This article is part of the article series "My Top 100 Programming, Computer and Science Books."
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Hey everyone! Here's part three of my 100 favorite programming, computer and science books. If you're just joining, please see part one and part two for introduction.

This time I'll be sharing my favorite books about Unix, logic programming, thermodynamics, and mathematical foundations of computer science.

In one of the next posts I'll create a neat pdf with all the books listed so far and keep updating it as I write more posts.

If you're interested in this article series, you can subscribe to rss feed of my blog and follow me on twitter for updates.

My bookshelf.

Here are this week's five books.

#11 The Unix Haters Handbook (free pdf)

The Unix Haters Handbook (pdf).

This book is true Unix classic. If you know and love Unix, you'll love this book. This is one of the first books I ever read and I love it. I'm a huge fan of Unix and computing history and this book taught me tons of facts and trivia about both topics. It contains hundreds of hilarious stories about what Unix gets wrong (and also right). It's a bit outdated but for true geeks it shouldn't matter, it's still a very fun read.

Here's what preface says about Unix: Modern UNIX is a catastrophe. It's the "Un-Operating System": unreliable, unintuitive, unforgiving, unhelpful, and underpowered. Little is more frustrating than trying to force UNIX to do something useful and nontrivial. Modern UNIX impedes progress in computer science, wastes billions of dollars, and destroys the common sense of many who seriously use it. An exaggeration? You won't think so after reading this book.

Chapter 1 is called Unix is the world's first computer virus, and this is how the book illustrates C++ is written:

How C++ is written according to The Unix Haters Handbook.

If you want a physical copy there are some used copies at Amazon and eBay. Just don't expect used copies to come with a Unix barf bag as it's probably been used by the reader already. :)

Unix barf bag that comes with the book.

Authors: Simson Garfinkel, Daniel Weise, and Steven Strassmann.

#12 Unix and Linux System Administration Handbook

Unix and Linux System Administration Handbook.

I call this book the Unix bible. I got this book (third edition) 13 years ago and read it pretty much cover to cover in a few weeks. Even 13 years later I still refer to it every now and then, and I always find something new. This book is a true classic and pretty much the only general Unix sysadmin book you will ever need. If you're just starting with Unix and Linux, then this is the book to get. At over 1000 pages, it's packed with tons of useful information and not only you'll become a Unix expert, but also add a ton of points to your geekiness levels. I remember how I spent several nights setting up my own caching bind server after reading the chapter on DNS. Fun times!

This book covers the major variants of Unix and Linux distributions such Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, and Ubuntu, Suse, Redhat. This book is divided into three large chunks - basic administration, networking, and other stuff.

Section one - Basic system administration.

Basic administration presents a broad overview of Unix and Linux from a system administrator's perspective. The chapters in this section cover most of the facts and techniques needed to run a stand-alone system, such as managing storage and file system, controlling processes, setting up backups and configuring the kernel.

Section two - Networking.

The networking section describes the protocols used on Unix systems and the techniques used to set up, extend, and maintain networks and Internet-facing servers. High-level network software is also covered here. Among the featured topics are the routing and network management, the network file system, electronic mail, and network security.

Section three - Stuff.

Other stuff includes a variety of supplemental information. Some chapters discuss optional features such as printing, server virtualization, eco-friendly computing and the politics of running a system administration group. Quote from part three: Good sysadmins have both technical skills and “soft skills.” The ability to organize a group of administrators and make sure they meet the organization's needs can be the difference between an OK administrator and a great one.

This book also has an insanely cool domain name

Authors: Evi Nemeth, Garth Snyder, Trent R. Hein, and Ben Whaley.

#13 The Reasoned Schemer

The Reasoned Schemer.

In parts one and two I recommended The Little Schemer and The Seasoned Schemer. Now it's time for The Reasoned Schemer.

This book takes you on the next adventure. The Little Schemer taught lists and recursion, The Seasoned Schemer taught computation and now Reasoned Schemer teaches you logic programming and relational programming. Relational programming describes what you want in the result rather than how to get to result. As any book in the Schemer series, it's extremely fun to read and it will bend your mind. It will make you think from the first page. All in all this book teaches the essence of Prolog - the most well-known logic programming language.

