Have you read any good books recently? We have at Computer Weekly, and in the week that we showcase the new book from super-hacker Kevin Mitnick, we thought we would share our favourite high-tech reads with you. Below, and in no particular order, are 10 must-read, IT-flavoured books. Let us know if you agree or disagree with any of our choices - or put us right, if you think we have missed out an absolute blockbuster - by dropping an e-mail to [email protected]
Cyberspace assumes flesh and bones in the novels of William Gibson, the godfather of cyberpunk. Neuromancer is Gibson's masterpiece, an imaginative tour de force in which hackers jack their minds into the data matrix of cyberspace in order to steal encoded secrets and sell them on. Forget the Matrix, this is the real deal, a needle-sharp, claustrophobic depiction of what it might be like to view the internet from the inside, out.
Many books have documented the covert code-breaking work carried out at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, which is thought to have shortened the duration of the war by as much as two years. None, though, has portrayed the work of the Bletchley coders quite as melodramatically as this tautly written tale of espionage, romance and murder.
For a more scholarly account of the achievements of Bletchley Park, check out recently published Action This Day, a series of interesting essays edited by Michael Smith and Ralph Erskine.
The Road Ahead
Love him or loathe him, there is no denying William H Gates III his place in IT's firmament. Okay, so parts of this autobiography-cum-mission statement read like bland Microsoft marketing puff, but this remains an engaging, first-hand account of how the world's most famous dweeb came to be quite so rich (the Bill Gates' net worth page, at www.quuxuum.org/~evan/bgnw.html, lists his current fortune at $35.32bn (£21.96bn), give or take the odd million).
Just for Fun
Linus Torvalds is Luke Skywalker to Gates' Darth Vader, and Just for Fun is his stab at explaining how, a long time ago, in a bedroom far, far away, a 21-year-old Finnish student came to sit down and code an operating system to match any other in existence - and then give it away free.
The story is irresistible, a sort of high-tech David and Goliath tale for the wired generation. Though due care is taken to trace the technological wizardry that underpinned the growth of the GNU/Linux open source movement, there is always time for the human angle - as when our unlikely hero's mother, Anna, admits, "My heart was in my throat when he was growing up: how on Earth was he going to meet any nice girls that way?"
A hilarious but frighteningly real novel examining geek life in the 1990s. Microserfs transports readers to the brave new world of computer giant Microsoft, where an army of programmers search for a meaning for life dominated by a high-speed corporate environment.
The story focuses on Dan, an ex-Microsoft programmer who, with his coder comrades, is on a quest to find purpose outside work. But it is not only techies that will be able to empathise with the concerns of the protagonists in Microserfs. The thoughts and fears of the not-so-stereotypical characters are easy for any of us to relate to, and their witty conversations and quirky worldview make this a surprisingly thought-provoking book.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Arthur C Clarke
If Clarke's seminal novel about a space trip to investigate a huge monolith found buried on the moon challenged our beliefs about humankind's glorious isolation within the boundaries of space, it also sowed the seeds of doubt about the computer's potential to turn against those that create and program it.
When the crew of the Discovery find that their self-aware computer, Hal 9000 (its name was a nod to IBM, whose initials are one letter ahead of Hal's in the alphabet) is prey to all the foibles, weaknesses and psychoses of the human mind, a battle of man against machine begins. Read this, and you'll never quite trust your mainframe again.
A History of Modern Computing
Paul E Ceruzzi
Ceruzzi's learned tome is the daddy of IT histories, a book that does exactly what it says on the cover. Simon Schama's glossy histories of Britain may boast more sex, death and war, but if you are looking for an authoritative and comprehensive account of the industry that pays your mortgage, look no further.
Ceruzzi's skill lies in his ability to describe the growth and fall of Eniac, vacuum tubes, mainframes, minicomputers and personal computers, while still contriving to hold the reader's attention. All these developments he sets against the sociological backdrop that spawned them.
Robert X Cringely
The subtitle of Cringely's iconic alternative history of computing, "How the boys of Silicon Valley make their millions, battle foreign competition, and still can't get a date", says it all.
If Ceruzzi concerns himself more with the nuts and bolts of the IT revolution, Cringely prefers to turn the spotlight on the strange, geeky individuals that took these nuts and bolts and made them into PCs.
The central premise of this gossipy, amusing book, is that the PC revolution happened because Gates - "a bespectacled white boy with greasy blond hair and bratwurst skin" - and his Silicon Valley peers needed to prove themselves "safe from the bigger, stronger, stupider kids who used to push them around on the playground the game was started to satisfy the needs of disenfranchised nerds like Bill Gates who didn't meet the macho standards of American maleness".
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Philip K Dick
More microchip mayhem, this time in the form of 21st century sentient androids, or simulcrae - banned from Earth but with a pesky habit of sneaking back uninvited. The inspiration for the movie Bladerunner, Dick's bleak and foreboding masterpiece follows bounty hunter Rick Deckard as he struggles to track down and terminate rogue androids - work that would be a lot more straightforward, if only the cornered androids would stop fighting back.
Tony Collins, with David Bicknell
Nobody who makes a living from corporate IT likes the "c" word, but it is a sad fact that all too many computer projects crash and burn, leaving vast losses in their wake. Crash identifies, not seven, but 10 deadly IT project management sins, among them pride, presumption and buck-passing. Treat this book as a cautionary tale, and you may find your implementation skills significantly boosted as a result.