Recommended Technology Books (for modern citizens)

(mostly) Technology (some) Math

Cryptography (please read these 3-book in this order)

The Code Book (2000) by Simon Singh
Subtitled: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography

 highly recommended  for people interested in computers, communications, or mathematics

Applied Cryptography: Protocols, Algorithms, and Source Code in C (2nd Edition, 1996) Bruce Schneier
Eighteenth Printing, 784 pages

 highly recommended for software developers 

The book details how programmers and electronic communications professionals can use cryptography - the technique of enciphering and deciphering messages - to maintain the privacy of computer data. It describes dozens of cryptography algorithms, gives practical advice on how to implement them into cryptographic software, and shows how they can be used to solve security problems. The book shows programmers who design computer applications, networks, and storage systems how they can build security into their software and systems.

Bulletproof SSL and TLS (2017) Ivan Ristic
Second Printing, 542 pages

 highly recommended for system admins 

System admins and some programmers will need this book. It primarily deals with problems associated with Web Servers and Browsers but this should get you over the hump for other technologies.


Automate the Boring Stuff with Python (2015) Al Sweigart
Practical Programming for Total Beginners

Another gem published by no starch press

Comment: I started my career learning Interpreted BASIC (Heathkit-H8, Apple2, TRS-80, HP-3000). Moving to compiled languages (Pascal, VMS-BASIC, C, C++, COBOL, FORTRAN, etc.) showed me the true power of computer technology. Humorously, I am ending my career learning Interpreted Python.

Thank You for Being Late (2017) Thomas Friedman

 highly recommended for all modern empoyees and employers

This book was named after its first chapter but should have been named after its second.

Chapter titles:

  1. Thank You For Being Late
  2. What the Hell Happened in 2007?
  3. Moore's Law [gets a much needed update]
  4. The Supernova [of inexpensive computer power managed by the cloud]
  5. The Market
  6. Mother Nature
  7. Just Too Damned Fast
  8. Turning AI into IA
  9. Control vs. Kaos
  10. Mother Nature as Political Mentor
  11. Is God in Cyberspace?
  12. Always Looking for Minnesota
  13. You Can Go Home Again (and You Should!)
  14. From Minnesota to the World and Back

Comment: if you have any kind if IT job, or are a business person, then you must read this book. There are lots of people (and governments) still purchasing computer solutions based on the computer era before 2007. Just as we saw locomotives move from the age of steam (burning wood then coal) transition to petroleum and now electricity, computers have be morphing from tabulators, to so-called bare metal programs (programs that run without an operating system), to programs running on operating systems (Disk Operating Systems then Network Operating Systems) to programs running on clouds. This last transition has made computer power so inexpensive that now we are in the age of artificial intelligence but not yet artificial consciousness

The Soul of a New Machine (1981/2001) Tracy kidder

 highly recommended

I first read this book back in 1981 but am now (2015) rereading it as a recommendation of the ScienceFriday Summer Book Club.

(corrected) Publisher's Blurb: Computers have changed since 1981, when Tracy Kidder memorably recorded the drama, comedy, and excitement of one company's efforts to bring a new microcomputer minicomputer to market. What has not changed is the feverish pace of the high-tech industry, the go-for-broke approach to business that has caused so many computer companies to win big (or go belly up), and the cult of pursuing mind-bending technological innovations. The Soul of a New Machine is an essential chapter in the history of the machine that revolutionized the world in the twentieth century.


How Linux Works (2nd Edition 2014) Brian Ward
subtitled: What Every Superuser Should Know

Turing's Cathedral: The Origins Of The Digital Universe (2012) George Dyson

 VERY highly recommended (a must-have for "computer people") 

In Turing’s Cathedral, George Dyson focuses on a small group of men and women, led by John von Neumann at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, who built one of the first computers to realize Alan Turing’s vision of a Universal Machine. Their work would break the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things—and our universe would never be the same.

