Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Devil in the Stack

A Code Odyssey

by Andrew Smith

From internationally-bestselling author and journalist Andrew Smith, a riveting, alarming, sharp-eyed journey into the bizarre world of computer code, told through his sometimes painful, often amusing attempt to become a coder himself

  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 464
  • Publication Date August 20, 2024
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5884-0
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $28.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date August 20, 2024
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5885-7
  • US List Price $28.00

Throughout history, technological revolutions have been driven by the invention of machines. But today, the power of the technology transforming our world lies in an intangible and impenetrable cosmos of software: algorithmic code. So symbiotic has our relationship with this code become that we barely notice it anymore. We can’t see it, are not even sure how to think about it, and yet we do almost nothing that doesn’t depend on it. In a world increasingly governed by technologies that so few can comprehend, who—or what—controls the future? Code is everywhere – and Andrew Smith is a venerable guide through it all, learning to code as he brings us on an expansive tour through the history and present-day of code and coders.

Devil in the Stack follows Andrew Smith on his immersive trip into the world of coding, taking us back through the earliest history of logic, machine-learning, and computers, from George Boole to Ada Lovelace to Alan Turing, and up to the present moment, behind the scenes into the lives—and minds—of the new architects of the 21st century: those who write code. Smith embarks on a quest to understand this sect in what he believes to be the only way possible: by learning to code himself. He travels to Magdeburg, Germany to have his brain scanned by a team of scientists studying the effects of coding on the human brain. He attends a global coding conference in Ohio, where he meets the creator of the Python programming language. Smith brings in experts, writers, and young coders who discuss the problematic place of race and gender in technology — and, more specifically in code and algorithms.

Lively and engaging, Devil in the Stack delivers a portrait of code as both a vivid culture and an impending threat. How do we control a technology that most people can’t understand? And are we programming ourselves out of existence? Perhaps most terrifying of all: Is there something about the way we compute – the way code works – that is innately at odds with the way humans have evolved? By turns revelatory, instructive, and unsettling, Devil in the Stack is an essential book for our times, of vital interest to anyone hoping to participate in the future-defining technological debates to come.

Praise for Devil in the Stack:

“A searing philosophical take on the ravages of the digital age, this is a must-read.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A fascinating journey into the world of computer code, its history, the people who create it, some of its current controversies, and its implications for the future of society . . . Anyone who’s curious about the why and how of what makes computers do what they do will find Devil in the Stack a fertile introduction”Shelf Awareness

“Smith provides refreshingly accessible accounts of the theoretical contributions to the field made by early luminaries… a vivid sense of the potential of new developments in AI, as well as the forbidding threats to privacy and human autonomy posed by the systems . . .  [and] insightful commentary on the psychological impact of immersing oneself in the abstractions of code and on the workplace dynamics that fuel a rather ruthless and antisocial mode of innovation… An engaging plunge into the world of code and its transformative implications.”Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Andrew Smith:

“Smith is an ideal narrator: sharp-eyed yet increasingly affectionate about his subjects; expert enough to dissect Apollo minutiae clearly but not so obsessed as to leave a general reader trailing in the jetwash.”Financial Times on Moondust

“A brilliant exploration of madness and genius in the early days of the web. Fascinatingly weird . . . terrific.”Guardian on Totally Wired

“A rich mix of cultural history, reportage and personal reflection.”Evening Standard on Moondust

“Highly entertaining . . . [Smith’s] superb book is a fitting tribute to a unique band of 20th-century heroes.”GQ on Moondust