Knuth was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to German-Americans Ervin Henry Knuth and Louise Marie Bohning. His father owned a small printing business and taught bookkeeping. Donald, a student at Milwaukee Lutheran High School, thought of ingenious ways to solve problems. For example, in eighth grade, he entered a contest to find the number of words that the letters in "Ziegler's Giant Bar" could be rearranged to create; the judges had identified 2,500 such words. With time gained away from school due to a pretend stomach ache, and working the problem the other way, Knuth used an unabridged dictionary and determined if each dictionary entry could be formed using the letters in the phrase. Using this algorithm, he identified over 4,500 words, winning the contest. As prizes, the school received a new television and enough candy bars for all of his schoolmates to eat.
In 1958, Knuth created a program to help his school's basketball team win their games. He assigned "values" to players in order to gauge their probability of getting points, a novel approach that Newsweek and CBS Evening News later reported on.
Knuth was one of the founding editors of Case Institute's Engineering and Science Review, which won a national award as best technical magazine in 1959. He then switched from physics to mathematics, and received two degrees from Case in 1960: his bachelor of science degree, and simultaneously a master of science by a special award of the faculty, who considered his work exceptionally outstanding.
After receiving his PhD, Knuth joined Caltech's faculty as an assistant professor.
He accepted a commission to write a book on computer programming languagecompilers. While working on this project, Knuth decided that he could not adequately treat the topic without first developing a fundamental theory of computer programming, which became The Art of Computer Programming. He originally planned to publish this as a single book. As Knuth developed his outline for the book, he concluded that he required six volumes, and then seven, to thoroughly cover the subject. He published the first volume in 1968.
In 1967, Knuth attended a Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics conference and someone asked what he did. At the time, computer science was partitioned into numerical analysis, artificial intelligence and programming languages. Based on his study and The Art of Computer Programming book, Knuth decided the next time someone asked he would say, "Analysis of algorithms."
Knuth then left his position to join the Stanford University faculty in 1969, where he is now Fletcher Jones Professor of Computer Science, Emeritus.
Knuth is a writer, as well as a computer scientist.
The Art of Computer Programming (TAOCP)
In the 1970s, Knuth described computer science as "a totally new field with no real identity. And the standard of available publications was not that high. A lot of the papers coming out were quite simply wrong. ... So one of my motivations was to put straight a story that had been very badly told." By 2011, the first three volumes and part one of volume four of his series had been published.Concrete Mathematics: A Foundation for Computer Science 2nd ed., which originated with an expansion of the mathematical preliminaries section of Volume 1 of TAoCP, has also been published. In April 2020, Knuth said he is hard at work on part B of volume 4, and he anticipates that the book will have at least parts A through F.
Knuth is also the author of Surreal Numbers, a mathematical novelette on John Conway's set theory construction of an alternate system of numbers. Instead of simply explaining the subject, the book seeks to show the development of the mathematics. Knuth wanted the book to prepare students for doing original, creative research.
Knuth has also appeared in a number of Numberphile and Computerphile videos on YouTube where he has discussed topics from writing Surreal Numbers to why he doesn't use email.
Works regarding his religious beliefs
In addition to his writings on computer science, Knuth, a Lutheran, is also the author of 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated, in which he examines the Bible by a process of systematic sampling, namely an analysis of chapter 3, verse 16 of each book. Each verse is accompanied by a rendering in calligraphic art, contributed by a group of calligraphers under the leadership of Hermann Zapf. Subsequently, he was invited to give a set of lectures at MIT on his views religion and computer science behind his 3:16 project, resulting in another book, Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About, where he published the lectures "God and Computer Science".
In the 1970s the publishers of TAOCP abandoned Monotype in favor of phototypesetting. Knuth became so frustrated with the inability of the latter system to approach the quality of the previous volumes, which were typeset using the older system, that he took time out to work on digital typesetting and created TeX and Metafont.
While developing TeX, Knuth created a new methodology of programming, which he called literate programming, because he believed that programmers should think of programs as works of literature. "Instead of imagining that our main task is to instruct a computer what to do, let us concentrate rather on explaining to human beings what we want a computer to do."
Knuth embodied the idea of literate programming in the WEB system. The same WEB source is used to weave a TeX file, and to tangle a Pascal source file. These in their turn produce a readable description of the program and an executable binary respectively. A later iteration of the system, CWEB, replaces Pascal with C.
Knuth used WEB to program TeX and METAFONT, and published both programs as books: The TeXbook, which is originally published in 1984, and The METAFONTbook, which is originally published in 1986. Around the same time, LaTeX, the now-widely-adopted macro package based on TeX, was first developed by Leslie Lamport, who later published its first user manual in 1986.
