The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

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Reviews of 34 Books on BASIC (Choosing a BASIC book, about the authors, the writing)

graphic of page

Feature Review
34 Books on BASIC
Stephen Barrat Gray
Gray Engineering Consultants
260 Noroton Ave.

Darien, Conn. 06820
The first book about BASIC was published on the first
day of 1966. Four years later only eight more on BASIC
had been published, and there was little difficulty in
choosing between them, especially since several weren't
very well known.

As the use of BASIC grew, so did the number of books
on the subject, until today there are nearly three dozen
and, for several years, up until 1974, they were being
published at the rate of one every two months.

Choosing a book on BASIC is not so easy now,
whether for one's own reading or for class use. The task is
only slightly simplified, and only for certain prospective
users, by these 34 books falling into several categories: two
are very simple, for children in the lower grades; six are
limited in coverage, meant to give a solid foundation in
elementary BASIC; and three use BASIC as part of a book
(or set of books) on the larger subject of data-processing.

But that still leaves 23 to pick from. Hopefully, this "group
review" will make the choice a little simpler.

The Reason Why
The article had its origins several years ago while, in
addition to being the corporate EDP communicator, I was
managing a small time-sharing installation. Interested in
learning all I could about BASIC, I began to collect the
various books on the subject. After getting a dozen
together, the feeling grew that a group review of all such
books might be of interest to those looking for one or two
that would best suit their needs.

This group review is not a scholarly dissertation, but
hopes to be of help to those looking for a BASIC text for
study or for use in the classroom. If it fails in this, then
perhaps it can be considered as a reasonably accurate
chronological bibliography of all the books in English on

Stephen B. Gray first became acquainted with
data-processing as a field-service engineer with IBM,
after which he wrote maintenance manuals for
airline-reservation computers at Teleregister (now
Bunker-Ramo). Five years as the computers editor of
Electronics magazine at McGraw-Hill were followed
by several at General Electric, supervising the writing
of manuals for the 115 and 130 computers. He next
became editor of John Diebold's ADP Newsletter,
and then editor of American-Standard's corporate
EDP newsletter and manager of their time-sharing
installation. He is now an EDP consultant and writer,
and is the editor of a technical consumer magazine. In
1966 he founded the Amateur Computer Society,
and publishes its newsletter for an international
membership of people who are building a digital
computer as a hobby.

The Authors
These 34 books were written by at least 52 authors,
nearly all of whom are college professors, or teachers in
private schools. As for the others (at the time of the books'

publication), Albrecht (14, 28 32) is with Dymax (part of
the People's Computer Company), Barnett (23) is with
TRW Systems, Farina (3 13) with General Electric, Keenan
(12) with the National Science Foundation, Sack (27) is at
Amdahl Corp., Smith (10 30) is with Control Data, and
Spencer (6) is president of Abacus Computer Corp. No
affiliation is given for Pavlovich (18) or for Stern & Stern
(34). Two of the authors are students: Kaufman (33) and
Tahan (18). The authors of two books are unknown:

General Electric (15) and NCTM (4).

A few authors, including Farina (3 13) and Sack &
Meadows (27) dive headlong into BASIC and shout "Come
on in, the water's fine." The majority swim with varying
degrees of enthusiasm in waters of various depths and
temperatures. Some stand on dry land, point to the pool,
and say "It's over there." Gruenberger (25) and Hare (8)
say, in effect, that although BASIC may be fine for
schoolchildren, there's nothing for a real man like the
strong surf of FORTRAN.

The biggest problem for many authors is an apparent
inability to put themselves in the reader's shoes, and write
for the average beginner. All too often a program is
presented without enough previous discussion of the
statements and the programming techniques involved to
allow the reader to readily understand the program. This
"too much too soon" problem is severe enough in several
books to make some average readers simply give up in
bewilderment. Many of these books seem to have been
written with the top student in mind, by authors who
either don't realize that most readers are starting at zero, or
who seem to assume that the reader is as smart as the
writer. Three books in point are by Smith (1030) and
Gruenberger (25), who give the textual impression of being
eccentric geniuses; under firm editorial control, their
considerable talents could have produced outstanding
books, rather than fascinating curiosities, best opened after
mastering one or two less convoluted texts.

Some will argue that many of these books need to be
used in a classroom, with a teacher to explain the hard parts
and to fill in the gaps. Indeed, some of the texts seem
written with the expectation that someone will be on hand
to do just that.

The Writing
Nearly all the authors are -in the academic world. No
doubt several are brilliant in front of a class. But little of
this brilliance appears in the rather pedestrian prose of most
of these texts.

Although it can be argued that these works are not
novels and thus there is no point in trying to achieve any
particular literary style, nevertheless there is quite a
difference in wading through the still waters of some
authors' works, and in dipping into the sparkling brook of
Farina's writing (3,13), the careful detailed prose of
Kemeny & Kurtz (2), the enthusiasm and flair of Dwyer &
Kaufman (33), or the clear, flowing style of Sack &
Meadows (27),

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