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Masterminds of Programming: Conversations with the Creators of Major Programming Languages (Theory in Practice (O'Reilly)) [Paperback]

by Federico Biancuzzi, Chromatic
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 6, 2009 0596515170 978-0596515171 1

Masterminds of Programming features exclusive interviews with the creators of several historic and highly influential programming languages. In this unique collection, you'll learn about the processes that led to specific design decisions, including the goals they had in mind, the trade-offs they had to make, and how their experiences have left an impact on programming today. Masterminds of Programming includes individual interviews with:

  • Adin D. Falkoff: APL
  • Thomas E. Kurtz: BASIC
  • Charles H. Moore: FORTH
  • Robin Milner: ML
  • Donald D. Chamberlin: SQL
  • Alfred Aho, Peter Weinberger, and Brian Kernighan: AWK
  • Charles Geschke and John Warnock: PostScript
  • Bjarne Stroustrup: C++
  • Bertrand Meyer: Eiffel
  • Brad Cox and Tom Love: Objective-C
  • Larry Wall: Perl
  • Simon Peyton Jones, Paul Hudak, Philip Wadler, and John Hughes: Haskell
  • Guido van Rossum: Python
  • Luiz Henrique de Figueiredo and Roberto Ierusalimschy: Lua
  • James Gosling: Java
  • Grady Booch, Ivar Jacobson, and James Rumbaugh: UML
  • Anders Hejlsberg: Delphi inventor and lead developer of C#

If you're interested in the people whose vision and hard work helped shape the computer industry, you'll find Masterminds of Programming fascinating.

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Masterminds of Programming: Conversations with the Creators of Major Programming Languages (Theory in Practice (O'Reilly)) + Coders at Work: Reflections on the Craft of Programming
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Federico Biancuzzi is a freelance interviewer. His interviews appeared on publications such as,,,,,,, the Polish print magazine BSD Magazine, and the Italian print magazine Linux&C.

Shane Warden manages Onyx Neon Press, an independent publisher. His areas of expertise include agile software development, language design, and virtual machines for dynamic languages. He is also a published novelist. His books include The Art of Agile Development and Masterminds of Programming.

Product Details

  • Series: Theory in Practice (O'Reilly)
  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1 edition (April 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0596515170
  • ISBN-13: 978-0596515171
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #280,518 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
96 of 104 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unintentionally hilarious April 24, 2009
Most of these "masterminds" come across as rather provincial, making for an unintentionally hilarious read. Stroustrup can't go much more than a page without complaining about Java. The creator of basic opines that, because all languages are basically the same, if you've learned one you can easily learn any . . . then later talks about how he is trying (and failing) to learn objective-C. Guido van rossum asserts that you can define reduce in a couple of lines of python, which you simply cannot do in a functional language. Huh?

reduce f z [] = z
reduce f z (x:xs) = reduce f (f z x) xs

Or is haskell not a functional language in his book, just like lisp is not a functional language?

Don't get me wrong, a few of the interviews are worth reading for something other than comedic value. When creators are actually willing to talk about the mistakes and tradeoffs they made, as the team behind Awk does, the results are sometimes illuminating. The interview with charles moore is completely insane, in a good way. Adin falkoff's comments on apl are interesting, and he does a good job of taking the high road when the interviewer attempts to provoke comparisons to other languages. Unfortunately the overall tone of the book drags it down to not much more than an amusing light read - good for a plane ride, but not worth coming back to.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An educational AND entertaining read May 4, 2009
I've been reading this book off and on for the past week and I have to say I'm really enjoying it. It's great to get perspectives from the creators of a variety of programming languages and learn why they made the choices they did, good or bad.

As one of the other reviewers posted here, there are some unintentional funny moments when creators of one language criticize another and aren't exactly correct in their comments. Personally, I think that adds to the entertainment value of the book and shows that we're all human.

If you're looking for a strict textbook on programming languages, this isn't exactly what you're looking for. But if you'd like to glean some insight on 17 different programming languages, their creators, and their reasoning and opinions on what they and others have done, this is an entertaining and informative read.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Where's Wirth? October 14, 2010
Format:Kindle Edition
I've read the table of contents, and am part way through the book, but I can't see how a book of interviews with designers of influential programming languages can be considered complete without interviewing Niklaus Wirth. Pascal, Modula-2, and to a lesser extent, Oberon, have all greatly influenced the design of most (not all) of the programming languages discussed in this book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Really Enjoyed It, Here's a Summary July 16, 2011
In short, I really enjoyed it. Here's an extremely abbreviated and opinionated summary:

Adin D. Falkoff (APL) made programming as mathematical as possible.

Thomas E. Kurtz (BASIC) was generally a nice guy who wanted to bring programming to the masses.

Charles H. Moore (FORTH) frustrated the heck out of me. He stated that operating systems are the software industry's biggest con job. I disagree. Operating systems protect me to some degree from bad and malicious code. They also let me run multiple programs at the same time and allow me to keep running even when one of the programs crashes. He also said that a piece of code written in any other programming language will be 10 times as large (in number of lines of code) as the same code written in Forth. I'd like to see him try that trick with Python!

