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Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution

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A mere fifteen years ago, computer nerds were seen as marginal weirdos, outsiders whose world would never resonate with the mainstream. That was before one pioneering work documented the underground computer revolution that was about to change our world forever. With groundbreaking profiles of Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, MIT's Tech Model Railroad Club, and more, Steven Levy A mere fifteen years ago, computer nerds were seen as marginal weirdos, outsiders whose world would never resonate with the mainstream. That was before one pioneering work documented the underground computer revolution that was about to change our world forever. With groundbreaking profiles of Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, MIT's Tech Model Railroad Club, and more, Steven Levy's Hackers brilliantly captured a seminal moment when the risk-takers and explorers were poised to conquer twentieth-century America's last great frontier. And in the Internet age, the hacker ethic-first espoused here-is alive and well.


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A mere fifteen years ago, computer nerds were seen as marginal weirdos, outsiders whose world would never resonate with the mainstream. That was before one pioneering work documented the underground computer revolution that was about to change our world forever. With groundbreaking profiles of Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, MIT's Tech Model Railroad Club, and more, Steven Levy A mere fifteen years ago, computer nerds were seen as marginal weirdos, outsiders whose world would never resonate with the mainstream. That was before one pioneering work documented the underground computer revolution that was about to change our world forever. With groundbreaking profiles of Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, MIT's Tech Model Railroad Club, and more, Steven Levy's Hackers brilliantly captured a seminal moment when the risk-takers and explorers were poised to conquer twentieth-century America's last great frontier. And in the Internet age, the hacker ethic-first espoused here-is alive and well.

30 review for Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution

  1. 3 out of 5

    Elaine Nelson

    I'm still sort of processing this book a week later. All the status updates I posted are notes I wrote on paper while I was reading, alas I ran out of scraps while sick in bed, somewhere around pg 350. (the goodreads entry says this has more pages than the copy I have, btw.) Note: this is a really long and somewhat rambling review. A few themes stick out, notably West coast vs East coast. No, seriously. The first section is all MIT hackers, the other two are west coast focused (hippie hackers and I'm still sort of processing this book a week later. All the status updates I posted are notes I wrote on paper while I was reading, alas I ran out of scraps while sick in bed, somewhere around pg 350. (the goodreads entry says this has more pages than the copy I have, btw.) Note: this is a really long and somewhat rambling review. A few themes stick out, notably West coast vs East coast. No, seriously. The first section is all MIT hackers, the other two are west coast focused (hippie hackers and the gaming biz). Shockingly, the hippie hacker community actually manage to get more shit done. My pet theory is that it relates to engagement with the rest of the world. Those MIT guys really got to lock themselves away from everything, and they really liked it that way. (There's some interesting moments of cognitive dissonance of the radical openness within the lab vs the military funding for the lab.) Which meant they were doing fascinating crazy stuff, but it didn't necessarily have any effect on the masses. Whereas the hippies -- or at least some of the influential folks in that scene -- actually cared about the rest of the world. And of course the gamers were out to make money. So they were the ones who got computing and the hacker ethos out into the world. Another thing that I kept running into: I'd be excited about the hackers' excitement, totally understanding that sense of flow...and then: ugh, thoroughly unpleasant people. Not just unpleasant individuals, but a repellent culture. I found that most true of the MIT hackers and the gamers, FWIW. Possibly related: the overwhelming maleness of the hacker culture throughout the entire book. A lack of balance? Also possibly related: a quote about Stallman (p 438) - "He recognized that his personality was unyielding to the give-and-take of common human interaction." (That line? Made me bust up laughing.) Another somewhat random observation: baby boomers. Didn't occur to me until reading the last afterword, and the conversation between Levy & Gates, that all these hackers were boomers. I'd never really thought about the hacker ethos/community as also being a creation of that generation. Huh. What does all this mean to the things I've ranted about on my blog? (I had that in the back of my head while I was reading, based on an email conversation with the person who sent me the book.) I'm still not sure. It does make the underlying ethos of Facebook make more sense, although not any less repellent. In fact, maybe it's more so, because there's a historical thread connecting it to guys crawling through the ceiling to steal keys out of desks. (WTF? That still blows my mind.) And thus, a lack of learning how the rest of the world perceives reality. And for the gender thing? I see it even more, and I keep wondering how much of our current situation is "inevitable" given the history, what would have happened if the history had been different, etc. It also contexualizes the history of sexism in computing against the history of sexism in general (wait, did that sentence make any sense?) - the whole damn world was sexist then. My mother was one of three women in her high school trig class, and IIRC she was the only one who finished. Whereas when I took higher math in high school, I'd say the class was split more like 50/50. So the idea of the MIT hackers that there's some biological difference that kept women out of their world is nuts. Their world -- despite its lack of football -- was hyper-masculine, disconnected from anything that wasn't the guys and the machines. The story of the woman whose program got screwed up because of an unauthorized upgrade by hackers -- and she was doing something "real" -- made a impression on me as far as that's concerned. But that impression of hackerdom being a male province only fed on itself, so that women who were interested in computers were an oddity. (For example, what happened to the "housewives" who disappeared into the community center computer? Why weren't they able to become part of the hacker community?) As I said, I'm still processing. And that said, it was a well-written book; fantastic story-telling. The follow-ups were interesting as well, given that the book ends basically with a reference to the movie Wargames. Good stuff, overall, and definitely recommended.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Larry

