Lisp is as Popular as Harry Potter?

Posted by: Rea Maor In: Programming - Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

Either somebody’s playing an awfully elaborate practical joke or the popular media is a lot geekier that I thought it would be. But when I had Harry Potter on the brain this morning and went to check the blogosphere buzz about the Amazon.com bestseller’s list, I was stunned to see “Lisp in Small Pieces” as the #2 bestseller.

Amazon listing Harry Potter and Lisp side by side

You know, Lisp, the geeky programming language with the funny name idolized by computer science eggheads everywhere? Yes, (car (cdr Amazon-bestseller-list)) returns a book about Lisp programming today.

The mystique of Lisp is that it’s so popular with programming theorists and so rare anywhere else. Everybody who uses it raves about it, but what do they use to write operating systems? Assembler and C. Is BitTorrent written in Lisp? Nope, Python. Are enterprise middle-ware systems or large applications done in Lisp? More likely Java and C++. On the server? No, PHP and Perl rule the roost there, with a nod to ASP. In the web browser? That’s all about Javascript and AJAX these days. Even in the category of “hip” languages, Ruby hogs the spotlight.

If Lisp is so wonderful, how come nobody uses it for anything significant? Even if Richard Stallman has said “LISP being the most powerful and cleanest of languages, that’s the language that the GNU project always prefers.”, at least 95% of the GNU-licensed software you’ll find out there is not written in Lisp. The biggest place you see Lisp happening is the interpreter in the Emacs editor and a variant of Lisp, known as Scheme, used to write plug-ins for the Gimp. After that, there’s Paul Graham, who’s as close to a Lisp missionary as you can get.

Lisp seems to be more of an ideal to strive for. It’s been said many times that while we don’t use Lisp itself, half the programming languages out there today implement Lisp’s ideas in some measure. But I think I still won’t take it seriously until I actually see a deployment for every article praising it. Until then, it’s going to retain the mystique of the Unicorn – not to be found in the wild, but with thousands of fans worldwide anyway.


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2 Responses to “Lisp is as Popular as Harry Potter?”

  1. Sunday’s Spam | Computer related blog - Linux Windows Unix system and Making money online Says:

    […] Can’t you read? 6. 10 Minutes in a car accident – Toyota Hilux + Mazda 3 = Picasso 7. Lisp is as popular as Harry Potter? – Finally, all hail Lisp. 8. Social News Headlines – an interpretation about […]

  2. Zabba Says:

    Lisp and PROLOG are the mainstream programming languages for AI.

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