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Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  6,891 ratings  ·  387 reviews
A mere fifteen years ago, computer nerds were seen as marginal weirdos, outsiders whose world would never resonate with the mainstream. That was before one pioneering work documented the underground computer revolution that was about to change our world forever. With groundbreaking profiles of Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, MIT's Tech Model Railroad Club, and more, Steven ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published January 1st 2001 by Penguin Books (first published 1984)
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Average rating 4.13  · 
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 ·  6,891 ratings  ·  387 reviews

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Elaine Nelson
I'm still sort of processing this book a week later. All the status updates I posted are notes I wrote on paper while I was reading, alas I ran out of scraps while sick in bed, somewhere around pg 350. (the goodreads entry says this has more pages than the copy I have, btw.)

Note: this is a really long and somewhat rambling review.

A few themes stick out, notably West coast vs East coast. No, seriously. The first section is all MIT hackers, the other two are west coast focused (hippie hackers and
Max Lybbert
Feb 12, 2011 rated it did not like it
Why didn't O'Reilly bother to edit out the unneeded phrases like "known to man" ("the best computer in the world known to man")? A decent editor could have cut 20% out of this book, and made it much better in the process.

Additionally, there are enough cases of deep confusion about technical terms and famous events that I had to research any stories I was not already familiar with to see if the details were correct.

The writing is terrible, punctuated with ridiculous narrative commentary. For
Mar 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book, the original version, changed my life when I read it in high school. It, along with "The Cuckoo's Egg", put me on the road to computer science in college.
Willian Molinari
Mar 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: computers, audio
Great book. John Carmack said it was the most inspiring book for him and I can understand why.

The word Hackers is not the same these days, but the Hacker Ethics still lives in some of the programmers out there. Those guys that keep hacking (and/or programming) for hours and hours just for the joy of create and modify things still exists.

It made me think about the old times when I used to use part of my "sleep time" to work on some C++/SDL code just to understand how could I bring 2D game to life
Mar 17, 2013 rated it liked it
This book is divided into three basic sections. The first, about MIT hackers in the 1950's and 1960's, is outstanding. The second, about homebrew hardware culture in the Bay Area in the 1960's and 1970's, is decent but bloated. The third, about game hackers and Sierra On-Line, is mostly worthless. I'd recommend reading the MIT section and then readily giving up on the book after that.
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
I loved this book. It is a documentary about various aspects of computing. The first part is utterly excellent. It is about the birth of the "hacker ethic" around the DEC PDP machine in the MIT AI Lab. It is very funny and very inspiring. Some of the people in that section of the book have disappeared into obscurity, so the book is amazing for capturing this lost part of tech history. The second part is about the personal computer revolution. It covers the Altair machine, the Apple I / II and ...more
Jan 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
I don't usually review before finishing but I'm not sure I'll get through this one so might as well.

It's a bloated and repetitive book that focuses on a very specific area and drags it out as far as you can conceivably take it.

The author seems to think the people in the book are extraordinarily interesting, with their petty neuroses and self-centred immaturity, but unfortunately, they are ...not.

Do yourself a favour and watch the excellent films Pirates of Silicon Valley and Micromen instead,
May 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a really interesting look at the history of computers as a DIY technology, stretching from the 1950s to the 1980s, when the first edition of it was published.

I find a lot of computer users look at the things like they're magic boxes, likely run by black magic and/or hamsters running in wheels; I confess to having moments where I've felt that way myself, but I'm trying to educate myself a bit more on how computers actually think and operate, and this book helped cement that
Craig Cecil
Feb 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: computers, favorites
Let's get this out of the way up frontthe term "hackers" here refers to the original ideology of the word from the earlier days of computing, when hackers blazed the trail of our modern hardware and software systems. These are not the modern day denizen hackers of destructive, malicious infamy. Based on this understanding, this book should be required reading for anyone connected with the computing profession. It serves as a rich history of the genesis of modern day computing, from the earliest ...more
Vasil Kolev
Nov 07, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tech, history
This was somewhat mediocre. The book started ok, with the AI lab in MIT and the hackers there, but then got into some stuff which has nothing to do with hacking in any form, and the focus on Sierra On-line is unjustified.
All things considered, not a useful book beyond the first 100-150 pages.
Jul 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: technical, e-book
OK. It's too long, and, in places, too long-winded, even semi-religious in its fervour.
Nick Black
Mar 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
F'n awesome, obviously. Everyone should have read this by now, or by several years ago rather.
Oct 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great insight on the birth and evolution of the hacker mentality and its effects on the computer revolution.
Following the achievements and contributions in the field made by people such as Marvin Minsky (the father of AI), Peter Samson (developer of the Harmony Compiler and "Spacewar!"), Richard Greenblatt and Bill Gosper (considered to be the founders of the first hacker community), Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple), Ken and Roberta Williams (founders of Sierra On-line, one of the first
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The first of the three parts is a very enjoyable account of the eldest generation of hackers - their breathless enthusiasm and absolute dedication shines through to the reader as if one was there.
I liked the second part the least, the third one was good again.

