20 of the Best Programming Books You Need to Read

programming books

What’s the best way to be a successful programmer? Practice, practice, practice and continue learning with programming books.

People are becoming more reliant on their smartphones and computers. That means there’s going to be more demand for skilled programmers who can create safe, secure, and relevant software.

And companies are ready to pay the right price for the right people.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, programmers earn much higher than almost all other professions. Software developers, for instance, made a median pay of $105,990 per year in 2018.

The demand for professional programmers is projected to grow by 12 percent in 20 years.

If you’re thinking of joining the industry or if you’re currently in it and want to take your career to further heights, it’s time to go back to basics.

It’s time to start learning and relearning with the best programming books.

Why Read Programming Books?

Many programmers don’t read books about programming as much as they should.

They prefer to take a trial-and-error approach to coding. When they hit a snag, they go to forums like Stack Overflow to look for answers.

It’s not such a bad way to learn, but it can leave you tearing your hair out if you don’t put in the time and effort to read a book.

Contrary to popular belief, the best programming books don’t end up obsolete in a year or two. In fact, the best programming books are timeless classics. They don’t just teach you how to code; they teach you how to think so you can become a better coder.

You don’t get the same kind of wisdom that you get from books just by perusing forums.

If you want to reduce the headaches and frustration it takes to learn how to code better, you have to invest in actual books and read them.

Top 23 Best Programming Books You Can Read Today

There are plenty of programming books on the market. And there are more heading to print right now.

After spending hours looking at tons of reader reviews, we have finally come up with 23 programming books all aspiring and professional programmers need to read.

Some of these are basic programming books to help you understand the most important concepts so you can write good code.

Other books take you beyond the foundational subjects and help you advance your career as a programmer.

We’ve also thrown in a few advanced programming books that tackle artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.  

1. Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction

This is a classic programming book you shouldn’t go without.

It’s a reference book that you can always turn to when you want a refresher on coding, design, debugging, and everything else you need to know during the construction phase.

Steve McConnell doesn’t just make claims and leave you at that. He offers scientific studies to back them up. He’s also not afraid to provide opposing opinions.

Whether you’re just starting out as a college student or heading your own team on a big project, you’ll get something out of this book.

Rated 4.6 stars on Amazon, this is one of the programming books that requires a place on your bookshelf

2. Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship  

Although most of the code examples here are Java-based, you’ll still learn a lot from this book, even if you’re not a Java programmer.  

One of the must-read programming books for coders of all levels, this book teaches you the principles of writing clean and readable code.

It will also help you distinguish between good code and bad code and how to turn bad code into good.

Even seasoned programmers will learn a lot from this book. Each chapter includes plenty of case studies from the simple to the complex to help you understand the concepts in a practical sense.

This book has an Amazon rating of 4.3 stars.

3. Programming Pearls, 2nd Edition

No list of classic programming books is complete without Jon Bentley’s book.

The pearls in the title refers to the valuable lessons you’ll get on solving problems quickly, efficiently, and effectively.

You’ll learn how to think critically before you even open your text editor and choose the right algorithms for your project.

True, some of the examples are outdated. But the fundamentals hold true up to this day.

Each chapter closes with several practice problems to get you to start thinking critically about your next project.

This timeless classic has a rating of 4.3 stars on Amazon.

4. The Complete Software Developer’s Career Guide  

If you’re thinking of jumpstarting a career in coding or if you want to become a leader in your industry, this is one of the programming books you ought to read.

With an Amazon rating of 4.7 stars, this book takes you by the hand so you can build a fulfilling career.

It doesn’t teach you how to code. There are plenty of other books that do that.

Instead, it teaches you how to choose the right language to learn. You’ll also become better at adopting new technologies, which is crucial if you want to succeed in this industry.

5. The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master  

This book is a compilation of lessons hard-earned by the authors throughout their careers.

Some of them cover practical programming tips, such as learning to master your text editor.

Others are more philosophical recommendations, such as fixing problems the moment you see them and doing work that you take pride in.

Each of the 70 lessons in this book comes in an easy-to-digest format so you can apply them the minute you put the book down.

You may not find every one of these lessons useful, but you’re bound to find several gems in this book.

Amazon reviewers rate “The Pragmatic Programmer” 4.5 stars.

6. Cracking the Coding Interview: 189 Programming Questions and Solutions

There are plenty of books that claim to help you get into sought-after jobs at companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon.  

This is the book that started it all.

Gayle Laakman McDowell compiles more than 150 coding questions commonly asked at real job interviews for programmers.

She then shows you how to break down these questions into easy, manageable chunks and find hints to help you get to the answer more quickly.

This book also helps you prepare your resume so that it stands out from the rest. You’ll also learn how to behave at interviews in a way that makes you memorable.

Amazon reviewers give this a rating of 4.5 stars.  

7. The Self-Taught Programmer: The Definitive Guide to Programming Professionally

When political science graduate Cory Althoff landed his first coding job at eBay, he realized he wasn’t ready for it.

So he thought he’d help other self-taught programmers what they needed to learn before getting into the industry.

