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Ask Slashdot: Books for a Comp Sci Graduate Student? 247

peetm (781139) writes "Having visited with me and my wife recently, the girlfriend of an ex-student of mine (now taking an M.Sc. in pure CS) asked me to suggest useful books for her boyfriend: '... He recently mentioned that he would love to have a home library, like the one you have, with variety of good, useful and must-have books from different authors. ... Mostly, I was thinking your advice would be priceless when it comes to computer science related books, but .. I would appreciate any sort of advice on books from you. ...' Whilst I could scan my own library for ideas, I doubt that I'm really that 'current' with what's good, or whether my favorites would be appropriate: I've not taught on the M.Sc. course for a while, and in some cases, and just given their price, I shouldn't really recommend such books that are just pet loves of mine — especially to someone who doesn't know whether they'd even be useful.

And, before you ask: YES, we do have a reading list, but given that he'll receive this as part of this course requirement anyway, I'd like to tease readers to suggest good reads around the periphery of the subject."
I'll throw out Pierce's Types and Programming Languages (and probably Advanced Topics in Types and Programming Languages ), and Okasaki's Purely Functional Data Structures .
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Ask Slashdot: Books for a Comp Sci Graduate Student?

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  • by whyloginwhysubscribe ( 993688 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @06:38PM (#46836661)
    I don't think knuth's 3 volumes have dated at all- they're still the definitive computer science tomes.
    • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @06:49PM (#46836775) Homepage

      They're kind of dated, because few people do sorts and list manipulation at that level any more. I have both an original edition and a current edition of vols. 1-3, but haven't looked at them in years.

      • by Yaztromo ( 655250 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @07:56PM (#46837301) Homepage Journal

        They're kind of dated, because few people do sorts and list manipulation at that level any more. I have both an original edition and a current edition of vols. 1-3, but haven't looked at them in years.

        Sure, for the average programmer these days who relies on existing libraries, these probably aren't all that useful.

        As a grad student working on a thesis and other papers however, Knuth's books are invaluable for citations. Need to defend the use of a specific algorithm? Cite Knuth. His books were invaluable citation material for when I wrote and defended my thesis a few years back.

        This is, of course, good science. You may not need to use Knuth to program your own B* tree, but you have a pretty much universally accepted reference for citation if you use one in your research.


      • Few programmers actually do sorts and list manipulation at that level anymore, but any of them worth a damn should be *able* to do them at that level and understand the underlying theory to make the most effective use of them.

        You may not need to be a mechanic to drive a car, but you'll damn sure get better performance out of it if you are.

        • I teach "Operating Systems". And yes, I don't expect (I'd love, though!) many from them to have to implement a Second-Chance (Clock) memory page replacement algorithm. But I do expect them to understand how duing professional their lives the programs they write will be treated by the operating system, and how to avoid bad performance resulting from inefficient patterns.

      • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

        Reasons I've needed to roll my own Knuth-ish data structures or algorithms in the last 10 years:

        1. Can't use dynamic allocation due to real-time constraints performance constraints (execution time consistency)
        2. Can't use dynamic allocation due to needing special memory (eg: contiguous memory for a device driver)
        3. Needed defined behavior in the face of constrained concurrency issues (eg: 1 reader, 1 writer), and didn't want something heavy like an OS lock.
        4. Needed to add a feature to some old C code running on an o
    • by gnupun ( 752725 )

      I don't think knuth's 3 volumes have dated at all- they're still the definitive computer science tomes.

      The problem with Knuth's books is that he uses MIX, a weird type of assembly language, to write his algorithms. This probably made sense in the 70s and 80s when high level languages had not matured much, but not today. In this day of modern languages, the book should implement algorithms in C, Python or even Pascal.

    • Everyone should work their way through TAoCP, but I'm not sure that everyone needs a copy. The same goes for Concrete Mathematics by Knuth, Graham and Patashnik.

    • Totally agree.

      My parent, of all people, gave me a very nice set to replace the beat up ones I've had just two Christmas holidays ago. It had a fourth book! Combinatorial Algorithms FTW!

      Even if you don't reference them, they're sort of instant nerd street cred if you have them lying around. Hehe

  • relations (Score:5, Funny)

    by cosm ( 1072588 ) <> on Thursday April 24, 2014 @06:39PM (#46836667)
    A book on consise exposition without complex family relations; one that cuts right to the content. That would be a good start.
    • by MikeTheGreat ( 34142 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @06:52PM (#46836801)

      "Having visited with me and my wife recently, the girlfriend of an ex-student of mine (now taking an M.Sc. in pure CS) asked me to suggest useful books for her boyfriend: '..

