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The book that inspired the birth of reddit (alexisohanian.com)
188 points by kn0thing on June 26, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 59 comments

Masters of Doom was one the books that really steeled my resolve to get into game programming back when I'd read it in highschool. It's a fascinating story about the birth and development of ID Software (the folks that made Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake, and are near singlehandedly responsible for us having consumer-grade graphics cards of note today). It's a fun, easy read, and the personalities involved are quite amazing. Both Carmack and Romero are painted in very human lights, and it's a fascinating insight into how to run a growth company without venture capital.

It's the ultimate bootstrap and find market fit and make bank story you'll likely ever read.


Later, you should also read Soul of a New Machine and Dreaming in Code for a less calvinball approach to software development.

Soul of a New Machine is an excellent book. I'll second that recommendation.

I recommend Soul of a New Machine as an excellent example how not to manage knowledge workers for the long term. The book has a romantic "gung-ho" energy to it that might appeal to start-ups in crunch time, but the environment described in the book eats the seed corn. As mentioned in Peopleware, practically everyone on that team quit Data General after the Eagle project due to all the abuse. Peopleware actually references the book when explaining the "Spanish Theory" model of IT management that they contend doesn't work.

Masters of Doom is an awesome read. If you are into gaming, graphics or the history of id Software... order it today.

Here are some excerpts from the book that I particularly enjoyed:

"On a cold winter day, Carmack laced up his shoes, slipped on his jacket, and headed out into the Madison snow. The town was blanketed in the stuff, cars caked in frost, trees dangling ice. Carmack endured the chill because he had no car; he'd sold the MGB long before. It was easy enough for him to shut out the weather, just like he could, when necessary, shut Tom and Romero's antics out of his mind. He was on a mission.

Carmack stepped into the local bank and requested a cashier's check for $11,000. The money was for a NeXT computer, the latest machine from Steve Jobs, cocreator of Apple. The NeXT, a stealth black cube, surpassed the promise of Jobs's earlier machines by incorporating NeXTSTEP, a powerful system tailor-made for custom software development. The market for PCs and games was exploding, and this was the perfect tool to create more dynamic titles for the increasingly viable gaming platform. It was the ultimate Christmas present for the ultimate in young graphics programmers, Carmack."

Of course, the book wouldn't be complete without Ferrari details and discussion:

"At a showroom, they admired a gleaming new Testarossa that listed at $90,000. Carmack was treating cars like he treated his games; he had already grown somewhat tired of his current engine. What he really wanted was one of these. [...] Carmack paid cash for a red one to match his 328.


But Carmack's Ferrari didn't stay in the lot for long. Within days he drove it over to Norwood Autocraft and started on the modifications - he wanted to get the car, which ran at four hundred horsepower, at least twice as strong. Bob Norwood, who had become Carmack's automotive mentor, had a master plan: to install a twin turbo system that would not just double but triple the car's horsepower. For added energy, they put in a computer-controlled device that would inject a burst of nitrous oxide."

Read at least one book this summer, you'll be better for it

This is such a refreshing thing to read in a tech community that seems to so unfairly decry literature. (And, no, rereading 1984 doesn't count.)

I also recommend people check out Alexis's short eBook, Make Something People Love: (http://www.hyperink.com/Make-Something-People-Love-Lessons-F...). It's ten bucks and something like seventy pages: easy to cruise through on a lazy afternoon, and has a very pleasant perspective on the philosophy behind creation. Alexis is a gifted writer, and you certainly feel his personality on the pages.

> (And, no, rereading 1984 doesn't count.)

I think (re-)reading 1984 probably counts a lot more than reading a great amount of business/self-help books.

Yeah, I have to agree. I get the GP's point, that 1984 is the polemic pamphlet for anti-authoritarians...but it's a fine piece of literature on its own ground, one that I've always found new insight or a previously unnoticed turn of phrase on each reading.

However, if you're tired of 1984 but are still on an Orwell kick, his non-fiction is equally fantastic.

>I get the GP's point, that 1984 is the polemic pamphlet for anti-authoritarians...

