36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Various Sizes of Idea,
This review is from: Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age (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. In particular, I found Graham's economic arguments to be particularly clumsy in their lack of acknowledgement of any other points of view. It's not that Graham's wrong-- I agree with many of his ideas-- but particularly in these somewhat political chapters, he wields his words more like a blunt instrument than like a musical one.