I will admit that I didn't stumble upon Steven Levy's classic tale of how the IT west was won, for want of a better phrase, until 1993 when it was republished some 10 years after the original book but with the addition of a handful of new pages to celebrate it's anniversary and note the changes the industry had seen. Fast forward to the present, and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the book (which was actually first published in 1984, go figure) we have another new edition. Well, I say new addition but it's more the 10th anniversary edition with another small handful of new pages sewn into the back.
The content of those new pages is, however, interesting enough: updated contributions from the likes of original hacker interview candidates Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak, plus new stars of the industry like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. The problem is, that new section is way too short for those of us who have already read the book. To be honest I was hoping for more than 16 pages tacked in at the back of the book, albeit a classic book for any self-respecting geek.
There can be no denying the fact that the original book, based upon a collection of more than a hundred interviews that Steven Levy conducted between 1982 and 1983, has stood the test of time well. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it should be essential reading for anyone doing any kind of computer-related course. It serves to remind us of a time when the 'Hacker Ethic' was a positive thing that did not carry the negative, media inspired, baggage it does today. This is the true story of how a handful of real pioneers, often involved in slightly murky 'underground' activity, blazed a trail into the digital world we all take for granted now. Remember, when this book was originally published Windows had yet to be a part of the computing revolution!
Levy managed to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right people and asked all the right questions back in the early eighties. You only have to look at the structure of the book to understand the mindset, with chapters such as: The Tech Model Railroad Club; The Midnight Computer Wiring Society; The Homebrew Computer Club; Tiny BASIC; Applefest and The Last of the True Hackers to name but a few.
If you can see past the often rambling and disjointed nature of the narrative, it really does come across as a series of disparate interviews at times, you will discover quite possibly the greatest book about IT ever written. Not an accolade I would throw about lightly, as the author of more than 20 published books on the subject myself. However, if I were to be shipwrecked on a desert island and was allowed just one IT book to keep me company until my death, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution would be it.
Unless, Steven Levy were to write Hackers: Volume Two that is. And that's my only real criticism of this book, it isn't volume two. What I really want is Levy to tackle the period from 1985 through to 2010 in the same depth, and with the same tenacity, as he did the start of the computing revolution. What I really want is a whole new book, not just an afterword. Until that day arrives, however, I'll read this one again, and again, and again...