This is one of the programming books for you if you got to where you are teaching yourself how to code. No degrees in computer science or internships in Silicon Valley. Just you and perhaps a few Coursera courses.

This book provides clear and concise explanations of object-oriented programming (OOP). It’ll take you from building your first Python project to acing your first interview.

Rated 4.3 stars on Amazon, this is a great book for programmers looking to break into the industry.

8. Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software

This is another one of the classic programming books you need on your bookshelf.

Yes, it can be a little hard to read. And you need to be familiar with basic programming concepts to get past the first page.

But the authors have created one of the most comprehensive references for the most common design patterns you’ll come across in your career.

You’ll also learn how to use these design patterns so you can solve problems efficiently.

Most of the examples in this book use C++, but the concepts are timeless, especially if you’re an OOP coder. 

This book has an Amazon rating of 4.5 stars.

9. Head First Design Patterns: A Brain Friendly Guide

“Design Patterns” can be a bit hard to wrap your head around, which is why you should read this book to go with it.

Programming books are rarely fun to read because of their technical nature.

But this book makes design patterns so much more accessible thanks to the extensive use of humor. All of a sudden, design patterns are simpler to understand because the authors know how to get their point across in plain English.

There are also plenty of illustrations, analogies, and specific examples that make the topic easy for beginners to understand.  

If you’re having a hard time with “Design Patterns”, read this book first.

It has an Amazon rating of 4.5 stars.

10. Soft Skills: The software developer’s life manual

There are plenty of programming books to help you write good code. This is not that book.

Programmer and life coach John Sonmez wrote “Soft Skills” to provide a comprehensive life guide for programmers.

It doesn’t just teach you how to market yourself as a professional. It also shows you how to be more organized, productive, and confident so you can have a successful and rewarding career.

But it also goes beyond your career into other important aspects of your life, such as personal finance, health and fitness, and relationships.

Chapters are short and straight to the point. They leave you with action-taking tips to help you get results right away.

Amazon reviewers rate this book 4.6 stars.

11. Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming

Are your kids starting to show the same fascination for computers?

Get them started early with the right programming books, including Jason R. Briggs’ “Python for Kids.”

This book is filled with vibrant colors and fun examples that will help children aged 10 and up learn their first programming language without the help of an adult.

By the end of the book, your kids will have built a clone of Mr. Pong and an animation-filled game called Mr. Stick Man Races for the Exit.   

This book has an Amazon rating of 4.5 stars.

12. Introduction to Algorithms, 3rd Edition 

If you’re a math genius, this book is going to be a light, fun read. If you’re like the rest of us, just be thankful that you have access to this comprehensive guide to algorithms.

The authors combine breadth and depth in this book. They cover a wide range of algorithms and provide thorough explanations for each of them.

If you’re a beginner, this book will set you up with the fundamentals of algorithms.

And if you’ve been in the industry for several years, this book is an excellent reference guide to keep handy.

Word has it that this is a great refresher book for programmers who want to land a job at Google.

Readers give “Introduction to Algorithms” 4.3 stars on Amazon.

13. C Programming Language, 2nd Edition

Amassing a current total rating of 4.6 stars, this book provides a thorough guide to learning C.  

Co-authored by Dennis M. Ritchie, creator of C himself, and Brian Kernighan, this is one of the first programming books you should read if you’re interested in learning how to code in C.

This book is short, simple, and comes with a lot of punch. It’s not as heavy as the 900-page programming books of the same kind.

But many people take years to finish this 200-page book because of the abundance of challenging exercises.

These exercises don’t just teach you how to code in C. They also help you stretch your critical and logical thinking abilities so you can become a better programmer.

14. Automate the Boring Stuff with Python: Practical Programming for Total Beginners  

There are plenty of programming books that teach you Python. Many of them, however, are the same dull, dry iteration of the other.

Al Sweigart offers a new way to learn Python.

Instead of repackaging the same old content in other books, he helps you learn the language while writing practical programs you can use in your everyday life.

You’ll learn to build programs that let you send texts and emails automatically, organize your files, or search for text in multiple files, among others.

It’s a solid foundational book that’s a must-read for beginners.

Readers rate it 4.6 stars on Amazon.  

15. Java, A Beginner’s Guide, Sixth Edition 

If you’re looking for programming books that teach you Java, start with this one.

Herbert Schildt begins with the basics of the language. He teaches you how to create a program in Java, compile the source code, and run the program.

You’ll learn syntax, keywords, and other constructs that form the core of Java.

At the end of each chapter, you’ll find exercises to practice your new skills. The book also offers the answer sheet, which makes it perfect for anyone who wants to work on their own.

Although Java-based, this book offers a good introduction to OOP programming.

This book is rated 4.4 stars on Amazon.  

16. Effective Java, 2nd Edition

You can’t have too many programming books on Java if you’re a Java programmer.

This book offers a deeper exploration of the language by presenting 78 rules of thumb and best practices.

You’ll learn to write clean, correct, and powerful code you can take pride in.

