Your computer bookshelf. David H. Ahl.
Some months ago after i wrote several rather critical book reviews, some readers wrote in asking for a list of my pick of the best computer books available. Well, this isn't exactly an exhaustive list, but it is a selected group, the quality of which I feel rises above the scores of titles that have come out in the past year. Basic Programming
There are over 100 books specifically on the Basic language, and far more when you add in books like how to program games in Basic and the like. Within this group, it seems to boil down to authors. Personally, I feel that the finest authors in the field are: Tom Dwyer (and Margot Critchfield) David Lien Arthur Luehrmann Herb Peckham Bob Albrecht Fred Gruenberger
That is not to say that there are not many, many other excellent books and outstanding authors. However, the people above consistently produce lucid, interesting material with a touch of wit. Nor have I ever felt cheated or humiliated after reading any of their books. Sad to say, Fred Gruenberger has not been doing much writing lately, but all the others are as prolific as ever.
Although it has been around since 1978, I still think Basic and the Personal Computer by Dwyer and Critchfield (Addison-Wesley) is one of the best books on the subject. A nice companion piece by the same authors is the Pocket Guide to Microsoft Basic. This is one of a series of pocket guides from Addison-Wesley; another one I find useful is the Guide to CP/M.
Another old, but excellent series of books on Basic are the self-teaching guides (Wiley) by Bob Albrecht, LeRoy Finkel, and Jerald Brown. They are available for the Basic Language in general as well as for specific computers.
David Lien's The Basic Handbook (Compusoft Publishing) is a complete step-by-step learner's manual and is very witty, but also a bit pricey at $19.95. David Lien also has written a take-you-by-the-hand series, Learning Basic, for various TRS-80 models, Timex 1000, and IBM PC.
Okay, so you want a newer book. One of the best is Armchair Basic (Osborne McGraw-Hill) by David and Annie Fox. David and Annie started the Marin Computer Center, an open-to-the-public center, and have plenty of experience teaching programming to people from all walks of life. The book reflects their experience and presents lots of meat in an easy-to-read style.
We have often commented that the Microsoft Basic manuals are among the worst in the world. A big improvement on the manual, but heavier going than the above books, is Microcomputer Programming with Microsoft Basic by Robert Crawford and David BArnard (Reston). This is fairly advanced and shows how Basic can be used to solve some rather interesting problems. Programming For Youngsters
By far the largest-selling series of books for introducing Basic to youngsters is Sally Larsen's Computers for Kids (Creative Computing Press). The content can be grasped by a 7-year-old and requires no knowledge of algebra. Editions are available for most popular computers: Apple, Atari, IBM PC, TRS-80, Timex, Commodore 64, and Vic 20.
Kids and the Apple by Edward Carlston is one of a series of similar books from Datamost. These 218-page spiral-bound books are excellent. They are divided into 33 lessons, each one of which has one page of notes for the instructor or parent followed by several pages for the youngsters. Each lesson takes between 30 and 60 minutes to complete. Neat books, although a bit pricey at $19.95 each.
Another series of spiral-bound books are those publicised by Sterling Swift titled Computer Programming for Kids and Other Beginners by Royal Van Horn. Editions for several computers are available. These 128-page books ($9.95) are similar to the ones by Sally Larsen, but go further into graphics, a subject that tends to have high appeal for kids.
Another book that goes somewhat beyond Computers For Kids is Basically Speaking by Francis Cohen (Reston). The illustrations for RUN and NEW next to every listing are corny and somewhat distracting, but the content is good.
Basic Programming for Kids by Roz Ault (Houghton Mifflin) has a great deal of meat, rivaling some of the adult books. In these days of $15 books, this one is an excellent value at $7.95.
Not exactly a programming book, but one which will give a good start to a youngster (ages 5 to 10) is Nancy Mayer's Rainy Day Activities for the Atari (Reston). As the wife of one of the top engineers at Atari, Nancy had an expert advisor available as she prepared this charming book of games and short programs. Good fun! Computer Literacy
There are so many books that purport to give one an introduction to the amazing world of computers that it is difficult to single out a few good ones. I like the style of Peter McWilliams and his books certainly have been successful, although it seems to me that more depth and more illustrations would have been welcome.
Absolutely the best book on getting started (and moving along) is The Personal Computer Handbook (Barrons) by Peter Rodwell. Until recently, Peter has been the editor of Personal Computer World, more-or-less the sister magazine to Creative Computing in England. As editor of PCW, Peter was as close as anyone to all the new products, the companies, and the technology. This large format book is lavishly illustrated--the best I've ever seen--and the text covers the field in depth in a style that is clear and lucid. For beginner and expert alike, there is no better book on small computers, their technology, and the industry. For $14.95 this book is an absolute must.
It seems fashionable to combine a bit of Basic programming with computer literacy. I have mixed feelings about this approach. However, if you like it, the best book for younsters getting started is The Random House Book of Computer Literacy by Ellen Richman. The first 66 pages are about the way computers work and what they do, while the next 100 pages are on Basic programming. Both sections are well-written, and I was pleased to see the chapter on graphics had separate sections for Apple, Atari, Commodore, and TRS-80. For Relaxation
It seems that 1983 was the year of the humor book, many of which didn't quite make it. We already nominated Silicon Valley Guy for the worst book of the year, but balancing it was the end-of-year release, The McWilliams II Word processor Instruction Manual. This hilarious book by Peter McWilliams tells you how to use a pencil (and an eraser too). Full of pictures and illustrations with side-splitting captions, for $3.95, this is a must for your next coffee break.
EDP people will like The Hacker's Dictionary (Harper & Row), a funny guide to the world of hacker speak, body language, computer lifestyles, and more. If you have spent anytime around mainframes and raised floor computer rooms in the wee hours, you'll love the "in" stuff that comprises the bulk of this book. If you haven't, it will probably leave you cold.
If you like computer graphics of all kinds, you mourn the fact that Crown decided to let Artist and Computer by Ruth Leavitt go out of print. However, there is finally an excellent replacement.
Computer Images by Joseph Deken. It is published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang and distributed by Workman. The book has 195 oversize pages with 257 illustrations--every one in full color. It is a magnificent volume covering computer images of all kinds: realistic, image enhancement, fantasy, and much more. A wonderful book!
A bunch of computer-related novels have come out in the past few months--I have read six of them--but I haven't read one yet that doesn't make me wince when it comes to the computer technolocy. The stories are good fun, but the technical details are so farfetched that it detracts from the adventure. I keep looking for a winner, but so far, I think Robert Ludlum and John MacDonald are better bets. However, if I had to pick three, they would be Wire, The Poker Game, and Kensei.