all the topics that are used in today's leading-edge Visual Basic applications. An excellent choice for the experienced VB developer that is interested in true RAD development, and in utilizing some of the latest hot technologies.

This book is not an introduction to VB as it assumes the reader knows how to program in Visual Basic. Instead this is a book for intermediate to advanced users.

Topics that are introduced and described: how to utilize the rich features of the 6.0 development environment, TAPI, SAPI, MAPI, ADO, socket programming, ActiveX servers and controls, Windows API, DHTML, help systems, and more.

I found this book to be an invaluable addition to my collection, and always keep it within easy reach.

Code Complete
by Steve McConnell

A practical reference to software construction from design through to testing. Includes examples in C, Pascal, BASIC, and Fortran. The concepts discussed in Code Complete are applicable to any procedural language in any computing environment. The presentation, intended to help developers take strategic action rather than fight the same battles again and again, includes some 500 examples of code (both good and bad), along with checklists for assessment of architecture, design approach, and module and routine quality.

Like Brook's classic, "The Mythical Man-Month", Code Complete offers practical advice on the real-world challenges of software development. If you write code for a living then you need to read this book. The advice is valid across all procedural programming languages. This book will help you to become a valuable member of any coding team by teaching you how to write solid code that will be easy to extend and maintain.

This book has to be one of the best practical guides to writing commercial software. I highly recommended it.


The Official XTree, Ms-DOS & Hard Disk Companion
by Beth Woods

XTree was one of those great programs that once used it was impossible to do without. This book covered all the ins and outs of the program. For those people that still long for the power of XTree you should check out ZTree, a text-mode file / directory manager for Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2K/XP. ZTree is a 32-bit app that supports long filenames and isn't limited to 640K (now you can log an unlimited number of files and disks!)


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