But How Do It Know?: The Basic Principles of Computers for Everyone (英語) ペーパーバック – 2011/3/15
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Finally, this brand new book exposes the secrets of computers for everyone to see. Its humorous title begins with the punch line of a classic joke about someone who is baffled by technology. It was written by a 40-year computer veteran who wants to take the mystery out of computers and allow everyone to gain a true understanding of exactly what computers are, and also what they are not. Years of writing, diagramming, piloting and editing have culminated in one easy to read volume that contains all of the basic principles of computers written so that everyone can understand them. There used to be only two types of book that delved into the insides of computers. The simple ones point out the major parts and describe their functions in broad general terms. Computer Science textbooks eventually tell the whole story, but along the way, they include every detail that an engineer could conceivably ever need to know. Like Baby Bear's porridge, But How Do It Know? is just right, but it is much more than just a happy medium. For the first time, this book thoroughly demonstrates each of the basic principles that have been used in every computer ever built, while at the same time showing the integral role that codes play in everything that computers are able to do. It cuts through all of the electronics and mathematics, and gets right to practical matters. Here is a simple part, see what it does. Connect a few of these together and you get a new part that does another simple thing. After just a few iterations of connecting up simple parts - voila! - it's a computer. And it is much simpler than anyone ever imagined. But How Do It Know? really explains how computers work. They are far simpler than anyone has ever permitted you to believe. It contains everything you need to know, and nothing you don't need to know. No technical background of any kind is required. The basic principles of computers have not changed one iota since they were invented in the mid 20th century. "Since the day I learned how computers work, it always felt like I knew a giant secret, but couldn't tell anyone," says the author. Now he's taken the time to explain it in such a manner that anyone can have that same moment of enlightenment and thereafter see computers in an entirely new light.
J. Clark Scott has had a long and diverse career in the computer industry, starting at large companies such as IBM and Intel, and eventually becoming the author of four successful consumer software packages. Early in his career, he noticed how confused some of his friends were about computers and gave them lectures to teach them how simple the basics really were. It was at that time that the idea for this book was born. This is his first book, but one that has been in the works for decades.
But don't think that just because engineering students find use of this book, that it is too complicated for those out of the discipline. The author does a great job of breaking down every little necessary nuance of each building block and thoroughly describes how each block works together to make a computer work; all wrapped up in a short ~200 page book. It is written without complex, technical jargon which avoids confusion wherever possible, and is readable by most who have a strong desire to learn more about how computers work.
This was such an interesting and informative read. Again, I highly recommend this book to anyone with even the slightest curiosity about how a computer works.
Even good teachers seem to have trouble not explaining things as if you already know them. This author has mastered the art of explaining from the ground up. He assumes you know nothing, and gives you no more and no less than what you need to know to understand the current topic. It's not even boring if you already know a lot about computers, because he explains it so concisely and clearly that even if you already know it, it's fast to read it, and probably the simplest and most straightforward explanation you've ever gotten.
shameless plug: This would be a super companion to my own book, "Ones And Zeros" by John Gregg: Ones and Zeros: Understanding Boolean Algebra, Digital Circuits, and the Logic of Sets. Both Scott and I seem to be trying to use the same sort of voice, trying to hook the same sort of audience. My book talks more about the history and mathematical logic than Scott's, and thus does not go as far up the complexity ladder as the entire CPU. Read mine first, then Scott's. OK, plug over.
As I said, this book was a revelation. I had never seen a CPU laid out so clearly and simply. I would, however, have liked to have seen more gestures in the direction of how "real" CPUs work, at least a mention here or there. I don't think it would have been too big a digression to give a little more detail about how you might expand the address bus to 16 or 32 bits to make the whole thing actually useful. It might also have been nice to explain, briefly, in general terms, about pipelining, or microcode, or the idea behind finite state machines. I emphasize, I'd like just a hint of things like that, without a full, rigorous exploration, just to let the reader know the sorts of directions the real world takes using Scott's toy CPU as a starting point.
Quibbles though. Buy this book.