Algorithms--their concepts, theory, and methods--are not limited
to computer science. My recipe for making chili for dinner is an
algorithm, as are my lesson plans for my courses, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax return forms I file every April. Even my method for writing book reviews follows an algorithm. Of course, algorithms pervade
all of computing; it could be said that computing itself is essentially
a collection of algorithms. Look for a definition of the term and
you will find many general and specific examples, for example, “a set
of instructions for solving a problem or accomplishing a task.”
According to Knuth --and I’m paraphrasing here--an algorithm is an effective,
finite series of well-defined steps using specified inputs, producing
outputs related to the inputs.
The computing literature on this subject is varied and extensive,
including Sedgewick and Wayne’s classic Algorithms  and Cormen et al.’s Introduction
to algorithms , to name just two prominent examples. Author
Bradford Tuckfield adds to this collection with Dive
into algorithms, an introduction to the topic using Python that is
written for a wide audience of students, developers, and
general readers. Tuckfield, a technical writer and data scientist
at Kmbara, has also written about machine learning and
natural language processing.
The book’s first two chapters introduce the basic ideas and history
of algorithms using physical and mathematical examples, and begin
right away with Python code modeling and visualizing the required
steps. Some assumptions are made about the level of programming
and mathematical knowledge needed, although they are reasonably
The remaining chapters of the book cover some traditional algorithmic
topics such as min/max methods, sorting and searching, geometry,
language, and a bit of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).
The first technical chapter on min/max algorithms discusses and
demonstrates gradient ascent. The accompanying Python code is
generally sparse yet readable, and the author includes the required
setup instructions for Windows, MacOS, and Linux in the book’s
The chapter on sorting and searching begins a discussion of
algorithmic performance and efficiency that continues in several
of the subsequent chapters, such as the chapter on the traveling
salesman problem. The chapter on AI presents an entertaining
analysis of the dots-and-boxes game, including algorithms for
scoring and for finding winning moves.
The author concludes with a (very) brief chapter on the problem of
checking the results of algorithms and the related P=NP question.
However, the value of the book lies in the variety of application
areas presented: math functions, geometry, language, and decision
trees. Some of the more complex algorithms presented include
Python code that might be a bit challenging for beginners, but the
explanations of the required steps are generally pretty clear. The
book is certainly a worthy addition to the literature on algorithms.
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