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on May 20, 2000
This is one of the great classics of computer science. I bought my first copy 15 years ago, and I still don't feel I have learned everything the book has to teach.
I have learned enough to write a couple books on Lisp that (currently) have four to five stars. Yet SICP, which is pretty much the bible of our world, has only three? How can this be?
Reading the reviews made it clear what happened. An optimistic professor somewhere has been feeding SICP to undergrads who are not ready for it. But it is encouraging to see how many thoughtful people have come forward to defend the book.
Let's see if we can put this in terms that the undergrads will understand -- a problem set:
1. Kenneth Clark said that if a lot of smart people have liked something that you don't, you should try and figure out what they saw in it. List 10 qualities that SICP's defenders have claimed for it.
2. How is the intention of SICP different from that of Knuth? Kernighan & Ritchie? An algorithms textbook?
3. Does any other book fulfill this purpose better?
4. What other programming books first published in the mid 1980s are still relevant today?
5. Could the concepts in this book have been presented any better in a language other than Scheme?
6. Who is al? Why is his name in lowercase?
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on May 8, 2000
I think its fascinating that there is such a split between those who love and hate this book. Most reviews give a bell-shaped curve of star ratings; this one has a peak at 1, a peak at 5, and very little in between. How could this be? I think it is because SICP is a very personal message that works only if the reader is a computer scientist (or willing to become one). So I agree that the book's odds of success are better if you read it after having some experience.
To use an analogy, if SICP were about automobiles, it would be for the person who wants to know how cars work, how they are built, and how one might design fuel-efficient, safe, reliable vehicles for the 21st century. The people who hate SICP are the ones who just want to know how to drive their car on the highway, just like everyone else.
Those who hate SICP think it doesn't deliver enough tips and tricks for the amount of time it takes to read. But if you're like me, you're not looking for one more trick, rather you're looking for a way of synthesizing what you already know, and building a rich framework onto which you can add new learning over a career. That's what SICP has done for me. I read a draft version of the book around 1982 and it changed the way I think about my profession. If you're a thoughtful computer scientist (or want to be one), it will change your life too.
Some of the reviewers complain that SICP doesn't teach the basics of OO design, and so on. In a sense they are right. The book doesn't directly tell you how to design and write an object-oriented program using the subset of object-oriented principles that show up in the syntax of Java or C++. Rather, the book tells you what those principles are, how they came to be selected as worthwhile, how they can be implemented from the ground up, and how a different combination of principles might be more appropriate for a particular problem. This approach requires you to understand the range of possibilities, and to think about trade-offs as you go through the design process. Programming is a craft that is subject to frequent failure: many projects are started and abandoned because the designers do not have the flexibility, experience and understanding to come up with a suitable design and implementation. SICP gives you an approach that will succeed, but it is an approach based on principles and wisdom, not on a checklist. If you don't understand the principles, or if you are the kind of person who wants to be given a cookbook of what to do rather than to think creatively, or if you only want to work on problems that are pretty much like the problem you worked on last time, then this approach will not work for you. There are other approaches that will be more reproducible for a limited range of simple problems, but there is no better way than SICP to learn how to address the truly hard problems.
Donald Knuth says he wrote his books for "the one person in 50 who has this strange way of thinking that makes a programmer". I think the most amazing thing about SICP is that there are so FEW people who hate it: if Knuth were right, then only 1 out of 50 people would be giving this 5 stars, instead of about 25 out of 50. Now, a big part of the explanation is that the audience is self-selected, and is not a representative sample. But I think part of it is because Sussman and Abelson have succeeded grandly in communicating "this strange way of thinking" to (some but not all) people who otherwise would never get there.
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on February 20, 2002
This book is not about learning lisp. It's even only fringely about learning how to program. What's contained in it is more than a simple description of abstraction, or modularity, or anything else you'd find in an introductory text. It even escews talking about those concepts in their simplest form to a degree. It approaches them from a 50,000 foot level, discussion how everything is an abstraction, and by layering these abstractions we can build comprehensible programs. This book has the possibility to change how you think if you listen to it.
That being said, it is _not_ a book on how to build software. I've seen many good software engineers discard this book because most of the code presented has no business anywhere near a real software engineering project. Even a lot of the concepts portrayed don't belong in day to day use.