Joshua Bloch covers all the most important concepts every coder needs to know if they’re going to work with Java.

He writes a great reference book on the language that you can look back on when you need a refresher.

This book has an Amazon rating of 4.5 stars.

17. Web Design with HTML, CSS JavaScript and jQuery Set

Jon Duckett offers two programming books as a whole set.

Made for those who want to work as web designers and front-end developers, these books are comprehensive guides to HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and jQuery.

Both books cover all the fundamental principles of web development. The topics are arranged so that each succeeding chapter builds on in complexity.

It’s a well-written book that uses clear and simple English to explain complicated concepts.

It’s also well-designed with plenty of colorful images, illustrations, and white space for the eyes to rest on.

The books also come with downloadable code examples so you can study them on your computer.

Amazon users rate this two-book set 4.7 stars.

18. SQL in 10 Minutes , Sams Teach Yourself, 4th Edition

Anyone working with databases needs to have this among their collection of programming books.

Author Ben Forta provides simple explanations for all the major elements of SQL.

He starts with simple topics, such as data retrieval. He then moves you through more advanced subjects, such as joins, subqueries, procedures, and others.

This book compiles 22 short lessons, each one you can complete in more or less 10 minutes.

Each lesson starts with a description of the concept. It then provides full-color examples so you can distinguish the elements of the language.

The end of each lesson circles back to a detailed explanation to help you understand each example.

This book has an Amazon rating of 4.6 stars.  

19. Seven Languages in Seven Weeks: A Pragmatic Guide to Learning Programming Languages  

Are you interested in learning Clojure, Haskell, Io, Prolog, Scala, Erlang, and Ruby? You don’t need seven different programming books for that.

Bruce Tate goes on an ambitious project to help you become familiar with all seven languages in less than two months.

It’s not exactly a reference book for each language.

You won’t learn beyond the basics of how to code in each language. Instead, you’ll get to explore each new language and what makes it different.

Each language comes with a nontrivial problem that helps you understand its strength and weaknesses.

You’ll also get a clearer understanding of what makes a good or bad coding language. By the time you finish this book, you’ll be better equipped to evaluate a language and figure out if it’s right for you.

This book has a rating of 4.2 stars on Amazon.

20. C++ Primer, 5th Edition

One of the best programming books in C++, this book is the first book you need to get your hands on if you want to learn the language.

It is thorough, comprehensive, and rigorous. At the same time, it’s easy to read and accessible for beginners.

The authors start with the core language concepts, techniques, and standard library.

The goal is to help you write readable, powerful, and efficient code using C++ by understanding the whys behind every coding decision.

The fifth edition has undergone thorough revision to include new examples and learning aids updated for C++ 11 and C++ 14.

Readers rate this book 4.2 stars on Amazon.

21. The Go Programming Language

This is one of the programming books you need to consider as your go-to source for learning Go.

For most coders, Go isn’t an easy language to learn. Although it borrows a lot from Python, Java, and C, Go has a lot of weird quirks and idiosyncrasies that make it hard to understand, even for experienced programmers.

This book breaks it all down for you with its in-depth and well-organized presentation of Go. Using practical examples, it teaches you how to write clean, correct code.  

You’ll also appreciate the variety of illustrations and exercises that help you explore the language further.

If you plan to master Go, then this is the first book you need to get.

Amazon users rate this book 4.6 stars.

22. Common LISP: A Gentle Guide to Symbolic Computation

LISP is one of the essential tools of AI. If you’re looking to incorporate machine learning into your work, this is one of the books to get your hands on.

David S. Touretzky teaches you how to program with Common LISP.

He also goes beyond that by teaching you the fundamentals of functional programming so you can progress to other LISPs.

His explanations are clear, simple, and beginner-friendly. He covers the basics, such as data structures and algorithms, and elucidates all essential LISP concepts, such as cons cell structures and evaluation rules.

The book provides critical thinking exercises. You start with pen-and-paper problems on day one and progress to acquire a solid grasp of intermediate LISP.

Amazon users give this a rating of 4.0 stars.

23. Learn You a Haskell for Great Good! A Beginner’s Guide

Are you looking for programming books to teach you Haskell?

Skip the dull and dreary textbooks and pick up Miran Lipovaca’s reader-friendly guide to the complex language.

Functional programming can be a pain to learn, but the author works around that. He introduces his readers to Haskell with plenty of humor, references to pop culture, and even his original artwork.

It starts with the fundamentals, such as syntax and recursion. It then moves to advanced subjects, such as applicative functors, monads, and other Haskell concepts.

This book is jampacked with example code to help you gain a practical understanding of the language.

It has a rating of 4.5 stars on Amazon.

What Programming Books Do You Recommend?

Reading programming books is a good habit to cultivate.

If you’re a novice programmer who wants to break into the industry, it could be the difference between you and the hundreds of others who want the same thing.

And even if you’re already a pro at what you do, you’ll still find something new to learn.

Every good programmer at least has one book they recommend.

What’s yours? Let us know in the comments below.  

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Posted on

June 4, 2020