Book review - Hackers by Steven Levy

Sat, Mar 26, 2011
Hackers, heroes of the computer revolution. Steven Levy

Ever since I started programming I have consumed technical books with a passion. From that very first c64 manual, via K&R and Stroustrup through to present day technologies such as Ruby.

But at some point in a programming career you start to look beyond pure ‘how to’ technology books and start to find interest in best practice books such as Code Complete and also computer history books such as Hackers.

Many computer history books tend to start with Microsoft & Apple, Gates, Jobs & Woz, PC & Mac, but Hackers is the first I have read that goes back further to the MIT PDP hackers in the 50s and 60s before moving on to the start of Homebrew, and the hardware hackers in California in the 70s and the early game hackers in the 80s… and it is fascinating!

Hackers is an interesting and highly entertaining description of the characters involved in the computer revolution that took computing out of the hands of the few (mainframe operators) and into the hands of the many (the rest of us):

The books focus is squarely on the personalities and beliefs of those with the hacker ethic (using the original meaning of the word hacker). The people involved in these periods are fascinating, while some of the stories are familiar (Homebrew Computer Club, Bill Gates piracy letter, etc.) there are so many little moments that surprised me, like:

While reading this book, its easy to get a little nostalgic for the old days (not that I was there) and these folks creating an industry. But its important to remember that this computer revolution has not finished. With the rise of the internet at the end of the last century, and the explosion in mobile computing happening around us right now there are still plenty of stories yet to tell.

Highly recommended, if you want to learn more computer history beyond Microsoft and Apple this is a great book, with interesting stories about the, sometimes bizarre, personalities involved in the computer revolution.