But at the end of the day, this book gets the closest I've seen to explaining the hard parts of computer science and software engineering. It's a book about patterns without explicitly discussing them. It's a book about how design software without much explicit discussion of the design process. Much like some of the abstractions and "meta" concepts that it presents, it's a book that teaches you how to learn how to learn about programming...
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on August 12, 2002
SICP is an excellent, perhaps the best, advanced introduction to computer science and programming. It covers topics such as functional abstraction, data abstraction, OOP, program design, constraint programming and logic programming, always from a language design point of view. You will need a decent mathematical background to follow it.
If it's such a great textbook, then why half of the reviewers hate it? Elementary: SICP is not just a textbook, it's also a Computer Science aptitude and vocational test. If you read it and like it, then Congratulations! You are a real programmer and computer scientist, with hair on your chest. If you don't like it, then you should be studying something else. Law, mortuary science, whatever, but not CS.
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on July 7, 2004
Barry Mazur (talking about mathematics, not programming) once characterised the encounter with a genuinely new concept in terms of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's experience on reading the first lines of Kalfka's Metamorphosis, when he literally fell off the sofa in shock, thinking 'I didn't know you were allowed to do that'.
I still remember the same shock, even if I didn't literally fall of my chair, when, as an undergraduate, I encountered the first edition of this on the new acquisitions rack in my departmental library: I must have been the first person in the University, in Northern Ireland even, to read it, which I did, from cover to cover, over several days sitting in the library, even before it was released into the stacks.
The reason why Structure and Interpretation is the best there is, is that it manages, not just once, but several times, to deliver that fall-off-a-chair intellectual jolt. People who complain that you can only do such things in Scheme, and therefore that the ideas are pointless, are missing the point.
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on January 23, 2004
I never heard so many interesting and different views expressed for any book.some call it a waste of time and others a classic.Some refer it as an apptitude test for comp sc and others a book that has nothing to do with modern software engineering.
I think everyone is right at its own place. It all depends on how you look at things.Their is a set of inquistive ppl in the world who wants to know why and how of every thing .. why this apple is falling towards the ground and not the otherway .. isn't this a stupid question, a lil crazy for Newton to think this way so is this book.
The author starts by exploring what a program is. what is data,procedure,abstraction,modularity what we can do with it .how to model systems and why ? well all these are trivial questions and why do we care..we are living in a world of MFC's,API's,Integrated Environments..True thats why this book is a waste of time and has got nothing to do with modern software engineering.
But if you care why the apple is falling towards the ground and if you have the faculty to wonder you are going to like this book. It will give u insight in to the programing will make u think in terms of programming and not languages.. may be will add to ur creativity..This book is not easy to read.I think this book is equally difficult for a fresher and a 10 yrs exp guy.It all depends on how gifted u are. if u have it, it doesn't matter how many years u have put in to comp sc.
If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.SICP is all about this.
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on July 2, 2003
As has already been noted in other reviews, any discussion of programming languages is as prone to generating pointed, excited intercourse as a discussion of religion is. Those who think of a college education as preparation for a job have got it all wrong. It is preparation for life.
Your success in life will depend on your ability to learn for you will need to learn far more after college than you did during college. Those who think that computer science should be taught in "marketable" languages should note that computer languages come and go. Ask a COBOL programmer. Knowing how to construct software is more important than the language of implementation. My brother is a software architect for Microsoft and most of the people that are lucky enough to get an interview are hard pressed to write code to manipulate linked lists or trees let alone discuss these most fundamental data structures!
Computer scientists in academia do all of us out here in the real world a great disservice by foisting upon us this confusing melange of mathematics and software engineering. I find the two years devoted to learning calculus and differential equations more pertinent to mechanical and electrical engineering when logic, discrete mathematics, algorithm analysis, and automata theory, which are more appropriate to software engineering, get short shrift.
SICP is an excellent step in this direction and scheme is an excellent vehicle for discussing these concepts and more. Furthermore, these concepts can be developed with a lab-oriented, engineering approach. Contrary to the beliefs of some, any algorithm can be implemented in scheme. What sets scheme apart from other languages is that a scheme program can then be devised to analyze that algorithm giving a rigorous and concrete development of the analysis of algorithms!