Oleg Kiselyov is one of the authors. He's the craziest functional programming guy I know. I'm a big fan of his work. I once said that anything by Oleg Kiselyov gets an automatic upvote and so does this book. Oleg also implemented the logic programming language used in this book. It's called Kanren. If you're working through this book you've to download Kanren and run all the examples through it. It will help you to get through the book.

Only the true schemer fan will understand this message.

Authors: Daniel P. Friedman, William E. Byrd, and Oleg Kiselyov.

#14 Thermodynamics


Now from computers to physics. This is a classic science book by one of the great physicists of all time, a Nobel Prize winner and one of the chief developers of quantum mechanics - Enrico Fermi. The text is elementary in treatment and remarkable for its clarity and organization. It covers the core of thermodynamics - thermodynamic systems, laws of thermodynamics, entropy, ideal and real gases, and other core topics.

Everyone should read this book to be a well rounded person. At 150 pages, it's pretty easy to go through. From my own experience this book can be worked through in two full nights. I did that right before the exams. :)

As I was writing about this book I remembered the puzzle of using a barometer to measure height of a building. How would you do that? One of the solutions is to use the ideal gas law to come up with the solution. Here's my solution to this puzzle.

Author: Enrico Fermi.

#15 Concrete Mathematics: A Foundation for Computer Science

Concrete Mathematics: A Foundation for Computer Science.

Yet another classic. Concrete Mathematics is the second most accessible book by Knuth as one of the co-authors. Concrete Mathematics is a blending of CONtinuous and disCRETE mathematics. This book focuses on practical skills rather than theory. It contains many examples, tricks of trade, and problems with solutions. This book is also fun to read. After reading this book you will be very comfortable manipulating sums, recurrences, discrete probabilities, and number theory.

I learned most of the math used in computer science during my studies but I still got this book to see what I missed. I have read parts of it and the material is very accessible and at the right density, meaning trivial steps from one equation to the next are left out but the most difficult steps are explained.

This is not a comment.

(If you missed, I listed the most accessible book by Knuth Selected Papers on Computer Science in part two of this article series.)

Authors: Ronald L. Graham, Donald E. Knuth, and Oren Patashnik.

Until next time!

As always, I hope you liked these five book recommendations. Let me know in the comments what your favorite books are, subscribe to my blog, follow me on twitter, and until next time!

This article is part of the article series "My Top 100 Programming, Computer and Science Books."
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Welcome to part two of my 100 favorite programming, computer and science books. If you're just joining, please see part one for introduction. In this part I'll cover a mix of my favorite theoretical and practical books because as Donald Knuth says in his Selected Papers on Computer Science, "The best theory is inspired by practice; The best practice is inspired by theory."

Slide 28 on page 161 from Don Knuth's Selected Papers on Computer Science.

I'm a huge fan both of theory and practice split 20/80. I love to get practical things done and I also like to learn theory behind what I'm doing. My most creative ideas always come from theoretical books. Read many of them and suddenly many ideas click together and form something amazing.

Some readers asked why I only do five books at a time. Very simple - writing a single blog post about 100 books would take me several weeks of effort. Splitting it in tiny parts makes it much easier to get done. Progress feels good and the series is incrementally getting published.

If you're interested in this article series, you can subscribe to rss feed of my blog and follow me on twitter for updates.

My super nerdy bookshelf.

Alright, let's get to this week's books!

#6 Don Knuth's Selected Papers on Computer Science

Selected Papers on Computer Science.

This is one of the most accessible of Knuth's books. I enjoyed it a lot. It's written for people who aren't necessarily specialists in the subject. It's for educated people in all fields and you don't need to know too much math to read through this book.

Knuth says the following about this book, "If any of my work deserves to be remembered, it is now in the form that I most wish people to remember it.". Knuth discusses topics such as coping with finiteness, usefulness of toy problems, theory vs practice, history of algorithms, Von Neumann's first computer program, and many others.

This is the book to buy if you want to get familiar with Knuth's work in an accessible way and learn something new without much effort.

I just remembered I had written a blog post many years ago called Donald Knuth's First Computer based on a chapter in this book. I even scanned a picture from the book of young Donald Knuth at age of 20 working on his favorite IBM 650 computer in 1958:

Young Donald Knuth from 1958 at an IBM 650 Computer
Young Donald Knuth, age 20, at his first IBM 650 computer in 1958.