    This book, the original version, changed my life when I read it in high school. It, along with "The Cuckoo's Egg", put me on the road to computer science in college.

  3. 3 out of 5

    Max Lybbert

    Why didn't O'Reilly bother to edit out the unneeded phrases like "known to man" ("the best computer in the world known to man")? A decent editor could have cut 20% out of this book, and made it much better in the process. Additionally, there are enough cases of deep confusion about technical terms and famous events that I had to research any stories I was not already familiar with to see if the details were correct. The writing is terrible, punctuated with ridiculous narrative commentary. For inst Why didn't O'Reilly bother to edit out the unneeded phrases like "known to man" ("the best computer in the world known to man")? A decent editor could have cut 20% out of this book, and made it much better in the process. Additionally, there are enough cases of deep confusion about technical terms and famous events that I had to research any stories I was not already familiar with to see if the details were correct. The writing is terrible, punctuated with ridiculous narrative commentary. For instance, while discussing a chess program that avoided a loss via an illegal move, Levy asks if the program was finding a new solution to chess. No; it had a bug that caused it to consider illegal moves, and it took one. It's hard to imagine confusing one (bug that causes program to take illegal moves) with the other (sentient program that changes the rules of chess for increased enjoyment). It's also hard to imagine a good editor failing to flag such an ignorant statement. I have the 25th-anniversary edition and, to be fair, the portions of the book added later (when Levy was older and more experienced) are better written. But that only shows how poor a job the original editor did! I can understand Dennis Ritchie's anti-foreword to the UNIX Hater's Handbook ( http://simson.net/ref/ugh.pdf ): "Like excrement, it contains enough undigested nuggets of nutrition to sustain life for some. But it is not a tasty pie. ... Bon appetit!"

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    I loved this book. It is a documentary about various aspects of computing. The first part is utterly excellent. It is about the birth of the "hacker ethic" around the DEC PDP machine in the MIT AI Lab. It is very funny and very inspiring. Some of the people in that section of the book have disappeared into obscurity, so the book is amazing for capturing this lost part of tech history. The second part is about the personal computer revolution. It covers the Altair machine, the Apple I / II and ot I loved this book. It is a documentary about various aspects of computing. The first part is utterly excellent. It is about the birth of the "hacker ethic" around the DEC PDP machine in the MIT AI Lab. It is very funny and very inspiring. Some of the people in that section of the book have disappeared into obscurity, so the book is amazing for capturing this lost part of tech history. The second part is about the personal computer revolution. It covers the Altair machine, the Apple I / II and other microcomputers of its class. This part made me realise for the first time how much of a key player Apple were at the beginning. They pretty much created the home computer. The third part is about games, and the programmers and companies that created them for the early computers. It focuses on a few key developers and companies, mostly Sierra. This was quite interesting since I played a lot of Sierra games back in the day and didn't know any of these background stories until now. Anyone really into programming should get a kick out of the first section, it is worth buying just for this.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Willian Molinari

