|DANIEL D. McCRACKEN|
Daniel McCracken, 81; author helped millions use computers
NEW YORK - Daniel D. McCracken, the first best-selling author of books that taught people how to use computers, died July 30 in New York. He was 81.
The cause was cancer, according to his wife, Helen Blumenthal.
Mr. McCracken wrote his first book, “Digital Computer Programming,’’ in 1957. At the time, computers were expensive, hulking machines that were difficult to program. Getting computers to do calculations was an art mastered by only an elite community of professionals, who understood the inner workings of the big machines.
But new tools - programming languages - were being developed that would allow many more people to use computers, including engineers and businesspeople. The first such widely used programming language was Fortran, introduced in 1957. Mr. McCracken’s book “A Guide to Fortran Programming,’’ published in 1961, was his first big winner, selling 300,000 copies.
In those years, Mr. McCracken was the Stephen King of how-to programming books. His series on Fortran and Cobol, a computer language meant for use in business, were standards in the field. Mr. McCracken was the author or coauthor of more than two dozen books that sold more than 1.6 million copies and were translated into 15 languages.
In the early days, computer professionals typically fell into one of two camps: scientists or craftsmen. The scientists sought breakthroughs in hardware and software research, and pursued ambitious long-range goals, like artificial intelligence. The craftsmen wanted to use computers to work more efficiently in corporations and government agencies.
“Dan McCracken was most interested in helping ordinary practitioners improve their computing skills,’’ said Peter J. Denning, chairman of the computer science department at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
But his books are not like the how-to computer books of more recent years written for consumers, which mainly offer tips for using personal computers and smartphones. His have been used as programming textbooks in universities around the world and as reference bibles by practicing professionals.
In 1970, he earned a master of divinity degree from the Union Theological Seminary. Mr. McCracken never joined the clergy, but in 1972 he was one of four editors, with Margaret Mead, of “To Love or to Perish: The Technological Crisis and the Churches.’’
Mr. McCracken was born in 1930 in Hughesville, Mont., where his father, Albert Ray McCracken, was a mining engineer. But the mine closed during the Depression, and the family moved to Washington state.
Mr. McCracken, the youngest of six children, grew up mostly in Ellensburg, Wash., and graduated from Central Washington University with degrees in mathematics and chemistry.
In 1951, he went to work for
While at GE, Mr. McCracken began to write about computer programming, first for an in-house company publication, and later for publications like Datamation and Scientific American.
In 1981, he joined the computer science department of the City College of New York, where he taught until his death.
Mr. McCracken’s first marriage, to Evelyn Edwards, ended in divorce. Besides his wife, Helen, whom he married in 1980, he leaves seven children from his previous marriage: his sons Charles of Greenfield, Mass., and Thomas of Grand Junction, Colo.; and daughters Judith Ann Carlin and Virginia Ruth Ballou, both of Hailey, Idaho, Cynthia Jeanne Baldwin of Shoshone, Idaho, Rachel Elizabeth Bahrenfuss of Bellevue, Idaho, and Aliza Blanche McCracken of Bakersfield, Calif. He also leaves a stepson, Michael Shalom Cohen of Jersey City.