Early Programming Books

Paul Birkel pbirkel at gmail.com
Mon Jun 21 04:03:35 CDT 2021

Well, utility depends on the objective.  One that immediately springs to mind in an era when "computing" had a dearth of practitioners would be to inform various audiences "what is involved".

The Dekker (1957) reference seems to be targeted at an audience interested in expressing mathematical statements in terms of the von Neumann model, generally building up to the idea of algorithms and their general reduction to a sequence of computational steps in that model of computation.  This would be a pre-ALGOL 58 world and one can see the paper as a motivation for an ALGOL- (or FORTRAN-) like language.  (Caveat:  I've just skimmed a poor translation; more careful study required!)

The McCracken (1957) book seems to be targeted at an audience of future practitioners, giving a feel for how a hypothetical instruction set would be employed "in daily practice" to solve problems.  Perhaps answering the question of "would I like to become [or could I handle becoming] a 'programmer' " in an era when that was about to become a new specialty and career path.

A numerical analyst (e.g.) might find the Dekker text more accessible; an engineer might find the McCracken book more to their liking.

IMO, "in the world before 1960" both are "useful" without becoming a machine-specific instruction manual or cook-book.

-----Original Message-----
From: cctech [mailto:cctech-bounces at classiccmp.org] On Behalf Of Chuck Guzis via cctech
Sent: Sunday, June 20, 2021 12:34 PM
To: Paul Birkel via cctech
Subject: Re: Early Programming Books

Aside from the very general Algol report and the Iverson book on APL, I
have to admit that most of my programming knowledge came out of
manufacturer's manuals, specific to a maker's systems.

The APL book was, at the time, pretty much useless for writing any sort
of serious code until you got hold of the manual for a particular system
that you were going to use.  Even the early McCracken books on FORTRAN
had a section in the rear that attempted to gloss over different
manufacturer's features and "extensions" (e.g. What does "B" punched in
column 1 of a FORTRAN statement card mean--and for what system?)

Lest anyone forget, that in the pre-1960 world, a lot more of production
code was written in the assembly code/autocoder of a particular system.
 Even the DEC "Introduction to Programming" dealt specifically with the
PDP-8 and was useless for the PDP-10.

ACM CALGO back then accepted algorithm submissions in FORTRAN or Algol,
but that's hardly an instructional text.

I guess the question boils down to 'In the world before 1960, how
*useful* was a general book on programming?"


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