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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

November 12, 1995|CHRIS GOODRICH

OUT OF THEIR MINDS: The Lives and Discoveries of 15 Great Computer Scientists by Dennis Shasha and Cathy Lazere (Copernicus: $23; 291 pp.) Would you like to become, or beget, a world-changing computer scientist? There aren't any hard-and-fast secrets of success, but judging from the brief biographies found in this book, computer geniuses are skeptical but broad-minded, curious and fun-loving, precocious as well as stubborn, independent to the point of being trouble-making. Don Knuth, a pioneer in computer algorithms, in eighth grade found 2,000 more solutions to a candy-bar maker's word game than the manufacturer thought existed; Daniel Hillis, a founder of massive parallel processing, designed toys for Milton Bradley while attending M.I.T. Trouble-making? Yes, if that includes twitting authority, for the inventor of FORTRAN, John Backus, hated school so much he flunked classes, while Alan C. Kay, developer of object-oriented programming, was suspended from Brooklyn Technical High for insubordination. You won't find any earth-shattering revelations in "Out of Their Minds," but Dennis Shasha and Cathy Lazere have written a friendly and informative guide to a group of scientists who have--whether we acknowledge it or not--greatly shaped the world we today take for granted.

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