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What's in your retro library?

Lucky Phil

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Hmm... I was fossicking amongst some of my many books (boxed) earlier today, and I came across a handful of titles that I'd essentially forgotten (tends to happen when you own an awful lot of old stuff)! It makes me wonder: what retro gems do other members have in their libraries? For starters, I've unearthed these (apologies for the loose referencing style):


  • 6502 User's Manual (Joseph J. Carr, 1984) - Reston Publishing Company
  • Z80 Users Manual (Joseph J. Carr, 1980) - Reston Publishing Company
  • 6502 Reference Guide (Alan Tully, 1985) - Melbourne House Publishers
  • Z-80 Reference Guide (Alan Tully, 1984) - Melbourne House Publishers
  • Collins Gem Micro Facts: Commodore 64 (Simon Beesley, 1985) - a Collins pocket reference!
  • Collins Gem Micro Facts: ZX Spectrum (PK McBride & AE Weber, 1985) - a Collins pocket reference!
  • The Art of Programming the 1K ZX81 (M James & SM Gee, 1982) - Bernard Babani Publishing
  • The Art of Programming the 16K ZX81 (M James & SM Gee, 1982) - Bernard Babani Publishing


I'd almost completely forgotten about owning these, so I'm kinda excited to rediscover them. I know that many of these titles would be available as PDF files in the Public Domain by now, but beholding them in their staid, aging printed formats is a fitting tribute to retro computing! With that in mind, what else is awaiting rediscovery on bookshelves - or in packing boxes - out there?

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Along with all the manuals that came with all the C= gear I've owned over the years, and the Commodore 64 Programmer's Reference Guide, I also have physical copies of:

  • Machine Language for the Commodore 64, 128, and Other Commodore Computers, Revised & Expanded Edition (Jim Butterfield, 1986) - Brady Prentice Hall Press
  • Commodore 64 Graphics and Sounds (Timothy Orr Knight, 1984) - SAMS Publishing
  • Compute!'s First Book of Commodore 64 Sound and Graphics (Greg Keizer, C. REgena, Paul F. Schatz, et. al, 1983) - COMPUTE! Publications
  • Commodore 64 Games for Kids (Clark and Kathy H. Kidd, 1984) - COMPUTE! Publications
  • Computers and End-User Software with BASIC (Thomas H. Athey, John C. Day, Robert W. Zmud, 1987) - Scott, Foresman and Company
  • Programming in BASIC - Problem Solving with Structure and Style (Stewart M. Venit, 1987) - West Publishing Company
  • Perfect Pascal Programs (Edited by Robert Platt, 1985) - Washington Apple Pi
  • PASCAL (Nell Dale, David Orshalick, 1983) - D. C. Heath and Company

Those last 4 look to be textbooks, probably stuff my mom got when she was a university professor and brought home surplus or evaluation copies for me.

And, since my profession and daily-work has been in UNIX and UNIX-like systems for nearly 30 years, and given when it was published, I think this still qualifies:

  • The C Programming Language (Brian W. Kernighan, Dennis M. Ritchie, 1978) - Prentice-Hall (also have the 1988 ANSI C Second Edition)
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Wow! Nice collection there, Michael... imagine having a kind university professor mum 'handing down' her supernumerary copies? I'm thoroughly impressed.


As for the latter title: no self-respecting C programmer (strange how these guys always seemed to be ex-Commodore 64 owners) would be without this! Mine is the ANSI C edition, so much less exotic than your first-edition copy (though, still a keeper).


Is anyone into the original Usborne computing book series? If so, I'd love to know what these titles meant to you (they shaped my computing experience from Computer Day Dot, no doubt a common phenomenon) - I've accumulated a small collection of them to remind me of budding prgramming days past. If you were a computing child of the 80s, you'll know what I mean...!

