Recommended Books

These are books I recommend either because their subject matter is important or useful (and books on that subject are rare), or because the books themselves are among the best available on their subject. Currently the list is mostly O'Reilly books, but there are many other excellent books still to be added.... See the SAGE SysAdmin's Bookshelf and the Linux Reading List HOWTO (not just for Linux anymore!) for more. Also, the Hacker Jargon File has a bibliography of "books you can read to help you understand the hacker mindset".

The popularity of Linux has caused a glut in the market of books about Unix-related topics. However, there are really only a few publishers that matter:

There are some up-and-comers that look promising, but they don't have nearly the reputable track record of those listed above. These are: Be wary of computer books from other publishers, particularly some prolific three- and four-letter publishers of computer books. (i.e. the Que and SAMS divisions of Macmillan.) Some are good, but most are junk (or at least poorly edited).


General Users

UNIX for the Impatient
Paul W. Abrahams & Bruce R. Larson
A favorite of many. Has been recommended in the OSU CIS Department for Unix beginners.

When You Can't Find Your UNIX System Administrator
Linda Mui
O'Reilly & Associates
Plenty of useful tips for non-sysadmins.

UNIX in a Nutshell: System V Edition
Daniel Gilly & the Staff of O'Reilly & Associates
O'Reilly & Associates
A handy reference for SysV and Solaris 2.

Learning the UNIX Operating System
Jerry Peek, Grace Todino & John Strang
O'Reilly & Associates

System Administration

General Background

Unix System Administration Handbook (see also
Nemeth, Snyder, Seebass, Hein
Prentice Hall / PTR
Highly Recommended. Extremely useful for all aspects of system administration, especially if you have to deal with more than one commercial version of Unix. Third edition (The Purple Book) covers Solaris, HP-UX, FreeBSD, and Red Hat Linux. (The second edition (The Red Book) covered Solaris 2, SunOS 4, IRIX, OSF/1 (aka Digital Unix and Compaq Tru64 Unix), HP-UX, and BSD/OS (aka BSDi).) If you run one of those systems, and you only buy one system administration book, buy this one. If you run more than one of these systems, buy this book.

Essential System Administration
AEleen Frisch
O'Reilly & Associates
Not quite as good as the Nemeth et al book, but still good. Second edition covers SunOS 4.1, Solaris 2.4, AIX 4.1, Linux 1.1, Digital UNIX, OSF/1, SCO UNIX 3.x, HP/UX 9 & 10, and IRIX 6.x.

Solaris 7 Reference
Janice Winsor
Prentice Hall / PTR
The official reference for Solaris 7.

Solaris Security
Peter H. Gregory
Prentice Hall / PTR
The official security reference for Solaris.

Practical UNIX & Internet Security
Simson Garfinkel & Gene Spafford
O'Reilly & Associates
The classic security book.

TCP/IP Network Administration
Craig Hunt
O'Reilly & Associates

4.4BSD System Manager's Manual
Computer Systems Research Group, UC Berkeley
O'Reilly & Associates
Useful if you run any BSD derivative (e.g. SunOS 4, Ultrix, FreeBSD). (Out of print, but now available online from the FreeBSD and NetBSD projects.)

Windows NT & UNIX: Administration, Coexistence, Integration, & Migration
G. Robert Williams and Ellen Beck Gardner

More Specific System Administration Topics

Unix Backup & Recovery
W. Curtis Preston
O'Reilly & Associates
In these days of cheap high-capacity disks, people often fail to adequately plan their backup strategy. This book should help. Notably, it includes a section on the Amanda backup system, which I recommend. It also includes information about database backups. It covers AIX, Compaq Tru64 (formerly Digital) Unix, HP-UX, IRIX, Solaris, and Linux, and also covers backup hardware.

Managing NFS and NIS
Hal Stern
O'Reilly & Associates
NFS is the de facto standard for Unix filesystem sharing, and NIS is almost as prevalent for sharing system files such as the passwd and group files.

Building Internet Firewalls
D. Brent Chapman & Elizabeth D. Zwicky
O'Reilly & Associates
Covers the necessary considerations when building a firewall, including selecting a firewall. Doesn't cover specific command syntaxes for specific brands of firewall; it's quite specific about rules, but general enough to be quite useful no matter what firewall you use.

Building Linux and OpenBSD Firewalls
Wes Sonnenreich & Tom Yates
John Wiley & Sons
Linux and OpenBSD both make a good basis for an inexpensive firewall, with OpenBSD somewhat more security-oriented than Linux, and Linux somewhat more moldable to individual needs.

Apache: The Definitive Guide Ben Laurie & Peter Laurie
O'Reilly & Associates
An excellent handbook for those running Apache on their web servers (that is, most of us).

Bryan Costales & Eric Allman
O'Reilly & Associates
Consider this required if you run sendmail. Also known as the Bat Book.

Using Samba
Robert Eckstein, David Collier-Brown, Peter Kelly
O'Reilly & Associates
(HTML version online at O'Reilly, and 1.6M PDF available at genericbooks (ZING),)
The official guide to Samba administration, for using a Unix system to serve Windows clients. The first Samba book to cover Samba 2.0. Intended for Unix admins who need to deal with Windows clients.

