Tal Cohen's Bookshelf: A Collection of Personal Opinions about Books


Science Fiction


Computer Science

Book In-Jokes
The Fiction Collection
“I wonder... What's in a book while it's closed... Because as soon as I open it, there's a whole story with people I don't know yet and all kinds of adventure and deeds and battles... All those things are somehow shut up in a book. But it's already there, that's the funny thing. I just wish I knew how it could be.”
Michael Ende, The Neverending Story

The Science Fiction Collection
“A wild dream and a far one -- but no wilder and no farther than some of the dreams of man.”
Clifford D. Simak, City

The Non-Fiction Collection
“That's the reason they're called lessons: because they lessen from day to day.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

The Computer Science Collection
“Think of a computer program. Somewhere, there is one key instruction, and everything else is just functions calling themselves, or brackets billowing out endlessly through an infinite address space. What happens when the brackets collapse? Where's the final “END IF”? Is any of this making sense?”
Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless

Book In-Jokes

Here I try to maintain a list of book in-jokes: little jokes that most readers won't notice, hidden in otherwise serious books (for more about what "in-jokes" are, see at the end of the list).

I'll need your help: if you find any such in-jokes, let me know. Please include the word “injoke” in the subject.

The books are listed in no particular order.

The Java Programming Language
by Ken Arnold, James Goslingand Davlid Holmes
(3rd edition, Addison-Wesley, 2000)

In the index, we find (p. 579):
IndexOutOfBoundsException: 30, 196, 210, 596
The book is only 595 pages long.

This entry was contributed by Jonathan Lange.
[Added 2000-01-01]
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by Leslie Lamport
(Addison-Wesley, 1986)

On page 221, which is the index, we find the following entry:
Gilkerson, Ellen     221
Ellen Gilkerson, who is Lamport's significant other, is not mentioned anywhere else in the book.

The chapter called “The Game of the Name” explains that the word “LaTeX” can be pronounced in any way you want. This is a reference to Knuth's The TeX Book, where there's a chapter called “The Name of the Game”, giving the exact guidelines for pronouncing the word “TeX”.

Special thanks to Bernd Baumgarten and Daniel Abraham for contributing these items.
[Added 2000-01-01]
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Model Theory
by C.C. Chang and H.J. Keisler
(North-Holland Publishing Co., 1973)

In the Preface, at the bottom of page vi, is the following, a reference to Russell's Paradox in set theory:
For the amusement of all those who gave us help, we dedicate our book to all model theorists who have never dedicated a book to themselves.
Special thanks to James J. Dukarm for contributing this one.
[Added 2000-01-01]
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Oracle 7 Server Administrator's Guide
by Steven Bobrowski et. al.
(Oracle Corporation)

On page 14 of the index there is an entry that looks like it is about the ability to read data that has been changed by an uncommitted transaction, a “dirty read”:
Dirty reads
    done dirt cheap     D-1
Of course there is nothing about dirty reads in appendix page D-1. This appears to be a reference to the song Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap by AC/DC.

Special thanks to Alan Bardsley for contributing this item.
[Added 2000-01-01]
Discuss this entry... Comments so far: 1

What are in-jokes? “In-jokes,” or “inside jokes,” are jokes whose humor is clear only to members of a certain group, and not the general audience. For example, in-jokes in textbooks will often be understood mostly by people fluent in the subject matter. Other cases include jokes targeted at an even smaller population, even as small as the author's family.

In computer science books, many in-jokes deal with self reference; others deal with loops, and others still are about repeated ideas. But of course, there are many other kinds, including obscure references to other works of art.

This list includes not only in-jokes per-se, but also jokes that hide in a book's appendices, in the index, in the “solutions” sections of textbooks, and other infrequently-read parts of books.

In-jokes count as such only when they aappear in otherwise serious books -- not jokes in generally comical books. Certain books, like Gödel, Escher, Bach or The Cyberiad, are loaded with jokes -- but mostly, these are obvious puns, word-games, and suchlike rather than in-jokes. So most jokes from GEB won't qualify. (Two examples that do qualify are listed here.)

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