programming books

Programming Books

An Ordered and Curated Reading List for Software Craftsmanship Growth

- Must I read the books in order?

This list is the order I wished I had read these books when I started reading programming books.

- It’s a lot of books on the list.

There are many great programming books to read. I have tried to maximize learning per page in this list. It will take years to read them all, so don’t stress it and take your time. Remember, It’s not a competition.

- I’m a beginner, will this be suitable for me?

Before starting this list, I recommend that you have endured a codebase for more than one year and are proficient in one programming language.

If this is not the case, I recommend reading the article Beginners and programming books.

- Do you get money if I buy the books from your link?

All links to Amazon on this website are affiliate links. I’m grateful for anyone who wants to use them to support this website.

1. Apprentice

- Why should I start with these programming books?

Dealing with yourself and other people should be your first concern. Having a long and healthy career as a software developer is about more than just writing code.

Apprenticeship Patterns

Guidance for the Aspiring Software Craftsman
Dave Hoover & Adewale Oshineye

- I’m already working as a software developer.

It’s a programming book about how to excel as a software craftsman. You’ll learn indispensable advice that I wished I knew when I started. We all struggle with the same problems in our journey to mastery, especially early in our careers when we are apprentices.

Pragmatic Thinking and Learning

Refactor Your Wetware
Andy Hunt

- How is a programming book about the brain helpful?

You will always need to learn new things that will never stop if you want to stay relevant.

This book will help you understand yourself and your peers. Getting familiar with learning technics early in your journey will give you a huge opportunity to grow fast.

2. Foundations

- I know both object-oriented and functional programming. can I skip this section?

There is a difference between writing code in a programming language and understanding a language’s paradigm. For example, the languages you write code in seldom dictate the type of code you can write.

Once you understand a paradigm, it can influence all your code, even in languages in other paradigms.

Learn Functional Programming with Elixir

New Foundations for a New World
Ulisses Almeida

- I know object-oriented programming. Why should I care about functional programming?

Functional programming is more common today than ever.

Immutable data and higher-level functions are powerful concepts applicable in all programming languages. Some languages make adoption more natural than others, but the ideas are still valuable.

Practical Object-Oriented Design

An Agile Primer Using Ruby
Sandi Metz

- Isn’t Object-Oriented Design about applying inheritance to reuse code?

Often, people think they have mastered OOP (Object-Oriented Programming) because they use inheritance to remove duplication. Object-Oriented programming is not about inheritance. Instead, it’s about the messages between objects.

Designing an OOP system is not easy. This programming book teaches you to design classes with a single responsibility and compose them with well-defined interfaces.

Small, Sharp Software Tools

Harness the Combinatoric Power of Command-Line Tools and Utilities
Brian P. Hogan

- Why is the command-line so important?

Being comfortable with the command-line interface is the most cross-platform skill you can learn. It will most likely always be helpful and outlive most languages and environments.

Working with files, text, and networks is common for a developer. The command line can likely automate most of the tediousness of these tasks pretty quickly.

3. Journeyman

- I work as a programmer already, why is this useful?

These programming books will give a fundamental understanding of software craftsmanship. Being a programmer is more than just writing code. Therefore, you should also strive to do it well (which I assume you are because you are reading this).

Clean Code

A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship
Robert C. Martin

- Isn’t clean code just an opinion?

There are bad and good coding habits. This programming book documents many and gives them context. Understanding what makes code difficult to read and change will help keep the codebase maintainable.

- I heard this programming book is promoting bad ideas.

Everyone won’t always agree with everything a programming book states, which is fine. But be careful to jump to conclusions without some reflections. You can read more about that in my article When programming books are wrong.


Improving the Design of Existing Code
Martin Fowler

- Refactor, that’s when you rewrite code?

Refactor isn’t rewriting as much as it’s evolving the code in small steps to improve the code.

Since we seldom get something right the first time and our code will need to change (That’s why we call it software), refactoring is something we need to do as new requirements come.

Being good at refactoring and knowing how and when to do it can make it or break it for the quality of your code.

This book introduces a vocabulary for code smells and refactorings that will help your team talk about code and how to change it.

Test-Driven Development

By Example
Kent Beck

- What is Test-Driven Development?

TDD (Test-Driven Development) is the idea of writing test code before production code and letting that drive your design. TDD is one of the most rewarding technics one can learn. Learning TDD is tough and will take time.

