Join a Proud Minority, Read Books

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A few days ago, I a girl caught my attention on the tram. Now, a lot of girls catch my attention, but this time it wasn’t actually the girl herself but her shoulder bag which caught my attention. It happened to have a print which I thought was pretty funny.

Join a proud minority — read books.

First I thought that was rather witty, but then it actually made me sad. Are people who read books (by free will) actually a minority? If I restrict myself to the software development world, then apparently they are. According to DeMarco and Lister in Peopleware:

The statistics about reading are particularly discouraging: The average software developer, for example, doesn’t own a single book on the subject of his or her work, and hasn’t ever read one. That fact is horrifying for anyone concerned about the quality of work in the field.

Consider if this would have been some other field, say medicine. Would you have liked to hear your surgeon say, “nah, I don’t really read books, I base most of what I do on reading blogs”. I sure wouldn’t!

Why you should read books

Alright, why should you read books? Why not just read blogs? Good question! And here’s why:

Books are better than blogs!

Now, that’s a pretty tough argument. Of course, I’m not saying that blogs are bad, but what I am saying is that so much more work has been put into the really great books than into any blog out there. Don’t waste all that work! By reading books, you will learn stuff you otherwise wouldn’t have and you’ll get a deeper understanding of it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Blogs are truly essential and a great part of the internet. All programmers should consider themselves very lucky for having access to all that material. However, their content is typically only good after a couple of loops in the echo chamber (aka blogosphere). When you buy a (good) book, the material you get is already refined, it has already gone through all that necessary editing.

When not to buy books

You might ask yourself, why should I buy books which will be outdated in a year anyway? Also, there are no hyperlinks in books. Books suck! Well, in this regard, I completely agree. The answer is:

Don’t buy reference books.

Here I’m going to quote Jeff Atwood, because he explained it very nicely.

The best programming books are timeless. They transcend choice of language, IDE, or platform. They do not explain how, but why. If you feel compelled to clean house on your bookshelf every five years, trust me on this, you’re buying the wrong programming books.

How about you?

So, that’s my thoughts on the subject. What do you think? Do you read books? What is the best book you’ve read? The worst? Why? Answer with a comment!

One Response

  1. read that on a printed on a t-shirt in new york 1995 and it struck me like sad as well. yes, i do read books, and one of the best was , is Patrick White – Voss. my favoritefor the time being: kazuo ishiguro: nocturnes

    Stefanie - June 25th, 2009 at 00:19