People who’ve listened to me for more than, like, five minutes probably know that my favorite software book, bar none, is Data and Reality. It’s about how data is terrible and we can’t accurately capture data in information systems because we don’t know what we, as the people capturing the data, actually mean when we think about things. Like here’s something from the opening chapter:
It is often a matter of choice whether a piece of information
is to be treated as a category, an attribute, or a relationship.
(Which raises the question of how fundamental such a
distinction really is.) This corresponds to the equivalence
between “that is a parent” (the entities are parents), “that person
has children” (the entities are people, with the attribute of having
children), and “that person is the parent of those children” (the
entities are people and children, related by parentage).
It’s heady and mindbending and delightful and completely changed how I think about software. I love it and recommend it to everybody I meet.
The big problem is that it’s almost impossible to find. The first edition was published by a boutique press and the second edition was self published, and then the author up and died. Secondhand copies of the 2nd edition sell for upwards of a hundred dollars! Thankfully, “Technics Publication” rescued it and published a third edition. Unthankfully, they also added a bunch of “updates” and pitches for their other books to the text. Also, they took out a whole bunch of important content. Everybody I know who read the second edition think it’s one of the greatest software books ever. Everybody I know who read the third edition said “meh”.
tl;dr: don’t trust anybody who calls themselves “The Tesla of Publishing”.
Apparently the copyright for the second edition is still held by the author’s son, David Kent. I’ve been trying to track any information about him down to see if he’s willing to make it public domain. I’ve come up completely short, though. If any of you happen to have a lead, I’m happy to hear.
Until then! Someone linked me ten year old Github repo that happens to contain a complete copy of Data and Reality, SECOND edition. This is a big deal. It’s pretty much the only way most people will have a chance to read the original, unmangled version of a classic. Download it! Read it! It’s incredible!
(Note: there are other books on that repo too. Please do not download the other books. I think downloading D&R is justifiable, because 1) it’s out of print, 2) the author is dead, and 3) the “updated” edition is significantly different from the original.)