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Programming (C Family)

In some fields of knowledge there is a seminal work against which all other effort is compared, and that happens to be the case here. The title of the work, The Art of Computer Programming, is the masterpiece of Donald E. Knuth, professor emeritus at Stanford University. In fact, the intended seven-volume set, a work in progress, is so famous it has its own acronym, TAOCP.

The history of the development of The Art of Computer Programming is as interesting as the work itself. Knuth, an expert in compilers, began writing a book on compiler design in 1962, and when the first draft was finished in June of 1965, the hand-written manuscript was 3,000 pages. The original plan for a single volume of 12 chapters was quickly abandoned and replaced with a new plan for seven volumes, each with just one or two chapters. The first three volumes were published in 1968, 1969, and 1973. The work seemed to have a life of its own, however, and grew at such a pace that the fourth volume demanded further subdivision into what will be at least four separate subvolumes. The first installment of Volume 4 was not published until February 2005.

As early as 1976, Knuth was already going back to produce a second edition of Volume 2, and with the creation of more recent editions of existing volumes and the incomplete work that remained, The Art of Computer Programming became his lifelong endeavor. To date, only preliminary work has been completed on Volume 5. If you visit Donald Knuth's website, you will see statements about the present plans to publish Volume 4 as at least four separate subvolumes, the estimated arrival time of Volume 5 in 2015, and perhaps the most interesting of all: "As I write Volumes 4 and 5, I'll need to refer to topics that belong logically in Volumes 1, 2, and 3 but weren't invented yet when I wrote those books. Instead of putting such material artificially into Volumes 4 or 5, I'll put it into fascicle form."

Despite the length of time that's passed since Knuth began work on The Art of Computer Programming, the material remains authoritative. After reading the comments on his website, one can very much appreciate the term "life's work." Knuth is now 72, and the world can collectively hope that he is around long enough to complete all seven volumes. By that time, however, it will probably have turned into 10.

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