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#1 papadoo1  Icon User is offline

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Some suggestions for computer science history related books

Posted 25 January 2012 - 11:17 AM

Hello forum, I'd like to ask if anyone of you can suggest some good books covering topics such as computer science history, (not! electrical engineering), mostly the theoretical aspect of computing and how different programming languages developed through the years. Cheers

p.s yeah yeah I got inspired by That post


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#2 jon.kiparsky  Icon User is offline

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Re: Some suggestions for computer science history related books

Posted 25 January 2012 - 11:51 AM

There's a fair bit of ground to cover there - the subject goes back ~1 century, and more if you include some antecedents. There's academic and popular work to consider, as well as some more technical stuff.

For popular history of computing, there's good stuff covering Babbage (Doron Swade, I think, wrote a nice one) and Hodges' excellent biography of Turing. Those might be good starting points for "early" programming history (meaning, roughly, before compilers). A recent biography of Atanasoff is also quite good - I don't have the author's name in my head, but it's out in the last year or two, and there's not a lot on him, so you shouldn't have a lot of trouble. The only biography I've read of John von Neumann was a pretty fawning piece of hagiography, couldn't recommend it, but he's definitely worth pursuing. These would give you some of the players in that period.

There's a slew of popular books on the development of the internet, which covers a nice large section of the mainframe years (generally, these run to about the late '80s). I know of about half a dozen, all of them pretty good and all of them drawing from a pool of overlapping anecdotes. I can dig up titles and authors if you like, but a trip to the library will probably give you all of them.

The Hacker's Dictionary, on line as "the Jargon File" is a good grab bag of real hacker culture - try to find the earlier editions, from before the time when the web metastasized. Current editions reflect the modern culture, which you already know. The older editions reflect the culture of the MIT/Stanford AI labs, which is where our prototypical hackers come from. (ie, Stallman, Steele, McCarthy, etc., etc.) It's fun reading, and it provides you with a lot of the stuff you don't get from the more serious history.

In addition, there's a nice memoir by Severo Ornstein, published recently and covering a long and broad experience in computing. Again, color and zeitgeist more than event-driven history, but he's a good writer with good stories to tell, and I think you'll learn some of what you're looking for from him.

In the more hard-core academic stuff, I'd have to refer you to my local subject-matter expert, but I know that Jean Sammett's work is well-regarded. It's somewhat academic and somewhat dated, but it's one of the early pieces of serious academic work, so it's not a bad idea to take a look at it. Unfortunately, I believe the first edition was published just before C existed, which gives you an idea of what I mean when I say "somewhat dated".

That's what comes to mind immediately - if you have more specific areas of interest, I can dig down into the grey cells and see if I find better matches.
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#3 darek9576  Icon User is offline

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Re: Some suggestions for computer science history related books

Posted 25 January 2012 - 02:11 PM

Technology is all about going forward and you want to study the past?
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#4 papadoo1  Icon User is offline

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Re: Some suggestions for computer science history related books

Posted 25 January 2012 - 02:29 PM

@jon.kiparsky : Well, to be a honest I didn't expected such a splendid answer. And first I have to thank you for your time. I think I will start with Turing's biography because not only do I currently live in the city where he worked for a lot of time(Manchester, UK), but I also think that he worked on really interesting stuff, and left a big "heritage" behind him. Actually what I love about historical text is the little stories that keep the text interesting if you know what I mean, the tidbits of the case! So I will definitely have a look at the hacker's dictionary and keep Atanasoff in my future reading list!

@darek9576 : In my opinion, going forward requires a good knowledge of what inspired these great men to move forward to what we have now, and things will always be that way. In case of Alan Turing, he is still the future though...
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#5 darek9576  Icon User is offline

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Re: Some suggestions for computer science history related books

Posted 25 January 2012 - 02:38 PM

In terms of theory, yes, i agree. Whether an algorithm will find a solution or not, can you find a better algorithm etc.
In terms of technology, i dont agree. Why do i care what is COBOL, why it came about etc (I know nothing about COBOL btw) if we have now other programming languages like Java. Technology is moving so fast that you might never catch up and spend entire life studying the past.
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#6 jon.kiparsky  Icon User is offline

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Re: Some suggestions for computer science history related books

Posted 25 January 2012 - 03:08 PM

Quote

I think I will start with Turing's biography because not only do I currently live in the city where he worked for a lot of time(Manchester, UK), but I also think that he worked on really interesting stuff, and left a big "heritage" behind him


Turing is a fantastic individual. His mathematical papers are generally quite worth reading as well.
And if you like him as a character, he turns up in Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. Not a work of history by any means, but a fun read - and it will give you some sense of the flow of history along the way.

darek9576 Smart people are curious people. This doesn't mean that you have to be curious about everything to be smart, but if you find that you are curious about something and you suspect that you're a smart person, it's usually a good idea to pursue that idea.
I won't try to justify the study of history to you, but I don't think it's a sign of wisdom to denigrate someone else's curiosity. papadoo1 will certainly find that the history he learns today will pay for itself tomorrow.
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#7 wordswords  Icon User is offline

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Re: Some suggestions for computer science history related books

Posted 25 January 2012 - 03:29 PM

Some top books that I have read on the history of computing:

* Hackers by Steven Levy - talks about the original MIT 'hackers' (or programmers), the free software movement and other stuff
* The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder - talks about the origin of one of the first computers, and the engineers that made it
* A Brief History of the Future by John Naughton - talks about the origin of the internet
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#8 papadoo1  Icon User is offline

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Re: Some suggestions for computer science history related books

Posted 26 January 2012 - 09:42 AM

Thank you for the reply as well wordswords. Today I picked up Alan Touring:The enigma, Hackers by Steven Levy, ENIAC by Scott McCartney, A history of modern Computing by Paul E. Ceruzzi, A history of Computing in the twentieth century, the last one is a collection of essays about computer history. I am digging in!
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#9 jon.kiparsky  Icon User is offline

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Re: Some suggestions for computer science history related books

Posted 26 January 2012 - 10:25 AM

Sounds like fun! The Atanasoff book will be very interesting for you after you read McCartney. There's a lot of tension between those two stories.
The Ceruzzi volume is on my Local SME's shelf of thesis materials, but I haven't got around to it yet. Let me know if you like it.
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#10 papadoo1  Icon User is offline

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Re: Some suggestions for computer science history related books

Posted 26 January 2012 - 10:47 AM

I am starting off with Ceruzzi so I will let you know soon enough
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#11 anonymous26  Icon User is offline

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Re: Some suggestions for computer science history related books

Posted 27 January 2012 - 02:04 PM

View Postpapadoo1, on 25 January 2012 - 06:17 PM, said:

Hello forum, I'd like to ask if anyone of you can suggest some good books covering topics such as computer science history, (not! electrical engineering), mostly the theoretical aspect of computing and how different programming languages developed through the years. Cheers

p.s yeah yeah I got inspired by That post

I would start with references to Charles Babbage and Lady Ada Lovelace. Then look into the Von Neumann architecture (which all modern computer systems conform to).

Next follow on to Punched Cards and the evolution of programming.

The trouble with going directly to Turing is that his work was based on a lot of theory (including his own, of course), which can easily digress into a history of Alan Turing rather than computer science itself.
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