Donald E. Knuth

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Donald Knuth (2005)

Donald Ervin "Don" Knuth [ kəˈnuːθ ] (born January 10, 1938 in Milwaukee , Wisconsin ) is an American computer scientist . He is a professor emeritus at Stanford University , author of the standard work The Art of Computer Programming and originator of the typesetting system TeX .


Knuth is the son of an accounting teacher who also ran a small print shop. He attended Milwaukee Lutheran High School and began studying physics at the Case Institute of Technology (now known as Case Western Reserve University ) in September 1956. However, he chose mathematics from his sophomore year for two reasons: First, he cashed in Problem of one of his math professors, which earned him a grade of 1.0, on the other hand he did not enjoy the physics internships.

He received a bachelor's and master's degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1960 . In 1963 he received his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology at Marshall Hall , where he became an assistant professor and an associate professor in 1966 and finally a professor. In 1968 he became a professor of computer science at Stanford University . From 1977 he was there Fletcher Jones Professor of Computer Science and from 1990 Professor of the Art of Computer Programming . He has been Professor Emeritus since 1993.

1960 to 1968 he was a consultant to the Burroughs Corporation , where he wrote early compilers , among other things . In 1968/69 he was Staff Mathematician in the Communication Research Division of the Institute for Defense Analyzes .

In 2006, Knuth learned that he had early-stage prostate cancer . He underwent an operation in December of that year, followed by light radiation therapy as a preventative measure. In his video autobiography, he called the prognosis pretty good .

He has been married to Nancy Jill Carter since 1961 and has a son and daughter.


As early as 1964 he gained international fame with his design proposal for an input / output system for the programming language Algol 60 . This system has been implemented as a component in most of the Algol 60 systems.

Especially for his multi-volume work The Art of Computer Programming , on which he is still working, he created computer programs with TeX and METAFONT that enable print-ready typesetting and that are particularly used in the mathematical-academic field.

He coined the term literate programming - the conception of writing computer programs with the same care as a literary text and of combining source text and software documentation .

In this sense, he published books in which the complete source text of TeX and METAFONT is printed in sections together with explanations of the design and the mode of operation of the algorithms (using these programs). The user manuals also published contain not only operating instructions for the users of these programs ("how do I inform TeX about possible word breakings?"), But also - in more technical language and smaller font - detailed information on the functionality ("how does the word breaker algorithm work?") . They also include the specification of these programs.

In addition to Knuth's efforts to create an appealing aesthetic appearance when setting the text, correctness is a top priority for him. Therefore, for every new error found in his books or programs, he gives a reward of a "hexadecimal dollar" worth $ 2.56 (100 hexadecimal corresponds to 256 decimal). Very few of these checks have been cashed to date. Since Knuth no longer considers checks to be safe, the coveted recognition checks have been issued as personal deposits at the fictitious bank of San Serriff since 2008 .

In 1974 he described and popularized the surreal numbers introduced by John Horton Conway in his book Surreal Numbers: How Two Ex-Students Turned on to Pure Mathematics and Found Total Happiness .

He combined his preference for beautifully printed texts with his theological interest (he is Evangelical Lutheran ) in the 3:16 project when, in 1985, building on a key passage in the Bible ( John 3:16 ), he extracted chapter 3 from every book of the Bible , Verse 16 and had his own English translation of it written by different artists and published these calligraphies with his thoughts on the verses.

On January 1, 1990, Knuth announced that from now on he would no longer use an email address in order to concentrate on his work.

Knuth has been retired since 1993 to devote himself exclusively to completing The Art of Computer Programming . Volume 4A, which deals with combinatorics , has been available since February 2011 . Volumes 4B and 4C are to follow, and he hopes to complete volume 5 (of seven planned) by 2025.

In autumn 1999 he held at MIT as part of a multi-year series of lectures of prominent scientists about "God and the computer" six lectures on links between computer science and religion from his personal point of view, and took part in a final panel discussion. Their transcripts were published in his book Things a computer scientist rarely talks about .

In recent times he has publicly criticized the granting of software patents in the USA several times and has been involved in the discussion about free access to publications in scientific journals.

In the course of his further research for The Art of Computer Programming, Knuth developed a new processor architecture with associated assembler and will publish this in a future edition of the first volume (the corresponding description is already available as a preliminary version). This 64-bit architecture ( MMIX ) supports a Unix- like operating system (called NNIX ), on which the TeX interpreter could then be executed . Thus The Art of Computer Programming and Computers and Typesetting in combination with free software would be a completely self-documenting system consisting of hardware and software.

The Art of Computer Programming also contains numerous detailed mathematical historical notes; he also wrote a few essays on the history of mathematics.

Knuth is also known for his scientific jokes , for example, he wrote an article The Complexity of Songs and designed the Potrzebie system of units , in which the thickness of the 26th MAD magazine serves as an elementary unit of length. It was also his first publication in MAD magazine (issue 33) in 1957.


He is a multiple honorary doctor; from 1980 to 2005 he was awarded 25 honorary doctorates, including from the ETH Zurich (2005) and the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen (2001).

In addition, Knuth is the namesake of the Knuth Prize, which has been awarded annually since 1997 . The asteroid (21656) Knuth is named after him.

In 1992 he became a foreign member of the Académie des Sciences and in 2008 of the Russian Academy of Sciences , 1973 of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences , 1975 of the National Academy of Sciences , 2003 foreign member of the Royal Society , 1982 honorary member of the IEEE, Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and in 1981 the National Academy of Engineering . He is an associate member of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences, since 1998 a corresponding member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and since 2012 a member of the American Philosophical Society . He is a fellow of the American Mathematical Society .


