10 Must-Read Books for Computer Science A-Level Students

Computer Science is a deeply complex yet fascinating subject. Make sure you’re well-versed in the subject ahead of future study with our list of 10 must-read books for A-Level students.

Katie Broadbent - 23 June 2021 · 15 min read

The world of Computer Science is deeply complex and yet ultra-fascinating. Covering the theory and application of information and computation, Computer Science takes a scientific approach to understanding how data is acquired, represented, processed, stored, and communicated amongst different technologies and software. 

Hugely detailed but endlessly rewarding, it’s no surprise that in 2020, the number of students applying to study Computer Science at university increased by a significant 7.6%. With over 30,000 students alone pursuing the subject last year, more students than ever before are launching into training programmes that could have them creating the technologies of the future.

If you’re studying for your A-Levels, and have ambitions of pursuing Computer Science at university in the future, you’ll want to ensure you’re well-versed and well-read in the subject. Looking for something to teach you the basics? Or get you feeling inspired? We’ve got a collection of 10 of the best Computer Science books for A-Level students to consider reading.  

10 Must-Read Computer Science Books

Computer Science spans a universe of subjects, from programming to databases, as well as artificial intelligence. And we’ve found a great selection of 10 books which covers them all.

Our list offers a mixed collection of works, varying from biographies of leading industry figures, to short, how-to-guides, and novellas. While the books themselves may differ in content, each of them have firmly established themselves as a ‘classic,’ remaining as must-reads in the constantly evolving world of Computer Science. 

Whether you’re just starting out with your A-Levels, or preparing for future university studies and job interviews, the list caters to a wide range of subject knowledge and levels of understanding. So, sit back, put your feet up a while, and get ready to be inspired. 

1. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, by Steven Levy

“I think that hackers — dedicated, innovative, irreverent computer programmers — are the most interesting and effective body of intellectuals since the framers of the U.S. Constitution”

The first Computer Science book to feature on our list is “Hackers,” by Steven Levy, which, as the name suggests, provides detailed information, theory, and interesting insights into what is commonly known as ‘hacker culture.’ 

Covering the earliest stories of mainframe hacking designed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to the modern self-made hardware and gaming hackers who established themselves in the 1980s, the book describes the different equipment used during the periods, the skills of those carrying out the act, and the reasons why they became hackers.  You’ll learn about the work of iconic figures, like Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates (before they became famous), as well as some lesser known coders, including Lee Felenstein and Slug Russell.

Despite being first published in 1984, Levy’s book still features on required reading lists for many Computer Science courses, thanks to hacker culture still remaining a prominent issue in modern culture. Exploiting the computer revolution’s original hackers, the book captures a seminal period in recent history that continues to shape future behaviours amongst society.

2. The Ascent of Information: Books, Bits, Genes, Machines, and Life’s Unending Algorithm, by Caleb Scharf

“Our entire species is drenched in data. This is one of the most peculiar and possibly unique features of humans: we carry vast amounts of information externally to our biological forms. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and we are very good at propagating that information into the future and making use of it.

Today our carried data far exceeds the root information contained in all our DNA. There is so much data that it spills across the world: in books and electronic media, as well in all the artifacts that go hand-in-hand with those data repositories, from brick-and-mortar libraries to fiber-optic networks.”

Have you ever sat and taken the time to think about the vast amount of data that exists about us online? Have you ever considered why we’re expending ever-increasing amounts of resources into handling this data? Caleb Scharf’s “Ascent of Information” is one of the best Computer Science books to introduce A-Level students into deeper questions which surround the ethics and philosophy behind Computer Science, and where it may be headed in the future. 

As the newest book on our list [released June 2021], this contemporary read draws on complex ideas and frontier thinking in astrobiology, evolutionary biology, computer science, and information theory, to argue that information is, in a very real sense, alive. All the data we generate - from our emails, tweets and blog posts, to selfies and funny TikTok videos - all aggregate lifeform. That is, it has a goal and it has a need. And it’s an organism which has evolved from within us as living beings. 

This symbiotic relationship, Scharf argues, offers an interesting new lens for which we should look at the world. Data isn’t just something that we’ve come to produce. In fact, it’s the reason that we exist. And it’s this powerful idea that has the potential to change the way we think about technology, our role as humans, and the very fundamentals of life. 

A thought-provoking but deeply intriguing read, it’s certainly one to get you thinking about the ethics of Computer Science - and can be an interesting point of discussion at future university interviews!

 

3. Daily Coding Problem: Get exceptionally good at coding interviews by solving one problem every day, by Lawrence Wu and Alex Miller

“The questions in this book have been chosen with practicality, clarity, and self-improvement in mind. Each one is based on a real question that was asked recently by top tech companies. The problems and explanations were then carefully edited so that each one communicates a key idea that you can apply more generally. Finally, we have organised these problems into chapters by topic, to ensure that you can methodically build up your skills in specific areas.”

