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One per answer please. I'll add my favourite as an answer.

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Does a Kindle count as a single book? –  Lorenzo Sep 4 '10 at 18:15
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No. Play fair now! –  Paddyslacker Sep 4 '10 at 21:30
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How about iPad? –  Moshe Sep 5 '10 at 4:12
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Does The Art of Computer Programming count as one book or several? –  David Thornley Dec 16 '10 at 17:52
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@David I think that's technically one book in several volumes. –  Paddyslacker Dec 16 '10 at 18:01

26 Answers 26

Code Complete 2nd Ed.

Code Complete by Steve McConnell. I don't even think it needs explanation. It's the definitive book on software construction. Incredibly well written and covers all aspects of the practical (programming) side of creating software.

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I can't agree. It's interesting that the word immutable not even exist in this book. –  Jonas Dec 16 '10 at 22:44
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Though I keep my copy of the first edition, I think I have never come back to it. The reason may be that went on to get books on each of the topics McConnell says are important. –  Apalala Mar 20 '11 at 20:45

Easy.

Pragmatic Programmer

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+1 for being realistic. This book is relevant, easy to read, and probably the book many developers can actually benefit from actually reading. Too many others on this list are difficult and I doubt have been read cover to cover. –  spong Sep 12 '10 at 13:56

The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, aka SICP

When I saw that SICP was not listed yet, I grimaced in pain. :)

Why: There's nothing more to add to Norvig's praising this book as the greatest introduction to computer science ever written. Well OK, since the Why? was requested: SICP covers the fundamentals of software in a satisfyingly deep way, raising many perspectives and questions about the nature of computation — quite a few of which remain open issues — while leading the reader to see beyond the superficial aspects of telling the machine what to do, or how to do it.

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Click the image to get to the free text online. You can also readily find the video lectures by the authors, complete with '80s style color and clothing no less.

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All hail the SICP. IMO, it should be the textbook for a mandatory introductory programming course in all CS schools. It would certainly weed out people who can't really cut it in programming (much less CS) while strengthening CS and programming skills to those with potential. –  luis.espinal Oct 18 '10 at 16:06
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@luis.espinal SICP seems overkill for introductory programming (unless we are talking graduate school). There is a reason MIT dropped the SICP course as its intro course.... Still I agree it is valuable to go through this book (and do the exercises...) but doing that in a standard college semester would be tough for even an above average student. Also intro with Java/Python/Ruby/C is more relevant to the work force, the sooner you get someone used to imperative languages the better... SICP is great after that to expand your horizons. But might be discouraging as an intro course... –  Cervo Oct 3 '11 at 17:44
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@Cervo - It's a valid concern, and it does seem like an overkill, but (and this is a completely subjective position I acknowledge), I strongly believe it provides a deeper foundation than one typically finds with other mainstream approaches. The jury is still out with MIT now that they have switched to Python (some of the reasons being that it also has FP capabilities and it's strongly amenable for scientific computing and robotics, which Scheme isn't.) Nothing wrong with Python (I actually love the language), but the jury would be out till a Python'esque version of SICP comes out. –  luis.espinal Oct 3 '11 at 20:37
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@con't - That is, I suggest the SICP not because of Scheme, but because of its pedagogical content. I would actually had suggested to start with assembly (people did that quite successfully), but there are no assembly books (and probably there will never be) like the SICP. The closest would be Knuth's encyclopedia (and that would be an overkill.) As for java, I've worked with it for 12 years, and I wouldn't recommend it for teaching.. gets the job done, but it is horrendous as a PL. C, Python or Ruby are much better designed languages. –  luis.espinal Oct 3 '11 at 20:40
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@con't - also, I'd warn against using a language as a pedagogical tool because it is mainstream. Mainstream changes every 2-3 years, and with Java, the language is simple, but the task is in learning the JVM, the libraries and the architecture. I'd say to learn Java and .NET enterprise development at the 4th year of college. And I believe (I know, subjective) that is important to provide rigor early on. We have waaaay too many point-n-click programmers out there who needed some rigor early on. I've made a lot of money cleaning the crap they left behind, but still ;) –  luis.espinal Oct 3 '11 at 20:46

Worth mentioning:

The Mythical Man-Month

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If I could only ever read one book about programming, and After I'm done reading it it goes away And I never see another book for the rest of time, this would be it. If I got to keep the book on my shelf to look at later... It might be another, more reference oriented volume. +1 anyway! –  TokenMacGuy Aug 3 '11 at 17:26

Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software

This is the book to read on OOP design and architecture. The patterns are good when used properly, but I think the real value of this book is that it gives you a toolbox of ideas to use when designing.

