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What are the books about software engineering history that you have enjoyed most?

mpermar profile image Martín Pérez ・1 min read

One of the genres I enjoy most reading is books about software history. Books that tell you real stories and experiences from software companies which relate how they got into what they are or how they released that product that you always have used.

I defined them as teenage nostalgia books. Books that maybe describe how those games in which you spent countless hours when made. Masters of Doom and The Making of Prince of Persia are gold if you ask me. But there must be more! Making it Big in Software is a great set of essays about well known software leaders who narrate their stories.

So, I'm asking this community. What books about software history do you recommend for reading?

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mpermar profile

Martín Pérez


Engineering leader who works remotely and loves mountain biking, family and side projects.


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And I'll start myself:

  • Masters of Doom: The awesome history about ID Software and the making of Doom.
  • The Making of Prince of Persia: Journals 1985 - 1993: A history about the iconic game and its author, Jordan Mechner
  • Making it Big in Software: A set of essays and interviews to software legends.

I cannot recommend this enough.

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution : it goes through the history of innovation from the very beginning to the nineties. Very inspiring!


I remember The Phoenix Project being good.

Also, the Cuckoo's Egg, an entertaining book about one of the first hacker hunts (before the internet.) Written by the person who hunted them down if I remember correctly. Reads almost like a thriller.


Actually, I have The Phoenix Project and although not strictly about history, I have to say that I would 100% recommend that book to anyone.


Masters of Doom is a great book, especially if you grew up during that time.

A really good book about software engineering history is "Dreaming in Code". It is suitable for both devs and non-devs. It was written by the founder of Salon, who didn't really know anything about software development when he started with this book. So besides it chronicling a big failure of a project, it also follows the author in understanding software development (and Open Source).


I really enjoyed "Coders At Work". I guess it's still available. Some good lessons in there, I remember one about the race to be first to market with some new kind of email client.


I think I want to read that one.


I enjoyed

Programmed Inequality (History of Computing): How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing
by Marie Hicks - which tells of how Britain threw away it's competitive advantage by driving women out of the computer programming jobs.


Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age (Lemelson Center Studies in Invention & Innovation Series)
by Kurt W. Beyer, which tells the tale of the birth of computing and compilers.


If we expand the topic to books about software history, I have to say that one of the books I enjoyed most is "What You See Is What You Get: My Autobiography".

It's Alan Sugar's biography. I'm not sure how well known is Alan Sugar out of the UK, but he is the founder of Amstrad and within his biography he goes over how he founded and raised the company to be one of the biggest tech corporations at the time, and also how it declined. It's really more about business than software but I'm sure anyone that has had an Amstrad computer will enjoy it.


I really liked the book It's Behind You - The Making of a Computer Game by Bob Pape. It's a free book and tells about how he ported the game R-Type to the ZX Spectrum as well as a few other games that he worked on.


I am downloading it. Seems like a great read. Played so many times that game!


Game Engine Black Book: Doom by Fabian Sanglard is a fascinating history of the game and goes into great detail on the design and the challenges they faced given the hardware at the time (including the ports to other platforms). Some good background on the 486 as well.


I have Game Engine Black Book: Wolfenstein 3D and although not one of my favorites I believe it is a book that many people would enjoy reading.


The Mythical Man Month - Fred Brooks. It contains an historic look on system software development.

On a slight tangent, a very interesting read is The Soul of a New Machine - Tracy Kidder. Primarily about hardware development,


Not 100% software engineering, but definitely history and something that I found fascinating - The Cuckoo's Egg by Clifford Stoll (amazon.com/Cuckoos-Egg-Tracking-Co...). I read it when I was in my last year of highschool, and so when I started uni the next year I was fully primed to delve deep into how our Sun workstations worked, from OBP upwards. That also opened my eyes to Usenet - and I found the mailing list which amazon.com/UNIX-Haters-Handbook-UN... is based on.


Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
by Steven Levy

You can find older copies online if needed. I recommend purchasing the book if you can afford to do so. It's pretty much a requirement kind of book -as in, once you read it you will require everyone else to read it before talking with them about this subject matter :D


trouble makers: it's about how some of the popular tech companies started in silicon valley


I've been reading The Macintosh Way by Guy Kawasaki. Interesting glimpse into "how sausage was made" in early Apple and Silicon Valley.