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UNIX: A History and a Memoir

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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."

183 pages, Paperback

First published October 18, 2019

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About the author

Brian W. Kernighan

30 books271 followers
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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Displaying 1 - 30 of 135 reviews
Profile Image for Pete.
892 reviews55 followers
November 3, 2019
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 file systems and device drivers for discs and got to the point where with three more things, an editor, an assembler and a shell. Remarkably these were written in three weeks while Thompson's wife and child were away.

Once Unix was written the plethora of utilities that has grown up around it came into being, mostly written by the staff of Bell labs. Grep, awk, sed, lex, yacc were all written by the remarkably talented staff at Bell Labs. The names mentioned are a roll call of famous computer scientists. It's incredible to see how many people who contributed so much worked at one place. The book has lots of stories about the people who created them. It helps to build a picture of what it would have been like to work there.

The C language was also written by Dennis Ritchie and most of Unix was rewritten in C and this contributed to the portability of the system. Kernighan writes about how the language came about and what made it different. Bell Labs also sold Unix and the source code to various universities cheaply and this spread of Unix was very important in the growth of the language.

Kernighan also makes the point that Unix was set up to write the many manuals and books for Unix. The editors, source control systems and the layout programs for Unix enabled authors to edit and rewrite their manuals more easily than with previous systems. Kernighan think that this contributed to the quality of these manuals substantially. The longevity of books like Kernighan and Ritchie's classic 'The C Programming Language" suggests that there is something to the idea.

The book also goes on to mention the further growth of Unix with the creation of Linux.

UNIX: A History and a Memoir is definitely worth reading for anyone interested in the history of computing and the history of the amazing operating system that is Unix. It's a quick read and gives some insight into how a small group of people created such an important software system.
Profile Image for جادی میرمیرانی.
Author 3 books392 followers
June 19, 2023
What happens if one of the inventors of Unix who happens to be a great writer, writes about the beginnings of the Unix, AT&T and related computer history? This book is the answer.
Profile Image for Michael.
137 reviews1 follower
September 7, 2021
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.
Profile Image for Scott J Pearson.
591 reviews21 followers
April 5, 2020
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 excellent software poured out of Bell Labs. He writes this history from a personal perspective, which is why this book’s genre accurately fits as both a history and a memoir. This personal perspective enlightens readers about how highly productive innovation occurred in this sphere. He exposits with an obvious respect for his colleagues and for the impact that they had on the history of computing science. Though some fame is certainly deserved for his accomplishments, he approaches them with a degree of humility as befits one looking back on a satisfactory life.

This work certainly contains relevance to the programmer and also to those who study innovation in science and technology. Besides these niche audiences, interest should be extended to the general reader, for whom complex technical topics are explained in an elegant simplicity. (Let me be clear: This is written for a general audience, not a technical audience.) Any reader can learn how exactly the computer and its cousin, the Internet, came to the fore of human culture in a generation. In that sense, Kernighan tells a broad story of our civilization’s progress.

As a computer programmer and as one with interest in the history of science and technology, I found this history interesting and relevant. It’s nice to get a feeling for the personalities behind some of the software that I use each day. As befits computer programming, there is not a whole lot of drama or tension. Instead, one gets a close feel for the personal warmth and common ingenuity shared by Kernighan and his colleagues. That ostensible enjoyment, that evident respect, and that passionate love come out strongly in this memoir and are perhaps the greatest testimony that produced a work as transformative as UNIX.

Profile Image for Mattia.
Author 5 books5 followers
April 30, 2020
Bello! Estremamente accessibile anche a pubblico non specializzato, ma con molti particolari tecnici, oltre ad aneddoti e foto curiose. Per chi, come me, deve a UNIX molta della propria carriera professionale, direi che è una lettura immancabile.
Profile Image for Romain.
760 reviews39 followers
August 22, 2020
Comme l’indique le sous-titre A History and a Memoir il s’agit pour Brian Kernighan – le K du célèbre K&R – de rédiger un livre de souvenirs qui tient lieu à la fois d’histoire d’Unix – ou UNIX. C’est aussi à l’inverse un livre sur l’histoire d’Unix qui contient des anecdotes sur cette aventure et sur sa matrice, le Bell Labs et son fameux département 1127. Kernighan insiste d’ailleurs beaucoup tout au long du livre sur l’importance de cette structure et des personnes qui y ont été rassemblées. C’est-à-dire sur l’aspect organisationnel et collaboratif. Les membres de ce département formaient ce qui est appelé une jelled team dans le livre Peopleware et Brian Kernighan semble être du même avis que les auteurs de ce livre pour dire que ces liens ne se nouent pas de façon artificielle.

