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Extra Life: Coming Of Age In Cyberspace Paperback – October 8, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (October 8, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465012361
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465012367
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,533,004 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Bennahum writes a rich account of what it was like to be among the first to grow up with computers as an important part of daily life, where the critical parts of the most coveted toys are electronic rather than mechanical. What lends Extra Life such poignancy is that it ranges far beyond mere push-buttons and keyboards to incorporate the new electronic world into the larger life of a boy growing up in New York. Bennahum delves into his own psyche to show how the computer revolution dovetailed with other revolutions surrounding his coming of age, such as coping with his parents' divorce, emerging from being an outsider, and youthful (sometimes illegal) strivings for adulthood.

However enthusiastic he gets about his electronic extra life, he doesn't overlook the dark side of experience. When he violates a system-access rule, for example, he discovers a serious system flaw and must now wrestle with the ethical issue of whether to report it and protect the system when doing so would reveal his violation. If Bennahum sometimes seems overly self-congratulatory for being part of his generation, that's easily forgiven as he shares his childlike wonder in the electronic new world that grew up alongside him. --Elizabeth Lewis --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In this peculiar memoir of growing up at the same time as the computer, Bennahum, a contributing editor to Wired and other magazines, charts his lifelong obsession with the machine, from before he could type a four-line BASIC program to his days of amateur hacking to the time he took a trip to Microsoft's Seattle offices for a job interview. Implicitly challenging the distinction between geekiness and coolness, Bennahum tells of his early fascination with drugs, the solace he found in computers and the seductiveness of invading others' cyberprivacy. He writes as compellingly about the glee of his first hacking job as other memoirists have written about their first acid trip or incestuous relationship. Bennahum captures with poignancy the yearning he had to be a "Super User," the computer lab's star du jour, as well as the thrill of discovery when working with computers. But his memoir is marred by too many unexplained digressions, such as the all-too-casual suggestion that his sister became a "bad girl" because she didn't look for computers to rescue her. The book's largest bug lies in the fact that Bennahum spends too much time documenting when he should be enlightening. Must we really know that "Paul Haahr taught me how to play Ping-Pong with the switches," when we'd rather read his insights into such a moment? Those who grew up during the same pivotal cyber-time as the author will recognize at least some of his sentiments but find little new in them; those who didn't might assume that they didn't miss much. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 10, 1998
Format: Hardcover
David Bennahum's "Extra Life" is one of the most touching, gripping, and interesting books I've read in a long time. The book is a personal account of the authors youth, his early descent into the world of drugs and alcohol, and how discovering the fascinating world of computers brought him out and changed his life forever. It was a powerful moment when the meaning of the book's title hit me.. like in video games, David was granted an "Extra Life", a chance to pull himself up by the bootstraps. Computers were the answer.
Perhaps I enjoyed this book so much because many of David's experiences hit very close to home -- while I was never did drugs or drank alcohol, and I am a bit younger than him (Pac Man instead of Pong), I found myself relating closely to Bennahum's memoirs. The similarities between us are scary, from our first computers (Atari 800), to our interviews with Microsoft later in life. "Extra Life" is the first book I've read that has hit the spirit of the computer programmer straight on the head. Finally, someone who shared the same passion for programming that I have! Bennahum expresses this passion eloquently.
"Extra Life" is a fascinating story, most likely the first of many personal experiences about growing up in the computer age we'll see in the future. After reading David's story, I had the strange urge to share my similar experiences. Personally, I can't wait to give this book to my parents to read, and I urge those parents who are curious -- and maybe a bit concerned -- about the hypnotic attachment their kids have with the computer to pick up a copy of "Extra Life" and read what that attachment is all about.
Cheers to David S. Bennahum on his first book. I can't wait for his next.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Although I did see a few parallels to my own youth in the book (I'm the same age, and also owned a Merlin and an Atari computer), I just couldn't relate to Bennahum's story.
Perhaps this is because I grew up middle class in a small midwestern city, while Bennahum grew up wealthy in NYC. I had to earn the money for my Atari 400 on my own, while Bennahum had his 800 and dual disk drive handed to him. My public high school taught BASIC programming on lowly TI99/4As, Bennahum's exclusive private high school had an extensive computer science curriculum and a PDP-11.
After this exceptional computer education in high school, he is admitted to Harvard and chooses to study history. (My guess is that computer science would have been too much unpleasant work for him.) I graduated from a small midwestern college with a degree in computer science.
At a Harvard job fair, he's fortunate enough to be selected by Microsoft for an interview. He's flown to Seattle and has interviews in several departments. He rejects them all as dull and accuses Microsoft of "fossilizing" software. My first programming job was modifying Turbo Pascal programs for a small software company. Hardly exciting, however I was thrilled to be earning good money for something I enjoyed doing.
In the end, Bennahum's book strikes me as the whining of a lazy rich kid who had every advantage in life but never wanted to do any real work. I was disappointed with this book and cannot recommend it.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 14, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I throughly enjoyed this book, I am older than David but felt the same fascination the first time I used a Dragon 32K. I never mastered programming to the same degree but understand his enchantment. The book's underlying theme is understanding the interaction between the human and the computer not just the "human computer interface". The parallel between the PDP computer and the Internet should be compulsory reading for those (including my kids) who believe that the Internet just happened. I strongly recommend this book both for its literary merits and its insights into our recent history.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 1, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I found this book 100% pure excellence. The way it weaved high technology with the realities of the times and growing up in the 70's and 80's. I have often thought that writing such a book would be terrific fun, but who would read it? I doubt I could ever write such an engrossing and entertaining book about myself the way David did with Extra Life. He succeeded in making an autobiography read more like a combination of a novel and reference manual.
Thanks for such a great book!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Marty Miller on February 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
I find it annoying that someone gave this book 2 stars because he couldn't relate to the author. How is that is standard for whether a book is good or not? If that's how we judge books, then Star Wars and Lord of the Rings suck!
Anyways, this book is excellent. I was too young to notice the computer age in the 80s, but reading this book is as close as I'll ever get. It makes me appreciate where we were in technology and kindof wish that things were still as simple and straigtforward. But it also makes me marvel at where we're going as well. Thanks David.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 16, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This extraordinary book traces the author's coming of age through computer development. Examining his personal life through a digital lens, he illuminates my (and, I bet, your) murky history of interacting with everything from the Commodore 64 and my Atari game console to my present laptop. My mind reeled as I saw, and recognized, my personal history excavated by this perceptive writer. I heartily recommend the book to anyone wanting to better understand this most human of revolutions, the digital revolution.
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