Author: Steven Levy
Publisher: O'Reilly, 2010
Aimed at: Anyone with interest in computer history
Pros: A good read
Cons: Update section is short
Reviewed by: Mike James
Levy's original book quickly became a classic. Now republished 25 years later is it still relevant?
Hackers (heroes of the computer revolution) is deservedly a classic and the older it gets the more it becomes a classic. When I first read it many of the events seemed almost too recent to be the subject of a book, let alone a popular "history" book. Now we have the 25th Aniversary edition and many of the things described seem much further away. As Bill Gates says in the short update to the book -
"... And now I'm old and I have to put up with it. It's weird how old this industry has become. When I was young I met with you (the author), and now I'm old, I meet with you. Jesus!"
While many of the comments in the update section are interesting it is very short and if you have an earlier edition then there isn't much in it that would justify buying the new edition. There is also a big jump between the end of the old material and the new - the Internet happened in the gap.
What this means is that if you are looking for a history of contemporary goings on in the computer world you will be disappointed. This account starts out with the goings on at MIT and mostly describes phone hacking and electromechanical switches in the first few pages. The mini-computer then enters the scene followed by the homebrew micro computer a little later.
The book is divided into four parts. The first deals with the 50s and 60s and the slow change from mechanical and valve-based devices to transistors. Part Two is about the 70s and the rise of the microcomputer and Basic. Part Three is about the rise of the games console and games machines in the 80s. The final part is a round out about the idea that hacking is a dead or dying activity.
As claimed in the introduction - this is a classic. It is also a good read. The story is well told and unless you are looking for a more up-to-date account of how we got where we are this should be on your reading list.
I wonder what things will be like when the 50th anniversary edition is issued?