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I've enjoyed a number of (fiction/non-fiction books) about hacker culture and running a software business in the 80's, 90's. For some reason things seemed so much more exciting back then. Examples are:

Today I'm an entrepeneur and programmer. Back in the 80's a I was a young geek hacking DOS TSR's and coding GWBasic / QBasic. In the 90's I was a C.S. university student, experiencing the rise of the Internet world wide.

When reading these books running a software business seemed so much more fun than it is nowadays. Things used to be so much simpler, opportunities seemed to be everywhere and the startups seemed to work with much more real problems (inventing spreadsheets, writing word processors in assembly on 6 different platforms) than all our current web 2.0 social networking toys.

Does anyone share these feelings? Does anyone have any good (personal) stories from back then or know of other good books to read?

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6 Answers 6

The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier by Bruce Sterling tells the story of the 'meeting' of law enforcement and the cracker/phreaker subculture of the 1990s. Also, it describes in detail the Secret Service raid on Steve Jackson Games. That little incident almost put SJG out of business, all for a role-playing supplement (not, as the Secret Service described it, a "hacker's manual"). (Edit: Turns out that the Secret Service were actually after copies of a leaked Bell South E911 document.)

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Programmers at Work - I think this inspired the "Founders at Work" and "Coders at Work" books.

Soul of a New Machine - about DEC and one of their products in development.

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Soul of a New Machine was about a Data General product (the first Eclipse). –  Jerry Coffin Sep 20 '10 at 7:07
Soul of a New Machine is not just a great book about programming culture "back in the day". It's also a book that gave me a better understanding of why software development organizations are the way they are today. +1. –  Arkaaito Oct 12 '10 at 6:58
  • Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software - Sam Williams
    Free biography of Richard Stallman - Contains lots of stories of programming culture at MIT. I've read most of this and it's quite interesting. If you're interested in the FSF and how the whole free software movement started this is worth a read.

  • Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution - Steven Levy (Wikipedia page)
    "describes the people, the machines, and the events that defined the Hacker Culture and the Hacker Ethic, from the early mainframe hackers at MIT, to the self-made hardware hackers and game hackers." - I haven't read this yet, but it's on my to do list.

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Takedown is a really fun read. –  mipadi Sep 20 '10 at 15:38
takedown. I read that as well but completely forgot. –  Ivo van der Wijk Sep 21 '10 at 6:18

Founders at Work - interviews with startup founders, starting from the early 80's. It's more about how the founders built up their companies, but it has interesting insights into the programming culture prevalent then as well.

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The at-work range sounded like a bit like a poor sequel to the original and good first book (coders at work). But they're (all) really good? –  Ivo van der Wijk Sep 21 '10 at 6:20
I've read half of it till now - and most of the stories describe a time when the internet was just being born. I've not read Coders at Work, so I cannot compare the two. –  talonx Sep 21 '10 at 8:02

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