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Pre-Internet era books that have not yet been bettered

It is a surprise to some that there are books written before the arrival of the Internet (say 1995) that have not yet been improved on. The list below is based on books I own and my thinking that nothing better has been published on that topic may be due to ignorance on my part or personal bias. Suggestions and comments welcome.

Before the Internet the only way to find new and interesting books was to visit a large book shop. In my case these were Foyles, Dillons (both in central London) and Computer Literacy (in Silicon valley).

Foyles was the most interesting shop to visit. Its owner was somewhat eccentric, books were grouped by publisher and within these subgroups alphabetic by author, and they stocked one of everything (many decades before Amazon’s claim to fame of stocking the long tail, but unlike Amazon they did not have more than one of the popular books). The lighting was minimal, every available space was piled with books (being tall was necessary to reach some books), credit card payment had to be transacted through a small window in the basement reached via creaky stairs or a 1930’s lift. A visit to the computer section at Foyles, which back in the day held more computer books than any other shop I have ever visited, was an afternoon’s experience (the end result of tight fisted management, not modern customer experience design), including the train journey home with a bundle of interesting books. Today’s Folyes has sensible lighting, a Coffee shop and 10% of the computer books it used to have.

When they can be found, these golden oldies are often available for less than the cost of the postage. Sometimes there are republished versions that are cheaper/more expensive. All of the books below were originally published before 1995. I have listed the ISBN for the first edition when there is a second edition (it can be difficult to get Amazon to list first editions when later editions are available).

“Chaos and Fractals” by Peitgen, J├╝rgens and Saupe ISBN 0387979034. A very enjoyable months reading. A second edition came out around 2004, but does not look to be that different from the 1992 version.

“The Terrible Truth About Lawyers” by Mark H. McCormack, ISBN 0002178699. Very readable explanation of how to deal with lawyers.

“Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art” by Scott McCloud. A must read for anybody interested in producing code that is easy to understand.

“C: A Reference Manual” by Samuel P. Harbison and Guy L. Steele Jr, ISBN 0-13-110008-4. Get the first edition from 1984, subsequent editions just got worse and worse.

“NTC’s New Japanese-English Character Dictionary” by Jack Halpern, ISBN 0844284343. If you love reading dictionaries you will love this.

“Data processing technology and economics” by Montgomery Phister. Technical details covering everything you ever wanted to know about the world of 1960’s computers; a bit of a specialist interest, this one.

I ought to mention “Godel, Escher, Bach” by D. Hofstadter, which I never rated but lots of other people enjoyed.

  1. Francis Glassborow
    November 22nd, 2017 at 13:54 | #1

    I remember Foyles way back in the late 50s when it was an excellent bookshop. Many years later I visited again and when I asked where the books on ‘Forth’ were I was asked who the publisher was. Shelving books by publisher is competely useless (and I understand that the owner simply rented out shelf space). What determined me never to shop there again was when I learnt that the assistants were routinely replaced after 11 months so that they would not get any legal job security.
    I did not and do not knowingly trade with vendors with those ethics.
    BTW why do your questions below refuse to accept answers of the form 0bxxxxx?

  2. December 16th, 2017 at 14:27 | #2

    @Francis Glassborow
    Sorry for the very long delay in replying.
    Yes, I remember one of every book arranged by publisher (no multiple copies of the popular titles for them). The shelves creaked under the load and went up to the ceiling. It took an enjoyable afternoon just to check their stock, followed by a visit to the basement to pay by credit card through a tiny cubby hole.
    I walked past their original building a few weeks ago, it had been demolished (they are now 50 yards further down the road, i.e., nearer the Thames). It would not surprise me to hear the structure had been condemned as unsafe.

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