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Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  7,115 ratings  ·  354 reviews
“The computer world is like an intellectual Wild West, in which you can shoot anyone you wish with your ideas, if you’re willing to risk the consequences.” —from Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age, by Paul Graham

We are living in the computer age, in a world increasingly designed and engineered by computer programmers and software designers, by people w
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published May 25th 2004 by O'Reilly Media (first published May 20th 2004)
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Aug 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
I had serious problems with this book. So Paul Graham is a successful Lisp hacker who made a lot of money from his start-up. Good for him. To be sure, this earns him some credibility in discussing languages and start-ups. Unfortunately, he takes it upon himself to extrapolate from this single data point to universal laws of what makes you successful. Moreover, he seems to think that his success as a geek entrepreneur somehow lends validity to whatever unsubstantiated thoughts, feelings and preju ...more
Cody Django
Jan 05, 2009 rated it it was ok
Meh. This started out promising. While it may provide inspirational fodder for young, technological entrepreneurs, everyone else might soon find the tone obnoxious and constant extrapolation tedious.

Graham is at his best when he sticks to what he knows: programming and business technology. As such, the best chapter is "programming languages explained." This chapter held the most accessible explanation on language analytic that I've ever come across, and is a pleasure to read. Other chapters, su
Kevin Powe
Jun 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
What I expected going in was interested parallels on the process of creating software versus other creative arts, and what Graham had learned across multiple disciplines. That I can dig.

What I got is a string of thinly justified essays that are lionising The Uber1337 Hacker as a misunderstood maverick agent for changing that is only being kept back by The Man.

Graham is a smart man - far smarter than me, and he's written a lot more software. But the tone of the book is grating, because:

a) he keep
Feb 20, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I am a fan of PG's essays, so I was looking forward to reading this book. Unfortunately, it is just a collection of essays he has published online. If you have read the essays available on his website, you can safely skip this book.

In many of the essays, PG makes statements such as "The time to code a program depends mainly on its length.." which are ridiculous. I know he is trying to appeal to a wider audience, but staying stuff like this without anything to back it up is ridiculous. Some of hi
Max Nova
Full review and highlights at

I was looking at my highlights for Paul Graham's "Hackers and Painters" and it seems like I basically highlighted the entire book. It's that good.

At its core, this is a book about how changes in technology (particularly computer tech) has changed economic and social realities... and the new breed of tech-savvy doers that these technological shifts have brought to the forefront of our society.

Graham begins at the beginn
Viet Nguyen
Jun 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: paul-graham
A collection of essays from Paul Graham, a programmer who strongly advocates LISP programming. This book provides deep insights into nerd's life, hacker, entrepreneurship, and, which I enjoy the most, programming language. Paul showed why LISP is "the most powerful programming language" by comparing it with many other programming language: C, Java, Perl, Python, Ruby.

4 star only because the info is somehow out of date.

Here is my quick notes:

Chap 1. Reading about nerds in school made something
Saad El
Jul 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: computer-science
This book is a collection of essays by Paul Graham(co-founder of Y Combinator),
the essays are written in a really good style, the book is inspirational and thought provoking. It provide lots of insights on programming, startups, entrepreneurship, nerds, etc. The essays on programming languages are very interesting, Paul Graham clearly knows what he's talking about especially that he is co-creating a new Lisp dialect called Arc. But I didn't like it when he arguments on why Lisp is the most powe
Jul 31, 2011 rated it liked it
The hackers and painters link is tenuous at best, and I didn't find much of the stuff in here revolutionary, but it was published in 2004 and I tend to agree with most of it. It seems to be mostly geared toward inspiring nerds to make more conscious decisions in the career, be it starting a business or otherwise even if it does claim to be aimed at anyone interested in learning about software and software systems. All that said, Graham is a decent writer. He adopts an authoritative tone which pe ...more
Jan 09, 2009 rated it liked it
A fun-to-read mix of insight and ideology, Graham is someone we can learn from no matter which side of the box he's thinking on. His essay on nerds ("Why Nerds are Unpopular") is still a favorite, even while his essay on disparity of wealth ("Mind the Gap") is among the most unreflective apologies for anarcho-capitalism I've ever read.

