Hackers & Painters
Big Ideas from the Computer Age
Publisher: O'Reilly Media
Final Release Date: May 2004
Pages: 272

"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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oreillyHackers & Painters

(based on 7 reviews)

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Reviewed by 7 customers

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Still relevant

By Juanmnl

from Quito, Ecuador

About Me Designer, Developer

Verified Buyer


  • Accurate
  • Concise
  • Easy to understand
  • Well-written


    Best Uses

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    • Intermediate
    • Novice

    Comments about oreilly Hackers & Painters:

    Even 10 years after it was first published, this book is still relevant to the tech and startup community. It's has the keys to understand the current startup boom we live in.


    Great Book.

    By sifr

    from uk

    About Me Designer, Developer, Educator, Maker, Sys Admin

    Verified Reviewer


    • Easy to understand
    • Well-written


      Best Uses

      • Expert
      • Intermediate
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      • Student

      Comments about oreilly Hackers & Painters:

      I got this book a while ago but did not start reading it until recently. It gets to be very addictive as the author touches some of the things that all of us may have encountered during, our lifetime. Mind you, I have just started the book, but I can already tell that it is definitely worth a read for the inquisitive mind. Very well written.

      (2 of 2 customers found this review helpful)


      From the mind of a master

      By Dave Walz-Burkett

      from Undisclosed

      Comments about oreilly Hackers & Painters:

      If you've never heard of Paul Graham, this book provides an excellent introduction. Paul is a hacker (in the original sense of the word), a technology innovator and a philosopher for the computer age. This book of essays runs the gamut from 'why nerds are unpopular' to fixing the spam problem to what makes a 'dream language'.

      As Paul says in the intro, each chapter is independent of the others and you can skip around as you like. You'll get the general feel for Paul's ideas in all of the essays and some overlap is evident. I read the book straight through and enjoyed every chapter.

      Paul is a master of the Lisp language and describes how some modern languages are heading in the direction of Lisp. To solve really tough problems in a less powerful language, you tend to end up writing a Lisp interpreter in that language. He also describes why everyone isn't using Lisp for every program they write.

      If you are a hacker or hacker wannabe, this book offers excellent insight into the mind of a master. If you are a 'pointy-haired' manager, you'll get a better understanding of how truly talented programmers think. If you are involved in a startup company, this book describes several topics that might help give you a competitive edge.

      Most of all, this is a really fun book that will earn a permanent space on your bookshelf.

      (1 of 1 customers found this review helpful)


      Not alone

      By mindmerge

      from Undisclosed

      Comments about oreilly Hackers & Painters:

      The book does start slow, however as you read through it you start thinking to yourself, "yup", "uh-huh", "no way".....and the likes.

      Over the past 4 years I am certain that many of us have felt the lack of creative spark. The last 4 years have basically beat us into submission. We hold back, stifle ourselves and as much as we hate it...regress a bit.

      I have been through a whole slew of self-doubt, self-loathing and depression. I attributed this to choosing a career with which I could use the skills I grew up learing. I attributed this to the fact that though our knowledge and skill runs the nation and the world we are treated like information 'janitors'.

      Paul has given me new thoughts. New ideas, and though I new that I was not alone this book helped to make me believe it. This book has lifted me up a bit, and I would recommend it to anyone who has not read Paul's works in the past.

      Anyone who may have grown up with computers and technology as a hobby/passion. Anyone who sacrificed other activities as a child because they happened to be that one kid that 'knew' how to use the computers at school (and helped the instructor when needed).

      Great book. Pick it up if you can.

      (4 of 4 customers found this review helpful)


      It rocks! -- really got to where I live

      By howling_maddog

      from Undisclosed

      Comments about oreilly Hackers & Painters:

      Hey, I'm sitting here, depressed in my cubicle, working for a major financial institution* and I'm wondering where my inspiration has gone?

      The corporation has kicked it out of me. They don't want no stinkin' creativity. They just want you to show up. It's not about working, it's about having a job.

      Creative people make noise and there's no room in this organization (the mighty corporation) for noise.

      I'm tired of it!! The corpus has dragged me down. I can't take any more of the beatings. No more isolation. I'll stop making noise about things that don't make noise. Uncle!

      Then I pick up this book, Hackers and Painters and I read chapter 2. I find someone else agrees with me.

      I feel sane again.

      I can't believe the way that Paul so lucidly describes the creative process. Amazing. Great reading and he creates a sense of empathy with the reader.

      Wait a second. What is this turning within me? It feels like inspiration. Maybe there's some hope after all.

      Thanks Paul, you rock!

      *I call it an institution, because I feel as if I'm being held against my will.


      Paul's writing inspires me more than anything has in years

      By Derek Sivers at CD Baby

      from Undisclosed

      Comments about oreilly Hackers & Painters:

      I stumbled across Paul's website a year ago, and was severly shaken by his writing. His ideas have inspired me more than anything has in years. So much so, that I started writing my echoed thoughts in my O'Reilly blog.

      His essay "Hackers and Painters" resonated with me because, coming from my music background, I had always felt that programming is like songwriting.

      His essays about how the programming language shapes the way you think made me write about the glass ceiling I felt with new features I was learning.

      But hands-down, his ideas on bottom-up programming have changed the entire way I look at all the programming I do.

      THANK YOU Paul for the most inspiring essays I've read since Brian Eno. :-)

      (2 of 2 customers found this review helpful)


      Short Review of Hackers & Painters

      By George Woolley of Camelot.pm and Oakland.pm

      from Undisclosed

      Comments about oreilly Hackers & Painters:

      In this book, the author views hackers

      (i.e. programmers

      who create imaginative solutions)

      as makers like

      painters, architects and composers.

      The book consists of 15 short essays

      (from 7 to 31 pages long)

      on important topics related to the computer age.

      If you find at least two of the following questions intriguing,

      I suggest getting this book:

      Why are nerds unpopular?

      How are hackers and painters similar?

      How can you tell what it's dangerous to say?

      How is wealth created?

      This book is provocative and you're likely to find your mind ablaze with ideas if you engage with it.

      I've also written a longer review,

      but I'm not sure where I'll put it.

      It ends: "This book engages with some particularly important ideas involving hackers and the world we live in.

      You do live in this world, right?

      If so, read this book."

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