The explanation of how a basic instruction gets executed on a computer is a great tour through several levels of abstraction:

Most new microcoders, on their first job, have the odd feeling that what they’re doing can’t possible be real. “I didn’t fully believe, until I saw it work, that microcode wasn’t just a lie,” …. At the level of the microcode, physical and abstract meet. The microcode controls the actual circuits. (p. 97ff.)

Two other memorable sections of the book are:

  • Page 177, when a programmer is discussing leaving a previous employer: “I thought I’d get a really dumb job. I found out dumb jobs don’t work. You come home too tired to do anything.”
  • Pages 240-241 on technological unemployment and machine intelligence:

[Norbert Weiner] wrote that because of the development of the “ultra-rapid computing machine,… the average human being of mediocre attainments or less” might end up having “nothing to sell that is worth anyone’s money to buy.” …

[A young engineer] said he beleived in a time when the machines would “take over.” … He seemed immensely please with that thought. To me, though, the prospects for truly intelligent computers looked comfortably dim.

Reading the author’s writing is a consistent delight. For two other great books of his, see House and A Truck Full of Money.