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Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution - 25th Anniversary Edition Paperback – May 30, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 162 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Steven Levy's classic book explains why the misuse of the word "hackers" to describe computer criminals does a terrible disservice to many important shapers of the digital revolution. Levy follows members of an MIT model railroad club--a group of brilliant budding electrical engineers and computer innovators--from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s. These eccentric characters used the term "hack" to describe a clever way of improving the electronic system that ran their massive railroad. And as they started designing clever ways to improve computer systems, "hack" moved over with them. These maverick characters were often fanatics who did not always restrict themselves to the letter of the law and who devoted themselves to what became known as "The Hacker Ethic." The book traces the history of hackers, from finagling access to clunky computer-card-punching machines to uncovering the inner secrets of what would become the Internet. This story of brilliant, eccentric, flawed, and often funny people devoted to their dream of a better world will appeal to a wide audience. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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"A remarkable collection of characters . . . courageously exploring mindspace, an inner world where nobody had ever been before." -- The New York Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 520 pages
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1 edition (May 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1449388396
  • ISBN-13: 978-1449388393
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (162 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #63,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book is a history of the beginning, growth and rise of the use of computers by people outside of the big businesses and governments that worked to create them in proprietary silos. This 25th anniversary edition of Steven Levy's classic book retains its detailed and interesting chronicle of the events that brought computing power to the masses. It also records some of the problems, pitfalls, and failures along the way. Here you will find many names that computer lovers are sure to recognize from Bill Gates to Richard Stallman as well as many that are not as well known, but that deserve to have their victories recorded also.

I greatly appreciate that this book exists. To be honest, it wasn't always a fun read. That isn't a commentary on the quality of the writing, but rather on the ups and downs of the narrative. There were times when I found myself wishing I was there in the middle of the action and other times when I had difficulty knowing who to root for. There were still other moments when I found myself cringing as I read about events long past, wishing that different decisions had been made or disappointed at the actions and attitudes of geniuses.

I'm not going to spoil the book for anyone interested by giving out specific details. All I'll say here is that the story begins with a bunch of model railroaders who love technology and who fall in love with a computer they discover they may access freely in an out of the way room in a building at MIT in the late 1950s. They took their love of piecing together technological gadgets in imaginative and creative ways (hacks) and applied it to this new tool / toy.
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Format: Paperback
I am a senior engineer for network security operations, who when nine years old in 1980 started computing on a Timex-Sinclair ZX-80. I probably first heard the term "hacker" when "War Games" was released in 1983. I read Steven's book because it is an early but enlightening account (first published in 1984) of the Hacker Ethic.
Consider: in a closed, self-policed environment, like the computer labs of the 1960s and early 1970s, freely sharing information makes sense. In an open, under-policed environment, like the modern Internet, deviants abuse the Hacker Ethic. Well-intentioned "white hats" may explore the phone system purely to understand its operation, but evil-minded "black hats" abuse the same knowledge to make free long distance calls. Does this mean information should be confined? No -- full disclosure is still the best way to counter black hat activity.
Steven lays the groundwork for these thoughts, and serves up gems from hacker history. His 1970s quote from Popular Electronics editor Les Solomon is the earliest reference I know linking hacking to kung fu: "The computer is...an art form. It's the ultimate martial art." Steven also shares tales of Sierra On-Line, Apple Corp., Homebrew Computer Club, the Altair, and even Bill Gates' 1975 rant against software piracy.
"Hackers" will make you appreciate your unlimited access to the machine on which you're reading this review. Hackers of the 1960s and 1970s would have given their first born child to possess the power and availability of modern PCs; now we take PCs for granted, like indoor plumbing or refrigeration!
Those who lived the early days of PCs will enjoy Steven's trip down memory lane. Those who are younger will discover the true meaning of the word "hacker" -- one who promotes access, freedom, decentralization, meritocracy, art, and joy through computers.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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