Book Review: Hackers & Painters - by Paul Graham


A collection of essays about programming, start-ups, intelligence, business etc. He is rather too attached to that silicon valley right-wing libertarian school of politics to take everything he says too seriously.


  • No art, however minor, demands less than total dedication if you want to excel in it.
  • Nerds were being trained to get the right answers, the popular kids were being trained to please.
  • Hackers need to understand the theory of computation about as much as painters need to understand paint chemistry.
  • You should figure out programs as you’re writing them, just as writers and painters and architects do. Realizing this has real implications for software design. It means that a programming language should, above all, be malleable. A programming language is for thinking of programs, not for expressing programs you’ve already thought of. It should be a pencil, not a pen.
  • When we interviewed programmers, the main thing we cared about was what kind of software they wrote in their spare time.
  • The right way to collaborate is to divide projects into sharply defined modules, each with a definite owner.
  • Looking at things from other people’s point of view is practically the secret of success.
  • One way to tell how good people are at empathy is to watch them explain a technical matter to someone without a technical background.
  • The statements that make people angry are the ones they worry might be believed.
  • Argue with idiots, and you become an idiot.
  • There is not a fixed amount of wealth in the world. You can make more wealth. Wealth has been getting created and destroyed (but on balance, created) for all of human history. Suppose you own a beat-up old car. Instead of sitting on your butt next summer, you could spend the time restoring your car to pristine condition. In doing so you create wealth. The world is - and you specifically are - one pristine old car the richer. And not just in some metaphorical way. If you sell your car, you’ll get more for it. In restoring your old car you have made yourself richer. You haven’t made anyone else poorer. So there is obviously not a fixed pie.
  • With the rise of industrialization there are fewer and fewer craftsmen. One of the biggest remaining groups is computer programmers.
  • Wealth can be created without being sold. Scientists, till recently at least, effectively donated the wealth they created.
  • Someone who really devoted himself to work could generate ten or even a hundred times as much wealth as an average employee. Companies are not set up to reward people who want to do this.
  • Running a business is different from growing one.
  • If you can imagine someone surpassing you, you should do it yourself.
  • A novice imitates without knowing it; next he tries consciously to be original; finally, he decides it’s more important to be right than original.
  • Today’s experimental error is tomorrow’s new theory. If you want to discover great new things, then instead of turning a blind eye to the places where conventional wisdom and truth don’t quite meet, you should pay particular attention to them.
  • “It’s easier to see ugliness than to imagine beauty.” Most of the people who’ve made beautiful things seem to have done it by fixing something they thought ugly.