  • Donald E. Knuth: Island of Numbers . A number theoretic genesis in dialogue. Vieweg and Teubner, Braunschweig 1979, ISBN 3-528-08403-0 (English: Surreal Numbers. How two ex-students turned on to pure mathematics and found total happiness. A mathematical novelette .).
  • TEX and METAFONT. New directions in typesetting . Addison-Wesley, Reading (MA) 1979, ISBN 0-932376-02-9 .
  • 3:16. Bible texts illuminated . AR Editions, Madison (Wis.) 1991, ISBN 0-89579-252-4 .
  • Literate programming . Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford (CA) 1992, ISBN 0-937073-80-6 .
  • with RL Graham and O. Patashnik: Concrete Mathematics . 2nd edition, Addison-Wesley, Reading (MA) 1994, ISBN 0-201-55802-5
  • The Art of Computer Programming . Vol. 1: Fundamental Algorithms . 3. Edition. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA 1997, ISBN 0-201-89683-4 .
  • The Art of Computer Programming . Vol. 1, Fascicle 1: MMIX - A RISC Computer for the New Millennium . 1st edition. Addison-Wesley, Upper Saddle River, NJ 2005, ISBN 0-201-85392-2 .
  • The Art of Computer Programming . Vol. 2: Seminumerical Algorithms . 3. Edition. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA 1997, ISBN 0-201-89684-2 .
  • The Art of Computer Programming . Vol. 3: Sorting and Searching . 2nd Edition. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA 1998, ISBN 0-201-89685-0 .
  • The Art of Computer Programming . Vol. 4A: Combinatorial Algorithms, Part 1 . 1st edition. Addison-Wesley, Upper Saddle River, NJ 2011, ISBN 0-201-03804-8 .
  • MMIXware. A RISC computer for the third millennium . Springer, Berlin / New York 1999, ISBN 3-540-66938-8 .
  • Arithmetic . Springer, Berlin, 2001, ISBN 3-540-66745-8 .
  • with Daniel H. Greene Mathematics for the analysis of algorithms , Birkhäuser 2007 (first 1981)
  • The TeXbook . (Computers & Typesetting, Vol. A) Addison-Wesley 1984, ISBN 0-201-13447-0 .
  • TeX: The Program. (Computers & Typesetting, Vol. B) Addison-Wesley 1986, ISBN 0-201-13437-3 .
  • The METAFONTbook. (Computers & Typesetting, Vol. C) Addison-Wesley 1986, ISBN 0-201-13445-4 .
  • METAFONT: The Program. (Computers & Typesetting, Vol. D) Addison-Wesley 1986, ISBN 0-201-13438-1 .
  • Computer Modern Typefaces. (Computers & Typesetting, Vol. E) Addison-Wesley 1986, ISBN 0-201-13446-2 .
  • The Stanford GraphBase: a platform for combinatorial computing , ACM Press, Addison-Wesley 1993
  • Digital Typography , CLSI Publications 1999 (CLSI = Center for the Study of Language and Information)
  • with Silvio Levy The CWEB System of structured documentation: version 3.0 , Addison-Wesley 1994
  • Axioms and Hulls , Springer Verlag 1992
  • Selected Papers on Computer Science , Cambridge University Press 1996
  • Selected Papers on Computer Languages , Stanford CLSI 2003
  • Selected Papers on design of algorithms , Stanford, CLSI 2010
  • Selected papers on analysis of algorithms , Stanford, CLSI 2000
  • Selected Papers on fun and games , Stanford, CLSI 2010
  • Selected Papers on discrete mathematics , Stanford, CLSI 2003
  • Things a computer scientist rarely talks about , Stanford, CLSI 2001

See also

  • Arrow Notation - a mathematical method Donald E. Knuth developed in 1976 to write very large numbers.
  • Knuth-Morris-Pratt Algorithm - a string matching algorithm named after Donald E. Knuth, James H. Morris, and Vaughan Pratt.
  • LR parser - a parser based on a method developed by Knuth
  • Buddy Technique - a technique for allocating memory to processes by Donald E. Knuth.
  • MIX (fictional computer) - a fictional, ideal computer, more precisely an abstract Von Neumann computer, which Donald E. Knuth uses to illustrate algorithms in his book The Art of Computer Programming .
  • The Complexity of Songs - a specialist article published by Donald E. Knuth and a scientific joke about the length of songs depending on the text to be learned using the methods of complexity theory .


Web links

Commons : Donald Ervin Knuth  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files


  1. FAQ on Knuth's website at Stanford University
  2. ^ Biographical notes on Donald Knuth. Retrieved November 6, 2016 .
  3. Abstract of the article by Knuth at ACM
  4. ^ Checks and Certificates Ashutosh Mehra Received
  5. ^ A b Donald Knuth: Financial Fiasco , accessed January 11, 2011
  6. a b Donald E. Knuth in the Notable Names Database (English)
  7. ^ Donald E. Knuth: Knuth versus Email , accessed November 8, 2009
  8. ^ The Art of Computer Programming (TAOCP) , personal website (Stanford University), accessed February 11, 2011
  9. D. Knuth's letter to the American patent authority (English), Mirror, accessed November 8, 2009
  10. ^ Letter to the Editorial Board of the Journal of Algorithms from October 25, 2003 (PDF; 210 kB)
  11. Prize of the BBVA Foundation ( Memento from August 19, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  12. ^ Donald Knuth honored with the Peter Karow Award