Looking for a crash course in coding? How about some helpful advice on how to master those all-important university interview questions about coding and your knowledge of Computer Science in general? Then look no further than Lawrence Wu’s and Alex Miller’s “Daily Coding Problem.”

The book is very helpful for those looking for a quick and easy book to learn computer science: solving various practical and theoretical coding problems, you’ll discover a detailed explanation and guide on how to solve problems related to a particular field of Computer Science. Such explanations are particularly useful as they are related to common, daily contexts, giving you easy perspectives with which to build your knowledge on. 

Despite the name, you can solve the problems at your own pace, which is perfect for weeks when your A-Levels revision or deadlines are occupying a significant chunk of your time. Start this book early on in your studies and you’ll be well prepared ahead of any technical interviews you need to complete for university or future job prospects.

Photo credit: amazon.co.uk

4. Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions, by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths

“Seemingly innocuous language like 'Oh, I'm flexible' or 'What do you want to do tonight?' has a dark computational underbelly that should make you think twice. It has the veneer of kindness about it, but it does two deeply alarming things. 

First, it passes the cognitive buck: 'Here's a problem, you handle it.' Second, by not stating your preferences, it invites the others to simulate or imagine them. And as we have seen, the simulation of the minds of others is one of the biggest computational challenges a mind (or machine) can ever face.”

As every busy A-Level student understands, our lives are constantly limited by time and space - with questions around what we should accomplish within a day, year, or even lifetime constantly floating around our minds. In “Algorithms to Live By, authors Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths describe how algorithms, like those used to operate our computers, can help us untangle even the most complex of human questions. 

In this fascinating page turner, the two authors explain everything from knowing when to leave things to chance, how to best communicate with others, and knowing how to better trust our ‘gut feelings.’ Untangling the inner workings of our very busy minds, you’ll complete the book with a better understanding of how to dissect complex decisions, making problems a little easier to process and in turn, overcome. 

5. The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, by Walter Isaacson

“The main lesson to draw from the birth of computers is that innovation is usually a group effort, involving collaboration between visionaries and engineers, and that creativity comes from drawing on many sources. Only in storybooks do inventions come like a thunderbolt, or a lightbulb popping out of the head of a lone individual in a basement or garret or garage.”

Following the success of his first biographical work on the life of Steve Jobs, bestselling author Walter Isaacson recently researched and compiled “The Innovators,” an incredibly detailed book that examines the lives of several people throughout history who have contributed to the evolution of technology and the internet. 

A great introduction to the the most inspiring figures throughout the history of innovation, you’ll be introduced to such notable figures such as; Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter who pioneered the idea of programming back in the 1804s; world-famous Computer Scientist and code-breaker, Alan Turing; as well as a number of hugely successful technology developers, such as Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, and Steve Jobs. 

Prepare to be inspired by these fascinating profiles, giving you both the contextual grounding and sprinkling of inspiration needed to help you follow in such innovative footsteps in the future.

6. The Search: How Google and its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed our Culture, by John Battelle

“Link by link, click by click, search is building possibly the most lasting, ponderous, and significant cultural artifact in the history of humankind: the Database of Intentions.”

How many times have you had a thought or question pop into your head and thought, “I’ll just quickly Google it?” You may not have ever considered it, but Google has an enormous influence in the modern world, impacting the way we shop, enquire, date, job hunt, and even cook. 

In “The Search,” acclaimed Silicon Valley journalist, John Battelle, explores the incredible rise of Google over the past few decades. Offering so much more than a traditional biography or business book, “The Search” contains exclusive interviews with some of the biggest names at top companies, including Google’s very own founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. 

Recognised as the number one search engine, and with over 200 million search requests every single day, discover how the search industry is changing the way we live in small yet profound ways. As Battelle’s thesis predicts, Google’s database of intentions - that is, the extensive collection of data Google holds about the way we interact with the search engine - will provide all the necessary information needed to drive change in the future tech world.

Photo credit: amazon.co.uk

7. The Soul of a New Machine, by Tracy Kidder

“In the early days, computers inspired widespread awe and the popular press dubbed them giant brains. In fact, the computer’s power resembled that of a bulldozer; it did not harness subtlety, though subtlety went into its design.”

Another great recommendation for students looking for a must-read about the history of Computer Science is the Pulitzer Prize winning, “The Soul of a New Machine'' by Tracy Kidder. Despite being first published in 1981, Kidder’s creation is still widely regarded as one of the best Computer Science books ever written. 