Using five kilobytes of memory (the amount allocated to displaying the cursor on a computer desktop of today), they achieved unprecedented success in both weather prediction and nuclear weapons design, while tackling, in their spare time, problems ranging from the evolution of viruses to the evolution of stars.



  1. This book is mistitled. "Turing's Cathedral" is actually the title of chapter 13 which makes me wonder if the title of this book was set by the marketing department of publisher. Although Alan Turning's contributions to mathematics, science, computing and war-time decryption are covered, this book it mainly about:
    1. John von Neumann and the people surrounding him at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Studies.
    2. How the Institute for Advanced Studies designed and built a computer and (MANIAC) computer architecture (von Neumann) still in use today (albeit smaller and faster)
    3. Why these early computers were:
      • instrumental in creating the hydrogen bomb (they ran simulations in Neutron Diffusion) as well as...
      • early attempts at weather and climate prediction (funded by the Air Force who required better forecasts before committing to bomber missions) as well as...
      • simulations of self-reproducing automata
  2. CPU memory was based upon forty Williamson Tubes
  3. Unexpected developments in weather forecasts and climate models:

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (2011) James Gleick

In a sense, The Information is a book about everything, from words themselves to talking drums, writing and lexicography, early attempts at an analytical engine, the telegraph and telephone, ENIAC, and the ubiquitous computers that followed. But that's just the "History." The "Theory" focuses on such 20th-century notables as Claude Shannon, Norbert Wiener, Alan Turing, and others who worked on coding, decoding, and re-coding both the meaning and the myriad messages transmitted via the media of their times. In the "Flood," Gleick explains genetics as biology's mechanism for informational exchange--Is a chicken just an egg's way of making another egg?--and discusses self-replicating memes (ideas as different as earworms and racism) as information's own evolving meta-life forms. Along the way, readers learn about music and quantum mechanics, why forgetting takes work, the meaning of an "interesting number," and why "[t]he bit is the ultimate unsplittable particle." What results is a visceral sense of information's contemporary precedence as a way of understanding the world, a physical/symbolic palimpsest of self-propelled exchange, the universe itself as the ultimate analytical engine. If Borges's "Library of Babel" is literature's iconic cautionary tale about the extreme of informational overload, Gleick sees the opposite, the world as an endlessly unfolding opportunity in which "creatures of the information" may just recognize themselves.

The Linux Programming Interface (2010) Michael Kerrisk
A Linux and UNIX System Programming Handbook

Hacking: The Art of Exploitation (2nd Edition, 2008) Jon Erickson

"Inside the Machine: An Illustrated Introduction to Microprocessors and Computer Architecture" (2007) Jon Stokes

In search of Stupidity (2003:2006) Merrill R. (Rick) Chapman

I read the first edition back in 2003 but the material is still very relevant today.

Chapter titles for the second edition:

  1. Introduction
  2. First Movers, First Mistakes (IBM, Digital Research, Apple, and Microsoft)
    or: IBM emulates Apple by moving to an open architecture; undaunted, Apple moves to proprietary
  3. A Rather Nutty Tale: IBM and the PC Junior
  4. Positioning Puzzlers: MicroPro and Microsoft
  5. We Hate You, We Really Hate You: Ed Esber, Ashton-Tate, and Siebel Systems
  6. The Idiot Piper: OS/2 and IBM
  7. Frenchman Eats Frog, Chokes to Death: Borland and Philippe Kahn
  8. Brands for the Burning: Intel, Motorola, and Google
  9. From Godzilla to Gecko: The Long, Slow Decline of Novell
  10. Ripping PR Yarns: Microsoft and Netscape
  11. Purple Haze All Through My Brain: The Internet and ASP Busts
  12. The Strange Case of Dr. Open and Mr. Proprietary
  13. On Avoiding Stupidity
  14. Stupid Analyses

