Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Book review: "The Best of 2600: A Hacker Odyssey"

I still remember the first time I bought an issue of 2600.  I was probably 13 or 14 and had discovered the magazine through some posts on a BBS.  Finding a copy at the local bookstore was a huge nerdy rush, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I felt like some sort of rebellious bad-ass with contraband when I took it to the register.  Even if I was too chicken to try anything remotely illegal, I still wanted to soak up every last article no matter what the topic: phreaking, computer hacking, lock picking, or simply defying the man.  
My quarterly copies of 2600, combined with text files gathered from BBSs and early web sites, engendered the passion I still have for hacking and security.  I kept a binder, organized by subject, where I would collect articles and printouts.  I discovered "Off the Hook" on WBAI and would tune in every week.  And I even penned a few letters and articles that were published - you can imagine what a thrill that was for the ego of this young geek (thinking about them now makes me cringe).
I stopped keeping up with 2600 many years ago, mostly because the Internet became a far better source of information.  So it was with an enormous dose of fond nostalgia that I purchased "The Best of 2600: A Hacker Odyssey" from Amazon this week.  I'm happy to say that it's an exceptionally well-done collection spanning 800 pages and 20 years of history and hacker lore.  Articles have been nicely arranged by era and general subject matter, with plenty of interspersed new material written by Goldstein.  Content spans everything from phone phreaking during the Ma Bell days to hacking during the modern Internet era.
Of course, nostalgia doesn't change the fact that some of 2600's articles suffered from awkward writing and somewhat juvenile anti-establishment overtones - especially when you read them as a staid "grown-up" instead of an over-eager hacker-wannabe teenager.  But you have to consider the context in which they were written.  Many of the older articles truly capture the hacker spirit, developed by pioneers who had far fewer resources at their disposal for obtaining and sharing knowledge.
If you have even a passing interest in the history and evolution of the hacking "scene" over the last few decades, I highly recommend this book.  For me, reading it has been both informative and a fun trip down memory lane.  You can pick up a copy at Amazon.