Extra Life (book)

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Extra Life: Coming of Age on Cyberspace

Extra Life - Hardcover - USA - 1st Edition.jpg

Hardcover - USA - 1st edition.

Author David Bennahum
Published 1998-10-08
Type Non-fiction
Genre Biography
Themes Computers
Age Group Adult

Extra Life: Coming of Age on Cyberspace is the biography of David Bennahum published on 1998-10-08. The book retells Bennahum's youth as video games sucked him into computer programming and how he almost succumbed to drug addition.

Personal

Own?Paperback - US - 1st edition.
Read?Paperback - US - 1st edition.
FinishedAround 2000.

I don't remember where I bought this book. I probably saw it at a book store and was intrigued by the occasional bold text of computer output and source code. I first read it around 2000 then re-read it on 2024-02-28.

Review

Overall:

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Good

  • Bennahum is a skilled author who uses good word play to keep his stories interesting.
  • The shock of a young boy moving from the reserved culture of France to the gluttonous USA is interesting to read about.
  • I like the observation that toys often prepare a generation of kids for adulthood (dolls and toy houses for future mother and homemakers, guns and blocks for future soldiers and builders), but, things were turned on their heads at the end of the 1970s when electronic toys were introduced which were unrecognizable to adults.
  • I like his multiple observations that playing with toys like Big Trak and games like Dungeons & Dragons teach kinds all sorts of math, social skills, and system analysis. These subjects are usually taught in schools in such an abstract manner it prevents students from enjoying them, but, bundling them up in play causes children to learn them without even knowing they're being taught.
  • My childhood, though a decade after Bennahum's, still followed a similar initial trajectory. We both had divorced parents and found ourselves engrossed in video games, computers, and D&D, playing for huge amounts of time with our nerdy friends who weren't even remotely conventionally cool. However, where he briefly became a "bad boy," doing drugs at age 12, I became religious and remained a nerd for many years later. I like that he cleaned up his act when his dad reentered his life.
  • I like how he defends D&D against religious moral panic by explaining how the game is safer than most teen activities while also teaching many important life skills.
  • The fights for dominance in the computer lab, to prove who was the best programmer certainly took me back to my high school days.
  • Bennahum accurately describes hacker ethic, the concept of freely sharing ideas and not taking credit for someone else's work. And I love the descriptions of his computer teacher who harps on the importance of ethics and responsibilities that come with the power of being an administrator. I also love how he had the students build and maintain the school's computers and software. This kind of hands-on approach is very important for learning.
  • I appreciate that he isn't afraid to include source code throughout the book and describe what it does.
  • I like how he describes getting into the low-level parts of a computer as being like heavy petting, something that is intimate and often needs privacy to do properly. I also shared a lot of his internal conflict when switching from a command line interface to a GUI, and appreciate how he describes the feeling.
  • I like how he describes adulthood as "hiding the geek," and then eventually reclaiming it.
  • He mentions several times how computers are much better when with your friends, whether it be playing games, writing code, or working on hardware.

Bad

  • The author embellishes a lot. Many of his stories describe minor details which are unlikely to be remembered decades later. This isn't that uncommon in memoirs, but it still makes me question the veracity of other parts. He does point out in the acknowledgements that he contacted all of his old friends to help get more accurate memories.
  • He occasionally goes too far in-depth over unimportant things. For example, he spends a couple pages describing a problem with recursion causing a stack overflow. It's nice for illustrating the concept of infinite loops, but also rather boring.
  • He makes a few misstatements:
    • He repeats the myth of Japanese coin shortages due to Space Invaders.
    • He describes the PET as a "graphics machine," but, it couldn't display graphics, only PETSCII characters.
    • He wrongfully attributes the MOS 6502 CPU to Motorola instead of MOS Technology.
    • He describes the floppy disk drive in the film War Games as a 5.25", but it was actually an 8".
    • He says Blockade was based on the light cycles from the movie Tron, but it's actually the other way around.

Ugly

  • Nothing.

Media

Covers

The book cover is a white backdrop with an old terminal with the title written on the screen in chartreuse using a typeface which is very similar to the one used by Atari.

Links

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