I'm moving away from map, reduce and filter in favour of list comprehensions. I like list comps but I feel like this is getting on the unreadable side.

Is this the most idiomatic way of achieving this? Is it easy enough to read?

int_list = [-1,-3,5,7]

absolute_diffs = [max( [abs( int_2 ) - abs( int_1 ) for int_2 in int_list] ) for int_1 in int_list]

print max( absolute_diffs )
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It's not mandatory (unless you are writing code for Google), but the Google Python style guide is a good reference for what readable Python code should look like. And it explicitly forbids nested list comprehensions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jaime
    Commented Jun 12, 2016 at 7:06

2 Answers 2


A more idiomatic and readable solution would be to use itertools.combinations(list, 2) to take all pairs.

max(abs(a) - abs(b) for a, b in itertools.combinations(int_list, 2))

However, that is O(n2). A smarter O(n) solution would be to subtract the minimum absolute value from the maximum absolute value.

absolutes = [abs(elem) for elem in int_list]
print max(absolutes) - min(absolutes)
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wish I could give you an additional up-vote for the alternative algorithm suggestion. For the oblivious: OP's algorithm runs in O(n²) while 200_success' suggestion runs in O(n). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 12, 2016 at 9:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes @DavidFoerster I've changed my code completely based on the suggested algorithm, much nicer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 12, 2016 at 11:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ You should explicitly add the algorithm you described, since the OP has mapped the list twice for nothing in his edited question (before the rollback). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 12, 2016 at 13:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CasimiretHippolyte I've revised the answer to be explicit. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 12, 2016 at 14:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was more thinking about this: l = [abs(elem) for elem in int_list] ; print max(l) - min(l) where absolute values are calculated only once, that was the reason of my previous comment. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 12, 2016 at 14:46

An alternative, purely functional style approach that builds on itertools.combinations too is this:

max(itertools.starmap(operator.sub, itertools.combinations(map(abs, int_list), 2)))

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