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Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution

Steven Levy · 18 HN comments
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Amazon Summary
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 Hacker s--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 about everything from politics to entertainment to business. The stories of those amazing people and what they did is the backbone of Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. But when I revisited the book recently to prepare the 25th Anniversary Edition of my first book, it was clear that I had luckily stumbled on the origin of a computer (and Internet) related controversy that still permeates the digital discussion. Throughout the book I write about something I called The Hacker Ethic, my interpretation of several principles implicitly shared by true hackers, no matter whether they were among the early pioneers from MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club (the Mesopotamia of hacker culture), the hardware hackers of Silicon Valley’s Homebrew Computer Club (who invented the PC industry), or the slick kid programmers of commercial game software. One of those principles was “Information Should Be Free.” This wasn’t a justification of stealing, but an expression of the yearning to know more so one could hack more. The programs that early MIT hackers wrote for big computers were stored on paper tapes. The hackers would keep the tapes in a drawer by the computer so anyone could run the program, change it, and then cut a new tape for the next person to improve. The idea of ownership was alien. This idea came under stress with the advent of personal computers. The Homebrew Club was made of fanatic engineers, along with a few social activists who were thrilled at the democratic possibilities of PCs. The first home computer they could get their hands on was 1975’s Altair, which came in a kit that required a fairly hairy assembly process. (Its inventor was Ed Roberts, an underappreciated pioneer who died earlier this year.) No software came with it. So it was a big deal when 19-year-old Harvard undergrad Bill Gates and his partner Paul Allen wrote a BASIC computer language for it. The Homebrew people were delighted with Altair BASIC, but unhappy that Gates and Allen charged real money for it. Some Homebrew people felt that their need for it outweighed their ability to pay. And after one of them got hold of a “borrowed” tape with the program, he showed up at a meeting with a box of copies (because it is so easy to make perfect copies in the digital age), and proceeded to distribute them to anyone who wanted one, gratis. This didn’t sit well with Bill Gates, who wrote what was to become a famous “Letter to Hobbyists,” basically accusing them of stealing his property. It was the computer-age equivalent to Luther posting the Ninety-Five Theses on the Castle Church. Gate’s complaints would reverberate well into the Internet age, and variations on the controversy persist. Years later, when another undergrad named Shawn Fanning wrote a program called Napster that kicked off massive piracy of song files over the Internet, we saw a bloodier replay of the flap. Today, issues of cost, copying and control still rage--note Viacom’s continuing lawsuit against YouTube and Google. And in my own business—journalism--availability of free news is threatening more traditional, expensive new-gathering. Related issues that also spring from controversies in Hackers are debates over the “walled gardens” of Facebook and Apple’s iPad. I ended the original Hackers with a portrait of Richard Stallman, an MIT hacker dedicated to the principle of free software. I recently revisited him while gathering new material for the 25th Anniversary Edition of Hackers, he was more hard core than ever. He even eschewed the Open Source movement for being insufficiently noncommercial. When I spoke to Gates for the update, I asked him about his 1976 letter and the subsequent intellectual property wars. “Don’t call it war,” he said. “Thank God we have an incentive system. Striking the right balance of how this should work, you know, there's going to be tons of exploration.” Then he applied the controversy to my own situation as a journalism. “Things are in a crazy way for music and movies and books,” he said. “Maybe magazine writers will still get paid 20 years from now. Who knows? Maybe you'll have to cut hair during the day and just write articles at night.” So Amazon.com readers, it’s up to you. Those who have not read Hackers,, have fun and be amazed at the tales of those who changed the world and had a hell of time doing it. Those who have previously read and loved Hackers, replace your beat-up copies, or the ones you loaned out and never got back, with this beautiful 25th Anniversary Edition from O’Reilly with new material about my subsequent visits with Gates, Stallman, and younger hacker figures like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. If you don’t I may have to buy a scissors--and the next bad haircut could be yours! Read Bill Gates' letter to hobbyists
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Kind of surprised he missed this considering it's in one of the best books about this history. https://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Computer-Revolution-Steven-Le...
dang
It doesn't contain textual citations (at least my copy doesn't), so I suppose he couldn't use it.
I can give you the names of a handful of books that might be useful. Some are more technical, some less so. Some are more about personalities, some about the business aspects of things, some more about the actual technology. I don't really have time to try and categorize them all, so here's a big dump of the ones I have and/or am familiar with that seem at least somewhat related.