Author: Donald E. Knuth

#7 To Mock a Mockingbird

To Mock a Mockingbird.

One of the most remarkable and fun books I've ever worked through. This book teaches combinatory logic by masking combinators as singing birds. You'll be hearing Turing birds sing and you'll be traveling to Godel's forest. Make sure to be prepared for your journey with a lot of paper and tea as this book will capture you once you start working through the problems. You'll be having so much fun along the way as you discover new birds and your mind will stretch a lot. If you've patience to work through all the chapters, you'll learn about Church encoding and Godel's incompleteness theorem in the end.


This book may be very hard to find as it's out of print. I got my copy years ago when it was still in print. There are 10 used books available on Amazon right now. It's also available on Kindle and Nook. If you want a printed copy try try searching Ebay and Powell's. There are a few copies on sale.

Author: Raymond Smullyan

#8 The Seasoned Schemer

The Seasoned Schemer.

The Seasoned Schemer is continuation of The Little Schemer that I listed as my #4 favorite book in the first part of this series. This book is written in the same style as The Little Schemer and it's extremely fun to read. It's a dialogue between you and the authors but unlike The Little Schemer that teaches you to think recursively this book teaches you to think about the nature of computation. You'll learn about closures, continuations and continuation passing style (cps), y-combinator and implement your own Lisp in Lisp at the end.

When I read the book, I collected all the code examples and programming commandments on github: the-seasoned-schemer repository.

A solution to one of the problems in The Seasoned Schemer.

Authors: Daniel P. Friedman and Matthias Felleisen.

#9 Expert C Programming

Expert C Programming.

Back to practical books, this is a classic book on C programming. I learned the language purely by programming and reading code examples without ever reading a single tutorial and this was my first real book on C programming language. This book is for people who already know C well. It presents subtle aspects of the language and reveals the shocking truth that C arrays and pointers are not the same thing. Language quirks are accompanied by interesting stories and suggestions called handy heuristics. It's amusingly written, and the historical anecdotes are very interesting as well.

I heard someone say, "You'll definitely know you're a geek when you find yourself chuckling at all of the hilarious comments in the book. What Peter van der Linden has produced is not so much a book about C programming as it is a dense little slab of hacker culture. It's a snapshot of the days when "the Internet" was almost synonymous with "UNIX account.""

Spot on. This book will increase your geekiness level by 10 points. Go get this book!

A hilarious programming challenge.

Author: Peter van der Linden

#10 Laszlo Lovasz's Combinatorial Problems and Exercises

Combinatorial Problems and Exercises.

This book is probably the most advanced book that I will recommend in the whole series. But it's so good that I just had to recommend it as soon as possible and put it in spot #10. This book is written in problem-hint-solution style. Problems take the first 100 pages, followed by hints and solutions in the next 500 pages. Lovasz starts off with simple problems that anyone can solve and quickly moves to more advanced problems. There is no theory in this book.

Every once in a while when I feel like doing some math I work through a couple of problems. I've found that problem-hint-solution style is perfect for quickly learning new problem solving techniques. If you want to improve your combinatorics skills and get better in graph theory, and you love to solve problems then this is the book to buy.

Funny story - I've heard that the first year PhD students in Hungary (where the author is from) are required to work through all the problems in this book. Those who can't solve the problems don't make it to second year of PhD studies.

This book is also out of print so try scouting ebay and other book stores for it.

Author: Laszlo Lovasz

Until next time!

I hope you liked these five book recommendations. As always, let me know in the comments what your favorite books are, subscribe to my blog, follow me on twitter, and until next time!

When you're in the zone coding away you don't want a slightest disturbance. Any external noise can throw you off. Your phone ringing, a louder car outside or with the new open plan offices, or your coworkers talking in background. You don't want any of these noises interrupt your work flow. You want to stay in the zone for hours and get tons of work done.

My kitty approves Bose QC25 headphones. She says these headphones help her catch more mice.

