Knuth is the author of the multi-volume work The Art of Computer Programming. He contributed to the development of the rigorous analysis of the computational complexity of algorithms and systematized formal mathematical techniques for it. In the process, he also popularized the asymptotic notation. In addition to fundamental contributions in several branches of theoretical computer science, Knuth is the creator of the TeX computer typesetting system, the related METAFONT font definition language and rendering system, and the Computer Modern family of typefaces.
Donald Knuth was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Ervin Henry Knuth and Louise Marie Bohning.^{[6]} He describes his heritage as "Midwestern Lutheran German".^{[7]}^{: 66 } His father owned a small printing business and taught bookkeeping.^{[8]} While a student at Milwaukee Lutheran High School, Knuth 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 fake stomachache Knuth used an unabridged dictionary and determined whether each dictionary entry could be formed using the letters in the phrase. Using this algorithm, he identified over 4,500 words, winning the contest.^{[7]}^{: 3 } As prizes, the school received a new television and enough candy bars for all of his schoolmates to eat.^{[9]}^{[10]}
Knuth received a scholarship in physics to the Case Institute of Technology (now part of Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland, Ohio, enrolling in 1956.^{[11]} He also joined the Beta Nu Chapter of the Theta Chi fraternity. While studying physics at Case, Knuth was introduced to the IBM 650, an early commercial computer. After reading the computer's manual, Knuth decided to rewrite the assembly and compiler code for the machine used in his school because he believed he could do it better.^{[12]}
In 1958, Knuth created a program to help his school's basketball team win its games.^{[13]} He assigned "values" to players in order to gauge their probability of scoring points, a novel approach that Newsweek and CBS Evening News later reported on.^{[12]}
Knuth was one of the founding editors of the Case Institute's Engineering and Science Review, which won a national award as best technical magazine in 1959.^{[14]}^{[15]} He then switched from physics to mathematics, and received two degrees from Case in 1960:^{[11]} his Bachelor of Science, and simultaneously a master of science by a special award of the faculty, who considered his work exceptionally outstanding.^{[4]}^{[12]}
In 1963, with mathematician Marshall Hall as his adviser,^{[2]} he earned a PhD in mathematics from the California Institute of Technology, with a thesis titled Finite Semifields and Projective Planes.^{[16]}
In 1963, after receiving his PhD, Knuth joined Caltech's faculty as an assistant professor.^{[17]}
Knuth accepted a commission to write a book on computer programming languagecompilers. While working on this project, he 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, but as he 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.^{[18]}
In 1969, Knuth left his position at Princeton to join the Stanford University faculty,^{[21]} where he became Fletcher Jones Professor of Computer Science in 1977. He became Professor of The Art of Computer Programming in 1990, and has been emeritus since 1993.^{[22]}^{[23]}
"The best way to communicate from one human being to another is through story."
— Donald Knuth^{[20]}
In the 1970s, Knuth called computer science "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."^{[24]}
From 1972 to 1973, Knuth spent a year at the University of Oslo among people such as Ole-Johan Dahl. This is where he had originally intended to write the seventh volume in his book series, which was to deal with programming languages. But Knuth had finished only the first two volumes when he came to Oslo, and thus spent the year on the third volume, next to teaching. The third volume came out just after Knuth returned to Stanford in 1973.^{[25]}
By 2011, Volume 4A had been published.^{[18]}Concrete Mathematics: A Foundation for Computer Science 2nd ed., which originated with an expansion of the mathematical preliminaries section of Volume 1 of TAoCP, was published in 1994. In April 2020, Knuth said he anticipated that Volume 4 will have at least parts A through F.^{[20]} Volume 4B was published in October 2022.
Knuth is also the author of Surreal Numbers,^{[26]} 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 also appears in a number of Numberphile^{[30]} and Computerphile videos on YouTube, where he discusses topics from writing Surreal Numbers^{[31]} to why he does not use email.^{[32]}
In addition to his writings on computer science, Knuth, a Lutheran,^{[33]} is also the author of 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated,^{[34]} 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 led by Hermann Zapf. Knuth was invited to give a set of lectures at MIT on the views on 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.^{[35]}
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.^{[38]}
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.^{[39]}
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, C++, and Java.^{[40]}
Knuth used WEB to program TeX and METAFONT, and published both programs as books, both originally published the same year: TeX: The Program (1986); and METAFONT: The Program (1986).^{[41]} 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.^{[42]}
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.^{[43]}
Knuth is an organist and a composer. He and his father served as organists for Lutheran congregations. Knuth and his wife have a 16-rank organ in their home.^{[46]} In 2016 he completed a piece for organ, Fantasia Apocalyptica, which he calls a "translation of the Greek text of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine into music". It was premièred in Sweden on January 10, 2018.^{[47]}
Knuth's Chinese name is Gao Dena (simplified Chinese: 高德纳; traditional Chinese: 高德納; pinyin: Gāo Dénà).^{[48]}^{[3]} He was given this name in 1977 by Frances Yao shortly before making a three-week trip to China.^{[3]}^{[49]} In the 1980 Chinese translation of Volume 1 of The Art of Computer Programming (simplified Chinese: 计算机程序设计艺术; traditional Chinese: 計算機程式設計藝術; pinyin: Jìsuànjī 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's header, which Knuth says "makes me feel close to all Chinese people although I cannot speak your language".^{[49]}
In 2006, Knuth was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He underwent surgery in December that year and said, "a little bit of radiation therapy ... as a precaution but the prognosis looks pretty good" in his video autobiography.^{[50]}
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 now gives each error finder a "certificate of deposit" from a publicly listed balance in his fictitious "Bank of San Serriffe".^{[51]}
He once warned a correspondent, "Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it."^{[3]}
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).^{[52]}^{[53]}
To demonstrate the concept of recursion, Knuth intentionally referred "Circular definition" and "Definition, circular" to each other in the index of The Art of Computer Programming, Volume 1.
