Best Programming Books - For Startup Founders and Entrepreneurs

What books do the best programmers read to stay up-to-date with the latest in the continually changing environment of software development? How do they know which books are really worth their time, and which are nothing more than simple side pleasures?

To some, the best programming books are those that can be easily referenced when they’re stuck in the code. These types of reference materials are, to be certain, some of the most valuable books to have on hand. The internet, however, is often a more easily accessible reference guide in situations like this.

So, what kinds of programming books exist? Beyond reference books, many books help people, like me, understand how programming works at a higher level. Programming is not just about the code, but it is also about what the code creates and how that creation will be used.

Almost anyone can find a snippet of code, copy it, and paste it into place. With luck, it will function properly on its own. Whether or not that code can be created to work with specific intentions will depend on how well the programmer understands the code’s language and syntax.
I’ve found that the best books are those that blend introducing new, concrete knowledge with examples with more abstract ideas that must be addressed while programming.

From foundational books to reference books, from career guidance books to efficiency books, there is a huge variety of content about programming available to programmers who are ready to do more.

Are you one of those programmers? I know I am. Today’s list, though, was not created by me.

It was curated by the ideas, thoughts, and knowledge-base of the amazing CEO Library community. Experienced developers and programmers shared their insight into what are the best programming books, and this is what they recommend:

 

 

Best Programming Books

 

Programming

Programming in Scala

I love the following books, even though I don’t code in these languages in a daily basis. It’s still interesting to learn the concepts behind them

  • Programming in Scala (Odersky)
  • Learn You a Haskell for Great Good
Santiago Basulto
Co-Founder/rmotr.com
The

The Tao of Programming

Now, I had heard from my publisher (who knew Jobs from way back) that Jobs had liked my recently published book The Tao of Programming. So I thought, why not? and walked up and introduced myself. Jobs smiled, shook my outstretched hand and said:
Steve Jobs
Founder/Apple
Coders

Coders at Work: Reflections on the Craft of Programming

Founders at Work and Coders at Work are really good ones too. They’re filled with interesting and inspiring stories.
Santiago Basulto
Co-Founder/rmotr.com
Programming

Programming Pearls

I very much enjoyed reading Programming Pearls by John Bentley. Most of the software we write is trying to solve fairly large and ill-defined problems in a way that minimises development cost, but Programming Pearls presents a lot of small, well-defined problems, and talks through their solutions in ways that minimise machine resource usage. There are lots of good a-ha moments when reading it, and working through ways to think about the problems that knock asymptotic orders off the computational complexity.
James Stanley
Founder/SMS Privacy
The

The Passionate Programmer: Creating a Remarkable Career in Software Development

As for programming, I’d recommend The Passionate Programmer.
Timur Badretdinov
Founder/Longcaller
Coders:

Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World

If you have to work with programmers, it’s essential to understand that programming has a culture. This book will help you understand what programmers do, how they do it, and why. It decodes the culture of code.
Kevin Kelly
Author, Founding executive editor/Wired
JavaScript:

JavaScript: The Good Parts

I’m actually a self-taught programmer, so these books have really helped me with practical skills that I could put to use & yield results. The return on investment for these kinds of books is off the charts for me!
Auston Bunsen
Co-Founder/CBlocks
Mastering

Mastering Bitcoin: Programming the Open Blockchain

This [reading something helpful] happens with pretty much every book I read. Most recently it happened to me when I was reading “Mastering Bitcoin” by Andreas Antonoupolous. I had no idea what the components of a Bitcoin wallet address were and he elegantly explains them in detail in chapter 4. It’s particularly relevant because we started CBlocks and we focus almost exclusively on wallet generation for our customers.
Auston Bunsen
Co-Founder/CBlocks
The

The Unix Programming Environment

The Unix Programming Environment, by Brian Kernighan and Rob Pike. In addition to its articulation of the Unix tools philosophy that is so dear to my heart, the writing is a model of clarity and elegance. As a technical writer, I aspired to be as transparent as Kernighan.
Tim O'Reilly
Founder/O'Reilly Media
Smalltalk

Smalltalk Best Practice Patterns

My favorite book about programming. It’s more than twenty years old now, but it remains as relevant as ever. It captures so many of the patterns I love to dance with when writing beautiful code.
David Heinemeier Hansson
Co-Founder/Basecamp
Structure

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs

If my career path is hackers turned business people, I’d say:

Start with the basics and fundamentals:

  • SICP: Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs
  • Code Complete 2
Santiago Basulto
Co-Founder/rmotr.com
Learn

Learn Ruby the Hard Way: A Simple and Idiomatic Introduction to the Imaginative World Of Computational Thinking with Code

I’m actually a self-taught programmer, so these books have really helped me with practical skills that I could put to use & yield results. The return on investment for these kinds of books is off the charts for me!
Auston Bunsen
Co-Founder/CBlocks

Learn You a Haskell for Great Good!

