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Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future: The Ingenious Ideas That Drive Today's Computers

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  1,258 ratings  ·  123 reviews
Every day, we use our computers to perform remarkable feats. A simple web search picks out a handful of relevant needles from the world's biggest haystack: the billions of pages on the World Wide Web. Uploading a photo to Facebook transmits millions of pieces of information over numerous error-prone network links, yet somehow a perfect copy of the photo arrives intact. Wit ...more
Hardcover, 219 pages
Published January 16th 2012 by Princeton University Press (first published December 1st 2011)
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 ·  1,258 ratings  ·  123 reviews

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Greg Nigh
Jun 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Physicist Richard Feynman remarked about scientists that if you can't explain what you are doing to your grandmother, then you don't understand what you are doing. That's from the guy who made common sense out of quantum electrodynamics (QED).

The sorry fact of the matter is that science relies upon obscure vocabulary, technical jargon and a maze of self-reference, a practice that holds the curious public at a comfortable two-arms-length distance. Important information is certainly conveyed throu
Nathan Brodsky
Sep 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I should have read this book at the beginning of my career. On the other hand, after 10 years experience I may appreciate it even more.
Aug 30, 2012 rated it liked it
A surprisingly interesting and simple read (though perhaps overly simple in many parts) on some of the most important computer algorithms used today and how computer scientists solved for them. The writing is better than you would expect, the concepts are interesting (how google developed search algorithms, how secure transactions are run online, etc.), and the details are explained in a way so that no prior knowledge of algorithms or computer programming is necessary.

The only thing some readers
Stephany Wilkes
Mar 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Enjoyed this very much. It is utterly enthralling, clearly written, and beautifully typeset. I think that, if people were exposed to this sort of technical clarity in concept early enough, we may have more interest in science and technology than we do in the U.S. currently (lack of interest does not seem to be much of a problem in parts of India, by contrast).

I am more familiar than I realized with the contents (at least in the first chapter), so there is not yet much "new" to me - but I've been
Jul 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
I like the premise of this book: Describe the key algorithms that make everyday computing possible in a simple accessible manner. Some of these algorithms include, indexing and pagerank which govern how search engines work, compression algorithms like JPEG which shrink the size of files, public key encryption which is the foundation for secure internet commerce and digital signatures, among others. I believe the author achieves his stated purpose which is to relate these beautiful and critical a ...more
Dec 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
Too simple, perhaps because I already knew something about the topics. I ended up a little bit annoyed by all the simple examples with colours and padlocks and gave it up. I would recommend it for someone who doesn't know anything about computer algorithms.
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
An accessible, clearly written, and interesting overview of the interesting ideas out there, without getting bogged down in the details of implementation. If you have a more tactical understanding of some of the algorithms described in this book - especially if you've ever had to do the challenging work of implementing any of these ideas in actual code - you may be tempted to write the book off as surface-level or gross oversimplification. But that's the point - any one of these topics could fil ...more
Vadym D.
Nov 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very good for starter. And best for making you to want more.
Howard B.
Feb 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Review of John MacCormick, “9 Algorithms that Changed the Future,” Princeton University Press, 2012.

An algorithm is a well defined procedure for performing a task. A household example of an algorithm is a recipe — for example, the list of ingredients together with the sequence of instructions needed to bake a pie. In order for a computer to perform a task, it needs ingredients — the data — and instructions — the algorithm.

Author John MacCormick, currently Professor of Computer Science at Dickins
Jul 09, 2012 rated it liked it
This book is actually not really targeted to computer scientists like me, since I knew 8 of the 9 algorithms described in the book (Internet searches and indices was the exception). However, it did remind me a bit of my college days. Instead, this book is targeted to people who aren't computer scientists and want to get a feel for what computer scientists think about and what they do. To that end, it's difficult to say how successful it is since I don't know how well it introduces the nine ideas ...more
Roberto Rigolin F Lopes
Discuss computer science beyond programming is a great idea. MacCormick even compiled an interesting set of algorithms together with easy to follow explanations. The computability example was fun but the whole book still needs some work on its presentation. I felt a bit annoyed by the constant use of “to keep it simple as possible”; the whole thing should unfold smoothly.
Caio Paiva
May 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Simple and interesting for a casual read. Too trivial for a computer scientist or programmer
Tiago Fragoso
Jul 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Best explanation on RSA I've read. Even better than its source material (The Code Book by Simon Singh)
Aug 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I got this ebook in Chinese for some time already, but i hesitated to read it because it's about computer science. It turned out to be actually very interesting about how the search engine works.
With his very easy examples and explanations, i get to understand "public key cryptography", "pageRank", "hamming code", "two dimensional parity", "low density parity- check code", "nearest -neighbor classifier", " decision tree", "artificial neural network".
For how the zip files work, "same as earlier t
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Simply and straightforwardly written, illustrated sparingly but usefully, this would make a great introductory text for programming in either high school or the first year of college. I could see assigning it in a composition course, even, since it teaches basic logic, deduction, and narrative-building techniques in order to teach these algorithms. I probably would not have grasped the implications of PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption (which I read about more extensively in We Are Anonymou ...more
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Big mistake: I should have bought a paper version of this book and not an electronic.

