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UNIX: A History and a Memoir

UNIX: A History and a Memoir

Brian W. Kernighan


You probably have to be a hard-core Unix head to get anywhere with this book – but it's a gem if you are. Kernighan was there throughout what is possoibly the most formative period of computer history, when Unix was developed and many of the paradigms of operating systems and software tools were developed.

There are other books that handle many of the stories in greater detail, but this book is great for the "sweep" of Unix through Bell Labs and out into the world. The memoir parts are perhaps the most interesting, as they illuminate how the various tools came into being and why. There are cameos by people like Richard Hamming, whose own scientific contributions are matched by his insistence that you can only do important work if you first find the important problems, and by both an expected and unexpected cast of pioneers. I'd like to find a similar book on the early years of Lisp showing how decisions that now seem to be inevitable came to be made, and what alternatives there might have been.

The most hard-core part of the book? It was written using groff, the GNU successor to the roff text formatter than Kernighan himself wrote.

5/5. Finished 04 January 2023.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

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