- Series: The MIT Press
- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press (August 11, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780262036634
- ISBN-13: 978-0262036634
- ASIN: 0262036630
- Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,903 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Once Upon an Algorithm: How Stories Explain Computing (The MIT Press) Hardcover – August 11, 2017
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...a thoughtful and approachable guide to the fundamentals of how computer science exists as an intellectual discipline.―Times Higher Education
This is a wonderful book. Algorithms and computation explained using the likes of Hansel and Gretel, Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes, and Harry Potter. For 35 years I've been trying to explain to people that algorithms are all around us, and that algorithmic thinking is an absolutely crucial skill that is needed in our day-to-day lives way beyond mere computers and electronics. Finally, here is a book for them to read.―David Harel, Professor, The Weizmann Institute of Science, Vice President, Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities; author of Algorithmics and Computers Ltd.: What they Really Can't Do
By connecting computing concepts with popular stories, Martin Erwig helps both the general public and students see computing's relevance beyond traditional technology contexts. I suspect that readers will begin to see computing everywhere!―Pat Yongpradit, Chief Academic Officer, Code.org
Clever algorithms and data structures are at the core of computer science. This book is an excellent exposition of computational and informational thinking, and one that is unusually accessible to anyone with an inquiring mind.―Simon Peyton Jones
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My only complain about this book is that some chapters were poorly explained compared to other chapters. So there is a lack of consistency throughout the book. It was a good read for the first couple of chapters but the remaining was just too difficult to comprehend even after spending many hours/days on it! Needless to say, I am completely aware that computer science is a subject that takes times to fully grasp its concepts but some chapters in the book could use simpler terms and explanations for a college student like myself.
I will illustrate my summary in terms of a tv cooking competition...
Professor Erwig is a master of his field, like the talented chefs in the shows. He is provided the unorthodox ingredients of fairy tales and popular movies to compose a textbook on computing. Most of the creative dishes he concocts are a testament to his own ability, but not necessarily something that should be in a cookbook in everyone’s kitchen.
There is a pleasant progression of tastes through the book, from various CS appetizers to the dessert of ‘Abstraction’. The skill demonstrated in each chapter is sometimes in how well Dr. Erwig flavors the CS concept by using the cultural references, and other times it is how he has to transform the story to work with the topic. For example: “Sherlock Holmes manipulates data structures when solving a crime” is a discussion of Holmes organizing a list of suspects not about his famous deductions. The chewiness of each chapter varies in conjunction.
Those who will most appreciate what Dr. Erwig has crafted will already be in possession of a refined palate. Those looking to refine their palate will find some benefit from this experience, but will need to continue sampling other offerings.
Computer Science’s growing influence on everyday life is motivating the integration of CS into K12 schools. However, that leaves out the other 76% of the population who are no longer students! We need more books/movies/songs/shows/etc attempting to introduce these concepts in new relatable and approachable ways. Algorithms to Live By & Computational Fairy Tales are similar books that are worth checking out.
Cons: It can be dry at times. The infographics provided in the book are very basic.
He uses widely known stories and characters (Hansel and Gretel, Harry Potter, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, etc.) as examples to help guide the material, which keeps the book from being too dry even when getting into the nitty gritty.
Not all of this book is easy reading, but if you have a genuine interest in learning more about computer science and problem solving then I don't know of a better way short of spending four years (and a lot of money) at a university.