> Fun. It’s important to enjoy your work and the colleagues that you work with. [Department] 1127 was almost always a fun place to be, not just for the work, but the esprit of being part of a remarkable group. […] At the same time, there was zero, or even negative, enthusiasm for the kinds of team-building exercices that one often sees today. Most of us saw them as artificial, pointless, and a waste of time.

Il met aussi en avant d’autres facteurs qui ont permis au Bell Labs de devenir la formidable machine à innover qu’il fut. Le livre The Idea Factory en donne une vision plus exhaustive. Ces facteurs incluent un management doté d’une excellente connaissance technique laissant libre cours à l’innovation et à la créativité, mais il souligne également l’importance de la stabilité et du temps long qui nécessite une continuité dans le financement.

> Stable funding was a crucial factor for research. It meant that AT&T could take a long-term view and Bell Labs researchers had the freedom to explore areas that might not hava a near-term payoff and perhaps never would. That’s contrast with today’s world, in which planning often seems to look ahead only a few months, and much effort is spent on speculating about financial results for the next quarter.

Ce livre est aussi l’occasion de faire mieux connaissance avec les principaux créateurs du système d’exploitation dont les successeurs, Linux et Android, équipent l’écrasante majorité des périphériques que nous utilisons tous les jours, les lauréats du Turing Award de 1983: Ken Thompson et Dennis Ritchie. Voici par exemple une anecdote révélatrice de l’état d’esprit d’un personnage comme Ken Thompson.

> In 2006, he [Ken Thompson] moved to Google, where with Rob Pike and Robert Griesemer, he created the Go programming language. I heard about his move from Entrisphere to Google from someone else, so I asked for confirmation. His reply its true. i didnt change the median age of google much, but i think i really shot the average [all lower case in the original message]. ken

Tous les sujets sont abordés: Unix, sa philosophie (dont le fameux “do one thing and do it well”), les outils (grep, diff, etc.) et la puissance induite par la capacité à les combiner, le langage C, l’importance de la documentation et c’est dans ce domaine que l’auteur s’est beaucoup illustré puisqu’il a travaillé sur des outils permettant d’écrire de la documentation professionnelle et a lui-même publié de nombreux ouvrages de références dont les deux plus connus sont certainement

- The Elements of Programming Style,
- The C Programming Language,
- The Unix Programming Environment.

Le livre est à la fois simple et complet. Il présente les évènements dans un ordre chronologique en mêlant de l’histoire, de la technique, des anecdotes et des réflexions sur les raisons des succès ou des échecs. C’est agréable à lire, relativement court et définitivement un très bon livre sur ce sujet. Pour les amateurs, je conseille, en plus de The Idea Factory, et dans cet ordre

- Rebel Code si vous cherchez un livre sur l’histoire de Linux et plus généralement sur celle du mouvement open source, vous l’avez trouvé.
- The Art of UNIX Programming bien plus technique à réserver à des lecteurs professionnels du domaine.
- Hackers un peu trop complexe à mon goût – ou au moins pour mon niveau d’anglais.

Également publié sur mon blog.
Profile Image for Justin Andrusk.
95 reviews6 followers
November 30, 2019
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 it's a memoir and not a technical deep dive. If you understand that the focus is around the culture at Bell Labs and not all of the esoteric knowledge that other works have already done, you'll enjoy the book.
5 reviews1 follower
January 24, 2020
I enjoyed this very much. Full of history about early Unix development at Bell Labs including origin stories of many common tools and designs.
Profile Image for Junye Huang.
14 reviews46 followers
April 10, 2021
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 by Steven Levy.
Profile Image for Eduardo Sorribas.
12 reviews1 follower
November 20, 2020
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.
275 reviews1 follower
March 28, 2022
"If resources are tight, that’s more likely to lead to good, well-thought-out work than if there are no constraints."

"At the same time, there was zero, or even negative, enthusiasm for the kinds of team-building exercises that one often sees today. Most of us saw them as artificial, pointless, and a waste of time.
"It takes effort to build and maintain an organization whose members like and respect each other, and who enjoy each other’s company. This can’t be created by management fiat, nor by external consultants; it grows organically from the enjoyment of working together, sometimes playing together, and appreciating what others do well."
Profile Image for Pablo.
Author 1 book39 followers
July 20, 2023
What a fascinating read. I had trouble putting it down. I don't think it's as accessible for non coders as Brian Kernighan wanted but for coders, it's almost a must read. It really conveys what an interesting and unique place Bell Labs was in the 50s through the 70s, maybe 80s. We mustn't forget that such a place is possible.

