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Programming Pearls (2nd Edition) [Paperback]

Jon Bentley
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 27 1999 0201657880 978-0201657883 2
Written in a quick and lively style, this book is packed with good advice and is a valuable read for programmers at any level. Each chapter discusses a problem the programmer will face every day, and suggests methods around it. The philosophy underlying the book is creativity. The author encourages the programmer to think creatively and to find new ways around old problems. This approach is still fresh and welcomed by many software groups.

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Programming Pearls (2nd Edition) + Cracking the Coding Interview: 150 Programming Questions and Solutions + Programming Interviews Exposed: Secrets to Landing Your Next Job
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Fourteen years after it was first issued, C++ expert Jon Bentley reinvents a true classic with the second edition of his Programming Pearls. Completely revised and brought up to date with all new code examples in C and C++, this book remains an exceptional tutorial for learning to think like a programmer.

The "pearls" in question center not only on choosing the right algorithms (like binary searches, sorting techniques, or sparse arrays) but also on showing how to solve problems effectively. Each chapter frames a particular programming task--such as sorting numbers, creating anagrams, or counting the words in a block of text--many drawn from Bentley's experiences in his long career as a developer. The book traces the process of arriving at a fast, efficient, and accurate solution, along with code profiling to discover what works best. After refining the correct answer, each chapter enumerates programming principles that you can use on your own.

The author also challenges you to think like an engineer, and each chapter ends with about a dozen problems to get you thinking creatively about design issues. (Sidebars on such historical topics as the first computer solutions to computer chess, spell-checking, and even architectural design help create a perspective on successful problem solving and make for a truly educational and enjoyable tour of how to become a better programmer.) Bentley also asks the reader to think analytically about the world with "back of the envelope" estimation techniques drawn from engineering. Appendices list the algorithms and code rules covered in the book, plus some sample solutions.

Fans of the first edition of this title will be pleased to see this favorite computer text brought up to date for today's faster hardware. Whether you want to improve your command of algorithms or test your problem-solving skills, the new version of Programming Pearl is a challenging, instructive, and thoroughly entertaining resource. --Richard Dragan

Topics covered: Programming and problem-solving tutorial, sorting algorithms, merge sort, bit vectors, binary searches, program correctness and testing, improving performance, engineering and problem-solving techniques, performance estimates, designing for safety, divide-and-conquer and scanning algorithms, tuning code, tips for more efficient memory usage, insertion sort, quicksort algorithms, sparse arrays, searching algorithms, binary search trees, heaps, priority queues, searching text, and generating random text.

From the Inside Flap

Computer programming has many faces. Fred Brooks paints the big picture in The Mythical Man Month; his essays underscore the crucial role of management in large software projects. At a finer grain, Steve McConnell teaches good programming style in Code Complete. The topics in those books are the key to good software and the hallmark of the professional programmer. Unfortunately, though, the workmanlike application of those sound engineering principles isn't always thrilling -- until the software is completed on time and works without surprise.

About the Book
The columns in this book are about a more glamorous aspect of the profession: programming pearls whose origins lie beyond solid engineering, in the realm of insight and creativity. Just as natural pearls grow from grains of sand that have irritated oysters, these programming pearls have grown from real problems that have irritated real programmers. The programs are fun, and they teach important programming techniques and fundamental design principles.

Most of these essays originally appeared in my ''Programming Pearls'' column in Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery. They were collected, revised and published as the first edition of this book in 1986. Twelve of the thirteen pieces in the first edition have been edited substantially for this edition, and three new columns have been added.

The only background the book assumes is programming experience in a high-level language. Advanced techniques (such as templates in C++) show up now and then, but the reader unfamiliar with such topics will be able to skip to the next section with impunity.

Although each column may be read by itself, there is a logical grouping to the complete set. Columns 1 through 5 form Part I of the book. They review programming fundamentals: problem definition, algorithms, data structures and program verification and testing. Part II is built around the theme of efficiency, which is sometimes important in itself and is always a fine springboard into interesting programming problems. Part III applies those techniques to several substantial problems in sorting, searching and strings.

One hint about reading the essays: don't go too fast. Read them carefully, one per sitting. Try the problems as they are posed -- some of them look easy until you've butted your head against them for an hour or two. Afterwards, work hard on the problems at the end of each column: most of what you learn from this book will come out the end of your pencil as you scribble down your solutions. If possible, discuss your ideas with friends and colleagues before peeking at the hints and solutions in the back of the book. The further reading at the end of each chapter isn't intended as a scholarly reference list; I've recommended some good books that are an important part of my personal library.

This book is written for programmers. I hope that the problems, hints, solutions, and further reading make it useful for individuals. The book has been used in classes including Algorithms, Program Verification and Software Engineering. The catalog of algorithms in Appendix 1 is a reference for practicing programmers, and also shows how the book can be integrated into classes on algorithms and data structures.

