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Ben Halpern
Ben Halpern

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I love coding history books. Here are some I'd recommend.

This is not an exhaustive list, but these are a few code history books I really like. These are books that focus a bit more on technical characters, as opposed to business leaders, and they're all good reads. Some are better than others, but I really liked all of these for different reasons.

Some are more distant history, and a couple are more contemporary accounts.

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture

Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web

Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker

The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt

If I had to pick, I would recommend The Innovators as the first to read from the list because it covers a lot of ground, and Isaacson is a great writer. However, I'd say these can be read in any order. I'll edit this list if I think of any I missed. Feel free to add any more goodies to the comments.

Discussion (36)

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kathryngrayson profile image
Kathryn Grayson Nanz • Edited

It's only very early coding-related (ie. Enigma machines during WWII, which I know is a stretch haha), but I really enjoyed The Woman Who Smashed Codes. If you found The Imitation Game interesting, this is probably a good one to add to your reading list!

harpercollins.com/9780062430489/th...

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

Great recommendation!

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dance2die profile image
Sung M. Kim • Edited

I haven't read many history books but what I found most interesting was

Code by Charles Petzold.

Petzold goes to the very beginning of how communications started, and go very low level and moves to the modern programming languages.

⚠️Be warned. It gets very Electrical Engineering heavy.

I literally had to skim through about 1/4 of the book as I couldn't understand many electric circuits.

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Emko

I love this book. In it you will find the birth of code and computing presented and explained in one of most basic terms possible. It does get a bit hairy towards the end as the system grows and new switches are introduced. Anyhow, it is an excellent book. I'm glad to have found someone mentioning it.

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technbuzz profile image
Samiullah Khan

I felt hesitant to mention this book because at some point it has nothing to do with code. But the communication part and how the author directs the flow of information is beautiful.

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mlowen profile image
Mike Lowen • Edited

I've had Masters of Doom on my to read list for a while now but haven't found the time just yet. Two books that I seem to go back to time and time again are:

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Patrick Lafferty

I personally loved Masters of Doom, can't recommend it enough. Entertaining, insightful and concise, it flowed so well from chapter to chapter that I couldn't put it down. It was an inspiring and yet cautionary tale of ambition and hubris. Definitely pick it up when you get a chance.

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Lee Wynne

Have you read it yet? 😂

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

My favorite is still Dreaming in Code by Scott Rosenberg, which details how Mitch Kapor (Founder of Lotus Development Corporation and first Mozilla Foundation chairman) tried to lead a team in creating revolutionary software...and how everything went wrong.

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Ben Halpern Author

Oh cool!! I can't believe I'd never heard of this one. You rock Jason.

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Diego Casella

Adding to the list: Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary. An hilarious story of how Linux was created, and of course a view inside Linus' mind.
Really worth it!

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Ben Halpern Author • Edited

Alan Turing: The Enigma is super interesting and full of Turing awesomeness, but it's super long and I don't think I even finished it. Books like that didn't make the list. These were all satisfying reads from start to finish.

Number 1 on my to-read list is Pioneer Programmer: Jean Jennings Bartik and the Computer that Changed the World. Jennings' story is told in The Innovators but I haven't gotten around the reading her own book. I am certain it's awesome though.

The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone was pretty good, but a bit too broad-focused for this list. It also dragged on a bit.

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gypsydave5 profile image
David Wickes • Edited

@ben - one recommendation for you - because these are great.

Have you taken a look at What the Dormouse Said?

One of my favourites!

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Ben Halpern Author

Looks great, adding to my list!

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

Any time I read or write a post like this.

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9130khz profile image
Joshua

Not too long ago i read Racing the Beam, about the development of the Atari VCS. It blows my mind, the stories of programming against such constrained hardware in ye olden times of computing

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John Alcher

Not a book, but Triumph of the Nerds is a pretty good (and cheesy) documentary for computer history

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Ben Halpern Author

On the documentary front, the first pretty good one that comes to mind is:

I feel like there are a number of good docs in this space, nothing great comes to mind.