- I heard TDD is dead.

David Heinemeier Hansson wrote a blog post claiming that TDD can harm the quality of the production code, listen to the hangout discussion with Martin Fowler and Kent Beck, and read Uncle Bobs thoughts to find out if he was right.

The Art of Agile Development

James Shore

- I have a Scrum certificate already.

Agile development isn’t scrum or any other process for that matter. Instead, it’s a collection of values and principles guiding your team and organization to work better.

This programming book discusses the first 20 years of agile development, what went wrong, and what worked, giving concrete examples and advice on what practices you can adopt to become more agile.

The Pragmatic Programmer

Your Journey to Mastery
Andy Hunt & Dave Thomas

- What is a pragmatic programmer?

This programming book will define and give you the recipe to be a pragmatic programmer. So don’t expect to be one just because you read it once. Instead, you need to follow their advice and take it to heart without being dogmatic.

I’m sure your definition of a pragmatic programmer will change after you have read this programming book, and it will likely change again after reading it another time a few years down the road.

5. Computer science

- I have a computer science degree. Can I skip this section?

These are great programming books, but they might be rudimentary for someone with a master’s or doctorate in computer science.

- I was joking. I don’t have a computer science degree.

Having a computer science degree from a university is not required to be a master craftsman. Having an understanding of computer science is.

I’m not distilling the branch of computer science to a few programming books; doing so would be absurd and unjust.

These programming books are not replacements for the classic computer science books like Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs and Introduction to Algorithms. I can recommend reading them as well once you feel ready for more computer science.


The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software
Charles Petzold

- I know what code is.

Writing code and understanding a computer are two different things. Knowing how a computer works can help you understand what to expect from a computer.

- I’m not an embedded developer, so it doesn’t apply to me.

The computer is what you are using to produce and run your program. Having a firm understanding of how it works will give you a better chance of predicting its behavior no matter what tech stack you are using.

Grokking Algorithms

An Illustrated Guide for Programmers and Other Curious People
Aditya Bhargava

- I have already memorized how to sort an inverted binary tree on a whiteboard.

Algorithms are repeatable steps where each step brings us closer to a solution. Being good at algorithms isn’t about remembering how to sort lists. Instead, it’s about understanding how to decompose problems and using the right tools for the job.

Seven Languages in Seven Weeks

A Pragmatic Guide to Learning Programming Languages
Bruce A. Tate

- These programming languages seem old and irrelevant for the modern age of software development.

This programming book introduces seven paradigms through seven programming languages. The ideas and concepts from these languages have influenced many modern languages today. Without Haskell there would surely be no Swift, Kotlin, or Elm.

Exposing oneself to new ideas and concepts is helpful for perspective and problem-solving. For example, Prolog and Erlang might seem like strange programming languages with little application, but understanding them might be more beneficial than you first might think.

The Little Schemer

Daniel P. Friedman & Matthias Felleisen

- This looks like a children’s book.

Don’t let the cover or the Socratic writing style throw you off into thinking this is a simple book. It’s a programming book about recursion and computation. The book is not long or complicated, but it can be mind-bending.

6. Design

- Aren’t we programmers, not designers.

Code needs to be designed for testability, readability, extensibility, and reuse. It’s hard to achieve, and it will take you many iterations of refactoring to get there.

- I’m a doer, not a thinker. Can’t I focus on writing code and let someone else deal with the design of the system?

Writing code is all about design, and these programming books will give you a toolbox to create APIs that are both easy to test, understand, and use.

Dependency Injection

Principles, Practices, and Patterns
Mark Seemann & Steven van Deursen

- A whole book on DI (Dependency Injection) seems like a little much.

DI is a simple concept, but it is easy to miss the bigger picture when first reading about it. One thing that will stumble many is where we should instantiate and inject them.

This programming book shows you how to avoid using singletons for dependencies and achieve cross-cutting concerns features like logging, validation, etc., without ending up with spaghetti code.

Head First Design Patterns

Building Extensible and Maintainable Object-Oriented Software
Eric Freeman & Elisabeth Robson

- What are design patterns?

Design patterns describe a problem and a general solution that can be applied in many variations depending on your specific context.

- Why recommend this book over the classic book Design Patterns by GoF (Gang of Four)

This programming book gives a thorough but gentle introduction to design patterns and goes through the most commonly used ones from the programming book Design Patterns. I strongly recommend that you also Design Patterns at some point but be prepared that it can be a challenging but rewarding read.

