Server Fault is a question and answer site for system and network administrators. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What are some non-IT/Admin books every Admin should read?


locked by sysadmin1138 Jul 29 '12 at 12:43

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed. More info: help center.

There's a similar question on StackOverflow with many relevant answers:… – Charles Roper May 19 '09 at 11:34
Since this is a poll type question, this probably should be set to community wiki. – Zoredache May 19 '09 at 15:08
Poll questions and questions with no clear answer should be in the community wiki. – T. Marshall Aug 21 '09 at 20:44

24 Answers 24

up vote 17 down vote accepted

enter image description here

The Mythical Man Month


The non-technical sys admin bible as far as I'm concerned is: Tom Limoncelli's Time Management for System Administrators


I'm blushing! (P.S. I'll abstain from voting for my own book) – TomOnTime Jun 16 '09 at 13:06

I'd say anything along the lines of scripting. The more you know that can help you automate tasks the better.

On the same note make sure you that when you pick up a scripting language you know about serverfault's sister site – Unkwntech May 19 '09 at 10:10
+1 Smartest thing I've ever done as Windows sysadmin was learn VBS. Bring on Powershell! – squillman May 19 '09 at 13:03
I don't think that qualifies at all as non-IT/Admin. – sparks May 19 '09 at 13:37

How to Win Friends and Influence people.


The Code Book by Simon Singh

The Code Breakers by David Kahn

Great books that will help you understand encryption in more detail.


"The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage", by Clifford Stoll. Stoll is an astrophysicist, but he was working as a systems manager at UC Berkeley in the 1980s when a seemingly-minor billing error eventually led to discovering and apprehending a cracker who had been intruding in his network.

It's definitely an IT book, and in some sense it's kind of an admin book, but since it's written like a novel it's nothing like all those reference texts we spend our days (and nights) poring over.

+1 for a classic. – Avery Payne Jun 14 '09 at 21:57
  • Good to Great by Jim Collins
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Time Management for System Administrators By Thomas A. Limoncelli
  • On War by Clauswitz

I'd recommend "The Story About Ping", but it really is IT related.

My mother read this book to me when I was very young. I always remember being terrified at the part where Ping watches the duck get hit even though it was just a friendly pat. Decades later when this book resurfaced I felt like I was the ONLY sysadmin in the world that had actual childhood memories of reading it. So lonely... just like little Ping! – TomOnTime Jun 16 '09 at 13:08

Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance.


Neal Stephenson In The beggining there was the Command Line

For anyone considering a future in cross-platform work, this should be in the top 3 books that must be read. – Avery Payne Jun 14 '09 at 21:56

Completely non-IT? Then this is a very good book:

enter image description here

Influence - the Psychology of Persuasion

Because once you have the admin-puzzle sorted out, you know how you want your systems to look. But you'll probably end up having to fight with upper management for money, and here is where psychology books comes in handy. Don't be the geeky tech who thinks that the money-people will see reason once you present it to them. It's a game, and you have to know how to play it!


Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash. They're not IT books (directly), but pretty much every IT-guy I know loves them.


Making Things Happen.

In the updated edition of this critically acclaimed and bestselling book, Microsoft insider Scott Berkun offers a collection of essays on field-tested philosophies and strategies for defining, leading, and managing projects. Based on his nine years of experience as a program manager for Microsoft's biggest projects, Berkun explains to technical and non-technical readers alike what it takes to get through a large software or web development project.

A HUUUUGE +1 to this book. – Sean Earp Jun 11 '09 at 14:28

I might suggest asking or looking around the offices of the people whose business you're supporting to see if they have or can suggest any reading material that improves your understanding of the business you're working for.

'sides that...

  • Death March, Edward Yourdon
  • Everything I know about business I learnt from monopoly, Alan Axelrod
  • Slack, Tom DeMarco
  • The No asshole rule, Robert I. Sutton

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, obviously.


  • Code and other laws of Cyberspace (Lessig)
  • Just for fun (Torvalds)

Getting Things Done as well as Ready for Anything, both by David Allen.


A non-Admin (but IT) book could be something that helps you understand your usual customers.

If you work closely together with some developers in language X, try to gather information about language X and how you can improve the environment to help them do their job better.


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.'


Not so seriously - the chronicles of the Bastard Operator from Hell - either a how-to or how-not-to for dealing with users, depending on how you feel about them at the time...


Any book that tells about body language. ie. how to detect that this customer doesn't want this thingamajig.


Robert A. Heinlein Stranger in a Strange Land so that you know what "Grok" means.


Since it looks like we're now talking about novels now...

I've throughly enjoyed the Ender's Saga Series by Orson Scott Card. On book 7 right now.

+1 for Snow Crash as well, I read it for the first time last year and have reread it again twice since then. Its a pretty fun book.

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein

Pretty much any Larry Niven book. I haven't gotten to read any of the rest of the ringworld series except the first one yet though. Niven's biggest problem though is he makes really wonderful environments but his character development sucks. If you can get over that, he's a great author.


Influencer: The Power to Change Anything
Because sysadmins have responsibility, but rarely authority. How do you convince people to provide budget money, bosses to accept proposals, or users to accept your solution?

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams
An oldie but a goodie, buy a copy for your boss as well as yourself.

Death March
If you are continually involved in projects with unrealistic deadlines, that are not fully resourced, that require 14 hour days for months, then get this book (another good one to buy a copy for your boss)

Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky's Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent
What the title says... a concise guide on finding, hiring, and retaining smart technical people.


The two Joel on Software books are great collections of software related articles, not necessarily strict IT tech books either. Every manager should read these.

Joel on Software: And on Diverse and Occasionally Related Matters That Will Prove of Interest to Software Developers, Designers, and Managers, and to Those Who, Whether by Good Fortune or Ill Luck, Work with Them in Some Capacity

Just the subtitles are worth it, looks great on the shelf :D


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.