I am about enjoy a two week break in Spain where I expect to have lots of time for relaxing and reading.

I normally read a lot of non-fiction so I'm looking for novel suggestions.

If there is another Cryptonomicon out there I'd love to hear about it!

UPDATE: In the end I took four books including Quicksilver. Quicksilver was fantastic and I look forward to continuing the series. I was disappointed with Gen X (Coupland) and Pattern Recognition (Gibson). Thanks for all the recommendations, I'm sure to return to this list when I have more free time.


Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is absolutely worth the time spent, many times over. I took it on vacation and found myself in tears of laughter more often than not. A great quote I share when describing HHGG "When you read HHGG, you feel as if you understand the book better than anyone else who has ever read it". I found this quote to be absolutely true. I trust that you would not be disappointed.

77 accepted

William Gibson's Neuromancer comes to mind, although I liked Cryptonomicon better.


Stephenson's own Baroque Cycle trilogy and Snow Crash are all outstanding.


More of a warning: DO NOT READ Dan Browns Digital Fortress - I rank it as the WORST book about computers and Cryptology!

it is SOOOOOOOO bad it is almost worth reading , really really dreadful.


The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage is a 1990 book written by Clifford Stoll. It is his first-person account of the hunt for a computer hacker who broke into a computer at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL).

I forgot to mention, ther is a Movie called "23" wich covers the other side of the story.


Microserfs by Douglas Coupland.

Good reminder that, at the end of the day, programming is just a job and you need to make the most of the rest of your life too.


Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams.

One of the main characters is a programmer and it's a very funny novel. I love this book!


Snow Crash is the best, IMO. Of those not recommended by others, Michael Crichton's Prey has some cool techy aspects.


Any book by Stanislaw Lem.

I particularly liked:

  • A perfect vacuum
  • The futurological congress and, of course
  • The Cyberiad

I'd recommend the original Dune trilogy by Frank Herbert. Herbert imagines a future universe where humanity has risen up Luddite-style and destroyed all computers.

So it's a nice break from programming.


I love the classics:

"I, Robot" by Isaac Asimov

  • The three laws of Robotics.
  • Thoughtful and moving.
  • The movie did it no justice at all.

"2001: A Space Odyssey" by Arthur C Clarke

  • "What are you doing Dave?"
  • The movie did it no justice at all.

They're not exactly "programming novels" but they are excellent reads.

P.S.: I really loved The Cuckoo's Egg, and Neuromancer was good, but it lost me in places... Digital Fortress was pure crap coming (for me) after The Da Vinci Code.


I'd suggest just about anything by Greg Egan, Rudy Rucker, Cory Doctorow, and/or Vernor Vinge. If I had to pick one from each:

Permutation City by Greg Egan A trippy novel about AI, human consciousness, virtual universes, and a lot more. Egan is an excellent novelist, but also a first rate hacker and his website has some cool Java apps that illustrate some of the concepts from his novels. Several free short stories on his site as well.

Postsingular by Rudy Rucker Rudy Rucker's books also play around with ideas about computer science, AI, and robotics. This latest novel of his examines ideas of what the world might be like after a technological singularity. Even better, the link above leads you to a page where you can download a free e-book!

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow Another hacker/blogger (he's one of the founders of BoingBoing.net). Little Brother is a young adult SF novel set not too far in the future. Also available as a free download (actually all of Doctorow's books are available as CC-licensed downloads). Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is also great.

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge Vinge was a computer science professor at UCSD and is an award winning SF writer. Rainbows End is another near future novel related to the concept of the Singularity. Appropriate since Vinge coined the term and wrote the first papers on the concept. It was available as a download, but doesn't seem to be anymore.

None of these are "space opera" type SF, all are related to computer programming and computer science, and all of them are written by people who know a lot about computers, programming, hacking, and cutting edge research and trends.


Not fiction but very good:

The soul of a new machine.


Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash are both really great. Stephenson also wrote a really great short book called In The Begining Was the Commandline that was really interesting, and at one point free online in electronic format. I also read a book simply called Code a while back that was interesting,

EDIT: I was able to find the electronic copy of In The Begining Was the Commandline, which can be found HERE


Well the answers are now three pages in. I'm going to have to put in a vote for Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. It's a fast read, and enjoyable. I actually read it on a beach in St. Croix.


The Code Book by Simon Singh(a light history of crpytography/cryptanalysis) is the only non-fiction book I couldn't put down. I think I inhaled it in less than a day.

I'm currently reading Charles Stross' Accelerando and it's fun in a computer-geek way. The first several chapters are a constant barrage of "what-ifs" that come from extrapolating current tech (and tech policy) to near-ludicrous extremes.


The Story of Ping


I must add a classic that is sadly missing: Dan Simmons? Hyperion Cantos. Arguably the best far-future novel ever, apart from being one of the general all-time favourites, and it contains quite a bit of stuff related to programming (although that's not always the focus).


Neal Stephenson just published a new book, "Anathem". Almost 1000 pages - very dense read, but very good.

Daemon was also good.


I second The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is about Earth, the computer created to figure out the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything.

Along the same lines, check out the Red Dwarf novels which are a light and fun read.

My favorite author of all time is Philip K. Dick. Your mind will be blown into tiny particles and then reassembled with a new outlook on life.


I'm surprised there's been no mention yet of any of Terry Pratchett's books. Any of his Discworld titles are well appreciated by the other devs I work with. They're a good, fun read and easy to get through after your brain has turned to putty after a tough day at the office.

Try The Colour of Magic or Mort for starters.


Brave new World.
You are a Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta... or Epsilon?


I'd suggest The Wiz Biz by Rick Cook. It's a nice take on fantasy, having a programmer as the main character.


I'll add a vote for Pattern Recognition, also by William Gibson.

Neat story, easy read, good characters and touches on a lot of tech-related topics.


The best SF/programming/security novels that I have read recently include:

  • Cryptonomicon
  • Neuromancer
  • The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage
  • Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
  • Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software
  • Otherland
  • Halting State
  • Excession
  • The Code Book

Forgot to mention my current favorite author, Charles Stross. Check out Accelerando, available at fine bookstores everywhere, or downloadable here:


Also don't miss either of the books featuring intrepid necro-IT agent Bob Howard, The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue.


See if you can run down "The Adolescence of P1," by Thomas J. Ryan:

Holds up extremely well, especially considering it was written in 1977.


For your two week break in Spain I'd suggest you read something about Spain. It would do you good to read about the country while you are there.


A lot of Neal Stephenson has been mentioned but my favourite apart from Cryptonomicon is Diamond Age.


"Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond" by Gene Kranz.

From one review:

Gene Kranz was a flight director for most of the U.S. manned space program, and was on duty for some of the most critical events - including the first moon landing, and, of course the Apollo 13 accident.

In "Failure Is Not an Option," Kranz tells the story of Mission Control from the begining (he wrote some of the intial procedures manuals) through the Space Shuttle program. He shows how the ground controllers developed into a team, not only with each other, but with the astronauts on board the spacecraft.

Kranz may not be the most polished writer, but this is a first-person account from someone who helped make history. One of the things I really liked about the book is that Kranz not only took detailed notes during the missions (that was his first flight assignment), but he held on to them and used them to provide a more detailed account than I have seen before of the key missions from the perspective of Mission Control. He doesn't pull punches, and he's not afraid to admit mistakes, and this gives this book an air of honesty that you don't always find in an autobiography.


I'm surprised no-one's mentioned Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy yet. The first one is called Red Mars and is followed by Blue Mars then Green Mars. You can probably guess the general theme. They're all fairly lengthy - just one of them would keep you busy a while.

I suppose you'd call it 'future history' as they give a pretty comprehensive view of what the colonisation of Mars might be like in the near future. It's fiction with quite a bit of politics, sociology, geography, technology and geology thrown in. Epic!


