Donald Knuth

Donald Knuth books and biography

Donald Knuth

Photographed by Jacob Appelbaum, 25 October 2005
Photographed by Jacob Appelbaum, 25 October 2005
Born 10 January 1938
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Residence USA
Nationality US
Field Computer Scientist
Institution Stanford University
Alma Mater Case Institute of Technology
California Institute of Technology
Academic Advisor Marshall Hall, Jr.
Notable Students Vaughan Pratt
Robert Sedgewick
Jeffrey Vitter
Known for TeX
The Art of Computer Programming
Notable Prizes John von Neumann Medal (1995)
Religion Lutheran

Donald Ervin Knuth ([knuːθ][1], born January 10, 1938) is a renowned computer scientist and [2], one of the most highly respected references in the computer science field. He practically created the field of rigorous analysis of algorithms, and made many seminal contributions to several branches of theoretical computer science. He is also the creator of the TeX typesetting system and of the METAFONT font design system, and pioneered the concept of literate programming.


Education and academic work

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he received his bachelor's degree and master's degree in mathematics (simultaneously, his B.S. work being regarded as deserving a masters degree) in 1960 at the Case Institute of Technology (now part of Case Western Reserve University). In 1963, he earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from the California Institute of Technology, where he became a professor and began work on The Art of Computer Programming, originally planned as a seven-volume series. In 1968, he published the first volume. That same year, he joined the faculty of Stanford University.

In 1971, Knuth was the recipient of the first ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award. He has received various other awards including the Turing Award, the National Medal of Science, the John von Neumann Medal and the Kyoto Prize. After producing the third volume of his series in 1976, he expressed such frustration with the nascent state of the then newly developed electronic publishing tools (esp. those which provided input to phototypesetters) that he took time out to work on typesetting and created the TeX and METAFONT tools.

In recognition of Knuth's contributions to the field of computer science, in 1990 he was awarded the singular academic title of Professor of the Art of Computer Programming, which has since been revised to Professor Emeritus of the Art of Computer Programming.

In 1992 he became an associate of the French Academy of Sciences. Also that year, he retired from regular research and teaching at Stanford University in order to finish The Art of Computer Programming. In 2003 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. As of 2004, the first three volumes of his series have been re-issued, and Knuth is currently working on volume four, excerpts of which are released periodically on his website. Meanwhile, Knuth gives informal lectures a few times a year at Stanford University, which he calls Computer Musings. He is also a visiting professor at the Oxford University Computing Laboratory in the United Kingdom.

In addition to his writings on computer science, Knuth is also the author of 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated (1991), ISBN 0-89579-252-4, in which he attempts to examine the Bible by a process of stratified random sampling, namely an analysis of chapter 3, verse 16 of each book. Each verse is accompanied by a rendering in calligraphic art, contributed by a group of calligraphers under the leadership of Hermann Zapf.

Knuth's humor

Knuth is a famous programmer known for his geek professional humor.

One of Donald Knuth's reward checks
One of Donald Knuth's reward checks
  • He pays a finder's fee of $2.56 for any typos/mistakes discovered in his books, because "256 pennies is one hexadecimal dollar". (His bounty for errata in 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated, is, however, $3.16). According to an article in MIT's Technology Review, these reward checks are "among computerdom's most prized trophies".[3]
  • Version numbers of his TeX software approach the transcendental number π, that is versions increment in the style 3, 3.1, 3.14 and so on. Version numbers of Metafont approach the number e similarly.
  • He once warned users of his software, "Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it."[1]
  • All appendices in the Computers and Typesetting series have titles that begin with the letter identifying the appendix.
  • TAOCP v3 (1973) has the index entry "Royalties, use of, 405". Page 405 has no explicit mention of royalties, but does contain a diagram of an "organ-pipe arrangement" in Figure 2. Apparently the purchase of the pipe organ in his home (see Personal below) was financed by royalties from TAOCP.[4]
  • From the Preface of Concrete Mathematics: When DEK taught Concrete Mathematics at Stanford for the first time, he explained the somewhat strange title by saying that it was his attempt to teach a math course that was hard instead of soft. He announced that, contrary to the expectations of some of his colleagues, he was not going to teach the Theory of Aggregates, nor Stone's Embedding Theorem, nor even the Stone-Čech compactification. (Several students from the civil engineering department got up and quietly left the room.)
  • Knuth published his first "scientific" article in a school magazine in 1957 under the title "Potrzebie System of Weights and Measures." In it, he defined the fundamental unit of length as the thickness of MAD magazine #26, and named the fundamental unit of force "whatmeworry". MAD magazine bought the article and published it in the June 1957 issue.
  • Knuth's first "mathematical" article was a short paper submitted to a "science talent search" contest for high-school seniors in 1955, and published in 1960, in which he discussed number systems where the radix was negative. He further generalized this to number systems where the radix was a complex number. In particular, he defined the quater-imaginary number system, which uses the imaginary number 2i as the base, having the unusual feature that every complex number can be represented with the digits 0, 1, 2, and 3, without a sign.
  • Knuth's article about computational complexity of songs was reprinted twice in computer science journals.


Knuth's hobbies include music, specifically playing the organ. He has a pipe organ installed in his home. Knuth disclaims any particular talent in the instrument.[citation needed]

He does not use e-mail, saying that he used it from about 1975 until January 1, 1990, and that was enough for one lifetime. He finds it more efficient to respond to correspondence in "batch mode", such as one day every three months, to be sent by postal mail.

He is married to Jill Knuth, who published a book on liturgy titled Banner without Words, published by Resource Publications in 1986. They have two children.[5]

He is a member of Theta Chi fraternity.

