Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution Steven Levy - 2001

History of videogames (focused book)

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution

Author(s) : Steven Levy
Editor : Penguin (2001 reedition)
Publication date : 01-01-2001
Language : english English

This book is dedicated to the history of computing, but deals with the history of computer and video games too. The main topic is the birth and legacy of the "Hacker" movement: a group of talented youth people who initiated a drive for computers to be a tool available and useful to everyone. During the dawn of the 60's, in the U.S., at the famous MIT university, a group of students changed the very idea of "computing" by using one of their university's computer to create all sort of software: tech demos, tools, games, etc. If this feels natural today, back at the time it was unthinkable: computers were solely made to do scientific or military calculation. In 1962, these early MIT experiments gave birth to Spacewar!, one of the first computer games (10 years before PONG). The first part of the book is dedicated to these "true hackers", with many portraits, interviews, and trivia. The second book part is set in the 70's, when a second generation of hackers invented the first personal computers, such as the MITS Altair and the Apple I & II. Again, this groundbreaking innovations were the work of a handful of talented and free-thinking minds, who believed that computers should be a tool available to everyone. The third part of the book focuses on how people used these computers to invent new kinds of software. More specifically, the books tells the story of Sierra On-Line, an early computer & video games developer and publisher (King's Quest, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Ultima II, Frogger computer ports, etc.). Much details are provided on the many people who worked for them or with them along the years. Through this example, the author manages to make us relive the birth of the computer games industry in the U.S. Last but not least, the book closes with the portrait of Richard Stallman, then presented as the "last true hacker". Today, he's famous for being the icon of the free software movement. All in all, this book is a timeless masterpiece. The stories told are truly captivating, and quite unique: few are the books dedicated to such an early period of history. Even today, this book remains a reference.
This book was first published in 1984. A new edition was made in 1994, with an added afterword "10 years after". It tells what the main book characters have become since the first edition. This review is based on a 2001 reissue of this 1994 edition.


Keywords : hackers, MIT, spacewar!, apple II, steve wozniak, sierra on line, ken and roberta williams, homebrew computer club