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Customer Review

on February 27, 2006
The book is aimed at people starting out in computers; we experts know this stuff cold. But an interested 15 year old could get truly in-depth insight into the mysteries of computing from this volume.

It's a very readable book laid out with easy-on-the-eyes formatting and a plethora of clear illustrations. The illustration of a LIFO stack just booms clarity. Chapters start with relevant and often amusing quotes; one of my favorites is Lewis Carroll's "The four branches of arithmetic: ambition, distraction, uglification, and derision."

Quickly page through the book and you'll be puzzled by its organization. The first 55 pages (out of 450) comprise its ostensible meat. The rest are labs for each chapter, a series of problems the authors pose to illustrate important concepts. They nudge you through the solutions - there are no proofs left to the confused student.

The labs are very well-written accessible activities in which the authors take the reader along hand-in-hand. They're a bit insidious: work through them and the reader will become a reasonably competent assembly-language programmer, without realizing he's learning one of the more difficult aspects of programming. There's a perverse genius in covertly slipping assembly language into one's head without pain.

The authors' sure hands guide one along each lab, with descriptions and demonstrations till the code that's required is almost anticlimactic: "of *course* it must be like this!"

But how is one to do a lab? You need a computer, right? Well, sure, but the authors provide a DIY Calculator on CD, an interactive and sophisticated bit of code that runs on a PC. It sports the usual display and math functions, plus its own low-level programming language. And, it's extensible. The companion website ([...] ) contains plenty of downloadable extension code, plus the calculator itself. Like open source advocates they hope the community will contribute to the set of routines.

The web site also has a fabulous background to the field of computing ([...] ) that, if you're a computer history buff, will suck you in and surely doom the schedule of whatever product you're working on now.

Where too many computer books have a dreary chapter about number systems, "How Computers Do Math" cover the subject in an entertaining and very complete fashion. From basic binary math they go on to show how one constructs an adder out of gates. Signed, unsigned, multiplication, rounding (9 different approaches!), BCD - it's all there, and it's all extremely comprehensible.
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