Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution - 25th Anniversary Edition Kindle Edition
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|Length: 520 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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"Hackers" is divided into three parts:
1. True Hackers - 1946 - mid 70s. This section focuses on the early computer pioneers at MIT, such as the Tech Model Railroad Club, the Lincoln Laboratory, and experimenting with large mainframes such as the PDP-1 and TX-0. It describes in detail how they would spend hours punching in code for these computers to come up with the simplest hacks. I struggled to get through this section. It was so incredibly detailed and filled with minutiae that it took me two months and several breaks to get through the 200+ pages. Some of it was interesting, but there was just so much information I didn't need to know or care about.
2. Hardware Hackers - Mid 70s - 1980. All about the Homebrew Computer Club and the development of early personal computers, focusing on the Altair 8800, TRS-80, development of BASIC, and Stephen Wozniak's creation of the Apple and Apple II Personal Computers. This section was definitely more lively than the first, but there is still nothing that couldn't have been summed up in a 4 or 5 page magazine article or a visit to Wikipedia.
3. Game Hackers - Late 70s - 1982. This section is largely about the development of the game company Sierra On-Line, although the first few chapters spend a lot of time discussing early game development. This section was the most interesting in the book, especially to gain some insight into the culture that existed in the gamin industry back in its development, but not as exciting as I thought it was going to be. Since the book was published in 1984, there is no mention of the incredibly popular King's Quest series that launched Sierra to the top of the industry.
The main underlying theme of this book is the "hacker ethic," characterized by open access to computers (no passwords), mistrust of authority, computers are beneficial to changing people's lives, and all information should be free. It is very heavily discussed throughout the book and it's implications on the industry and the people in it. If this were a thesis paper about the hacker ethic I would have given Mr. Levy an A+ for staying so on focus. Unfortunately, it's not a thesis paper. If you are purchasing this book for entertainment purposes, make sure you are REALLY interested in early hacker culture. I thought I was but the book was just too dry for me. Not to mention it was hard to keep up with the hundreds of people introduced in the book. On the plus side, it is exceptionally well-researched and hardly seems dated at all. Until I got to the last few chapters, I had no idea the book was over twenty years old.
Edit: 5/16/11 - Revising my rating on this product to reflect the material rather than my expectations. I still feel like it's too old to reflect what we now know about the "computer revolution" and can use some updating, and that the book needs to be edited more to remove parts of it that slow down the flow and do not contribute to the narrative.
I still can't reconcile a book about the history of Hacking (in the original sense of the word and not the current usage applied to malicious criminals) that doesn't cover in any detail the evolution of UNIX/Linux and the Internet. The ARPANet is mentioned in passing. I skipped most of the sections on the Sierra Online people, because that story wasn't compelling to me. (I can see how others who are passionate about game hacking would be interested in that section).
I can't imagine what else could have been a bigger influence on hacking than the emergence of the Internet and the ability to run your own copy of an OS that also powers this massive network of networks. Freely sharing your ideas, code and information with others anywhere in the world is the main theme of this book and the Internet made that possible. Granted in 1983, this was not yet possible for most people hacking on the early PCs and Apples. And yet, this author almost completely ignores this area of computing. It would be like writing the history of the US auto industry and spending more time discussing Studebaker than Ford. (No offense to Studebaker, but come on).
The best parts of the book are the stories of the ingenious ways the MIT guys hacked on massive hardware with less computing power than a $10 pocket calculator.
Most recent customer reviews
An interesting and exciting book.