The Art of Unit Testing

with examples in C#
Roy Osherove

- I already write tests.

Test code is essential for a healthy software project. If you have no tests, you can’t refactor your code safely or avoid regression effortlessly.

Poorly written tests can become a burden instead of an advantage if one is not careful. Writing good tests is a skill like any other, and this is a great resource to learn how to improve your test writing skills.

The Practical SQL Handbook

Using SQL Variants
Judith S Bowman

- Databases is not about programming and I’m not a data analyst.

Databases are in almost all applications and they are tricky to get right.

Sometimes a database is used when one is not needed. Once the decision to introduce a database is done one should know how to design it well to avoid duplication of data.

- I already know how to write queries and join tables.

Databases are more than queries, the also needs to be designed. Speed and efficiency does can be tricky to get right.

Working effectively with legacy code

Michael C. Feathers

- Legacy code seems like a loose term.

You are correct. There are many interpretations.

This book defines legacy code as code without unit tests and describes technics (with examples) on how to put tests around the code.

- I do TDD, so why do I need this?

Legacy code is in all projects if large enough, and there are many good reasons for it.

Working with legacy code is tiring and makes long lead times for new features. It can also be a breeding ground for regression.

- I see all examples are in OOP languages. I use functional programming.

Code examples are in Java, C++, C, and C#, but the concepts are applicable in functional programing as well.

8. Mastery

- What makes you a master software craftsman?

Programming is a vital part of being a master software craftsman, but an equally important skill is communication with people. If communication breaks, it will make everything harder than it has to be.

Never forget that projects and companies are just people. People who are trying to deliver value to users.

- Am I done now after reading the programming books in this section?

The road to mastery is never over. Like the black belt in martial arts, this is the beginning of something, not the end. So continue reading something from the extra page. You are only at the beginning of your journey.

Clean Architecture

A Craftsman's Guide to Software Structure and Design
Robert C. Martin

- Another “clean” book from Uncle Bob on the list.

This programming book lays out good strategies for setting boundaries in your code. It gives a good overview of what to strive for and what to avoid.

- Wasn’t there a chapter on boundaries in Clean Code?

“Clean Code” talks about how one can keep the actual code neat and tidy, and clear boundaries help a lot.

Mythical Man-Month

Essays on Software Engineering
Frederick Brooks Jr.

- This is an old book.

Software is hard to build. The problems we face today in software projects are as old as software engineering. This book makes that abundantly clear. Written in 1975 about a software project at IBM in the 60s, this book feels as relevant today as it probably was back then.

- If nothing changes, aren’t we doomed to fail?

Knowing and understanding common software project problems helps us mitigate them or at least know what to expect.

“Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later” - Brooks’s law.

Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture

Martin Fowler

- Another book on patterns?

As the original design pattern book, it defines a vocabulary for problems and solutions. Knowing a lot of them gives you the flexibility to explore and talk about solutions at a higher level of abstraction.

- Okay, but I’m not sure I’m developing an enterprise application.

If you are getting paid to write software, you are probably working on an enterprise application. It’s tricky to get all the parts right, like database, network, and user interface code. This book will help you make the right trade-offs for the right reasons.


Productive Projects and Teams
Tom DeMarco

-A book about people?

Sometimes we treat people like machines. In some occupations, this can work. In software projects, it creates problems that can be hard to fix.

-What do you mean, isn’t success based if you are using the latest Javascript framework?

People are what make software projects succeed or fail. Few problems are technical. Having a well-functioned team is more important than a modern tech stack.

Refactoring to Patterns

Joshua Kerievsky

- What does refactoring have to do with design patterns?

The unofficial sequel to the programming books Design Patterns and Refactoring.

Design patterns solve problems, so they should not be applied if there is none. Therefore design patterns should be a product of refactorings. Never start with a design pattern but rather refactor towards or to them, and sometimes even away from them.

XUnit Test Patterns

Refactoring Test Code
Gerard Meszaros

- Is this a book or a murder weapon?

This book is long and, if hit when thrown, you might end up in the hospital. It is also its completeness that makes it great.

- Why do we need another book on testing?

Test code needs design as much as production code. Rules and principles about clean code still apply to tests.

Test code can be problematic if not maintained. Recognizing test smells and knowing what patterns to use is vital for the health of the test suite.