Books for Computer Science Students

Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

Books for Computer Science Students

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Ever since I was told about a list of Movies for Computer Science Students and wrote some comments about that list I have been thinking book. Fiction books. Novels that tell stories that involve computer science and the sorts of issues of privacy, philosophy, ethics and social change that computers make in our society. And being a life-time science fiction fan that may come easier for me than for many. Books have an advantage over movies is that they can spend more time on explanation. They spend more time talking about how people (and in some of the cases I will list – machines) think and why they act as they do. I don’t have anything like a top ten list but I do have a couple of books that always come to mind. OK eight book are on this list. And in general a couple of authors – Asimov, Heinlein, Stephenson – who I like.

I, Robot (9780553382563): Isaac Asimov: Books

ISBN: 055338256X
ISBN-13: 9780553382563

A lot of people think that this is the book the movie of the same name was based on and they are sort of right. This is a book of short stores and is really a lot more than the one story in the movie. It introduces the Three Laws of Robotics and the various stories explore what they mean in practice. This is a great place to start. Of course I am a huge Asimov fan.

Caves of Steel (Robot (Spectra Books)) (9780553293401): Isaac Asimov: Books

ISBN: 0553293400
ISBN-13: 9780553293401

This is a novel about two detectives – one human who hates robots and a second who is a robot himself. Yeah, it is one of those unlikely “buddy” stories. They are trying to track down a killer who just might be a robot. Along the way this is a great story of what it might mean to have robots who think and who look human.

The Adolescence of P-1 (9780671559700): Thomas J. Ryan: Books

ISBN: 0671559702
ISBN-13: 9780671559700

This book is out of print and somewhat dated but I love it. You can get used copies and I hear rumors of copies available on the Internet. The story is built around a computer program that was created as a smart worm but becomes sentient as it grows through the world wide network of IBM mainframes. See I told you it was a bit dated. But it brings up interesting ideas of what it means to be thinking and also what happens if a computer program gets too powerful.

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (9780312863555): Robert A. Heinlein: Books

ISBN: 0312863551
ISBN-13: 9780312863555

Heinlein is one of my favorite authors and while some of his later books are not really appropriate for high school students many of his works deal with interesting looks at societies with a “what if” sort of view. In this book a very powerful computer who controls much of the moon becomes self-aware and decides to help the people on the moon rebel from Earth. Politics, smart computers, revolution – more topical today than one might expect.

Snow Crash (Bantam Spectra Book) (9780553380958): Neal Stephenson: Books

ISBN: 0553380958
ISBN-13: 9780553380958

Snow Crash is a mystery story told in a future where many people are connected though a virtual world in cyberspace called the Metaverse. Think World of Warcraft mixed with Second Life for what the Metaverse is like. When Second Life became big I  thought the Metaverse was coming soon but that never really happened. This book though is an interesting look at what happens when the lives between the real world and cyberspace get blurred.

Cryptonomicon (9780380788620): Neal Stephenson: Books

ISBN: 0380788624
ISBN-13: 9780380788620

This is a must read for cryptography buffs. This book takes place both in the current era and in world War II. During WW II Allied cryptographers work to break enemy codes without the enemy figuring out that they have been broken. In the present time there is a search for lost treasure. The two stories combine and mix in unexpected ways. It’s well told. And long – over 900 pages as I recall.

Neuromancer (9780441012039): William Gibson: Books

ISBN: 0441012035
ISBN-13: 9780441012039

This is the book that introduced the word Cyberspace. It is also the book that started the cyberpunk genre which I confess I am not a  huge fan of in general. I’m an old-fashioned “space opera” sort of science fiction fan. But this is an important book and belongs on a list like this.

Digital Fortress: A Thriller (9780312944926): Dan Brown: Books

ISBN: 0312944926
ISBN-13: 9780312944926

This is not Dan Brown’s best book. Not even close. And the science is off in some important places. I include it though as a look at the idea of a Digital Fortress where data is safe from governments and others who would control its contents and access. That makes it good for discussion.

That’s a start. I’m sure many of you know of more and even better books out there. I would love to hear your suggestions for additional books or better books as well as which of the books above you would leave off your list and why.



  • I suggest "The Blue Nowhere" by Jeffrey Deaver and "Daemon" & "Freedom" by Daniel Suarez. These books are just tech *enough* without leaving a reader scratching their heads in confusion. I have read Dan Brown's "Digital Fortress" on the above list and liked it. I need to get to work on the others!

  • Terminal Man by Michael Crichton- also Prey and Next for some scary tech/bio ideas.

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