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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Richard Hamming's Last book, a collector's item, February 19, 2011
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This review is from: Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn (Paperback)
This, nor this review, is not for every one. If you appreciate any of Richard Hamming's earlier work, papers, or books, you should own this book. You don't need to read further. It is out of print. It has also been some time, since I cracked it open (just before Amazon), but it is your last chance to read the words of thinking of one of the major intellects that the USA has produced. I'm writing this review because I just recommended it to Don Norman for his rec'd books web page.

The book has math, but it is not completely a math text book. You must be willing to read the math: if you aren't, you don't deserve to buy one of the finite numbers of this book, save your money, don't hoard it, used it won't command a great price (trust me I know). Buy it as a gift for mathematically inclined people or institutions.

Hamming is best known for his work in the 40s on algebraic coding theory (a small part of the book). He writes a bit about acoustics and computation (that's the science part, but that's not why Hamming wrote the book). I know, because we talked about it.

Forgive a brief story: after my abstract algebra class which included a unit on coding theory, I met one of the most incredible women in science, Cynthia Irvine (and her husband Nelson) when she asked if I wanted to meet Hamming at the Naval Post Grad School. So we had lunch. Why tell you this? Because the reader should know why Hamming taught at the NPS and why he wrote this book: it was because as a teacher he wanted to have the greatest effect possible and wanted to have some of the best students, whom he concluded (post graduate education) were future admirals and generals. (Yes: this means Richard kind of gave up on primary, secondary, and undergraduate education.)

Hamming, in discussion, concluded his life thinking "the best tool to teach thinking was to teach the calculus." But this is also not a calculus book (a small amount inside on a mathematical tool which only 1% of the population uses). The "art" isn't painting or the so called "fine arts"; you won't find any of that in the art section of this book. Hamming was trying to apply his science to wider life and world problems.

I stayed in touch with Hamming over the final two decades of this life. We shared other friends when most of the science world passed him by. He insisted in always setting some time aside to "think great thoughts", so at NASA I helped set up a set of informal afternoon meetings we called "HAM: Hamming's Alternate Musings" and had Richard come for the first and various later meetings. The reader won't have the capability to do that. The book has flaws, but so does any work. Richard is gone. This book is now the best you can do.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 10, 2011 10:55:27 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 17, 2011 8:58:15 PM PDT
The database entry had "Richard R. Hamming", and Amazon fixed this. --enm
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