Review by Choice Review
Clive Thompson, a contributor to The New York Times Magazine, a columnist for Wired magazine, and author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better (CH, Feb'14, 51-3207), has written a book about the world of computer programmers and how they have changed the way people interact and communicate. While the title is hyperbolic, the story is timely. Divided into 11 chapters, the book travels a roughly chronological path through the growth of computing from the days of huge computers that occupied entire rooms in large universities to PCs and the development and evolution of social media. Thompson has interviewed many people who were involved in the tech industry at various times. These interviews provide the snippets Thompson intersperses throughout this story. There are no footnotes in the text, but there are 41 pages of endnotes referencing newspaper stories, magazine articles, books, and video interviews. Footnotes would have been more useful for focused study. Thompson's text will appeal to a broad audience, but is less useful for a scholarly one. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers. --John B. Napp, University of Toledo
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by New York Times Review
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [July 21, 2019]
Review by Booklist Review
Thompson (Smarter Than You Think, 2013) offers a broad cultural view of the world of coders and programmers from the field's origins in the mid-twentieth century to the present. In this highly readable and entertaining narrative, he notes the sense of scale and logical efficiency in coding and the enthusiasm with which programmers go about creating new features and finding bugs. Thompson explains coders' dedication as, in part, a boundless, nigh masochistic ability to endure brutal, grinding frustration, as they often spend more time scanning code for errors than writing it. This same devotion is found in programmers' backing of open-source code and freedom of information, which puts activist cypherpunks at odds with government organizations. In this comprehensive look at the people behind the digital systems now essential to everyday life, Thompson also elucidates the myth of meritocracy by examining the trend from mostly female to mostly male coders in the past 50 years, how a corporate monoculture can contribute to negative work environments, and what educational institutions are doing to promote gender parity in computer-science programs.--Kenneth Otani Copyright 2019 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
In this revealing exploration of programming, programmers, and their farreaching influence, Wired columnist Thompson (Smarter Than You Think) opens up an insular world and explores its design philosophy's consequences, some of them unintended. Through interviews and anecdotes, Thompson expertly plumbs the temperament and motivations of programmers. Thompson explains how an avowedly meritocratic profession nevertheless tends to sideline those who are not white male graduates of prestigious university computer science programs, tracing this maledominated culture back to 1960s and early '70s MIT, where the "hacker ethic" was first born. Remarkably, though, he makes clear that programming is an unusual field in that successful practitioners are often selftaught, many having started out with only simple tools, such as a Commodore computer running the BASIC programming language. This book contains possibly the best argument yet for how social media maneuvers users into more extreme political positions, since "any ranking system based partly on tallying up the reactions to posts will wind up favoring intense material." Impressive in its clarity and thoroughness, Thompson's survey shines a muchneeded light on a group of people who have exerted a powerful effect on almost every aspect of the modern world. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Technology journalist Thompson (Smarter than You Think) delivers again with this well-written narrative on coders, individual histories, and the culture of coder life, at home and work. Thompson accomplishes this by describing his own coding experiences and how they might explain the motivations of the people profiled: the women who worked at Bletchley Park; Mary Allen Wilkes, who worked on LINC (Laboratory INstrument Computer) at MIT; and Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux and git. Thompson also considers the state of the industry over time and how women have rotated into and out of the field based on changing opinions about code's importance in the overall realm of computing. In addition to analyzing the work-life of coders, he brilliantly reveals several examples of how they live in their respective relationships. Throughout, Thompson also does a great job exploring the various drivers that permeate the industry: merit, openness of code, long coding stints without sleep, and how the culture tends toward start-up culture even when companies are established. VERDICT This engaging work will appeal to readers who wish to learn more about the intersection of technology and culture, and the space in which they blur together.-Jesse A. Lambertson, Georgetown Univ. Libs. © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Of computer technology and its discontents.Computers can do all kinds of cool things. The reason they can, writes tech journalist Thompson (Smarter than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, 2013), is that a coder has gotten to the problem. "Programmers spend their days trying to get computers to do new things," he writes, "so they're often very good at understanding the crazy what-ifs that computers make possible." Some of those things, of course, have proven noxious: Facebook allows you to keep in touch with high school friends but at the expense of spying on your every online movement. Yet they're kind of comprehensible, since they're based on language: Coding problems are problems of words and thoughts and not numbers alone. Thompson looks at some of the stalwarts and heroes of the coding world, many of them not well-knownRuchi Sanghvi, for example, who worked at Facebook and Dropbox before starting a sort of think tank "aimed at convincing members to pick a truly new, weird area to examine." If you want weird these days, you get into artificial intelligence, of which the author has a qualified view. Humans may be displaced by machines, but the vaunted singularity probably won't happen anytime soon. Probably. Thompson is an enthusiast and a learned scholar alike: He reckons that BASIC is one of the great inventions of history, being one of the ways "for teenagers to grasp, in such visceral and palpable ways, the fabric of infinity." Though big tech is in the ascendant, he writes, there's a growing number of young programmers who are attuned to the ethical issues surrounding what they do, demanding, for instance, that Microsoft not provide software to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Those coders, writes Thompson, are "the one group of people VCs and CEOs cannot afford to entirely ignore," making them the heroes of the piece in more ways than one.Fans of Markoff, Levy, Lanier et al. will want to have a look at this intriguing portrait of coding and coders. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.