CODE: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

Have you ever wondered exactly how a computer works?
Charles Petzold, answers that question in his book, CODE: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software. I have been reading this book over the past couple of days, and am truly enjoying it.

CODE is about how computers and computer programs work. Mr. Petzold starts by describing codes and how humans have used codes, for example, Morse code, to communicate. He proceeds to show how telegraph relays can be used to make logic gates, and how those logic gates can be combined to make an automated adding machine. Eventually, though many small steps, Mr. Petzold constructs a fully functioning computer in the reader’s mind, and touches on graphical user interfaces. To make this computer useful, he also describes how to program it – first with binary commands, then with assembly, and finally with higher-level programming languages.

I enjoyed reading this book because it provides a “big-picture” view of how computers work. Today’s computers are highly complex, and sometimes seem impossible to fully understand. However, in my opinion, the overview CODE provides is neither too detailed, nor too vague. While reading this book, I learned the “why” behind many things that I take for granted in programming (i.e. data types). Most technical people know that the higher your processor speed, the faster your computer operates. After reading CODE, I now know why the processor speed matters.
Another reason I enjoyed this book is that it is easy to read. Because Mr. Petzold starts from the very beginning, then builds on what he has discussed, even someone with no prior knowledge of programming or computer history/construction could read and understand this book. (However, some knowledge about the topic is always helpful…)

Although this book won’t teach you the specifics of how to program C++, or exactly how to connect different chips together, it provides an overview of how computers work – from the ground up. If you enjoy programming, or want to know more about how computers work, this book is for you.

Posted in Books, Computer Programming, review