Masterminds of Programming

This review was originally printed in the June 2009 edition of the UKUUG newsletter, which is now defunct.

Title: Masterminds of Programming
Authors: Federico Biancuzzi, Chromatic
ISBN: 9780596555504

Masterminds of Programming is a series of interviews (twenty seven in total) with the people responsible for many of the programming languages used in everyday programming, and some more obscure ones too. From Perl and C++ to Haskell and ML, most readers will have used at least some of the languages under discussion. The interviews contain some fascinating insights within the text as to why some languages developed in the way that they did, the various design decisions which influenced them, and the particular itches which they were created to scratch.

For me, however, the most useful aspect of this book was reading about all the programming languages which I had never heard of before, such as APL and Forth, and those which I had heard of but knew little about, including Eiffel. Although there is virtually no discussion of code within the interviews, the questions and answers provide enough information to get a feel of the unique aspects and applications of some of the less well known languages. As a result, I have been encouraged to check out these languages and see if they can be applied to some of the projects which I am currently working on.

My only minor criticism of the text is that many of the interviews seemed to end abruptly, there were no questions which seemed to wrap up the chapters, such as “finally, where do you see heading in the future?” I would have liked to have heard more about plans for the next few years, as this is often more interesting than what has happened in the past. PHP was also noticeably absent from the list of interviews, which is somewhat surprising given the sheer number of web sites which rely on this language, including the one which I spend the majority of my working day developing. However, at nearly five hundred pages one could justifiably argue that the book is large enough as it is, and some languages had to be left out.

Overall, this is a genuinely interesting text with insights into such a wide variety of languages that everyone should find something new. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in broadening their horizons beyond the two or three core languages which they use on a regular basis, and it is well worth a read if you are interested in the history of computer languages in general.


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