    Great book. John Carmack said it was the most inspiring book for him and I can understand why. The word Hackers is not the same these days, but the Hacker Ethics still lives in some of the programmers out there. Those guys that keep hacking (and/or programming) for hours and hours just for the joy of create and modify things still exists. It made me think about the old times when I used to use part of my "sleep time" to work on some C++/SDL code just to understand how could I bring 2D game to life Great book. John Carmack said it was the most inspiring book for him and I can understand why. The word Hackers is not the same these days, but the Hacker Ethics still lives in some of the programmers out there. Those guys that keep hacking (and/or programming) for hours and hours just for the joy of create and modify things still exists. It made me think about the old times when I used to use part of my "sleep time" to work on some C++/SDL code just to understand how could I bring 2D game to life with these tools. This book (and these old hackers) motivated me to bring my hacker lifestyle again. It's time to get back. :)

  6. 3 out of 5

    Noah

    This book is divided into three basic sections. The first, about MIT hackers in the 1950's and 1960's, is outstanding. The second, about homebrew hardware culture in the Bay Area in the 1960's and 1970's, is decent but bloated. The third, about game hackers and Sierra On-Line, is mostly worthless. I'd recommend reading the MIT section and then readily giving up on the book after that.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    This was a really interesting look at the history of computers as a DIY technology, stretching from the 1950s to the 1980s, when the first edition of it was published. I find a lot of computer users look at the things like they're magic boxes, likely run by black magic and/or hamsters running in wheels; I confess to having moments where I've felt that way myself, but I'm trying to educate myself a bit more on how computers actually think and operate, and this book helped cement that understandin This was a really interesting look at the history of computers as a DIY technology, stretching from the 1950s to the 1980s, when the first edition of it was published. I find a lot of computer users look at the things like they're magic boxes, likely run by black magic and/or hamsters running in wheels; I confess to having moments where I've felt that way myself, but I'm trying to educate myself a bit more on how computers actually think and operate, and this book helped cement that understanding a bit more. Additionally, this book reinforced two of the truisms I've repeatedly encountered when studying subcultures. The market will replace your values with its own. It seems to me that subcultural movements tend to have certain values to them that make them popular with certain segments of the public. As they gain more popularity, the mainstream starts to notice them, and tries to find ways to monetize them, even if the movement was one that was based originally around non-commercial values. This is how we end up with Iggy Pop songs being used to sell Disney Cruise tours, and fashion that exploits women and their sexuality being marketed as "girl power" feminism. It's also how we end up with a generation of computer hackers who can't understand why anyone would want to buy a pre-assembled computer with the software already loaded on it. History never ends. One of the main recurring conflicts in Hackers relates to who has access to computer information - we see this with the MIT gurus in the 50s trying to limit access to their computers, and again with the tales of early software users wanting to freely share programs vs. the companies wanting to use copy-prevention to increase their profits. And we see the same conflict now with the open source movement vs. proprietary software, and DRM media files vs. the Creative Commons. It's one that will probably continue as long as people are recording information by the bit, which should ensure that Hackers remains somewhat relevant for generations to come.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Craig Cecil

