Alistair Maclean's Web Site
Book Reviews

This is a list of some of the technical, and not so technical, books I have read in the recent past.

These are personal opinions and don't reflect on the authors or their works, just my state of mind when reading them.

Rating System : The titles tell it all!
Awesome Read
Impressive on the bookshelf
Good for leveling the desk legs
It's a shame the bin has to suffer this
For Hackers
About Face

Alan Cooper, IDG Press. (ISBN 1-56884-322-4) $29.99

THE book about user interface design. There were bits of this book I disagreed with, but they are insignificant to the fact that the book as a whole is awesome. There are chapters on window design, menus, erasing error messages, and much more. The style is fluid and easy to read, it can be read from cover to cover, it's not a text book, per se.
(April 2003) I note that a rewritten version of the book is now out, called About Face, Version 2.0. It seems to be thoroughly updated. It's section on web interfaces looks rightfully dismissive!

The insane are running the asylum

Alan Cooper

This is another reasonable read from Mr. Cooper. He emplores the reader to believe that anything with a computer in it is not going to work in anyway other than that dictated by the awful programming of the computer. There is a really good set of chapters of defining users for design time work.

The Java Class Libraries

Chan Lee, Addison Wesley (ISBN 0-201-31002-3) $55.95
And the Supplement (ISBN 0-201-48552-4) $34.95

This has become 2 books in the second edition, with an additional book for changes in Java 1.2. It is three monster volumes (in hardback and softback) that cover the most of the common Java class libraries (look elsewhere for info about javax, jndi, and any ejb specific stuff). The new editions cover up to version1.2. Each book is very detailed, with code examples in most cases. These books can save you significant time in getting Java apps running.

The Java Programming Language 3rd Ed.

Arnold, Gosling & Holmes, Addison Wesley (ISBN 0-201-70433-1) $38

This language use book is one of the better that I have come across. This latest edition is right up to Jave 1.3. It is well written with nice examples. It can really help in pushing you forward with respect to programming in Java.

Learn Java Now

Stephen Davis, Microsoft Press

There are at least two versions of this book, it comes with Microsoft J++ and it can be bought off the shelf. It gives an easy to read introduction to Java that will get you up and coding quickly. There are some quite complex issues covered, though many of the code examples are tied to a simplistic bank account application. Generally an easy book to read, clear and understandable.

C# Language Specifications

Microsoft Press, ISBN 0-7356-1448-2, $30

This is an acceptable book. It describes the C# language in great detail, though not always usefully. It goes into the semantics of the new language, and gives some examples. Reading the fine print through the book generally helps solve the programming problems you can bump into. What this book is NOT, is a text on using C# with .NET. I was a little surprised by the limited reference to the Framework as most of the library functions we take for granted being described in books like this are absent. Also, the book is index free - this is a major pain when trying to find something.

Professional C#

WROX, ISBN 1-861004-99-0, $60

This is one of those HUGE computer books. It is a generally comprehensive reference for writing C# based applications making use of .NET and other API's. I have found it very useful for some things, and an abomination for others. Few of the examples explain which libraries are being used so you have to sniff about to make most work, yet the examples clearly show most of the code to achieve surprisingly complex feats in C#. I am real mixed about this one.

Delphi 2 Developers Guide

Pachero & Teixeira, SAMS/Borland Press (ISBN 0-672-30914-9) $59.99

Probably the single most useful Delphi 2 book available. It does not cover everything (TDBCtrlGrid is not mentioned from a coding standpoint, for example) but what it does cover is dealt with expertly. The text between examples is lucid and helpful. A must have for Delphi projects. There is now an updated version of this tome, covering D4.

The C programming Language

Kernighan & Richie (1st Edition)
Kernighan & Richie (2st Edition covers ANSI) Prentice Hall (ISBN 0-13-110362-8)
Stolen from Conoco over 10 years ago!

The single most important book to own as a C programmer. The others may give more detail, or bigger examples, or better fonts, but this is the preeminent C text. It even works in reference to C++, when you may want to look up Library functions or esoterica about pointers.

The UNIX Programming Environment

Kernighan & Pike, Prentice Hall, (ISBN 0-13-937681-X)

I found this book to be incredibly helpful in getting me used to the Unix command prompt. It guides the reader through scripts, C, System calls and a general guide to Unix. Its clearly written and even has some useful little tools. If you are coming from a DOS environment, then this is a handy read.

Learning the vi editor

Linda Lamb, O'Reilly (ISBN 0-937175-67-6)

Like most of the O'Reilly books, an easy introduction to the subject at hand, in this case the UNIX vi editor. It got me started, and I still refer to the book.