You could read Stephenson's next book after Cryptonomicon: Quicksilver.


I have read "The Deadline: A Novel About Project Management" by Tom DeMarco a couple of month ago. It is not essentially focused on programming activities, but it takes a funny look at all software development process.

I saw many of my mistakes (and virtues) detailed by the story of this book!


Not strictly "programming", but Daemon by Daniel Suarez (sometimes listed under the pseudonym Leinad Zeraus) is a pretty good read. ...and, of course, anything by William Gibson is usually a good choice.


Turing: A Novel About Computation by CH Papadimitriou


"Our hero is Turing, an interactive tutoring program and namesake (or virtual emanation?) of Alan Turing, World War II code breaker and father of computer science. In this unusual novel, Turing's idiosyncratic version of intellectual history from a computational point of view unfolds in tandem with the story of a love affair involving Ethel, a successful computer executive, Alexandros, a melancholy archaeologist, and Ian, a charismatic hacker."


I happily second any recommendations of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Microserfs or JPod.

I also enjoyed Close to the Machine by Ellen Ullman. Not fiction, more of a memoir; entertaining stories and interesting characters.


"Dreaming In Code" by Scott Rosenberg is an excellent book, although I don't know if it counts for a novel. It's more like a documentary.


Since you're looking for a programming novel, The Adolescence of P1 by Thomas J Ryan has to be on your list. As mentioned, it holds up well--though the first chunk of it is kinda trashy.

Another, better, read is Enigma, by Robert Harris. It's a historical novel about cracking the Nazi codes, Turing, and all that intrigue.

Browse cyberpunk reading lists for other ideas, but they're often not related to programming, per se, but rather electronic fantasy (usually nightmare) worlds. The Matrix is pretty typical of this genre.

Probably the first of these that i--and many others--read was Gibson's Neuromancer, followed by Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Burning Chrome, and Johnny Mnemonic.

Other interesting reads include True Names by Vernor Vinge, Blood Music by Greg Bear and most of Bruce Sterling's work.


Not exactly "the best", but worthy enough for this list.

The Bug (Ellen Ullman)



The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time ... since it appears a good number of devs and admins display Asperger like personalities.


Read Peopleware. It might look like a book only for managers, but it's filled with lots of great stories and tips about how to get in flow, how to not break flow and how to get motivated. I know it's not a novel, but you'll thank me after reading it :)


Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein is not about programming but it might help you to grok grok.

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard Feynman also not exactly programming related but a lot of interresting problem solving and that never hurts.


Although it's more of a non-fiction than a fiction Gdel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid from Douglas Hofstadter is a good book to get.

GEB cover


There is the Wiz series by Rick Cook. I loved that series. A programmer gets transported to a world of magic and fun ensues.

There is the Otherworld series by Tad Williams. It is about a group of people that get trapped in a VR world.

I also liked Caverns of Socrates by Dennis L. McKiernan.


Diaspora by Greg Egan. In fact, just buy all his books and take them with you - they are short enough to read in a single sitting and great to boot!


I highly recommend The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker. This is a mesmerizing story about an office worker's one afternoon at work. It's got spellbinding detail, and when you're on vacation, I think it'll make you appreciate your time off even more.


Greg Egan ? Diaspora. If ever there was a novel about programming reality, this is it.

(Apparently not readily available in paperback, but here's the Amazon linkage)


There are a whole bunch of books on the subject, but I read this the other day and literally could not put it down... which it pretty damn amazing given the subject matter!

The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer



The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner. Old (1975), but in some ways prescient, view of society dominated by ubiquitous networking and (perhaps overblown - though I'm not sure) effects of too-rapid change.


The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect is an odd but fun story of a post singularity dystopia.


Though dated, (who nowadays uses a Data General???) I loved The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder.



For the sake of completeness, Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.

Wherein a young lady receives an AI book which is programmed to educate her and give her the proper tools in life.

