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Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age [Hardcover]

Paul Graham
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 28 2004

"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 who call themselves hackers. Who are these people, what motivates them, and why should you care?

Consider these facts: Everything around us is turning into computers. Your typewriter is gone, replaced by a computer. Your phone has turned into a computer. So has your camera. Soon your TV will. Your car was not only designed on computers, but has more processing power in it than a room-sized mainframe did in 1970. Letters, encyclopedias, newspapers, and even your local store are being replaced by the Internet.

Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age, by Paul Graham, explains this world and the motivations of the people who occupy it. In clear, thoughtful prose that draws on illuminating historical examples, Graham takes readers on an unflinching exploration into what he calls "an intellectual Wild West."

The ideas discussed in this book will have a powerful and lasting impact on how we think, how we work, how we develop technology, and how we live. Topics include the importance of beauty in software design, how to make wealth, heresy and free speech, the programming language renaissance, the open-source movement, digital design, internet startups, and more.

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About the Author

Paul Graham , designer of the new Arc language, was the creator of Yahoo Store, the first web-based application. His technique for spam filtering inspired most current filters. He has a PhD in Computer Science from Harvard and studied painting at RISD and the Accademia in Florence.

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Customer Reviews

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting But The Book Title Is Misleading! Oct. 2 2004
The book is a interesting read but the title doesn't represent what the book is about. There is only a small chapter on painting and hacking, the rest is just essays on spam, startups & lisp. The book felt like a random collection of essays & opinions.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Painters and Hackers: How Many Are We? July 10 2004
Hello Paul,
I read your essays "Hackers and Painters" and "Taste for
Makers", and I find them GREAT, even if many months later
the first publication.
I searched the Internet since 1995+ for texts like yours,
but I was able to find *zero* occurrencies of the big
evidence: painters and hackers share common traits.
Of course, they are akin not in the foolish sense that one
can write a program to display some pixels at random or
fixed positions.
Instead, painters and hackers are equals in taste, design,
and skecthing.
I studied painting at Accademia di Belle Arti in Milan, but
I thinker with computers since I was 12, I started with an
Apple IIe clone built by my brother (when he was 18) using
a do-it-yourself kit.
Now I work as a "corporate drone" programmer in Milan.
That's why when I read your essays I was so impressed:
I am not smart enough to be a "real hacker," AND I am not
good enough to be a famous painter, but today this Middle
Land seems to me no longer too much strange.
Thanks Paul,
Claudio Destro
To be a painter or to be an hacker, that's the question.
I really need to stress the fact that I am really split in
two personalities (as seen from the outside, of course.)
In fact, when I was 14~15, I was really stucked (for about
two years) on the following (in)decision: to study fine
arts or to study information technology?
Did I choose correctly? The fact that now I am a "corporate
drone" programmer makes me think "No, I did not choose
correctly." Indeed, the fact that you, a _real_ computer
scientist, wrote such essays, makes me think that at least
I was right.
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5.0 out of 5 stars lisping hate speech July 9 2004
Every so often a book comes along that blows the cobwebs out of some dark corner of my mind. "The Naked Ape", "Sperm Wars", "Guns, Germs, and Steel", and "The Mating Mind" for example;
each in its own way exhibiting our favorite species as a very different critter from the one we gawk at in the mirror.
I got a similar feeling reading the first third of "Hackers and Painters", reading about the prisons we call schools.and the nursuries we call suburbia.
The discussion of economics contains fewer original ideas, but explains clearly some things that every educated person needs to understand, but maybe nobody ever told you. The first half of the book will make fun reading for your active mind.
You have to be a hacker yourself to want to read the second half. At this point the purpose of the book is revealed - subtle ad copy for a new computer language called "arc". The first half are the apologia ( well, prologia ) justifying the audacity of saying out loud that for some purposes, lisp might be a better language than cobol, and forefending the dreaded charge of hate speech.
This is not, however, the endless Holy War between the acolytes of vi and emacs, which was once quashed with "editors, what editors, when I program I just type into the standard input of the compiler".
There's some tantalizing evidence that he's right.
I once got into a discussion with a very bright logician about the nature of mathematics. He was arguing that mathematics is the same thing as set theory, I was arguing that mathematics is the study of interesting axiomatic systems. In some sense it's a stupid argument - one of definitions. In another it's a tribal war over intellectual territory.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An astonishingly good book of essays July 4 2004
This is an astonishingly good collection of essays. In lesser hands, any of the 15 essays here could have been a book by itself --- each packs more content than you can find in a typical one idea business book, or a typical one technology book for geeks. Yet his book is not dense or difficult: Graham's graceful style is a pleasure to read.
But what is it? Is it a business book, or a technical book? A bit of both actually, with a pinch of social criticism thrown in. There are essays on business --- particularly startups --- and essays on programming languages and how to combat spam, and one delightful one on the difficulty being a nerd in American public schools.
My favorite essay of the 15 --- and picking a favorite is itself a challenge --- is called "What you can't say". It is about heresy, not historical Middle Ages burned-at-the-stake heresy, but heresy today in 2004. And if you believe nothing is heretical today, that no idea today is so beyond the pale that it would provoke a purely emotional reaction to its very utterance, then read some of the other reviews. Graham's idea is not that all heresies are worth challenging publicly, or even that all heresies are wrong, but merely that there is value is being aware of what is heretical, so one can notice where the blind spots are.
Astonishingly good.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Book and Good Quality
I got it today and it is 100% new with good quality. Can't help reading it all the night! Really great stuff!
Published 6 months ago by Andy Cao
5.0 out of 5 stars As Interesting for Non-Technical Types As Hackers
A friend of mine introduced me to this book and I am glad that he did. While I am not a programmer and, as a result, got lost a couple of times in the essays, "Beating the... Read more
Published on July 19 2004 by Gina Bianchini
5.0 out of 5 stars Real genius
Paul Graham is a real genius who will only receive full recognition for his work very late, like the (now) famous people he talks of in his book. Read more
Published on June 25 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Nerds Take Notice
Nerds will like the book, even if they feel defensive or irritated by Graham's comments that hit too close to home. Read more
Published on June 20 2004 by Putnam
5.0 out of 5 stars Thus spake St.Paul ...
I have been reading Paul Graham's articles ever since he popped up on Slashdot a couple of years back. Read more
Published on June 20 2004 by S.RAMASWAMY
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading even if you don't agree with it
Paul Graham is an interesting character. He is both an outstanding hacker -- he created the software that became the foundation for Yahoo's shopping site and was an early advocate... Read more
Published on June 16 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars Paul Graham and Rupert Pupkin
It's rare for me to start a book and stop reading it midstream. I am pretty good at picking books which will hold my attention. Read more
Published on June 9 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking Essays
This book with its series of essays reminds one of similar O'Reilly books like The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which contained essays about Open Source and Peer-to-Peer : Harnessing... Read more
Published on June 7 2004 by Todd Hawley
4.0 out of 5 stars Read it carefully
Graham presents 15 essays revolving around computer programming. From his own background, he extols the virtues of breaking out on your own and forming a startup. Read more
Published on May 29 2004 by W Boudville
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