Book Review: Code

by Rael Dornfest

Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

by Charles Petzold

Paperback, 400 pages, Microsoft Press, 2000

Whether you're simply curious or a self-taught programmer wondering what you missed in Comp Sci class, Charles Petzold's
Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software
is a treat to read. From flashlight Morse-Code to inner lives of computers, Petzold bridges the gap from electricity to arithmetic, 0s and 1s to Paul Revere to high-level programming languages.

Starting with the representation of information as a simple binary on/off, Code spins a tale of telegraphs and relays, logic and switches, gates, electronic arithmetic, memory and automation. We travel inside two early microchips, the Intel 8080 and Motorola 6800 -- the brains behind the Altair 8800 and Apple II (actually the 6502), respectively -- discovering the opcodes and instructions that manipulate and move our data.

Code is a remarkable mixture of vital background information, number theory, nitty-gritty details, and novel-like narrative. It's sure to be a walk down memory lane for homebrew geeks and provide some insight for neophytes into what's actually happening inside that humming beige box.

Bottom line: I give Code four out of a four possible Meerkats.