GOTO — Software Superheroes


This is a book that I bought and read some time ago. I posted a brief review on the discussion forms that used to grace this site with every intention of writing something more complete, but I never got around to doing it. Perhaps that’s because there’s not a lot else to say!

The good: there’s a lot of information in here, everything from the creation of FORTRAN and COBOL to Java and the Internet. It’s all discussed in a friendly, easy manner and rarely gets technical enough to scare off people without a computer science degree. The bad: despite the amount of research the author clearly put in, there’s not a lot new in here. It’s nice having it all in one place but it does, kind of, make the whole book unnecessary. The ugly: they really could have done with some more proof-reading. There are many typos and clumsy sentences that could easily have been improved with some light editing.

Passages such as this show both the good and bad aspects of the book:

“Make the reasonable assumption that … that 1000 lines of code have an average of 17 characters per line, or a total of 17000 characters. So the “lousy” code has 10 mistakes in 17000 keystrokes… that’s lousy for software… but is an extraordinary performance in most any other field of human endeavor.”

I think that this is a brilliant way of expressing the complexity of writing software to someone unfamiliar with the process. However, almost the entire book is written at this level of detail which makes it, very much, a “pop” book, one that anyone can read without getting bogged down in technical details. Personally I like the technical details (yes, sad I know) and miss them here.

Of course my liking of obscure technical details does make the book any less relevant. For someone with a less technical background this book would be a great way to find out more about the process and people beind just about all the software in use today.

The facts

Author: Steve Lohr

Cost: ?15

ISBN: 1-86197-243-1

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