It also made me wonder, as I grow older and this goes from memoirs to history, will the world of developers embrace it as our roots or will we just focus on the latest and greatest and forget where we come from, how we got here. There's a risk to forgetting history and in this case it's the opposite: we'll forget what sort of innovation was and is possible and we won't repeat it.
Profile Image for Ramesh Naidu.
239 reviews3 followers
August 4, 2020
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
Profile Image for Dav.
256 reviews20 followers
January 1, 2022
echo superb,perfect,certain,written,detailed,authoratative | awk '{split($0,w,","); for (i=1; i<4; i++) print w[i] "ly " w[i+3];}'
Profile Image for Dulguun.
30 reviews4 followers
August 1, 2020
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 author's work at Bell Labs.
12 reviews
March 28, 2020
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.
63 reviews3 followers
December 31, 2020
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 print quality overall is not great. A few overarching threads I found interesting are:
1. Ken Thompson et al. from Bell labs were directly involved in MIT's ambitious MULTICS project that suffered from the second-system effect. The design of UNIX was greatly influenced by the fresh memory of the mistakes in that project.
2. UNIX started conservative. Perhaps the memory of MULTICS along with the management's very miserly initial reaction to operating systems, kept them alert about KISS philosophy.
3. It was C and UNIX pair that made it so great. C was much higher level than then-prevailing assembly language and thus much more user-friendly, yet efficient enough to be used for systems programming. Once UNIX was written in C, OS became decoupled from hardware; porting the OS now meant much easier task of porting the C compiler.
4. Ken Thompson seems like a pretty cool guy and the most important hero in the UNIX story. Among many of his great works like C's predecessor B, grep, UTF-8, Go, he was the main person behind Belle, the first Chess computer that was Master-level.
Profile Image for Mike.
373 reviews5 followers
November 12, 2019
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 up with innovating, world-changing inventions (that also have the capability to be monetized if management is capable, which is not always the case). And new research into AI algorithms has proved this[0]: the best algorithms don't focus on the end-goal, but on a diversity of solutions, exploration of what is "interesting". That's how you get great stuff like Unix, and we can only hope a research institution like Bell Labs will make another appearance someday.

[0] https://www.quantamagazine.org/comput...
3 reviews
September 13, 2020
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 before I had the chance to run a business operation under the final result. This book filled in all the missing pieces crisply with humor and insight beyond expectation. Congratulations to the author for taking the time to explain and entertain. We need a great many more pioneers to do likewise.
Profile Image for lojislav.
151 reviews1 follower
December 30, 2019
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
Profile Image for Adam Adair.
42 reviews1 follower
February 22, 2020
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 business decisions which played a hand, and while I'm sure he didn't want to delve into perhaps the something so negative and sinister, I think he missed a good opportunity to present his opinions on intellectual property rights in computing. The SCO controversies of the 2000s was a huge influential factor in my own career. I had been a large advocate of adopting UNIX and Linux with my own employer. The law suites filed by SCO had a direct impact on technology choices by my employer and I've been working exclusively on Microsoft Windows systems since 2006, and as old UNIX systems age out they are replaced with more Windows servers. I think it is unlikely that unless I change employers that I will ever get to work with Unix in a professional capacity ever again and this makes me kind of sad. As it is the only mention of SCO in the book is in a diagram of the evolution of UNIX and related operating systems. He skipped all that and went straight to Oracle v Google.

Still, I loved the book, and I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in UNIX and computing research. I noticed that there is an assumption of basic computer literacy so I can't recommend this to everyone.
182 reviews6 followers
November 26, 2022
Some nerdy computer history here. And not even the exciting Bill Gates vs. Steve Jobs type stuff. Unix is surely the most influential operating system ever written. The language C is probably the most influential computer language. They were both created at AT&T Bell Labs starting around 1969 to the early 1970s, and Brian Kernighan was on the scene, involved, though not one of the primary creators.

This is largely a friendly nostalgic memoir of Bell Labs life, not the kind of hard-hitting narrative you get with the likes of "The Soul of a New Machine" (about the creation of a new minicomputer) or "Showstopper!" (about the creation of Windows NT at Microsoft). But it's in that genre of teams inventing stuff in the computer world. No unkind thing is written in this book about anyone. Most of the people mentioned and pictured in this memoir were professional adults by the late 1960s, which means of course that they are passing from this world if they haven't already done so.