    Let's get this out of the way up front—the term "hackers" here refers to the original ideology of the word from the earlier days of computing, when hackers blazed the trail of our modern hardware and software systems. These are not the modern day denizen hackers of destructive, malicious infamy. Based on this understanding, this book should be required reading for anyone connected with the computing profession. It serves as a rich history of the genesis of modern day computing, from the earliest Let's get this out of the way up front—the term "hackers" here refers to the original ideology of the word from the earlier days of computing, when hackers blazed the trail of our modern hardware and software systems. These are not the modern day denizen hackers of destructive, malicious infamy. Based on this understanding, this book should be required reading for anyone connected with the computing profession. It serves as a rich history of the genesis of modern day computing, from the earliest days at MIT, the birth of languages such as Lisp and BASIC, the origins of modern video games from Space War and Colossal Cave, to the natural evolution of microcomputing. Steven Levy shows us how a historical book about an industry should be written. It contains an unfolding, interrelated emotional story of people and technology. There are moments of wonder, awe, tenacity, pain, suffering, hope, idealism, and eventually, money, capitalism, and greed. Even at 450+ pages, this is one book you'll read through quickly. After reading this, you'll want to fire up Emacs, dust off Space War, and find out just how powerful this Lisp language from 1959 still really is ;-)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nick Black

    F'n awesome, obviously. Everyone should have read this by now, or by several years ago rather.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Vlad

    Great insight on the birth and evolution of the hacker mentality and its effects on the computer revolution. Following the achievements and contributions in the field made by people such as Marvin Minsky (the father of AI), Peter Samson (developer of the Harmony Compiler and "Spacewar!"), Richard Greenblatt and Bill Gosper (considered to be the founders of the first hacker community), Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple), Ken and Roberta Williams (founders of Sierra On-line, one of the first comp Great insight on the birth and evolution of the hacker mentality and its effects on the computer revolution. Following the achievements and contributions in the field made by people such as Marvin Minsky (the father of AI), Peter Samson (developer of the Harmony Compiler and "Spacewar!"), Richard Greenblatt and Bill Gosper (considered to be the founders of the first hacker community), Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple), Ken and Roberta Williams (founders of Sierra On-line, one of the first computer gaming companies), and John Draper (legendary figure in the programing, hacking and security communities) among many others. My only gripe while reading this book was that I haven't stumbled upon it a few years earlier.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Elin

    I don't usually review before finishing but I'm not sure I'll get through this one so might as well. It's a bloated and repetitive book that focuses on a very specific area and drags it out as far as you can conceivably take it. The author seems to think the people in the book are extraordinarily interesting, with their petty neuroses and self-centred immaturity, but unfortunately, they are ...not. Do yourself a favour and watch the excellent films Pirates of Silicon Valley and Micromen instead, I don't usually review before finishing but I'm not sure I'll get through this one so might as well. It's a bloated and repetitive book that focuses on a very specific area and drags it out as far as you can conceivably take it. The author seems to think the people in the book are extraordinarily interesting, with their petty neuroses and self-centred immaturity, but unfortunately, they are ...not. Do yourself a favour and watch the excellent films Pirates of Silicon Valley and Micromen instead, if you want to know about this particular era of computing. There are lots of very interesting parts of Computer Science History, but this book isn't one of them. I'm more intrigued by Hero of Alexandria's first forays into Robotics; Ada Lovelace and the start of programming; the incredibly fascinating Bletchley Park and enigma code breakers... when you are used to genuinely absorbing computer science history, this book just doesn't cut the mustard. It also only cares about a particular era of young, obnoxious male Americans and acts casually as though their contribution to computer science is the only one that counts for anything. It doesn't even include young Female Americans who contributed, like Grace Hopper, Klara dan Von Neumann, Margaret Fox, Katherine Johnson etc. ... preferring to buy into the idea that "women just don't do computer science...strange isn't it?" No, the strange thing is how this ignorance still gets perpetuated as a "fact" in an information book about computer science, in this century. Give me a break. My main complaint though is that...it's just boring. It doesn't have to be, but it is. As another commenter mentioned - you could cut out a heck of a lot of this book with some decent editing.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    (4.0) The Hacker Pantheon Really cool sketches of the hackers we know (or didn't) from early days at MIT up through the dawn of the personal computer. There were a few oddities (claiming brøderbund was Scandinavian for "brotherhood" (last I checked, Scandinavian wasn't a language...think maybe he meant Norwegian?), and that Bill Gates wrote DOS for the IBM PC (didn't he buy it from some guy for like $400?). The only other drawback for me was that some of the early chapters were a bit dull for me (4.0) The Hacker Pantheon Really cool sketches of the hackers we know (or didn't) from early days at MIT up through the dawn of the personal computer. There were a few oddities (claiming brøderbund was Scandinavian for "brotherhood" (last I checked, Scandinavian wasn't a language...think maybe he meant Norwegian?), and that Bill Gates wrote DOS for the IBM PC (didn't he buy it from some guy for like $400?). The only other drawback for me was that some of the early chapters were a bit dull for me (sorry, nothing specific to report), but of course did love hearing about hacks of many varieties (jokes, stunts as well as clever coding tricks). I think it might've been better if we jumped even deeper into the hacks they came up with. Levy kind of glosses over them, giving a layman's description (lest he offend us with overly technical topics???). I really did appreciate that he never tried to insert himself into the narratives. Or maybe he wasn't anywhere near these guys till long after events took place. But even when he quotes from these guys in interviews years afterward, he still didn't refer to himself (why do journalists insist on doing that so often?). In his afterwards of course he did adopt the first person a few times, not sure they were all that thrilling to read.

