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Hacker Culture Hardcover – March 1, 2002

3.3 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Silently navigating the virtual corridors of the global telecom networks, peeking into restricted files and generally causing mischief, hackers are the tricksters of the digital age. But although Hollywood and the publishing industry have long been fascinated by these technosneaks, they've nearly always overestimated hackers' malicious intents and technical abilities, argues Thomas, a professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication. He attempts to set things right, steering a middle course between the alarmists, who perceive hackers as suburban terrorists of the new century, and the apologists, who want to see them as brave revolutionaries against a corporate/government assault on personal liberties. With a real affinity for his subject, Thomas uses hacker publications like 2600 and Phrack for most of his research, instead of the all-too-common procession of online security experts doing their best Chicken Little impersonations. Thomas avoids another trap of this genre by not letting hackers the publicity-loving, self-aggrandizing ones spout off at length about their skills and achievements. He presents a sober but sympathetic analysis, maintaining that, more often than not, hackers are simply playing around, testing a system's security just to see if it's sound: "[They] see themselves as educators about issues of security, fulfilling the same function as Consumer Reports." Though Thomas may rely too heavily on that old academic touchstone, Foucault, he has produced an intelligent and approachable book on one of the most widely discussed and least understood subcultures in recent decades.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Thomas (Univ. of Southern California; Cybercrime) traces the history and origin of hacker culture within mainstream society, the computer industry, and the media. In the first of the book's three parts, he describes the evolution of the hacker and the emergence of hacker culture, also discussing how films like War Games, Sneakers, The Net, and Hackers helped mythologize the image. Part 2 focuses on how hackers have been represented in the media, both within their own culture and to the outside world. Thomas also discusses publications such as 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, which provides insight into the political and social agendas of hacker culture, as well as the publication Phrack, which he contends has its finger on the pulse of hacker culture. In the last part, Thomas provides a judicial discourse on how hackers are defined legally and concludes by examining the cases of two hackers, Kevin Mitnick and Chris Lamprecht, who were prosecuted for their activities. Thomas effectively argues that the popular image of the hacker reflects more the public's anxieties about technology than the reality of hacking. Addressing general audiences in a readable, engaging style, his book would be of interest to students of communication and journalism. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Joe Accardi, William Rainey Harper Coll. Lib., Palatine, IL
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 266 pages
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press (March 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816633452
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816633456
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,577,157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
It may be that computer hackers, those who can break into someone else's computer system and take data, or fiddle with it, or just look around, are scary criminals who may collapse our baroque internet architecture. It may be that they are dangerous outlaws who, since they know computers so well, must be put into prison for years away from any keyboard or mouse. It may also be that they simply know people very well, and that stereotypes of hackers in the media (even in journalism) show nothing so much as our worry over the unprecedented new computer tools piped into our homes and offices. This last is the view of Douglas Thomas, who, in _Hacker Culture_ (University of Minnesota Press), has written a history of how hackers came to be, and how they came to be seen as villainous outcasts. It is a surprising look at hackers, but is more about how a society uses computers, and it takes in the entire short history of digital electronics.
One of the surprising parts of this history is just how far antipathy between hackers and Microsoft goes, and it starts right at the beginning with the first personal computer. Bill Gates co-wrote a version of the BASIC programming language that could be run on the Altair, but Altair users had become used to sharing programs, not buying them. Gates thought of his BASIC as a secret that could be licensed or purchased, and hobbyists that shared it (the earliest hackers) were simply thieves. Ill feelings between Gates and hackers have continued for almost three decades now over similar issues. The reputation of hackers, forged in the popular media, is one of this book's strengths. _WarGames_, the 1983 release about the kid who nearly causes nuclear war by hacking into military supercomputers, gave hacker culture a national audience.
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Format: Paperback
This is a cultural and political study of hackers as researched by an academic, and as a former academic myself, I can tell you a bit about how this process works. A professor takes a subject of general interest and beats it senseless by applying intellectual theory, and constructs the study for other professors who are more concerned with accepted research methods, rather than knowledgeable general readers who might have an interest in learning more about the subject. Here, Douglas Thomas uncovers a number of fascinating aspects of hacker culture. These include the recent increase in political activism by hackers, their contradictory stances on secrecy and freedom of information, the back-and-forth influence of cyberpunk and science fiction (with some interesting connections to authors William Gibson and Bruce Sterling), and especially how popular views on the criminality of hackers is really an outgrowth of society's latent fears of technological domination.

This could have been a truly fascinating book if Thomas hadn't decided to turn on the professorisms and flog this interesting material to death with tired and soggy theory. Thomas frequently namedrops the classic social theoreticians Foucault, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, an exercise that serves little purpose other than impressing Thomas' fellow professors. He also unleashes windy over-analysis of the texts of outdated movies and magazines, as well as the influential Hacker Manifesto.
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Format: Hardcover
As others have mentioned in their reviews, this book was written by a highly academic author. Thus, the content is geared towards a college educated audience, or at least bright highschool students. As a computer engineering student, I found this book to be intruiging. Several hacking related movies were analyzed, and although slightly dated, these examples further the understanding of hacking history. The anecdotes are often amusing, and the main points of each section are deeply supported with sources and logical reasoning. Thomas's overlying message is that the media cruelly slants the image of the benevolent hacker into one of a violent evil genius. I'd recommend this book to anyone above average computer user level, or those who have an interest in learning about computer history, and hackers in general.
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Format: Hardcover
While people in previous reviews have complained that a) the prose is dense, and b) it's out of date, I can say as an academic who has waded through most of the academic literature on hackers and hacker culture that Thomas's prose, although indeed academic, is in contrast cystal clear. As well, his take on hackers is, in my opinion, more thorough and balanced than almost any other account I've seen.
What reviewers who want to either "watch the movie" or read an exciting book like "Cyberpunk" instead miss is that Thomas deconstructs both of these phenomena -- hackers in fiction and hackers in bombastic nonfiction, to create a portrayal of hacker culture in the popular media as well as in "real life." His aim is not just to talk about hackers but also the perception of hackers. Yes, it's outdated (although how it could not be is difficult to say), but the truth is that most of the paradigm-setting portrayals of hackers were produced in the mid 1980s - mid 1990s, and as such the movies, fiction, journalism etc. from this time period are still quite relevant. It is not complete -- I fault him for instance for only fully deconstructing a few movies -- but it is by far the most complete in terms of showing both sides (fiction and reality, not hackers and law enforcement) that I have seen.
I would urge people, like the reviewer below, who are interested in hacker culture to visit sites like 2600; I would also urge them to read this book -- please! -- in addition to or instead of books like "Cyberpunk" and "The Cuckoo's Egg."
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