John Topley’s Weblog

My Computer Book Addiction

My name’s John Topley and I have a little secret that I want to share with you today. No, not that one. The fact is that I'm addicted to buying computer books, to the extent that I often buy them but never finish them. I could spend days in the Computing section of one of the big bookshops in Charing Cross Road.

It gets worse though because not only do I have a poor record at finishing them, sometimes I don’t even start them! This is a problem for me, because if I fork out for a book then I jolly well feel obliged to read it from cover to cover. Then I feel guilty when I invariably don’t get time to do so.

I usually read every day, but it tends to be a fiction book at bedtime. I don’t like reading technical books before going to sleep because they set my mind buzzing and keep me awake.

Another excuse for my shocking record at completing computer books is that invariably most of them go out of date pretty quickly. For example, probably half of the Ruby on Rails books in my bookcase are obsolete now as the framework has evolved so rapidly.

A selection of my computer books in my bookcase

Listed below are a selection of the computer books that I've started, half read, read completely or realistically will never read. Incidentally, the book title hyperlinks will take you to the Amazon UK page for that book. I am an Amazon Associate but I won’t make any money if you click on those links and decide to buy these fabulous books, because I couldn’t be bothered to work out what the associate URLs should be. So rest assured that this hasn’t all been a cunning plan to make me rich. With that stated, read the list and weep dear reader.

Books That I've Started But Have Yet To Complete

The Art of Rails

This was the book that was going to buck the trend; I vowed when I bought it that I was absolutely going to finish it. After all, it’s less than 300 pages; how hard could it be? Needless to say, other things got in the way, but I'm definitely ready to start chapter three.

Design Patterns Explained: A New Perspective on Object-Oriented Design

I got about half-way through this book by reading it during some downtime at work. It’s pretty good.

Ruby For Rails

I'm actually about halfway through this one, but the trouble is that I read the half nearly two years ago, so have forgotten it. I met the author of this book—David A. Black—at Berlin airport the morning after RailsConf Europe 2008 finished.

The Rails Way

This tome weighs in at over 800 pages, although some of that is an API reference. The big deal about this volume when it came out was that it was one of the few books to cover the then-new Rails 2.0. It’s been a handy reference.

Books That I Mean To Start

Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software

The famous Gang of Four book that kick-started the whole software design patterns movement. Whilst there are undoubtedly many programming pearls in here, it’s kind of hard to find them because the text isn’t written in the most accessible way and the examples use C++. Hence a whole industry seems to have sprung up around writing books that present this material in an easier to digest format.

Refactoring: Improving The Design of Existing Code

According to my Amazon UK order history, I bought this book nine years ago! I've dipped into it numerous times and when doing so have always thought that I really must read it properly, but obviously it’s not happened yet. Now I have a excuse—I lent it to a member of my team at work to read, so I actually don’t have it to hand.

Programming Ruby: The Pragmatic Programmer’s Guide

The classic “Pickaxe” book and the definitive guide to the Ruby programming language. I look things up in this book fairly frequently.

TextMate: Power Editing for the Mac

I've been using TextMate as my programming editor on the Mac since early 2006. However, as I only use about 5% of its capabilities I thought it would be a good idea to learn more about it so that I could leverage its power and become super-productive. I haven’t read the book yet but three years on I'm probably up to 6%.

The Mythical Man Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Anniversary Edition

This book should need no introduction. It’s the classic text on software engineering. I actually have this sat on my computer desk right in front of me as a reminder to read it. I'm sure it will be very good when I do so.

The Pragmatic Programmer

I really like this book and I expect I'll like it even more when I finally sit down to read it properly.

Books I Own But Will Never Read

Applying Enterprise JavaBeans, Second Edition

I bought this when I was really into Enterprise Java in quite a big way. In other words, when I didn’t know better. I've never actually written an EJB and never intend to. Maybe I'll take it to a charity shop where it will nestle nicely alongside the celebrity keep fit videos and Take That CDs.

Dive Into Python

I bought this after reading the tip in The Pragmatic Programmer book that you should learn one new programming language a year. So I got this book and then went and learned Ruby.

Expert One-on-One J2EE Design and Development

This is the book that laid down much of the thinking that would evolve into the highly successful Spring framework, which is much used in the J2EE and .NET worlds. I found it a bit heavy going. Much like Spring itself, come to think of it.

High Performance MySQL

I couldn’t really tell you why I bought this. I think it was when I first learned Rails and I probably thought that having a hugely successful website on my hands was imminent.

Microsoft Visual C# .NET Step by Step

I bought this book in 2002 back when .NET was new and exciting and it looked like my employer might embrace the technology for their modernisation programme. They went with J2EE instead, hence the Java books.

Books That Against The Odds I'm Proud To Have Read Completely

Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

If you're a computer programmer then you really owe it to yourself to read this book, as it does a very good job of explaining how computers actually work. Unfortunately I made the mistake of reading it at bedtime, so the later chapters lost me completely and I also had a lot of sleepless nights. I'd like to read it again when I have the time to blast through it in a week.

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams

I bought this book because it’s highly rated by Joel Spolsky. It is a great book but I found it a bit dispiriting, in the same way that an owner of a beat up old banger might feel if a shiny new Porsche 911 parked next to them.

So there you have it, that’s a glimpse at my computer book addiction. I may not have actually read all that much of them, but I certainly enjoyed buying them and dipping into them. By the way, did I mention that I really like screencasts too…


There are 2 comments on this post. Comments are closed.

  • avatar John Conners
    02 June 2009 at 11:29

    You know, maybe you could clear some of those books out selling them on Amazon for 10p each and in future why not join your local library? I hear they're a lot more up to date than they used to be and you can often get them to order in new books you're interested in!

  • avatar John Topley
    02 June 2009 at 17:26

    So then I'll still have the books hanging around, only I'll have the hassle of having to keep renewing them and I won't have had the enjoyment of buying them new. I don't think so! ;-)

If I fork out for a book then I jolly well feel obliged to read it from cover to cover.


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