The Pentium Chronicles (2005) Bob Colwell

"The Pentium Chronicles" describes the architecture and key decisions that shaped the P6, Intel's most successful chip to date. As author Robert Colwell recognizes, success is about learning from others, and "Chronicles" is filled with stories of ordinary, exceptional people as well as frank assessments of "oops" moments, leaving you with a better understanding of what it takes to create and grow a winning product. - A landmark chip like the P6 or Pentium 4 doesn't just happen. It takes a confluence of brilliant minds, dedication for beyond the ordinary, and management that nurtures the vision while keeping a firm hand on the project tiller. As chief architect of the P6, Robert Colwell offers a unique perspective as he unfolds the saga of a project that ballooned from a few architects to hundreds of engineers, many just out of school. For more than a treatise on project management, The Pentium Chronicles gives the rationale, the personal triumphs, and the humor that characterized the P6 project, an undertaking that broke all technical boundaries by being the first to try an out-of order, speculative super-scalar architecture in a microprocessor. In refreshingly down-to-earth language, organized around a framework we wish we had known about then, Chronicles describes the architecture and key decisions that shaped the P6, Intel's most successful chip to date. Colwell's inimitable style will have readers laughing out loud at the project team's creative solutions to well-known problems. From architectural planning in a storage room jimmied open with a credit card, to a marketing presentation using shopping carts, he takes readers through events from the projects beginning through its production. As Colwell himself recognizes, success is all about learning from others, and Chronicles is filled with stories of ordinary and exceptional people and frank assessments of oops moments, like the infamous FDIV bug. As its subtitle implies, the book looks beyond RTL models and transistors to the Intel culture, often poking fun at corporate policies, like team-building exercises in which engineers ruthlessly shoot down each other's plans. Whatever your level of computing expertise, Chronicles will delight and inform you, leaving you with a better understanding of what it takes to create and grow a winning product.

(Bob Colwell was Intel's chief IA32 architect through the Pentium II, III, and 4 microprocessors. He now writes in the At Random section of the IEEE magazine titled Computer.) Quote: We don't live long enough to accumulate enough personal experience from our own mistakes, so we amplify our learning by absorbing the experiences of others. This is the key to the collective wisdom of the human race.

DEC Is Dead, Long Live DEC: The Lasting Legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation (2003-2004) Edgar H. Schein

Digital Equipment Corporation achieved sales of over $14 billion, reached the Fortune 50, and was second only to IBM as a computer manufacturer. Though responsible for the invention of speech recognition, the minicomputer, and local area networking, DEC ultimately failed as a business and was sold to Compaq Corporation in 1998. This fascinating modern Greek tragedy by Ed Schein, a high-level consultant to DEC for 40 years, shows how DEC's unique corporate culture contributed both to its early successes and later to an organizational rigidity that caused its ultimate downfall.

MIT Sloan School of Management Professor Edgar Schein does a marvelous job telling the story of the rise and fall of Digital Equipment Corporation, the former #2 computer maker in the world behind IBM. The business reasons behind DEC's economic failure have been widely reported (missing the advent of the PC, having too many projects going at once, failure to market products effectively, etc.) However, the big question to be answered is why did these failures occur? To quote one passage, "Why did an organization that was wildly successful for thirty-five years, filled with intelligent, articulate powerful engineers and managers, fail to act effectively to deal with problems that were highly visible to everyone, both inside and outside the organization?"

Schein looks at DEC's failure through the lens of its corporate culture, and how it prohibited their executives from making the decisions, and taking the actions necessary to survive. Fans of Ed Schein will know his famous "Three Cultures of Management" paper, in which he describes the "Executive", "Line Manager" and "Engineering" cultures, all of which must exist and be balanced against one another for an organization to survive. Schein argues that DEC was dominated by the engineering culture, which valued innovation and "elegant" design, over profits and operational efficiency. This engineering culture dominated even the top levels of DEC, where proposals to build PCs out of off the shelf parts that were readily available in the marketplace, were shot down because the machines were thought to be junk compared to the ones DEC could build themselves.