SPOILER: She learns programming via her avatar in the book, who learns how to program Turing machines!


"This Alien Shore" by CS Friedman

"Snow Crash" by Neal Stephensen

Non-Fiction, but an interesting read nevertheless, "The Medical Detectives" by Berton Roueche


Fire in the Valley is the history of the PC, beginning with the Altair, Jobs and Wozniak forming Apple, Gates and Allen forming Microsoft, and lots of other people and companies who were instrumental in the creation of the industry. It's long but interesting.

The Cuckoo's Egg is also very good.


I just finished Fox Tales by Kerry Nietz ... fantastic book about a software development company!

Fox Tales

This memoir of Fox Software details the company's growth from a college professor's side project to a 300-employee organization before its acquisition by Microsoft for $160 million in the early 1990s. Recounted are the...


The Blue Nowhere by Jeffery Deaver, its a fantsastic hacker/ crime thriller which is set in the very early 90's. A fantastic read and a genuinly unique story.


I just finished The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. It was a really good book which had me reading furiously. I think I have to read it again soon. It is a great tale with lots of twists and quarks.


If you like spy novels like The Cuckoo's Egg, read both sides of the Kevin Mitnick story with Takedown by Tsutomu Shimomura and John Markoff, and with The Fugitive Game by Jonathan Littman.

Shimomura, a computer security expert that Mitnick allegedly targeted, and Markoff, a New York Times writer, tell the glamorous side of the story of a dangerous criminal mastermind. And Littman, a journalist who knew Mitnick at the time, tells a much different story of the events and raises questions about the motives behind the former book's authors.

Both books are worth checking out if you enjoy computer espionage stories, especially since the stories events that inspired them are true.


Coding Slave....by Bob Reselman.


Max Barry writes very funny novels. Not strictly computer related, but "Company" was about being a drone inside a large corporation.


Personally, I spent my holiday reading no programming books - as much as I love my job, it is a holiday remember! If you want to look at it as a learning experience, allowing yourself to explore other classics (maybe more Kafka than Austen if you like) bends your brain in a different way so you can come back with a different perspective on things. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance gets kind of close...

... code complete would have taken me over the luggage limit !


i can't believe that no one has mentioned Jason K Chapman's The Heretic i must be getting old or something


On another thread, someone recommended The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I'm now halfway through it and it's pretty good. So far, the advertised similarity of cathedral-building to software-building is only vaguely apparent, but that doesn't stop it being a very enjoyable novel.


Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds.


I liked Arthur C. Clarke's Rama series, though it's not nearly as dense as some others listed here. I'm going to check out Stephenson's Anathem (which was recommended above) as I've heard good things about it. Good thing I'm going on holiday in Canada next week!


i've always liked "ME" by Thomas T. Thomas:

ME by Thomas T. Thomas

it reminds me very much of "The Adolescence of P1".


Cubicle Farm Fantasy: An Indian IT worker's dream about escaping the rat race

This book was written by a good friend and mentor of mine at the first company I worked for. It is really funny to think of him as the main character of this book.


There is a lucid narration by 'Simon Singh' about fermat's last theorem. He narrates about the various contributions that have finally led to the solution and they themselves are worth every penny. Thanks for the interesting post by the way.


JPod - for voting purposes since I haven't seen it listed on its own in the answers yet. I liked it better than Microserfs.

  1. Soul of A New Machine -- Tracey Kidder

  2. Showstopper -- G. Pascal Zachary.

  3. Boo Hoo -- Ernst Malmsted.


+1 for Snow Crash. It's tightly packed, intense, for me the best new book in the recent years - including any non-sci fi

His Baroque cycle though, not so much. To much meandering, to inconclusive, incoherent. It does have goodness, but not everyone is willing to put up with the packaging. It's very polarizing for Stephenson fans: you might love it, or it might bore you stiff and stinky.

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland. Interesting is to see which things have changed, and which didn't.

