Reviews of 34 Books on BASIC (BASIC Sixth Edition by Stephen V. F. Waite and Diane G. Mather, 1971)
Exercises and Problems All the books have exercises (some call them problems) that require writing programs, except for the General Electric programmed-instruction text (15). The "self-instruction" text by Peluso et al (20) has question-and-answer exercises, plus an appendix containing practice problems that require programs to be written. A few other texts require a minimum of program-writing. Skelton (19) has exercises that require modifying given programs and writing short subroutines. Waite & Mather (1), being a user's manual, has no problems or exercises of any kind. There is a wide variety of ways of presenting problems and answers. Some books, such as Sharpe & Jacob (17) have problems at the end of each chapter, with all answers given. Sack & Meadows (27) give answers to selected problems at the end of each chapter. Kemeny & Kurtz (2) give no answers to the end-of-chapter problems. Many authors provide exercises after each new idea (or group of new ideas); among these, Coan (11) gives answers to the even-numbered exercises, Sass (21) gives answers to selected ones, and Gross & Brainerd (22) give none. A few books have only questions and answers, such as the General Electric text (15). There are very many Q&A in Stern & Stern (34) and all too many, 396 of them, in Diehr (26). Some readers like a good many questions, to help reinforce their learning; others will prefer more text or more programming problems and fewer questions. Although most of the authors provide problems or exercises that are quite satisfactory, most of these are straightforward mathematics problems. This is fine for most readers, but for the younger ones, and perhaps also for those of us who get bored easily, several authors have out of their way to provide problems of unusual interest. Albrecht et al (32) have problems, for example, on generating "computer art," Barnett (23) on computing the (x y, z) position of a satellite, Dwyer & Kaufman (33) on an airline reservation system, and Kemeny & Kurtz (2) on writing four-part harmony for a given melody. *** Handsome Is... Not every good-looking BASIC book is also good reading. On one hand, the three handsomest single-volume works - Kemeny & Kurtz (2), Gateley & Bitter (9), and Barnett (23) - rate highly as useful taxes in addition to having excellent typography and layout. Also to be listed among the good-looking books are those by Sharpe & Jacobs (17), Pavlovich & Tahan (18), Gross & Brainerd (22), and Dwyer & Kaufman (33). But the two handsome multiple-volume sets - Forsythe et al (12) and Stern & Stern (34) - have BASIC supplements that rate poorly, although Stern & Stern's main text and workbook give an excellent coverage of data processing. Any bound book is difficult to use comfortably at the Teletype or other terminal. The first version of the earlier Smith book (10) was loose-leaf, so that individual pages (of heavy stock) could be removed for use at a terminal. The problem there, of course, was that those removable pages could be lost. Most of the books use several type styles, but some overdo it, with up to seven in some cases, so that many pages are very distracting, as in the books by Ivan Flores. Hare (8), Murrill & Smith (16) and Albrecht et al (32) use up to seven typefaces on some pages, Spencer (6) has up to six, and Dymax (28) and Gruenberger (25) have as many as five. Dwyer & Kaufman (33) also use as many as seven, but in a way that isn't anywhere nearly as obtrusive as the others, which is one more tribute to the fine design of this book. Half the authors show programs in Teletype originals (and many should have put a new ribbon on the machine); the rest use typed or machine-set examples. Two of the authors - Smith (10) and Coan (ll) - give examples to problems requiring programs, in the back of the book, in Teletype originals reduced so greatly as to be eye-straining. Lewis & Blakeley (29), for some reason, show their Teletyped programs much smaller than necessary, even though there is plenty of room for them to be shown much bigger. The size of each book is given because the number of pages alone is deceiving. Many of the smaller books contain over 300 pages, but contain less text than some larger books with many less pages. The most popular size is 6 by 9 inches, with 15 books at or near those dimensions. Second most popular is 8 1/2 by 11 inches, with a dozen that size. Eight of the authors are sinners in the eyes of Teletype Corp., because they write "teletype." No doubt all have been cautioned by Teletype's eagle-eyed legal department. *** Personal Preferences If I were limited to choosing only one book from these 34, it would be Kemeny & Kurtz (2), which is still the standard of excellence by which all the others must be judged. Waite & Mather (1) give all the nitty-gritty details. Then come, in order of preference, Barnett (23), Murrill & Smith (16), Dwyer & Kaufman (33), and Gross & Brainerd 22). If a friend were to ask for a recommendation, it would be, again, Kemeny & Kurtz (2), if he wanted only to learn BASIC. For someone wanting to know about computers and BASIC, then it's Hare (8). If he wanted to learn about BASIC and business programming, I'd recommend Stern & Stern (34) for their main text and workbook, plus one of the five BASIC books listed above. For any young person, or as a matter of fact for almost anybody, I'd recommend Dwyer & Kaufman (33), who do their best to make learning fun. *** For a future group review of books on applications of BASIC, I would appreciate information concerning such publications. This would include not only books such as Peckham's Computers, BASIC and Physics, but also applications books not oriented toward any particular language, but which could be used with BASIC, such as Gruenberger & Gaffrey's Problems for Computer Solution. Also appreciated is information about books on BASIC in languages other than English. 1. BASIC, Sixth Edition, edited by Stephen V. F. Waite and Diane G. Mather. In print Mar. 19, 1971, University Press of New England, Hanover, N. H., 183 pages, 8 1/2 x ll, $4.00 (paperback). The first BASIC user's manual, and still the best, although it describes an advanced version of BASIC. Rating: A The first few editions of this user's manual were authored by John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz, the originators of BASIC; the more recent editions carry the names of the editors. According to Prof. Kurtz, the first draft of the BASIC instruction manual appeared in June 1964. The third edition was published on Jan. 1, 1966. ("Whatever happened to the second edition, I'll never know. I think we started counting editions with number three, and chose that number just to be on the safe side.") The date of the fourth edition is Jan. 1, 1968; Version I of the supplement, Feb. 28, 1969; Version II, April 3, 1969. The preliminary fifth edition, 1969, the fifth edition, 1970. The sixth edition, 1971 ; second printing, 1972. According to the British book, Specification for Standard BASIC, by Bull, Freeman and Garland (National Computing Centre, London, 1973), "the first implementation was on a GE 265 system in 1964. The first issue of the programming manual from Dartmouth College (hitherto this and subsequent updates were the only definitive documents on BASIC) was in January 1965...By January 1966, the third edition of the manual was published."