Compared to other stories this was a simpler time with lower-powered machines. While Microsoft later invested years and a large harried team to create Windows NT, the first version of Unix was written in three weeks by Bell Labs researcher Ken Thompson. His colleague Kernighan (the author) was one of the first 5 or so users, and as best anyone can recall, is the one who coined the name "UNICS" (later "Unix") -- riffing on an earlier boondoggle of an OS abandoned by Bell Labs, called Multics.

Next, Kernighan's co-worker Dennis Ritchie wrote the C Language. In a key step, C was then used to re-write Unix: the early iterations were written in hardware-specific assembly language, but re-writing it in C made it more portable (that is, able to be run on various computer systems with just a bit of tweaking), and so really unlocked its growth potential. Kernighan and Ritchie then collaborated to write an iconic C programming book in 1978, "The C Programming Language", famous to this day even to a nonprogrammer like me.

Kernighan recounts a lot of micro-history of the development of many features and programs of Unix. Along the way are mentioned not only Bell employees, but also a few cameos from bright interns and graduate students who became tech-famous later: Bill Joy (cofounder of Sun Microsystems and a big name in popular tech especially about 20 years ago); and Eric Schmidt, former adult-supervision CEO of Google while Larry Page and Sergey Brin were still young and callow.

Kernighan then recounts the evolutions, variations, and open-source clones of Unix that have developed over the years. When I say Unix is influential, consider that today it exists not only as modern Unix but also as Linux, Android, MacOS, iOS, and the underlying OS in most Internet of Things devices, such as Kindle, Alexas, and in-car devices. Pretty much any operating system in wide use other than Microsoft Windows (and even Microsoft had its own version of Unix back in the 1980s, called Xenix.)

Finally, Kernighan also traces the fate of Bell Labs as AT&T and its descendents, by force and by choice, did various spinoffs and breakups and sales over the decades. Bits and pieces of it have been scattered around various industries, and veterans either retired or mostly wound up outside AT&T at places like Google. There remains however an official surviving entity even today: the modern incarnation is owned by Nokia at this point, and is called Nokia Bell Labs, website bell-labs dot com.

A good read for anyone seriously interested in computer history. Maybe not much of a page-turner for other people.
Profile Image for Stas Makarov.
10 reviews
January 30, 2022
An engaging story about context, ideas, problems and people around UNIX, Linux and numerous other related technologies.

Some amusing peaces:

"I was happy. No ambition. I was a workaholic, but for no goal." -- reminded me of Torvald's "Just for fun"
On constraints:
"If resources are tight, that’s more likely to lead to good, well-thought-out work than if there are no constraints.
The management principles here are that you hire bright people and you introduce them to the environment, and you give them general directions as to what sort of thing is wanted, and you give them lots of freedom. Doesn’t mean that you always necessarily give them all the money that they want. And then you exercise selective enthusiasm over what they do. And if you mistakenly discourage or fail to respond to something that later on turns out to be good, if it is really a strong idea, it will come back."
On vi:
"I don’t recall what I said at the time about the editor itself (though today vi is one of the two editors that I use most often), but I do remember telling Bill that he should stop fooling around with editors and finish his PhD. Fortunately for him and for many others, he ignored my advice. "
25 reviews
March 4, 2022
For me as a software engineer—and a geek—, learning how Unix prevailed was an absolute joy, specially by someone who was directly involved in Unix's history.

This book tells you how Ken Thompson invented the Unix operating system in 1969 on a PDP-7 device, out of the ashes of MULTICS, which was a failed OS attempt by MIT, GE and Bell Labs.

Later on when Dennis Ritchie invents the C programming language, they join their efforts and rewrite Unix in C to make it portable.

Many talented people in Bell Labs (including the author himself) create useful tools (e.g., Shell, Yacc, Lex, Make, Sed, Awk) to enrich the Unix environment.

I was shocked by the amount of contributions that Ken Thompson has made to the software world: B, Pipes, Grep, Regex, UTF-8, Go, of course Unix itself and many more.

Bell Labs seemed to be a factory of ideas and inventions. I believe this was the result of gathering talented people together, giving them a sustainable environment (socially and economically), and letting them do whatever they are interested in.

