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UNIX: A History and a Memoir

4.42  ·  Rating details ·  573 ratings  ·  90 reviews
The fascinating story of how Unix began and how it took over the world. Brian Kernighan was a member of the original group of Unix developers, the creator of several fundamental Unix programs, and the co-author of classic books like "The C Programming Language" and "The Unix Programming Environment." ...more
Paperback, 183 pages
Published October 18th 2019 by Independently Published
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Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
UNIX: A History and a Memoir (2019) by Brian Kernighan is a history of Unix and Kernighan's recollections about the creation of Unix and the people at Bell labs who created it. The book provides a concise overview of the early years of the operating system that 50 years on is on so many computers all over the world.

Kernighan describes how he came to work at Bell labs and how he met Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie there. After the failure of the Multics system Thompson and Ritchie were working on
Sep 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Really nice, very personal account of the creation of UNIX. It will make you think about the 1970s again, in terms of computers. It might also make you open the terminal program on your computer to try some of the things out, and marvel that you actually can. Made me want to read more. First clear 5-star review in a while, for me.
Scott J Pearson
Brian Kernighan is most known for writing the definitive work on the C computer language. He worked for most of his career at famous Bell Labs from AT&T and worked among those who developed the UNIX operating system. UNIX powers much of the Internet and served as the basis for computer operating systems like Linux and MacOS. These all have influenced technological history, and he enlightens us as to how.

He writes in a light, unpretentious manner and relates the history that he witnessed as excel
Justin Andrusk
Nov 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
I've read a number of books on the history of UNIX over the years and this one has added more of a personal touch than the others. It was a welcome change as Brian Kernighan was actively involved in the history of UNIX as it was developing at Bell Labs. It was great to hear his perspective on how things unfolded, but I enjoyed more hearing about the 1127 culture and they worked with each other.

There is a fair amount of technical material, though not at length and that should be no surprise as i
Christer Edwards
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this very much. Full of history about early Unix development at Bell Labs including origin stories of many common tools and designs.
Junye Huang
Apr 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
A very enjoyable read about UNIX’s history. Bell labs in the 70s and 80s sound like a paradise for computer scientist to work in. It’s a pity that Bell labs and other corporate labs do not allow such freedom of exploration any more.

Brian Kernighan is a brilliant writer, at least among technical experts. I like his geeky humors between the lines and the examples he use to illustrate concepts.

This book make me want to read more about hackers and early computer history. I am now reading Hackers b
Eduardo Sorribas
Nov 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Great read! I really enjoyed Brian Kernighan's writing style. It feels like he's just casually telling us stories from back in the Unix days.

There's a lot of interesting stuff here. Of course a lot of historical details, but to me the best parts are all the anecdotes about how different aspects of Unix came to be, and about all the people that worked on them.

I think anyone with an interest in computer programming would enjoy this book.
Ramesh Naidu
Aug 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My favorite operating system 's history

A magical journey through the history of the most beloved and used operating system of all times from one of the pioneers who witnessed it first hand. A must read for every programmer
Aug 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
History of Unix as told by one of its contributors. If you're interested in Unix history, and wants to read about it from a personal point of view, this is for you.

Includes biographies of people involved (Thompson and Ritchie were the core but there were many contributions from others), how various Unix tools came to be, culture and life at Bell Labs, and development of Unix over the years.

The book also goes over what makes an OS (filesystem, system calls, etc.), C programming language, and auth
Mar 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Well written, easy to follow, full of insight. Some chapters had more detail than I cared for but that's my opinion. This book's title perfectly reflects its content. ...more
Mohammad Tanviruzzaman
This is first hand account of the development of the influential operating system UNIX (offshoots of which run on majority of the devices today) and the peak and the dismantling of the wondrous Bell labs where they had 9 Nobel prizes and 4 Turing awards. There were John Bardeen, Claude Shannon, Richard Hamming, John Tukey, Robert Tarjan, Dennis Ritchie, Bjarne Stroustrup, Alfred Aho; in the book we get to meet many of them. Kernighan is sincere and honest. It has many good stories. However, the ...more
Nov 12, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A nice little memoir about the development of Unix from a first-hand observer, but it doesn't have as much on that subject as I thought it might; rather it's really a remembrance of what it was like to work at Bell Labs and an analysis of what made it such a great research environment. Giving researchers time to investigate what they're good at and and what interests them without the restrictions of needing to tie it to business needs or have a definitely end-goal really is a great way to come u ...more
Thomas sawyer
Sep 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Remarkable Tour of Bell Labs, Unix and Language Development

Brian Kernighan packs as much history of computing technology into a single volume as one can in this comprehensive history of Unix. Never excessively technical, always interesting and remarkably anecdotal. As a member of the GE635 (and it's successors) community, I watched the unusual interests of Bell Labs Multicians from afar as they evolved "B" "C" and some peculiar adaptation of a single user operating system.

It was a long time b
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I actually finished this last night, but a great summary of Unix history from one of the people closest to its inception. Highly recommended if you’re interested in the history of computing or just Unix in general
Adam Adair
Feb 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a fascinating and inspiring tale that I enjoyed immensely. Many of the men and women described in the book were the legends and giants of computer science when I was an undergrad, and I found I had a hard time putting this book down.

