Lisp History

McCarthy, John. 1979. History of Lisp

Pitman, Kent. 2008. Common Lisp: the Untold Story

This paper summarizes a talk given at “Lisp50@OOPSLA,” the 50th Anniversary of Lisp workshop, Monday, October 20, 2008, an event co-located with the OOPSLA’08 in Nashville, TN, in which I offered my personal, subjective account of how I came to be involved with Common Lisp and the Common Lisp standard, and of what I learned from the process. The account highlights the role of luck in the way various details of history played out, emphasizing the importance of seizing and making the best of the chance opportunities that life presents. The account further underscores the importance of understanding the role of controlling influences such as funding and intellectual property in shaping processes and outcomes. As noted by Louis Pasteur, “chance favors the prepared mind.”

Graham, Paul. 2001. Roots of Lisp

I wrote this article to help myself understand exactly what McCarthy discovered. You don't need to know this stuff to program in Lisp, but it should be helpful to anyone who wants to understand the essence of Lisp-- both in the sense of its origins and its semantic core. The fact that it has such a core is one of Lisp's distinguishing features, and the reason why, unlike other languages, Lisp has dialects.

Guy Steele Interviews John McCarthy, Father of Lisp

Annotated Version of John McCarthy’s Paper on Lisp

A Story about Symbolics Lisp Machines

symbolics lisp machines are, with very little argument, at the top of the food chain when it comes to collectible computers. if you collect computers, and you are enormously lucky, a lisp machine would be the last computer you would ever get. they are the holy grail ... through an incredible deal between myself and some friends in high places, we purchased 3 of these machines from a very respectable man whom i dealt with directly

Garret, Ron. 2002. Lisping at JPL

This is the story of the rise and fall of Lisp at the Jet Propulsion Lab as told from my personal (and highly biased) point of view. I am not writing in my official capacity as an employee of JPL, nor am I in any way representing the official position of JPL. (This will become rather obvious shortly.)

Majorin, Kazimir. 2013. Why Didn't Dijkstra Like Lisp?

Although sometimes ambiguous, it appears that Edsger W. Dijkstra's attitude toward Lisp was more critical than enthusiastic. Dijkstra complimented Lisp on indirect way, like "it inspired many programmers". However, he wrote more directly that "LISP's syntax is so atrocious that I never understood its popularity" and "Lisp 1.5 was extremely poor language."

Majorin, Kazimir. 2013. Edsger W. Dijkstra on Lisp

This is a collection of all Edsger W. Dijkstra's (1930-2002) quotes on Lisp.

Minsky, Marvin. (Interview) – The beauty of the Lisp language

McCarthy, John. 1978. A micro-manual for Lisp - Not the whole truth

Withington, P. T. 1991. The Lisp Machine: Noble Experiment or Fabulous Failure? [pdf]

Fox, Phyllis. 1960. An Early List Program (circa Feb 1960)

A Brief History of Lisp Machines and Lispm FAQ and Oral History

2004. Talking with Mikel Evins about the Lisp-based Newton OS.

Lisp Machine Manual, Hypertext Edition

2011. The Lisp keyboards

This is an overview of legendary Lisp keyboards.

Gabriel, Richard and Steele, Guy. 1992 The Evolution of Lisp see PDF and uncut PDF and published paper A Pattern of Language Evolution.

2013. Macintosh Common Lisp

Parker, Brad. 2006. Retrocomputing - MIT CADR Lisp Machines

Graham, Paul. 2010 Lisp Quotes

Markevitch, James. 2014. Paper tape images of the "doctor" program (aka Eliza) in BBN PDP-1 LISP.

Lisp Machines in 10 documents

1960. Lisp 1 Programmers Manual

Pitman, Kent. 2002. Wolfram on Lisp

Symbolics Lispm Document Archive

Richard Stallman, Richard. My Lisp Experiences and the Development of GNU Emacs

The Genesis of Common Lisp

History of LISP

The goal of this project is to collect, preserve, and present source code, design documents, and other materials concerning the original LISP I/1.5 system, and as many of its follow-ons as possible. LISP was one of the earliest high-level programming languages and introduced many ideas such as garbage collection, recursive functions, symbolic expressions, and dynamic type-checking; it is still in use. This is a project of the Computer History Museum's Software Preservation Group.

Dijkstra, E. 1999. Computing Science: Achievements and Challenges (

Lopes, Cristina. 2014. Jedi Masters

My story begins in Episode IV, when the Galactic Empire was nearing completion of the Death Star. The Death Star was the most powerful weapon anyone had ever seen, combining the muscle power of objects, the protection of well-designed static type shields, and the ever popular curly brackets for securing wide-spread acceptance among citizens of the Galaxy. The Death Star would allow the Empire to crush the Rebel Alliance, a loose collection of powerful Jedi and Ninja. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Teller, Swizec. 2012. The birth of LISP – a summary of John McCarthy’s original paper

Bromley, Hank. 1986. Lisp lore : a guide to programming the Lisp machine

Other Lisp related articles

Who will do for Prolog what Clojure has done for Lisp?

Clemmer, Alex. 2013. Turning the Apple //e into a Lisp Machine

Lisprolog - Interpreter for a simple Lisp, written in Prolog


© 2014 T.A. Houpt. Last updated 2016-09-11.