The Code
The pseudocode programs in the first edition of the book were all implemented, but I was the only person to see the real code. For this edition, I have rewritten all the old programs and written about the same amount of new code. The programs are available at this book's web site. The code includes much of the scaffolding for testing, debugging and timing the functions. The site also contains other relevant material. Because so much software is now available online, a new theme in this edition is how to evaluate and use software components.

The programs use a terse coding style: short variable names, few blank lines, and little or no error checking. This is inappropriate in large software projects, but it is useful to convey the key ideas of algorithms. Solution 5.1 gives more background on this style. The text includes a few real C and C++ programs, but most functions are expressed in a pseudocode that takes less space and avoids inelegant syntax. The notation for i = 0, n) iterates i from 0 through n-1. In these for loops, left and right parentheses denote open ranges (which do not include the end values), and left and right square brackets denote closed ranges (which do include the end values). The phrase function(i, j) still calls a function with parameters i and j, and arrayi, j still accesses an array element.

This edition reports the run times of many programs on ''my computer'', a 400MHz Pentium II with 128 megabytes of RAM running Windows NT 4.0. I timed the programs on several other machines, and the book reports the few substantial differences that I observed. All experiments used the highest available level of compiler optimization. I encourage you to time the programs on your machine; I bet that you'll find similar ratios of run times.

To Readers of the First Edition
I hope that your first response as you thumb through this edition of the book is, ''This sure looks familiar.'' A few minutes later, I hope that you'll observe, ''I've never seen that before.''

This version has the same focus as the first edition, but is set in a larger context. Computing has grown substantially in important areas such as databases, networking and user interfaces. Most programmers should be familiar users of such technologies. At the center of each of those areas, though, is a hard core of programming problems. Those programs remain the theme of this book. This edition of the book is a slightly larger fish in a much larger pond.

One section from old Column 4 on implementing binary search grew into new Column 5 on testing, debugging and timing. Old Column 11 grew and split into new Columns 12 (on the original problem) and 13 (on set representations). Old Column 13 described a spelling checker that ran in a 64-kilobyte address space; it has been deleted, but its heart lives on in Section 13.8. New Column 15 is about string problems. Many sections have been inserted into the old columns, and other sections were deleted along the way. With new problems, new solutions, and four new appendices, this edition of the book is 25 percent longer.

Many of the old case studies in this edition are unchanged, for their historical interest. A few old stories have been recast in modern terms.

Acknowledgments for the First Edition
I am grateful for much support from many people. The idea for a Communications of the ACM column was originally conceived by Peter Denning and Stuart Lynn. Peter worked diligently within ACM to make the column possible and recruited me for the job. ACM Headquarters staff, particularly Roz Steier and Nancy Adriance, have been very supportive as these columns were published in their original form. I am especially indebted to the ACM for encouraging publication of the columns in their present form, and to the many CACM readers who made this expanded version necessary and possible by their comments on the original columns.

Al Aho, Peter Denning, Mike Garey, David Johnson, Brian Kernighan, John Linderman, Doug McIlroy and Don Stanat have all read each column with great care, often under extreme time pressure. I am also grateful for the particularly helpful comments of Henry Baird, Bill Cleveland, David Gries, Eric Grosse, Lynn Jelinski, Steve Johnson, Bob Melville, Bob Martin, Arno Penzias, Marilyn Roper, Chris Van Wyk, Vic Vyssotsky and Pamela Zave. Al Aho, Andrew Hume, Brian Kernighan, Ravi Sethi, Laura Skinger and Bjarne Stroustrup provided invaluable help in bookmaking, and West Point cadets in EF 485 field tested the penultimate draft of the manuscript. Thanks, all.

Acknowledgments for the Second Edition
Dan Bentley, Russ Cox, Brian Kernighan, Mark Kernighan, John Linderman, Steve McConnell, Doug McIlroy, Rob Pike, Howard Trickey and Chris Van Wyk have all read this edition with great care. I am also grateful for the particularly helpful comments of Paul Abrahams, Glenda Childress, Eric Grosse, Ann Martin, Peter McIlroy, Peter Memishian, Sundar Narasimhan, Lisa Ricker, Dennis Ritchie, Ravi Sethi, Carol Smith, Tom Szymanski and Kentaro Toyama. I thank Peter Gordon and his colleagues at Addison-Wesley for their help in preparing this edition.



