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UNIX: A History and a Memoir
by Brian W. Kernighan
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Brian Kernighan is most known for writing the definitive work on the C computer language. He worked for most of his career at famous Bell Labs from AT&T and worked among those who developed the UNIX operating system. UNIX powers much of the Internet and served as the basis for computer operating systems like Linux and MacOS. These all have influenced technological history, and he enlightens us as to how.
He writes in a light, unpretentious manner and relates the history that he witnessed as excellent software poured out of Bell Labs. He writes this history from a personal perspective, which is why this book’s genre accurately fits as both a history and a memoir. This personal perspective enlightens readers about how highly productive innovation occurred in this sphere. He exposits with an obvious respect for his colleagues and for the impact that they had on the history of computing science. Though some fame is certainly deserved for his accomplishments, he approaches them with a degree of humility as befits one looking back on a satisfactory life.
This work certainly contains relevance to the programmer and also to those who study innovation in science and technology. Besides these niche audiences, interest should be extended to the general reader, for whom complex technical topics are explained in an elegant simplicity. (Let me be clear: This is written for a general audience, not a technical audience.) Any reader can learn how exactly the computer and its cousin, the Internet, came to the fore of human culture in a generation. In that sense, Kernighan tells a broad story of our civilization’s progress.
As a computer programmer and as one with interest in the history of science and technology, I found this history interesting and relevant. It’s nice to get a feeling for the personalities behind some of the software that I use each day. As befits computer programming, there is not a whole lot of drama or tension. Instead, one gets a close feel for the personal warmth and common ingenuity shared by Kernighan and his colleagues. That ostensible enjoyment, that evident respect, and that passionate love come out strongly in this memoir and are perhaps the greatest testimony that produced a work as transformative as UNIX.
"The fascinating story of how Unix began and how it took over the world. Brian Kernighan was a member of the original group of Unix developers, the creator of several fundamental Unix programs, and the co-author of classic books like "The C Programming Language" and "The Unix Programming Environment."--
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)005.432 — Information Computing and Information Computer programming, programs, data, security Systems programming and programs Systems programs
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The problem for me is that this was written for the general audience - though ones with at least a passing interest in computing. Thus it did not go into as much depth as I was hoping for. Nor did it really delve into the personalities behind Unix. As a history of Unix for the general audience, this is a good book.
Hardcore geeks will enjoy it, but just as a light breezy read.