I suppose that to most young mathematicians the name Donald E. Knuth is almost synonymous with TeX, Knuth’s great and generous gift to our community. Computer scientists will also know him as the author of The Art of Computer Programming, of course, and as one of the early pioneers of the field. But Knuth has done a lot more, from mathematics to typesetting, from being an advocate of good writing to just having fun. Over the last twenty or so years, CSLI Publications has been publishing volumes of Knuth’s papers in all these areas. The series is now complete in eight volumes:
Each volume contains papers “in a form that I hope is worthy of being remembered,” as Knuth explains in the preface to this Companion. This means that rather than simply reproducing the originals photographically (as is often done in collected works) Knuth has typeset all of the papers in a uniform style, has revised and “polished,” and in many cases has written an Addendum that brings the topic up to date. Knuth knows that historians may well object to the rewriting, but he points out that the originals can be found if desired. These collections, he hopes, will be read not just by historians, but by anyone interested in their subjects.
Collections of papers are usually not indexed, but having an index makes them much more useful. The main goal of this Companion, then, is to provide a complete index to the eight volumes of papers. It fills 145 pages. In addition, the Companion includes several papers that remained uncollected, problems that Knuth published in various journals, solutions to some of the problems, a complete CV, and an annotated list of publications.
Most valuable of all, I think, is the middle section of the book: chapters 7 to 17 are transcripts of conversations between Knuth and Dikran Karagueuzian, the director of CSLI Publications. These lunchtime conversations happened in 1996, and they cover a wide range of subjects. (Being steeped in the Lutheran tradition, Knuth refers to these as “table talk,” which is quite appropriate.) These transcripts add a glimpse of the man behind all of these amazing papers.
Fantastic, Prof. Knuth. And thanks.
Fernando Q. Gouvêa has been learning from Don Knuth’s writings since at least the early 1980s.