Jake Worth

Buy The Book

September 26, 20152 min read

One trick that helps me learn as a developer is something I call ‘buy the book’.

I get book recommendations all the time from my peers. If you read a lot, or ask a lot of questions, people suggest books you should read.

These recommendations are priceless. A book that has been read and enjoyed by somebody I know goes a long way to suggest it will be helpful to me, too. Reading the book will give us something to talk about and bring us closer as colleagues.

I try to read every book recommended to me, which is challenging. My solution?

Buy the book

As soon as I get a recommendation, without fail, I head over to http://www.half.ebay.com and purchase the cheapest decent copy of the book I can find.

Half.com is a resource I discovered in college. You can find almost any used book for dirt cheap, shipped via media mail (cheap but also slow). I am shocked by how often people I talk to have never heard of this site.

Why buy the book immediately?

For me the biggest obstacle to reading is not having a good book to read. When I don’t have a queue of books that I’m interested in, I’ll waste time trying to choose between the books I do have or looking online. Buying books all the time prevents this situation from ever occurring. I typically have a queue of ten or twelve books waiting to be read.

Why buy the book at all? Why not try to borrow it?

Buying books all the time might seem expensive, but it actually saves me a lot of money.

Going to the library takes time, which is a precious commodity. Seven or eight dollars for a book is cheaper than an hour trip to the library (and another hour trip to return it, plus late fees, plus gas or public transit fare).

Libraries are years behind on technical books. You might find The Practice of Programming, but good luck finding Intro to Elm. It’s not there, and it’s not going to be there for years.

A six or seven dollar book is an investment. Buying a hundred of these a year could cost $1000. But if even one of those books gives you a single idea worth $1000 (not a hard scenario to imagine), you’ve covered your losses. Two ideas and you’re profiting from the endeavor. That’s what investing in knowledge returns to you.

A side effect of this policy is that I have a giant pile of read books on the shelf. How do I handle that?

Give (most of) them away

Sure, I could spend a lot of time trying to resell these used books for four or five dollars apiece back to Half.com. But why? That’s a lot of work for a small amount of money. A better solution is to donate them to your coworkers, office bookshelf, or the aforementioned libraries that are so desperately in need of good technical books. Giving a book strengthens your ties to the community and costs almost nothing.


I am a conduit, through which a river of used technical books rages. They make me a better developer, are basically free, and end up in my workplace, social network, local libraries, and city. It lets me focus on what I love: learning.

Blog of Jake Worth, software engineer in Maine.

© 2022 Jake Worth.