The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering - https://www.amazon.com/Mythical-Man-Month-Software-Engineeri...

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution - https://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Computer-Revolution-Steven-Le...

The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage - https://www.amazon.com/Cuckoos-Egg-Tracking-Computer-Espiona...

Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet - https://www.amazon.com/Where-Wizards-Stay-Up-Late/dp/0684832...

Open: How Compaq Ended IBM's PC Domination and Helped Invent Modern Computing - https://www.amazon.com/Open-Compaq-Domination-Helped-Computi...

Decline and Fall of the American Programmer - https://www.amazon.com/Decline-American-Programmer-Yourdon-1...

Rise and Resurrection of the American Programmer - https://www.amazon.com/dp/013121831X/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&key...

Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date - https://www.amazon.com/Robert-X-Cringely/dp/0887308554/ref=s...

Softwar: An Intimate Portrait of Larry Ellison and Oracle - https://www.amazon.com/Softwar-Intimate-Portrait-Ellison-Ora...

Winners, Losers & Microsoft - https://www.amazon.com/Winners-Losers-Microsoft-Competition-...

Microsoft Secrets - https://www.amazon.com/Microsoft-Secrets-audiobook/dp/B019G2...

The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture - https://www.amazon.com/The-Friendly-Orange-Glow-audiobook/dp...

Troublemakers: Silicon Valley's Coming of Age - https://www.amazon.com/Troublemakers-Silicon-Valleys-Coming-...

Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire - https://www.amazon.com/Hard-Drive-Making-Microsoft-Empire/dp...

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture - https://www.amazon.com/Masters-Doom-Created-Transformed-Cult...

The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray and The Technical Wizards Behind the Supercomputer - https://www.amazon.com/Supermen-Seymour-Technical-Wizards-Su...

Bitwise: A Life in Code - https://www.amazon.com/Bitwise-Life-Code-David-Auerbach/dp/1...

Gates - https://www.amazon.com/Gates-Microsofts-Reinvented-Industry-...

We Are The Nerds - https://www.amazon.com/We-Are-Nerds-audiobook/dp/B07H5Q5JGS/...

A People's History of Computing In The United States - https://www.amazon.com/Peoples-History-Computing-United-Stat...

Fire In The Valley: The Birth and Death of the Personal Computer - https://www.amazon.com/Fire-in-Valley-audiobook/dp/B071YYZJG...

How The Internet Happened: From Netscape to the iPhone - https://www.amazon.com/How-Internet-Happened-Netscape-iPhone...

Steve Jobs - https://www.amazon.com/Steve-Jobs-Walter-Isaacson/dp/1451648...

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation - https://www.amazon.com/Idea-Factory-Great-American-Innovatio...

Coders - https://www.amazon.com/Coders-Making-Tribe-Remaking-World/dp...

Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software - https://www.amazon.com/Dreaming-in-Code-Scott-Rosenberg-audi...

The Pentagon's Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America's Top-Secret Military Research Agency - https://www.amazon.com/Pentagons-Brain-Uncensored-Americas-T...

The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World - https://www.amazon.com/Imagineers-War-Untold-Pentagon-Change...

The Technical and Social History of Software Engineering - https://www.amazon.com/Technical-Social-History-Software-Eng...

Also...

"The Mother of All Demos" by Doug Englebart - https://youtu.be/yJDv-zdhzMY

"Jobs vs Gates" - https://www.amazon.com/Jobs-Vs-Gates-Hippie-Nerd/dp/B077KB96...

"Welcome to Macintosh" - https://www.amazon.com/Welcome-Macintosh-Guy-Kawasaki/dp/B00...

"Pirates of Silicon Valley" - https://www.amazon.com/Pirates-Silicon-Valley-Noah-Wyle/dp/B...

"Jobs" - https://www.amazon.com/Jobs-Ashton-Kutcher/dp/B00GME2NCG/ref...

And while not a documentary, or meant to be totally historically accurate, the TV show "Halt and Catch Fire" captures a lot of the feel of the early days of the PC era, through to the advent of the Internet era.

https://www.amazon.com/I-O/dp/B00KCXJCEK/ref=sr_1_1?crid=U6Z...

