If you’re anything like the guys at VisibleMagic, you do two things obsessively: visit StackOverflow and buy coding books. I personally have about a dozen under my desk right now where they are getting various levels of use. Older coders, however, remember when these thick tomes were integral to their jobs.
“Learn Web Programming In 24 Hours” or other similar titles were basically the only way you learned about Apache or Perl and these books followed you from job to job like a chef’s cookbooks.
Now, however, with the rise of Google-based development and error code pasting, these books are gathering dust. But I encourage you to take a look at The C Programming Language by Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Richie. Written in 1978, it is a classic example of precise and almost beautiful writing about a very technical topic.
I cracked open my copy recently and fell in love with the prose. Richie and Kernighan were writing for a different audience back in 1978. C, at that time, was one of the only portable languages and the pair explained that the code they wrote could be run on nearly any machine around the world. It was truly and absolutely portable and their work and writing were integral to the idea that code should be written once and run anywhere.
I’ll spare you quotes from the book but needless to say, Richie and Kernighan wrote from a place of deep knowledge. The pair both wrote UNIX at Bell Labs in the early 1970s and they knew C inside and out. They understood its value, understood its limitations, and understood, most importantly, why it was limited in the ways it was. They saw C as a lingua franca of their nascent galaxy of computing and, in the end, that’s exactly what it became.
This book will remind you why you became a techie. It will tell you stories about the commands you know and love and it will show you code so pristine that you’ll probably cry. This is an artifact from a simpler, more elegant time and it should be on every coders’ bookshelf.
Reading coding books for fun hasn’t been a thing for more than a decade. This book, however, is 42 years old. It deserves a careful eye and a lot of respect. After all, it was one of the founding texts of the information revolution. Few books can say that and mean it.
Until next time, happy coding.
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