How to choose a computer book

Computer books are of various kinds. Some are instructional, teaching how to write programs. Others are general or historical, explaining how computers work and who the inventors were. Still others provide programs that can be typed into a computer (laboriously, to be sure) and run like games you buy off the shelf.

You should have a fair idea of how much the young person on your gift list already knows about computers, and whether he or she has access to a computer and is ready to write programs. It might be wise to have a chat to find out what sort of book is most desired.

Typical entries in various categories are these:

Speaking of adults, there is a comprehensive new book for parents, Help Your Child Succeed With a Computer, by Carol and Herbert Klitzner (New York: Simon & Schuster. 210 pp. $15.95). Subtitled ''Choosing and Using the Right Computer for Your Child,'' it details how computers work; how to decide whether your child needs a computer, and what kind; how to shop for such a machine, and how to keep things from getting out of hand once the computer is in the home.

How Did We Find Out About Computers? by Isaac Asimov (New York: Walker & Co. 54 pp. $8.85). Starting with numbers, addition and subtraction, and getting past the abacus and slide rule by Page 10, Dr. Asimov whizzes through the history of computers with authority and clarity. Adults who are just coming to the subject can consult this volume as profitably as children can.

The way to tell computers what to do is through programming, and BASIC is often the language beginners use for their first programs. Shelley Lipson follows up her earlier book ''It's BASIC'' with More BASIC: A Guide to Intermediate Level Computer Programming (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. 64 pp. $9.95). Eight commands are covered to implement the five taught in the first volume. Though these commands and more are always included in BASIC instructional manuals, young programmers may benefit from the well-chosen examples that are explained here line by line.

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