Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution 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. The story follows their exploits and adventures through the 1960s en route to a second wave of hackers in Northern California in the 1970s who take the love home, creating machines on a smaller budget that could be used by ordinary people. Hot on their heels were another group of Californians who led a third wave, hacking software to do things never before dreamed of and leading the way to the commercialization of the computer. The book ends with a series of afterwards, one written when the book was first published in 1983, another written 10 years later, and another just added to this newly published edition. Each adds details and commentary to the history that were not known at the time of the original interviews and research.
If the history of hacking, free and open source software and the attitudes embodied in the current movement interest you, you will appreciate this book greatly.
Disclosures: I was given my copy of this book free by O’Reilly as a review copy, I also write for O’Reilly.