      This brings to mind the ever-classic::

      Dark Helmet: Before you die there is something you should know about us, Lone Star.
      Lone Starr: What?
      Dark Helmet: I am your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate.
      Lone Starr: What's that make us?
      Dark Helmet: Absolutely nothing! Which is what you are about to become.
      (from [])

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Generally, the highly respected works for each subarea of CS are already well known. Someone studying at the graduate level should have no difficulty finding them on their own, one would think.

    Moreover, at the graduate level, one is generally studying for some specialization. Without knowing what specialization this person has chosen, any advice we could give him would be unlikely to be of use.

  • Classics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DaveAtFraud ( 460127 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @06:49PM (#46836779) Homepage Journal

    Brooks - "The Mythical Man-month"
    Yourdon - "Death March"
    DeMarco & Lister - "Peopleware"

    Of course he may change majors after reading them.


    • Add in some classical literature as well: Dumas, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Twain for good general frameworks; Nabokov, Chomsky, and Hofstadter for semantics and creative architecture. The biggest lacking I see in engineering majors (ALL of them) is understanding of other perspectives and the big picture. Good literature is a huge help here.
      • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

        Add in some classical literature as well

        Actually, if you are going to go there, I'd highly suggest any prospective engineer go see a production of Titanic (the musical play, not the movie). There's this whole subplot of the owner constantly pressuring [] the captain and the engineers to cut corners and run outside the established safety margins, in order to meet a schedule that will help his own marketing and make himself a few extra nickels. Of course this causes a huge disaster, in which the designer, the engineers, and the captain take the fall a

    • by 12dec0de ( 26853 )

      I would add
          Martin - The Clean Coder
      but switch
          DeMarco to "The Deadline"

      But while we'are at it, "The Phoenix Project" by Kim,Behr,Spafford make at least as good a read as DeMarco. Not strict science, but good practice still.

    • Haven't read "Death March" but the others you recommend (and I endorse) are about software engineering, not CS, in my view.

      Incidentally, It's kinda sad how little of the topics under discussion in "Peopleware" have actually been empirically examined in the peer-reviewed literature...

  • Computer Science (Score:4, Informative)

    by hackus ( 159037 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @07:00PM (#46836881) Homepage

    Since most of the "Computer Science" we call today is actually "industrial science" with variations on things we already know, you shouuld go back and learn all of the fundamentals fo the science, which in my opinion was established by Knuth.

    Which, I can assure you, you haven't learned them if you went to a typical University in the United States. For one thing, you spent way too much time reading about other things to cover the basics of the science of computing in 4 years at a University. []

    This should be a graduation present for all University Students, and a cornerstone for those who want to avoid college because of cost/indoctrinized education and begin studying the topic yourself.

    What I like about this set of books is, you can even as a beginner, skim the text and if you like, avoid the theory, and immediately start trying to write code and in many cases, the algorithms in the code point to an understanding to the process of many mathematical functions.

    With this understanding, you can start trying to tackle some of the fairly formidable abstract ideas in the text which forms the foundations of computer science.

    For example, I learned what integration was about from a computer algorithm this way when I was 14, and once I understood what was happening with the code the math was much simpler. I always thought Calculas at the time was big and scary. Not so scary when you do it in C code.

    Calculas = Fancy Adding and Subtracting. :-)

    But you won't touch any subject matter right now, or in the foreseeable future that Donald didn't already cover in these volumes.

    • by ImprovOmega ( 744717 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @08:09PM (#46837383)
      The brilliance of calculus is the usage of infinitely many infinitely small rectangular slices to nonetheless derive an exact measurement of the finite area under a curve. At its core, calculus is the merging of the infinite and the finite. When you truly understand it, it is one of the most elegant and beautiful discoveries in human history.
  • Code Complete (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24, 2014 @07:01PM (#46836887)

    Code Complete has been one of the most useful texts that I have found.

    • by ebbe11 ( 121118 )
      Seconded! Actually, I will heartily recommend anything that Steve McConnell has written.
  • Circuit analysis for dummies.

