Hackers & Painters and The Charterhouse of Parma

These were part of my reading matter for the summer. They contrast somewhat; the former is by Paul Graham and is a collection of essay about the software world; the latter is a classic novel by Stendhal. But they do link together, vaguely, in this sense:

One of PG’s themes is money, or wealth as he would prefer (wiki has a stub, which will at least point you to the book and the essays online). How to make it, and why its fair to have large disparities, and such. He asserts that a rapid rise in wealth occurs when socieites allow individuals and groups to retain the rights to the wealth they generate; which is usually the Rule of Law. I’ve no idea if its historically accurate, but his assertion is that if there are robber barons around who will just nick any dosh you can generate, then no-one will bother to put the effort into doing new things. That’s an over simplification of his argument, which is in turn an over simplification of history, but you get the idea. So the idea is that for large stretches of history, the best way for able and industrious people to acquire wealth was to steal it; either explicitly or more likely quasi-legally, by being part of a corrupt government or court.

Which brings us on to the Charterhouse (wiki has a deeply uninspiring article about it) which is about the fictionalised court of Parma after Napoleons downfall; and the life of the Duchess within it (rant: the title is irrelevant, and the author gets bored at the end and kills everyone off in lieu of finding a sensible way of finishing it; perhaps a consequence of the method of composition). This is the classic opposite of PG’s wealth creation: no-one does anything useful (other than perhaps the Count, who generates Order, or the Duchess, who generates Fun) and wealth is not generated, it is acquired by inheritance or favour of the Prince. But it is a lot of fun to read. Probably not so great to live through.


2 thoughts on “Hackers & Painters and The Charterhouse of Parma”

  1. Hi, Stoat. Nice comparative piece. I’ve read many of Graham’s essays online and I think he’s a very articulate and thoughtful writer.

    As for Stendhal, my software-developer son recommends “The Red And The Black”. I’ll get to that book one of these days!

    [Thats the other classic, apparently, though I’ve never seen it -W]


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