Computer Science

15 Must-Read Books for Computer Science Grad Students [2021 Edition]

15 Must-Read Books for Computer Science Grad Students [2021 Edition]
Computer science spans a universe of subjects, from programming to databases to artificial intelligence. We've found some great books on each. Image from Unsplash
Tom Meltzer profile
Tom Meltzer April 20, 2021

How many of our 15 must-read books for computer science grad students have you already read?

Computer Science Programs You Should Consider

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The number of master’s degrees in computer science conferred in the United States annually is approaching 50,000; that’s double the number awarded just six years ago. Clearly, an increasing number of computer science professionals see a graduate degree as essential to success in this field. Schools are rising to the demand, offering both on-campus and online computer science master’s programs to accommodate students of all backgrounds and needs.

If you’re considering a computer science master’s, you want to be well-versed and well-read. Maybe you’re looking for a computer science book that can teach, inspire, and even entertain you. Noodle can help with that.

Below we’ve listed 15 of the best books appropriate to students considering a master’s degree in computer science. They’re subdivided by category:

  • Computer science books: algorithms
  • Computer science books: cloud computation
  • Computer science books: computer programming
  • Computer science books: computer security
  • Computer science books: database management
  • Computer science books: machine learning and artificial intelligence
  • Computer science books: operating systems
  • Computer science books: programming languages
  • Computer science books: software engineering
  • Computer science books: web programming

Computer science books: algorithms

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

The marketplace is crowded with books that teach how to build, test, and implement algorithms. Doubtless, you’ve been assigned an introduction to algorithms textbook as an undergraduate, or you’ve read some in the course of completing a boot camp. There aren’t as many books like this one, which applies the insights gleaned from algorithms to everyday life. It turns out that the problems we must solve to get through the day—from prioritizing tasks to determining our tolerance for random digressions—are the same ones computer programmers face and attempt to resolve algorithmically. The authors are a computer programmer/poet and a psychology and cognitive science professor, an apt pairing for a book that straddles the worlds of computer science and human behavior.


“I'm Interested in Computer Science!”

“Typically the additional income from a master’s degree over a lifetime is worth the sticker price you pay for it.” (source)

A master’s in computer science can open countless doors from coast to coast. It will expand your knowledge and can help you advance your career, opening doors to management and leadership roles and increasing your earning potential. Jobs are plentiful around the country in a wide variety of industries, from healthcare to finance, entertainment to manufacturing.

University and Program Name Learn More

Computer science books: cloud computation

Explain the Cloud Like I’m 10 by Todd Hoff

Yes, you already know what the cloud is and how it works. The purpose of this book isn’t to teach computer scientists about the cloud. Even so, it can be useful to you in helping explain the cloud to all the non-tech managers and executives whom you’ll need to brief on your work. Keep this book handy and browse it every time you have to meet with someone who needs to understand what you’re doing but has trouble clearing the cache on their browser. This book’s clear, simple, straightforward language provides an excellent model for explaining not just the cloud but all complex computing matters.

Cloud Computing From Beginning to End by Ray Rafaels

So, you want something geekier? OK, we’ve got geeky: Ray Rafaels’ Cloud Computing: From Beginning to End covers technical details, strategy, design, and in-depth implementation of cloud migration. Rafaels’ comprehensive work also explores the history of cloud computing, potential business applications, troubleshooting, risk assessment, and much, much more.

Computer science books: computer programming

Algorithmic Puzzles by Anany Levitin

Writing algorithms lies at the heart of all computer programming. Troubleshooting algorithms is basically a high-level problem-solving exercise akin to six-dimensional chess. How better to hone your programming chops, then, than with a book of algorithmic puzzles? Levitin’s book includes “some old classics” alongside “newer examples, some of which have been asked during job interviews at major companies.” Levitin’s book offers a solid rebuke to anyone who insists that computer science can’t be fun.

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs by Harold Abelson, Gerald Jay Sussman, and Julie Sussman

The authors sit on the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science faculty at MIT, so, as you might expect, it is dense, challenging, and rich in information and insight. The book is so popular among hackers that they’ve given it a nickname: “the Wizard Book” (because of the image of a wizard on the cover). As one goodreads reviewer put it, this book “will make you a better programmer in the same way that reading Dostoevsky will make you a better writer.”

Computer science books: computer security

__ The Hacker and the State: Cyber Attacks and the New Normal of Geopolitics by Ben Buchanan

International warfare is no longer confined to battlefields. National actors have discovered more effective and less expensive means of subverting one another online; the 2020 Solar Winds data breach is only the most prominent example of a successful cyberattack. Author Ben Buchanan, a faculty member at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, draws on interviews with insiders, declassified files, and forensic investigations of corporate security breaches to survey the scope, and limits, of international cyber-sabotage and espionage.

