I’ve got a problem.
Computer/Programming books. I have a shelf full of them. When I was a teenager my computer time was limited, so I would often read computer books I had or borrowed. Recently I decided to expand my collection and add classics. I bought ‘Clean Code’ and “Code Complete”. Both well-regarded books about software development practices. I’ve barely cracked open either of them, sadly. The only time I can think of doing so was when I had a power outage!
Following this proud tradition, I decided to add more books to my collection. In particular- the biggest one was the entire four-volume set of Donald Knuth’s The Art of Computer Programming. I also got “Programming F# 3.0” and “Programming C# 5.0”. And the overwhelming question to me is “why”…. When will I read them? I’ve hardly even touched the two I bought over 2 years ago!
Books versus Internet
Programming/Computer Books do have a rather hefty competition in the form of the Internet. I think there is an argument to be made for books, however, even compared to eBook devices such as Kindles. There is an ineffable quality to a good book, and I think it being physical makes reading it more “personal” in some way.
The aforementioned titles have since arrived, and I’ve tried to get started with them. I’ve pushed through The first volume of the “Art of Computer Programming” as best I can. I can see why it has become something of a Programmer’s Bible of sorts, and why Knuth is so well-regarded in the industry.
One of the biggest advantages of Donald Knuth’s “Art of Computer Programming” is that it’s content is effectively timeless- he mentions therein that it is effectively designed to be accessible, and from what I’ve read so far (not much, admittedly!) he holds true to that
very well. This is in contrast to what could be called more timely titles. For example, “Programming F# 3.0” will eventually be “outdated” in the sense that there will be future versions of F# released; same with “Programming C# 5.0”. Both of these are excellent titles but will they still be useful in fifty years? Arguably, it doesn’t really matter since there will be updated versions, and a good software developer tries to keep up to date on the most recent technologies and platforms. But there is something to me -unsavoury- about content, like books that eventually becomes out of date.
On the other hand, an argument could be made that, regardless of content, books have a “timeless” quality to them. for example I still have books covering Windows 3.1 and Visual Basic 2.0, as well as an ancient college textbook covering BASIC. I find that these books are far more valuable for information about the topics they cover than even the Internet, so while what they actually cover may be somewhat out-dated, the information and topics they cover particularly with regards to older software is much more difficult to find online than more up to date information, so there is certainly some value there.