The only criticism I have of the book is that it glosses over the the UNIX wars and resulting law suites that are still going on today, which I think is also part of the legacy of AT&T Bell Labs and USL. Mr. Kernighan alludes to poor management and bus
Feb 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
It is fascinating how a system, designed 50 years ago, is still successful without any major architectural change. The Unix principles, that stand in the roots of the design decisions of this OS, are a good explanation for that phenomenon. However, this book confirms one's suspicion of how great the people, who worked then at Bell Labs, were, as in order to design a truly flexible system - one needs to be empathetic, to always keep in mind that they will not be the only ones using it. It is exci ...more
Dec 22, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great read for those wanting some "I was there" reporting. Kernighan (if his memory can be trusted) does some excellent reporting and reminiscing.

As the title says, this is very much a history and memoir. I found Kernighan's style easy to work with and it helped clarify for me some of the events that lead to the world we exist in today with Linux as the dominate server platform. Interesting tidbits and facts are sprinkled throughout.

There are definitely details that I found my eyes gl
Jun 23, 2020 rated it liked it
It's okay. It should be titled 1127 Bell Labs: A Memoir, because the content is more about Kernighan's experience at Bell Labs than it is about the intricacies of UNIX. It did provide a great overview of the development of UNIX which I did not know before I read the book. It also enlightened me as to who made what contributions on UNIX--this however made me wish I was reading UNIX history book authored by Thompson or Ritchie instead.

Ultimately, I would say I've learned more about Bell Labs in th
Rob Warner
Oct 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating tale of the birth and evolution of Unix, which starts from just before my birth and continues to this day. I'm astonished at how many decisions made back then have stood through the present day. I work on Unix-based operating systems (Linux and macOS) nearly daily. The tools Kernighan discusses, I use all the time. I'm glad that the 1127 folks made the decisions they did! I was amused, though, to read about the "make" decision to use significant whitespace, and how early they wanted ...more
Gohar Irfan
Jan 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
Goes over some of the most monumental creations in modern computing (Unix, C, a whole set of everyday use tools like awk, grep, bash), the environment that led to those and the phenomenal people driving it all. Very exciting to get a glimpse of how a leading industrial lab of the time operated and the culture they had for promoting truly creative and revolutionary ideas.
The book gets a bit too specific in some parts with particular people and timelines which are not extremely interesting or of
Khashayar Danesh
For me, this book represents all the sentimental values of efforts put into a project that turned out to change the computation and therefore the way things are operated in many different levels.
The work done in Bell labs, has basically made the 21st century as we know it possible.
While reading about such significant work, many aspects are lost, this book not only tries to provide an overview of the technical fields of discussion and challenges, does not leave the people who did the work out.
Vlad Bezden
Jun 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book, great history about Bell Labs, AT&T, Unix, Linux, C, C++ Shell, UTF-8, and other inventions of that time.
The book also describes the culture, philosophy, hiring process, working experience, the relationship of Bell Labs of that time.
This book very special for me, since I always was fascinated with Unix OS, C, but I did not know the history behind it. I end up reading this book twice.
Aaron Gadsden
Sep 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I have really enjoyed this book, to me this book reminds me of Surely you're Joking Mr Feynman. It is filled with a cast of characters that have shaped computer science and software engineering in the 60s to late 80s. Brian explains the remarkable things a clever group of people were able to work on during their tenure at Bell labs. I will forever love hearing about the atmosphere in a place such as Bell labs and I will forever be grateful for Brian sharing his history. ...more
Marek Karcz
Jun 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating book about UNIX history

Thanks to this book I gained better understanding where UNIX comes from and intimate insight into the culture of one of the most important research departments that ever existed. Today UNIX and its programming languages and styles affect huge part of human population and started many successful careers and businesses. Well worth your time.
Fred Bloggs
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting and humble

I particularly enjoyed one quote, along the lines of "Unix's success is in part due to the tasteful choice of ideas". This makes me think of several things as positive examples - eg pipes and io redirection, and negative ones, the outstanding example of which, with its staggering inelegance, is Systemd.
Vincent Ford
Interesting but dry

Interesting for those that use Unix to hear directly from an early user and developer of it. But this a pretty dry text with not much color or excitement. The most important case this book makes is the need for basic research and giving good people the time and resources to explore as Bell labs had done.
Mark Davis
Dec 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is obviously a book for a fairly narrow audience; it isn't really very technical, but it's a history of something that will only be interesting to IT professionals and programmers. If you've had any experience with Unix, though, this is its origin story, and it's a very enjoyable read if that's your kind of thing. Personally I found it really interesting. ...more
Apr 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I have always liked Kernighan's writing style so that makes this memoir doubly enjoyable.

I would have liked more details but I think I will be able to find them in the numerous resources offered in the last chapter.
May 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
We all have used flavours of Unix one way or other (thanks, Travis) but not all of us know about how the geniuses of 60s and 70s and unmatched leadership provided us amazing tools like C, Awk and sed etc.

Btw, Ken just took 3 weeks to come up with Unix.
Jun 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read. If you are a programmer who lives history of software tools, and also loves unix/linux ecosystem this book will be a delightful read. Kernighan's unassuming style of writing is a breath of fresh air. Very delightful read. ...more
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Brian Wilson Kernighan is a computer scientist who worked at Bell Labs alongside Unix creators Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie and contributed greatly to Unix and its school of thought.

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