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Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age 1st Edition

96 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1449389550
ISBN-10: 1449389554
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Paul Graham , designer of the new Arc language, was the creator of Yahoo Store, the first web-based application. His technique for spam filtering inspired most current filters. He has a PhD in Computer Science from Harvard and studied painting at RISD and the Accademia in Florence.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1 edition (June 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1449389554
  • ISBN-13: 978-1449389550
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

131 of 139 people found the following review helpful By A Williams on August 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Paul Graham has delivered final proof that he is a marvelous essayist with his volume of fairly diverse writings, Hackers & Painters. I first came across his writing with his article, "A Plan For Spam," on using Bayesian filtering to block spam and found it a well written and informative technical article. I next came across him some time later when he wrote an essay on his web site entitled "Hackers & Painters," and once again it was well written, informative and (more importantly for an essayist) thought provoking. I was excited to hear he had published a volume of writing and pleased with the copy I received.

Literature has a long history of the essayist; since those famous theses on the church door at Wittenberg a well written and thought provoking essay on a topic has provided power and focus for important discussions. Graham has either learnt or discovered the important points in writing a good essay; brevity, quality writing and thought.

In this volume Graham covers a range of topics, though all are, understandably, centered on computers. Why nerds are unpopular at school, and what this demonstrates about our eduction system; why program in Lisp; the importance of "startups", programming languages and web development are all touched on. At the same time he covers topics less techno-centric such as heretical thinking and speech. wealth creation and unequal income distribution.

I found myself disagreeing with him often while reading the book, though every time I did I found his argument compelling. I agree with Andy Hertzfeld, quoted on the back cover of the book, "He may even make you want to start programming in Lisp.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By David on November 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In "Hackers and Painters," Paul Graham presents 15 essays on topics that are variously related to computer programming. Graham has two major accomplishments to his name in the hacking world: He was one of the architects of Viaweb, an internet startup which ultimately became Yahoo Shops, and one of the first succesful hosted web applications. He was also one of the first to talk about applying Bayesian filtering to the spam problem; Bayesian filtering has arguably been the most successful technique for reducing spam in individual mailboxes.

I'd advise prospective readers of this book to skip chapters 1, 3, 6 and 7, at least until after you've read the rest of the book. These four essays are the weakest in the book, and having them clustered near the beginning almost made me put the book down and stop reading.

I'm glad I didn't stop, though. The chapters on software development are excellent; Graham provides some of the best insight I've seen into how programmers think. Programmers will find useful ideas that can be applied to their work; non-programmers may get an insight into how programmers think.

The last seven chapters are particularly well done; in these, Graham discusses the nitty-gritty details of program design, choice of programming languages, and design of programming languages. Graham is occasionally arrogant, but his arrogance here comes from experience and success; although not everyone may agree with his arguments about the superiority of LISP over every other programming language, one can at least recognize the thoroughness of the discussion and draw one's own conclusions.

The four essays I mentioned above, by contrast, are much more poorly edited.
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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful By David Bridgeland on July 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an astonishingly good collection of essays. In lesser hands, any of the 15 essays here could have been a book by itself --- each packs more content than you can find in a typical one idea business book, or a typical one technology book for geeks. Yet his book is not dense or difficult: Graham's graceful style is a pleasure to read.
But what is it? Is it a business book, or a technical book? A bit of both actually, with a pinch of social criticism thrown in. There are essays on business --- particularly startups --- and essays on programming languages and how to combat spam, and one delightful one on the difficulty being a nerd in American public schools.
My favorite essay of the 15 --- and picking a favorite is itself a challenge --- is called "What you can't say". It is about heresy, not historical Middle Ages burned-at-the-stake heresy, but heresy today in 2004. And if you believe nothing is heretical today, that no idea today is so beyond the pale that it would provoke a purely emotional reaction to its very utterance, then read some of the other reviews. Graham's idea is not that all heresies are worth challenging publicly, or even that all heresies are wrong, but merely that there is value is being aware of what is heretical, so one can notice where the blind spots are.
Astonishingly good.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Dmitry Dvoinikov on June 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I'm an experiensed software developer and to me reading this book was absolutely refreshing. It won't teach you anything in particular but it will feed your mind and curiosity great deal - just one needs after years of office work.

This book is a collection of assorted essays, each covering some more or less software-related topic, like history of arts (huh ?). Political correctness, design of things, nerds' life and simply ways of life made their way into this marvellous book.

Some author's points are controversial, while to some I couldn't agree more. The magic part is that the author's judgements are based on not just what he knows or believes, but also on what he feels for no particular reason, and this is the approach I fully appreciate. Only the best books make your mind feel free, and this is one of them.
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