Book Review: Exploring a world of Brown Dogs and Barbers

By Roger Davies

Have you ever studied Computer Science? If not, teacher Roger Davies, who teaches at Queen Elizabeth School, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria urges you to read a wonderful new book.

Karl Beecher's Brown Dogs & Barbers is available in paperback and Kindle versions

What’s Computer Science all about? Most people are able to give specific examples of things to do with Computing – networks, bits and binary, Boolean logic, programming and so forth. But if, like me, you have no formal education in Computer Science it’s difficult to begin to appreciate the discipline as a whole; how the different things fit together. Indeed, in the early years of Computing at School (CAS) we had plenty of discussions about what the subject should look like at school level. Now there is a National Curriculum and at higher levels, GCSE and A Level syllabi that specify what to teach. Unfortunately, subject specifications, aside from being as dry as a pot noodle, tend to break the discipline down, fragmenting rather than uniting it. If you want to grasp the deep concepts underlying the discipline, what’s needed is a book that weaves a unifying thread through seemingly disparate themes.

Welcome to Karl Beecher’s world of ‘Brown Dogs and Barbers’. This book could not have come at a better time, nor be better pitched. Aimed squarely at the intelligent layperson, it requires no prior expertise and sits within the genre of popular science. Teachers, parents and older students will find it an invaluable introduction to key concepts and their practical application. It tells the story of how a new discipline, a new science was born. Arranged in six sections, each with chapters rarely more than five pages long, it is a book to engage even reluctant readers.

You can’t understand where technology is going unless you appreciate where it came from. Karl Beecher recalls the often humorous history of computers in an easy, engaging style. He traces the pursuit of solutions to, at times, seemingly impossible problems. Most important, the technical advances are kept firmly in their place. The book is not really about technology at all - it’s about the ideas and problems thrown up by its explosive development. As he eloquently shows, Computer Science was forged in the crucible of Maths rather than Physics. Chapter 1 will have you reasoning about the problem of computing a square root. By Chapter 2 you’ll be pondering the semantics and logic of the Liar Paradox.

Brown Dogs and Barbers puts the cerebral challenges at the heart of the story of subsequent developments. There are bridges in Königsberg to cross, philosophers invited to dinner, traffic control problems to solve, jobs to schedule, message thieves to thwart and, of course, brown dogs and barbers. By the end of the book you not only have a real feel for the scope of the discipline but also a thorough grounding in the ideas that make your gadgets and networks tick. If you have no background in Computer Science, this book will be a revelation. And if you think you know what Computer Science is about, this book will invoke connections you’d never considered before.

Rating: 5/5

One line review: The first book to read to grasp the key ideas behind Computer Science – accessible to everyone.

Click here for more details about the book, and a free sample:

Click here to buy the book: Brown Dogs and Barbers: What's Computer Science All About?

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About Roger Davies

Roger DaviesRoger is the Director of IT at Queen Elizabeth School, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria. He worked in the printing industry before becoming a Design & Technology teacher in Inner London. He started teaching IT in 1991 and drifted into teaching A level Computing almost by accident. His educational interest grew out of seeing the impact 'computational thought' can have for developing thinking skills in all children. Roger edits the CAS termly magazine, SwitchedOn*. Being largely self taught he empathises with teachers today who find themselves starting to teach Computing with little background knowledge.

* SwitchedOn is the termly magazine of Computing At School (CAS). Issue 17 will be out in May. Hard copies are distributed through local CAS hubs. To find your nearest one, sign up to the CAS Community (free) at . Pdf copies of all previous issues can be downloaded from

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