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On Lisp

July 9th, 2009 by Martijn Leave a reply »

Currently reading: On Lisp by Paul Graham, also available online as HTML at Shame on me for never having written any lisp (except for some basic Autocad scripts at the university) despite my interest in AI matters.

This book explains in great depth not how to write Lisp code (in fact, it assumes basic knowledge of the language), but rather the Lisp approach to programming, and what distinguishes it from other languages. The tone is often amusingly defensive, and the author hardly ever misses an opportunity¬† to show the superiority of its pet language in comparison to others. Despite the subjectivity, it’s an enlightening read. Approaches to programming that are usually taken for granted are reversed: bottom-up instead of top-down, iterative construction instead of planning, functional instead of OO (although the latter is becoming popular again ). Some advanced and hard-to-implement-in-other-languages concepts like continuations and non-deterministic algorithms (illustrated with a parser and a prolog implementation) are treated.

The code examples are mainly in Common Lisp. After reading a great part of this book, I feel I still dislike the parentheses jungle and the overall look of Lisp code (and emacs !), but the concepts are very refreshing (despite Lisp’s venerable age!) and merit to be kept in mind. Hmmm. Javascript.


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