I was, at least, inspired enough while reading Graham to put a few more thoughts together; those interested can find them here.
Jul 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: tech
Starting from random opinionated views on how the world works, to interesting correlations about art and science ending with a strong evangelism on the programming language lisp, Paul forces us to put our thinking cap on.
Ekaterina Kiseki
Dec 03, 2016 rated it did not like it
Haven't finished the book. The man may be very good at his job, but he sucks at writing. The book looks like a compilation of cheap motivation posts with catchy titles. However it may amuse those who are completely unrelated to IT.
Anusha Narasimhan
A collection of essays that are thought provoking and insightful. Oh, and he makes nerds look super cool, so a big thumbs up from me. I recommend it to programmers and people interested in computer science.
Michelle Tran
Jun 19, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: essays, business
The articles on technology were decent (not great), but it was hard not to facepalm every couple of pages on his articles about social commentary.
Ross Siegel
Mar 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
Self indulgent, self-congratulatory, vague concepts expounding on platitudes & trivialities.
Paul Graham is a badass, no doubt, but this book can be skipped.
Ilya Ivanov
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great book, not only for developers. You don't need to agree with all Paul's points (I certainly didn't) in order to appreciate courage and creativity of authors ideas.
Muriel Fang
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All ideas are great. One about school struck me -- the school system was mostly used as an elaborate baby sitting system. Children do not have to inherently wait until age 18 to learn about calculus. Teenagers have been productive (even prolific) in production and creation, from apprentice to creative activities such as hacking, when they are unshackled from the school system's dictated pace.

This idea shook me from the illusion people placed on doing well in school - which is set at learning pac
Oct 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Paul Graham is computer scientist, entrepreneur and a venture capitalist. He is famously known for his work on LISP, his former startup Viaweb, and co-founding the influential startup accelerator Y Combinator. In Hackers and Painters, what starts as a very general book with essays like Why nerds are unpopular?, Hackers & Painters, What you can't say, Good Bad attitude etc; turns highly technical towards the end. He advocates why LISP is a better language for programming softwares, what is th ...more
Nov 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A must read book for every developer. I love overlaps to other domains. As a non-native speaker, I have learnt a couple of new interesting words. At first sight, it does not look technical at all, but it does indeed. Very good insight to history of programming but also to the future. It contains several refrains such as Lisp, languages vary in power, ViaWeb, startup, renaissance and painting. It glues essays nice together.
Maksym Lysak
Aug 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
1. Речі, які ти не можеш сказати в голос.
Мода змінюється. Достатньо подивитися на фото 10-ї давності щоб посміятися з себе. Що цікаво, мода на моральні принципи та суспільні норми змінюється також.
Як і в кожний інший історичний період наша моральна мапа містить певні помилки. Смішно вважати, що ми зараз зрозуміли як жити і в наших суспільствах не існує норм/ідей, з яких люди майбутнього не будуть сміятися.
Чи є у Вас ідеї, які Ви не можете сказати в голос свому оточенню? Якщо нема, у Вас неприєм
Pedro Delfino
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I have read. I wish I had read this book when I was 14 yrs old. Paul Graham is the favorite philosopher in the hacker community.
Jeremy Karmel
May 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
I really enjoy Paul Graham's writings. I think that everything in this book may be available on Graham's blog, but it's still worth checking out. The book is really a series of essays in disguise but frankly that makes it much better than many drawn out books that would have been better as essay. Graham writes in a direct manner that is very engaging. I recommend the following essay in particular:

3) What You Can't Say - In this essay Graham defines a procedure for identifying beliefs that you sh
Ankush Chander
I wish I picked this book in my first year undergrad(or any other book then for that matter :P). Glad to be reading it now nevertheless.
Alex Martinelli
Oct 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Overall an impressive good source of refreshing ideas and wisdom, but missing a common theme or narrative.
Rajat Khanduja
Dec 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Paul Graham has some very interesting ideas on hacking. The perspective that draws a parallel between hackers and all creators makes a hacker feel great about himself/herself. Graham is open-minded. Moreover, his strength in inductive thinking cannot be ignored when he extends our disapproval of some prevalent ideas of the past to infer that the ideas that are ubiquitous today might also appear idiosyncratic in the future. Another similar idea is the parallel drawn between religion and programmi ...more
Alan Konyer
Feb 21, 2015 rated it liked it
I started with a bias to like this book, because programming was my passion in university in 1976 and I often wonder if I had stayed on that path, could my career path (and bank account) been richer for it?

I don't have enough programming experience to comment on the various computer language comparison opinions, which other reviewers seem to value. I did think the author's insights into adolescent and high-school socialization and the reasons why small software start-ups can often run circles ar
Nachi Vpn
Aug 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Great read! Brimming with lots of valuable philosophical insights for hackers and startup people. I liked how he frequently looks back in time to understand humans, the evolution of problems and how they have been solved. PG makes a lot of great observations and talks about a lot of things - nerds, wealth, hacking, painting, history, people, religion etc.

I especially enjoyed the prose on good design and the dream programming language. A good amount of content in the book concentrates on program
Du Nguyen
Dec 03, 2014 rated it liked it
Hackers and painters is a book written by Paul Graham who ran a startup in the 1990's which was later sold to Yahoo. He is now running Y Combinator.

Hackers and painters is a book which reads like a collection of random essays. The first few chapters is about the start of computing and about childhood while later chapters are about both starting a startup and socioeconomic policies. The last chapters are about programming languages where he strongly argues for lisp.

Anyone so have read one of his
May 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays
Paul Graham is an early web innovator (creating the first online store company, ViaWeb, which was later sold to Yahoo!) He clearly foresees technology trends (the iPhone and Cloud Computing) and is righteously opinionated - something important for creative, entrepreneurial people as he writes in one of the book's earliest essays.

PG is a libertarian and sees the world through those lenses (it happens to be a lens I share to some degree, so it was a refreshing read.) If you dislike libertarian tho
Aaron Heinen
Feb 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Any Nerd willing to take advice from a successful genius
Easily THE most insightful book I have ever read. Paul Graham hits the nail on the head in every chapter. He does so by speaking from experience, his small 3 man startup was bought out by Yahoo! and then quickly went downhill as most things that are bought out by Yahoo! do... One of the best phrases from the book is talking about the concept of a 'job'. "Someone graduating from college thinks, and is told, they need to get a job, as if the more important thing were becoming yet another member of ...more
Nov 18, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
The book is a compilation of essays published originally on Paul Graham's website. He is a vocal advocate of lisp and the book is filled with opinionated support for his favorite language revolving around anecdotes from his startup days. Apart from that he presents a few other essays on subjects like how to create wealth and write spam filters. The overarching theme of the book is that hacking revolves not around programming languages and other technicalities but the individual or the hacker who ...more
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Paul Graham is an essayist, programmer, and programming language designer. In 1995 he developed with Robert Morris the first web-based application, Viaweb, which was acquired by Yahoo in 1998. In 2002 he described a simple statistical spam filter that inspired a new generation of filters. He's currently working on a new programming language called Arc, a new book on startups, and is one of the par ...more
“There are few sources of energy so powerful as a procrastinating college student.” 72 likes
“Let's start with a test: Do you have any opinions that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of your peers?

If the answer is no, you might want to stop and think about that. If everything you believe is something you're supposed to believe, could that possibly be a coincidence? Odds are it isn't. Odds are you just think whatever you're told.”
More quotes…