Noise eliminating and cancelling headphones are a must for staying in the zone and getting things done. I've been trying all kinds of headphones and I think I just found the perfect headphones for programming and concentration - Bose QuietComfort 25 headphones with active noise cancellation. The way they work is they record sound around you, invert the sound waves, and emit the opposite sound, effectively cancelling sound around you.

Bose Quiet Comfort 25.

When I put them on it feels like I'm in a vacuum chamber or something similar. Everything becomes strangely quiet. Nothing emits sound. You get used to this feeling in a few hours. Typing on a keyboard is noiseless. You can barely hear someone talking to you directly behind you. They're also very light and comfortable.

These headphones are not cheap but I love to spend money on high quality equipment that lets me get my work done quicker and more efficiently. I'll be sticking with these headphones for years now.

Unboxing Bose QuietComfort 25 was a pleasure. The box was small and neat, and headphones were packed into a very good looking and compact case.

Neatly packed Bose QC 25 headphones.

Pro tip: These headphones use a single AAA battery for noise cancellation. Make sure you don't waste money on batteries. You'll be changing regular Duracells ever 3 days. Get Eneloop Pro Rechargeable AAAs and Eneloop Pro Charger. Eneloop AAA Pros are at 950mAh and they'll last more than 3 days. Eneloop batteries are currently the most competitive rechargeable batteries on the market.

My other kitty tests Eneloop AAAs and Eneloop Pro Charger.

I'll be modding these headphones and adding a USB power cable so I don't have to use batteries at all. If you're interested in hearing about that, subscribe to my blog or follow me on twitter. Until next time!

This article is part of the article series "My Top 100 Programming, Computer and Science Books."
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I was recently interviewed by Fog Creek and one of the questions was about my favorite programming, coding and development books. I got very excited by this question as I'm a huge book nerd. And by a huge book nerd I mean I'm crazy about science, computer and programming books. Every few months I spend a day or two researching the latest literature and buying the most interesting titles. I could probably go on forever about my favorite books. I've so many.

I was so excited about this question that I decided to start a new article series here on catonmat about my top 100 programming, software development, science, physics, mathematics and computer books. I'll do five books at a time as breaking huge tasks in tiny sub tasks is the easiest way to get things done.

Here's my bookshelf just to prove my nerdiness:

My super nerdy bookshelf.

In the first post in the series I'll re-share the same five books that I recommended in my Fog Creek interview. I expect this article series to go on for quite some time so if you're interested in this topic, you can subscribe to rss feed of my blog and follow me on twitter for updates.

Enough talking. Let's get to books!

#1 The New Turing Omnibus

The New Turing Omnibus.

A must read for anyone interested in computers. This excellent book contains 66 short essays on the most important and interesting computing topics, such as compression, Turing machines, recursion, formal grammars, non-computable functions, neural networks and algorithms. The writing style of this book is casual and it contains almost no math. It's my favorite book of all time.

I read this book cover to cover in one evening. I enjoyed one of the chapters about the Busy Beaver Problem so much that I spent a few days implementing Busy Beaver in several languages and wrote a program that visualizes how the Beaver travels on the tape. Here's my blog post about Busy Beaver.

Busy beaver puts another one on Turing machine's tape.

Author: Alexander K. Dewdney.

#2 The Little Book of Semaphores (free pdf)

The Little Book of Semaphores.

This book teaches how to think about multithreaded execution and how to solve synchronization problems. I highly recommend it, especially if you're self-taught and have never had an Operating Systems course. This book leads the reader step by step through a series of classical and not so classical synchronization problems. It's great fun to work through the problems and I've been recommending it to everyone ever since I found it.

Author: Allen B. Downey.

#3 Programming Pearls and More Programming Pearls

Programming Pearls and More Programming Pearls.

Classic programming books. Jon Bentley knows how to write clearly and enthusiastically about algorithms. These books are timeless and they teach you how to reason about problems, break them apart, and efficiently implement the solutions. You'll pass the Google interview if you read and understand these two books.

Author: Jon Bentley.

#4 The Little Schemer

The Little Schemer.

The Little Schemer teaches you a little bit of LISP in the most fun style ever. The book is a dialogue between you and the authors about hundreds of tiny Scheme programs and it teaches you to think recursively. This book will make you think and will stretch your mind a little. It's one of the most fun programming books ever written. You'll learn about car, cdr, cons, working with lists, lambda and y-combinator.