Hmmm, I thought the point was you're wasting time on a book a) you've already read and b) everyone else you know has already read. Regardless of how good the book is, you're unlikely to gain any unique insight.

I read it first when I was in my late teens. I read it again after the war on terror (tm) had started... let's just say it was the difference between reading a book about sex as a virgin and as a man. Books of that caliber, that are that short, are rare enough IMHO, and reading them every decade can't hurt? Anyway, you can't know if you get something new out of it unless you tried it at least once ;)

Meh. Some books are just fun to read.

I always thought it was ironic that 1984 is pretty much standard required reading in US public (government-funded) high schools.

Nothing ironic about it. A populace that doesn't know what a democracy-dismantling government looks like is that much more likely to vote one into power. Of course, reading the book is no guarantee that they won't do it anyway, but a good democracy should at least try.

his non-fiction is equally fantastic.



Correct. Reading business and self help books is a great way to waste your time.

Why thank you! How'd you like a signed copy of Without Their Permission? (http://ohanian.co/WTPbook) Email contact AT alexisohanian.com your address and I'll get ya.

I promise that book is going to be nothing less than 42x better. It also has doodles! e.g., http://instagram.com/p/Zn32KlmEq7/

I got your ebook when it first came out at $1.99.

I'm going to mail out stickers for my next project.

(Can I has free book? Why do we have to wait till October, so far away.)

Why thank you! You want a free copy of Without Their Permission? Since your read MSPL you know I can't just give it to you, it must be imbued with some value (beyond the book itself). Show me what ya got in mind!

I like the idea of surprising and delighting your users. My software helps make animated gifs, and is going to be free. I'm going to mail stickers to people who mention/tag us when they post on Tubmlr/twitter.

I also have a mascot and a little backstory. His name is Gary and he lives in the circuits of your computer. Born in 1987 with the .gif format, he works tirelessly to compile the user's images frame by frame. He almost quit in the 90s though, after people criticized gifs as being tacky and overused. But then came the gif renaissance as users began to purposely use gifs as expressive, emotional works of art. Gary handles all the heavy lifting in our software and he loves to make people happy. Thank goodness for Gary.

> a tech community that seems to so unfairly decry literature

Is this really the case? I can't recall this attitude being that widespread.

Yeah, it's completely wrong. Statistically, it is very unprobable that I have seen so many articles about books without searching for them and no one complaining about literature in the past few months on the Internet. This claim is ridiculous.

Might I also humbly suggest what I believe to be The Best History Book: "Dreadnought", by the Pulitzer-prize-winning RKM. (It's way more interesting than the book that RKM won the Pulitzer for).

It'll probably cost you next to nothing on Amazon Used Books, and if it's the sort of book you don't like you'll probably know after a chapter.

But I promise I wouldn't waste your time. It's about the runup to the first World War, and it's chock-full of amazing digressions and vivid characters. It's absolutely captivating, and for years you'll be able to open it completely at random and be surprised.

"Dreadnought" is the book that made me track down "Grey of Fallodon" and "Dorothy Grey", and read "Castles of Steel," and read every single one of Churchill's books about the world wars, and his (now public-domain) book "From London to Ladysmith by Way of Pretoria."


Alternatively, if you don't want a grand, sprawling epic with a cast of hundreds, please consider "Storm of Steel", by Ernst Junger, the Best First-Person Account of the First World War -- a good english translation has only been available quite recently, 2000 or 2004 if I recall correctly.

> (And, no, rereading 1984 doesn't count.)

I'm on the last chapter of Atlas Shrugged. Does that count?


You got through the speech?

I really tried to (audio book version). I got 3/4 of the way through and then skipped.

Or, you could just read any ol' book. It's nice to branch out- if the only books you read are about work, it won't seem nearly as pleasant.

I loved the book. This quote by Carmack sums up it up for me:

>In the information age, the barriers [to entry into programming] just aren't there. The barriers are self imposed. If you want to set off and go develop some grand new thing, you don't need millions of dollars of capitalization. You need enough pizza and Diet Coke to stick in your refrigerator, a cheap PC to work on, and the dedication to go through with it. We slept on floors. We waded across rivers.

