Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary

Diamond, David, Torvalds, Linus

Published by HarperBusiness, 2002
ISBN 10: 0066620732 / ISBN 13: 9780066620732
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Once upon a time Linus Torvalds was a skinny unknown, just another nerdy Helsinki techie who had been fooling around with computers since childhood. Then he wrote a groundbreaking operating system and distributed it via the Internet -- for free. Today Torvalds is an international folk hero. And his creation LINUX is used by over 12 million people as well as by companies such as IBM.

Now, in a narrative that zips along with the speed of e-mail, Torvalds gives a history of his renegade software while candidly revealing the quirky mind of a genius. The result is an engrossing portrayal of a man with a revolutionary vision, who challenges our values and may change our world.

Review: Most 31-year olds can't boast of being the instigator of a revolution. But then again, the world's leading promoter of open source software and creator of the operating system Linux does humbly call himself an accidental revolutionary--accidental being the operative word here. Just for Fun is the quirky story of how Linus Torvalds went from being a penniless, introverted code writer in Helsinki in the early 1990s to being the unwitting (and rather less than penniless) leader of a radical shift in computer programming by the end of the decade.

OK, perhaps "story" in the traditional sense of the term is stretching it a bit. This whole book is more like a series of e-mails, an exercise in textual communication for someone more used to code language than conversation: choppy sentences packed into short paragraphs, and sometimes just one-liners. The pace is fast, but the quippy tone can get somewhat tiring, though it definitely suits the portrayal of a computer-dominated life. And like an e-mail conversation, the tense often changes, the topics jump back and forth, and the narrators occasionally change, mostly alternating between the Linux man himself and Red Herring executive editor David Diamond, who convinced the difficult-to-pin-down Torvalds to write his story (or at least allow Diamond to poke, prod, and pull it out of him, all the while giving his own impressions and interpretations). But Torvald's tale contains enough informative and entertaining tidbits--on growing up in dark, strangely silent but communication-gadget-obsessed Finland (which boasts more cell phones per capita than anywhere else), on what makes passionate code writers tick, on making the transition from unknown computer geek to world-famous computer geek, on the convergence of technology and ideology, on his work for Transmeta and involvement (or lack thereof) with all the players worth mentioning in Silicon Valley - to keep more than just computer programmers engrossed in his story. For the latter, of course, Just for Fun will be required reading.

If you pick up this book as a geek's guide to the meaning of life (which, believe it or not, Torvalds does ramble on about at the beginning and the end), then you're in for a bit of a shallow take on the whole thing. But if you're interested in the idea of technological development as a global team sport, and how a nerdy Finnish transplant to California got the whole game going in the first place, check out Linus's story... just for fun, of course. --S. Ketchum

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Title: Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental ...
Publisher: HarperBusiness
Publication Date: 2002
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: Good

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