    It's time he learned the fundamentals.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @07:07PM (#46836939)

    . . . from Gerald Weinberg: []

    • by codegen ( 103601 )
    • My, I thought I was about the last person around who remembered Weinberg's book, but I see he's republished it. A group I worked with in 1976 used it to guide our approach to building teams and to "egoless programming". As i recall, most ot the examples are from the punch card era, but the reviews on Amazon say that Weinberg's updated it with comments based on experiences in the decades since. That said, I think it's a stretch to recommend the Psychology of Computer Programming as "Computer Science". It's
  • by Anonymous Coward

    to clarify your relationship to this guy!

  • by Stephan Schulz ( 948 ) <> on Thursday April 24, 2014 @07:09PM (#46836967) Homepage
  • Knuth and Dijkstra for programming, Date for databases.

  • by mrflash818 ( 226638 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @07:12PM (#46836989) Homepage Journal

    I recommend "Design Patterns" by Gamma, Helm, Johnson, Vlissides

    • by narcc ( 412956 )

      That's not very nice. You should make good recommendations. It's not like the guy asking the question can tell that you're joking, after all.

    • by swillden ( 191260 ) <> on Thursday April 24, 2014 @11:54PM (#46838405) Homepage Journal

      I recommend "Design Patterns" by Gamma, Helm, Johnson, Vlissides

      I have trepidation about recommending the GoF book. It's a great book, don't get me wrong, but I think it should be deferred until the reader has a non-trivial amount of real-world experience to dampen any excess of enthusiasm for the patterns. Perhaps what's best is that new software engineers read GoF but are strongly cautioned that they should use it primarily to recognize common patterns, rather than as a recipe book for how they should structure their software, at least until they have more experience.

      It should also be coupled with serious study of anti-patterns []. In fact, I'd say that for new professionals a study of anti-patterns is actually more useful than a study of patterns.

      • If you don't read the book until you have lots of experience, you will probably have reinvented most patterns, but using different names for them which will only confuse other people reading your code. Overuse of design patterns may be a necessary developmental phase ;)

        By the way, while it is in the GoF book, I'd argue that Singleton is actually an anti-pattern.

        • By the way, while it is in the GoF book, I'd argue that Singleton is actually an anti-pattern.

          It's an anti-pattern in Java and Smalltalk, and probably C# (never used it in anger, so can't say). It's not in lower-level languages (e.g. C++) where the semantics of shared libraries are not specified and you don't have enough meta-object protocol to do dependency injection. In that scenario, singleton is critical to enforce initialisation order.

          • Well, I'd argue that a library that needs a single global init call is itself a poorly implemented singleton with all the associated problems. It is unfortunately a common occurrence and wrapping it in a singleton class is a way to deal with it. But in my opinion that is making the best of a bad situation rather than a pattern that I'd recommend if you have anything to say about the library interface.

            I have seen a lot of singleton use in C++ unrelated to libraries and most of those uses became problematic a

  • But the original version is 70 bucks! From 1990 no less: []

    While the 3rd Edition is cheaper: []

  • by Angrywhiteshoes ( 2440876 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @07:32PM (#46837135)
    Introduction to Probabilistic Automata - Azaria Paz
    Anything by Claude Shannon
    Information theory and statistics - Sollomon Kullback
  • Tufte (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sez Zero ( 586611 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @07:44PM (#46837223) Journal
    The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, because you'll probably to do it eventually. []

  • Strangely, nobody has addressed the graduate student part of the question. Being a CS grad student involves much more than technical knowledge. You also need to internalize the social norms of this career choice. For this purpose, there is no better information source than The PhD Grind [] by Philip Guo. The book is completely free (as in beer) from Guo's web site. His web page also contains a great deal of career advice worth checking out.
  • Classics (Score:4, Informative)

    by chriswaco ( 37809 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @08:12PM (#46837409)

    K & R
    Effective C++
    Object-Oriented Software Construction by Bertrand Meyer
    The PostgreSQL manual

  • These are classics. My favorite, hands-down, is Ted Nelson's "Computer Lib/Dream Machines". This is an odd book - it's written in hypertext (links to other pages and all - after all Nelson invented the term hypertext!) but in print form. Beyond that, it's really two books joined in the middle: Start reading form one cover, it's Computer Lib, start reading from the other, and it's Dream Machines.

