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As much as I love to code, as little do I know about the history of programming. I know some names (Turing, Ritchie, Linus) - but that's it. I know roughly what they did and I'm a bit ashamed. This, and because I want to know more, I'm asking for recommendable reads (be it books, e-books, articles, w/e) on this topic.

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10 Answers

There's Programmers at Work and Coders at Work where they interview some of the prominent programmers at the time. The first is from the 80's (includes an interview with Bill Gates, which is also available here) and the second is more current.

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+1, I just lost 15 minutes reading the gates interview :p –  Baboon Mar 27 '12 at 11:31
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Whilst not strictly about programming, I found the history presented in Steven Weber's The Success Of Open Source and the collection of articles in Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution pretty interesting

As a side note, one of them (I think Open Sources) contains a full copy of the Torvalds-Tannenbaum debate

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Dennis Ritchie's The Development of the C Language is an interesting read.

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I cannot recommend Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution enough.

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+1 I loved this book. –  sevenseacat Mar 28 '12 at 4:55
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As I suggested in another answer recently, I would highly recommend reading A Sketch of The Analytical Engine, written by Luigi Menabrea in 1842 and translated into English by Ada Lovelace (actually Augusta Ada King (nee Byron), Countess of Lovelace).

The paper is more notable for Ada's copious notes (which more than double the length of the paper) than for the original content as they present the first computer program - an implementation of an algorithm for generating the sequence of Bernoulli numbers on the analytical engine.

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If you want a fun video check out Richard Gabriel & Guy Steele, "50 in 50" given at Rails Conf 2011

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The introduction chapter to Leo Brodies Thinking Forth gives a nice and fun historical overview of programming. It's not very in-depth but short and quite readable, and despite it's age still relevant in many ways. Also some of the writings of Niklaus Wirth can be quite interesting in a historical context.

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Check out A Brief History of Hackerdom by Eric S. Raymond.

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On a less serious note, there is A Brief, Incomplete, and Mostly Wrong History of Programming Languages. Probably won't tell you much useful, but I think it's worth to be mentioned here.

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USENET - is the best archive of pre-internet computer history, programming and programming languages pre-dominate the discussions of the early eras.

For better or worse, Google Groups ( formerly DejaNews ) is probably the best archive of Usenet available.

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Wow, talk about searching for a needle in a haystack. You do know that usenet was often referred to back then as a write only medium. *8') –  Mark Booth Mar 28 '12 at 10:13
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