Review of The C Programming Language (1978)


Brian Kernighcn (writer), Dennis Ritchie (writer).

Read in 2017.

Read in the second edition (1988).

The source of “Hello world”. True to its legend, it is indeed a fine example of technical writing. It is easy to picture how, in 1978, the terseness, predictability and power of C were received in some way similar to Douglas Engelbart’s 1968 NLS demo, given that the main reference for comparison is Fortran, followed by the more recent Pascal. LISP is pretty much ignored.

It would be foolish to live by this guide 30 years after the publication of its second edition. Using a char as a character in 2017, for instance, would be an awful habit. Still, the attractiveness of C over its predecessors, including Algol, is evident. This is the way imperative and procedural programming actually went: The pragmatic, readable way, not quite A Discipline of Programming (1976). Introductory books on modern inheritors of C, including Go and Rust, all tend to use a similar style but make the code examples interactive and runnable in a browser, a fine tribute to this classic.

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