Hardcover: 271 pages
Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1 edition (May 28, 2004)
Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
Best Sellers Rank: #165,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books) #43 in Books > Textbooks > Computer Science > Algorithms #46 in Books > Computers & Technology > Computer Science > Information Theory #101 in Books > Computers & Technology > Programming > Algorithms
Paul Graham has delivered final proof that he is a marvelous essayist with his volume of fairly diverse writings, Hackers & Painters. I first came across his writing with his article, "A Plan For Spam," on using Bayesian filtering to block spam and found it a well written and informative technical article. I next came across him some time later when he wrote an essay on his web site entitled "Hackers & Painters," and once again it was well written, informative and (more importantly for an essayist) thought provoking. I was excited to hear he had published a volume of writing and pleased with the copy I received.Literature has a long history of the essayist; since those famous theses on the church door at Wittenberg a well written and thought provoking essay on a topic has provided power and focus for important discussions. Graham has either learnt or discovered the important points in writing a good essay; brevity, quality writing and thought.In this volume Graham covers a range of topics, though all are, understandably, centered on computers. Why nerds are unpopular at school, and what this demonstrates about our eduction system; why program in Lisp; the importance of "startups", programming languages and web development are all touched on. At the same time he covers topics less techno-centric such as heretical thinking and speech. wealth creation and unequal income distribution.I found myself disagreeing with him often while reading the book, though every time I did I found his argument compelling. I agree with Andy Hertzfeld, quoted on the back cover of the book, "He may even make you want to start programming in Lisp." Graham is politically more conservative and right wing than me, he is also a fervent supporter of Lisp, while I'm a C and Perl advocate.
In "Hackers and Painters," Paul Graham presents 15 essays on topics that are variously related to computer programming. Graham has two major accomplishments to his name in the hacking world: He was one of the architects of Viaweb, an internet startup which ultimately became Yahoo Shops, and one of the first succesful hosted web applications. He was also one of the first to talk about applying Bayesian filtering to the spam problem; Bayesian filtering has arguably been the most successful technique for reducing spam in individual mailboxes.I'd advise prospective readers of this book to skip chapters 1, 3, 6 and 7, at least until after you've read the rest of the book. These four essays are the weakest in the book, and having them clustered near the beginning almost made me put the book down and stop reading.I'm glad I didn't stop, though. The chapters on software development are excellent; Graham provides some of the best insight I've seen into how programmers think. Programmers will find useful ideas that can be applied to their work; non-programmers may get an insight into how programmers think.The last seven chapters are particularly well done; in these, Graham discusses the nitty-gritty details of program design, choice of programming languages, and design of programming languages. Graham is occasionally arrogant, but his arrogance here comes from experience and success; although not everyone may agree with his arguments about the superiority of LISP over every other programming language, one can at least recognize the thoroughness of the discussion and draw one's own conclusions.The four essays I mentioned above, by contrast, are much more poorly edited.
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