SICP and Why It Matters

Brian Harvey, who has been teaching the Berkeley SICP course for 25 years has an interesting and moving tribute to the famous Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, which he calls the best computer science book in the world. Irreal readers who have been around for a while know that that's a sentiment that I share.

The tribute was written in 2011 at the request of the Boston Globe to celebrate the 150th anniversary of MIT. They asked Harvey to explain the significance of SICP for an article on the most important innovations developed there. He praises the book for its stubborn refusal to waste the better part of a semester learning the syntax of some computer language instead of focusing on what matters: the fundamental idea of abstraction. Part of what allowed that, of course, was the use of Scheme. I remember reading an article by Sussman—long before I learned Scheme or even really knew what it was—that they never bothered explicitly teaching Scheme in the course. They just used it and students picked it up as they went along. Harvey says that he spends the first half hour on notation and then doesn't bother with explicitly teaching the language.

If, like me, you love SICP or you use and like Scheme, you should read Harvey's tribute. It serves to remind us what a wonderful book it is and how revolutionary it was—and is—as a vehicle for learning about computer science.

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  • I remember Brian Harvey as author of the Computer Science Logo style in ~1993. Then, the only thing i know in CS/programing is Mathematica. I read SICP in 1998. It was a fantastic experience. I vividly recall it's first time i ever understood OOP when they were actually talking about something else i think in chapter 3.