When it comes to software engineering learning a computer language should be the most trivial of tasks. If you can't implement a software design in the language chosen, you will be without a job. This book is by far the best for learning scheme and the fundamentals of programming and it is already considered a classic. There are, however, less challenging ones such How To Design Programs and Simply Scheme. If you find learning scheme to be difficult then you should expect learning any computer language to be difficult. For those that think the language of the day is a route to a job you might find a shorter program at a community college more suitable. Community colleges are geared towards supplying people that meet the needs of the market today.
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on January 13, 2003
This book is an excellent companion to The Little Schemer. TLS is a profound and witty tour of recursion theory, but does not touch on the practical considerations of creating efficient programs (and does not claim to do so). SICP provides the assiduous reader with the distinction between a procedure's definition (which may well be recursive) and the process it generates (which may be iterative). It provides the means to make informed choices about program design. In particular, the book centers on writing language interpreters, which is an excellent strategy for understanding all of the problems faced in real-world programming.
Because the book evolved from an MIT undergraduate course, the exercises tend to be thematically related to engineering concerns (math, physics, etc.), whereas TLS uses food. Do not be put off by this emphasis on math applications; the book is broadly applicable to all domains of program design, and is not *about* mathematics or engineering. Then again, you might consider the book to be an engineer's approach to program design, in that its emphasis is on correctness and efficiency, and not on abstract beauty or brevity.
It should go without saying that you will not get anything out of the book if you do not do as many of the exercises as you are able.
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on July 2, 2002
Review the quagmire the reviews, phew! Ok, what is going on with this book? Clarity in a nutshell, to boot!
The Book; in 300 years folks will be studying scheme and will be studying scheme right out of this book. However; Graham's, Norvig's and Knunth's books will be as accessible as a horse and carriage on I-95, I-90, I-80, I-40, and "the five."
Why is scheme important and why will scheme last? Simple. Scheme was the first version of "Lisp" to really get "lambda" correct. Scheme's ties to pure mathematics is terse complementing ~sicp~ is dense. Sicp is the most important printed literature to develop from our species in the 20th century. Why is scheme important and why will it last.
Ok, onto the Lisp posse:
Suggest a ~better~ book. Let's write "different." On scheme, Simply Scheme and How to Design Programs rock! Maybe sicp is not for you? Yeah, that does not mean you are not interested in functional programming, and you are not interested in scheme, and you are not interested in pure mathematics. Suggest a different book.
The missing case of the Lisp posse:
Maybe you are interested in C, C++ and interested in functional programming, and maybe you do not find scheme friendly. Try Haskell. And remember that there are other functional languages too: ml, o'caml. Maybe you are not satisfied with a course, a functional programming course, a CS theory course, whatever, that is taught in scheme. Well, get some guts and goto your CS dept's. Dean and demand that the university/college teach Haskell.
I think the coolest version of Lisp I have ever seen is Chaitin's version he cooked up for "~the books~." And Chaitin
~peace yo!~
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on April 12, 2002
This book, is the first part of a 3-course introductory sequence (AKA the 61 SERIES) in "Computer Science" here at Berkeley. I'll tell you this,,, I must say that the word "INTRODUCTORY" doesn't belong there..!
I am currently enrolled in what most CS students from berkeley would recognize as CS 61A. This is one BEAST of a course! I am struggling really hard to get that "A" grade. It is a very time consuming course (that is,,if you really try to truly grasp the essence of SICP and want a good grade). There are soooo many times where i went through extreme pain and frustration just to solve "ONE" of those problems in the book! FOr example,

THE MOBILE PROBLEM!!!!!! -for those of you that know
Though, i have to say, the book is an "underlying" foundation for the Upper Division courses. It introduces you to many real-world topics,techniques, concepts like parallel distributing, object-oriented programming, streams, data-directed programming, message-passing,,, coercion, as well as environment diagrams, how to keep track of changing local state, and the main BIG IDEA,,,
It teaches you how to write programs efficiently. Although it doesnt teach you how to program in JAVA, or C/C++,, who cares!!!! Scheme is da bomb!! and besides, after getting through with this book, you can LEARN ANY PARTICUlAR PROGRAMMING LANGUAGE ON YOUR OWN!! and in a FEW DAYS!!!! ITs cuz this book stresses you the main concepts in computer science and programming, and so...if you wannna learn JAVA, all you gotta do is just learn the syntax! Same with any other high-level programming language!!!
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