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Cover image for 4 non-technical books every developer should read

4 non-technical books every developer should read

larrycinnabar profile image Larry Cinnabar ・3 min read

When programmers ask "What to read?", some very technical and programmer-only books are usually advised to be read. But what about non-technical, or maybe even fiction books? Such books, that can be fun and useful for programmers do exist.

Here, I offer my personal list of good non-tech books, that will affect a developer's formation and career.

 books[0] = {
   Title: '"Surely You\'re Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character',
   Author: "Ralph Leighton and Richard Feynman"
 }

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman

Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize winner, was one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century. It happened so, he was a brilliant storyteller as well. In autobiographic anecdotes he explains life from a scientist viewpoint. This is very funny, fascinating and even philosophic. 🤔

For me, as a full-time developer, these stories were enlightening and motivational. Reading about one of the greatest scientific careers gives you lot of food for thought.

 books[1] = {
   Title: "The Martian",
   Author: "Andy Weir"
 }

The Martian

In fact, I'm not a huge fan of Sci-Fi. Usually for me it is too boring and over nerdish. But this novel is an exception. Andy Weir immerses his readers into a world, full of cool scientific things, explaining every tiny detail of it.

The novel's character is facing a problem, that seems to be unsolvable. But he does it. He splits it into a chunk of smaller problems and solve them one by one, demonstrating series of brilliant solutions. Reading this is captivating, and it made me draw analogies of how developers solve their problems. 👨‍💻

 books[2] = {
   Title: "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft",
   Author: "Stephen King"
 }

On Writing

First part of the book is Stephen King's autobiographic story - his thorny path of becoming a successful writer. The second part of the book is King teaching others how to be good at craft of writing.

Throw stones at me, but I did a metal trick while reading this - I just treated programming as an art, and drew parallels and analogies with the writing art. As a result I enjoyed that reading very much.
Anyway, after reading this book, a developer can practice out the new writing skills in code comments 😉

 books[3] = {
   Title: "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind",
   Author: "Yuval Noah Harari"
 }

Sapiens

In the school I was so passionate about math and programming, that learning of liberal arts has been hard won for me. So, to get descent grades at History class I crank up a "corrupt" deal with my History teacher: I do solve all Math and Programming assignments for children of her class, she - gives me good grades 🤝

Later after school, I started showing interest in history, and this book was a real discovery. The book makes an extensive but brief excursion in human history. It is explanatory and easy-to-understand for nerds like me.


What non-technical books do you like the most? Share your experience please.

all books

As you see all those strange Cyrillic letters on most of my books, you can cut me some slack on my English

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Discussion

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Great list! Here's my 2(well, 3)cents :
Just for Fun - The story of an accidental revolutionary (Linus Torvalds' authorized biography)

Deep Work - Cal Newport

The Man Who Loved Only Numbers - a thoroughly entertaining biography of the prolific and (let's just say) different, Hungarian Mathematician Paul Erdos.

 

I can think of the book called Writing Well by William Zinsser in terms of writing and another that I love is called To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink that talks about the art of persuasion which is in the context of your average person.

 

"sell is human" is already in my to-read-list

 

Great recommendations! I also wanted to say I loved how you used the code snippets as the headings; that was really creative and a nice way to set the text apart. Going to see if I can borrow that in the future. :)

 
 

Algorithms to live by was fascinating and really entertaining. Definitely worth the read. Life 3.0 was definitely good and insightful, but I found I had to read it in chunks or I got a little bored with it.

 

A bit offtopic - I just wonder how could you read translated books when you can speak English more than well enough?

As far as suggestions go:

  • Arthur Koestler - Ghost In The Machine
  • Herbert Simon - Sciences of the Artificial
  • Carver and Scheier - On The Self-Regulation of Behavior
  • Hank Reardon - Time Management 2.0
 

I can read English books as well, it's just much faster for me to read in Russian. Exception is fiction, of course. Just because translators may spoil everything.

Thanks for your books suggestion

 

Funny how we approach things in opposite ways - I would never dream of reading good fiction in English because of the larger vocabulary I would need to appreciate the experience. That's also the reason why I find reading non-fiction in English almost mandatory (hence made the comment in the first place).

Makes sense too, but it happens that non-fiction such as business or motivational books can have a huge vocabulary too

 

Here are two self help books I really enjoyed.

Atomic Habits - talks about everything habits. Highly recommend.
Verbal Judo - this book is about empathy and communication in general. A highly valuable skill for engineers.

 

I have found that Williams's Style: Towards Clarity and Grace is a much better text on writing than Stephen King's. When I was teaching writing, the material in Williams produced concrete improvement in my students' writing. There was basically nothing in King that would.

 

Thanks for a hint. I'll look into it.

I think I just like King's "a little arrogant" style

 

Nice list of recommendations! You've convinced me to give a couple of the books a shot :)

To answer your question at the end - the non-technical book I enjoyed the most in the last year was Factfulness by Hans Rosling - goodreads.com/book/show/34890015-f...

It's a book about how we're wrong in thinking about the world, especially "third-world countries", and how the world is actually a much better place than we think. Hans Rosling's TED talk called "Best stats you've ever seen" is actually a good intro to the book. Hope you enjoy that - youtube.com/watch?v=usdJgEwMinM

 

Ha, my colleague holds this book for couple weeks already on his workplace and I was very interested to take a look into it

 

Matt Haig - The Humans
Robin Hobb - The Farseer Trilogy
David Eagleman - Sum: Tales from the Afterlives
Jeff Vandermeer - The Southern Reach Trilogy
Tim Ferriss - Tribe of Mentors

 

Great collection, thanks for sharing! "Martian" is certainly an outstanding book! Added "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" to my to-read list :)

 
 

💯 for Richard Feynman and Yuval Noah Harari. Both books rank high on my list, haven't read the other 2 yet though.