Good Advice for Buying Technical Books

Brian K. Jones has a neat list of things to look for when buying a new book. To sum it up in a few points:

  • Give Any New Version 6 Months Before Buying a Book About It.
  • Take reviews with several grains of salt
  • Look for “Timeless Tomes”
  • Look at the Copyright Date
  • Be Wary of Growth in Second Editions

These are all good points, but I’d like to add a few rules of my own that help decide which books that end up in my reading queue:

  • If you’re happy with the book you’re currently reading, use Amazon’s suggestion system to find more about the same subject. This has worked surprisingly well (and I’m sure Amazon is happy about that..) for me, but limit yourself to one additonal book this way.
  • While reading a good book, if the author mentions another book that he found interesting or that provided insight into the content you’re now reading, add it to your wishlist. Good authors usually suggest good and insightful books.
  • To further extend the point of “Look at the copyright date”; use this date to find potential “Timeless Tomes”. If a book were first published in the 1970s or 1980s and is in it’s 21st print now, I’ll personally guarantee that the book is worth reading. It might not be about a subject that you’re interested in, but it might give you new insights or a better background in something you never would have read otherwise.
  • Use your wishlist on Amazon to keep track of interesting books that you stumble across. This is particularily useful for those of us who live in non-native Amazon locations, so that we’re able to combine shipping for items. I’ll never order a single book, so if I forget to add it to my wishlist, I will probably never remember it when I actually order books. Use it.
  • Check out the blog of the author if you’re able to (and the author actually have a blog). Also, if a blog that you follow on a daily basis suggests a book, it’s probably worth getting.
  • If you’re out travelling, buy a cheap, simple paperback book about a subject that you’re unfamiliar with. Try to get something a bit populistic (not too academic), as it will make the introduction to the subject easier and is more suitable for reading under noisy conditions. Keep it cheap, so that if you’re unhappy with the book, you can just donate it to another traveller or a local book donation program.