  13. 3 out of 5

    Brett Stevens

    This is a book about the early age of hacking before computers controlled so much of our world that "hacking" became a science of exploitation. This is the original meaning of hacking, which is to squeeze extra performance out of equipment by bending the "proper" rules, which often have to do more with administrative control than technological limitations. I find this encouraging as an outlook as it is what all of us should always do to whatever limitations we find in life: work around the unrea This is a book about the early age of hacking before computers controlled so much of our world that "hacking" became a science of exploitation. This is the original meaning of hacking, which is to squeeze extra performance out of equipment by bending the "proper" rules, which often have to do more with administrative control than technological limitations. I find this encouraging as an outlook as it is what all of us should always do to whatever limitations we find in life: work around the unreasonable ones by understanding the raw reality (science/logic/common sense) of a situation more than its human-imposed administrative, social and political -- these words seem to mean the same thing in this context -- controls. Levy takes us through the early days of East Coast university hacking, then looks at the hippie days and the garage shops of the West Coast, before giving us a brief glimpse into the world to come as computers became more powerful, were networked, and moved out of the corporate/government/academic world and into daily life.

  14. 3 out of 5

    Ryan

    One of my absolute favorite tech-related books of all time. Read it a half-dozen times, at least. It's somewhat better-written than most of Levy's books (like the painful "In the Plex"), though it bears the same biases that his other work does. I don't know if it's a long-form journalist tendency, but Levy's books and articles all seem to be written as if they're telling The Whole Story, though they are heavily skewed by the people who were most willing to be interviewed extensively. Any writer h One of my absolute favorite tech-related books of all time. Read it a half-dozen times, at least. It's somewhat better-written than most of Levy's books (like the painful "In the Plex"), though it bears the same biases that his other work does. I don't know if it's a long-form journalist tendency, but Levy's books and articles all seem to be written as if they're telling The Whole Story, though they are heavily skewed by the people who were most willing to be interviewed extensively. Any writer has to work with the material he can uncover, but it would be nice if it were a little more openly acknowledged that a lot of the story told as history is really personal recollection on the part of a participant who *might* still have an axe to grind. But this one is so, SO good in spite of all of that, and what a golden and glorious age it covers!

