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on 25 March 2001
If your into computing then this book is a "must read". As much as is possible it turns the rather boring subject of computing history into a good read. It describes all the periods , people and moments from computing history in detail and gives the reasoning ( dare is say - logic ) behind how we ended up with computing as it is today.
The only gripe that could be aimed at this book is that it is completely US orientated. To read this book without any prior knowledge would leave you with the impression that the computer "revolution" started and remains the sole property of the US.
Whilst in a lot of cases this is true , particularly in the area of hardware , the author did take a rather blinkered view when he covered the subject of computer games which doesn't do justice to the UK gaming companies who were ( and still are ) every bit as important as our US cousins.
The bottom line though is that its a brilliant book , one i would recommend to anyone who is nerdy enough to want to know the history of modern day computing.
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VINE VOICEon 29 August 2003
A hack: a neat or smart way of fixing or implementing something. This definition was in use in MIT in the late fifties in the MIT Tech Railroad Club where young engineers would devise ways of controlling their large model layout. Also in MIT were some of the first large computers and these young men (pretty exclusively so) were drawn to these behemoths like bugs to a flame. Hours were spent writing and debugging code. It wasn't easy going at the start as some of these machines had no i/o devices such as monitors, but these young men were bitten by the bug and became devoted to the cause.
The first section of the book describes the rise of the original computer hacker, and the Hacker Ethos that came with it. Software was free to all, and if you make an improvement to someone elses code, you were welcome to do so. But these young people were a priviledged few as hacking was limited to those with access to these college machines.
In the second part of the book, based mainly in the seventies, we see hacking being applied to hardware and the creation of the first home computers. The first was the Altair, which had no keyboard, but spread like wildfire. People spent ages writing programs for it and explored all it's possibilities. It's here that we meet Bill Gates, a young programmer asked to write a BASIC compiler for the machine. The hacker ethos of software being free for all didn't sit well with Mr. Gates and he wrote a letter to a popular computing magazine at the time, explaining that since he wrote the code, wasn't he entitled to some payment. Mr Gates doesn't really appear again, but that small glimpse of him seems so true.
At this time a club for computing afficionados, the Homebrew club came into existence and here many of the best and brightest would converse for ages, swapping ideas and experience. Among them was Steve Wozniak, who would create the first Apple and truly bring computing to the masses.
The third section of the book moves back to software, and the companies that sprang up in the eighties to provide games and utilities for the home computer user. In this section, the abandonment of the hacker ethos becomes clear. Companies, such as Sierra, were founded by hackers, but in order to grow and develop, something had to be left behind, and one such thing was the belief in free software.
This is a great book covering three influential sections of computing history. The descriptions of the people involved are highly captivating and it is hard to put this book down. If you remember the first apples, ataris and the apple mac, and how glamorous and liberating they were at the time, this book fills you in on all the details that went into constructing these revolutionary machines, and how they were shaped by the people behind them. If you have any interest at all in computing history, then this is a must read book.
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on 21 September 2001
I have to agree with the previous reviewer. This is an absolute brilliant book and once I started reading I literally could not put it down and so far I have not encountered this feeling with any other book. I have also re-read it several times and whilst computer nerds will it enjoy it the most I can recommend it to anyone with even the minimal of interest in computers. PS If you are a nerd buy two! One 'good' copy and one you can just keep reading and lend out to friends.
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on 11 September 2010
Owner of the previous edition, I was maybe expecting too much for the 25th anniversary edition... The original one is really a great book showing the computer history and especially the beginning of the video games industry. The hacker movement is also clearly defined and explained the importance of breaking the boundaries in computer science. But if you are already the owner of the previous edition, you don't really need to purchase the anniversary edition... as this is just 20 pages of 25-years after without too much new advancement. At the end, the quality of this book resides in its ability to be still very good after 25 years.
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VINE VOICEon 28 January 2016
This is now a classic, I read it in the early nineties first and this is an updated version.
It follows various eras of computing the early pioneers in the fifties labs (Cambridge, Boston), the Homebrew era in Northern California and finally home games programming in the 80s. My favourite era is the homebrew one that led to Apple computers.
The writing is consistently entertaining and there's a lot of historical detail. I reread this on my kindle recently and enjoyed it the second time.
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on 16 February 2004
When looking for a fantastic read one does not immediately jump to the computer history section, thank Levy for exceptions.
Stephen Levy, a gifted author and journalist, leads the reader on a poignant journey through an age where computing still conjured up images of 6 foot computer terminals explored studiously by social outcasts. Levy has vibrantly fleshed out each of these leading characters and probably shined personality into historical figures who otherwise may have forever remained nameless geniuses.
As much a classic as any commentary in the past 40years, assuredly to be on class reading lists in the future... so get it before your Grand-kids do!
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on 1 February 2004
Right from the beginning this book had me completely hooked. It is obvious the amount of research that has gone into this book, and it delivers exactly what it promises.
I had always hated the way the media had mis-used the word hacker, and if your interested in finding out what a true hacker is, then this is a must read.
Stephen Levy describes in detail the people that pioneered computing in the 50's, selling there souls to programming and living the hacker dream, to the hardware hackers, and finally the bedroom programmers writing games.
If your in anyway addicted to computers and want to know where it all started, or if your an open source advocate then this is a MUST read. BUY NOW!!!
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on 8 January 2014
If you thought the term 'Hackers' had anything to do with computers you were mis-informed - but they invented the entire industry, bootstrapping it from skills learned from people running the early mainframe computers while on the search for components for their giant train set. Amazingly detailed, Steven Levy has lived and worked among the generation of geeks who became the household names from Microsoft and Apple, the games houses and software companies that are now world wide big business. And with the development of the Raspberry Pi it might be starting all over again!!
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on 23 August 1999
Steven Levy tells a good story and for every one of us reading this on a computer now, the history of the computer is a great one. The fact that this book was available on import only in the UK for ten years after its publication only served to heighten its legendary status; a status richly deserved. From a slow start, Levy accelerates, tracing the rise of the Mac and the invention of the PC and computer games - though the book does now come shuddering to a halt at 1984. For anyone who wants to know how we got to be where we are today, Levy is absolutely vital. Read this, then read Bob X Cringley's 'Accidental Empires', then Levy's own 'Insanely Great' and you'll know why you use a mouse, why Windows exists, why Bill Gates is rich, why networks sprung up and why Apple was always doomed to its fate.
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VINE VOICEon 26 August 2010
Hackers is a fascinating history of the computer industry from the late 50's through to the late 80s, covering the birth of the personal computer, the internet and the gaming industry.This is the 25th Anniversary Edition though, so has been updated with a 'ten years later' appendix covering the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, and with updates from Gates, Stallman and Woz looking back at what has changed over the last quarter-century.

It's a great read, and if I had one criticism it's the jump between the original ending of the book to the 'ten years later' piece, when the world wide web exploded into everyday use. That said, I lost myself for several hours in the history - it's told in an amiable right-in-the-middle-of-things style which I found enormously enjoyable and interesting.
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