Microsoft Jet Database Engine Programmers Guide

Haught & Ferguson, Microsoft Press (ISBN 1-55615-877-7) $39.95

A indispensable guide to the JET database engine, the engine used by Microsoft Access and Visual Basic, if you are working with either of these environments. There is detail here about the commands and parameters that is simply not available elsewhere. The edition that is currently available seems to cover only JET 3.0 and below, and RDO 1.0. Updated versions of this book are now available, in the engine's sunset days.

Microsoft Visual Basic & SQL Server (5th Edition)

Microsoft Press.

This is a must read if you are into VB5 and connecting to SQL Server. For other databases its still interesting, and the examples can generally be converted for use. It's another book sold by the lb, though in this case the lb's work out into saved time. Ed 6 is now out covering OLEDB.

PHP Fast & Easy

Julie Meloni, Prima Tech, ISBN 0-7615-3055-X. $24.99

As a basic introduction to PHP and MySQL, this is a great book. It has some errors, but nothing devastating. I used it to put together my photo library. It may not provide the widest PHP syntax guide, but it does provide all the essentials.

JavaScript for the WWW

Negrino & Smith, Peachpit Press, ISBN 0-201- 69648-7. $17.95

No way is this the definitive JavaScript book, but as a quick intro, and as a source of useful tips, it is hard to beat. And you can't knock the price.


Flanagan, O'Reilly, ISBN 1-56592-392-8. $39.95

This IS the definitive JavaScript guide book. It says it on the cover. There are several versions of the book. I have the 3rd edition. I think it's current. It's a well written tome on JavaScript with many examples and a complete run down on the syntax and the object models. This is a must have book.


Michael Kay, Wrox, ISBN 1-861003-12-9. $35

Sometimes when you need something you look and look, and amazingly the thing you find is just what was needed. This book fits this paradigm. It is an excellent text on the subject of the XSLT transform language used to change xml files to just about anything. The main text is very helpful, nice baby steps then big leaps. The section on the XSLT language is poorly laid out, but is extremely comprehensive. If you are dealing with XML and need information on XSLT, this is your book. It certainly beats hitting yourself over the head, if you thought the W3C web site was going to be of help! A 2nd edition is now available.

Pragmatic Unit Testing

Hunt, Thomas, Pragmatic Bookshelf, ISBN 0-9745140-2-0. $29.95

NUnit testing in C#. This is a delightful work, it clearly lays out how unit tests can be built using NUnit, how the tests are structured in the code, and how to build up the test libraries. The book is well written, has a light style and is very easily read. If all technical books were this easy to get into, the world would be a wonderful place. If you do C# development, get it. End of story.

[Essential] System Administration

Frisch, O'Reilly, ISBN 1-56592-127-5. $34.95

I really should read more of this book. It's well written and has many must-know details of running Unix style systems. I have been able to find many details in here, quickly and with the correct level of detail.

Linux Sendmail Administration

Craig Hunt, Sybex, ISBN 0-7821-2737-1. $40

Many of the Unix admin books are a little short of steam. Not this one. It took me a day or two to read the main sections of the book, then about a day of careful editing to set up a Linux sendmail system. It worked remarkably well. The guide is clear, well written and easy to follow. This is definitely a book you need if you are going to set up Sendmail on Linux (or pretty much any OS for that matter). Highly recommended.

Windows NT DNS

Masterson, New Riders, ISBN 1-562-05943-2. $29.95

This was an excellent introduction and working book on making DNS, DHCP and WINS work on Windows NT. It helped here at the Maclean Mansion, and also at my then place of work. The instruction and guidance is well written, lucid and helpful. The book does exactly what it sets out to do. If you need to set up DNS on Windows NT then this is THE book. An update for Windows 2000 is available, but I have not needed to get it, this book was sufficient to help set up Win2K, too.

Windows 2000 Server, Administrators Companion

Russel Crawford, Microsoft, ISBN 1-57231-819-8. $70

Even if the this book does not have the solution written in it, by striking the offending computer with the book, you will surely fix the problem. This is a very large and heavy volume, however it does seem to have just about everything you could envisage in it.

Oracle 8i for Linux &
Oracle 8i for Windows NT

Bobrowski, Osbourne, ISBN 0-07-212442-3 & 0-07-212448-X. $50 ea.

These books are slightly different due to the nature of the install instructions. I found them to be nicely written, giving just enough detail to allow me to get the tasks I needed to do, but not so much that I was getting bogged down. The NT install worked like a charm, the Linux install was less effective. I needed to get a newer version of the installer from Oracle to make the install to work and get on with my job. Nice books.