Knuth uses the Emacs text editor.[6]


  • First ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award - 1971
  • Turing Award - 1974
  • National Medal of Science - 1979
  • John von Neumann Medal - 1995
  • Kyoto Prize - 1996

He also has a Chinese name 高德納 (pinyin: Gāo Dn), given in 1977 by Frances Yao just before his first visit to China.[1]


A short list of his works[7]:

  • Donald E. Knuth, The Art of Computer Programming, Volumes 1–4, Addison-Wesley Professional
  1. Volume 1: Fundamental Algorithms (3rd edition), 1997. Addison-Wesley Professional, ISBN 0-201-89683-4
  2. Volume 2: Seminumerical Algorithms (3rd Edition), 1997. Addison-Wesley Professional, ISBN 0-201-89684-2
  3. Volume 3: Sorting and Searching (2nd Edition), 1998. Addison-Wesley Professional, ISBN 0-201-89685-0
  4. Volume 4: Combinatorial Algorithms, in preparation
  5. Volume 5: Syntactic Algorithms, in preparation, estimated to be ready in 2015 [8]
The Art of Computer Programming, Volume 4 fascicle 4
The Art of Computer Programming, Volume 4 fascicle 4
  • Donald E. Knuth, The Art of Computer Programming, fascicles:
  1. Volume 1, Fascicle 1: MMIX — A RISC Computer for the New Millennium, 2005. ISBN 0-201-85392-2
  2. Volume 4, Fascicle 2: Generating All Tuples and Permutations, 2005. ISBN 0-201-85393-0
  3. Volume 4, Fascicle 3: Generating All Combinations and Partitions, 2005. ISBN 0-201-85394-9
  4. Volume 4, Fascicle 4: Generating All Trees -- History of Combinatorial Generation, 2006. ISBN 0-321-33570-8
  • Donald E. Knuth, The TeXbook (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley), 1984. ISBN 0-201-13448-9
  • Donald E. Knuth, The METAFONTbook (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley), 1986. ISBN 0-201-13444-6
  • Ronald L. Graham, Donald E. Knuth, Oren Patashnik, Concrete Mathematics: A Foundation for Computer Science, 2nd edition (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley), 1994. ISBN 0-201-55802-5
  • Selected papers series:[9]
  1. Donald E. Knuth, Literate Programming (Center for the Study of Language and Information - Lecture Notes), 1992. ISBN 0-937073-80-6
  2. Donald E. Knuth, Selected Papers on Computer Science (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information - CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 59), 1996. ISBN 1-881526-91-7
  3. Donald E. Knuth, Digital Typography (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information - CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 78), 1999. ISBN 1-57586-010-4
  4. Donald E. Knuth, Selected Papers on Analysis of Algorithms (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information - CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 102), 2000. ISBN 1-57586-212-3
  5. Donald E. Knuth, Selected Papers on Computer Languages (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information - CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 139), 2003. ISBN 1-57586-381-2 (cloth), ISBN 1-57586-382-0 (paperback)
  6. Donald E. Knuth, Selected Papers on Discrete Mathematics (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information - CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 106), 2003. ISBN 1-57586-249-2 (cloth), ISBN 1-57586-248-4 (paperback)
  7. Donald E. Knuth, Selected Papers on Design of Algorithms (scheduled for publication in 2007)
  8. Donald E. Knuth, Selected Papers on Fun and Games (scheduled for publication in 2007)
  • Donald E. Knuth, 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated (Madison, Wisconsin: A-R Editions), 1990. ISBN 0-89579-252-4
  • Donald E. Knuth, Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About (Center for the Study of Language and Information - CSLI Lecture Notes no 136), 2001. ISBN 1-57586-326-X


  1. ^ a b c "Frequently Asked Questions" at Stanford site. Gives the pronunciation of his name as “Ka-NOOTH”.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Rewriting the Bible in 0's and 1's" in the Technology Review of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  4. ^ "Pipe Organ" at Stanford site
  5. ^ Early picture
  6. ^
  7. ^ A complete list is also available: "Books" at Stanford site
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Selected Papers" at Stanford site

Interviews, lectures, Q&A

  • Doernberg, D. Computer Literacy Interview With Donald Knuth. 7 December 1993.
  • TUG'95 (St Petersburg, FL, USA) Questions and answers with Prof. Donald E. Knuth. TUGboat 17 (1), 1996
  • Woehr, J. An interview with Donald Knuth Dr. Dobb's Journal, April 1996, p. 16-22.
  • Donald Knuth on The Art of Computer Programming Addison-Wesley Innovations, 1996
  • Questions and Answers with Prof. Donald E. Knuth. Czech TUG, Charles University, Prague, 1996
  • Knuth meets NTG members, Amsterdam, 13 March 1996.
  • Knuth Comments on Code, Byte magazine, September 1996.
  • Donald Knuth: A life's work in the art of programming, 1997.
  • U.K. TUG, Oxford, 12 September 1999: Question & Answer Session with Donald Knuth. TUGboat, 22 (1/2), 2001.
  • Dr. Dobb's Audio & Video Archive of Knuth's MMIX and God & Computers Lectures @ MIT, Fall 1999
  • Donald Knuth: MMIX, A RISC Computer for the New Millennium. Audio recording of a presetation at the monthly meeting of the Boston ACM 30 December 1999
  • Wallace, Mark. The art of Don E. Knuth Interview on, 1999.
  • Advogato, 2000, also available as HTML Version
  • AMS, 2001
  • Geek Celebs, 2001
  • Oslo, 2002
  • c't, 2002 (in German)
  • NZZ Folio, 2002 (in German)
  • Donald Knuth, Founding Artist of Computer Science. Audio interview by David Kestenbaum on National Public Radio; or Transcript, 14 March 2005.
  • Free Software Magazine interview by Gianluca Pignalberi, August 2005.

See also

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