  15. 3 out of 5

    Nigel

    This book was good at the outset, and the treatment of the freakish hacking pioneers was excellent, but I felt that the book lost its way somewhere beyond half-way through - it ended up being a paean to the good ship Apple Computers, and all who sail in her. Apart from making me suspicious of the writer's motives, this annoyed me because it was blinkered, ignoring so much else that was going on at the time. However, considering the year it was written and the ongoing nature of the subject matter This book was good at the outset, and the treatment of the freakish hacking pioneers was excellent, but I felt that the book lost its way somewhere beyond half-way through - it ended up being a paean to the good ship Apple Computers, and all who sail in her. Apart from making me suspicious of the writer's motives, this annoyed me because it was blinkered, ignoring so much else that was going on at the time. However, considering the year it was written and the ongoing nature of the subject matter, its hard to know how the writer could have concluded the book well.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Vasil Kolev

    This was somewhat mediocre. The book started ok, with the AI lab in MIT and the hackers there, but then got into some stuff which has nothing to do with hacking in any form, and the focus on Sierra On-line is unjustified. All things considered, not a useful book beyond the first 100-150 pages.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    An interesting look at the early hackers & computers. Especially for those in the computer field, it's a fun look at history. Well written & engaging.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    OK. It's too long, and, in places, too long-winded, even semi-religious in its fervour.

  19. 3 out of 5

    Chaitali

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book is a brilliant breakdown of the different generation of hackers. It was fascinating to read about these legendary hackers and how their inquisitiveness and passion led them do the unthinkable. While you read the book, you realize how less we have achieved in AI considering the concept dated back more than 60 years ago. What we call open source today was what the first generation of hackers truly lived by. Code was freely accessible through paper tapes left in the drawers of the lab to a This book is a brilliant breakdown of the different generation of hackers. It was fascinating to read about these legendary hackers and how their inquisitiveness and passion led them do the unthinkable. While you read the book, you realize how less we have achieved in AI considering the concept dated back more than 60 years ago. What we call open source today was what the first generation of hackers truly lived by. Code was freely accessible through paper tapes left in the drawers of the lab to anyone who wanted to work on it and make it better. Had it not been for Marvin Minsky who let the hackers run free, the legends who hacked all night at MIT would probably not have been created or maybe they would have found their way around bureaucracies anyways for their inquisitiveness. Through this I learnt it was the Community Memory group which first built the computerized communication system which allowed people to contact each other. Lee Felsenstein who was part of it also dreamed of bringing computers to people. The homebrew computer club which allowed free exchange of ideas and information led the the second generation of hackers, the hardware hackers. Steve Woz who was a member of this club benefited from the free flow of information and helped him design Apple 1. That's how several other entrepreneurs emerged and without which there probably would have been no Apple computers. Slowly you realize how the commercialization of the entire industry begins and how the gaming industry gets formed due to the PC revolution. That's the short summary and while it was a fun read, wish the book had been a bit shorter.

  20. 3 out of 5

    Sumit Gouthaman

    This book plays out in 3 parts. The first part chronicles the adventures of a group of programming enthusiasts in MIT's AI lab in the 70s. They wrote useful utilities for the first generation of computers like TX-0, PDP6, etc. They believed in freely giving away all programs they wrote. The second part is the story of hardware hackers in California who dreamt of new machines and wrote the initial software to make those machines come to life. This section includes the initial experiences of now-fam This book plays out in 3 parts. The first part chronicles the adventures of a group of programming enthusiasts in MIT's AI lab in the 70s. They wrote useful utilities for the first generation of computers like TX-0, PDP6, etc. They believed in freely giving away all programs they wrote. The second part is the story of hardware hackers in California who dreamt of new machines and wrote the initial software to make those machines come to life. This section includes the initial experiences of now-famous people like Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, and also some lesser known but profoundly influential figures like Lee Felsenstein. The third part deals with the "third generation of hackers". The stories here are mostly about the rapid rise of the video game industry. The most interesting thing about this book is that it was written back in the 80s. Back then it was impossible to know which of these figures would go on to become legends, and who would remain obscure. Overall my yardstick for judging a book is based on how much I learn from it. This book definitely has tons of stories and lessons that are not captured in other more recent works of this nature.

