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Andy Piper
Andy Piper

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Classic programming books ⌨️ 📚 available for free

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post reflecting on my time in tech. In it, I mentioned that my introduction to programming was with BBC BASIC on an Acorn Electron - and later, the Acorn Archimedes - in the 1980s.

Over the weekend, I learned that the publisher Usborne, known for their educational books for children, have made all of their 1980s coding books available as free downloadable PDFs.

I'm really excited about this! The 8-bit platforms I grew up on are long gone, although those of us into the retro tech scene keep on playing with them...

The books cover a whole range of topics, many of which are still very relevant today. One reason I've found languages like Python and, formerly, PHP so approachable is my foundation in BASIC. Even now, you can easily run emulators for the classic Spectrum, Commodore and BBC 8-bit computers of the past, and you can even run BASIC (and DOS) on today's microcontrollers like the Raspberry Pi Pico. I’m looking forward to trying this out sometime soon.

My particular favourites from the selection of books available, are the listings books, particularly Computer Spy Games and Weird Computer Games - I vividly remember those book covers, and typing in and playing games like Micropuzzle and Robospy.

Book covers of Computer Spy Games and Weird Computer Games

The first page of the listing for the game Micropuzzle, from the Weird Computer Games book

Just because these are from the 1980s and use BASIC, doesn't mean that the books are no longer interesting or useful. For me, the excitement is partly about nostalgia; but, a lot has changed since I read them, and I'm curious to see how I would write a similar piece of code in a modern language that I use today. It turns out that my friend Matthew White has already done this with one of the books, Computer Spacegames, and he has posted a JavaScript re-interpretation on GitHub.

GitHub logo filscentia / spacegames

Tribute to the books that taught me programming - Usbourne's

It is also fun to see what has NOT changed very much... the Keyboards and Computer Music book has a section on MIDI, for example. The Experiments with Computers book has a section on sensors (and soldering), which could be adapted to today's Arduino boards and other microcontrollers. Of course, you can run BASIC on an Arduino, too. My good friend Les has a great guide to using BASIC on today’s computers, as well (apparently, he knew about these free books before I did, and I wasn’t paying enough attention to his blog…)

Also, check out the excellent @BBCMicrobot, to run BASIC programs from a Tweet - or learn to write BASIC on the web. Amazing stuff.

If you’re looking for Raspberry Pi projects, there’s lots of good inspiration here. This is no surprise to me, since the creators of the Pi were heavily influenced by the same technology and era, and the Pi ecosystem strongly evokes the same spirit of discovery.

These books were part of my childhood and education (I'm self-taught in technology), and I'm so happy to find them all available to explore, all over again. Maybe you will enjoy them, too? Usborne also have a current range of introductory programming books available.

💻 How did you learn to code? Any particular books that stand out in your memory? I'd love to talk about them, in the comments! ⬇️

Side-note: the books are PDFs hosted on Google Drive, and they are completely readable in Drive's built-in viewer... but for some reason, when I downloaded them to pull them into a collection in Apple Books, they rendered strangely in macOS Preview (vertically squashed images, with large bands of space in between). In case you see something similar, I was successful in using the repair-pdf tool in this GitHub repo to "fix" the PDFs, to a format that worked in Preview and Books.

Top comments (2)

wesen profile image
Manuel Odendahl

I love it!

mikeosabuohien profile image
michael Osabuohien Ehigiator