He's making a larger point about low barriers to entry, but honestly there's something romantic about the image of all day cowboy coding sessions fueled by junk food.

Serious question: Has anyone ever written a "let your husband change the goddamn world!"-type book. Cause my wife is my barrier. Sure, I'll eat junk food, sit at the PC all day, sleep on the couch. But then half of the PC and half of the couch won't be mine for much longer...

Serious answer: If your goal is that important to you, it's really a personal issue you will need to work out with yourself and your wife. I think that no book will be able to uniquely address your personal relationship.

Additionally, I am not certain that it is necessary to "eat junk food, sit at the PC all day, sleep on the couch" in order to build a business or change the world. Although it is romantic and might be doable for some people over the course of months and years, sacrificing (subjective) quality of life and sanity should not be the only path to building something meaningful that you care about. It will probably take a lot over work over the long haul. If the console cowboy lifestyle changes are the aspects of creating something that you/your wife are worried about, maybe address those separately from the goal of actually creating something, which I hope would not necessitate those behaviors.

Serious question: Has anyone ever written a "let your husband change the goddamn world!"-type book. Cause my wife is my barrier. Sure, I'll eat junk food, sit at the PC all day, sleep on the couch. But then half of the PC and half of the couch won't be mine for much longer

"Masters of Doom" addresses this, I think, when it recounts how John Carmack stole an Apple II.

A master will always find a way. But his/her priorities may not always be shared or respected.

I've found if my fingers are flying and I have a determined look on my face, it goes over a lot better.

I'll go ahead and write this - Perhaps completely ignoring your wife isn't the way to go.

Did that help. I don't really have time for a whole book.

/the wife would get mad at me.

Oh you misunderstood. I meant to explain the "romantic" part of how you can be sitting there in the zone and getting things done and yet to her it just looks like you're at any old regular HuffingtonPost-machine.

I thoroughly enjoyed Masters of Doom.

At the time, I recall a number of people who read the book bemoaning 1991 as a bygone era of opportunity, as if all the good ideas and opportunities to invent had been "used up". Interesting how different people take the same text as self-defeating vs inspiring.

Also, on the topic of inspirational books, I always have to mention Skunk Works[0], one of my all-time favorites.

0: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0316743003

Love this. I just ordered a copy.

I've been under the weather for a while, so I took the opportunity to read some. I can't emphasize enough how important regular reading is. If for no other reason than to climb out of your own problems and into an author's head for a bit, especially one with something important to say.

For anybody interested, the books I read over the past 2-3 weeks were War and Peace, Gone Girl, and God's Chinese Son. I've got about 35 more on-deck waiting for me to start on them.

I started reading The Romance Of Three Kingdoms - the Chinese equivalent to the Iliad. It's one of the handful classics of old Chinese literature, and an amazing window into that culture.

It's not an easy read, because the style is so peculiar, there's a ton of characters, and... well... it's not a culture I'm very familiar with. But it's still fascinating.

There's a movie that was made after this book, it's called Red Cliff. It captures the battle of Red Cliff, a peak moment in the book, and the events leading up to it. It's hugely, hugely EPIC. I'm a sucker for this genre, so I loved it. Also, it convinced me that John Woo can make great movies - when he's at home, operating within the realm of his native culture. When in Hollywood, he seems merely okay. If you watch this movie, make sure it's the original two-disk version, not the abridged single-disk one. The events depicted in it have a factual basis, with the required dramatic embellishments on top.

Red Cliff is an awesome movie! I loved it because it focused on the strategy and politics of war, rather than the warriors or fighting.

Do you mean to imply you read all three, notably W&P entirely in three weeks? Good God man!

Not sure if this is verbatim, but one of my favourite quotes is a Carmack quote:

"If you want to set off and go develop some grand new thing, you don't need millions of dollars of cpitalization. you need enough pizza and Diet Coke to stick in your regrigerator, a cheap PC to work on and the dedication to go through with it."

