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Bret Victor’s Reading List

This is a plain-text version of Bret Victor’s reading list. It was requested by hf on Hacker News.

Highly recommended things!

This is my five-star list. These are my favorite things in all the world.

A few of these works have had an extraordinary effect on my life or way of thinking. They get a sixth star. ★


Graphic Design, Information Design

‘[These are] the bibles of information design. Nothing comparable exits.’

    • The Visual Display of Quantitative Information – Edward R. Tufte
  • Envisioning Information – Edward R. Tufte
  • Beautiful Evidence – Edward R. Tufte

- *Meggs’ History of Graphic Design* – Phillip B. Meggs & Alston W. Purvis - History is the best distinguisher of fashion from fundamentals. - *The Elements of Graphing Data* – William S. Cleveland - How to present data, and the why of the how. - *Logic & Design* – Krome Barratt - A bizarre and fascinating tour de force of analytic design.

‘The pedagogical potential of the comic form is vast and mostly untapped.’

  • Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art – Scott McCloud
  • Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionizing an Art Form – Scott McCloud
  • Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels – Scott McCloud

Industrial Design

  • The Design of Everyday Things – Donald Norman
    • Design as cognitive science.
  • Designing for People – Henry Dreyfuss
    • Memoirs of one of the founders of industrial design.
  • Cradle to Cradle – Michael Braungart & William McDonough
    • Manufacturing is compatible with global ecology.
  • The Inmates are Running the Asylum – Alan Cooper
    • The book that got me here.
  • About Face 2.0 – Alan Cooper
    • The first comprehensive treaties on interface design.
  • The Humane Interface – Jef Raskin
    • Another classic analytic look at interface design.

Game Design

  • Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals – Katie Salen Tekinbas & Eric Zimmerman
    • The game design textbook. A comprehensive and insightful analysis of interactive design.
  • A Theory of Fun – Raph Koster
    • Why learning is fun, and fun is learning.
  • [Broken Link] – Chris Crawford
    • One of the earliest and deepest thinkers on game design.
  • Lost Garden – Dan Cook
    • Essays on creative and analytical approaches to game design.


Software Engineering

  • Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs – Harold Abelson & Gerald Jay Sussman
    • The essence of software engineering.
  • The Little Schemer – Daniel P. Friedman, Matthias Felleisen, Duane Bibby, and Gerald J. Sussman
    • How to think recursively. One of the most unique and effective peddagogic books ever written.
  • Hacker’s Delight – Henry Warren, Jr.
    • A treasure of bit-manipulation algorithms.
  • The Design and Evolution of C++ – Bjarne Stroustrup
    • Biography of a language.
  • Lambda the Ultimate
    • Everything I know about programming language theory, I owe tot his site.
  • CiteSeer
    • Online library of research papers. Invaluable. Down with ACM extortion!
  • E.W. Dijkstra Archive
    • Collected writings of one of the founders of computer science.

Programming Languages

Good to work with:

  • Lua
    • A simple, elegant scripting language. Extensible and embeddable.
  • OpenLaszlo
    • Declarative layout, rapid prototyping.
  • Haskell
    • The programming language for the 21st century.

Inspiring to read about:

  • Inform
  • io
  • Erlang
  • Fortress
  • Clojure


  • Reforming the Mathematical Language of Physics – David Hestenes
    • The geometric structure of abstract nonsense.
  • Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos – Steven Strogatz
    • Pictures, examples, geometric intuition. Greatest textbook ever.
  • Visual Complex Analysis – Tristan Needham
    • Complex analysis explained geometrically. Beautiful.
  • Gödel, Escher, Back – Douglas Hofstadter
    • The formal systems, they are everywhere.


  • ★★ The Art of Doing Science and Engineering – Richard Hamming
    • How to do great work. How to think.
  • And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared – Genrich Altshuller
    • A delightfully insane introduction to systematic invention.
  • Folklore – Andy Hertzfeld
    • Anecdotes about the creation of the original Macintosh.



  • ★★ Mindstorms – Seymour Papert
    • This is how humans were meant to learn.
  • Dumbing Us Down – John Taylor Gatto
    • Why “schooling” is the opposite of “education.”
  • How Children Fail – John Holt
    • Why “schooling” is the opposite of “education.”
  • How to Survive in your Native Land – James Herndon
    • Why “schooling” is the opposite of “education.”


  • Technopoly – Neil Postman
    • Technological dependence, and the amorality of progress.
  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions – Thomas Kuhn
    • This is how the world changes: with a bang, not a whimper.
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel – Jared Diamond
    • The birth of civilization and technology.


  • Amusing Ourselves to Death – Neil Postman
    • Form limits function.


  • The Corporation – Joel Balkan, et al.
    • We’ve created a monster.
  • Ralph Nader: An Unreasonable Man – Mantel & Skroven – Portrait of a modern-day saint.


  • A People’s History of the United States – Howard Zinn
    • The winners write the history books.
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me – James Loewen
    • The winners write the history books.



  • The Careful Writer – Theodore Bernstein
    • Language porn!
  • The Mother Tongue – Bill Bryson
    • History of English.
  • RhymeZone
    • Superb rhyming dictionary.
    • Roget’s New Millenium, baby. That’s how I roll.



  • Orisinal – Ferry Halim
  • Knytt Stories – Nicklas Nygren
  • Braid – Jonathan Blow
  • Psychonauts – Tim Schafer
  • World of Goo – Kyle Gabler & Ron Carmel
  • Digital: A Love Story – Christine Love
  • Beyond Good and Evil – Michael Ancel
  • vvvvvv – Terry Cavanagh


  • Harmonic Experience – W.A. Mathieu
    • Tonal theory done right.
  • The World’s Greatest Fakebook
    • The first one I reach for.
  • Alesis Micron
    • Makes a great stocking stuffer!


  • OverClocked Remix
  • The Wingless – John Burnett
  • 8-bit Collectivee
  • Big Giant Circles – Jimmy Hinson
  • Stanford Harmonics


  • Watchmen – Alan Moore
  • Nausicaa – Hayao Miyazaki
  • Fables – Bill Willingham
  • Re-Gifters – Mike Carey
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal – Zach Weiner
  • Truck Bearing Kibble – Kramer & Vaughn
  • Simulated Comic Product – Kevin Forbes
  • Perry Bible Fellowship – Nick Gurewtich
  • Married to the Sea – Drew and Natalie
  • xkcd – Randall Munroe
  • Octopus Pie – Meredith Gran
  • Cat and Girl – Dorothy Gambrell
  • Wigu – Jeffery Rowland
  • Narbonic – Shaenon Garrity
  • Spamusement – Steven Frank
  • Subnormality – Winston Rowntree

Human Beings

  • Chaim Gingold
  • Aza Raskin
  • Oliver Steele
  • Chris Hecker
  • Kyle Gabler
  • Adam Cadre
  • Charles Bloom
  • Eskil Steenberg
  • Brad Templeton
  • Clay Shirky
  • Stewert Brand

See also:

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nwjsmith commented Aug 12, 2019

A few years ago I put together a list from a photo of Bret's bookshelf

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Great list, thanks for compiling & sharing!

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A few years ago I put together a list from a photo of Bret's bookshelf

This link doesn't work now. Is it updated elsewhere?

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nwjsmith commented Jan 8, 2024

@a-y-u-s-h ah sorry about that, I'll need to set up some redirects. Here's the new location:

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@nwjsmith Thanks a ton for your effort and quick response.

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