Best Book of the Week: Hackers & Painters

My official best book of Thanksgiving week is Hackers & Painters by Paul Graham.

I know Paul Graham indirectly through his role as founder of Viaweb, which was bought in 1998 by Yahoo! for $49m in stock. Viaweb was a startup in Cambridge that was down the block from NetGenesis (when I was chairman) and was part of the first wave of Cambridge/Boston-based Internet companies.

While I never knew Graham personally, I’d heard that he had a provocative personality (“provocative” in a good way – typical of the Cambridge / MIT / Harvard software set.) A look at his web site confirms this.

Hackers & Painters is a collection of Graham’s essays woven together in a captivating book. While I don’t agree with all of his thoughts – the book makes you think – which is refreshing. Blogging has helped stimulate the re-birth of the personal essay – which I love to read (and am trying to be effective at writing.) Graham’s book is 200 pages composed of 14 essays (at least half of which are likely to be interesting to anyone that is in the computer business, half of which are likely to be interesting to anyone that likes to think, half of which are likely to be interesting to people involved in startups, and half of which are likely to simply be – interesting.)

My favorite paragraph in the book is about startups in the essay titled How to Make Wealth. “A startup is a like a mosquito. A bear can absorb a hit and a crab is armored against one, but a mosquito is designed for one thing: to score. no energy is wasted on defense. The defense of mosquitos, as a species, is that there are a lot of them, but this is little consolation to the individual mosquito.”

Back to the beach for another day of running, reading, and thinking.