Paul Graham calls himself a hacker. A programmer with one of the first ecommerce startups, he sold his online store software to Yahoo! for about $50 million in shares. Since then he has focused on a number of projects, including Arc, a new dialect of the programming language Lisp (more on this later) as well as writing for his web site. In Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age, Graham collected his best essays into one volume.
(Note: This book was published in 2004 so it isn't exactly timely. Is it too soon to file it under the "Blast from the Past" category? Also, the author resolutely uses "hacker" as if it were synonymous with "programmer." Yeah, he's one of those. So if you're looking for a volume on l33t h4x0rz this ain't it.)
Graham scores a home run with his first essay, "Why Nerds are Unpopular." I dunno about you, but when I was in High School it was a total mystery to me why no one liked me. This essay was very illuminating and as mentioned all over the internet, is worth the cost of the book by itself. The rest of the essays cover a variety of topics ranging from managing startups to the division of wealth to what programming language people will be using 100 years from now. He presents a compelling case for
The segment I liked least was the one discussing Graham's deep and abiding love of the programming language Lisp. One of the oldest still-used languages, only Fortran precedes it. Somehow in the last few years, Lisp has experienced a renaissance, with more and more programmers learning it. Graham has a reputation for being an almost quixotic proponent of the language, and even has announced Arc, his own open-source dialect of Lisp. Since the book's publishing, Arc has apparently languished and has yet to be released. Perhaps fascinating for some, for me the Lisp rant was easily the least readable portion of the book.
But don't let that last bit get you down. For the most part Hackers & Painters presents some pretty compelling ideas in an articulate and entertaining voice.