And there's a ton of Macintosh history stuff captured at:

https://www.folklore.org/

I don't think it's uncommon for people to learn from the top down and after some time and a bit if passion find themselves digging into the roots of it.

It came across as a tad condescending although I can easily believe it wasn't meant that way and you are just open mindedly sharing perspective as is the point of all this.

I reply not to just make that comment but actually to recommend a book (that many may have possibly already read) which gives a rich history well worth it.

https://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Computer-Revolution-Steven-Le...

They dive into East and West coast history as well as the influences of gaming which I think ties to this threads closest.

Its long, engaging, and the audiobook is just a kick.

If you are on that cusp of wanting to learn a bit more of where we come from with an Americana feel, they have done a fantastic job here.

You might enjoy Steven Levy's Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution[1]. It's not too focused on specific people or companies, although you'll encounter some well known people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Richard Stallman in the book. It's an interesting read because it gives you a great background that helps you understand how we ended up with the tech culture and environment we have today.

In the reply to another comment, I also mentioned Coders at Work[2]. I found that it provided some great insight into the early days of some fascinating companies from a technical perspective.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Computer-Revolution-Steven-Le... [2] https://www.amazon.com/Coders-Work-Reflections-Craft-Program...

In case anyone here hasn't read it yet, this should be required reading for any would-be computer geek:

https://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Computer-Revolution-Steven-Le...

I picked this up randomly off a university library shelf and before I knew it, I was halfway through the book and my feet were hurting.

zandorg
The secretive Hacker Conference is for people featured in the book Hackers. Ted Nelson is one person who I know, who is in it.
archagon
Interesting, this pointed me to a documentary that might be worth watching: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hackers:_Wizards_of_the_Electr...
barbs
Indeed a great book, but when I mentioned it to my friend he cracked up at how corny the title was.
archagon
Reading the book now and it’s making me a little sad. Where can I find today’s Tech Model Railroad Club, Homebrew Computer Club, Community Memory, People’s Computer Company? Are there still places left where computing is small, local, non-commercial and so alive?

I love programming, but I’ve never felt myself to be part of any tribe like the people in Hackers clearly do. It all just feels so commoditized and un-magical these days!

vinceguidry
If it's just small, local, non-commercial you're looking for, there's any number of hackerspaces you can get memberships to. There's still lots of domains where you can do discovery, like 3D printing and making electronic music live.

What made the H:HotCR environment so weird and crazy and compelling was a) the fact that they were the very first to be working with this equipment, b) they worked in a university setting, and c) the weird dynamic between school administrators and the geeks.

racer-v
There's Homebrew Website Club. These guys are doing the hard work to take back the Internet from social media conglomerates https://indieweb.org/Homebrew_Website_Club

Also the distributed Internet (e.g. IPFS) and DIY CPU (as in free FPGA tooling) communities.

brlewis
I've been programming since the 1980s. The number of small, non-commercial and alive projects only increased with sourceforge, github and gitlab. For local, check meetup. Programming is more magical than ever these days IMO.
carwyn
Create your own. That's what we did with http://northwales.tech/
atmanthedog
This is a 'classic' take on a phenomenon that I believe is deeply related to what you are describing:

https://meaningness.com/geeks-mops-sociopaths

FWIW, I think I originally read this here on HN.

westoncb
Hackers was very inspirational to me when I read it as a ~17 year old. I'd been programming off and on for a while, but just really getting into it at that point—and the attitudes of many of the folks in the book resonated strongly with me (especially the early MIT hackers).

I naively thought I'd find a group of people like this in college, and of course failed to. I moved around the country some looking for people, too (mostly in Berkeley, CA and Cambridge, MA)—but never had much luck. Definitely not saying they aren't out there, or that my searches in those places were exhaustive, but I did look and failed to turn anything up.

My current view is that it's difficult for at least a couple of reason:

1) It requires the group to have some some kind of unifying aim (even if it's very loose/general) and (ideally) a physical location members can return to regularly which fosters both serious work and the ability to relax/socialize/goof around. Seems like some makerspaces are pretty good with this, but from what I can tell typically don't have sufficient focus on software/CS to be of interest to me.

