I thought it would be nice to share some of the technical books that I have learnt most from, and still love to look through or use as reference to this day. These are in no particular order and cover a variety of technical subjects, and some are far from recent. If you are interested in any of these areas and have not read these books, I cannot recommend them highly enough! I have many, many many books and have read countless over the years, many of them are awesome but are not making this list as it would just be too long. I also have lots of books that are simply terrible (and I still have most of those too…!)
The Black Art of Video Game Console Design, Andre Lamothé
Well, this book just has it all really. I already knew basic analogue and digital electronics when I first bought this book (learnt from a whole host of other books), but it taught me most of what I know today about computer design. Starting from basic electrical theory (physics) and analogue / discrete electronics and circuit analysis, it quickly moves into semiconductor theory and digital logic. From there, the first half of the book is building on previous topics, warming up for the second half. Basic logic gates, various forms of adders, ALU design, shift registers, multiplexers, buffers, etc (and a whole bunch of theory). The second half of the book concentrates on embedded system design and computer architecture. This will literally show you how to design your own processors, a multitude of data bus / pipelining / cache / multi-core architectures and how to glue everything together with various different memory addressing strategies and so forth. Finally the book goes into details on how to take your new computer architecture and build video / sound / input / more memory / extensions points and create a video game console. Be prepared for a hard crash-course on PAL / NSTSC.
From this book I actually built several variations of my own computer that had graphics and everything. Proudest moment, getting a stable green bar to appear on my PAL monitor. can’t recommend this book enough.
Computer Systems – A Progammers Perspective, Randal E. Bryant & David O’Hallaron
Wow, another awesome book that I leant so much from, so many years ago. This is not your normal programming book, this is a bit of an odd hybrid that sits somewhere between computer engineering and programming. Essentially this book is more about how your computers actually work, but flavoured from a programmer’s perspective. All the code in this book is presented in C or Assembly,which is suitable is the concepts it covers are very low level. From the basics of how information is represented in a computer (and the various different versions of it) along with internal data type representation and arithmetic, it moves quickly onto how your programs are really represented at a machine level. It goes into fine detail on exactly how your programs work, then moving onto processor architectures (and how that affects your programs) and optimizers within compilers and so on. Finally it covers in-depth discussions of memory hierarchies, virtual memory, networking, etc.
I still enjoy leafing trough and reading bits of this book, it is rare a book goes into this much detail and is as well written. Also, this book has Exercises in it! Woo :)
nb. There is a newer edition of this book from 2010! I don’t know what differences it has.
Amiga Game Maker’s Manual, Stephen Hill
A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I was about 14 working at Maplin Electronics on my Work Experience from school. One of the first things they had me do (the bastards) is finish cleaning out their old warehouse. Amongst the dust and the debris I happened across this book. Now, given my Father owned a small Amiga company selling public domain software, I was already surrounded in Amigas and had both Blitz and Amos basic, and had been attempting with some moderate success to write computer games for many years. Afterall, that’s the main reason that most of us got into it right? Now, whilst this book is not particularly groundbreaking in many ways, it had a unique charm and style. It was categorised into some chapters for general programming, and then a chapter devoted to the various game genres, from arcade shoot-em-up through RPG and even full on simulator games. At the end of each chapter it would have a list of other ideas or themes for games related to that genre.
Therefore is was from this book I leant about how to use trig to make cool attack patterns in shoot-em-ups, how to actually design a sprite animation system properly, an so on. I learnt tons from this book (and some really bad stuff!) but more importantly it really helped spark my imagination more into what was possible and how it could be achieved.
Proud to say I still have this book (somewhere!) :)
C++ How to Program, Paul Dietel
Well, this is a tough one to write about. I have over the years bought numerous Dietel books and they are largely terrible in my opinion (although some make great doorstops). This is the fist one I got and was one of the first C++ books I owned. The one I have is a later edition, which I understand now is a lot better than the originals. At any rate, this is a fairly thorough coverage of the C++ language, OO design and data structure implementations. I had better books since, and some worse ones before this - but it earns a place in my top books as it is was the first one that had the language really make sense to me. It has some horrible UML stuff in it, overblown OO design guidelines, some waffling about not much in places, but overall nitpicking aside this book was actually pretty awesome in my opinion and paved the road to C++ for me.
Also, being a university text book, it has EXCERCISES in it. I love those :)
Principles of Computer Hardware, Alan Clements
This is similar in some ways to the first book in this list, although only dealing with digital logic and a lot more on the assembly programming side of things. Actually it’s kind of like a mix between the video game console book and the computer systems one. Much like Andre’s book, this starts off with the basic logic stuff, gates, boolean algebra, karnaugh maps and so on,quickly progressing into very logic-gate-heavy diagrams of pretty much all the systems in your computer. Once again this goes into fine detail on CPU architecture, pipelining and so on, but with more an emphasis on the top level rather than the electronics.
