Everything you always wanted to know about computing . . .

Excellent Introductory Survey

Nell Dale & John Lewis:   Computer Science Illuminated (fifth edition), 2012,
Jones & Bartlett Learning, ISBN 978-0-4496-7284-3, 650 pages
reviewed by Conrad Weisert, August, 2012

This is a wonderful book, well organized with clear explanations spanning a huge range of up-to-date topics. The chapters are:

Part 1: Laying the Groundwork

  1. The Big Picture

Part 2: The Information Layer

  1. Binary Values and Number Systems
  2. Data Representation

Part 3: The Hardware Layer

  1. Gates and Circuits
  2. Computing Components

Part 4: The Programming Layer

  1. Low-Level Programming Languages and Pseudo Code
  2. Problem Solving and Algorithms
  3. Abstract Data Types and Subprograms
  4. Object-Oriented Design and High-Level Programming Languages

Part 5: The Operating Systems Layer

  1. Operating Systems
  2. File Systems and Directories

Part 6: The Applications Layer

  1. Information Systems
  2. Artificial Intelligence
  3. Simulation, Graphics, Gaming

Part 7: The Communications Layer

  1. Networks
  2. The World-Wide Web
  3. Computer Security

Part 8: In Conclusion

  1. Limitations of Computing
It can be an ideal textbook for:

There's far too much material here for a single-semester course. To cover thoroughly all or most of the chapters would easily consume a full-year course. For a single semester course, a thoughtfully chosen selection of ten or so chapters could not only support any of several introductory courses but also stimulate a student's appetite for the rest of the book.

The flaws (typos, oversimplifications, trivial exercises, etc.) are minor and should not detract from the book's value, especially in a course taught by a knowledgeable instructor.

Since much of the content is specific1 to current 2012 technology, Computer Science Illuminated will unfortunately grow obsolete in coming years. We can hope the authors will continue putting out new editions, but even if they don't, I believe the fifth edition will remain interesting and informative reading a decade from now.

Supplementary material, including program code in various languages, is available from the publisher's web site.

1—Some examples and exercises are unnecessarily specific to the United States (Fahrenheit temperatures, "gas" for the fuel we put in our cars).

Highly Recommended

Last modified July 18, 2012

Return to book reviews.
table of contents.