Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

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Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software
Code The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software.jpg
AuthorCharles Petzold
SubjectComputer architecture, computer science
PublisherMicrosoft Press
Publication date
29 September 1999

Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software (1999) is a book by Charles Petzold that seeks to teach how personal computers work at a hardware and software level. In the preface to the 2000 softcover edition, Petzold wrote that his goal was for readers to understand how computers work at a concrete level that "just might even rival that of electrical engineers and programmers".[1]

The idea of writing the book came to him in 1987 while writing a column called "PC Tutor" for PC Magazine.[2]


Petzold begins Code by discussing older technologies like Morse code, Braille, and Boolean logic, which he uses to explain vacuum tubes, transistors, and integrated circuits. He noted that "very smart people" had to go down the "dead ends" of mechanical computers and decimal computing before reaching a scalable solution—namely, the electronic, binary computer with a von Neumann architecture. The book also covers more recent developments, including topics like floating point math, operating systems, and ASCII.

The book focuses on "pre-networked computers" and does not cover concepts like distributed computing because Petzold thought that it would not be as useful for "most people using the Internet", his intended audience.[2] Specifically, he said in an interview that his "main hope" in writing Code was to impart upon his readers a "really good feeling for what a bit is, and how bits are combined to convey information".[2]


Software engineer and blogger Jeff Atwood described Code as a "love letter to the computer".[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Petzold, Charles (16 August 2000). Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software. Choice Reviews Online. 38. Microsoft Press. pp. 38–0334. doi:10.5860/choice.38-0334. ISBN 0-7356-1131-9. S2CID 60929579.
  2. ^ a b c Wall, David. " Interview: Charles Petzold". Retrieved 13 November 2019.
  3. ^ Atwood, Jeff (3 January 2007). "If Loving Computers is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right". Coding Horror. Retrieved 13 November 2019.