Coders at Work by Peter Seibel
Wow! This is an amazing book. I've been looking forward to Coders at work since Peter published the first names on his blog two years ago. Given Peter's track-record , I knew he would do a terrific job, yet I'm positively surprised. Coders at work is a book that I recommend, without any reservation, to anyone interested in programming or aspiring to become a programmer. It's that good.
The basic idea of interviewing legendary and influential programmers has been tried out before, recently in Masterminds of Programming (a book that unfortunately didn't live up to its promise). What sets Coders at work apart from previous attempts is the quality of the interviews. Reading the book, it's obvious that Peter Seibel put a tremendous amount of effort into the preparations of the interviews. Peter knows the questions to ask each interviewee which results in deep and interesting discussions. Another sign that he succeeded, are the heated discussions that emerged in the blogosphere immediately following the publication of the book. Because this book makes it clear that not even the experts can agree upon languages, type-systems, and methodologies.
Considering the interview subjects, it's an interesting mix. Some of the highlights for me was Joe Armstrong, Simon Peyton Jones, Peter Norvig, and Donald Knuth. And even if I've read several interviews with these persons, in some cases visited talks given by them, Peter's interviews bring out a lot of interesting ideas and distilled programming wisdom that were new to me. Further, it was quite relieving to read about the low-tech approach to programming that most of them seem to share: debug through print-statements and a non-IDE approach.
Coders at work is a book to read and think carefully about. What can I learn from the subjects? In what way do my approach to programming differ? For better or worse? No matter what, this book will help you improve. Along the way, enjoy Peter's writing and the highly interesting interviews.
Reviewed November 2009