An annotated Lisp bibliography

Lisp is a “forever” language that’s still going reasonably strong despite also being an ancestor to much of modern programming language design. It defines both a programming style and a mode of thinking about programming, best expressed by Abelson and Sussman as “stratified” design in which all the levels are programmable — and its this focus on having a programming model for each abstraction layer that’s the key to differentiating Lisp programming. It’s an idea that’s influenced me profoundly and led me to become, and remain, a Lisp programmer — firstly to extend and adapt my Emacs environment, and increasingly as a basis for new projects (even though most of my academic work needs to stay in Python).

Such is Lisp’s longevity that it’s spawned what is perhaps the largest literature of any single programming language — too much to collect in its entirety, but for various reasons I’ve decided to bring together an annotated bibliography of the material I find most interesting. I’m doing this by curating a series of articles reviewing the key papers and books, adding some structure to hopefully make them easier to browse and reference.

A lot of the books mentioned are now out of print and unavailable in electronic form: fortunately my university has a long history of programming language research, and correspondingly good library collections. Some of the papers similarly required some tracking down, and I’ve included URLs wherever possible.

This is very much a work in progress.


More advanced treatments

Language definitions

Lisp machines

Throughout the 1970s there was a strand of research looking to develop processors optimised for running Lisp, since the current implementations rapidly butted-up against the hardware limitations. It was such a fertile set of ideas that MIT span-out two companies making different Lisp machines: Lisp Machines International (LMI) and Symbolics.