I love the following books, even though I don’t code in these languages in a daily basis. It’s still interesting to learn the concepts behind them

  • Programming in Scala (Odersky)
  • Learn You a Haskell for Great Good
Santiago Basulto
Co-Founder/rmotr.com
Code

Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction

If my career path is hackers turned business people, I’d say:

Start with the basics and fundamentals:

  • SICP: Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs
  • Code Complete 2
Santiago Basulto
Co-Founder/rmotr.com

Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age

I want everybody I know to read How to Make Wealth and Mind the Gap (chapters 6 and 7), which brilliantly articulate the most commonly, and frustratingly, misunderstood core economic principles of everyday life.
Evan Williams
Co-creator/Blogger

Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code (2nd Edition)

This is next on my list of technical books to read! Refactoring is one of two programming books that I’ve read multiple times (the other is Smalltalk Best Practice Patterns), and I’m due for another reading. What perfect time then to dive into Martin Fowler’s long anticipated 2nd edition, now using JavaScript rather than Java for the code examples.

Like the stoic books, I read Refactoring and that Smalltalk book again and again not because I’m going to learn something new, per se, but because I want to be reminded about what I already know. And what better time to reread than just as we’re kicking off a new major project that needs a fresh architectural foundation.

Also, these two books just remind every time of how much I love the craft of programming. It’s not just having the programs, it’s not just solving problems, it’s simply using my hands and head to program that in and of itself is sublime.

David Heinemeier Hansson
Co-Founder/Basecamp
Uncreative

Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age

I read it after I finished an MA in Writing and it was exactly what I needed to burst my bubble. I loved it because it questioned everything and it perfectly matched my skepticism towards creative writing courses. Regardless of my amazing experience within the creative writing masters, nobody can teach you how to write, but somebody can definitely teach you how to rewrite and how to read. In a world where everybody urges you to be original, creative, Goldsmith states that you can totally be creative with somebody else’s work with a little help from the Internet: word processing, databasing, recycling, sampling, appropriation, coding (‘Pure Poems’ written by Shigeru Matsui in alphanumeric binaries), plundering, programming, and even plagiarizing. Yes, plagiarizing. The most eloquent example (I love it) is this essay entitled ‘The Ecstasy of Influence: A plagiarism’. Jonathan Lethem brilliantly shows us that nothing is original in literature – all ideas has been shared, recycled, stolen, quoted, translated, re-translated, imitated, pirated, patch written, re-written and so on. The essay is the perfect example for this – not a single word or idea belongs Jonathan Lethem. Everything is borrowed from others’ books, ideas, writings. Goldsmith even taught the ‘Uncreative Writing’ course at the University of Pennsylvania where students were not allowed to bring to the class any trace of originality and creativity.
Alina Varlanuta
Creator/The Hole in Your Head
Digital

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

The unassuming Georgetown computer science professor has become one of this generation’s leading voices on how we can all work more wisely and more deeply. With media consumption continuing to go way up (which, for most of us, means happiness and productivity continue to go way down) and the world becoming noisier every day, this book is an urgent call to action for anyone serious about being in command of their own life. The minimalism movement successfully led millions to opt out of the many possessions we’re told we’re supposed to crave and focus instead on the small number of things that bring the most meaning and value to our lives. The same ideology applies to our online lives. Digital clutter is stressful. We don’t need the constant connectivity, the pages and pages of apps, the incessant scrolling and clicking. New technologies can improve our lives if we know how to best leverage them. This book already helped me break my Facebook addiction—and the first month of the year has been a big improvement for me because of that.

