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Out of their Minds: The Lives and Discoveries of 15 Great Computer Scientists Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 291 pages
  • Publisher: Copernicus (July 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0387982698
  • ISBN-13: 978-0387982694
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,008,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Over the past fifty years, most of computer science's important inventions have come from innovators who aren't exactly household names. Out of Their Minds describes the lives and discoveries of fifteen unsung computer scientists whose programs have done everything from help engineers manage factories to help cartoonists animate their characters. This well-paced book spans the varied disciplines of computer science and challenges the reader to think about still-unsolved questions: how can we build a computer that works like the human brain, how can we boost the speed of computation, and where all that intelligence and power will take the industry over the next fifty years. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"...Dennis Shasha and Cathy Lazere have written a friendly and informative guide to a group of scientists who have...greatly shaped the world we take for granted." -Chris Goodrich -- Los Angeles Times

"A fascinating collection of profiles and interviews with some of the men...who brought us [to the computer age]." -L.R. Shannon -- The New York Times

... lucidly written, consistently interesting, full of beautiful insights, examples, and stories, and generally inspiring. Also, lots of fun. -- David Gelernter, Yale University

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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See all 23 customer reviews
It is a fun read which I have allowed myself twice already.
Teddy Dover
The subtitle is very descriptive -- "The Lives and Discoveries of 15 Greaat Computer Scientists".
M. Leisner
I jotted down a few interesting tidbits while I was reading the book.
Shannon J. Behrens

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By calmly on April 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
At about 15 pages per computer scientist, you get brief but often substantive introductions to some key figures in computer science. For those that intrigue you, you can then look elsewhere, but from this book alone you can get a good feel for some of the key problems computer scientists have addressed. You'll also get a good feeling for what these scientists were like as people and how they thought. Quotes from interviews with each gets you closer to them.

People who were just names to me get a chance to come alive. Some seemed quite likable, like John Backus (who I'd only known as the "B" in BNF) and Egdger Dijksra (who's a lot more than a warning against goto's). All are challenging thinkers who made some very hard things seem easier: Lamport especially seemed to have had a knack for simplifying some hard problems. But it's hardly all that simple and some of the discussions of their work took me some careful reading and re-reading to get a handle on.

This book delivers with its combination of showing these scientists as human beings and introducing some of the great challenges of computer science. If you're a programmer too often busy with boring work, this may be your chance to get back in touch with some fascinating discoveries. If you're not a computer scientist, even though some of the discussions may be rough going, there's plenty of good material to acquaint you with what computer scientists do and how intriguing it can be. 15 pages may not seem enough to get to know any scientist (I could have used more on Alan Kay and John McCarthy) but, as a introduction, this book comes thru strong, capturing much of the excitement that you never suspect if you just see rows of programmers in cubicles typing away.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Richard Snodgrass on October 31, 2000
Format: Paperback
Writings on computer science celebrate the passive voice, the obtuse formalism, the multitude of graphs with dashed and dotted and dashed-dotted lines and tiny legends. While sometimes of interest to researchers, this literature is entirely foreign to those outside that clique, not because computers are irrelevant, but because the ideas behind the information revolution have been presented in an intentionally stilted and impersonal manner. The same enforced distance characterizes technical books. As Alan Lightman observes in the January 1999 issue of Atlantic Monthly, "Modern textbooks on science give no sense that scientific ideas come out of the minds of human beings. Instead science is portrayed as a set of current laws and results, inscribed like the Ten Commandments by some immediate but disembodied authority." Cathy Lazere and Dennis Shasha break from that tradition in this compelling book. Here we find that, unlike mathematics and theoretical physics, for which intellectual breakthroughs generally are made by the very young, "Rabin invented randomized algorithms in his forties; McCarthy invented nonmonotonic logics in his fifties, Backus worked on functional languages and Dijkstra developed new methods for mathematical proofs in their sixties." We come to understand that Danny Hillis' fascination of neuroanatomy provided telling analogies for his work on massively parallel machines. We are surprised that Stephen Cook did not foresee the widespread applicability of NP-Completeness, that John Backus thought Fortran might be useful for a single IBM machine model, rather than as the first truly platform-independent programming language.Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
From a professor who has contributed extensively to Computer Science and who has his own share of idiosyncrasies, comes this wonderful book about the anecdotes in the lives of 15 of the greatest computer scientists. It takes a compelling, at the same time intriguing, look at how great minds arrived at the great thoughts that have changed the face of Computer Science today.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kevin J. Schmidt on May 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
If you're a computer scientist, programmer or what have you, then this book is a must read. The book presents key contributions of 15 computer scientists. While the book does contain some level of computer science speak, those who don't have computer science backgrounds will still find the book easy to read and follow. I first read this book when it was first published, and I occasionally refer back to it so I don't forget about all the great contributions made to computing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M. Moffatt on February 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
If you are heavily into computer science then you will find this book very interesting and informative.
However I'm more interested in the stories behind the people rather than learning about the mathematical problems they solved. In this area I felt the book didn't quite live up to its promise. Sure there's background stuff provided, but much space is also given over to describing the problems they were trying to solve (and most of these problems were mathematical in nature (ie the Nondeterministic Polynominal (NP) problem)).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 12, 1998
Format: Hardcover
The authors interviewed 15 computer scientists and summarized their lives and their major technical contributions. There are fascinating details about the researchers' backgrounds (e.g. some were good students, but others flunked out) and very clear descriptions of their work. The people chosen span the field, from theory (Rabin, Cook, Levin) to computer design (Fred Brooks, Burton Smith, Hillis) to AI (McCarthy, Lenat). A great introduction to computer science for general readers, but also a lot of fun for techies. Highly recommended!
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