2) It's hard to search for these things because the results will overwhelmingly be filled with folks who don't actually feel much compelled by pure hacking but describe themselves as such for professional reasons. In my experience this is mostly what programming Meetups are about: making contacts to find jobs, or people trying to get themselves to learn some new tech, not because they are particularly curious but because it would improve their resume.

I think part of the problem may also be related to viewing the discovery/creation of such a group as something easier than it really is. I'd bet both the difficulty of finding it and the potential rewards of doing so are higher than people typically expect. Doing a few google searches and occasionally asking around town will not be sufficient.

That said—anyone else here in Tucson presently? :)

archagon
Hey, I'm currently in the bumming-around-Berkeley part of your journey!

One of the reasons I found the Community Memory chapter of Hackers so inspiring (apart from the Berkeley connection) was because it described a piece of technology that brought local people together by design. Today, we can go online and find out what people are saying in any part of the world on any conceivable topic. But barring a few notable exceptions like Nextdoor, there seems to be relatively little focus on technology that connects us with our neighbors and colleagues (except in a roundabout way).

When I was a student at Cal, our Livejournal group hosted a biannual event called AnonCon, where hundreds of people would gather in a single thread and anonymously moan about finals, gossip about campus life, and discuss who they were crushing on. At the co-op where I was living at the time, this was a Big Event: people would huddle in the living room under blankets and have a merry old time reading threads and adding their own thoughts to the pile. You'd run into AnonCon participants in the real world who you'd have never thought were clued in to this sort of thing. It felt like the campus was suddenly electrified through the comments section of this simple blog post! We weren't really online, but part a quirky campus community brought together by way of technology.

It makes me wonder if maybe these kinds of communities could be kickstarted with a modern take on Community Memory: a distributed database or forum combined with some sort of physical beacon that would facilitate peer-to-peer connections between local devices. There would be no pathway to the internet: if you wanted to know what was going on in your community, you'd have to go to a particular location (or find a friend) and grab the latest snapshot of the database directly. Perhaps someone might hide a beacon in their favorite café, seed it with some comp-sci talk, and then see who shows up to trade thoughts! Idealistic communities with unified aims and physical haunts could almost emerge out of the ether — in cafés, libraries, community centers and parks.

If globally-hosted communities incentivize people to spread out, perhaps peer-to-peer communities could incentivize people to grow closer together. And maybe, the kind of unity and camaraderie evident in those oddball Hackers communities would subsequently follow.

westoncb
Hey archagon—that sounds like a great idea. I can just imagine how it must have felt to get on AnonCon :)

I wonder about the two principles involved there (or the ones I've happened to pick out anyway): locality + anonymity. Seems like the anonymity supports a kind of radical latitude of expression, which is great for the initial phases of starting something new; meanwhile, locality constrains who participates in the discussion and influences the topic (to things more local) without constraining it.

Thinking about this more concretely, while I had trouble finding a group of like-minded thinkers/builders in Berkeley/Cambridge—I have no difficulty imagining that if I posted a number of random ideas I've had about programming languages or philosophy or whatever, that I would have received some interesting replies, and that some of those replies could turn into discussions, and some discussions would evolve into something no longer anonymous.

As for implementation, I most readily see it as an AR application: message boards tied to physical locations. Of course there are any number of factors in how this would be carried out that would attract (or repel) different subsets of people, or different types of discussions etc. For instance, I could see it devolving into a world-wide cover of bathroom stall graffiti if too loose, or generating little of interest if too constrained, etc.

Cool projects btw! I think we spoke briefly on here some years ago :) Also, did you ever go 'the Med' in Berkeley? Do you know if anything similar has taken its place since it shut down?

Edit: actually, I guess the 'AR' aspect of it is pretty superficial—it's just the idea of associating virtual objects with geolocations that I had in mind with it. But, at least with the current state of AR frameworks/hardware, it would probably be better to just use a more traditional 2D UI for this. But the key thing would be that depending on where you were standing in the physical world, you'd get a different set of 'terminals' (or something), which you could jump into and start discussing things.

westoncb
I drew up a wireframe of what I'm thinking: http://symbolflux.com/images/wireframe123.jpg

Would be cool to keep it something super simple like that—though you'd need a way to create new 'terminals' which get pinned to particular geolocations, too. (Also 'terminal' isn't quite the right concept/term... but yeah.) Maybe each user gets one terminal that they can place somewhere... Maybe if it gets enough upvotes the user who placed it is allowed to place another.

