Best computer science books

Programming & Design

Successful computer scientists focus on developing their practical skills as much as their technical skills.

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Which computer science books are best?

Everything runs on computers and someone has to build the systems we use. This means getting training in computer science, the study of computational theory, hardware and software design, algorithms, network architecture, data modeling, artificial intelligence and much, much more.

The best computer science book builds on what you know and focuses on the areas where you need more knowledge. If you already know basic coding and want a fast and easy overview of how computers and programming languages work, take a look at “Computer Science Distilled: Learning the Art of Solving Computational Problems.”

What to know before you buy a computer science book

What level is it?

If you know quite a bit to begin with, you won’t be interested in a computer science book that covers the basics, at least not more than a quick overview. If you’re a beginner, stay away from books that are filled with terms and concepts you have not yet learned. 

What is its focus?

Summaries give you enough knowledge to hold informed conversations but tend to cover just the high points of lots of different topics. Detailed learning is what you need if you plan on working in the field of computer science. If you are interested in a particular area like network architecture or writing code, get books specific to your task.

Study guides help you earn certification and pass tests. The best way to do either is to study beforehand and make things easier on yourself. 

Strategies are at the heart of knowing how to solve problems. Look for books that teach critical thinking skills and techniques.

Languages are the same as with spoken languages: If you want to learn a specific language like C++ or Java, you need a book that teaches you that language in the same way as if you were learning Spanish or French, with the goal to be fluent.

What to look for in a quality computer science book

There are many concepts that are fundamental to an understanding of computer programming. Before choosing a computer science book, determine which of these concepts you don’t already know and exactly how much is in front of you.

Conceptual and formal models: Learn about how to characterize, formalize, visualize and think about ideas and problems. Learn about logic models, switching, semantic data models and the visual languages used to design systems.

Database quality: Learn reliability, validity and robustness. Understand how to measure the internal consistency of user interface designs and determine how to define the adequacy of a set of axioms to capture all the desired data.

Abstraction: Learn how to structure systems, manage complexity and capture recurring patterns.

Errors: Learn the limits of hardware and software systems and how they behave under error conditions and unexpected outcomes. 

Complexity: Learn how complexity is exponential and how to scale databases and program sizes.

Efficiency: Learn to measure cost as it relates to the three key resource groups of time, money and people. Understand how to assess the complexity and feasibility of algorithms.

Evolution: Learn how change impacts all levels of hardware and software and how to measure the ability of abstractions, techniques and systems to manage change and withstand changing environments, tools and configurations. 

Time: Learn how to order events to synchronize processes as essential elements in the proper execution of algorithms.

How much you can expect to spend on a computer science book

Inexpensive books that cost $12 or less either cover a single topic or are simple, general overviews. Books in the $12-$25 range cover more topics in greater detail. At $25-$40 or so, books start covering complicated things that are hard to learn. Beyond $100, you will find college textbooks that are written for serious students.

Computer science book FAQ

What skills do I need to get started in computer science?

A. Math is at the heart of all computer hardware and software. To succeed in the field of computer science, knowing math is not enough — you have to love working with math day in and day out. The second skill computer scientists must have is the ability to define problems and solve them. The third skill you need is the ability to communicate effectively so you can ask the right questions, understand the problems and establish the necessary context to solve them.

Can I learn all I need to know from a computer science book?

A. No one can learn everything from a single book. Start by focusing on problem-solving or math skills and see where you need to go next.

What’s the best computer science book to buy?

Top computer science book

Computer Science Distilled: Learning the Art of Solving Computational Problems

Computer Science Distilled: Learning the Art of Solving Computational Problems

What you need to know: This is a fast and easy computer science guide for people who already know basic coding.

What you’ll love: This 180-page computer science book provides you with an overview of how computers and programming languages work and teaches you the principles behind computational problem-solving. The easily grasped format includes lots of helpful illustrations.

What you should consider: This is a great resource if you have a solid foundation, but it is not a book for absolute beginners.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top computer science book for the money

Computer Science Principles: The Foundational Concepts of Computer Science

Computer Science Principles: The Foundational Concepts of Computer Science

What you need to know: This computer science book teaches object-oriented programming in Java, computer problem-solving and an overview of data structures.

What you’ll love: This is a great reference book for those taking computer science classes and exams. Follow the lessons and learn heuristics, encryption, HTML, JavaScript and website design principles.

What you should consider: This book is not recommended for experienced coders.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

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

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

What you need to know: This book is written for self-starters who want to learn to become computer programmers.

What you’ll love: Learn Python through a series of lessons that get gradually tougher, written by an author who shares anecdotes of his career as a professional Python developer.

What you should consider: More career guidance would be very valuable.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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