Not strictly programming, but in a similar cloud: Spin by Robert Wilson. Very bold setup, excellently executed and - against my expectations - the resolution doesn't fall short. The followup, Axis is good but can't compete.


Mr Bunny's Guide to ActiveX.

The funniest coding book ever written. Also

Mr Bunny's Big Cup O'Java

Not quite so funny.


The Commodore C64 user manual.


Catch 22 - Joseph Heller - One of my favourite books I have ever read. It will ring true with any one who has been part of large organization. This book is both very funny and tragic.
1984 - George Orwell - I was hesitant to read this but glad I finally did.
Brave New World & Brave New World Revisted & The Island - Aldous Huxley - BNW revisited is a series of essays about the topics in BNW(slightly dated but cool).
Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger- Awesome
Ham on Rye - Charles Bukowski - For the more brave. Beowulf - Cool fable.
robot series(Caves of Steel) or Foundation - Isaac Asimov
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky - Kind of a hard read but I found it amazing.


Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth (Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos Papadimitriou)


A graphic novel based on the life of logician and philosopher Bertrand Russell. Great artwork, great story and I really liked their narrative style.


River of Gods - by Ian McDonald

Depicts a 21st century India where Artificial intelligences take the roles of common gods. not much programming in the book, but the author is definitely intelligent and keyed into the nuances of a programmer's interests.


There's Dan Brown's Digital Fortress but I've heard it's not very good.

Update: See comments.


The Atrocity Archive and The Jennifer Morgue, both by Charles Stross. Maybe more sysadmin than programming, but definitely worth reading - biting satire. Saving the world involves a surprising amount of meetings.

Not programming related, but also recommended - the Merchant Princes series, also by Charles Stross.


For those that can read spanish and manage to grab a hold of a quite unknown novel:

No he venido aqu a hacer amigos from Jaime Miranda.

The author is a consultant and programmer, and the novel is a hilarious road novel with the main character traveling with the corpse of his manager in search of a witch to resurrect him. It does have quite a strong criticism against how managers deal with programmers and viceversa


Big If, by Mark Costello.

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I don't know that it's 'the best' book, but an entertaining read (if not without problems) is "Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of Kevin Mitnick, America's Most Wanted Computer Outlaw-By the Man Who Did It"

A lot of people who care a lot have complained about this book, but if you're just looking for a light read, it's quite enjoyable (if a bit old).


Some great suggestions in these 3 pages of answers but no-one's mentioned Theodore Sturgeon yet!

2 I'd recommend for programmers:

More than Human - this was the book that blew me away and made me a Sturgeon fan. Thinking back on it now, it may have effected how I ended up understanding OOP.

The Cosmic Rape - The copy I read was titled To Marry Medusa under which it was also released as a shorter version. It is a brilliant speculation on the idea of the hive mind.


I'd recommend Prey by Michael Crichton. It's about a nanobots escaping a lab and becoming a threat to our species.


jPOD by Douglas Coupland - the trials and tribulations of life in a dead end games programming team. Very funny, an easy read, and lots of programming, tech, web references.


I like the Dune Saga very much (the books by Frank Herbert). Although it is kind of hard to begin with. Beginning with second or third book I'd say it is really good.


Since JPod is spoken for (and rightly so), I enjoyed Headcrash.

Neither JPod nor Headcrash is the second coming of Cryptonomicon, but they're both fun reads.


The Ultimate Rush by Joe Quirk.

Bomb deactivator. Crack dealer. SWAT rifleman. My job will kill you faster than any of these. And it won't just kill you; it'll crush you to a pulpy clot on the streets of San Francisco.

Read the rest of Chapter 1 online.

cover art


I thoroughly enjoyed Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. It chronicles the terraforming and settling of Mars. For some reason I think of it as a programming novel, maybe because solving the problem of settling Mars reminds me of solving some difficult programming problems.

Edit: Whoops, someone already posted this.

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the Millenium trilogy by Stieg Larsson:

Almost pulp, but oh so entertaining. And a hacker that kicks ass.