0201657880P04062001

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic that will always be readable Nov. 30 2001
Format:Paperback
This book is timeless because it discusses recurring problem situations with elegance, clarity, and insight. The book is about thinking and problem-solving more than it is about the particular circumstances it discusses.
For instance, the very first chapter ("Cracking the Oyster") would seem to be about the problem of sorting on disk: surely an archaic concern in these days of 1+GB RAM and 100 GB online media on PCs. But that would entirely miss the point, which Bentley clearly summarizes for us in the "principles" section of this chapter:
* "Defining the problem was 90 percent of this battle..."
* Select an appropriate data structure
* Consider multiple-pass algorithms
* A simple design: "a designer knows he has arrived at perfection not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away." -- St. Exupery
This advice might look like a string of old, worn-out chestnuts as set forth above. But within the context of the specific problem, we can see how the design challenges and solutions follow each other, through several iterations, culminating in a pretty solution, nicely illustrating the principles, and suggesting their relevance to other problems, too.
A thoughtful programmer, no matter whether her domain is machine language or OODBMSes, will come away from any chapter in this book full of new ideas and inspiration.
Problems (good ones) after each section encourage the kind of rumination that is necessary to derive the most from this book. Every few years I take it (and its companion, "More Programming Perals") off the shelf and dip into it again, and always come away enlightened.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Back to Basics... Still a Valuable Book April 25 2004
By mrc
Format:Paperback
I bought the 2nd edition of the book.
This book takes you to the Basics of Programming: Problem definition, Algorithm design , choosing the correct data structures, Assertions, Performance considerations during Design and coding, Code Tuning, Squeezing the space.
Though the examples are mainly based on searching and sorting and other primitive programming problems, the fundamental concepts and conclusions at the end of each column, are still valuable and hold true as they are 2 decades ago.
The examples and the exercises are challenging and enjoyable. But, don't expect things related to modern programming like related to High Level Programming languages or Databases, this is purely a Basics book focussing on techniques of solving the problems the simplest and the best way.
Some of the gem quotes or conclusions from the book are:
"Coding skill is just one small part of writing correct programs. The majority of the task is problem definition, algorithm design and data structure selection."
"Defining the problem is about ninety percent of the battle"
Characteristics of a good Aircraft(or a good program) - "Simple, few parts, easy to maintain, very strong"
"A designer knows he has arrived perfection not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to takeaway."
"Good programmers sit back and wait for an insight rather than rushing forward with their first idea"
"A proper view of data does indeed structure programs. Before writing code good programmers thoroughly understand the input, the output and the intermediate data structures around"
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Format:Paperback
The thirteen columns in this book appeared in the Communications of the ACM between 1983 and 1985. There can't be more than a couple of technical books on computing from that era that are still worth reading. Kernighan & Ritchie's book, "The C Programming Language", is one that springs to mind; this book is definitely another, and will probably outlast K&R as it has almost no ties to existing or past hardware or languages.
What Bentley does in each of these columns is take some part of the field of programming--something that every one of us will have run into at some point in our work--and dig underneath it to reveal the part of the problem that is permanent; that doesn't change from language to language. The first two parts cover problem definition, algorithms, data structures, program verification, and efficiency (performance, code tuning, space tuning); the third part applies the lessons to example pseudocode, looking at sorting, searching, heaps, and an example spellchecker.
Bentley writes clearly and enthusiastically, and the columns are a pleasure to read. But the reason so many people love this book is not for the style, it's for the substance--you can't read this book and not come away a better programmer. Inefficiency, clumsiness, inelegance and obscurity will offend you just a little more after you've read it.
It's hard to pick a favourite piece, but here's one nice example from the algorithm design column that shows how little the speed of your Pentium matters if you don't know what you're doing. Bentley presents a particular problem (the details don't matter) and multiple different ways to solve it, calculating the relationship between problem size and run time for each algorithm.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow!
This book is amazing! Its a true classic on algorithims.
I would place this on my list of the top 5 programming books of all time. Read more
Published on Dec 24 2003 by Mark Nenadov
3.0 out of 5 stars If you're at all experienced, seek other reading.
I only have 2 years of programming experience. I read an awful lot of programming texts. Right now I have 10 books just on C itself. Not to mention all the java and C++ books... Read more
Published on Sept. 22 2002 by Dean Jones Jr.
3.0 out of 5 stars Book of stories
The book wa interesting to me as the collection of stories about programming and problems that programer can meet in his work. the solutions in the book are brilliant. Read more
Published on Sept. 12 2002 by Alen Lovrencic
5.0 out of 5 stars The how-to for profile-based tuning
Bentley's classic, "Programming Pearls", makes an important point, namely that you won't get good performance without careful coding and profile-based tuning. Read more
Published on July 27 2002 by Bob Carpenter
5.0 out of 5 stars wait for insight and THEN start coding
for programming to be effective it is to be divided into 3 stages.in the first stage a clear formulation of the problem and the expected perfomance is laid out. Read more
Published on June 8 2002 by durga_cherukuri
5.0 out of 5 stars Um grande livro!
Eu já havia lido os dois volumes da primeira edição, os quais considero de alto nível. A segunda versão está impecável. Read more
Published on Feb. 5 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars doesn't get much better
this is a thinking man's book. Lots of puzzles to get you thinking about proper data structure design, choice of alrogithm, and optimization. Read more
Published on Nov. 7 2001 by Neil McGuigan
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic
One of a few books I'd suggest every programmer read. For two reasons:
o the technical material is well-chosen and well-explained o the writing style is worthy of... Read more
Published on July 13 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pearls Still Glitter After a Decade
Without any doubt, my favorite article in _Communications of the ACM_ in the 1980's was the regular 'Programming Pearls' articles by Jon Bentley. Read more
Published on March 2 2000 by Charles Ashbacher
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