Cold Fusion 4.0 (web application construction kit)

Forta, Que, ISBN 0-7897-1809-X. $49.99

If you need to know about the software package called Cold Fusion, from Allaire, then you need this book. The book tells you everything you need to know to get you off and running. The CD is an added enticement, containing developer versions of everything. I have trained several programmers in Cold Fusion using this book. It is not without its faults, but overall you can't miss with this one. There is a version covering CF 5.0, and now a version also covers Cold Fusion MX.

Linux Server Hacks
Rob Flickenger, O'Reilly (ISBN 0-596-00461-3) $24.95

I picked this book up because it had something on SSL. When I got into the book I realised it was a gold mine of information and tips. If you are The Unix Guru, then you have no reason to read this. For the rest of us there are many interesting and useful tips and ideas here. Highly recommended.

For The Thinkin' Programmer.
Writing Solid Code

Steve McGuire, Microsoft Press

Somewhat overrated book, really a treatise on how to use the ASSERT macro in C/C++.

The Cuckoos Egg

Clifford Stoll

A riveting story about West German Hackers breaking into US Military computers and stealing secrets. Its all real and Stoll made himself famous. A feast of ideas about improving systems security.

The Decline and Fall of The American Programmer
& The Rise and Resurrection of the American Programmer

Ed Yourdon, Prentice Hall (0-13-191958-X, 0-13-121831-X)

The saga of the American programmer as outlined by Ed Yourdan. Very readable accounts of why Ed first thought programming in America was going the way of the Car industry, and then why it was not. The accounts of the management technologies is well worth the read. Both very good and enjoyable reads.

Managing the Software Process

Watts Humphrey, Addison Wesley (ISBN 0-201-18095-2) $45.00

The book that introduced the concept of Software Process Maturity that became the SAE's 5 levels of the Computer Maturity Model (CMM). This book defines in one place everything needed to implement a quality software project. It is nearly readable, at least short sections can be read before somnolence creeps in.

A Discipline For Software Engineering

Watts Humphrey, Addison Wesley (ISBN 0-201-54610-8) $47.50

After the 'Managing the Software Process' I was willing to believe Watts walked on water. Then I bought this. Don't bother, save your money. It is supposed to be a guide to a personal software creation nirvana. You are meant to record exactly how much code you create, the problems with the created code and then analyse the how to do it better. By putting number to everything then stuffing the numbers in various charts you can propel yourself to higher levels of productivity. Minor problem, you need nothing to do for a year or two before gaining any benefit, and the effort does not take into account changes in languages, technology or environment.

The Mythical Man Month

Fred Brooks

The story of how the IBM System 360 OS came into being, and how it was 18 months late. The books most famous line is: Projects become late one day at a time. The book is easy to read, enjoyable, and amazingly just as relevant today as it was when it was written in 1975. A must read. Check out the 25th Anniversary release with new chapters.

The UML series

UML User Guide (Booch, Rumbaugh, Jacobson) ISBN 0-201-57168-4
UML Modelling Language Reference Manual (Booch, Rumbaugh, Jacobson) ISBN 0-201-30998-X
Managing Software Requirements (Leffingwell, Widrig) ISBN 0-201-61593-2
Use Case Driven Object Modeling with UML (Rosenberg) ISBN 0-201-43289-7

UML is the BIG thing in analysis at the moment. It may still be there next year too. It's a weighty series of books, that seems to have everything you need, but its darned hard finding it. The concepts look sold, but practical implementations seem very much more suck-it-and-see. I was using the books to get a leg up on Use Cases, and came away with the feeling that they start out defining something that is very useful, but never quite get to finishing the description, and get lost before the end anyway.

Agile Software Development with Scrum

Schwaber and Beedle, Pearson. ISBN 0-13-067634-9 $30.95

Agile Programming has become the rage of recent, well since 2002-ish. This is the book by Ken Schwaber that started the ball rolling. It lays out, with examples, how you should go about setting up a project using Agile methods, then manage that project to completion. The book is not badly written, it lays out its detail in easily read sections, and drums in the hard to learn stuff in a repeative manner. The subject matter is generally interesting, though I found it hard to relate to some of the examples. I reasoned that some of the Agile methods described here would be very hard to implement in many environments I have worked, though. Definitely something to read and think about. Scrums and sprints are definitely something to learn about from this text.