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

I'd sum it up as interesting technical content, lack of charismatic story telling.

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Michael Kohl

I really liked "Masters of Doom", but "Ghost in the Wires" drove me slightly crazy, like most of Mitnick's writing.

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Ben Halpern Author

That doesn’t surprise me. I liked the book, but weighed against his cult of personality, I’d pass.

I almost didn’t include it but I ultimately deemed it worthy.

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citizen428 profile image
Michael Kohl

Don't get me wrong, it's actually a pretty interesting book, though more on social engineering than the more technical side of "hacking". But the writing style gets super annoying after a while: "I'm Kevin Mitnick. The best hacker EVAR! Really smart. Brain the size of a planet. Modest too. And ballsy. I'm also really smart." But hey, the man put "The World's Most Famous Hacker" as his LinkedIn job title, so ¯\(ツ)

As for the other books, "Masters of Doom" is one of my all-time favorites. I have "Innovators", but only read a few chapters so far. That said I really liked the book on Steve Jobs by the same author.

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Ben Halpern Author

Yeah, Jobs book rocked. I also really liked Franklin. I read half of Einstein and lost interest but I have a good feeling about the Kissenger book. Isaacson really is the quintessential author of that type of character's bio.

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Ben Halpern Author

Have you any thoughts on the rest of the list?

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amananandrai

I also like to know the history of scientific things which explains me what are the factors that lead to the emergence of a new technology. I think technological history must be taught to all graduates.

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David Dal Busco

Thank you for the share. It seems that I should definitely get "Ghost in the Wires".

I really enjoyed "Master of Doom" and I can add to the list Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation (if you had one of these, the title is self explanatory) and I am currently reading American Kingpin: Catching the Billion-Dollar Baron of the Dark Web which is so far entertaining.

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Brian Greig

I would add in The Art of Deception and The Code Book.

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Nested Software

I’ve only read Steven Levy’s “Hackers, Heroes...” book from your list. I love that book. The other ones sound interesting too!

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Chad Smith

I really enjoyed Ghost in the Wires. While his personality can really hit someone the wrong way, I found it really interesting. And what he says is true, he was pretty much the most famous computer hacker.

I was born in 1990 so when all of this was going on I was too young to remember or know anything about. Though I have asked my parents, who can't tell you one other computer hacker), and they remember the stuff on Kevin Mitnick. They remember hearing his name in the news constantly when his started and even remember reading the false accusations (though they didnt know it at the time) against him in the different articles Kevin mentions in his book.

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Fabian Holzer • Edited

A few month ago, I've read "Troublemakers: Silicon Valley's Coming of Age" by Leslie Berlin, which I found very enjoyable.

It covers the time from the late 1960es to the mid-80es by following seven exemplary, maybe a bit lesser known, biographies. These stories also lay out quite demonstrative how the eco-system of onw industry was able to beget a new industry (i.e. semiconductors->personal computing->software) and also sheds some light on the bio-tech industry, which also has strong roots in the bay area.

For me, it was quite an eye-opener to follow Mike Markkula's story. In a nutshell: he got so wealthy from his stock options from Fairchild and Intel that he retired in his early thirties, he got bored from retirement, started consulting, initially for one day a week, a little start-up called Apple, where he subsequently became the first major investor and its third employee - he is much lesser known than the two Steves (I've never heard of the name before the book, but then again, I'm ostentatively not an Apple fanboy), but chances are Apple wouldn't have survived its early days without him.

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Michael MacTaggert

''Dreaming in Code'' is a great walkthrough of a whole project from inspiration to initial delivery and has some nice sidetracks into the dot-com boom to boot.

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Lee Wynne

Masters of Doom was awesome

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Tomas Gallucci

I'd like to recommend How The Web Was Born by James Gillies and Robert Cailliau.

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testingnews1 profile image
TestingNews

Dont wanna be a jerk, but here is what I read recently ;)

Stop Coding

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Erhan Kılıç

That's great list! Thank you very much.

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Joe Hobot

I like the one you suggested recently , called Deep Work ( started reading yesterday, good so far)