Robin Milner (ML) was completely fascinated with programming models and proving the correctness of code. That reminds me of the quote, "All models are wrong. Some models are useful."

Donald D. Chamberlin (SQL) showed me some of the history of SQL. I didn't know IBM research was such an interesting place.

Alfred Aho, Peter Weinberger, and Brian Kernighan (AWK) were as good as I expected.

Charles Geschke and John Warnock (PostScript) talked about Adobe and the history of PostScript. I just don't like that Charles guy, and I don't like Adobe. However, they're smart guys.

Bjarne Stroustrup (C++) was as frustrating as I expected.

Bertrand Meyer (Eiffel) was really interesting. He wrote a book in French that has had a profound impact on French programmers. If he had translated that book into English, it's likely he'd be as famous as, say, Richard Stevens (the author of "UNIX Network Programming").
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
So you don't get to be a mastermind behind a widely used programming language without having a pretty deep knowledge of computer science (and quite a few other things). But you *certainly* don't have to agree with other masterminds on what works and what doesn't. This shows very clearly in the book Masterminds of Programming: Conversations with the Creators of Major Programming Languages by Federico Biancuzzi and Shane Warden. They interview a number of the people behind some of the popular and influential computer languages and record those interviews for the reader. I think what I found most interesting is that there's no "right" answer about what works and what doesn't, and much depends on what niche the language will end up covering.

C++ - Bjarne Stroustrup; Python - Guido von Rossum; APL - Adin D. Falkoff; FORTH - Charles D. Moore; BASIC - Thomas E. Kurtz; AWK - Alfred Aho, Peter Weinberger, and Brian Kernighan; LUA - Luiz Henrique de Figueiredo and Roberto Ierusalimschy; Haskell - Simon Peyton Jones, Paul Hudak, Philip Wadler, and John Hughes; ML - Robin Milner; SQL - Don Chamberlin; Objective-C - Brad Cox and Tom Love; Java - James Gosling; C# - Anders Hejlsberg; UML - Ivar Jacobson, James Rumbaugh, and Grady Booch; Perl - Larry Wall; Postscript - Charles Geschke and John Warnock; Eiffel - Bertrand Meyer; Afterword; Contributors; Index

I found this wasn't the easiest book to read, as it got deep into some very esoteric topics, and the interviews were likely to go off in many different directions. As such, it wasn't as if there were a set of questions that everyone answered so that you could directly compare and constrast topics and background. Still, I found a couple of ways in which the book worked for the reader.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Indeed, there are entirely different ways to program
Nice to see a wide variety of programming languages discussed, other than the mundane derivatives of C. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Jim B.
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing insight into how language designers think
This is one of the few books that have made me rethink how I look at programming! From simple trivia like how Bjarne Stroustrup prefers to hunt down programming errors, to... Read more
Published 11 months ago by David M. Cravey
5.0 out of 5 stars Very inspiring and funny
This book is very inspiring and funny. Contains interviews with creators of 17 influential/historical programming languages: C#, Java, C++, Objective-C, ML, Haskell, Lua, Python,... Read more
Published on August 7, 2011 by Mostafa farghaly
4.0 out of 5 stars Educational and historically rewarding journey
This book provides an interview format where the author (interviewer) asks the same questions (for the most part) to the creators of popular programming languages (C++, Python,... Read more
Published on March 28, 2011 by Craig Cecil
4.0 out of 5 stars Plenty of advice and insight, even for those of us who'll never design...
I expected to be most interested in the interviews about languages I have some exposure to (eg. C#, C++, SQL, Objective-C) but was surprised to find myself much more intrigued by... Read more
Published on January 6, 2011 by Malcolm R Groves
4.0 out of 5 stars A fun read
I've finished Don Chamberlin (SQL), and am reading Tom Love (Objective-C).
Don Chamberlin was funny:

- Question:Why did you become interested in the query... Read more
Published on October 25, 2010 by Cuong Huy To
3.0 out of 5 stars Unengaging
This is, as its subtitle says, a set of interviews with creators of programming languages. The interviews assume familiarity with the languages being discussed, which means that... Read more
Published on December 1, 2009 by Trevor Burnham
5.0 out of 5 stars It's nice to get into the heads of programming languages designers
It's really enlightening to get into the heads of programming languages designers and understand some of the ideas behind the way each of them designed the language, the problems... Read more
Published on November 30, 2009 by Eran Sandler
4.0 out of 5 stars Packed with thoughtful, geeky quotes and insights
Masterminds of Programming: Conversations with the Creators of Major Programming Languages (Theory in Practice (O'Reilly)) by Federico Bioancuzzi and Shane Warden and published by... Read more
Published on November 26, 2009 by Fozziliny G. Moo
5.0 out of 5 stars This belongs in the hands of everyone serious about software.
Masterminds of Programming is a lot of different things, and it will almost certainly make a few programmers revisit their language wars. But the book transcends that. Read more
Published on September 24, 2009 by Taran Rampersad
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