    Sure, parts of it are dated, but the concepts and thinking teach how to *think* about what we now call UI/UX an

    • by narcc ( 412956 )

      Ted Nelson's "Computer Lib/Dream Machines"

      It's a little tough to find, and stupid expensive. Makes a good gift though. It's pure madness, like other computer books of the time such as My computer likes me and What to Do After You Hit Return. It's okay though, as it adds a lot of charm.

      As far as gifting goes, it's much better than The Mythical Man-Month, which is about as charming as the average Slashdotter.

  • Computer Science: An Overview by Brookshear. See the forest for the trees. []

    Mythical Man Month by Brooks. Don't get lost in the woods. []

    And find a favorite programmer and follow their writings\blogs\tweets. eg: Carmack, Linus, etc.

  • by ndykman ( 659315 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @08:26PM (#46837501)

    Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, 2nd Edition. This used to be an undergraduate text for a course at MIT. But, it is now optional even at MIT. This is shocking to me. We used the text in my sophomore year at the University of Utah. If you hear old timers (okay me) complaining about programmers these days, this is part of it.

    Computer Architecture, A Quantitative Approach (5th edition). I need to update my copy, but this text really allows one to reason about scale and performance.

    An Introduction to the Analysis of Algorithms, 2nd Edition. Again, I need to update my copy, but this provides the key mathematical foundations for algorithmic analysis and their performance.

    Framework Design Guidelines: Conventions, Idioms, and Patterns for Reusable .NET Libraries (2nd Edition). This is much more practical of a book, but it gives key insights into framework design. Yes, it's about .Net, but it's really about large scale object oriented design applied in the real world and therefore useful to all.

    Modern Operating Systems (4th Edition), Tannebaum. A great insight into OS internals, including key concepts that are useful in all sorts of programming.

    Essentials of Programming Languages (3rd Edition). A deep dive into interpretation of programs. Provides a great start into programming language semantics.

    Compiling with Continuations, Andrew Appel. Of course, the Dragon book is useful. But this book really gives some unique insights into program analysis. Combine this with Engineering a Compiler and you have insights into how code really is transformed into executable artifacts.
    In fact, this reminds me, I need to go make sure I still have my copy. It's pricey to replace.

    I'll make a final plug for Semantics Engineering in PLT Redex. There are lots of advanced books on programming language semantics, but this is only book I've found in which the rubber hits the road. It is rigorous in its coverage of major language models, but its an actual tool as well.

  • by CokoBWare ( 584686 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @08:41PM (#46837569)

    The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master - It's not a Computer Science book, but it really talks about essential things any programmer should know in order to excel in their career.

  • by Dr. Gamera ( 1548195 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @08:42PM (#46837575)
    Other than the obvious Cormen, Leiserson, and Rivest (plus Stein these days, apparently): [] I found H. J. Tichy's _Effective Writing for Engineers, Managers, and Scientists_ very useful. I haven't finished _Hacker's Delight_ by Henry S. Warren, Jr., but there's some good stuff in there.
  • Books are for grad students. Oh wait, you are one!

    I hope you plan to become a teacher or professor...if you want to be a computer programmer, it's time to quit school and start working!

    • if you want to be a computer programmer, it's time to quit school and start working!

      Nope. There are plenty of intresting things out there to do which would be very hard to get started on without some sort of higher degree.

  • by Tim99 ( 984437 )
    It's all a real Comp Sci needs...
  • by HalfFlat ( 121672 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @09:34PM (#46837861)

    Graduate-level CS encompasses a lot of ground!

    Knuth is of course a valuable addition to the book-shelf — as others have pointed out, it's a superb source for chasing up information, details and citations for algorithms and data structures one needs to justify or investigate, if nothing else.

    Okasaki's Purely Functional Data Structures [] has also already been mentioned, and I'd add my endorsement!

    I would recommend two other texts to add to a collection:

    • Computational Geometry [] by de Berg et al.: computational geometry techniques have a habit of turning up all over the place in CS and computing more generally, and this is probably the best overview text, providing motivating examples, a good high level theoretical discussion, and pseudo-code.
    • Category Theory for Computing Science [] by Barr and Wells is an excellent introduction to both type theory and category theory, each informing the other.

    I would recommend a book on convex optimisation and probabilistic graphical models, but frankly I don't know of a single text on either topic that I could whole-heartedly recommend. Any suggestions?

