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Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
Basic Books, 1979
This book reads like an intellectual Grand Tour of hacker preoccupations. Music, mathematical logic, programming, speculations on the nature of intelligence, biology, and Zen are woven into a brilliant tapestry themed on the concept of encoded self-reference. The perfect left-brain companion to "Illuminatus".
I. "The Eye in the Pyramid"
II. "The Golden Apple"
Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
This work of alleged fiction is an incredible berserko-surrealist rollercoaster of world-girdling conspiracies, intelligent dolphins, the fall of Atlantis, who really killed JFK, sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, and the Cosmic Giggle Factor. First published in three volumes, but there is now a one-volume trade paperback, carried by most chain bookstores under SF. The perfect right-brain companion to Hofstadter's "Gödel, Escher, Bach". See Eris, Discordianism, random numbers, Church of the SubGenius.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Pocket Books, 1981
This `Monty Python in Space' spoof of SF genre traditions has been popular among hackers ever since the original British radio show. Read it if only to learn about Vogons (see bogon) and the significance of the number 42 (see random numbers) -- and why the winningest chess program of 1990 was called `Deep Thought'.
The Tao of Programming
This gentle, funny spoof of the "Tao Te Ching" contains much that is illuminating about the hacker way of thought. "When you have learned to snatch the error code from the trap frame, it will be time for you to leave."
Levy's book is at its best in describing the early MIT hackers at the Model Railroad Club and the early days of the microcomputer revolution. He never understood Unix or the networks, though, and his enshrinement of Richard Stallman as "the last true hacker" turns out (thankfully) to have been quite misleading. Numerous minor factual errors also mar the text; for example, Levy's claim that the original Jargon File derived from the TMRC Dictionary (the File originated at Stanford and was brought to MIT in 1976; the co-authors of the first edition had never seen the dictionary in question). There are also numerous misspellings in the book that inflame the passions of old-timers; as Dan Murphy, the author of TECO, once said: "You would have thought he'd take the trouble to spell the name of a winning editor right." Nevertheless, this remains a useful and stimulating book that captures the feel of several important hackish subcultures.
The Computer Contradictionary
MIT Press, 1995
This pastiche of Ambrose Bierce's famous work is similar in format to the Jargon File (and quotes several entries from TNHD-2) but somewhat different in tone and intent. It is more satirical and less anthropological, and is largely a product of the author's literate and quirky imagination. For example, it defines `computer science' as "a study akin to numerology and astrology, but lacking the precision of the former and the success of the latter" and `implementation' as "The fruitless struggle by the talented and underpaid to fulfill promises made by the rich and ignorant"; `flowchart' becomes "to obfuscate a problem with esoteric cartoons". Revised and expanded from "The Devil's DP Dictionary", McGraw-Hill 1981, ISBN 0-07-034022-6.
The Devouring Fungus: Tales from the Computer Age
The author of this pioneering compendium knits together a great deal of computer- and hacker-related folklore with good writing and a few well-chosen cartoons. She has a keen eye for the human aspects of the lore and is very good at illuminating the psychology and evolution of hackerdom. Unfortunately, a number of small errors and awkwardnesses suggest that she didn't have the final manuscript checked over by a native speaker; the glossary in the back is particularly embarrassing, and at least one classic tale (the Magic Switch story, retold here under A Story About `Magic' in Appendix A is given in incomplete and badly mangled form. Nevertheless, this book is a win overall and can be enjoyed by hacker and non-hacker alike.
The Soul of a New Machine
Little, Brown, 1981
(paperback: Avon, 1982
This book (a 1982 Pulitzer Prize winner) documents the adventure of the design of a new Data General computer, the MV-8000 Eagle. It is an amazingly well-done portrait of the hacker mindset -- although largely the hardware hacker -- done by a complete outsider. It is a bit thin in spots, but with enough technical information to be entertaining to the serious hacker while providing non-technical people a view of what day-to-day life can be like -- the fun, the excitement, the disasters. During one period, when the microcode and logic were glitching at the nanosecond level, one of the overworked engineers departed the company, leaving behind a note on his terminal as his letter of resignation: "I am going to a commune in Vermont and will deal with no unit of time shorter than a season."
Life with UNIX: a Guide for Everyone
Don Libes and Sandy Ressler
The authors of this book set out to tell you all the things about Unix that tutorials and technical books won't. The result is gossipy, funny, opinionated, downright weird in spots, and invaluable. Along the way they expose you to enough of Unix's history, folklore and humor to qualify as a first-class source for these things. Because so much of today's hackerdom is involved with Unix, this in turn illuminates many of its in-jokes and preoccupations.
True Names ... and Other Dangers
Baen Books, 1987
Hacker demigod Richard Stallman used to say that the title story of this book "expresses the spirit of hacking best". Until the subject of the next entry came out, it was hard to even nominate another contender. The other stories in this collection are also fine work by an author who has since won multiple Hugos and is one of today's very best practitioners of hard SF.
Stephenson's epic, comic cyberpunk novel is deeply knowing about the hacker psychology and its foibles in a way no other author of fiction has ever even approached. His imagination, his grasp of the relevant technical details, and his ability to communicate the excitement of hacking and its results are astonishing, delightful, and (so far) unsurpassed.
Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier
Katie Hafner & John Markoff
Simon & Schuster 1991
This book gathers narratives about the careers of three notorious crackers into a clear-eyed but sympathetic portrait of hackerdom's dark side. The principals are Kevin Mitnick, "Pengo" and "Hagbard" of the Chaos Computer Club, and Robert T. Morris (see RTM, sense 2) . Markoff and Hafner focus as much on their psychologies and motivations as on the details of their exploits, but don't slight the latter. The result is a balanced and fascinating account, particularly useful when read immediately before or after Cliff Stoll's The Cuckoo's Egg. It is especially instructive to compare RTM, a true hacker who blundered, with the sociopathic phone-freak Mitnick and the alienated, drug-addled crackers who made the Chaos Club notorious. The gulf between wizard and wannabee has seldom been made more obvious.
MIT Press 1991
Barry's book takes a critical and humorous look at the `technobabble' of acronyms, neologisms, hyperbole, and metaphor spawned by the computer industry. Though he discusses some of the same mechanisms of jargon formation that occur in hackish, most of what he chronicles is actually suit-speak -- the obfuscatory language of press releases, marketroids, and Silicon Valley CEOs rather than the playful jargon of hackers (most of whom wouldn't be caught dead uttering the kind of pompous, passive-voiced word salad he deplores).
The Cuckoo's Egg
Clifford Stoll's absorbing tale of how he tracked Markus Hess and the Chaos Club cracking ring nicely illustrates the difference between `hacker' and `cracker'. Stoll's portrait of himself, his lady Martha, and his friends at Berkeley and on the Internet paints a marvelously vivid picture of how hackers and the people around them like to live and how they think.
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