Hackers

Heroes of the Computer Revolution (25th Anniversary Edition)

50 years of hacking, from the people behind 2600

Hackers is a story, beginning in the U.S. in the 1950s, about how we got to the personal computer in the early 1980s. It’s told as series of chapters that follow some of the individuals involved in building the computer industry.

It covers about 50 years from the original hackers in the 1950s and 60s, the hardware hackers of the 1970s the created the first personal computes, and into the 1980s with the emergence of the personal computer software market.

Each section focuses on one period of time starting with Cambridge (Massachusetts) at MIT’s artificial intelligence laboratory, before moving to northern California for the middle section, Washington State for the 1980s and back to Cambridge.

The 1970s chapter is probably most familiar to readers, the decade seeing the birth of the early personal computers from the Altair, the Commodore PET, and of course the Apple 2, though there is actually a lot more stories than those. The 1970s is often seen as the decade when a lot of the ideas floated in the 1960s spread into the broader culture and there is a lot intermixing between the computer pioneers and the egalitarian social ideas then current that doesn’t show up until the early days of the Internet about 20 years later.

By the end of the 1970s, a software market started to develop and the last section focuses on the founding of Sierra On-Line (a company the hitched itself to the IBM PC) and its founder Ken Williams. This chapter is pretty interesting as Ken comes across as someone who started out reading books full of John Gault-like characters (a character from an Ayan Rand story who makes the world conform to their will), became a bit of a hacker and then applied those skills to running a business- more or less successfully. On the other hand, there people like John Harris who seem like the complete opposite.

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In The Myths of Innovation the author describes history not as set of points but a series of situations where events could have gone equally in several directions, this book looks at a lot of situations. helpfully, the book starts with a “who-who” in case you have trouble mixing up “Altair 8800” and “Atari 800” or the various Bills, Bob and Dougs who show up in the book.