I think with the video game console book, this one, and the computer systems one you should be very knowledgeable on all things software and hardware!
Tricks of the 3D Game Programming Gurus, Andre Lamothé
Another one of Andrés books (can you tell, I am a fan). If you are anything like me, you will not be happy until you really understand how stuff actually works. I am happy with some black boxes for a while (a skill I struggled with until later in life!) but ultimately I am going to want to know how those black boxes really work. I was probably about 18 when I decided I want to learn how to program 3D video games. There are tons of books out there on how to use DirectX or OpenGL, and I had learnt a bunch of stuff from various tutorials on the web, but none of them really showed me how stuff works – until I bought this book :)
Whilst this book does show you how to use DirectX, it goes much further than that, delving into most rasterization theory and practice, it will have you build a software renderer from the ground up. Most of the black boxes you use in 3D programming are explained in detail here, including a very friendly primer on 3d maths which was essential for me as I’d done basically no maths since year 10 in high school, other than some bits of trig in games I had written (shoot-em-ups, raycasters, etc). This book starts with Win32 programming and GDI, moving onto DirectDraw7 and then Direct3D later. Andrés typical style here is to show you how to do everything the real hard way, then show you a Direct X function that does it for you. This book is not for the feint of heart (or lack of bicep muscles, it’s not a small book), but a rare gem in a sea of sub-par 3d texts. I wrote my own 3D game engine from using this book (which I lost in the great hard-drive crash of 2005).
Note: I have the second edition of this book as well, both of which are well out of date now, but both can and will still teach the real fundamentals that most books go nowhere near.
link to 2nd ed
The Algorithm Design Manual, Steven S. Skiena (2nd Ed)
This book gets some stick as not being that great, but personally (and for a couple of friends) I found this book quite fascinating and very educational. As is implied, this is a book on not only many different algorithms over various data structures, but also on the analysis and design procedure of designing an algorithm to fit a given problem. I especially like the “War Stories” sections where the author explains in detail how he used said algorithms to solve real-world problems. To give a flavour of topics covered; algorithm analysis (big oh notation) data structures, sorting / searching, graph traversal, weighted graph algorithms, combinatorial search, dynamic programming, approximation algorithms.
This book also has exercises :) It is a great one to have on the shelf as a reference book, and also an entertaining read in many areas,
Genetic Programming: On the Programming of Computers by Means of Natural Selection v. 1, John R Koza
If you don’t already know, Koza is the guy that pioneered genetic programming, and this was the first book as a result of it. After being fascinated a long time with genetic programming and genetic algorithms, I finally bought this book. Mind = blown. Learning LISP aside, this extremely detailed book on genetics lead me on my adventures into this space and was quite mind expanding in terms of how I might create Skynet in the future (not to mention some insights into natural selection and real genetics). AI is something I don’t really have time for any more, but I still have a bunch of experiments derived from this book (some of which were integrated with my various robots), and also in turn led to me examine other AI techniques in a lot more detail.
This book was the one that really got me into functional programming. I have read it several times, and some areas of it still blow my mind. This book is not perfect, in my opinion it glosses over some important advanced stuff (like Quotations) and instead chooses to put a bunch of other content in which in my mind is not so much to do with the language – and this is a problem being the definitive book for F#. It also has no exercises which it would certainly benefit greatly from. Bitching aside however, this is up there with one of the books I have learnt most from, insomuch as it largely turned upside down a lot of ideas I had about programming computers and displayed a whole new side to everything in computer science and software engineering, which was a key turning point in various areas for me.
link (to 3rd ed)
Game Programming Gems and AI Game Programming Wisdom series
I have mostly all the books from these series. These books are not cheap, and come in hardcover only, but they are lovely things to own :) What I really love about these books is they are current (well, they were, haha). The format of the books is a series of articles written by various engineers working for big 3d game studios around the time of publication. The articles are heavily edited in a very professional manner, and cover an extremely large amount of topics in game programming. These books are very cool because they show you what the new cutting edge techniques being used at the time were, which is something most books are not able to do. The disjoined nature of the articles, being roughly organised into categories is a big plus as you can study and article about a particular concept and play around with the sample code without having to get wrapped up in the whole book to do so. A lot of the techniques in these books helped me think about many areas of software differently, and I adapted several concepts from these books into various projects of my own.
Plus you could always look forward to the next book in the series, and was a good thing for my parents to get me for birthdays and Christmases :)
Whew, I am going to leave it there with 10 entries. I have many other books which are equally deserving to be on this list, especially around the areas of programming language concepts, compilers, game programming and hardware / electronics books. I think this is fairly well balanced on the my interests throughout life so far though.
What are some of your favourite tech books? I would love to know. Write an article and share, or just let me know by tweeting me @pezi_pink !