Brevity is one of the things that I liked about this book, because it wraps up Unix's history in about 180 pages, with many photos. This made reading the whole book a pleasure.
333 reviews10 followers
January 4, 2023
You probably have to be a hard-core Unix head to get anywhere with this book – but it's a gem if you are. Kernighan was there throughout what is possoibly the most formative period of computer history, when Unix was developed and many of the paradigms of operating systems and software tools were developed.

There are other books that handle many of the stories in greater detail, but this book is great for the "sweep" of Unix through Bell Labs and out into the world. The memoir parts are perhaps the most interesting, as they illuminate how the various tools came into being and why. There are cameos by people like Richard Hamming, whose own scientific contributions are matched by his insistence that you can only do important work if you first find the important problems, and by both an expected and unexpected cast of pioneers. I'd like to find a similar book on the early years of Lisp showing how decisions that now seem to be inevitable came to be made, and what alternatives there might have been.

The most hard-core part of the book? It was written using groff, the GNU successor to the roff text formatter than Kernighan himself wrote.
63 reviews
February 16, 2023
Awesome book, if you find yourself often in the UNIX world, you will surely appreciate it.

After reading it you will find out nuggets such as:
- how much time it took Ken Thompson to write the first version of UNIX
- why most UNIX commands are so short
- why the "creat" system call is not called "create"
- who came up with the idea of pipes and how this lead to the separation of stdout and stderr
- where the name "grep" comes from
- how the limitations of the PDP-7 let to the creation of the "B" programming language, which eventually let to the "C" programming language
- why sh uses reversed words as terminators (e.g. "fi", "esac") but not always ("done" instead of "od")
- what was the role of Eric Schmidt (of Google fame) in the UNIX universe
- the origin of the "tab in column 1" problem in Makefiles
- how the creator of the "vi" editor was advised to stop fooling around with editors and instead get his PhD; instead, he went on to co-found one of the biggest software companies
- how in the 1980s Microsoft distributed its own version of UNIX
- how the POSIX standard was created
- where the UTF-8 encoding of Unicode comes from
Profile Image for Lukerik.
502 reviews5 followers
December 22, 2022
It’s the motherlode. A history of Unix written by someone who was in the room at the time. The way Kernighan tells it, he literally was just in the room at the time getting a cup of coffee or something. Sometimes he has to mention his own achievements when he’s co-authored something so as to avoid not giving his co-author all the credit. Cool guy. If I hadn’t seen a couple of documentaries on Unix I probably wouldn’t have the realised the scale of his modesty. I’ve just read this book on a device running on the Linux kernel. I’m sure that without his contribution I would be using quite a different device. In a nice touch he’s written the book on Unix which probably explains why the cover is like that. It’s very well written. He has a very clear style. It’s laid out like a technical manual, which I think might be his idea of a joke. There are some funny moments, like the guy who asked if Unix could tell him which words he could spell upside down on his calculator. Well worth a read if the history of computing interests you.
Profile Image for Helen.
21 reviews
February 19, 2021
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 exciting and somewhat nostalgic to read stories about true collaboration, creative brainstorming, and friendly pranks. All of that topped up with a history of how and why certain Unix tools (many of which are still in use today) were developed. Must read for everyone who's into Unix-like systems or even simply open source.
Profile Image for Pablo Gallardo.
31 reviews2 followers
June 17, 2023
Though the book's title gives a hint, it is a mix of the history of the Research Unix development and a memoir of life at Computer Sciences Research (commonly known as 1127) in the 1970s. You really get an idea on how the research environment was and who were the talented people that populated the office, and understand better the outstanding contribution to Computing from this research group.

The book also covers more briefly the Commercial Unix and Unix-like spin-offs like BSD, NextStep/Darwin or Linux, but focuses mainly on Research Unix until Version 7.

Brian Kernighan educational expertise is remarkable as he does not leave any single piece of code without proper and clear explanation. He is also a very humble and appreciative colleague that probably understates his own contributions to the IT world.
Profile Image for John Ferngrove.
80 reviews3 followers
July 20, 2022
My Amazon review details my irritation at the failure of the latest Kindle Gen.11 to load this book, but I have been able to read it on my Kindle for PC App, having eventually got to grips with the its klunkiness.

The book itself was a trip down memory lane. Having been involved in the UNIX world for all my professional life I think I was hoping to get a deeper insight into the Bell Labs development environment and the intense excitement that must have pervaded there in their heyday. As it happens, in this relatively brief and pleasantly informal book I did not really come across any names or even historical background that I didn't already have some familiarity with, so not quite as insightful as perhaps I had hoped, but a pleasant read nonetheless.
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