That DEC was able to survive for as long as it did was largely attributable to its ability to innovate in a field that was so new it had not yet coalesced around certain standard systems, software and networks. However, as the computer industry became in effect a commodity market, and the buyers began to value price over innovation, DEC found itself increasingly unable, and in fact, unwilling to compete. The engineering culture which valued innovation and required creative freedom, did not want to subject itself to the requirements of being a commodity player which demanded autocratic operational efficiency and control over how resources were allocated.

Although DEC is now long gone, even readers who were too young to use computers at the time of its demise will find familiar truths in this book. As the old saying goes, the fish in the tank does not see the water it is in. Neither do we often see the cultures in which we are ourselves embedded. The real lesson of this wonderful book is to show us how our corporate cultures often prohibit us from doing the right things, even when we can see them clearly. Sometimes culture is most easily visible in the things you need to discuss, but that are simply "not on the table" for discussion.

There are many lessons here too, for companies that seek to innovate new products and services, and how to balance the creative freedom desired by the engineering culture with the "money gene" culture of sound executive management. The names of companies that have failed to realize the full financial benefits of their technical innovations is too long to list here. But the DEC story is a must read for anyone who seeks to balance innovation with sustainable economic success in any organization.

Showstopper! The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft (1994) G. Pascal Zachary
Show Stopper! The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft (2009)

Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? Inside IBM's Historic Turnaround (2002) Louis V Gerstner, Jr.

Gerstner quarterbacked one of history's most dramatic corporate turnarounds. For those who follow business stories like football games, his tale of the rise, fall and rise of IBM might be the ultimate slow-motion replay. He became IBM's CEO in 1993, when the gargantuan company was near collapse. The book's opening section snappily reports Gerstner's decisions in his first 18 months on the job-the critical "sprint" that moved IBM away from the brink of destruction. The following sections describe the marathon fight to make IBM once again "a company that mattered." Gerstner writes most vividly about the company's culture. On his arrival, "there was a kind of hothouse quality to the place. It was like an isolated tropical ecosystem that had been cut off from the world for too long. As a result, it had spawned some fairly exotic life-forms that were to be found nowhere else." One of Gerstner's first tasks was to redirect the company's attention to the outside world, where a marketplace was quickly changing and customers felt largely ignored. He succeeded mightily. Upon his retirement this year, IBM was undeniably "a company that mattered." Gerstner's writing occasionally is myopic. For example, he makes much of his own openness to input from all levels of the company, only to mock an earnest (and overlong) employee e-mail (reprinted in its entirety) that was critical of his performance. Also, he includes a bafflingly long and dull appendix of his collected communications to IBM employees. Still, the book is a well-rendered self-portrait of a CEO who made spectacular change on the strength of personal leadership.

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (1984) Steven Levy

In this context, the term Hacker means someone who develops elegant hardware and software solutions (hacking off anything not necessary) rather than someone who does illegal things. But I had no idea that hacking began at MIT as part of their "model railroad club".

DSP (digital signal processing)

Understanding the FFT (1995/2000) Anders E. Zonst

Understanding the FFT highly recommended  for engineers, hackers and fans of math

Understanding FFT Applications (1997/2004) Anders E. Zonst

Understanding FFT Applications highly recommended  for engineers, hackers and fans of math

Supporting Software

The Scientist & Engineer's Guide to Digital Signal Processing (1997) by Steven W. Smith

Digital Signal Processing: A Practical Guide for Engineers and Scientists (2002) by Steven W. Smith

Digital Signal Processing 101: Everything you need to know to get started (2010) By Michael Parker

Other Stuff

The Telephone Gambit (2008) Seth Shulman

 highly recommended for anyone with a curious mind 

This is a real pager-turner involving many people including Elisha Gray, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison to only name three of many. The author provides very convincing evidence that Elisha Gray should be credited for the invention of the telephone.

Click here for more details from my telephony page.

