Hacking and Painting

Hackers and Painters is a collection of Paul Graham‘s essays which where published as a hardback book in 2004.

I really enjoyed this collection of essays and since reading it have begun to follow Paul’s website and read each new essay as it is published, having recently read it for a second time I thought I would write some of my thoughts up here.

Arguably the essays published in Hackers and Painters are the cream of the crop of Paul’s work, particularly if you are more interested in the act of hacking as opposed to investing in and running start-ups.

The essays in Hackers Painters cover a diverse range of topics from programming languages (The Hundred-Year Language), the social aspects of being a nerd (Why Nerds are Unpopular) and wealth (How to Make Wealth).

Paul’s essays understandably cover topics with which he is extremely familiar, namely starting a software company and programming. That makes this collection of essays particularly interesting reading for those interested in starting their own start-up and gaining Paul’s insight into how to beat the opposition (hint: higher level languages).

I find Paul’s essays to be well written and well researched without being afraid to convey his opinions on the matter. In particular I love the title essay (Hackers and Painters), wherein Paul explains why he sees hacking not as a science, nor a form of engineering, but as an art form; akin to sketching and oil painting. This view gels particularly well with my style of programming and has been one of the several influences on me planning to learn Lisp.

All of Paul’s essays on programming languages are insightful and informative, his views for the Hundred Year Language are interesting and I look forward to seeing the outcome of this thought process in Arc, Paul’s Lisp dialect.

If you’ve heard about Lisp but don’t really understand it or why it’s proponents tend to be so enthusiastic, often eschewing all other languages in favour of Lisp, the essays in Hackers and Painters will help you t understand the theories and advantages of Lisp before getting involved in the initially strange looking syntax and programming style.