Books of Computer History and Folklore

This is the second draft of an eclectic list of books of computer history and folklore, suggested by posters to alt.folklore.computers beginning in September, 2020. Many contributors have spent decades in the computer field.

For this draft, some attempt has been made to clean up the format or add missing information. Books are alphabetized by author. Posters' comments have been retained. Links are to Amazon or Google.


Bagnall, Brian. Commodore: a Company on the Edge. Variant Pr, 2016.

Unfortunately, this book looks out of print, but I read it in 2007 and it left a strong impression on me. History is written by the winners, so we know all the history of Microsoft and Apple but Commodore could have been a winner. The book shows just how different things were back in 70s and 80s, how wide open the industry was. Very fascinating!

Bashe, Charles, IBM's Early Computers, MIT Press, 1986

Benson, Miles The Universal Elixir and other Computing Projects Which Failed, Computerworld, Inc, 1977

Brooks, Frederick P., Jr. The mythical man-month: Essays on software engineering, Addison-Wesley, 1995.

Anniversary edition with four new chapters This is more about ways of working, but the examples range back to the 1950s

Bush, Vannevar, "As We May Think" (The Atlantic, January 1945)

Ceruzzi, Paul E., A History of Modern Computing (2nd ed.), Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 2003

Hafner, Katie The Well: A Story of Love, Death & Real Life in the Seminal Online Community, Carroll & Graf, 2001

The very first online community, they state!

Glass, Robert L. Computing Calamities: Lessons Learned from Products, Projects, and Companies that Failed, Prentice Hall, 1998

Glass, Robert L. Software Runaways: Lessons Learned from Massive Software Project Failures, Prentice Hall, 1997

Glass, Robert L. Computing Catastrophes, Computing Trends, 1983

Hauben, Michael and Rhonda Hauben Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet, John Wiley, 1997

Hellström, Gunnar, Programmering av datamaskiner, Stockholm, Wahlström & Widstrand, 1967

A rare example of Swedish books on programming, pre-home computer era. I think its purpose was mostly to educate the public, but it's obvious that it's written by a programmer. He teaches some FORTRAN.

Hiltzik, Michael, Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the dawn of the Computer Age, Harper Collins, 1999

Jackson, Tim, Inside Intel, Dutton, 1997 ISBN: 0-525-94141-X

Jennings, Karla, The Devouring Fungus: Tales of the Computer Age<.a>, W.W. Norton&Company, Inc.,1990

This is definitely folklore and provides little if any evidence that the stories related here have any reality. Still, I thought it was an interesting book...

Kernighan, Brian, UNIX: A History and a Memoir, Kindle Direct, 2020

He self-published this in 2019, and it's an intriguing look at the culture of AT&T Bell Labs that spawned C and Unix. I learned that typesetting played a big driver in the growth of Unix.

Kidder, Tracy, The Soul Of A New Machine

of how Data General developed a competitor for the VAX by hiring a team of college graduates and exploiting them to the bone. The project succeeded, and saved the company for a while, but I certainly would not have liked to work there.

Lammers, Susan, Programmers at Work - Interviews

including interviews of Dan Bricklin Bob Carr Bob Frankston Bill Gates Michael Hawley Andy Hertzfeld Toru Iwatani Gary Kildall Scott Kim Butler Lampson Jaron Lanier Ray Ozzie John Page Wayne Ratliff Jef Raskin Peter Roizen Jonathon Sachs Charles Simonyi John Warnock

Leavitt, David, The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer

Lorenzo, Mark Jones, Abstracting away the machine: the history of the FORTRAN programming language, Philadelphia, PA, SE Books, 2019

A fascinating view of the attitudes of early programmers (where even using an assembler was discouraged for being a waste of machine time, and that a compiler would never create efficient code), plus what Backus' team did to prove them wrong.

Lohr, Steve, GO TO: Software Superheroes from Fortran to the Internet Age, Profile, 2002

Lukoff, Herman, From Dits to Bits: A Personal History of the Electronic Computer

Macrae, Norman, John Von Neumann: The Scientific Genius Who Pioneered the Modern Computer, Game Theory, Nuclear Deterrence, and Much More, Plunkett Lake Press, 2016

McCartney, Scott; Eniac: The Triumph and Tragedies of the World's First Computer

Mollenhoff, Clark R., Atanasoff: Forgotten Father of the Computer, Iowa State University Press, 1988

Dr. J. V. Atanasoff invented the electronic digital computer.

Moody, Fred, I sing the body electronic: a year with Microsoft on the multimedia frontier, Viking, 1991

Nelson, Theodor H., Computer Lib/Dream Machines, Tempus Books, 1987

Nelson, Teodor H., The Home Computer Revolution, 1977

Osborne, Adam, HyperGrowth: The Rise and Fall of Osborne Computer Corporation, Idthekkethan Pub. Co, 1984

The paperback edition (1985) has an additional forward by Adam Osborne.

Pugh, Emerson, W.,, Building IBM, MIT Press, 1995

Pugh, Emerson, W., et. al., IBM's 360 and Early 370 Systems, MIT Press, 1991

Raymond, Eric Steven, The Art of Unix Programming, Addison-Wesley, 2004

Teaches a variant of the Unix philosophy; contains bits of text from various people who were involved in the 1970s and 1980s. Available online.

Segaller, Stephen, NERDS 2.0.1

Stoll, Clifford, The Cuckoo's Egg

Stoll, Clifford, Silicon Snake Oil

Strassman, Paul, The Computers Nobody Wanted, My Years at Xerox, The Information Economics Press, 2008

Xerox purchase of SDS and Sigma systems

Waldrop, M. Mitchell, The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal, Penguin Books, 2002

Watson, Thomas J., jr., Father, Son & Co.: My Life at IBM and Beyond, Bantam, 2000

[Dec 4, 2020]