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Out of their Minds: The Lives and Discoveries of 15 Great Computer Scientists [Paperback]

Dennis Shasha , Cathy Lazere
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: 12.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

1 July 1998 0387982698 978-0387982694 1st ed. 1995. 2nd printing 1998
This best-selling book is now available in an inexpensive softcover format.
Imagine living during the Renaissance and being able to interview that eras greatest scientists about their inspirations, discoveries, and personal interests. The latter half of our century has seen its own Renaissance - informations technology has changed irrevocable the way we live, work, and think about the world. We are fortunate, therefore, that the authors of Out of Their Minds have been able to talk so candidly with the founders of computer science.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Copernicus; 1st ed. 1995. 2nd printing 1998 edition (1 July 1998)
  • Language: French
  • ISBN-10: 0387982698
  • ISBN-13: 978-0387982694
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 15.2 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 479,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"Every biography in this enthralling collection is a story, a narrative in the most profound sense of the word....Springer-Verlag has published a book of which it should be proud." The Mathematical Intelligencer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flashy an condescending 29 Jun 1998
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
The idea behind the book is great: to provide short biographies of fifteen great computer scientists. However the authors have done the usual thing in "popularization" books: they throw in jokes and they explain the technical details through silly metaphors. Perhaps they thought this would make the subject less dry, but I get the feeling this book is addressed to teenagers.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Computer Scientists are People 25 Oct 2007
By calmly
Format:Paperback
At about 15 pages per computer scientist, you get brief but often substantive introductions to some key figures in computer science. For those that intrigue you, you can then look elsewhere, but from this book alone you can get a good feel for some of the key problems computer scientists have addressed. You'll also get a good feeling for what these scientists were like as people and how they thought. Quotes from interviews with each gets you closer to them.

People who were just names to me get a chance to come alive. Some seemed quite likable, like John Backus (who I'd only known as the "B" in BNF) and Egdger Dijksra (who's a lot more than a warning against goto's). All are challenging thinkers who made some very hard things seem easier: Lamport especially seemed to have had a knack for simplifying some hard problems. But it's hardly all that simple and some of the discussions of their work took me some careful reading and re-reading to get a handle on.

This book delivers with its combination of showing these scientists as human beings and introducing some of the great challenges of computer science. If you're a programmer too often busy with boring work, this may be your chance to get back in touch with some fascinating discoveries. If you're not a computer scientist, even though some of the discussions may be rough going, there's plenty of good material to acquaint you with what computer scientists do and how intriguing it can be. 15 pages may not seem enough to get to know any scientist (I could have used more on Alan Kay and John McCarthy) but, as a introduction, this book comes thru strong, capturing much of the excitement that you never suspect if you just see rows of programmers in cubicles typing away
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  23 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Computer Scientists are People 9 April 2005
By calmly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
At about 15 pages per computer scientist, you get brief but often substantive introductions to some key figures in computer science. For those that intrigue you, you can then look elsewhere, but from this book alone you can get a good feel for some of the key problems computer scientists have addressed. You'll also get a good feeling for what these scientists were like as people and how they thought. Quotes from interviews with each gets you closer to them.

People who were just names to me get a chance to come alive. Some seemed quite likable, like John Backus (who I'd only known as the "B" in BNF) and Egdger Dijksra (who's a lot more than a warning against goto's). All are challenging thinkers who made some very hard things seem easier: Lamport especially seemed to have had a knack for simplifying some hard problems. But it's hardly all that simple and some of the discussions of their work took me some careful reading and re-reading to get a handle on.

This book delivers with its combination of showing these scientists as human beings and introducing some of the great challenges of computer science. If you're a programmer too often busy with boring work, this may be your chance to get back in touch with some fascinating discoveries. If you're not a computer scientist, even though some of the discussions may be rough going, there's plenty of good material to acquaint you with what computer scientists do and how intriguing it can be. 15 pages may not seem enough to get to know any scientist (I could have used more on Alan Kay and John McCarthy) but, as a introduction, this book comes thru strong, capturing much of the excitement that you never suspect if you just see rows of programmers in cubicles typing away.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The right mix of biography and science; highly readable 31 Oct 2000
By Richard Snodgrass - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Writings on computer science celebrate the passive voice, the obtuse formalism, the multitude of graphs with dashed and dotted and dashed-dotted lines and tiny legends. While sometimes of interest to researchers, this literature is entirely foreign to those outside that clique, not because computers are irrelevant, but because the ideas behind the information revolution have been presented in an intentionally stilted and impersonal manner. The same enforced distance characterizes technical books. As Alan Lightman observes in the January 1999 issue of Atlantic Monthly, "Modern textbooks on science give no sense that scientific ideas come out of the minds of human beings. Instead science is portrayed as a set of current laws and results, inscribed like the Ten Commandments by some immediate but disembodied authority." Cathy Lazere and Dennis Shasha break from that tradition in this compelling book. Here we find that, unlike mathematics and theoretical physics, for which intellectual breakthroughs generally are made by the very young, "Rabin invented randomized algorithms in his forties; McCarthy invented nonmonotonic logics in his fifties, Backus worked on functional languages and Dijkstra developed new methods for mathematical proofs in their sixties." We come to understand that Danny Hillis' fascination of neuroanatomy provided telling analogies for his work on massively parallel machines. We are surprised that Stephen Cook did not foresee the widespread applicability of NP-Completeness, that John Backus thought Fortran might be useful for a single IBM machine model, rather than as the first truly platform-independent programming language. We get caught up in the adrenaline of Alan Kay's design of Smalltalk, simplifying it until a complete definition could fit on one page; the intrigue of making connections between disparate fields, as Leslie Lamport did between special relativity and distributed systems; the frustration of the initial disparagement by those who didn't understand the insight or its implications, as John McCarthy experienced when he published his first serious paper on artificial intelligence. Lazere and Shasha's book will be of interest to scientists and nonscientists alike: they give enough of the background of the discoveries to make them understandable to the general public, while providing the fascinating human context and involvement so missing from other sources. "Out of Their Minds" is just the right mix of biography and science, highly readable, and astonishing in its breadth. It is a wonderful book, full of wonder.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It takes one to know one 8 Sep 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
From a professor who has contributed extensively to Computer Science and who has his own share of idiosyncrasies, comes this wonderful book about the anecdotes in the lives of 15 of the greatest computer scientists. It takes a compelling, at the same time intriguing, look at how great minds arrived at the great thoughts that have changed the face of Computer Science today.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating, readable book. 12 Nov 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The authors interviewed 15 computer scientists and summarized their lives and their major technical contributions. There are fascinating details about the researchers' backgrounds (e.g. some were good students, but others flunked out) and very clear descriptions of their work. The people chosen span the field, from theory (Rabin, Cook, Levin) to computer design (Fred Brooks, Burton Smith, Hillis) to AI (McCarthy, Lenat). A great introduction to computer science for general readers, but also a lot of fun for techies. Highly recommended!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dry in places 26 Feb 2000
By M. Moffatt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you are heavily into computer science then you will find this book very interesting and informative.
However I'm more interested in the stories behind the people rather than learning about the mathematical problems they solved. In this area I felt the book didn't quite live up to its promise. Sure there's background stuff provided, but much space is also given over to describing the problems they were trying to solve (and most of these problems were mathematical in nature (ie the Nondeterministic Polynominal (NP) problem)).
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