Thoughts anyone?

archagon
I definitely agree with your thoughts on locality and anonymity! However, I'm also of the opinion that decentralization via offline device-to-device communication is a key component.

1) Barrier of entry. Having to invest in a hardware beacon to kickstart your community (as well as having to go to a physical location to access it) means that "hit and run" communities and users won’t be too much of a problem. You can see this working in communities like Metafilter and SomethingAwful which charge a nominal entry fee to keep low-effort users out. But notably, the beacon wouldn't be essential: once a community is formed and the peers all know about each other, they could connect directly without having to touch the beacon first. (For convenience, it might still be useful to keep around for the same reason people use Github.)

2) Persistence. Personally, I’m reluctant to seriously commit to any centralized social networks, and I think many others feel the same way. Startups rise and fall with the blink of an eye, and it’s disastrous when the community you’ve spent years cultivating suddenly vanishes due to corporate acquihires or pivots. If a community is based on peer-to-peer protocols, and if the data for that community is stored locally on each member's phones and computers, then the life of that community is completely decoupled from the whims of its creators and the fate of its tech stack.

3) Aligned incentives. Peer-to-peer communities are beholden to no organization other than themselves. They can determine their own fates. They have nothing to fear from shareholders or CEOs. Nobody can make them function differently without their consent. And vitally, by design, there can be no temptation to take the community online for convenience. Meeting up at a physical location is an inherent and inalterable part of the system. (Though of course, one peer could manually relay the state of the community to another peer through an online channel. But that wouldn't be the typical use case and would require manual work.)

I admit that perhaps it's more of an emotional issue than a practical one. Even though sites like Nextdoor (or the same AnonCon) are tied to physical locations, all the data is still stored on some central service and could easily disappear tomorrow. Whereas a mesh-network-style community would in fact be an artifact of the real world, with all the pros and cons that this entails. Different behaviors — ones that I can't predict — would surely emerge from these differences in implementation. (But as a starting point, a central-server-based, geo-pinned community service would be really awesome, too! I'm just not sure it would be possible to deal with location spoofing.)

I like your interface idea! I can imagine "terminals" appearing in the list much like Wi-Fi hotspots or Bluetooth devices. If they were indeed paired to physical devices, perhaps some central site could help keep track of them (à la Geocaching).

I wonder if a Raspberry Pi could be seen and accessed by an iOS or Android device without an internet connection?

mercer
Could be interesting to look at Patchwork/ScuttleButt for inspiration. It uses a 'gossip' protocol that primarily operates over LAN connections, and has a bunch of other cool stuff.

There's a rather large 'escape hatch' to the local nature of it all in the form of 'pubs', which are basically regular users that are internet-accessible.

But at least for the interface and some of the decisions they made, it might be worth investigating.

westoncb
That's interesting—I'll definitely give Patchwork a try. I'm curious to see which 'Pubs' have been created in my city. That said, the focus seems pretty distinct from my own interest, which is basically to create a kind of forum where the top-level 'topic' is some real life location/object. Patchwork's interface does look really nice though—thanks for pointing it out.
mercer
Well, Patchwork is just one possible app on top of it. There's also a chess game and a soundcloud-ish app. So perhaps it would be possible to make what you have in mind on top of the protocol.

The main problem I have right now that keeps me from playing around with it is that I'm not currently much in the mood for Node.js development, and so far that's the only really solid/easy implementation of the whole thing.

The positive usage of "hacker" has deep roots. The author of this article wrote a classic book that documents the early scene.

https://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Computer-Revolution-Steven-Le...

Neither of these is exactly what you asked for, but both are awesome in their own way, and both are (narrow and somewhat dated) histories:

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy.

The Pulitzer Prize Winning) The Soul of a New Machine, by Tracy Kidder. The second one literally changed my life in leading me to computers.

