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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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See also this related (but different) question:… – Tony Meyer Apr 30 '09 at 20:40

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

enter image description hereenter image description here

I can't up vote this enough. I have both editions. If you haven't read the second, it's well worth the price. – Joseph Kern Jun 14 '09 at 0:46
+1 This is a great book. – Joe Doyle Jun 17 '09 at 0:41
reading it now. its like having a mentor at your fingertips explaining some of those little things you never thought to ask. – Keith Sep 10 '09 at 2:35
See also his excellent paper: ‘Turning the Corner: Upgrading Yourself from “System Clerk” to “System Advocate”’:… – Teddy Oct 3 '09 at 2:23

Time Management for System Administrators

Another Limoncelli book - he's fantastic! – Richard Gadsden May 5 '09 at 10:37
Ah. "How to get OCD in 14 days" – kubanczyk Jun 19 '09 at 21:27
+1 .. but I'd say that "reading" is not necessary.. owning is helpful, but skimming is far more useful on this title :) – warren Sep 10 '09 at 2:44
+1 for Tom's book, excellent one – lynxman Feb 1 '11 at 15:58

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

BOFH is still being written! – Richard Gadsden Apr 30 '09 at 15:43
Even better! I should read up then. – TheTXI Apr 30 '09 at 15:52

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
Not actually a good reference for the book *lol* – Server Horror Jun 10 '09 at 15:59
Got that one as well. I love the little hand drawn illustrations. – Joseph Kern Jun 14 '09 at 0:47
Updated to newest edition. – Zoredache Aug 26 '10 at 0:01
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

The Art of Deception

enter image description here

+1 More awareness for everyone – Oskar Duveborn Jun 1 '09 at 20:53
I've read it, but I don't exactly see how it's "influential". – Rook Jun 10 '09 at 20:56
People forget that sys admin is not exclusivly technical. We design systems for humans to interact with and that opens us up to big security vulnerabilities that can completely nullify everything done technically. – Shial Sep 30 '09 at 12:48
It is incredibly good at reminding you that no matter how well you run a system, how much you lock it down, how much security you put in... there is always a weak point. Don't ever forget that sitting in front of the screen will be a fallible human being who really can't be bothered with remembering all these secure passwords and complicated procedures. – GAThrawn Sep 30 '09 at 13:38
In other words, properly configuring the users is the most important part of Information Security and is many times completely forgotten in favor of some expensive tool... – Oskar Duveborn Jan 16 '10 at 11:26

enter image description here"Essential System Administration" by Æleen Frisch


It'd be better to split each book in a new response, this way we could upvote them individually. – JAG May 4 '09 at 13:18
I have the O'Reilly pocket reference for this as well and its fantastic! Its a mini man page collection for several Unices (HP-UX, AIX, BSD, Solaris, etc) all in one small handy reference. – faultyserver Jun 5 '09 at 23:56

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.

Isn't the point of the book that the narrator is unreliable and thus statements like that should be seen as attempts to curry favour rather than read literally? – alimack Feb 19 '10 at 12:51

enter image description here "DNS and BIND" by Paul Albitz, Cricket Liu

Love or hate bind, if you deal with DNS, you need this book. – Avery Payne May 20 '09 at 7:01

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

If you want to know how to do something in a Unix-like system, this is the book to read. – Emil Sit Sep 10 '09 at 2:31

For me a very exciting must read book was

Also with a good cookie recipe as I recall. – Alister Bulman May 4 '09 at 14:05
I read that when it was recommended by the instructor of a Unix security course I took. It's definitely a fascinating, exciting story. – Brad Beyenhof Jun 5 '09 at 5:11
Probably the best Sysadmin story ever written. – Joseph Kern Jun 14 '09 at 0:48
It was a good yarn, but he did ham it up a bit, probably to make better sales. I remember this one more than both Mitnick books, so I guess it worked :). – user3914 Sep 10 '09 at 9:03

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.

Isn't that a kid's book. Ah, the link, that's pretty funny +! – Peter Turner May 9 '09 at 6:35
+1 for humor. Are you trying to insinuate something about the reading level of sysadmins? – Nick Kavadias Aug 20 '09 at 16:25

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

I have to admit I learned the fundamentals of TCP/IP with a very old version of a "for Dummies" book. But this was so long ago that the author still considered Gopher, Veronica, Archie and, IIRC, WAIS important subjects. Not long after that, I got Stevens into my hands. – Sven Jun 16 '09 at 23:11
I agree. Not reading a for Dummies book is like skipping the white belt. Personally I try to get rid of "middle-books/thesis books" as much as I can. Once I kind of get a dummy grip of the subject I'm trying to understand, the next step usually is pretty much about googling, reading the spec... or asking at ServerFault :) – Nano Taboada Jun 21 '09 at 13:21

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.


Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet

+1 great book to know where we come from – lynxman Feb 1 '11 at 15:59

(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.

Definitely a great read, though parts of it have become slightly outdated over the last few years as companies have changed. Neal Stephenson (the author) has links to download the whole text here personally I downloaded the whole thing years ago, and ended up buying it too. Garret Birkel (with Stephenson's permission) has annotated and updated the essay here – GAThrawn Sep 30 '09 at 13:54

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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