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My mom taught at the local community college/University of Texas satellite campus and was in the Education department, teaching future elementary teachers how to teach reading.  Her department was right next to the CS department and was friends with the professors in that department as well as hers.  While she wasn't in CS herself, she was often an early adopter of technology, even had an email address before I did ( I didn't get access to email until I went off to college in the early 90s).

While I did spend a bit of my early days on UNIX doing minor edits to code to make it compile on different UNIX flavors, I never really got into C programming until very recently.  Two of my contributions to the X-16 downloads are my first real projects in C, still learning and wrapping my head around the C way of doing things.  Most of my UNIX programming has been scripting in bash and perl.  My only formal programming training has been in BASIC (took a college semester of BASIC programming over a summer back in the 80s, Waterloo BASIC on an what wikipedia tells me was probably an IBM mini or mainframe of some sort), plus a few years of PASCAL programming in highschool.  Still like playing with BASIC from time to time, but my PASCAL knowledge has all faded with non-use.  The 2 week course in Java IBM sent me to didn't stick, seems my brain is more wired for procedural programming than OO and I've never stuck with any OO language long enough for it to sink in.

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Some of my favorites:

  • 6502 Assembly Language Programming by Lance A Leventhal
  • Inside the Commodore 64 by Milton Bathurst
  • Allied's Electronics Data Handbook (2nd printing 1956)
  • The C Programming Language by K&R (first edition)
  • Digital Computer Electronics by Paul Malvino
  • Compute's First Book of Machine Language
  • Mapping the Commodore 64


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Lots of Amiga books. I've got a full set of RKMs for 1.3 and 2.04. I also have the big binder that came with the early Amiga 1000 machines, with its manual featuring photos of screens showing pre-production versions of Workbench like "25/8," and manuals for both AmigaBASIC from Microsoft and ABasiC from MetaComCo (the company that wrote TRIPOS, which would become a significant part of AmigaDOS). There're also sections for the bundled apps Graphicraft and Textcraft. I also have another big binder for 2.04-era manuals with "Using the System Software" on the spine. For that matter, I have the manuals for a lot of boxed software, including such stars as Deluxe Paint II and III and maybe IV and V as well, Final Copy II, Flight Simulator II, Word Perfect, AmigaVision, PageStream...

In terms of books other than Amiga-related stuff, I have, in my bookshelf at the office, a set of IBM PC XT manuals in binders including a manual for the 3270 terminal card and its accompanying software. I didn't get the card but I think the 5.25" floppy disks are still in the binder. I also have a full set of manuals for a Sanyo MBC-555 non-PC-compatible MS-DOS machine with bundled productivity software by MicroPro including WordStar, CalcStar, and DataStar.

might still have my old C64 User's Manual, but it's more likely that it went with the computer itself when I handed it down to my niece. I have one or two 'popular-media' type books for 90s multimedia stuff; one of them came with a CD that had some buyout media files that I continue to use to this day. There's a book on learning C and one on C++. Those might not necessarily be considered retro, but the C book still talks about the differences between ANSI C and K&R C, and the C++ book is from when the language was still pretty new. There's a book on HTML, CSS, and XML from 2002. It's probably the newest technology book I own, but being 19 years old this year, it starts to fall into the retro category.

I managed to get a few books from library culls... I don't think I have all of them anymore, but at one point I had a K&R C book, an early edition of the Motorola 68000 Programmer's Reference Guide that only includes the 68000 and 68008, and a book about the Graphical Kernel System (GKS). This was all outdated stuff even when I got it, thus why the library was selling it off.

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I agree that object-oriented programming probably hasn't been universally compelling, despite its widespread industrial acceptance. There are some truly encouraging responses here... and I see that K&R is a recurrent theme (the birth of C must've generated an enormous amount of interest)!


Was anyone a collector of the Melbourne House or Usborne titles? I still have numerous copies from each family! These were frequently sighted in Australian libraries (Melbourne House were named after their hub location and had a particularly strong Oz contingent, while Usborne was a strongly UK-focused brand), and they were apparently common in the UK...?

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