This is the Computer Age. It was supposed to be the Space Age, or the Atomic Age. But those were just names invented by PR people. Computers have had far more effect on the form of our lives than space travel or nuclear technology.
Everything around us is turning into computers … So if you want to understand where we are, and where we’re going, it will help if you understand what’s going on inside the heads of hackers … expert programmers.
- Paul Graham, Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age
Just when I despaired of ever finding a decent book, this gem arrives in the mail. The book is so wonderful that it’s biggest problem is its title. (Upon seeing the cover, a friend guessed it was about digital art.) How to Think Like a Computer Millionaire would, I suspect, be a more popular title. It would certainly be apt. In fifteen essays we traverse the life of a hacker, from being a nerd in high school to how to get rich to how to make lasting things (presumably once you’ve retired from getting rich).
Graham has the rare gift of both having big new insights and being able to express them well (superbly, with the help of his close friend Sarah Harlin). And he does not shy away from controversy, providing bold new opinions on everything from public education and income disparity to programming and design, all of which are justified so well you begin to wonder how you ever saw it the other way. The result is a book so packed with new ideas that you want to take a month to absorb and apply each chapter.
Yet the book remains easy to read and highly enjoyable. Surprisingly, Graham aims for a general audience and succeeds quite well. He explains things clearly enough that most should be able to follow him, but remains precise enough that even hackers will notice little amiss. And if one chapter is too boring or too complex, it can be easily skipped. The chapters are conveniently independent, although connections and themes reveal themselves when the book is read in order.
While some of the book originally appeared on Graham’s website, he claims to have rewritten it. In any event, the essays are well worth reading again. And they are beautifully presetned. Gino Lee’s book design is exceedingly graceful (although the use of endnotes is incredibly annoying), lending Graham’s words an air of clarity and authority that seals the deal. The result is a nearly perfect book.