Links: https://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Heroes-Computer-Revolution-An...

https://www.amazon.com/Soul-New-Machine-Tracy-Kidder/dp/0316...

cellularmitosis
Brian Cantrill also enthusiastically recommended Soul of a New Machine.
jambulance
Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy absolutely changed my life when I found it as a young boy in the local library. Possibly the most read book on my bookshelf!
If you are enjoying these updates I can't say enough great things about the Book Hackers by Steven Levy - https://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Heroes-Computer-Revolution-An...
Dav3xor
His book Insanely Great has more info on PARC, although only through the lens of the development of the Macintosh.
Yeah... author should read Hackers before writing another word about history of computing, there is hardly a correct sentence in that blog post - http://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Computer-Revolution-Anniversar...
gizmo385
I'm reading this book for a class right now and, personally, haven't enjoyed it so far. It treats these people as though the MIT hacker crowd as though these people are/were gods and I think does a lot to dehumanize them. It just reads like a fluff piece that skips over technical details in favor of what feels like blind infatuation.
maxlybbert
The writing is so bad that it distracts from the story. It once mentions that somebody had access to "the best computer in the world known to man." How many computers exist that aren't known to man? I don't blame the writer in that particular case, but the editor really should have known better.

In another case, Levy tells a story about a chess program with a bug in it. If I remember correctly, the program was in check, and moved a knight that didn't get the program out of check. In other words, it took an illegal move. Levy says the programmers were in awe of this program; wondering if it was inventing new rules to increase its enjoyment of chess. I have a hard time believing the programmers truly thought they had created a self-aware program that would modify the rules of a game to increase its own enjoyment. I'm sure they knew a bug when they saw it. Levy, on the other hand, apparently did not, or thought that his audience would overlook such a silly statement. I do blame the writer for that one, and wonder why the editor didn't flag it as well.

There are good books on computer history. And there are good books about computers from the early days (written in the early days). "Hackers" is not one of those books.

jfoutz
> How many computers exist that aren't known to man?

That's a tough question to answer. The universe is a big place, so i'm going to go with a lot.

Although, I do understand your annoyance. The original phrasing with the "in the world" is stupid.

cafard
P.J. Plauger had an article once about a co-worker who coded a chess program, which had two serious flaws: he got the search algorithm wrong, so that it was very easy to beat; and he didn't program it to lose, so that it would start to add pieces back in when it was about to. Plauger wrote, If you think kids enjoyed beating it, you should have seen their glee when got it to cheat.
maxlybbert
I'm not sure that there's a correct sentence in "Hackers." It got enough details wrong that I used the book as a source of stories that I needed to look into to see if there was a kernel of truth to them (plus, the editor apparently didn't know how to edit). There is enough about Lisp Machines available, though:

* http://www.gnu.org/gnu/rms-lisp.en.html

* http://ergoemacs.org/misc/Daniel_Weinreb_rebuttal_to_stallma... (mirror of a blog post by Weinreb, made shortly after Weinreb died)

* http://www.dreamsongs.com/Files/Hopl2.pdf

Some that I liked:

- Hackers : http://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Computer-Revolution-Anniversar...

- The Soul of a New Machine: http://www.amazon.com/The-Soul-A-New-Machine/dp/0316491977

- Show Stopper! : http://www.amazon.com/Show-Stopper-Breakneck-Generation-Micr...

- Dealers of Lightning: http://www.amazon.com/Dealers-Lightning-Xerox-PARC-Computer/...

- Where Wizards Stay Up Late: http://www.amazon.com/Where-Wizards-Stay-Up-Late/dp/06848326...

LarryMade2
I'd add in that list the New Hacker's Dictionary edited by Eric S Raymond http://www.amazon.com/The-New-Hackers-Dictionary-Edition/dp/... - (aka the Jargon File http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/ ) It includes many computing terms invented over the years with their meanings and origins. You can learn a a bit about computer history by readin it.
ctrijueque
'Hackers' is avalaible as a free ebook too:

