Donald Knuth


Donald Knuth : biography

10 January 1938 –

Computer musings

Knuth gives informal lectures a few times a year at Stanford University, which he called Computer Musings. He was also a visiting professor at the Oxford University Computing Laboratory in the United Kingdom and an Honorary Fellow of Magdalen College.


The Art of Computer Programming (TAOCP)

Computer science was then taking its first hesitant steps. "It was a totally new field," Knuth recalls, "with no real identity. And the standard of available publications was not that high. A lot of the papers coming out were quite simply wrong. […] So one of my motivations was to put straight a story that had been very badly told."

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 (especially those that provided input to phototypesetters) that he took time out to work on typesetting and created the TeX and METAFONT tools.

, the first three volumes and part one of volume four of his series have been published.

Other works

He is also the author of Surreal Numbers, a mathematical novelette on John Conway’s set theory construction of an alternate system of numbers. Instead of simply explaining the subject, the book seeks to show the development of the mathematics. Knuth wanted the book to prepare students for doing original, creative research.

In 1995, Knuth wrote the foreword to the book A=B by Marko Petkovsek, Herbert Wilf and Doron Zeilberger..

Religious beliefs and work

In addition to his writings on computer science, Knuth, a Lutheran, is also the author of 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated, in which he examines the Bible by a process of systematic 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.

Subsequently he was invited to give a set of lectures on his project, resulting in another book, .


Knuth had a difficult time choosing physics over music as his major at Case Institute of Technology (now part of Case Western Reserve University). He also joined Beta Nu Chapter of the Theta Chi fraternity. While studying physics at the Case Institute of Technology, Knuth was introduced to the IBM 650, one of the early mainframes. After reading the computer’s manual, Knuth decided to rewrite the assembly and compiler code for the machine used in his school, because he believed he could do it better. In 1958, Knuth constructed a program based on the value of each player that could help his school basketball team win the league. This was so novel a proposition at the time that it got picked up and published by Newsweek and also covered by Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News. Knuth was one of the founding editors of the Engineering and Science Review, which won a national award as best technical magazine in 1959.. He then switched from physics to mathematics, and in 1960 he received his bachelor of science degree, simultaneously receiving his master of science degree by a special award of the faculty who considered his work outstanding.

In 1963, he earned a Ph.D. in mathematics (advisor: Marshall Hall) from the California Institute of Technology,. and began to work there as associate professor and began work on The Art of Computer Programming. He had initially accepted a commission to write a book on compilers which would later become the multi-volume The Art of Computer Programming. This work was originally planned to be a single book, and then planned as a six- and then seven-volume series. In 1968, just before he published the first volume, Knuth accepted a job working on problems for the National Security Agency (NSA) through their FFRDC the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) Communications Research Division situated at the time on the Princeton campus in the Von Neumann building as stated in his cumulae vitae. It seems likely Knuth left the position and joined the faculty of Stanford University because of his political beliefs and the volatile political climate on the campus at the time.