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–Čech 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[iː˨˩˦tɛks˧˥], 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.^{[54]}^{[55]}^{[56]}
Knuth was elected a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society (DFBCS) in 1980 in recognition of his contributions to the field of computer science.^{[57]}
In 1990, he was awarded the one-of-a-kind academic title Professor of The Art of Computer Programming; the title has since been revised to Professor Emeritus of The Art of Computer Programming.
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^{[69]}
Asteroid 21656 Knuth, named in his honor in May 2001^{[70]}^{[71]}
——— (2008). The Art of Computer Programming. Vol. 4, Fascicle 0: Introduction to Combinatorial Algorithms and Boolean Functions. ISBN978-0-321-53496-5.
——— (2009). The Art of Computer Programming. Vol. 4, Fascicle 1: Bitwise Tricks & Techniques, Binary Decision Diagrams. Addison-Wesley. ISBN978-0-321-58050-4.
——— (2005). The Art of Computer Programming. Vol. 4, Fascicle 2: Generating All Tuples and Permutations. Addison-Wesley. ISBN978-0-201-85393-3.
——— (2005). The Art of Computer Programming. Vol. 4, Fascicle 3: Generating All Combinations and Partitions. ISBN978-0-201-85394-0.
——— (2006). The Art of Computer Programming. Vol. 4, Fascicle 4: Generating All Trees—History of Combinatorial Generation. Addison-Wesley. ISBN978-0-321-33570-8.
——— (2018). The Art of Computer Programming. Vol. 4, Fascicle 5: Mathematical Preliminaries Redux, Backtracking, Dancing Links. ISBN978-0-134-67179-6.
——— (2015). The Art of Computer Programming. Vol. 4, Fascicle 6: Satisfiability. ISBN978-0-134-39760-3.
Computers and Typesetting (all books are hardcover unless otherwise noted):
——— (1984). Computers & Typesetting. Vol. A, The TeXbook. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. ISBN978-0-201-13447-6., x+483pp.
——— (1996). Selected Papers on Computer Science. Lecture Notes. Stanford, CA: Center for the Study of Language and Information—CSLI. ISBN978-1-881526-91-9.^{[78]}
——— (2003). Selected Papers on Computer Languages. Lecture Notes. Stanford, CA: Center for the Study of Language and Information—CSLI. ISBN978-1-57586-381-8., ISBN1-57586-382-0 (paperback)^{[81]}
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)^{[83]}
Donald E. Knuth, Selected Papers on Fun and Games (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information—CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 192), 2011. ISBN978-1-57586-585-0 (cloth), ISBN978-1-57586-584-3 (paperback)^{[84]}
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)^{[85]}
Knuth, Donald Ervin (1974). Surreal numbers: how two ex-students turned on to pure mathematics and found total happiness: a mathematical novelette. Addison-Wesley. ISBN978-0-201-03812-5.^{[26]}
Donald E. Knuth, The Stanford GraphBase: A Platform for Combinatorial Computing (New York, ACM Press) 1993. second paperback printing 2009. ISBN0-321-60632-9
Donald E. Knuth, 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated (Madison, Wisconsin: A-R Editions), 1990. ISBN0-89579-252-4
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 ISBN978-0883850633
Daniel H. Greene and Donald E. Knuth, Mathematics for the Analysis of Algorithms (Boston: Birkhäuser), 1990. viii+132pp. ISBN978-0817647285
Donald E. Knuth, Mariages Stables: et leurs relations avec d'autres problèmes combinatoires (Montréal: Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal), 1976. 106pp. ISBN978-0840503428
Donald E. Knuth, Stable Marriage and Its Relation to Other Combinatorial Problems: An Introduction to the Mathematical Analysis of Algorithms. ISBN978-0821806036
Donald E. Knuth, Axioms and Hulls (Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag—Lecture Notes in Computer Science, no. 606), 1992. ix+109pp. ISBN3-540-55611-7
^Knuth, Donald (2011). Selected Papers on Fun and Games. Center for the Study of Language and Information—CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 192. p. 400. ISBN978-1-57586-584-3.
^Knuth, Donald Ervin (2001). Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About. Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information Publications. ISBN978-1-57586-326-9.
^"All Questions Answered"(PDF). Notices (article). March 2002. Archived(PDF) from the original on April 30, 2019. Retrieved March 26, 2020.
^Knuth, Donald Ervin. "Against software patents"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on September 24, 2015. Retrieved February 1, 2020Letter((cite web)): CS1 maint: postscript (link) to the patent offices in the USA and Europe.
^Reutenauer, Arthur. "A brief history of TeX, volume II". TUGboat: 68–72. ISSN0896-3207.
^ ^{a}^{b}Knuth, Donald Ervin (1980). 计算机程序设计技巧 (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.
^Knuth, Don (2010). "TUG". Zeeba TV. Archived from the original on March 25, 2016. Retrieved March 26, 2020conference((cite web)): CS1 maint: postscript (link)
Platoni, Kara; Archibald, Timothy (May–June 2006). "Love at First Byte". Stanford Magazine. Archived from the original on September 25, 2006. Retrieved May 18, 2006.