  21. 3 out of 5

    Zeh Fernando

    Amazing, inspiring, informative. A mandatory read for anyone who loves what they do, even if not necessarily tech related.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ali Sattari

    A historical view of hackers and their adventures through evolution of modern computing!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Schultz

    Some books, I just have to want, and other books, I need to sit and think about every 100 pages. These are rarer, but usually I need to do this because of how they brought up something from my own life. Hackers is the second type. In this case, it was about the story behind the BASIC programs I loved to read about and try to write as a kid. I've noted that other reviewers mentioned that Levy is biased for Apple. This may be true, and unfortunately, I can't do diligence on that. What I can say is Some books, I just have to want, and other books, I need to sit and think about every 100 pages. These are rarer, but usually I need to do this because of how they brought up something from my own life. Hackers is the second type. In this case, it was about the story behind the BASIC programs I loved to read about and try to write as a kid. I've noted that other reviewers mentioned that Levy is biased for Apple. This may be true, and unfortunately, I can't do diligence on that. What I can say is that it opens up many wonders to me that I kind of put aside, or that I said, I should probably be grateful for this. The passages about hackers trying to make the best possible routines for their computers were relevant and funny and balance well with the later bits on people trying to make computers practical and accessible. I've had a block about looking into assembly program, which is something I've always wanted to do, for a while now. But the imagination of the people profiled in Hackers certainly got me started again. It's one of those things that textbooks just can't do, and I enjoyed reading how people figured stuff out and experimented while having relatively few resources. Hackers won't give any concrete help to people looking to learn any specific program. But there are so many incidents in and it goes in here that relate how people learned before there was an Internet, and how they wanted to learn and some of the atrocious mistakes they made before a big breakthrough, that blows the now vaguely remembered 'I programmed with 8k and switches and punch cards and liked it' stories away.

  24. 3 out of 5

    Soh Kam Yung

    A wonderful look at the early days of computing when computers were waiting to be used and hackers were the people who would push them to the limits and make them available to all. This is an updated edition that includes an afterword where Levy catches up with some of the original hackers (like Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak) and interviews new hackers like Facebook's Zuckerberg. The book covers three types of hackers: the hardware hackers who worked with the early mainframe and minicomputers and A wonderful look at the early days of computing when computers were waiting to be used and hackers were the people who would push them to the limits and make them available to all. This is an updated edition that includes an afterword where Levy catches up with some of the original hackers (like Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak) and interviews new hackers like Facebook's Zuckerberg. The book covers three types of hackers: the hardware hackers who worked with the early mainframe and minicomputers and were driven by the desire to make computers available to society. The second part covers the early microcomputer hackers and one name stands out: Steve as in Steve Wozniak (not the other Steve) who would create the Apple II and launch a thousand microcomputer companies. The third part covers the game hackers, the people who POKE and PEEK into the innards of early microcomputers and produced some incredible games and showed the conflict between making computers useful and making a profit. The end of the book covered the 'last true' hacker: Richard Stallman and his quest to free the machine. A good book to read to know about the history of the people who helped make the computer available for all of us to use ...and a look at what computers can be made to do if freed from the restrictions of its original designers.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Thom

    In the early eighties, Apple II aficionado Steven Levy wrote a history of the early personalities involved in computers. Most of them considered themselves at one time Hackers, that is living by the Hacker Ethic. Roughly speaking, this regards access to computers and information as paramount, judging all by their skills and talents with computers - not their salaries or station in life. I read this history in the summer after high school, having had a taste of TRS-80 and timeshare computers at sc In the early eighties, Apple II aficionado Steven Levy wrote a history of the early personalities involved in computers. Most of them considered themselves at one time Hackers, that is living by the Hacker Ethic. Roughly speaking, this regards access to computers and information as paramount, judging all by their skills and talents with computers - not their salaries or station in life. I read this history in the summer after high school, having had a taste of TRS-80 and timeshare computers at school, plus a TI-99 at home. In these pages I found a creed that I could thrive on. This re-read some 30 years later shows me some of the cracks in the foundation - the journalism and editing could have been a smidge better. The lens focuses on Apple, with Commodore, PC and TRS-80 getting only a few mentions. That said, I am still amazed by the breadth of personalities the author picked up on - definitely the majority of the American scene. This review is of the 25th anniversary edition, and the 2010 end notes do very little for the story. The trade paper format is beautiful and durable, which is good because I am likely to loan this book to friends like I did the first one. A solid 4.5 stars.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ricky

