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4.6 out of 5 stars62
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 9 April 2007
Charles Petzold is an excellent writer, and he gets to grips with difficult material in a way that makes it accessible for the uninitiated. I have worked as a computer programmer for years, but, having grown up with 'high level' programming languages, most of the material here was new to me. The book will fill in some very important gaps for a lot of IT professionals. Meanwhile, it is perfectly readable for someone completely new to the subject (a couple of chapters will be tough going, but you'll get it if you persist).

Top marks.
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As a software development manager, I employ many programmers (and other assorted life forms), and although they are (often) well versed in Object Oriented coding and High-Level languages, there is often a gap in their knowledge of the basics of computer science.
What are the constituent elements of a computer? How is a CPU put together? How do transistors work? How do you build a logic gate? What is electricity? What is Assembly Language and how does it compare to Machine Code?

Although you don't need to know the answers to these questions to be a good programmer - it is a bit like being a good car driver, but not really understanding how the internal combustion engine works - or how an automatic gearbox works... I think it is useful to understand the basics of the beast you are using - it at least makes you understand some of the potential foibles!

I thoroughly recommend this book to all IT professionals.

It starts with very very simple ideas - how to pass messages when you have only got an On/Off switch.
This then builds up through telephone relays, Morse Code, electricity to build simple logic gates... all the way to building a PC

Well written, with each topic explained elegantly and simply, this is a wonderful book that explains the fundamentals of computing. I started in IT (back in the 1970's) writing Assembler code for numeric controlled machines - so some of this was nostalgic history.
It is not quite up to date (still talking about floppy discs) - but for a comprehensive overview of the design and development of computers - this is excellent.
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on 10 February 2000
Petzold explains the architecture of computing systems by deriving from first principles, as it were; starting off with simple concepts such as telegraph relays and morse code, he quickly uses simple building blocks to describe more advanced concepts. The author has clearly written this book at his leisure rather than to a deadline, and the relaxed tone of the book makes for an entertaining read, given the potentially dry subject matter. The author's enthusiasm for his topic comes across well and the use of two colours throughout the book assists understanding. This book would make excellent background reading for many CompSci or Electronics courses, or a great present for someone with any interest in technology. Recommended.
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on 25 April 2002
This is the only book I've found which REALLY tells the story of how computers work in a simple and easy to read form. That's not to say that anything has been watered down - this is the real stuff, and occasionally it gets a little heavy, but it fills in a much needed gap. Most books either cover digital electronics, or computer architecture, and few explain the leap that you need to make to get from one to the other.
On the negative side, the machine design is a little dated, and a register transfer architecture might have worked better.
The sections on operating systems are simply not up to the standard of the rest of the book, but the book is work it for the rest anyway.
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on 25 April 2011
It is rare that you will find a book with such a volume of information and in such an easy to read format. You don't even notice how much technical information you are taking in; it is like reading a good novel. It contains some very good analogies and make things easy to understand.

The only one small bad point is that it is a small bit dated. However don't let this put you off as there are very few parts where you will notice this.
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on 13 January 2000
This is a well written and entertaining read covering the evolution of modern day hardware and software. The historical perspective is good, and the text is peppered with many interesting and humorous anecdotes. The last couple of chapters covering modern Programming Languages and Operating Systems however are much too rushed and cramped.
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on 25 April 2015
This is an exceptional book. Petzold's writing style and passion, combined with his intelligence and ambition to create a truly profound work, make this one of the finest books I have ever come across. I bought this looking for a greater understanding of programming concepts with the hope that I would better understand the internal processes of computers. What I actually received was a logical and scientific explanation of why computers are the way they are based on the human need to communicate using codes.

As an example of this book's greatness, it introduces the concept of binary mathematics through simple, intuitive examples (e.g. trying to communicate with someone in the dark using a torch). By the end of the first chapter you feel as though you understand the base-2 system—not as some kind of arbitrary standard chosen by figures from the past, but because of the immense power available from just two states (on/off, etc.). Petzold explains the logic behind Morse code and Braille, before one of the best introductions to basic physics I have ever read.

The greatest pleasure of this book, I think, is that after each chapter you never know whether you're going to learn about hardware or software—and that leads to the kind of excitement that can only be generated by a truly wonderful teacher. It is no exaggeration to say that this book is a masterpiece, and you should pick it up whether you're interested in understanding the inner workings of the technology inside the tools you use every day, or whether you want to continue your scientific education.
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on 19 May 2013
This is the introductory text I would have wanted to read about computers. It takes a clear, practical, approach, building from first principles.

I really got a sense of how to build a computer from the technology of the telegraph, until the sheer number of parts became apparent. It is easy to see how crucial transistors and IC's are to making a practical computer.

I also enjoyed the sections on software - a great way to bring both hardware and software together. Would be a good read for someone learning the theory behind an Arduino, for example.
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on 7 April 2012
I bought this as a book to enhance my understanding of computing before applying to study Computer Science at University, and I find that it really did make me understand it. The book starts out at absolute first principles - lightbulbs and switches - making only very gradual advancements until before you realise it, the author has just described most of how an Altair 8080 works. If you already understand the ideas of binary numbers and other basic, non-computational stuff then you can skip a few chapters out of the beginning, while the majority of the last chapter focuses on things common to us today - e.g. graphics, sound etc - so again, most of the last chapter can be safely skimmed. On the other hand, the book does give you a real appreciation of just how much we have advanced in the years since the book's creation. No complicated terms are used in the book without prior explanation, all the time simply building on the understanding created throughout the book.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in the mechanics of computing, or even to people who might not think of themselves as being particularly mathematical.
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on 8 March 2015
I am a first year electronics student and my dad found this in a charity shop and read it himself then gave it to me. I have found that this book has helped me massively in my first year digital electronics course and having read the standard morris mano book and a couple of others, I think its by far the best for people who are starting out. I have found other books scrambled my brain with all the 1's and 0's flying about and just get a headache when I try to read them. This book is printed on very nice paper and the brilliant thing is that he draws all the live wires in red for all the circuits so they are so much easier to follow. I like how this book teaches classic logic before leading into computer land because it gives a way better grounding of the subject and is interesting. It doesn't cover everything obviously but for a book ive never heard recommended by any lecturer or professional its pretty outstanding.
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