Electricity and Magnetism (1900:2011) Elisha Gray

Excerpt from Chapter 1: Thousands who are employed in various ways with enterprises, the foundations of which are electrical, know nothing of electricity as a science. A friend of mine, who is a professor of physics in one of our colleges, was traveling a few years ago, and in his wanderings he came across some sort of a factory where an electric motor was employed. Being on the alert for information, he stepped in and introduced himself to the engineer, and began asking him questions about the electric motor of which he had charge. The professor could talk ohm, ampères, and volts smoothly, and he "fired" some of these electrotechnical names at the engineer. The engineer looked at him blankly and said: "You can't prove it by me. I don't know what you're talking about. All I know is to turn on the juice and let her buzz." How much "juice" is wasted in this cut-and-dry world of ours and how much could be saved if only all were even fairly intelligent regarding the laws of nature! A great deal of the business of this world is run on the "let her buzz" theory, and the public pays for the waste. It will continue to be so until a higher order of intelligence is more generally diffused among the people. A fountain can rise no higher than its source. A business will never exceed the intelligence that is put into it, nor will a government ever be greater than its people.

Quote from Chapter 2: Our world is filled with croakers who are always sighing for the good old days. But we can easily imagine that if they could go back to those days their croaking would be still louder than it is.

Quote from Chapter 7: We are simply seeking after truth. The man who is an earnest seeker after scientific truth cannot afford to pursue his investigations with any prejudice in favor of one theory more than another, unless the facts sustain him, and then he is not acting from prejudice, but is led by the facts. Many people make pets of their theories; and they become attached to them as they do their children; and they look upon a man who destroys them by a presentation of the facts as an enemy. I once knew a lady who became so attached to her family doctor that, she said, she would rather die under his treatment, if necessary, than to be cured by any other doctor. There are many people who are imbued with this kind of spirit not only in matters scientific, but in matters religious as well. Such people are not the kind who contribute to the world's progress, but are the hindrances that have to be overcome.


Practical Electronics for Inventors - fourth edition (2016) Paul Scherz and Simon Monk

What an entertaining diversion from the stuff I usually read. While I previously learned much of this stuff (Ohm's Law, Kirchhoff's Laws, Thevenin's Theorem) when I was a teenager in the 1960s, I found this book presentation of those topics refreshingly different. But this book also covers a lot of newer stuff including discreet semiconductor devices, like diodes, LEDs, transistors, as well as integrated (non-discreet) circuits like chips. Yep this book will get you from "introductory DC-AC theory" to "microcontrollers" in 1056 pages.

p.s. In the 1960s all the electronics books I read only presented classical theory. This theory chapter of this book employs both classical and quantum theory (which are not prerequisites for enjoying the remainder of the book)

The Master Switch (2010) Tim Wu

How the World was One (1992) Arthur C. Clarke

Space Craft, Space Flight, Space Technology

Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier (2012) Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a rare breed of astrophysicist, one who can speak as easily and brilliantly with popular audiences as with professional scientists. Now that NASA has put human space flight effectively on hold—with a five- or possibly ten-year delay until the next launch of astronauts from U.S. soil—Tyson’s views on the future of space travel and America’s role in that future are especially timely and urgent. This book represents the best of Tyson’s commentary, including a candid new introductory essay on NASA and partisan politics, giving us an eye-opening manifesto on the importance of space exploration for America’s economy, security, and morale. Thanks to Tyson’s fresh voice and trademark humor, his insights are as delightful as they are provocative, on topics that range from the missteps that shaped our recent history of space travel to how aliens, if they existed, might go about finding us.

If you think North American governments should return to manned spaceflight, then this book is for you.