Ryan Holiday
Media Strategist, Author, Founder/Brass Check

Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky’s Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent

The book spans a broad field and it's obvious that many things, like the location of your company, are beyond the control of most managers and technical interviewers. Joel recognizes this and gives solid and honest no-nonsense advices. Like all of Joel's writings this book is humorous, interesting and a true joy to read. I tend to disagree quite often with Joel's technical opinions, but on the softer aspects of the business, he's brilliant. If you're involved in the hiring process, this book will give you a lot of ideas and advices.
Adam Tornhill
Founder/Empear
The

The Impossible Fortress

The Impossible Fortress: My inner 14-year-old loved this book. Loved, loved, loved it. The Commodore 64 code was a bonus.
Brad Feld
Co-Founder/Foundry Group
Leaves

Leaves of Grass

I love the poets. Poetry is kind of like programming–it’s densifying very abstract concepts into a medium that allows interpretation. People can make the work their own and have better, more creative answers in life. Really anything that helps us reflect a bit more interests me.

Whitman’s also an interesting character, a total entrepreneur. He self-published 35,000 copies of Leaves of Grass. He was publishing it during the time of the Civil War and it’s an edgy, questioning book. It questions racial equality, sexual equality, gender equality, all in one work. And he kept changing it until he died–adding to it, editing it, and republishing it. Most people read the last version but I think the first version is actually the best.

The efficiency of every line in that poem, much like great programming, is stunning.

Jack Dorsey
CEO/Twitter

Applied Cryptography: Protocols, Algorithms and Source Code in C

[One of the five books Dominic Steil recommends to young people interested in his career path.]
Dominic Steil
CTO/Dapps Inc
Masters

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture - by David Kushner: - This book simple proves that both John Carmack and John Romero were geniuses who influenced the whole technology industry. It also proves that anything is possible if you are smart and hardworking.
Michal Ptacek
Founder/Officelovin’

Streaming, Sharing, Stealing: Big Data and the Future of Entertainment

I tend to jump from book to book and may switch if I am interested in some new topic. This is a pleasure for me (which I also do benefit work wise from too). It’s quite a random list because I have eclectic interests (or just scatterbrained most likely) on tech business, AI, general global economy, geopolitics, rising Biotech economy & history. I'm basically 15% to 50% into all these books.
Marvin Liao
Partner/500 Startups

Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker

I'm going to start reading Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick this week. I used to go to 2600 meetings back when he was arrested for wire fraud and other hacking related shenanigans in the mid 1990s. I'm fascinated by things like social engineering and language in general. In the end, I just want to be entertained by his stories. For someone who is into computer programming, a book like this is pretty close to porn!
Nick Janetakis
Founder/NickJanetakis.com
An

An Autobiography

One specific book that had a big impact on me when I was young and studying in France was An autobiography by David Ogilvy. Turns out this guy was a successful chef at 20, and a loser at 25, and again a successful person at 30 and then a loser at 35, and then he founded Ogilvy & Mather and became successful again at 40.

It's a short book, I read it in one night. Turns out, doing things your way may be difficult sometimes, but if you keep doing what you think is right and learn from your mistakes and successes, everything will be alright in the end. I was wondering whether to stay in France and settle for a developer job (though I did not like programming very much) or return to Romania and start something on my own (I did not know what exactly). I made the right decision to return.

Bogdan Iordache
Co-Founder/How to Web
The

The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering

[From The Everything Store, written by Brad Stone] “An influential computer scientist makes the counterintuitive argument that small groups of engineers are more effective than larger ones at handling complex software projects. The book lays out the theory behind Amazon’s two pizza teams,” Stone writes.
Jeff Bezos
CEO/Amazon
The

The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance

I probably have recommended The Art of Learning and The 4-Hour Body, I'm not kidding, more than any other books.
Bryan Callen
Co-Host/The Fighter and the Kid
Scrum

Scrum and XP from the Trenches

Many, but here’s a short list, for both entrepreneurs and team leaders:
  • The E-Myth by Michael E. Gerber
  • Zero to One by Peter Thiel
  • The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
  • Scrum and XP from the Trenches by Henrik Kniberg
  • ReWork – Jason Fried
Mircea Scarlatescu
Co-Founder/123flori.ro
Rise

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future

On the other side of things, which is a bit more like inspirational and a bit more tactical, it would probably be Rise of the Robots. Focuses all on the rise of artificial intelligence. Has some really interesting pieces on how people are disrupting in a bunch of different verticals for like ED Tech, health, 3D printing, and a bunch of other areas, and the impact that that has on jobs in the future. I love those two books at the moment.
Matthew Barby
Global Head of Growth and SEO/HubSpot

The Mind Doesn’t Work That Way

This critique of the computational theory of mind and the pan-adaptionist tradition is clearly so honest that it goes after the ideas promoted by Fodor's own 1983 watershed book The Modularity of Mind. In brief the essay is an attack on massive modularity by saying that there are things after all that escape the programming (encapsulation and opacity are key: how can we talk about something OPAQUE? We know nothing about a few critical things...).

