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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's not a textbook---it's a reference book!, December 22, 2007
This review is from: The Art of Computer Programming, Vols. 1-3 (Hardcover)
Not snob appeal. Yes, it's not a good first textbook. I taught freshman programming at Caltech for a few years, and I admit I didn't use Knuth to teach, in the sense that I didn't require the students to buy it, nor did I assign problems from it. But I *did* tell all my students to buy it (the box set) if they could afford it. And every now and then I did refer the students to look up some detail in Knuth that I felt our textbook (the also very excellent Aho, Hopcroft, and Ullman) had glossed over.

The reason is that when I prepared my notes, and when I went to class, I held a copy of Knuth in my hand. Full of post-its. It's not the best book for "learners" (i.e., beginners), but it's the ONLY book for the algorithm "pro". Sure, you can teach undergrads out of Sedgewick (Knuth's student by the way). But how do you make sure you're not missing something by using Sedgewick? By reading Knuth of course.

If I knew a bright high school student with an interest in computer programming, I'd get him the box set for Christmas. I have to admit I first ran into Knuth when I was a grade school student in the early 80s. There are lots of books in the library that a kid of say twelve just isn't interested in: whatever they are about is something that is just irrelevant and unknown. Not so with Knuth: I was programming BASIC on my C64 back then and knew what programming was. Knuth was downright scary. Here he is talking about simple things, and .... who would have known there would be so much to say about sorting???

about MIX: One day Knuth will be dead. Any programming language that existed during his lifetime will be dead. TeX will be at version pi(=4 atan 1). The Art of Computer Programming will still be relevant, most of it. This would not be the case if
the examples were coded in any "standard" programming language, with all the special-purpose things they all have (no not even if they were in Ruby on Rails!) With MIX, they will at least be in a programming notation as irrelevant then as it is now.

I have an anecdote... when I was a grad student a fellow grad student of mine had come up with a new cute algorithm using two priority queues to solve some problem in CAD. We did some literature searches.. could this be a new algorithm? Nothing came up. Search the web... nothing came up. Look in the standard books on CAD.. nothing came up. Time to publish?

Then I remembered I had a copy of Knuth (he didn't, as it's not fashionable to have forty-year-old books lying around if you're a CS grad student). Turns out the data structure and algorithm the fellow had come up with were described and analyzed in the answer to one of the exercises in Knuth's vol 3. As I recall it the exercise had difficulty level "30" (on Knuth's scale of 0-50).

I draw the conclusion that "active researchers" in a field that has anything to do with algorithms, who don't use Knuth, are at great risk of attracting ridicule for not having read up.

I re-read this book every now and then. Sometimes I read it in the bathroom. Even though I have read it several times, I always learn something new. Often on every page.
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Location: Pasadena, CA USA

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