I finally finished Steven Levy’s classic Hackers: Heroes Of The Computer Revolution. This book had been on my reading list since undergrad days! The book published in 1980s covers the early years of hacking from 1958 to 1983. The book is divided into 4 parts:
- True Hackers: The first known hackers at MIT AI Lab who played with the rudimentary hardware of the time and coded on punch cards. Includes Marvin Minsky, Greenblatt, Samson, Steve Russell, Stew Nelson and others. Except for Minsky, I hadn’t even heard the other names before. The significant creations of this era include the Hacker Ethic, Lisp, Spacewar and LIFE.
- Hardware Hackers: Soon after, a hardware hacking community started on the West Coast around the Homebrew Computer Club. Familiar names start appearing from this period. Steve “The Wiz” Wozniak’s brilliant hardware designs for Apple and Bill Gates’ ALTAIR BASIC catch the limelight. In this period, Apple grows from a garage venture to a multi-million dollar company which brings computing into homes.
- Game Hackers: After home computers go mainstream starts the craze of computer games. Sierra On-Line and Brøderbund are the main companies of this time (remember that this is way before Doom and its progeny appeared).
- The Last Of The True Hackers: Mostly centers around RMS who rues how the Hacker Ethic which started at MIT got lost in all the commercialization of computers. Since the book was published in 1984, it closes with this as the end of hacking. Little did the author know about what was to follow once the Internet became accessible!
The book is well researched and detailed. It can get a bit verbose though. There is so much computer history I hadn’t even heard about that it was worth reading just for that. Though the book is completely non-fictional, the narration reads like a suspense novel, so it’s not boring at all. Chapters 1 and 2 of the book are available under Project Gutenberg here. Recommended reading.