Granted the book is horribly written (that is Fodor's charm after all) but his argumentation is so ferocious that he ends up loud & clear.

The man is critical of his own ideas, and of the current in thought that he he helped create --one may use Fodor-1 against Fodor-2. Perhaps persons I hold in highest respect are those who go after their own ideas!

Bravo Fodor. Even if I do not agree I can't help admiring the man.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Flaneur

Training for Climbing – The Definitive Guide to Improving your Performance

The books that I am reading now are targeting the 3 categories of development mentioned before: personally, professionally and spiritually. The title describes everything that there is to say about them and from my experience the results so far from these books are amazing.
Tudor Teodorescu
Founder/Transylvania Uncharted
Shoe

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike

As a general rule, most new memoirs are mediocre and most business memoirs are even worse. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight is an exception to that rule in every way and as a result, was one of my favorite books of the year and favorite business books ever. I started reading it while on the runway of a flight and figured I’d read a few pages before opening my laptop and working. Instead, my laptop stayed in my bag during the flight and I read almost the entire book in one extended sitting. Ostensibly the memoir of the founder of Nike, it’s really the story of a lost kid trying to find meaning in his life and it ends with him creating a multi-billion dollar company that changes sports forever. I’m not sure if Knight used a ghostwriter (the acknowledgements are unclear) but his personal touches are all over the book—and the book itself is deeply personal and authentic. The afterward is an incredibly moving reflection of a man looking back on his life. I loved this book. It ends just as Nike is starting to turn into the behemoth it would become, so I hold out hope that there may be more books to follow.

Ryan Holiday
Founder/Brass Check
Bitcoin

Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies: A Comprehensive Introduction

Right now I am reading: and
Antonio Eram
Founder & CEO/NETOPIA mobilPay
Getting

Getting Real

I find it difficult to say I have a favorite business book, there is no perfect book in my opinion, each has its own elements to take away, and each will inevitably have elements that don’t apply to you or you disagree with. Getting Real by 37Signals is undoubtedly a book I refer back to and recommend to others. [...] was an important book for me, the ideas were defying conventional wisdom and teaching. I’m not a fan of large multi national businesses and the focus on corporate transactions, so to read something that aligned with my small business beliefs and focused on simplicity was gratifying. It was the kind of book that I read thinking, ‘yes, this is what I’ve been thinking all along, but never been able to vocalise’.
Gary Bury
Co-Founder/Timetastic
Bend,

Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds

If you know someone who thinks they're a victim of their circumstances, inspire them with this book.
Simon Sinek
Best-selling Author
The

The Code of the Extraordinary Mind: 10 Unconventional Laws to Redefine Your Life and Succeed On Your Own Terms

Personal development book with many interesting insights, written in terms programmers will love and understand. Approachable and not geeky in any way though.
Michael Herrmann
Founder/Terminerinnerung
Running

Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works

For business, I've read Influence by Robert Cialdini 3 times, and Traction by Gabriel Weinberg twice, so if number of times read indicates favor, then those are it. There are a whole bunch of others, like The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman, Confession of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy, The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, and Running Lean by Ash Maurya, that I've also enjoyed and recommend to people.
Ola Olusoga
Co-founder/Populum

The Innovators – How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

This book, to be read and re-read, is a historical and extremely well documented history of the digital revolution, carrying insightful surprises along the way.
Isabelle Ohnemus
Founder/EyeFitU
Venture

Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist

For the fellow tech nerds among you, here are a few resources for learning about angel investing, founding tech companies, or picking the right startup to work for.
Tim Ferriss
Author & Entrepreneur
The

The Silmarillion

My favorite books are Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, and the Silmarillion. In fact these book hold a special place in my memory. In highschool I was so into Tolkien that I delved into linguistics on my own time. I was obsessed with Quenya (Tolkien’s elvish language). I combined that obsession with my mediocre skills as a programmer, and made a sort of dictionary/translator program. This was actually my first venturing into entrepreneurship, because in my naivety I thought I might be able to sell my software to fellow enthusiasts (the first movie was just coming out at the time).
Lucas Morales
Founder & CEO/Zeall.us
Microserfs