This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race by Nicole Perlroth

New York Times cybersecurity reporter Nicole Perlroth reports on the cybersecurity black market, through which governments pay hackers to find vulnerabilities they can use to spy on and sabotage one another. Perlroth points out that this prioritization of cyber offense over cyber defense leaves citizens more vulnerable than they need be: governments could use the secrets they procure to plug security holes in such popular applications as Windows, but they choose to exploit those vulnerabilities instead. The dangers were minimal when the U.S. constituted the primary market for these cyberweapons. Unfortunately—and inevitably—hackers realized that other countries might also want to bid for their services. Perlroth’s book concludes with a set of recommendations for reprioritizing cyber-defense before it’s too late.

Computer science books: database management

Database Design for Mere Mortals: A Hands-On Guide to Relational Database Design by Michael Hernandez

This popular overview of relational databases covers database types, models, design, implementation, analysis, data structures, and integrity assurance. Hernandez writes in clear, concise prose that’s a welcome change from the typical jargon-heavy style of most database manuals.

Seven Databases in Seven Weeks: A Guide to Modern Databases and the NoSQL Movement by Luc Perkins

Perkins’ book claims to be “the only comprehensive guide to the world of NoSQL databases,” covering Couch DB, DynamoDB, HBase, MongoDB, Neo4J, Postgres, and Redis. NoSQL solutions address issues that arise as data sets grow larger and more complex. You don’t need to be a computer scientist to anticipate the direction of that trend. Perkins includes real-world problems and examples for each of the databases he covers.

Computer science books: machine learning and artificial intelligence

Girl Decoded: A Scientist’s Quest to Reclaim Our Humanity by Bringing Emotional Intelligence to Technology by Rana el Kaliouby

El Kaliouby’s memoir covers a lot of ground, including the challenges of excelling as a Muslim woman in a tech world dominated by men. That helps make Girl Decoded a compelling read, but what makes it an invaluable AI book are the sections covering her research in Emotion AI founding of Affectiva, a pioneer in the field. Much attention has been focused on teaching computers to analyze and reason more effectively; less has been given to teaching them to recognize and simulate human emotions. The systems she helped develop are now integrated across numerous applications, from social robotics to automobile monitoring systems that check drivers’ level of distraction.

Driven by Alex Davies

Wired editor Alex Davies tells the tale of the quest to build the first self-driving automobile, a project that pushes the boundaries of artificial intelligence. Many computer science books are turgid affairs; not so with Driven, a page-turner that explores both the science behind self-operating cars and the human drama of the inventors, investors, and con artists engaged in the endeavor.

Computer science books: operating systems

Modern Operating Systems by Andrew Tannenbaum

Not every must-read for computer science grad students is an easy read. Tannenbaum’s 1,000+-page tome on operating systems may not set your heart racing. Still, it is comprehensive and informative, the sort of reference you want to have around whether you’re encountering problems with Windows, Unix, Linux, iOS, Android, or any of the open-source systems gaining currency. Given the proliferation of operating systems, chances are you won’t learn them all in school. Some will be self-taught; that’s where a book like this one comes in handy. Goodreads reviewers insist that it’s much better written than its competitors in the field. Given its length, that’s a huge positive.

Computer science books: programming languages

The Pragmatic Programmer: Your Journey To Mastery by David Thomas and Andrew Hunt

The Pragmatic Programmer earns five stars from more than 80 percent of Amazon reviewers. That’s JK Rowling territory, and Thomas and Hunt can’t rely on adorable kids or magical adventures to boost their ratings. It’s fair to say that this book has become something of a Bible for many professional programmers. It belongs on every computer scientist’s bookshelf (or reading app).

Computer science books: software engineering

Code Complete 2: a Practical Handbook of Software Construction by Steve McConnell

Forbes deemed Code Complete “the single best cornerstone book on good software development,” citing its focus on fundamentals and clear code examples. A Microsoft ad once featured Bill Gates reading a child a bedtime book: that book is Code Complete. Enough said.

Computer science books: web programming

Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug

Krug’s book stressing the importance of usability, accessibility, and intuitive navigation in web design has influenced web designers for almost two decades. This revision brings it up-to-date so that it remains an essential read for all web programmers. Krug’s clear, entertaining writing style makes this brief book (it’s only 200 pages long) zip along. Many goodreads reviewers report having read this book multiple times.

Best computer science master’s programs

The best computer science master’s programs in the United States include:


Best online computer science master’s programs

Many schools offer excellent online computer science master’s degrees, including:

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About the Author

Tom Meltzer began his career in education publishing at The Princeton Review, where he authored more than a dozen titles (including the company's annual best colleges guide and two AP test prep manuals) and produced the musical podcast The Princeton Review Vocab Minute. A graduate of Columbia University (English major), Tom lives in Chapel Hill, NC.

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle. He has been managing editor of the website for over four years.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


Computer Science Programs You Should Consider