The Art Of Computer Programming - A Great Present
Written by Mike James   
Friday, 18 December 2020

... for any programmer unless they already have the complete work. Even if they do there is now Part 5 of Volume 4 to add to the set and they are unlikely to have that one.  

If you are looking for a programmer present this holiday season, there is one book, or set of books, that should be top of any list.

There are many books that a programmer should read, but Donald Knuth's The Art of Computer Programming, or TAoCP to use its common abbreviation, is a cultural icon. It is a little dated in its style and approach, but it was started back in the 1960s when computers were still not commonplace devices. Before this time algorithms, ways of doing things, weren't really something anybody studied. Knuth's book changed all that and explained to programmers how to think about algorithms. If you want to know more about the project then read Donald Knuth & The Art of Computer Programming

It is now 58 years later and he is 82 years old. The project isn't completed, but another extract, or Fascicle, has just been published and the project is still moving on.

That the Art of Computer Programming still isn't finished adds to its status as a cultural icon, but some people argue that a cultural icon is all it is. There is Slashdot discussion Ask Slashdot: Have You Read 'The Art of Computer Programming'? and the range of responses were from  "it's difficult" to "it's irelevant" but notice that all of the commenters knew what they were talking about. You can't afford not to know what it is about. 

Have I read it?

Yes and no. I can honestly say that the idea of sitting down and reading all of the volumes cover to cover isn't my idea of fun, but I have read large chunks of it, especially the first volume and I pick up one of the tomes about once a year. I know it's on my shelf and I feel better for it. Whenever I do dip into it. for some algorithm or other. I always get a deep sense of shock that something that I assumed simple has depths that just go on and on. TAoCP isn't a shallow read and the reason the work isn't complete is that Knuth just keeps going deeper. 

So if you haven't read it, or if you have a special programmer who doesn't have a copy on their shelves, buy at least the first volume - but for that extra special present go for the boxed set.

You might get a puzzled look - not all programmers know the work, even though it is regarded as:

"the bible of all fundamental algorithms".

It is also worth knowing that the work is theoretical and mathematically slightly intimidating - it isn't a good present for any programmer who hates math. 

What is the best way to buy?

The top of the range model is the Boxed set of Volumes 1 - 4A:

Click on the image to find out more.

But if you are not sure you can by a smaller boxed set consisting of volumes 1 to 3.  


 Click on the image to find out more.

Amazingly at the moment neither edition is available new but it is still worth buying as used.

The volumes are also available separately, but at a price that really does make the box sets look like a bargin. To get started I can recommend Volume 1, which is the one I've read the most of:

 Click on the image to find out more.

Then there are the Fascicles - paperback editions of what will eventually be put together to make up complete volumes. The very latest, hot off the press is Volume 4, Fascicle 5: Mathematical Preliminaries Redux; Introduction to Backtracking; Dancing Links.

 Click on the image to find out more.

As it has only just come out, I haven't read it yet but I have watched a video where he explains dancing links:  Yoda's (Donald Knuth) Xmas Lecture and it is interesting.

Moving beyond TAoCP I would like to suggest a favourite of mine, co-authored by Knuth.

 concreteClick on the image to find out more.

This isn't a deep theoretical book and it is suitable for undergrad computer science students who want to become the next Knuth. It explains all of those summation tricks that allow you to do things like put a bound on resources, etc. This is a unique book and you won't find the information it contains in other places. If you are serious about computer science this is the math you need.  It is also the book to read if you need help with understanding the math in TAoCP.

If you want to know more about the man himself there is a new collection of interviews:

 Click on the image to find out more.



Related Articles 

Donald Knuth & The Art of Computer Programming 

Another Chunk of The Art of Computer Programming 

The Art of Computer Programming, Volume 4, Fascicle 1  

Knuth's 22nd 360 Degree Not Christmas Tree Lecture

Knuth's 21st Not Christmas Tree Lecture 

Yoda's (Donald Knuth) Xmas Lecture    

Donald Knuth's Christmas Tree Lecture 2017

Donald Knuth At 80 Still Improving TAOCP 

A Tee Is Not Just For Xmas - Ten Top Tees

Ten Programmer's Mugs 

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Last Updated ( Friday, 18 December 2020 )