The Apollo Guidance Computer: Architecture and Operation (2010) by Frank O'Brian

Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight (2008) David A. Mindell (MIT Press)

 highly recommended  for space enthusiasts and computer enthusiasts

Failure is not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo-13 and Beyond (2000/2009) Gene Krantz

Gene Kranz was present at the creation of America's manned space program and was a key player in it for three decades. As a flight director in NASA's Mission Control, Kranz witnessed firsthand the making of history. He participated in the space program from the early days of the Mercury program to the last Apollo mission, and beyond. He endured the disastrous first years when rockets blew up and the United States seemed to fall further behind the Soviet Union in the space race. He helped to launch Alan Shepard and John Glenn, then assumed the flight director's role in the Gemini program, which he guided to fruition. With his teammates, he accepted the challenge to carry out President John F. Kennedy's commitment to land a man on the Moon before the end of the 1960s. Kranz was flight director for both Apollo 11, the mission in which Neil Armstrong fulfilled President Kennedy's pledge, and Apollo 13. He headed the Tiger Team that had to figure out how to bring the three Apollo 13 astronauts safely back to Earth. (In the film Apollo 13, Kranz was played by the actor Ed Harris, who earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance.) In Failure Is Not an Option, Gene Kranz recounts these thrilling historic events and offers new information about the famous flights. What appeared as nearly flawless missions to the Moon were, in fact, a series of hair-raising near misses. When the space technology failed, as it sometimes did, the controllers' only recourse was to rely on their skills and those of their teammates. Kranz takes us inside Mission Control and introduces us to some of the whiz kids -- still in their twenties, only a few years out of college -- who had to figure it all out as they went along, creating a great and daring enterprise. He reveals behind-the-scenes details to demonstrate the leadership, discipline, trust, and teamwork that made the space program a success. Finally, Kranz reflects on what has happened to the space program and offers his own bold suggestions about what we ought to be doing in space now. This is a fascinating firsthand account written by a veteran mission controller of one of America's greatest achievements.

Sojourner: An Insider's View of the Mars Pathfinder Mission (2004) Andrew Mishkin

Andrew Mishkin, a senior systems engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a leader of NASA's robotic program, brings us this insider's look at the Mars Pathfinder probe that electrified the world's imagination. One hundred twenty-two million miles away from her controllers, a sophisticated robot smaller than a microwave oven did what had never been done before-explored the rocky, red terrain of Mars. Then, six-wheeled Sojourner beamed spectacular pictures of her one-of-a-kind mission back to Earth. And millions of people were captivated. Now, with the touch of an expert thriller writer, Sojourner operations team leader Andrew Mishkin tells the inside, human story of the Mars Pathfinder mission's feverish efforts to build a self-guided, off-roading robot to explore the surface of the Red Planet. With witty, compelling anecdotes, he describes the clash of temperamental geniuses, the invention of a new work ethic, the turf wars, the chewing-gum solutions to high-tech problems, the controlled chaos behind the strangely beautiful creation of an artificial intelligence-and the exhilaration of inaugurating the next great age of space exploration

Moon Lander: How We Developed the Apollo Lunar Module (2004) Thomas J. Kelly

Apollo in Perspective (2000) Jonathan Allday

 highly recommended  for space enthusiasts

Journey to the Moon: The History of the Apollo Guidance Computer (1996) Eldon C. Hall

Time Technology Wiring Unit Cost Application
1945s Electromechanical Relays/Vacuum Tubes Hand wiring between components $$$$$$ Experimental - Academic (ENIAC)
1950s Vacuum Tubes Hand wiring between components $$$$$ Experimental - Academic (Whirlwind)
Military (SAGE)
1955s Germanium Transistors/Core Memory Printed Circuits $$$$ Mainframe/Batch
1960s Silicon Transistors/Core Memory
Integrated Circuits Core Memory
Printed Circuits with Integrated Circuits $$$ Mainframe/Interactive
Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC)
Minicomputer (DEC PDP-8)
1970s Microprocessors/Electronic Memory Printed Circuits with Integrated Circuits $$ Minicomputer (DEC PDP-11)
Desktop Computer (Apple II, TRS-80, etc)
1980s Microprocessors/Electronic Memory Printed Circuits with Integrated Circuits $ Desktop Computer (IBM-PC, Compaq, etc)

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Neil Rieck
Kitchener - Waterloo - Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.