Building a developer’s library of books

Computer Books by Helder da Rocha CC image courtesy Helder da Rocha on Flickr

Creating a library of good books is essential for all developers. However the heft of programming books has given a lot of people pause in assembling their library. The dead-tree versions of some books are huge and can run into a page count of over a thousand. As well, because the books can become obsolete in mere years the books get consigned to thrift shops and recycle bins quickly, sometimes without being opened.

With the advent of eBooks the opportunity for developers to create a library is phenomenal. Most new books are now released in various formats like PDF, EPUB and MOBI which means they can be consumed on multiple devices. With file sizes in the 5-25MB range you can easily keep your library on a thumb drive/memory stick for access in all situations.

In this post I will show you how to easily create a library of books that any developer would be proud to own.

Free eBooks

There are plenty of free and legal resources where you can start acquiring eBooks. The MSDN Press blog will list their upcoming books and will often disperse a few free versions. A recent blog post by Microsoft’s Canadian developer evangelists list the top eBooks available from Microsoft.

Another free resource of books can be found through Syncfusion. This company creates developer controls for the Microsoft stack but they have also started creating and distributing an excellent mini library of eBooks on multiple topics like GitHub, Knockout.js, JavaScript, jQuery and LightSwitch. The site requires you to register but all books in their Succinctly Series can then be downloaded from their library.

Paid eBooks

If you are interested in purchasing only books that come from legitimate sources then companies like Amazon have stepped in to fill the void. You can get almost every new programming book from Amazon in multiple formats. The eBooks they provide are much more eco-friendly as you can lower your carbon footprint. Your purchase will not require the book to be shipped from the factory to Amazon’s fulfillment centre and then from there to your house. As well, the book does not consume resources to be printed or eventually recycled once it has fulfilled its usefulness.

Carpe Diem

Digital books can be easily disseminated and this is inherently one of the upsides of the eBook revolution. However the downside is that without much digital protection these books can be downloaded for free without the author seeing a dime after the initial sale.

The rise of websites that share eBooks has been increasing and will probably not abate for a while. I wanted to mention a few sites that people can access for free versions of publisher’s books in this article. Not because I condone or encourage this practice but because I wanted to present a balanced view. I also want to mention some of the risks involved with undertaking this practice.

A common site for free eBook downloads is 4Shared.com. After you register you can search through their multitude of files (including music and films) for copyrighted material. Many have names that are slightly altered so finding the file you want can be tricky. Once you do you can download it for free.

Also, there is a whole host of websites out there offering copyrighted technology eBooks for free. Sites like it-ebooks.info offer you the option of purchasing the book through Amazon or downloading the eBook for free. This format seems similar to other computer book sites.

Another way to find files is through a simple PDF search on Google. You can use the following search parameter Filetype:PDF to search for all PDF files pertaining to your search query. You can search for keywords like “Filetype:PDF Algorithms” or for exact book titles. You can then use the quick view function to the right of each search result to see what Google has returned. As well, Filetype searching also works for a multitude of different file types.

You can also access eBooks through other ventures like BitTorrent file sharing. I also know people can share eBooks through programs like SkyDrive and Dropbox. However this practice can tend to contravene the copyright policies of these sites regarding copyrighted material. Read what  is and is not allowed to be shared on these sites before proceeding.

However, the main problem with accessing files from 4Shared or through Torrents is that you never know what you are going to get. Most of these files are wrapped up in folders and then zipped up. You might be downloading a host of viruses. If you do download from here always run the files through a virus checker before opening them on your machine. Or better yet sandbox your downloads within a Virtual Machine built specifically for this purpose.

Paper Books

As I mentioned before paper books like eBooks can become obsolete fast. Sometimes you might need the book for a single project and then it languishes on your shelf for years. Often books for developers fall into two categories – the principles of and the art of. The principles of books are about a specific topic. A certain book might teach you how to administer Windows XP or how to code a Web Service. The art of books are ones that teach you the art of programming and help you be a better programmer. For me I will always have a place on my shelf for Clean Code or Code Complete but a book on .NET 1.1 is out the door.

That being said if you are looking for older books for your personal library and you don’t want to spend a fortune then check out things like used bookstores, thrift stores and fundraising book sales. Many of these places also have textbooks that might make worthwhile additions as well.

Finally, look at your local library to see if they have a book you can borrow. They usually carry the latest programming books and often times they will have books on older technologies. They, like most of us, are sometimes hesitant to get rid of a book that cost us $75 back in 2001.

Are there other sources of eBooks or paper Books that you know of? If so then leave a comment below.

About Ken Cenerelli
Ken Cenerelli is a software developer specializing in designing and creating effective solutions for both the web and desktop environs. Ken lives in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Ken blogs regularly at kencenerelli.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter via @KenCenerelli.

3 Responses to Building a developer’s library of books

  1. Karl Baader says:

    Ken,

    I get my technical ebooks from the publishers directly, like OReilly, Apress or Manning Books, rather than Amazon. They all offer multiple formats, including epub, mobi, PDF. They also allow you to create accounts that will give you access to your purchased books, (free) updates to the books, discounts on new versions of a book, and early access programs to new books before they are finished, with frequent updates. They also offer specials, with deep discounts (up to 50%) for a limited time (a day or a week). All around I consider them a good service and a good deal.

    There is also OReilly Safari Books Online program – a subscription service that gives you access to literally thousands of books and videos.

    Karl

    • Hi Karl,

      Thanks for the in-depth comment. I too have used both OReilly and Apress before and I agree whole-heartedly with your endorsement of their services. And thanks for mentioning this aspect of book buying as it is something I neglected to mention in my post.

      Ken

  2. jeffery says:

    Nice list! the microsoft website updated their list with some more free ones linked to at the bottom of the blog page. Just scroll down once you click the link to the updated list.

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