The Social Network also has the same sort of feeling as Masters of Doom, both very inspirational. I just love the feeling of "we're on to something big here", just wish I can have that feeling at least once in my life.

You should read the book the movie was based on:


Masters of Doom is a fantastic read, I had the kindle edition and had to track down a hardback copy after reading it. I wanted it on my shelf.

The author has a new novel out titled Jacked which I believe tells the story of Rockstar games but I haven't read it yet. Has anyone else? Is it good?

I feel like it would be lacking some of the nostalgia and lure of Masters of Doom. The celebrity and talent of Carmack is legendary in our industry and Romero's arc makes him a compelling foil later in the story. Additionally, id software's games are the games that I grew up playing as opposed to Rockstar's games which I have only seen in passing.

I loved Masters of Doom and bought Jacked hoping it would be as amazing. Jacked had some great personality profiles in it... but as mentioned above, the personalities just aren't as captivating as Carmack and Romero. Plus there was a lot of focus on Jack Thompson (the video game activist [1]), which got tiresome. I hadn't realized that the title of the book was a pun on carjacking and Jack Thompson.

The book also didn't dig nearly as much into the detail around the creation of the games. In Masters of Doom, you felt like you were watching Carmack and Romero invent Doom. In Jacked, the game creation process was talked about in much more general (and less personal) terms. That's absolutely typical for a journalist, but Masters of Doom set such a high bar for gaming journalism that I ended up a bit disappointed.

Overall Jacked was a worthwhile read, but I didn't find it to be in same class as Masters of Doom.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Thompson_(activist)

Oh! I didn't know about Jacked. Will take a gander. Thanks.

I'm so careful about the Carmack/Romero comparison for Me/Steve precisely because things go so spectacularly bad for Romero...and I'm no Carmack.

The audiobook version of this is excellent, read by Wil Wheaton. One of the best books I've read in the last few years, and also one of the most entertaining audiobook narrations.

Speaking of that awesome narrator, we commissioned him for the audiobook of a recent breadpig publication: Trial of the Clone by Zach Weinersmith. http://tinmangames.com.au/blog/?p=3239

He did an outstanding job. I want Wil to narrate my entire life.

I thought pg gave you the idea to start reddit?

"Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, rejected their original idea: a mobile food ordering service called MyMobileMenu. Instead, Graham told them, "You guys need to build the front page of the Internet.""


I think PG told them to work on (what became) the reddit idea instead of the food ordering idea. The redditors came up with both ideas.

This is correct. Masters of Doom made me want to be an entrepreneur.

What career path did you have your sights on before wanting to become an entrepreneur?

This is quickly turning into a book press stop! I wanted to be an immigration lawyer -- obsessing over my GPA for the first couple of years at UVA. It all changed when I walked out of an LSAT prep course one Saturday morning to get waffles at Waffle House instead.

>Nevertheless, this book convinced me to consider starting a company.

the title is misleading then.


birth of reddit the idea started with pg, etc.

birth of reddit the company started with alexis, etc.

imo conception starts with the idea.

My understanding is that Reddit would not be Reddit without Alexis. He came up with the name and (I believe) the alien/branding. But more importantly, he fostered a culture of doing the right thing over making an extra dollar, which ultimately enabled Reddit to beat Digg and become a core part of the culture. I wouldn't downplay his contribution to the "birth of Reddit."

There was a mother and a father - I'll let you decide which role was fulfilled by me and Steve.

This sounds like a loaded question. ;-) But in all seriousness, I think one of Steve's big contributions was rejecting the constant calls for tags, and opting instead to implement subreddits. (I'm just a guy watching from the sidelines; I could be wrong on some of these details.) It's a good reminder that listening to your users is not always the right way to make something they want.

Totally right. In fact, I was fighting with him during our YC summer about implementing tagging (which I also wanted, because we'd be able to spin up new verticals much much faster than trying to build new communities in new subreddits). I'ts a very good thing he won. More on this in Without Their Permission....

You brought up an interesting point about the idea for reddit, but you're wrong about the title of this thread.

Curious: anyone here ever have http://linuxhomepage.com as their "front page of the Internet" before reddit existed?

I did.

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