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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution - 25th Anniversary Edition » User review

A book that should be read by anyone associated with technology...

  • Jul 27, 2010
Rating:
+5
To find out how you got to where you're at, you often have to look at where you came from. In the world of computers, that means going back to the late 1950's to observe the mindset and personalities that shaped the growth of the personal computer. Steven Levy has what could be considered the best analysis of those individuals in his book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution - 25th Anniversary Edition. Yes, it's been 25 years since since this book was first published in 1985. But it's as relevant now as it was then. I read this book quite some time ago and enjoyed it immensely. My enjoyment with rereading it hasn't diminished.

Contents:
Part 1 - True Hackers - Cambridge - The Fifties and Sixties: The Tech Model Railroad Club; The Hacker Ethic; Spacewar; Greenblatt and Gosper; The Midnight Computer Wiring Society; Winners and Losers; Life
Part 2 - Hardware Hackers - Northern California - The Seventies: Revolt in 2100; Every Man a God; The Homebrew Computer Club; Tiny BASIC; Woz; Secrets
Part 3 - Game Hackers - The Sierras - The Eighties: The Wizard and the Princess; The Brotherhood; The Third Generation; Summer Camp; Frogger; Applefest; Wizard vs. Wizards
Part 4 - The Last of the True Hackers - Cambridge - 1983: The Last of the True Hackers; Afterword - Ten Years Later; Afterword - 2010
Notes; Acknowledgments; About the Author

When you walk into a Best Buy or any other retailer today, you simply pick up the computer you want, head home, plug it in, and away you go. But when you go back to the beginning, you start to understand just how amazing these things are. Levy steps into the inner sanctums of the large mainframe computers, devices that cost millions of dollars and allowed few the privilege of touching them. But there were some who immediately understood the power and the vision, and they weren't going to be denied the opportunity to play, learn, and push the limits. Hackers goes from those who spent time re-engineering model railroad layouts to those who took that same drive to the world of bits and bytes. Everything was a challenge, what with virtually no memory and nothing much in the way of input/output devices. But even though their efforts weren't always appreciated or welcome, these hackers continued to lead the way to discover what *was* possible. As the mainframes continued to shrink, more and more individuals focused on what could be done if you put the CPU and memory together with a keyboard and screen. The Homebrew Computer Club was the birthplace of people like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who went on to form Apple and create the history of the personal computer. Levy also digs into the birth of the fast-paced world of computer gaming, when companies like Atari, Apple, Sierra, and others wrote computer games to push the boundaries of the ever-more-powerful personal computers, while also making the programmers literal superstars and millionaires. For those who had the right skills and the drive to learn, there was seemingly nothing they couldn't accomplish.

What makes the book shine, over and above the historical narrative, is the commentary and analysis of the hacker code and mentality. At the start, there was little financial gain to be found by writing code and building new devices to hook onto the computer. As such, the creed was that everything was open and information was to be shared. But as time progressed and companies started to form around software and hardware, it became harder to maintain that pure approach, and information started to become proprietary. Things once open and free came with price tags. People like Richard Stallman, the last "true hacker", railed against this "perversion" (as he still does today), but few follow him at the level of fanaticism he demands. But understanding his mindset helps to understand the philosophy behind open source software, where software is still free as in beer and free as in speech.

If you haven't read Hackers, either in the original or new edition, I would recommend it. It's a fascinating read.

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About the reviewer
Thomas Duff ()
Ranked #43
Thomas Duff, aka "Duffbert", is a long-time member of the Lotus community. He's primarily focused on the development side of the Notes/Domino environment, currently working for a large insurance … more
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About this book

Wiki

This 25th anniversary edition of Steven Levy's classic book traces the exploits of the computer revolution's original hackers -- those brilliant and eccentric nerds from the late 1950s through the early '80s who took risks, bent the rules, and pushed the world in a radical new direction. With updated material from noteworthy hackers such as Bill Gates, Mark Zukerberg, Richard Stallman, and Steve Wozniak, Hackers is a fascinating story that begins in early computer research labs and leads to the first home computers.

Levy profiles the imaginative brainiacs who found clever and unorthodox solutions to computer engineering problems. They had a shared sense of values, known as "the hacker ethic," that still thrives today. Hackers captures a seminal period in recent history when underground activities blazed a trail for today's digital world, from MIT students finagling access to clunky computer-card machines to the DIY culture that spawned the Altair and the Apple II.



Amazon.com Exclusive: The Rant Heard Round the World
By Steven Levy

Author Steven Levy
When I began researching Hackers--so many years ago that it’s scary--I thought I’d largely be chronicling the foibles of a sociologically weird cohort who escaped normal human interaction by retreating to the sterile confines of computers labs. Instead, I discovered a fascinating, funny cohort who wound up transforming human interaction, spreading a culture that affects our views ...
view wiki

Tags

Books, Nonfiction Books, Hackers, Computer Hackers, Hacking History, Internet Culture

Details

ISBN-10: 1449388396
ISBN-13: 978-1449388393
Author: Steven Levy
Genre: Computers & Internet
Publisher: O'Reilly Media
Date Published: May 20, 2010
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