Relevant To Your Interests: Books About Hackers

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Hackers, for better or worse, are shaping a lot of our world, which is increasingly dependent on all things digital. There’s a romance to them that captures our fascination with Robin-Hood-esque bandits; there’s a terror that our private lives might not remain so if we clash with the culture’s seemingly-inherent violent masculinity. We’ve written about Gamergate. We’ve written about Feminist Hacker Barbie. But those things only scratched the surface of both our wide-spread fixation on and the reality of hackers and hacking culture. I’m reading a book about hackers right now and feel like maybe some of y’all want to join me. Just a feeling I had.

I will not include Lisbeth Salander novels because I do not like them, but I know some of y’all do/will so have at it.


Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous

by Gabriella Coleman

This is the one I’m reading right now, so it seems fitting that we should start here. Coleman is an anthropologist and professor at McGill who really embedded herself within the hacker community and those operating under the amorphous Anonymous flag to do her research and write her book. I’m only a little bit in, and while it’s a little repetitive at times, I’m enjoying it so far! And that’s because the repetition is in service to as complete a portrait of Anonymous as can possibly be drawn by anyone who remains on the outside enough to still be called an anthropologist.

Buy this book ($16.30).


Birds of Prey

By Chuck Dixon, John Dell and Gary Frank

Barbara Gordon may be most famous as Bat Girl, but she’s also Oracle — a crazy-smart hacker who uses a wheelchair after being shot by the Joker. If you’re a fan of Mey’s Drawn To Comics, this original 1996 one shot comic where Gordon makes her first appearance as Oracle might be for you. As Birds of Prey later became an ongoing series, this might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Prices vary on this book because some copies are new, others are used.


Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures As the World’s Most Wanted Hacker

by Kevin Mitnick

Our very own Cee recommended this book to me a while back and I have a hold on it at the library as of right now! But I may break down and download the book because it sounds so thrilling— once again, exactly what it says on the box (hackers seem to like straightforward titles), though rather than an anthropological study, this is autobiography.

Buy this book ($11.10).


Alif the Unseen

by G. Willow Wilson

Alif, a hacker in an un-named Middle Eastern Security State, is very mercenary with his services. A doomed love affair; a surveillance-happy government that wants to catch him; mixing technology with demons. Basically, I can’t wait to read this book because it sounds like it has everything? I strongly believe code and magic are very similar, so. Reviewers loooooooved it, too.

Buy this book ($10.84).


Neuromancer

by William Gibson

Do you know that I’ve never read this? Do you know how many people have told me I need to read this? I suspect they’re correct, which is why this is on my personal list and also on this one. The people who have been like ALI WTF READ NEUROMANCER have also told me it remains really prescient — aspects of it present a clear vision of what our life is like today, though it was first published in 1984. The hacker in this book, Case, is washed up but is then hired to perform a crazy hack, the likes of which has never been seen before. It also popularized the term “cyberspace,” thus altering our linguistic understanding of the time we live in.

Buy this book ($4.93, mass market paperback).


When Google Met Wikileaks

by Julian Assange

I know enough about Julian Assange to know that I don’t have any valid, informed opinion about Julian Assange. To help me (and the rest of us) get one, I’m thinking this book might be appropriate. According to the Daily Dot, to call it a book might be stretching it — it’s a transcript of a meeting between Julian Assange and Google executive Eric Schmidt, along with some supplemental essays.

Buy this book ($10.30).


Hackers: Heroes of The Computer Revolution

by Steven Levy

When one Googles the name of this book, academic papers come up. First published in the eighties about OG hackers (think as far back as the 50’s), this book of profiles and historic figures chronicles how the original nerds and brainiacs gave rise to today’s computer world. The 25th Anniversary edition, released in 2010, features updated content from the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Wozniak.

Buy this book ($13.97).


Illustration by Andre Da Loba via The New York Times

Illustration by Andre Da Loba via The New York Times

Let The Great World Spin

by Colum McCann

This seems like a really weird note to end on, but Let The Great World Spin is one of my favorite books and in it there’s a gem of a chapter that features Phone Phreakers — a subset of people who hacked analog telephone systems, an act known as phreaking. I (stupidly) never really made the connection that Phreakers were a type of original hacker, and certainly a type of predecessor to today’s hacker culture. Though it’s only one chapter, I’m including it here because one of the things McCann does so well (and there are a lot) is era. It gives such a clear feel of the time, place and situation of phreakers that I had to include it here.

Buy this book ($8.03).


What’s missing? What are your favorite books about hackers?

Staff Writer for Autostraddle, Part-time Faculty at The New School (teaching digital storytelling), Managing Editor for Scholar & Feminist Online at Barnard Center for Research On Women. Follow me on Twitter @AEOsworth or on Instagram, also @AEOsworth.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. Two YA novels (starring dudes, full disclaimer) that I nonetheless really loved because they included descriptions of some basic hacks that you can do in real life:
    1. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
    Cory is always heavy on the practical applications, but they’re fairly integrated into the narrative. Also forever indebted to the sequel, Homeland, for alerting me to joys of cold-brewed coffee.
    2. Brainjack by Brian Falkner.
    Now you, too, can learn how to beat the software firewall in a prison computer, just by using Microsoft Excel.

  2. Alif the Unseen is amaaazing! The writing is a cut above typical fantasy-scifi. The magical elements are reminiscent of Gaiman’s treatment in American Gods, but much more well supported with actual research and a feel for the culture. There’s also a weird and really puzzling Mary-Sue/author stand-in that plays with the potential ickiness of Orientalism, while still promoting cross-cultural understanding.

    Bonus that you didn’t mention: Written by Ms. Marvel’s creator

  3. I am all about this post. Yessss.

    I’d love to also recommend Trouble and Her Friends, by Melissa Scott, which stars a bunch of awesome queer hackers. It’s absolutely fantastic, and I can’t talk about it enough. I hear the rest of Melissa Scott’s works are likewise stellar.

  4. These are all so great, and I’m glad to see one of the originals (William Gibson) and the mention of phreaking!!! I made TONS of phone calls to long distance friends that way as a kid.
    Also, since you said you ‘strongly believe code and magic are very similar,’ you may enjoy checking out Neal Stephenson. Particularly Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon and/or Anathem. He has lots of great work out there but those three are pretty incredible. Snow Crash is definitely the fastest read of the three, as his work tends to be pretty hefty in the sheer number of pages.

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