I've spent countless hours with this book. I copied out all the code examples and put them on GitHub (the-little-schemer repository), and I also wrote a blog post about deriving y-combinator based on one of the chapters in this book.

Only the true schemer fan will understand this message.

Authors: Daniel P. Friedman and Matthias Felleisen.

#5 The Elements of Style and The Elements of Programming Style

The Elements of Style and The Elements of Programming Style.

The Elements of Style is not exactly a development or coding book but a book on writing. To be a great developer you need to communicate clearly, simply and directly. Strong writing skills are essential to success. The book is just 100 pages long and you can read it in one evening. Re-read it every couple of months for full effect.

Authors: William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White.

The Elements of Programming Style is a classic programming book by Brian Kernighan. The form of this book is strongly influenced by The Elements of Style. It's an old book but mostly everything it teaches still applies today. It contains 70 rules of programming such as:

  • Write clearly – don't be too clever.
  • Say what you mean simply and directly.
  • Choose a data representation that makes the program simple.
  • Let the data structure the program.
  • Modularize...

Authors: Brian W. Kernighan and Phillip J. Plauger.

As a bonus, I recommend my own book Perl One-Liners, published by No Starch Press. My book teaches how to be fast in the command line and get things done quickly there. Being fast in the command line will save you thousands of hours throughout your career. Once you master one-liners, you'll be solving quick one-time tasks in seconds. I've seen programmers spend hours writing programs for tasks that can be done in 20 seconds with a one-liner. Don't be that programmer.

Perl One Liners.

I hope you liked my first five book recommendations. Let me know in the comments what your favorite books are and until next time!

Exciting news everyone! I've launched Browserling's Live API. Browserling's Live API live lets you embed live interactive browsers in your own applications on demand. It also lets you automate and control browsers through a very neat JavaScript API.

Watch this 4 minute demo video that demonstrates the possibilities:

Browserling's Live API Demo Video

Here are some of the use cases from some of our early Live API customers:

  • Quality Assurance - view your application in a bunch of browsers at once as part of QA process before the release.
  • Continuous Integration - load a browser on every commit, accept or reject the commit based on the results you see.
  • Sandboxed browsing - embed a browser in your application so that your computer doesn't get exposed to trojans, viruses and other malware. We run sandboxed, virtualized browsers and your computer never sees them.
  • Automating browsers - automate cross-browser testing by scripting browser interactions with JavaScript.
  • Rebranding, white-labeling and reselling - wrap around the API to create your own cross-browser testing service. We run the browsers and you make money!

Embedding a browser in your application takes less than 10 lines of code:

var browserling = new Browserling(api_key);

var div = document.querySelector('browserling');
var iframe = browserling.iframe();

Once you've embedded a browser in your application, you can control it through this simple API:

browserling.moveMouse(100, 200) // moves mouse to x=100, y=200
browserling.leftClick(40, 50)   // left clicks mouse at x=40, y=50
browserling.rightClick(40, 50)  // right clicks mouse at x=40, y=50
browserling.dragMouse(0, 0, 100, 101) // drags mouse from 0, 0 to 100, 101

browserling.delay(5000)         // delays actions for 5 seconds

browserling.type("hello world") // types "hello world"
browserling.keyPress(Browserling.Keys.Enter) // sends Enter key
browserling.keyPress(Browserling.Keys.F1)    // sends F1 key
browserling.keyDown(Browserling.Keys.Shift)  // presses Shift (but doesn't release it)
browserling.keyPress('a') // presses 'a', but since Shift was pressed, it types 'A'
browserling.keyUp(Browserling.Keys.Shift)    // releases Shift

See Live API's full documentation for more information about how to embed and control the browsers. I also created Live API demo page that lets you run a live demo (email me for a demo invite code, if you're intersted).

We're planning on releasing many new features for Browserling throughout this year. Just to name a few - Headless API, Mobile browsers, Linux browsers, screenshots, screenshots API, screen recording, screen sharing, and an affiliate partnership program.

This blog post is a repost of the original announcement on Browserling's blog: Announcing Browserling's Live API.

Follow us on Twitter @browserling for updates and until next time!