https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/729

grkvlt
"The Soul of a New Machine" is an excellent book. It is about the creation of the first 32 bit minicomputer hardware, complete with descriptions of ADVENTURE (aka Colossal Cave) and the "Maze of twisty passages all alike" and memorable lines such as "I am going to a commune in Vermont, and will deal with no time period shorter than a season" said after much work on gate delays and intstruction timing iassues...
cschmidt
I thought Hackers and Soul of a New Machine were both fantastic.
0xdeadbeefbabe
Dealers of Lightning because you might learn some new words, and did you know they had to fight to get the laser printer to the world?
deutronium
I'll second Hackers Heroes of the Computer Revolution, I found that a really fascinating book.
veddox
Absolutely. It does a great job of showing the spirit of the early hackers at MIT, even though it's not really a technical book.
None
None
ritchiea
Hackers was a fun read but I don't think it's really an answer to the original question asking about computing history and expressing a concern that our field has a short memory. The OP's complaint was that most history stops at Turing and everything in Hackers is about MIT post-Turing.
duaneb
> The OP's complaint was that most history stops at Turing and everything in Hackers is about MIT post-Turing.

Before Turing, it was a handful of people obsessed with computing things efficiently. That history is difficult to extract from the hardware pre-Turing.

I was reading Hackers (http://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Computer-Revolution-Anniversar...) earlier this month, and that sounds pretty much like the "bachelor-mode" described therein.

It's tough... You can devote your time to a logical, rational system that provides consistent rewards to your efforts - or you can pursue sex and unpredictable human factors.

Hackers is a great read, it reads like a very engaging novel. Although it starts in 1960s. So it is missing a lot earlier history. http://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Heroes-Computer-Revolution-Ann...
Was hit by the nostalgia of reading Hackers [0]. What a great prank but quite an extreme dike.

[0] http://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Computer-Revolution-Anniversar...

May I suggest Hackers by Steven Levy [0]. It was a phenomenal and inspirational read for me. Having born during the turn of the century, I'd missed the evolution of computers and programming. This book helped me fill that gap.

Incidentally, Hackers was what I read after I read Masters of Doom. Here's a quote from Masters of Doom:

" Overnight, it seemed, Carmack was in a strange house, with a strange family and going to a strange school, a junior high with no gifted program or computer’s. He’d never felt so alone. Then one day he realized he wasn’t. The book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution was a revelation. "

Edit: Donald Knuth heartily recommends it too[1].

[0] http://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Computer-Revolution-Anniversar...

[1] http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~uno/retd.html

steven
Thanks! Now that I know that my book opened Carmack's mind, I can take credit for Doom and even some stuff in Oculus Rift!
archagon
I wish there was an audiobook for this! The only one I could find was made using speech synthesis.
RunningWild
There is, read by Whil Wheaton. Whether the 2nd part is good or bad, is another matter : http://www.amazon.com/Masters-Doom-Created-Transformed-Cultu...
archagon
Oh yeah, sorry, I meant Hackers. The Masters of Doom audiobook was really good!
fossuser
I thought Hackers was great - you might also like two other of Levy's books: In the Plex (which follows Google's history) and Crypto (which is especially relevant today).

Some people find his style dry, but I've found it direct and really interesting (probably because I'm already interested in the material anyway).

leoc
Crypto is even better than Hackers, I think. I think Google was expecting In the Plex to valorise its subject as much as Hackers or his Macintosh book Insanely Great (Levy is an old-fashioned Mac loyalist) did theirs, but Levy seems to have come away with a visceral distrust of Google.
myth_buster
Thanks, will check them out. I too like that he doesn't spice things up to read like a novel and a bit less hand waving when it comes to technicals.
MIT "hack" comes from the pranks and unauthorized adventuring that many undergraduates came to enjoy on campus. (eg. http://hacks.mit.edu/Hacks/misc/best_of.html)

Hack was then used by MIT's TMRC of which many members became involved with/helped build the AI-lab. The first third of Hackers (http://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Computer-Revolution-Anniversar...) gives a good perspective on the evolution.

surge
Yes, I've actually read the book, that's why I thought it came originally from the TMRC as one of the many slang terms or jargon they came up with.
Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Stephen Levy (http://amzn.com/1449388396)

A great look at the people involved in the early years of personal computing, including Stallman, Gates, Wozniak, etc. Apart from the technology, Levy discusses the basic philosophy and motivations of the personalities involved.

I'm reading In the Plex right now. It is worth reading, however it doesn't have the same spark has Steven Levy's classic book Hackers.

http://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Heroes-Computer-Revolution-Ann...

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