This week’s fortunate Goodwill find was a hardcover copy of Clifford Pickover’s Computers and the Imagination (1991), a fine bit of nostalgia for me. Pickover is a prolific author of computing and mathematical books, as you can see from his Wikipedia entry. This was a particularly nice find for me because I used to devour Pickover’s books and other similar ones from the public library in the early 90s, when I was in high school.

Computers and the Imagination is an eclectic take on computer imaging, fractals, mathematics, and some more esoteric topics as well. The aesthetic is similar to the cover of a modern O’Reilly book, with lots of woodblock illustrations mixed into the computer-generated images that are the results of the book’s algorithms. What is nice about the way the book is executed is that the ideas are presented with mathematical formulae and algorithmic pseudocode, so that the book is just as useful today as it was at its publication date.

I don’t purchase as many technical books these days, as most of them seem to be obsolete within a few years, so why not just get your information online? However, I do browse the stacks at Powell’s somewhat regularly and I don’t see many books like this any longer. Am I missing them? It’s true that there are plenty of DIY computing books out there, but I don’t recall seeing any recent ones that delved into the more philosophical, perhaps even meta-commentary that is typical with Pickover’s early books. The only other book that comes to my mind at the moment is Gödel, Escher, Bach, but that is also an older book, not to mention specifically more weighty. Let me know in the comments if you know of any others.

5 thoughts on “Computers and the Imagination

  1. That’s a good recommendation, since that’s long been on my potential reading list but I’ve never followed through.

    GEB is a really profound work, especially for anyone involved in computer science.

  2. In a bit of synchronicity, I notice in the preface that Pirsig is quoted and ZAMM is mentioned by name.

  3. I didn’t know that, and I’ve lost my old copy of GEB. Will have to ask at my local 2nd hand book store for it. Got several Philip K Dick novels last time I was there! Let us know if you read ZAMM, would be interested in how you find it. Maybe a blog review?

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