Richard Wesley Hamming (1915 – 1998) was an American mathematician and computer scientist who contributed to coding and information theory, digital filters, and numerical methods. Best known for the invention of Error Correcting Codes, he was a true polymath who applied his mathematical and problem-solving skills to numerous disciplines.
Whether you are interested in the History of Science and Mathematics in the 20th century, how Richard Wesley Hamming developed his insight and innovation, or the timeless lessons he left all of us - you will find this a fascinating story.
The thesis of this book occurred to me in 2017 as I was organizing some of my 35-year-old graduate school papers and reread a personal letter from Hamming. Reflecting on the significant benefits I received from Hamming, I decided to develop a tribute to his legacy. There has not been a previous biography of Hamming, and the few articles about him restate known facts and assumptions and leave us with open questions.
One thought drove me as I developed this legacy project: An individual's legacy is more than a list of their attempts and accomplishments. Their tribute should also reveal the succeeding generations they inspired and enabled and what each attempted and achieved.
This book is a unique genre containing my version of a biography that intertwines the story "of a life" and a multi-player memoir with particular events and turning points recalled by those, including me, who he inspired and enabled.
Five years of research uncovered the people, places, opportunities, events, and influences that shaped Hamming. I discovered unpublished information, stories, photographs, videos, and personal remembrances to chronicle his life, which helped me put Hamming's legacy in the context I wanted. The result demonstrates many exceptional qualities, including his noble pursuit of excellence and helping others. Hamming paid attention to the details, his writings continue to influence, and his guidance is a timeless gift to the world. This biography is part of my tribute.
COMMENTS ABOUT THIS BOOK AND RICHARD WESLEY HAMMING
"The research reported in this book is extensive, the organization is effective, and the narrative is enjoyable to read. Very few researchers or professors have such a complete biography, which is a fitting tribute to this distinguished scholar."
- Hersch Loomis, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the Naval Postgraduate School.
"As is true of very intelligent men, Hamming was able to explain the most difficult problem in simple terms to me, the person in the room with the non-scientific mind. I'm sure you have heard the saying, ‘Little men discuss people, ordinary men discuss events, great men discuss ideas.” Dick discussed ideas."
- Shirley Loomis, a longtime friend.
"Dick Hamming was a true original. He often said that he was just an ordinary person, but one who thought all the time about his life and how to make the most of it. And that he did.”
- Brian Kernighan, a co-worker at AT&T Bell Labs and a
Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Princeton University.
"Richard Wesley Hamming was one of the twentieth century's great thinkers. He paid attention. Early in life, he decided that the best way to make great contributions was to pay attention to great contributors and learn from their examples. By studying the actions of immensely talented scientists and engineers, he observed patterns that led to successful accomplishments. Anecdotes relay his insights, perhaps best summed up by his favorite saying from Louis Pasteur: 'Luck favors the prepared mind.' Hamming's lessons and encouragement deserve study by every aspiring scientist and engineer looking to broaden human knowledge, thereby making the world better, through their research."
- Donald Brutzman, a professor at NPS and former student.
“This book presents Richard Wesley Hamming's life story, including his pursuit of excellence, significant accomplishments, and enduring gifts. Written by his protégé, this tribute biography includes unpublished details about the people, places, projects, and events that most influenced him and the individuals he, in turn, inspired and enabled.
Whether you are interested in the History of Science and Mathematics in the 20th Century, how Hamming achieved his successes, or just learning the valuable lessons he has left all of us for our future - you will find this a fascinating and motivational biography.”
- From the Publisher.
“If you don’t work on important problems, it’s not likely that you’ll do important work.”
“The Purpose of Computing is insight, not numbers.”
“It is better to do the right problem the wrong way, than the wrong problem the right way.”
- Richard Wesley Hamming
“A person’s legacy should not be limited to just what they attempt and accomplish in their lifetime; it should include what is attempted and accomplished by succeeding generations of individuals that they helped enable.” - Martin Mandelberg