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For software developers, there are some books you must absolutely read.

What is the single most influential book every programmer should read?

How about for sysadmins? Is there a similar list of books?


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37 Answers 37

The only essential I have is The Practice of System and Network Administration by Limoncelli, Hogan, et al. My first edition copy lives on my desk

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It may be a bit dated, but you can't learn how to properly do your job (or how not to, I forget which one) without looking into the writings of the Bastard Operator From Hell.

Edit: Here are some links


UNIX and Linux System Administration Handbook - 4th Edition

Linux Administration Handbook

even I own this.. and I suck at unix sysadmin – Jeff Atwood May 1 '09 at 7:15
Updated to mention the newest edition. The neat part is the newest edition even mentions as a resource in table 1.5 – Zoredache Aug 26 '10 at 0:10

For network admins: TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 1: The Protocols (2nd Edition). You should know how TCP/IP works. enter image description here


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

(Often regarded as one of the best books on any topic.)

This quote (found here) is relevant:

My personal feeling is that this is how any further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making Quality decisions and that's all. God, I don't want to have any more enthusiasm for big programs full of social planning for big masses of people that leave individual Quality out. These can be left alone for a while. There's a place for them but they've got to be built on a foundation of Quality within the individuals involved. We've had that individual Quality in the past, exploited it as a natural resource without knowing it, and now it's just about depleted. Everyone's just about out of gumption. And I think it's about time to return to the rebuilding of this American resource - individual worth.


Unix Power Tools, Third Edition. I own three copies of this, two in the office and one at home. If you like to become a Unix guru, grow a beard and read this book. enter image description here

alt text

Essential System Administration was already mentioned. Espescially useful if you are the boss to a group of SA's


For me a very exciting must read book was


The Story About Ping

Using deft allegory, the authors have provided an insightful and intuitive explanation of one of Unix's most venerable networking utilities. Even more stunning is that they were clearly working with a very early beta of the program, as their book first appeared in 1933, years (decades!) before the operating system and network infrastructure were finalized.


Unix System Management Primer Plus, by Jeff Horwitz.

Unix System Management Primer Plus

Best choice: Unix System Management Primer Plus, by Jeff Horwitz.

This book is almost criminally unknown, if you ask me. There's a ton of excellent technical books out there that will tell you specific details of operation of a particular piece of hardware, or a piece of software. There's lots of good ones on scripting, automation, and programming.

This isn't the book to teach you every aspect of administering your server or application, but this is the one that teaches you how to be a System Administrator.

It covers things that you just don't find in other books, including chapters on infrastructure and data center design and build out, server deployment, patching and upgrades, monitoring, user support, outages, high availability, capacity planning, automation, security, and more.

If you want to run one Unix/Linux box in your basement as a home server, this isn't the book for you. If you want to work as a System Administrator, particularly with Unix/Linux, you absolutely should read this book.


The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage by Cliff Stoll

This isn't a technical book, but a true story about how a real person stumbles upon a hacker. He watches the hacker operate and notifies various three letter agencies with little or no response.'s_Egg_(book)


Internetworking with TCP/IP, Vol 1 by Douglas E. Comer

Like Stevens, a classic.


Surprisingly enough nobody came up with this one:

Networking All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies

Networking All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies


The book that shaped my life as a sysadmin, it's a bit outdated but written from the dads (at least one of them) of UNIX.


Get it here.


(ug, I think my comment got eaten)

Anyway, while I wouldn't quite call it the most influential book that every sysadmin should read, I enjoyed The Craft of System Security. It does a good job of covering (at least from a high level) the history, theory and practice of security. Oh, and it's even written well enough it won't consistently put you to sleep!


Essential System Administration by AEleen Frisch.


Not for the faint of heart, this is the only book I know that tries to describe and explain adiministering complex systems using systematic, scientific principles and mathematical models.

From the author of cfengine:

Mark Burgess: Principles of Network and System Administration

alt text


In the beginning was the command line

Not exactly SysAdmin related but it has to be one of the most influential IT books out there.


Who Moved My Cheese

While not technical (and maybe a bit cliched now?) the principles are fantastic and highly applicable to sysadmin work.


SED AWK saves you time and money!


I vote for UNIX hints and hacks. A lot of the content is out of date now but it still helped me to think like a UNIX admin.


I think the most influential book that you can read is Sex, Drugs and Economics: An Unconventional Introduction to Economics.

It's a pop economics book written by a british economist.

Since System Administration involves many different skills and it's usually different tasks depending where you're working, I believe it's important to develop a mindset using this book and making your own choices about what's best.


I'll second the Limoncelli, 'The Practice of System and Network Administration,' but I'll add another, and possibly place it higher - Eliyahu M. Goldratt's 'The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement' I think it places any enterprise SysAdmin in the mindset of 'how do all plates spinning lead to a company's common goal.' When I worked QA/Field Engineer work at an ERP software co., prior to getting into SysAdmin work, this was 'the bible.'


Wwhen i was starting to work as a Systemadministrator alot of changes pass my life. The Point at this time was i had no idea what i had to expect with this changes. And i desided to read [1]. In a little distanced view i think that gave me alot of improvement for my daily work.



While this book is rather old - principles do not die easily. Combine it with The Linux Administration Handbook mentioned above, serve chilled:

UNIX System Administration Handbook

Also this one will help:

Essential Drucker, Druckers Management Essentials


protected by Zoredache Mar 17 '11 at 22:37

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