  • How about C. H. Lindsey's Informal Introduction to Algol 68? Obviously he isn't going to be using Algol 68, but this is beautifully and wittily written, describes a language with some interesting features, and has a very unusual two-dimensional organization.
  • For me, it was "Thinking Forth" by Leo Brodie. Forth is a pretty unique language, barely above assembler level, but able to (quickly) build up code/data structures of Lisp-like complexity (and like Lisp, can self-modify). Brodie's Thinking Forth pulls apart how you'd solve problems with procedural language and completely re-factors them to take advantage of how Forth works.

    Even if you don't ever use Forth (and most of us enthusiasts never did for anything but school and our own utilities), learning it changes your thinking. But I'd concede that Forth itself isn't the necessity - it's to learn languages and approaches that solve problems in whole different ways. There should be books on functional languages, APL, or Lisp.

    I'm not sure what the classic list would be - but for me, Starting Forth I pull off the shelf decades later to peruse when I need to pull my head outside the box. (It's now available as a free PDF, by the way.)

  • The book that had the greatest influence om me was Domain Driven Design, by Eric Evans.
    It really made the difference from thinking like a developer, to thinking like an architect (I still write code every day) []

  • by Katatsumuri ( 1137173 ) on Friday April 25, 2014 @03:49AM (#46839007)
    One has to be prepared.
  • Knuth for how things work, Mythical man month for how things don't work. Everything else is left as an exercise for the reader.

  • by MtHuurne ( 602934 ) on Friday April 25, 2014 @04:53AM (#46839175) Homepage
    Computer Architecture: A Quantitative Approach by Hennessy & Patterson
    Helps you understand what goes on inside a computer at the hardware and OS level, as well as illustrating how you can reason about the performance of a system before you actually build it.
    Computer Graphics: Principles and Practice by Foley & van Dam
    A good starting point for learning about computer graphics. Not all of it is still relevant, but even if you skip the chapters about vector displays and user interfaces there is still plenty of useful material in there.
    Programming: The Derivation of Algorithms by Kaldewaij
    Teaches a way of constructing algorithms that are provably correct. Although I rarely follow this approach to the letter (it is very time consuming), elements of it are extremely valuable in everyday programming. For example, thinking in terms of preconditions, postconditions and invariants (design by contract) helps in designing good interfaces, finding bugs, placing useful asserts etc. Even just thinking to yourself "could I prove this program?" without actually doing it is useful, since if the answer is negative, the program is too complex and probably incorrect.
  • There are plenty ' "language x/technology y" in 24 hours' books, why not start with them?
    Or the plenty 'XYZ for dummies'? ... or the 'What managers should know about XYZ'? /me runs and hides :)

  • It was part of my required reading for a computer ethics course. Very entertaining. You really empathize with this college sys admin who is battling an unknown adversary trying to gain access to systems he is responsible for. Throw in the love story as a background and I still remember it to this day.
  • by jerpyro ( 926071 ) on Friday April 25, 2014 @09:20AM (#46840199)

    I suggest Richard Feynman's Lectures on Computation. People in the physics world will know the name, but the topics covered are great for CS/CE topics, and probably not things that were considered and/or covered in regular classes. []

  • ...If she's planning on getting a job instead of teaching.

    Every software engineer should read this when they're ready.

    It condenses decades of pain/suffering/learning concisely and provides a framework for many of the things that I've learned and experienced but had to rediscover all too often.

    If you plan on starting a software company, being a critical part of a startup, or scaling someone's product - you had better read it - it will likely save you huge amounts of time, money, effort, and risk.

  • Knuth's books are very book, but they don't get much use from me. Instead:

    Introduction to Algorithms by Cormen et al.

    A good statistics book. Mine is an old thing: Mathematical Statistics with Applications by Mendenhall and Scheaffer.

    A good operations research book (linear programming, queueing theory, Markov models/decision processes, and the like). Another old thing: Operations Research by Hillier and Lieberman.

    Other than that, it's books that are/were used often for programming reference: Co
  • A Programming Language

    (by Ken Iverson)

  • There is no good example of a CS book, well language references like "The C Book" are great for a single language, no CS book can cover all languages. Simply put, if you want a good CS book, pick a language and find the reference manual for that language.
  • The Psychology of Computer Programming by Gerald Weinburg
    The Mythical Man-Month by Fred Brooks

All Finagle Laws may be bypassed by learning the simple art of doing without thinking.