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History of Programming
Curious about the history of programming and the people who created the field? Then dig into some of the books listed below, which are among the best on the topic. If you have a book to recommend, please email me.

Cover of History of Programming Languages-II

History of Programming Languages-II
Edited by T. J. Bergin, Jr., and R. G. Gibson, Jr.
Addison-Wesley, 1996

In this proceedings of the Second ACM SIGPLAN History of Programming Languages Conference, you can find papers on the history of C and C++ (as well as ALGOL 68, Pascal, Concurrent Pascal, Ada, Lisp, Prolog, FORMAC, CLU, Smalltalk, Icon, and Forth), in most cases written by the original language designers. I attended the conference, which was held in 1993, and wrote an article about it for Dr. Dobb's Journal. They also published some of the photos that I took at the conference (the only time I've had any photos published in a national magazine!). A similar book was published for the first History of Programming Languages Conference (held in 1978), but it is out of print.

Cover of Go To

Go to: The Story of the Math Majors, Bridge Players, Engineers, Chess Wizards, Scientists and Iconoclasts who were the Hero Programmers of the Software Revolution
S. Lohr
Basic Books, 2001

This book either has one of the shortest titles ever or one of the longest; I can't decide which. In any case, it provides a background look at the creation of FORTRAN, COBOL, Unix, C, BASIC, Algol, Pascal, C++, Java, and much more. Written for a nontechnical audience, it is short (250 pages) and easy to read.

Cover of Code

Code: Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software
C. Petzold
Microsoft Press, 2000

A masterful history of the computing field that focuses on the underlying codes (including binary numbers, machine language, and ASCII) that underly both hardware and software.

Cover of Out of Their Minds

Out of Their Minds: The Lives and Discoveries of 15 Great Computer Scientists
D. Shasha and C. Lazere
Copernicus, 1995

The title is pretty much self-explanatory. The people profiled include a few programming language designers: John Backus (FORTRAN), John McCarthy (Lisp), and Alan Kay (Smalltalk).

Click on the cover art or title to see each book's description at To see a list of best-selling books on the history of computing at, click on the Amazon logo below.

Copyright © 1999-2004 K. N. King. All rights reserved.