Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software is a fantastic book on the beginning era of computers. It details not just how they work, but WHY they work in the way they do. I wish I would've read this book 15 years ago. At times the EE specs and assembly code is terse, but don't let that distract you from picking up the book. I'd compare it to the movie Full Metal Jacket. The first half is marvelous. The second half is worth going through once. But you'll find yourself going back to the first half over and over and then walking away from the rest.
Code is the first book to take fundamental concepts and make them clear to me. It's a must read for any programmer.
The author of the book, Charles Petzold was a keynote speaker at Code on the Beach 2014. If you want to get a better understanding of calculus, watch his keynote. His ability to take complex topics and present them in understandable language is only overshadowed by Richard Feynman. I had the opportunity at the conference to tell him how much his book Code helped me finally understand what my electrical engineering coworkers were talking about this whole time. He was warm and gracious.
Here's the book's description:
What do flashlights, the British invasion, black cats, and seesaws have to do with computers? In CODE, they show us the ingenious ways we manipulate language and invent new means of communicating with each other. And through CODE, we see how this ingenuity and our very human compulsion to communicate have driven the technological innovations of the past two centuries. Using everyday objects and familiar language systems such as Braille and Morse code, author Charles Petzold weaves an illuminating narrative for anyone who’s ever wondered about the secret inner life of computers and other smart machines. It’s a cleverly illustrated and eminently comprehensible story—and along the way, you’ll discover you’ve gained a real context for understanding today’s world of PCs, digital media, and the Internet. No matter what your level of technical savvy, CODE will charm you—and perhaps even awaken the technophile within.
Some of my favorite quotes:
"Code is not like other how-computer-work books. It doesn't have big color illustrations of disk drivers with arrows showing how the data sweeps into the computers. Code has no drawings of trains carrying a cargo of zeros and ones. Metaphors and similes are wonderful literary devices but they do nothing but obscure the beauty of technology."
"We could just as reasonably base our number system on eight (if we were cartoon characters) or four (if we were lobsters) or even two (if we were dolphins)."
Pick up a copy of Code at Amazon!