This is certainly not for everyone but I found it fascinating. I can't say that I understood it all despite being told by the author that I did not need to know the nitty-gritty of computer science. I think he was wrong. You certainly need to have a better knowledge than I had, to appreciate it some of the points he was making and these became more difficult as the book reached its conclusion. It would have been
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very fun and informative book about some of the core appeals and functionalities in computer science. This book is an excellent read for those who are either considering pursuing the discipline further on their own or those who have no personal investment in the concepts presented, but would still like to be able to have intelligent discussions about the elements of modern technology which permeate our lives. This is an excellent and informative book which gets at the heart of a lot of modern ...more
Mbogo J
Feb 07, 2018 rated it liked it
MacCormick really broke down the concepts to the level of a "common reader" whoever that may be. His explanations were completely weeded out of technicalities can be understood by anyone really. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is good if you know very little about algorithms and just want the gist of it but if you have prior knowledge then the book is too simplified.

An example is the RSA encryption protocol. John went on and on about padlock and keys and a lot of them until I lost
Nov 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
GREAT BOOK!!! I'm amazed at MacCormick's explanation of various algorithms and concepts! He makes complicated concepts very easy to understand and also interesting to read!

Although one regret I have is that I didn't read this book sooner. As an undergraduate student studying Computer Science and Mathematics, this book is way too simple for me and I regret that MacCormick had to omit certain more technical concepts to cater to more general public.

But other than that, I think this book is great!!!
Derek Andrews
Aug 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written easy to grasp

Liked the journey through the technology we rely on daily. Also wanted to find out about the Edison's of our time. At what point will these people be routinely studied in history class? Can you name the most important inventors of the late 20th and 21st century? Non technical and entertaining. The nine were well curated. The 10th greatest algorithm will be a competent auto correct instead of the annoying ones we have today.
Pawel Wujczyk
Nov 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: tech
Book describes couple interesting algorithms (page rank, digital signature, indexing, encrypting data, pattern recognition...) It is written in very easy language so all non tech people also should understand the main concept. For me (developer with couple years of experience) some of the information was still very interesting. From the book you can choose the chapters which are the most interesting for you and read only this. I think two of those chapters I will read in the future again.
David Greenes
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I bought this book for my high school age son, who is interested in learning about coding. I decided to read it myself and found it so engrossing and inspiring. Really a great book for anyone who wants to appreciate some of the elegant solutions to thorny problems that computer scientists have developed over the years.
Kyle Reinholt
Jun 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent introduction to the amazing work people have done with technology help keep information safer and give us cool services like Google. The underlying concepts of ground breaking discoveries
are explained in layman's terms so you don't have to spend all of your time trying to understand new processes. The analogies in this book are great!
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Together with "Algorithms To Live By" by Christian and Griffiths, this one now tops my list of favorite books! Hugely recommended to anyone who, without prior knowledge, wants to get a grasp of the working principles of computers. Those principles are based on simple, easily understandable tricks, that are explained in this book.
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent readable book which explains nine computer science topics relevant to everyday use of computers with accessible examples to illustrate the underlying ideas. Avoids typically dry academic topics such as sorting and focuses more on immediately relatable applications, which helps to keep the book interesting for non-experts.
Ramon van Dam
Sep 09, 2018 rated it liked it
An interesting read, but I'm not the target audience and thus nothing was really new for me. However, many sections (especially regarding error correction and databases) brought me back to my classes at university. Computer scientists can still enjoy this, but I mainly recommend this to people who are interested in the field and have no real knowledge on the subjects.
Bryn Louise
Jan 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Provides a readable explanation of the nine algorithms mentioned in the title. I have a math/comp sci background so I thought that MacCormick tended to over explain. I found myself skipping paragraphs when I saw where the explanation was going pretty frequently. Overall pretty interesting though.
May 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Lovey, fascinating read that is easy for people with no previous background in computer science to understand. (As some have complained that MacCormick dumbs everything down too much, I'm speaking as a rising high school sophomore who was assigned this as pre-class summer reading.)
Sep 18, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, adult
Interesting, but I will not understand the math, no matter how beautiful it is.

Also, hardcover was first published in 2012, so maybe a little dated?
Aug 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
A wonderfully accessible book about the behind-the-scenes of how much of the digital world works. I wish it covered more as the writing is very informative while also a very pleasant read.
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John MacDonald MacCormick was a Scottish lawyer, politician and advocate of Home Rule for Scotland. Between 1923 and 1928 he studied law at the University of Glasgow. In 1927 he left the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and formed Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association (GUSNA) which promoted Scottish culture and self-government.

MacCormick was a founder of the National Party of Scotland

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