“Absolutely amazing! A page turner, just like Harry Potter for the technically minded.” —Tobias Svensson from review at return 42;

“This book is so interesting I did 60 minutes on the treadmill yesterday instead of the usual 30 because I couldn’t stop reading.” —Joel Spolsky on Joel on Software

“Coders at Work should inspire readers to learn about the wider context of their craft and stop the reinvention of the proverbial wheel” —Vladimir Sedach from review at Slashdot

“Peter Seibel asks the sort of questions only a fellow programmer would ask. Reading this book may be the next best thing to chatting with these illustrious programmers in person.” —Ehud Lamm, Founder of Lambda the Ultimate - the programming languages weblog

“I highly recommend it.” —Andy Mulholland, CTO, Capgemini

“I have long known the names and of the work of about half of the programmers in Peter Seibel’s wonderful book, Coders at Work; and it is fascinating to read their ideas about their lives and their ideas about programming. Better yet, I have now learned about the lives and philosophies of the other half of the programmers in the book, whose systems were known to me but the programmers themselves were not. Anyone interested in computer programming and what makes a great computer programmer will enjoy this book.” —Dave Walden, original member of the BBN ARPANET team

“These are wonderful interviews and this looks to be a bible for any programmer who aspires to be better.” —Peter Christensen, Founder of GeekStack.com

“This book is dead sexy. When it comes out, you should definitely get a copy.” —Joseph F. Miklojcik III from review at jfm3> _

“Superb book!” —Prakash Swaminathan from review at CloudKnow

“Read it, because then you will know the greatest coding brains.” —Amit Shaw from review at Teleported Bits

“One of the other core questions Peter asks is, what books would you recommend to help a developer learn programming? For me, this book joins my short list—it takes you away from the limitations of learning within a single company or community, and shows you the breadth of experiences that can make someone a great developer.” —Marc Hedlund from review at O’Reilly Radar

“The range of topics covered is just astounding.” —Chris Hartjes from review at @TheKeyboard

Donald Knuth

Of all the subjects of this book, Donald Knuth perhaps least needs an introduction. For the past four decades he has been at work on his multivolume masterwork The Art of Computer Programming, the bible of fundamental algorithms and data structures, which American Scientist included on its list of the top 12 physical-sciences monographs of the century, in the company of works by Russell and Whitehead, Einstein, Dirac, Feynman, and von Neumann. He popularized the use of asymptotic (a.k.a. Big-O) notation in analyzing algorithms, invented LR parsing, and defended goto statements from Dijkstra’s criticism.

But he is not simply a theorist. After finishing Volume III of The Art of Computer Programming in 1976, Knuth took what was supposed to be a year off to write the typesetting software TeX and METAFONT so he could see his books typeset to his own satisfaction. Ten years later he was done, having along the way invented a new style of programming, “literate programming,” and an algorithm for breaking paragraphs of text into lines for typesetting that is still pretty much the state of the art.

His numerous awards have included the first Association for Computing Machinery Grace Murray Hopper Award (1971), the Turing Award (1974), and the National Medal of Science (1979). In 1990 he stopped using email, explaining that his job was not “to be on top of things” but “to be on the bottom of things” deeply understanding and explaining large areas of computer science so he could explain them in his books.

In this interview we talked about Knuth’s enthusiasm for literate programming, his ambivalence about black boxes, and what he sees as a regrettable “overemphasis on reusable software.”