Hackers and Painters: Essays on Technology, Start-ups, and Programming

hackers and painters

The following is a review of the bookHackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Ageby Paul Graham, one of the founders of Y Combinator, creator of Viaweb which got sold to Yahoo, and one of the main Hackers of the Lisp programming language.


“Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age” by Paul Graham is like a treasure chest of thoughts and insights on technology, creativity, and innovation.

Written by a programmer and entrepreneur, this book brings together a collection of essays that show how hacking and painting have more in common than you might think—they’re both deeply creative processes.

Book Description and Contents

The book is a mix of fifteen engaging essays, each diving into different aspects of the tech world and beyond. Paul Graham talks about everything from the nature of hacking and the evolution of programming languages to the unique culture of Silicon Valley.

Some standout essays include “Why Nerds Are Unpopular,” “What You Can’t Say,” and “How to Make Wealth.” Each piece offers a fresh perspective and plenty of food for thought.

The chapters of the book are the following, an amazing mix of technology and coding, Startup life and mentality, Wealth, philosophy, and why not, art and creativity. Also, it is written with evident passion, almost fury, which make it super easy and engaging to read.

  • Why Nerds Are Unpopular
  • Hackers and Painters
  • What You Can’t Say
  • Good Bad Attitude
  • The Other Road Ahead
  • How to Make Wealth
  • Mind the Gap
  • Getters and Setters
  • Taste for Makers
  • Programming Languages Explained
  • The Hundred-Year Language
  • Beating the Averages
  • Revenge of the Nerds
  • The Dream Language
  • Design and Research


While “Hackers and Painters” is pretty accessible, it’s especially great if you have some background or interest in technology, programming, or startups. Knowing a bit about computer science and the startup world will help you get the most out of Graham’s insights and stories.

About the Book

Paul Graham is a well-known figure in the tech world, famous for creating the programming language Lisp and co-founding Y Combinator, a startup incubator. His experience and unique viewpoint shine through in this book.

The essays are written in a friendly and engaging style, making even complex ideas easy to grasp. Graham’s concept of seeing programmers as artists is at the heart of the book, encouraging readers to recognize the creativity and artistry involved in coding.

Is it a business book, or a technical book? A bit of both actually, with a pinch of social criticism thrown in. There are essays on business — particularly startups — and essays on programming languages and how to combat spam, and one delightful one on the difficulty being a nerd in American public schools.

Also, a concept that we loved about the book: The goal of a Startup is compressing a 40 years profesional carrer into 4, thus the need for speed, and passionate, dedicated work.

Graham has a knack for distilling the essence of things, thinking from first principles, being witty and smart at the same time, all of which is reflected into this fantastic book.

Grokking Deep Learning
  • Trask, Andrew (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages - 01/25/2019 (Publication Date) - Manning (Publisher)


“Hackers and Painters” is a fascinating look into the world of hackers, who Graham sees as modern-day artists. He argues that, like painters, hackers create new things through a process of trial, error, and aesthetic judgment.

The book gives you a peek into the hacker mindset, exploring their motivations, challenges, and the joy they find in their work. It also tackles bigger themes like innovation, the value of thinking outside the box, and the impact of technology on society. Graham’s essays invite you to see the beauty in code and think about how the digital revolution is shaping our lives and future.

About the author

Paul Graham (born 13 November 1964) is an English computer scientist, venture capitalist, and essayist. He is known for his work on Lisp, for co-founding Viaweb (which eventually became Yahoo! Store), and for co-founding the Y Combinator seed capital firm. He is the author of some programming books, such as: On Lisp (1993), ANSI Common Lisp (1995), and Hackers & Painters (2004)

You can also find his essays and website here.

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