    I can overlook some sexism. Especially if a narrative just "forgets" to mention people who aren't men. This book goes a step further to imply that women aren't as good at hacking/math/computers as men which is bullshit. As if the first programmer wasn't a woman (Ada Lovelace). As if the first compiler wasn't written by a woman (Grace Hopper). As if there aren't a million kickass women and non binary folks who are hackers today. I'm frankly astonished that the author thought to almost exclusively I can overlook some sexism. Especially if a narrative just "forgets" to mention people who aren't men. This book goes a step further to imply that women aren't as good at hacking/math/computers as men which is bullshit. As if the first programmer wasn't a woman (Ada Lovelace). As if the first compiler wasn't written by a woman (Grace Hopper). As if there aren't a million kickass women and non binary folks who are hackers today. I'm frankly astonished that the author thought to almost exclusively interview and feature men in the first edition, make incredibly sexist remarks about it, and then never return to apologize or correct himself in the following editions. I would give this 1 star except for the fact that I truly enjoy learning about the history of computers, which is the only thing that kept me reading.

  27. 3 out of 5

    Patrick Pilz

    In other industries, you would call them innovators. Hackers are the ones that push the envelope, that try to do things with computers that have not been done before. They are those that push the boundaries from what you can do with computers, smartphones, internet and any other technology. Their culture arose in the late 60s through the early 80s almost simultaneously at MIT and Silicon Valley. This culture lives today, for the good and bad, with us still. This book is more than 25 years old, bu In other industries, you would call them innovators. Hackers are the ones that push the envelope, that try to do things with computers that have not been done before. They are those that push the boundaries from what you can do with computers, smartphones, internet and any other technology. Their culture arose in the late 60s through the early 80s almost simultaneously at MIT and Silicon Valley. This culture lives today, for the good and bad, with us still. This book is more than 25 years old, but it is still on the shelves of a Mark Zuckerberg and the other hackers who drives our lives today. It is a life-style bible for the hackers, and perhaps a leadership book for people who need to manage hackers. This book is timeless and will never really become old.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Wessam Khalil

    I can safely say that this book really changed the way I think. From now on I can say that my life has been changed by this book. What a great think to learn the great history of the industry you are working in. I have always considered myself living only to understand computers and to work with computers, but after reading this book, I found out that because people thought the same thing, they changed the world. I have a lot to say about this book but whatever I say will not be enough. But I am I can safely say that this book really changed the way I think. From now on I can say that my life has been changed by this book. What a great think to learn the great history of the industry you are working in. I have always considered myself living only to understand computers and to work with computers, but after reading this book, I found out that because people thought the same thing, they changed the world. I have a lot to say about this book but whatever I say will not be enough. But I am glad to know that I am not alone in this. We are not alone

  29. 3 out of 5

    Philip Hollenback

    This book had a lot of good background material on the early beginnings of the computer revolution. It was particularly interesting to read about the guys at MIT in the 60s and 70s (Richard Stallman's predecessors). I'd recommend this book if you are already a giant computer nerd like me and want to know more about how we got to where we are today. To be honest, regular people might find this account a little boring.

  30. 4 out of 5

    David

    My heritage, in a way. It's weird how the book was written before I was born, and even back then, a lot of the exciting stuff in computing had already become history. (I had always assumed that computers didn't become a big thing until the 90s.) It made me nostalgic (as usual) for the good old days that were never mine. And now I need to go find out what happened to all these hackers and companies from back then.

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