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Do many people read this one cover-to-cover? I find it to be more of a reference than a book. (And a reference that you can't search.) –  idbrii Jul 28 '11 at 17:48

Robert C. Martin's Clean Code

Robert C. Martin's "Clean Code"

Languages, frameworks, methodologies come and go, but many ideas in this book are, I suspect, forever.

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No offence to the book, but can you really have an accepted answer on this topic? –  Martin Beckett Jul 6 '11 at 15:53

Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code

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I just counted my books today. 23 of 'em. It depends on what I'm working on. I guess the timeless answer is "C language", By Kernighan and Ritchie.

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One of the best language teaching books in the history of computing. A good example of how a programming book should be written. –  Lorenzo Sep 5 '10 at 8:02
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And worth having on the shelf, it's quicker to find the printf format codes in the book than in MSDN's help docs –  Martin Beckett Jul 6 '11 at 15:56

Working Effectively with Legacy Code by Michael Feathers.

It contains many good tips of how to get an existing code base under test and manageable, most of which I didn't know about until I read this book. A must read, even if the legacy code you are working with is your own code that you wrote yesterday.

Working Effectively with Legacy Code

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The Art of Computer Programming by Donald Knuth

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I'm not sure this qualifies as "1 book" (unless you really mean "just Volume 1") –  Inaimathi Dec 16 '10 at 16:23

The must-have Java books:

Effective Java By Josh Bloch

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Java Concurrency in Practice By Brian Goetz, et. al.

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Java Puzzlers By Josh Bloch, Neal Gafter

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+1 for Effective Java. Vastly improved my Java skills. –  Ryan Hayes Dec 16 '10 at 16:35

Coders at work by Peter Seibel

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Interesting and inspiring, highly recommended.

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Gödel, Escher, Bach.

alt text!

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Ha! This was my choice in the list of non-programming related books! I guess this makes it unclassifiable? –  Paddyslacker Sep 17 '10 at 16:27

The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master (Andrew Hunt and David Thomas)

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Getting Things Done (David Allen) teaches you how to deal with the thousands of small tasks you need to accomplish in your day-to-day job as a software developer. Although it is not specifically geared towards developers, it is definitely an invaluable aid, as software development typically involves a very large number of small tasks that need to be done in a prioritized fashion. For example: which new features to implement, which bugs to fix, which parts of the code to refactor, which parts of the code to rest or retest, etc...

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The Zen of Code Optimization by Michael Abrash

The Zen of Code Optimization

A must-read for realtime programmers - even if the processor specific infomation is dated, the mindset is invaluable.

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Does an iPad count? I would like to say my #1 on my bookshelf would be a web browser and ability to search. Online API and references are the best place and it would depend on my current project set.

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No it doesn't. See the comment about a Kindle above. That said, I love the iPad anyways. It can be a valuable resource, but it's still not a real book. +1, I'm in a fanboy mood. :) –  Moshe Sep 5 '10 at 4:16

Design Patterns in Ruby: alt text

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Bruce F. Webster's "Pitfalls of Object Oriented Development"

We got too many "OO" developers who still don't know what an object or a class is or what is for; don't know what good OO, procedural, modular and structured programming look like; and somehow manage to cobble badly made pseudo-procedural code together with classes.

This book (plus a few 70's oldies on structured design) would go a long way in helping these poor souls finally get to understand what good object orientation should look like.


Furthermore, chances are that if I were forced to pick one book and one book only beside this one, I would not pick a technology-specific book.

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It's one of the few programming books that I've kept from when I first started programming. I used to lend this out a lot to people who were first starting out. Now, not so much, since C isn't very many people's first programming language anymore. It does a wonderful job of describing what is happening behind the scenes and its descriptions about pointers brings real clarity to what is otherwise a very confusing topic for many.

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Object Design: Roles, Responsability and Collaborations

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This is by far my favorite programming book (even if it is not language dependent). In my humble opinion is the book that better presents the case on how to design objects that relate to their cousins/brothers/neighboors. A must have in any serious programmer bookshelf.

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Jon skeet's "c# in Depth"

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I actually didn't like Jon's book. The information was good, but there was so much "oh, this is important 10 chapters from now" in the book such that it felt very poorly laid out. –  Steve Evers Oct 8 '10 at 0:30
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Be aware there is a second edition, which is an update from the first and also covers C# 4. –  Grant Palin Dec 16 '10 at 18:08

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