In the later 1970s, there was a lot of interest and funding plunged into the minicomputer industry. And Tracy Kidder had the opportunity to follow a team of engineers during this exciting period of technological advancement, as they attempted to build a next-generation computer. 

Looking at the complexities of designing and debugging such a machine during a period of great scepticism, Kidder accurately (and often humorously) portrays the unique pressures and often dismissal from many higher powers within the industry, surrounding those who built the earliest editions of the modern computer. Nevertheless, it’s an inspiring read of perseverance, development, and ultimately, success. 

8. A Programmer's Guide to Computer Science: A virtual degree for the self-taught developer, by Dr William M Springer II

“Simply put, this book aims to make you a better, more knowledgeable programmer through a greater understanding of computer science. I can’t consolidate two decades of college and professional experience into one book… but I can try and hit the good parts. My hope is that you will find at least one concept where you can say ‘yeah, that makes sense now.’”

Looking to gain an advantage ahead of university? As a senior developer at a major software company, along with a PhD in Computer Science, Dr William M Springer II is well-qualified to provide a comprehensive guide on what students should expect to learn and have knowledge about after completing a Computer Science degree. 

Covering some of the most frequently cited topics in Computer Science, Springer’s book provides a fantastic grounding in areas including; algorithms and data structures, graphs, problem-solving techniques, and complexity theory. 

Once you finish, you’ll have all the tools you need to embark on professional conversations with other Computer Science students and have a great basis of knowledge of which you can take forward into your university studies. 

9. Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug

“Another needless source of question marks over people’s heads is links and buttons that aren’t obviously clickable. As a user, I should never have to devote a millisecond of thought to whether things are clickable — or not.”

One of the most highly rated and often considered best books to learn Computer Science and the fundamentals of web design quickly, comes from Steve Krug’s, “Don’t Make Me Think.” 

Essentially, the book describes the key points, examples and insights which are important to know about website usability. The overarching idea teaches readers that they should aspire to create designs which don’t require too much thinking from the user about how the interface works - meaning that the site isn’t only acting as a solution for the user, but is also doing so in a quick and easy way, requiring almost little to no thought.

Accessibility is key to the user journey on a site; without it, you’ll soon have web users bouncing off your page with little interest in hearing about what you, your boss or client has to say. And Krug’s book does a great job at emphasising the importance of recognising this from the very beginning of a designer’s career. 

Easy, quick, and accessible, this read is a fantastic primer for students at an entry level for Computer Science, looking to gain a solid foundation for further study.

Photo credit: amazon.co.uk

10. Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software, by Charles Petzold

“Code is not like other how-computers-work books. It doesn't have big color illustrations of disk drives with arrows showing how the data sweeps into the computer. 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.”

Another recommended book for Computer Science students is “Code,” by Charles Petzold; a fascinating examination of the way we manipulate language and use code to invent new means of communication with one another. Covering the very basics of what coding, software, and even electricity is - he establishes a unique foundation for which to build your knowledge and understanding as to how and why our demand for more complex technologies has grown.

Looking back on history, from the early telegraph equipment and Morse Code of the 19th century, to the early microprocessors of the 1970s and 1980s, we gain a satisfying explanation of why and how computers have evolved into the complex machines we know them to be today. 

Complete with clever illustrations and references to familiar objects and events, Petzold’s book is a great way for budding coders to understand - and respect - the talents of modern technologies; PCs, ever-evolving smartphones, and the internet.

Study Computer Science online, with expert tutors

Looking for an introduction to Computer Science? Perhaps you want to gain clarity on your future career and gain a competitive edge against other university applicants? 

Join one of Melio’s Computer Science Online Courses and develop a broad range of subject foundations across core areas, as well as more advanced knowledge paths for those with an already comprehensive understanding of the subject.

Through problem-solving and detailed debate with your expert tutor and classmates, you’ll acquire key technological skills, while enhancing your logic, critical thinking, and communication. 

It’s your chance to learn Computer Science from world-class experts - many of whom have studied or taught at Oxford and Cambridge. You’ll also be joined by a small group of students (no more than 8) from around the world, who will bring their own unique perspectives on the subject and open your mind to new ways of thinking. 

The online courses are a unique blend of independent learning, live online tutoring and classroom webinar, designed to mimic the Oxford learning environment in just two weeks

Want to find out more? Read about one of our previous students' experiences studying Computer Science with Melio.

 Alternatively, you can submit an application to reserve your place on our next intake. 

Related Posts:

CONTACT US

info@melioeducation.com

18 Beaumont Street

Oxford, OX1 2NA

United Kingdom

POLICIES

Melio is part of Bridgemark and a sister company to Oxford Summer Courses. Melio adheres to the same policies as Oxford Summer Courses.

Terms and Conditions

About

FAQs

Careers

Blog

Contact us