Hard Code

Eric Brechner, Microsoft Press (ISBN-13, 978-0-7356-2435-1) $34.99

Eric works at Microsoft, a small software shop you may have heard of. He has a blog there. This book is the printed version of those blogs, with some additional notes. While the prose aims to thrill with stories of contrarian thought, I eventually gave up and put this book down, thinking "Why?" The blog stories obviously had a time and place, but were very specific to Microsoft. A few of the stories have a meaning outside of Microsoft, but in general I just thought.... yawn.

For Business/Technology
Management of The Absurd, (Paradoxies in Leadership)

Richard Farson, Touchstone books, ISBN 0-684-83044-2

An entertaining view of how the Absurd and Paradoxical plays its part in running our lives, and how management can take advantage of the situation by understanding that there is No Right Move. A very easy book to read, catchy chapter titles and thankfully short and to the point. A Must Read.

Silicon Snake Oil

Clifford Stoll, Anchor books (ISBN 0-385-41994-5) $14.00

Stoll going overboard. A shot over technologies bows with the intent to indicate we should slow down. I read this together with Being Digital and felt that the two authors could have been sat back to back and been given the same subjects to write about, at the same time, each taking the contrary view. Entertaining though a little depressing.

Being Digital

Nicolas Negroponte, Vintage (ISBN 0-679-76290-6) $12.00

A technological Hooray. Negroponte states that the coming technology revolution (Chips with everything) will be the greatest thing since fire. A very UP view of the possibilities of the impact of computers and computer technology. Take a pinch of salt.

The Digital Economy

Don Tapscott

A similar feel to the Negroponte book but with a softer view of the future. A captivating orator who has put in print his speeches, some work some don't. Read the Negroponte book if you want unabashed technowiz stuff, the Tapscott book for a slightly more level headed future.

The Age Of Unreason

Charles Handy,

A classic book. I hated it. I read it through and hated every word. The fact that most of it has come to pass, in some form shows what I know about the future. This book espoused the Virtual Corporation, and all the employment issues that surround the idea.

The Pursuit of Wow!
The Tom Peters Seminars

Tom Peters Vintage (ISBN 0-679-75555-1 & 0-679-75493-8 respectively) Both $14.00

Tom Peters the Business Management 'Guru' has written a series of books, they seem to be well written, and very readable. The Tom Peters Seminars book was particularly refreshing to read. Both books define a world in which we have to make our own way, where we have to be proactive in defining what we want of life. I found them quite uplifting. Even though they are following in Charles Handy's footsteps, these books present a much more human face. I enjoyed them both, getting the most Wow! From the Seminars book.

The Minute Manager

Blanchard, et al

A tiny book that has sold in the millions. Easy to read, contains many gems. Cheap.

The Seven Habits of Successful People


The only book I have ever thrown out before completely reading. Utter trash.

For Reference.
The Computer Contradictory

Stan Kelly-Bootle, MIT Press (ISBN 0-262-61112-0) $14.95

The alternative computer reference. A book that in its first edition (the Devils DP Dictionary) gave rise to the Hackers Dictionary, and the New Hacker Dictionary. This is a new version that contains many updated entries. A giggle on every page.

The Oxford English Dictionary

A frequently updated tome. Everyone should have a recent dictionary on the table, or in the nearby bookcase. OED is regarded as the definitive way to spell in British English. Many American words also included to placate the colonials.

Roget's Thesaurus

Get one. Many publishers do them. There are some updated versions, but in general the older style is fine.

The Elements Of Style

Strunk & White, Allyn & Bacon publishers, ISBN 0-205-30902-X $6.95

Probably the cheapest, shortest book I have listed, it is also, probably one of the more important. I have read other similar works in the UK (but could not find them over here) and felt that this book was the one that fit most closely to my crazed writing style. This book has been used in US schools for a century, it is well known and has a good track record. Strongly recommended.

The Programmers PC Sourcebook

Thom Hogan, Microsoft Press (ISBN 1-55615-321-X) $39.95 (some time ago)

An old, huge book containing most things computer, including ASCII and EDCDIC tables, BIOS calls, Interrupts, Windows functions, Printer escape codes, and screen codes, to name but a few. Almost indispensable (once upon a time.)

MSDN: Microsoft Developer Network

Microsoft, Free to $2500

Strictly not a book, the MSDN CD's are the ultimate Windows Operating systems resource. If it's not here (on CD or on the website) you best know BillG personally. If you don't use windows, don't bother. If you use windows, but don't develop applications for it then, don't bother. But if you write code for Windows, then you really need access to this resource.

Last Updated: 17th March 2008

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