Donald Knuth married Nancy Jill Carter on 24 June 1961, while he was a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology. They have two children: John Martin Knuth and Jennifer Sierra Knuth.
Knuth's Chinese name is Gao Dena (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: G?o dé nà). In 1977, he was given this name by Frances Yao, shortly before making a 3-week trip to China. In his 1980 volume of The Art of Computer Programming (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Jìsuànj? chéngxù shèjì yìshù), Knuth explains that he embraced his Chinese name because he wanted to be known by the growing numbers of computer programmers in China at the time. In 1989, his Chinese name was placed atop the Journal of Computer Science and Technology header, which Knuth says "makes me feel close to all Chinese people although I cannot speak your language".
In 2006, Knuth was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He underwent surgery in December that year and stated, "a little bit of radiation therapy ... as a precaution but the prognosis looks pretty good", as he reported in his video autobiography.
Knuth used to pay a finder's fee of $2.56 for any typographical errors or mistakes discovered in his books, because "256 pennies is one hexadecimal dollar", and $0.32 for "valuable suggestions". According to an article in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review, these Knuth reward checks are "among computerdom's most prized trophies". Knuth had to stop sending real checks in 2008 due to bank fraud, and instead now gives each error finder a "certificate of deposit" from a publicly listed balance in his fictitious "Bank of San Serriffe".
He once warned a correspondent, "Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it."
Knuth published his first "scientific" article in a school magazine in 1957 under the title "The Potrzebie System of Weights and Measures". In it, he defined the fundamental unit of length as the thickness of Mad No. 26, and named the fundamental unit of force "whatmeworry". Mad published the article in issue No. 33 (June 1957).
When DEK taught Concrete Mathematics at Stanford for the first time, he explained the somewhat strange title by saying that it was his attempt to teach a math course that was hard instead of soft. He announced that, contrary to the expectations of his colleagues, he was not going to teach the Theory of Aggregates, nor Stone's Embedding Theorem, nor even the Stone-?ech compactification. (Several students from the civil engineering department got up and quietly left the room.)
At the TUG 2010 Conference, Knuth announced a satirical XML-based successor to TeX, titled "iTeX" (pronounced [i:t?ks], performed with a bell ringing), which would support features such as arbitrarily scaled irrational units, 3D printing, input from seismographs and heart monitors, animation, and stereophonic sound.
Fellow of the Computer History Museum "for his fundamental early work in the history of computing algorithms, development of the TeX typesetting language, and for major contributions to mathematics and computer science." 1998
Donald E. Knuth, Selected Papers on Design of Algorithms (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information--CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 191), 2010. ISBN1-57586-583-1 (cloth), ISBN1-57586-582-3 (paperback)
Donald E. Knuth, Companion to the Papers of Donald Knuth (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information--CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 202), 2011. ISBN978-1-57586-635-2 (cloth), ISBN978-1-57586-634-5 (paperback)
Donald E. Knuth, MMIXware: A RISC Computer for the Third Millennium (Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag-- Lecture Notes in Computer Science, no. 1750), 1999. viii+550pp. ISBN978-3-540-66938-8
Donald E. Knuth and Silvio Levy, The CWEB System of Structured Documentation (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley), 1993. iv+227pp. ISBN0-201-57569-8. Third printing 2001 with hypertext support, ii + 237 pp.
Donald E. Knuth, Tracy L. Larrabee, and Paul M. Roberts, Mathematical Writing (Washington, D.C.: Mathematical Association of America), 1989. ii+115pp
Daniel H. Greene and Donald E. Knuth, Mathematics for the Analysis of Algorithms (Boston: Birkhäuser), 1990. viii+132pp.
Donald E. Knuth, Mariages Stables: et leurs relations avec d'autres problèmes combinatoires (Montréal: Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal), 1976. 106pp.
Donald E. Knuth, Axioms and Hulls (Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag--Lecture Notes in Computer Science, no. 606), 1992. ix+109pp. ISBN3-540-55611-7
^ abKnuth, Donald Ervin (1980). (Ji suan ji cheng xu she ji ji qiao) [The Art of Computer Programming]. Translated by Guan, JiWen; Su, Yunlin. Beijing: Defense Industry Publishing Co. I fondly hope that many Chinese computer programmers will learn to recognize my Chinese name Gao Dena, which was given to me by Francis Yao just before I visited your country in 1977. I still have very fond memories of that three-week visit, and I have been glad to see Gao Dena on the masthead of the Journal of Computer Science and Technology since 1989. This name makes me feel close to all Chinese people although I cannot speak your language.