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Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age Hardcover – 28 May 2004
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"In most fields the great work is done early on. The paintings made between 1430 and 1500 are still unsurpassed. Shakespeare appeared just as professional theater was being born, and pushed the medium so far that every playwright since has had to live in his shadow. Albrecht Durer did the same thing with engraving, and Jane Austen with the novel.
From the Publisher
Written in clear, narrative style, Hackers & Painters examines issues such as the rightness of web-based applications, the programming language renaissance, spam filtering, the Open Source Movement, Internet startups and more. In each essay, Graham moves beyond widely held beliefs about the way that programmers work as he tells important stories about the kinds of people behind tech innovations, revealing distinctions about their characters and their craft. No hackers reading this book will fail to recognize themselves within these pages. No programmer will put it down without new thoughts actively percolating.See all Product description
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When he confines himself to start-ups and programming he makes a lot of good points. He's undoubtedly an excellent programmer and his thoughts on start-ups and lisp (mainly) are interesting and backed up by experience. His essays on why nerds re unpopular is excellent.
However on essays such as `How to make Wealth' and `Mind the Gap' he demonstrates the shallowness of his thinking. His politics are libertarian, and he repeatedly justifies the idea that inequality doesn't matter and that the rich earn their money. Both of these are debatable at best, and he makes various howlers - such as the amount of dollars the US government creates has a top limit, programmers tend to be libertarians (maybe in the US but I've ever met one in Britain) etc. He has a point when he says differences in productivity should give rise to differences in wealth but it's very hard to believe that's what's happening in the top 1% of income.
So as long as you ignore this, it's an interesting read, note also that all of these essays are free on PG's website.
It seems to me all this chap need do is form a third major company to compete with Microsoft and apple. Clearly he likes a challenge and the world needs more competition to encourage innovation.
The author of this book may be good in computers and programming but he is lousy in politics; and this book is mostly about naive arguments in favour of right-wing politics. My 5 year old niece has a better understanding of the world than him. His naive arguments and examples in favour of capitalism and libertarianism are a perfect example of how unbalanced a person's education can be nowadays. He is a disgrace to us all hackers and programmers around the world who still have human feelings and a basic understanding of politics and the world economy. If you really want a book in politics buy some Noam Chomsky; just not this garbage.
In particular I would bring the authors attention to two things. Firstly that in the preface you describe Steve Jobs as a programmer; this couldn't be further from the truth given what articles and stories I've read over the years. Secondly I think it a serious misjudgement to include the paragraph "E tables contained the kids with mild cases of Down's Syndrome, what in the language of the time we called 'retards.'"; as someone with a disabled relative and a cousin with Down Syndrome - true account or not - I found this offensive.
Would recommend prospective buyers download a sample before purchasing!
I'd recommend any programmer to read this book. He has a very different perspective to most modern writers and that's refreshing, though I don't always agree with his conclusions. He also writes very well and it's a good read.
Unfortunately I would guess that large sections of it are off limits to non-programmers: it's hard to buy a book when you're not going to get half of it. Even the supposedly non-techie chapters tend to throw in comments about (for example) static typing here and there.
Chapter 1 is a brilliantly insightful "nerd's eye" view into how secondary school culture works and everyone should read it (particularly anyone with an interest in teenage education).
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