Microserfs

Prior to reading the book I had never considered that a career in software development would be an option for me. My parents both grew up poor and chose career paths that would get them to a middle-class salary with the least amount of training. I lived on the outer edge of the suburbs in Georgia and I don’t think I’d met a single computer programmer prior to college. We had an old Packard Bell computer capable of running the original Sim City that eventually caught on fire around the time I read this book. [...] I don’t think I would have picked computer science as my major without the familiarity that I’d had with my own laptop and from the familiarity of the lifestyle outlined in Microserfs.
Alison Alvarez
Co-Founder & CEO/Blastpoint.io
Don't

Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

In terms of web design, Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug — so important for anyone learning how to build websites.
Tracy Osborn
Founder/Wedding Lovely
American

American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road

It is unbelievably riveting. It does that thing where at the end of every chapter it leaves you just enough we're like aah! and you have to read the first paragraph of the next chapter and then before you know it is a downward spiral and you end up finishing this book. Took me four days to get through this.
Casey Neistat
Founder/368 Creative Space
The

The Hobbit

Today is World Book Day, a wonderful opportunity to address this #ChallengeRichard sent in by Mike Gonzalez of New Jersey: Make a list of your top 65 books to read in a lifetime.

Richard Branson
Founder/Virgin Group
House

House of Leaves

This is a book that you have to hold, because there are parts of it where you need to turn it upside down to read it. There are certain pages where, you are reading it, and it turns in a circle... This is a book that's an entire sensory experience.
Amelia Boone
World's most decorated obstacle racer, full time attorney at Apple
The

The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work

The future of work is distributed. Automattic wrote the script. Time for rest of us to read it.
Om Malik
Founder/GigaOM
Reamde

Reamde

I don’t read “business books”. I may read books which were classified as “Business”, “Leadership”, etc; but, if I do, I do so in spite of the category they’ve been deemed to belong to, not because of it.

I generally split books into three main categories. Here are the titles –sorry, but I simply can’t pick just one– that currently hold the top spots in each:

Fiction: Liu Cixin’s “The Three Body Problem” (trilogy); Neal Stephenson’s “Reamde“; and Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife“.

Gabriel Coarna
Founder/Readable

Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0

Question: What books would you recommend to young people interested in your career path?

Answer:

  • Anything by Peter Senge.
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz
  • Once you are Lucky, Twice you are good – Sara Lacey
  • Revolutionary Wealth – Alvin Toffler
  • Black Swan – Taleb
  • Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change, by Ellen Pao.
  • Creative Class – Richard Florida
  • Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace
  • Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis
  • American Government 101: From the Continental Congress to the Iowa Caucus, Everything You Need to Know About US Politics – Kathleen Spears
  • The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff.
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
  • Any book by Herman Hesse
  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu.
Audrey Russo
President & CEO/Pittsburgh Technology Council
The

The Lord of the Rings

As a boy in Pretoria, Musk was un dersized and picked upon, a smart-aleck known as Muskrat. In his loneliness, he read a lot of fantasy and science fiction. “The heroes of the books I read, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and the ‘Foundation’ series, always felt a duty to save the world,” he told me.

Elon Musk
Founder/SpaceX

So Good They Can’t Ignore You

Entrepreneurial professionals must develop a competitive advantage by building valuable skills. This book offers advice based on research and reality--not meaningless platitudes-- on how to invest in yourself in order to stand out from the crowd. An important guide to starting up a remarkable career.
Reid Hoffman
CEO/Linkedin
Steve

Steve Jobs

It’s unusual for modern biographies to be this good. It’s especially unusually for the subject of the biography to approach the biographer in the way that Steve Jobs did (thinking that he was the intellectual heir of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein). But despite those two things, this bio is and will likely forever be a classic. It shows Jobs at his best–determined, creative, prophetic–and at his worst–petty, selfish, tyrannical and vicious. You can learn just as much about what kind of leader you probably don’t want to be from this book as you can from anything else. That’s what is so strange about Jobs and this biography. You read it and you’re blown away and impressed but I think very few of us think: yeah, I want to be that guy. I want to treat my kids that way, I want to be obsessed with trivial design things that way, I want to hate that way, and so on. You admire him but you also see him as a tragic figure. That’s how you know that Isaacson did an amazing job with this book. TC mark
Ryan Holiday
Founder/Brass Check

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

Sorrell, CEO of the communications house/ad agency, WPP, has a rather eclectic mix this summer:

 

  • Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency—James Andrew Miller
  • Universal Man: The Seven Lives of John Maynard Keynes—Richard Davenport-Hines
  • Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future—Ashlee Vance

 

Sir Martin Sorrell
CEO/WPP