8bitsteve Interviews Steven Levy, Author Of The Classic Computer Industry Book: “Hackers”

Steven Levy is one of my heroes.  He’s genius author who has the rare ability of making technology subject not only palatable, but down-right fascinating.   He has written tons of great books, and written for magazines such as Wired and Newsweek. Steven Levy’s book, Hackers: Heroes Of The Computer Revolution is one of the best books ever written about technology.  It is one the required reading list for 8bitrocket.com

I caught-up with Steven today, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions.

8bitsteve: “Hackers” is one of the classic books about the computer industry.   When you started the project, did you have any idea of the impact it would have when it was finished?

Steven Levy: I did understand when I was working on the book that I was trying to tell an important story.  When the book came out it didn’t take off right away, so I had no idea that it would eventually find such a great and wide audience.

8bitsteve: Have you kept-up with any of the principal characters in “Hackers” over the past three decades? (Steve Russell, Ken Williams, John Harris, etc.)?

Steven Levy: Of the ones you mention, I have had sporadic contact with Ken.   The ones I see more often are Lee Felsenstein and, some of the Apple people. And Bill Gates, of course, who is part of my regular journalism beat.   I run into a few of the MIT people, too.  It was good to check in on Greenblatt and Stallman for the update.

8bitsteve: Do you think the book  “Hackers” can have the same impact today they might have had just 15 years ago?  Are there three “Hackers” you would write about now, given the chance?

Steven Levy: This is a time of groundbreaking changes, and there are great stories to tell.  Of course the way to do this would not be to emulate “Hackers” but deal with a narrative of today on its own terms.   As for the people I would write about now, I think a major story of our time is Google, particularly on the nexus of its aspirations, its technical philosophy, and the way its leaders handle the impact of their products on the public.  That’s the book I’m just finishing now.

8bitsteve: What is your perspective on the whole “Apple vs. Adobe vs Google” situation?  Where do you think Microsoft sits in all this?

Steven Levy: Well, Microsoft will do anything it can do mess  up Google.  In general, the competitive triangle of Apple, Google and MS is a juicier tale than “Twilight.”  I talked about this a bit in the Wired cover about the iPad.

8bitsteve: Can you tell us something about what the latest  project you have been working on?

Steven Levy: As above, a substantial book about Google, out early next year.  I was given extraordinary access to its people.   I think it’s the closest thing I’ve written to “Hackers.”

8bitsteve: What did you think about the 2010 “25th Anniversary” Edition Of Hackers?

Steven Levy: I was thrilled to have a new version out from O’Reilly and hope it can find a new generation of readers–as well as re-readers who have lost their original copies.

We’d like to thank Steven for taking time away from writing to answer these questions.  Check out the new version of Hackers  here.

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