Programming and Scripting

General Background Knowledge

Porting UNIX Software
Greg Lehey
O'Reilly & Associates

UNIX Systems Programming for SVR4
David A. Curry
O'Reilly & Associates
System V Release 4 is at least partly the basis of most modern Unixes, particularly Solaris.

Linux Application Development
Michael K. Johnson & Erik W. Troan
Useful beyond Linux, since Linux is basically POSIX, and development tools there are useful elsewhere. This covers many useful development tools not covered in other books, as well as giving a lucid description of common POSIX system facilities.

Managing Projects with make
Andrew Oram & Steve Talbott
O'Reilly & Associates
If you compile programs, whether you wrote them yourself or not, you need to understand make and makefiles.

Mastering Regular Expressions
Jeffrey E. F. Friedl
O'Reilly & Associates
Regular expressions appear everywhere in the Unix world, such as in grep, perl, sed, awk, vi, emacs, and many other programs.

Applying RCS and SCCS
Don Bolinger & Tan Bronson
O'Reilly & Associates
About the common utilities for file and project version control. Keep track of changes made to your files (even your system files).

Open Source Development with CVS
Karl Franz Fogel
The Coriolis Group
CVS is the next generation of version control systems after RCS, and is better suited to maintaining complete projects rather than individual files. This book not only covers CVS and its use in open-source projects, but also covers the open-source method and philosophy itself.

Specific Languages

Programming Perl
Larry Wall, Tom Christiansen & Randal L. Schwartz
O'Reilly & Associates
The Perl Bible. Also known as the Camel Book. Buy this if you do anything in Perl.

The C Programming Language
Brian Kernighan & Dennis Richie
Prentice Hall / PTR
The definitive book on C.

Practical C Programming
Steve Oualline
O'Reilly & Associates
On writing C that works reliably and portably. For those who care about the quality of their code (which should be every programmer).

The C++ Programming Language
Bjarne Stroustrup
The definitive book on C++.

Practical C++ Programming
Steve Oualline
O'Reilly & Associates

Exploring Expect
Don Libes
O'Reilly & Associates
Automate interactive tasks with this tcl extension. Also helps teach tcl.

Portable Shell Programming
Bruce Blinn
Shell scripts are the basic way of writing programs that will run on any Unix system. This book talks about writing them well and making them as portable as possible.

Learning the Korn Shell
Bill Rosenblatt
O'Reilly & Associates
Learn about programming and interacting with the best shell normally bundled with commercial Unix systems.

sed & awk
Dale Dougherty & Arnold Robbins
O'Reilly & Associates
The two most powerful shell scripting tools.

Advanced Unix Programming

The UNIX Programming Environment
Brian Kernighan and Rob Pike
Prentice Hall / PTR
Explains the underlying philosophy and tools of Unix programming. It's quite dated in places (e.g. command line editing), but still useful background knowledge.

Advanced Programming in the UNIX Environment
W. Richard Stevens
Anyone doing serious Unix programming needs this book. So many "how do I..." programming questions that cross my path are answered there. It's geared toward C (like most of Unix itself), but C++, Perl, and Python programmers will also find it useful.

UNIX Network Programming
W. Richard Stevens
Prentice Hall / PTR
A classic, covering programming for network and interprocess communication applications. The first edition is one volume, but the second edition (new in 1998) is two volumes. (Stevens died before completing the planned third volume of the second edition.)

Document Preparation

A Guide to LaTeX
Helmut Kopka & Patrick W. Daly
Even better in many ways than the "official" references (below); it seems to have the most useful things they have, and it's organized better. It is wonderful for reference, and I consider it indispensable whenever I'm writing LaTeX.

LaTeX: A Document Preparation System
Leslie Lamport
Written by the author of LaTeX, this serves as a good introduction to the basics of the package (and what has changed since version 2.09). It does not cover the more powerful features that come from add-in packages (which are usually included in LaTeX distributions by default these days), so it can be a bit frustrating. Its organization is not very useful for reference purposes.

The LaTeX Companion
Michel Goossens, Frank Mittelbach, and Alexander Samarin
This describes many of the advanced features and packages not described in Lamport's book, though there is some information duplicated from Lamport's. Like Lamport's book, it is better for introduction than for reference.

The LaTeX Graphics Companion
Michel Goossens, Sebastian Rahtz, Frank Mittelbach
The companion to the Companion, this covers what isn't covered by Lamport and the Companion. Most of this material is not well covered by Kopka & Daly either. Postscript is a major topic of discussion here, unlike the other books (and these days most TeX documents end up in PostScript form before being printed or converted to PDF). I find this one extremely useful when writing any documents that include graphics in any way, and it also helps when thinking about the final Postscript form of any document.

The LaTeX Web Companion
Michel Goossens, Sebastian Rahtz, Eitan Gurari, Ross Moore and Robert Sutor
About combining the power of LaTeX with the accessability of the Web. Includes information about Acrobat/PDF and XML, as well as HTML.

History & Culture

Hackers (see also the entry at
Steven Levy
Delta / Random House
Covers the history of hackerdom from the 1950s to the early 1980s. (This has almost nothing to do with criminally breaking into computers.)

The New Hacker's Dictionary
edited by Eric S. Raymond
MIT Press (online as The Jargon File)
Hacker culture and vocabulary.

Open Sources
edited by Chris DiBona, Sam Ockman & Mark Stone
O'Reilly & Associates
A collection of writings by the most important figures in the Open Source / Free Software movement.