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Amazon.com talks to Bjarne Stroustrup

Search for books by Bjarne Stroustrup.
You may email the author at bs@research.att.com

Amazon.com: How did you begin writing? Did you intend to become an author, or do you have a specific reason or reasons for writing each book?

B.S.: I started writing when I began having something to say. After the usual complement of technical reports, thesis, and academic papers, I graduated to books. My friends at AT&T Bell Labs pointed out that if I described C++ and its associated programming techniques carefully and reasonably completely then I would be able to spend less time answering questions. It didn't quite work out that way because "The C++ Programming Language" (first edition) became very widely read and the many new users found new and interesting questions to ask.

It seems that when I have worked for a while there comes a time when the results needs to be written down in a form that people can benefit from. I do not believe working just for one's own pleasure; ideas must be communicated to do any good. My latest book, The Design and Evolution, in particular came from an urge to explain and document ideas and techniques that are unfortunately often missed by both traditional textbooks and academic papers.

Amazon.com: What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

B.S.: For technical writing the lean, clear, and crisp style of Doug McIlroy and Brian Kernighan has always been my ideal. I read a lot of non-technical books, but I suspect that fiction and history books have had little practical effect on my style. I don't have a single favorite author or style of writing. I am partial to Danish authors such as Martin A. Hansen, Karen Blixen, and Torkil Hansen who share an apprciation of subject matter with both subtlety and clarity of expression. I appreciate the simplicity and idealism of Camus' writings and can be trapped into heavy duty reading of Dostojevski. I'm too omnivorous in SF to have a favorite author in that genre. In mystery/crime I tend to prefer "classical" authors such as Dorothy Sayers and Simenon. I probably read more history than fiction.

Amazon.com: Could you describe the mundane details of writing: How many hours a day do you devote to writing? Do you write a draft on paper or at a keyboard (typewriter or computer)? Do you have a favorite location or time of day (or night) for writing? What do you do to avoid -- or seek! -- distractions?

B.S.: I write best when I can get a week to submerge myself in the subject matter. I write directly into my machine, but before an article or a chapter is complete it will have been printed out and read from beginning to end many times. I find it essential to take a paper copy away from the machine for a thorough reading; otherwise I can get lost adding more and more details. Once I get started I can keep writing and revising until I just have to eat or sleep. Fortunately/unfortunately, my family and my "day job" prevents this from happening too often.

Amazon.com: Do you meet your readers at book signings, conventions or similar events? Do you interact with your readers electronically through e-mail or other on-line forums?

B.S.: I live on the net. I spend hours each day reading and answering email, reading newsgroups, etc. That's the way it has been for well over adecade. I go to conferences and visit universities and companies seeking feedback and experience. Anything else would be sterile. Book signings are usually too much of a Zoo to get any real interaction going.

Amazon.com: When and how did you get started on the 'Net? Do you read any newsgroups, such as rec.arts.books and rec.arts.sf.written, mailing lists or other on-line forums? Do you use the 'Net for research -- or is it just another time sink? Are you able to communicate with other writers or people you work with over the 'Net?

B.S.: I had used the net a bit before I started at AT&T Bell Labs, but since 1979 email has been a major part of my life. I feel that I can communicate effectively with people thousands of miles away and sometimes even make friends that way. Newsgroups are more problematic. They can be great, but once a group gets popular it tends to get infected by flamers, true believers, and people who haven't done their homework. Then, a group can go downhill very rapidly. I think that we still have a long way to go before we can communicate electronically in large groups the way we can face to face. It seems that some people are unable to keep in mind that the person on the other side of the net is a real person with needs, opinions, and emotions that must be respected for communication to be effective.

Amazon.com: Feel free to use this space to write about whatever you wish: your family, your home town, hobbies, favorite places, where you've lived, where you went to school, what jobs you have had, your last (or planned) vacation, your favorite color/food/pet/song or movie, what books you'd take to a desert island, what you intend to do before you die, or what you think of just about anything.

B.S.: I like to visit new places (though by now I have come to hate airplane journeys and hotel rooms). there just are so many interesting places to visit and people to meet. I'm a great fan of good food and drink in good company. I like hiking and tend to take a fair number of photographs - I consider a few worth seeing. I tend to prefer places with natural beauty or historical significance over business centers or modern cities. My recent trips include Copenhagen, Instanbul, Tokyo, and the Mohave Desert. I love the American national parks.

I was first educated in my hometown Aarhus in Denmark. After my masters degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from Aarhus University, I went to Cambridge in England and got my Ph.D. Then I moved to the US to do research in the computer science research center of AT&T Bell Labs. I'm now working in the part of Bell Labs that AT&T decided to keep: AT&T Research.

I live in Watchung, NJ, with my wife, son and daughter.

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