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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."


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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."

30 review for UNIX: A History and a Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Pete

    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 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.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Justin Andrusk

    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 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.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Christer Edwards

    I enjoyed this very much. Full of history about early Unix development at Bell Labs including origin stories of many common tools and designs.

  4. 5 out of 5

    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 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.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ramesh Naidu

    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

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dulguun

    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 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.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sergio

    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.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    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 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...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Stefan

    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

  10. 4 out of 5

    Adam Adair

    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 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.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Thomas sawyer

    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 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.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Shane

    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 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 glazing over for, so one's mileage may vary. This is definitely a must read for anyone interested in the history of this important system, but don't expect it to be an exciting one.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Makoa

    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 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 the 80s than I cared to, and I still have a lot of unanswered questions about UNIX's history which is why I gave it 3/5 stars.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rob Warner

    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 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 to change that, but couldn't because by then a dozen people were already using "make." The curse of backwards compatibility!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Vlad Bezden

    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. 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.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Marek Karcz

    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.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Fred Bloggs

    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.

  18. 4 out of 5

    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.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ignacio Torres Masdeu

    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.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Adnan

    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.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Arun

    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.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kaviraj

    Interesting stories on Unix evolution, tools we use everyday and more imp remarkable people at Bell Labs. Lots of takeaways on doing research and engineering well. Highly recommend for #Unix fans! Kernighan style of writing 👌🏻 as usual.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jim and Ellen Belesiu

    Quick read; very enjoyable, especially if you are a fan of technology history. I always wondered what it would be like to work at Bell Labs (back in the day) and Brian's book gave a nice insight on that.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Matt Heavner

    Great reflection on UNIX - it says it is "accessible to a general audience." I'm not sure about that.. But if you've used UNIX, especially if you've done some sysadmin work - this is good.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Richard Pavlovsky

    Just what I was looking for A great read from someone who helped bring Unix to the world. C9 author of the c book and chronicler of the early days of Unix.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Richard Elberger

    Really great perspective

  27. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    a low 3 -- it was interesting to read someone that involved take on all that was going on!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Seth Stubbs

    Lovely memoir about not just Unix but Bell Labs too. If you're into computers at all this book is a must.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dylan

    Insightful look at a group of curious people who forever changed the world.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Supasate Choochaisri

    Totally inspiring history of UNIX and Bell Labs I felt grateful to have a chance to read this UNIX history from Kernighan. The book also covers stories of Bell Labs and all genius people who worked there, stories of C programming language and several important UNIX commands. This book totally inspired me and made me understand how Bell Labs influenced great work culture of several great tech companies. If you're big fan of UNIX or tech history nerd or even management of tech companies who want to Totally inspiring history of UNIX and Bell Labs I felt grateful to have a chance to read this UNIX history from Kernighan. The book also covers stories of Bell Labs and all genius people who worked there, stories of C programming language and several important UNIX commands. This book totally inspired me and made me understand how Bell Labs influenced great work culture of several great tech companies. If you're big fan of UNIX or tech history nerd or even management of tech companies who want to embrace great work culture for innovation, this book is for you.

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