IT History Society Blog

A Surprise from Amazon

January 25th, 2011 by Paul Ceruzzi

This one will be short. has just listed volume 4 of Donald Knuth’s The Art of Computer Programming. (Actually “4A” but that’s OK.) If you know anything about this series, I do not need to say more. If you do not know about Knuth, it would take too long to explain the strangeness of seeing volume 4 actually being advertised. I won’t believe it until I get my hands on a copy.

Unfortunately, you have to buy the whole set to get Volume 4. What’s that all about?  And it apparently has a different cover and binding. So I am angry, amazed, confused, and delighted.

I have the first three volumes. I paid serious money for them when I was a not-too-wealthy graduate student. The books have this wonderful quality of starting out simple and getting exponentially more difficult. (One of the “exercises” was to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem.  After the book was published someone did it.)  I did not get that far, but I did get farther than I ever thought I could. For that I will always be grateful to Professor Knuth.

My edition of Volume One is dated 1968; volume Two 1969, Volume Three 1973. Now Volume Four in 2011? I am having trouble with this.

3 Responses to “A Surprise from Amazon”

  1. Peter Sachs Collopy Says:

    I think I remember Knuth talking about volume 4 when I saw him speak maybe six months ago. In any case, his website confirms it has a 2011 publication date for 4A and has more details. It also estimates the publication date for volume 5 as 2020…

  2. aolley Says:

    As noted by others on the e-mail list provides more information on Knuth’s plans and progress.

    Many know Knuth best through Tex (a computer typesetting system popular among those who have to deal with mathematical equations) which if I understand correctly he was inspired to create because of the trouble typesetting his book.

  3. Dennis Frailey Says:

    I too purchased the first two Knuth volumes in the 1960’s while an impoverished CS graduate student (at Purdue University) and volume 3 while a slightly less impoverished assistant professor of CS at SMU. One thing I recall, which may be similar to the way things are today, is that it was the graduate students, not the faculty, who realized the importance of these volumes. That whole era was one in which many really classic books and periodicals were published.

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