The biggest hit for me while at SAIL in late ’69 was to really understand LISP. Of course, every student knew about car, cdr, and cons, but Utah was impoverished in that no one there used LISP and hence, no one had penetrated the mysteries of eval and apply. I could hardly believe how beautiful and wonderful the idea of LISP was [McCarthy 1960]. I say it this way because LISP had not only been around enough to get some honest barnacles, but worse, there were deep flaws in its logical foundations. By this, I mean that the pure language was supposed to be based on functions, but its most important components—such as lambda expressions quotes, and conds –were not functions at all, and instead were called special forms. Landin and others had been able to get quotes and cons in terms of lambda by tricks that were variously clever and useful, but the flaw remained in the jewel. In the practical language things were better. There were not just EXPRs (which evaluated their arguments, but FEXPRs (which did not). My next questions was, why on earth call it a functional language? Why not just base everything on FEXPRs and force evaluation on the receiving side when needed? I could never get a good answer, but the question was very helpful when it came time to invent Smalltalk, because this started a line of thought that said “take the hardest and most profound thing you need to do, make it great, and then build every easier thing out of it”. That was the promise of LiSP and the lure of lambda – needed was a better “hardest and most profound” thing. Objects should be it.
Alan Kay, “The Early History of Smalltalk”