It's also very interesting to read a book that maps the relatively obscure hacker culture (back in 1983, when it was first published). The book got popular in the following years, made its own impact on the very culture it described. And
Jul 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: goodreads
Shelves: grbpp
(4.0) The Hacker Pantheon

Really cool sketches of the hackers we know (or didn't) from early days at MIT up through the dawn of the personal computer. There were a few oddities (claiming brøderbund was Scandinavian for "brotherhood" (last I checked, Scandinavian wasn't a language...think maybe he meant Norwegian?), and that Bill Gates wrote DOS for the IBM PC (didn't he buy it from some guy for like $400?). The only other drawback for me was that some of the early chapters were a bit dull for me
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The bad: The books is extensively long. It's an excruciatingly detailed history of hackers, but still - sometimes too long. Also, there could be a short summary (or several) throughout the chapters. We jump from biography to biography with sometimes very little continuity. I got confused.

The good: It's a great great read. I would say essential for any CS major. I hated the book at the beginning. It was slow, I thought it would never end, and I wasn't really learning anything significative. But
Brett Stevens
Mar 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a book about the early age of hacking before computers controlled so much of our world that "hacking" became a science of exploitation. This is the original meaning of hacking, which is to squeeze extra performance out of equipment by bending the "proper" rules, which often have to do more with administrative control than technological limitations. I find this encouraging as an outlook as it is what all of us should always do to whatever limitations we find in life: work around the ...more
Aug 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of my absolute favorite tech-related books of all time. Read it a half-dozen times, at least.

It's somewhat better-written than most of Levy's books (like the painful "In the Plex"), though it bears the same biases that his other work does. I don't know if it's a long-form journalist tendency, but Levy's books and articles all seem to be written as if they're telling The Whole Story, though they are heavily skewed by the people who were most willing to be interviewed extensively. Any writer
Mar 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
This book was good at the outset, and the treatment of the freakish hacking pioneers was excellent, but I felt that the book lost its way somewhere beyond half-way through - it ended up being a paean to the good ship Apple Computers, and all who sail in her. Apart from making me suspicious of the writer's motives, this annoyed me because it was blinkered, ignoring so much else that was going on at the time. However, considering the year it was written and the ongoing nature of the subject ...more
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: internet, nonfiction
I think the most obvious criticisms about this book - that it is unnecessarily long winded, that it occasionally reads like Fight Club internal dialogue - are valid, but dont take away from the overall importance of it.
If you want to know the roots of hacking, the motivations behind certain ebbs and swells of computing, this is a good place to begin.
Sep 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An interesting look at the early hackers & computers. Especially for those in the computer field, it's a fun look at history. Well written & engaging.
May 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
I confess I couldn't finish it!
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sumit Gouthaman
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: technology, history
This book plays out in 3 parts.

The first part chronicles the adventures of a group of programming enthusiasts in MIT's AI lab in the 70s. They wrote useful utilities for the first generation of computers like TX-0, PDP6, etc. They believed in freely giving away all programs they wrote.

The second part is the story of hardware hackers in California who dreamt of new machines and wrote the initial software to make those machines come to life. This section includes the initial experiences of
Sebastian Gebski
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Awesome, yet somehow overblown chronicle of the original "hacker" culture.

If you know a bit about the history of software engineering, you probably (90%) know that who current pop culture considers a "hacker" is far from the traditional meaning of this word. This book gets even deeper - to the group of original hackers who rocked the computer industry before 82-83.

But, is it a good book? For a geek, sure it is. There are some well-known facts (e.g. about Wozniak), but there are also some far
* Hacker Ethic ( is different from the black hat hacker stereotype.
* History by decades of what meant to be a hacker, includes some parts of icons like Bill Gates, Stye Wozniak, and John Draper.
* Overview of computer evolution and birth of new industries such as Gaming.
Zeh Fernando
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing, inspiring, informative. A mandatory read for anyone who loves what they do, even if not necessarily tech related.
Gabriel Nicholas
Jul 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Steven Levy, old-school hackers, early computers: a salacious love triangle.
Ali Sattari
Jan 06, 2017 rated it liked it
A historical view of hackers and their adventures through evolution of modern computing!
Andrew Schultz
Jan 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Some books, I just have to want, and other books, I need to sit and think about every 100 pages. These are rarer, but usually I need to do this because of how they brought up something from my own life. Hackers is the second type. In this case, it was about the story behind the BASIC programs I loved to read about and try to write as a kid.

I've noted that other reviewers mentioned that Levy is biased for Apple. This may be true, and unfortunately, I can't do diligence on that. What I can say is
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Steven Levy is editor at large at Wired, and author of eight books, including the new Facebook: the Inside Story, the definitive history of that controversial company. His previous works include the legendary computer history Hackers, Artificial Life, the Unicorn 's Secret, In the Plex (the story of Google, chose as Amazon and Audible's best business book of 2011), and Crypto, which won the ...more

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“Systems are organic, living creations: if people stop working on them and improving them, they die.” 3 likes
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