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Masterminds of Programming: Conversations with the Creators of Major Programming Languages (Theory in Practice (O'Reilly)) Paperback – Bargain Price, April 3, 2009


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Product Details

  • Series: Theory in Practice (O'Reilly)
  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1 edition (April 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0596515170
  • ASIN: B00CVE3TVU
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,429,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Federico Biancuzzi is a freelance interviewer. His interviews appeared on publications such as ONLamp.com, LinuxDevCenter.com, SecurityFocus.com, NewsForge.com, Linux.com, TheRegister.co.uk, ArsTechnica.com, 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.

Customer Reviews

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I just don't like that Charles guy, and I don't like Adobe.
Shannon J. Behrens
There are many programming languages in the world and this book is a series of interviews with many language creators.
Thomas B
That aside, it's an interesting, informative and occasionally thought-provoking read.
Malcolm R Groves

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

99 of 107 people found the following review helpful By Cody Koeninger on April 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
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 By Brian Peek on May 4, 2009
Format: Paperback
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 By Stefan Vorkoetter on 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 By Shannon J. Behrens on July 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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 the discussions on unfamiliar languages (eg. Eiffel, Lua, Forth, Haskell).

The other surprise was how funny many of the interviews are, although perhaps much of the humour is unintentional. It's a stark reminder that these language designers are very much human, and prone to pettiness and rivalry as much as the rest of us.

For example, Bertrand Meyer rejecting a question on Design by Contract in Eiffel and putting it back on "Gosling, Stroustrop, Alan Kay or Hejlsberg" how they could possibly design a language without it? "Asking why one uses Design by Contract is like asking people to justify Arabic numerals. It's those using Roman numerals for multiplication who should justify themselves"

Or James Gosling, when asked about C# borrowing from Java : "C# basically took everything, although they oddly decided to take away the security and reliability stuff by adding all these sorts of unsafe pointers, which strikes me as grotesquely stupid"

I found myself reading it in quite a convoluted order, as I'd finish one chapter, say Gosling's Java chapter, and then want to jump over and read the C# chapter to see if Anders would justify his "grotesquely stupid" decision.

Two small criticisms though. First, it could do with a little more editing. Some of the interviews seem to have taken place over a few sittings, and so tend to repeat themselves a bit. Ander's Hejlsberg's is probably the most obvious example (but worth reading anyway, as he is at his pragmatic and reasonable best)

Second, for the languages with which I wasn't familiar, I'd have loved some code samples.

That aside, it's an interesting, informative and occasionally thought-provoking read. Probably as close to a geek's coffee table book as I've come across.
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