From award-winning journalist Andrew Smith, contributing writer for the Sunday Times and the Guardian, CODIFIED is an immersive, sharp-eyed tour of the world of computer programming, told through Smith’s own journey to learn how to code.
by Andrew Smith
Atlantic Monthly Press/Grove Atlantic, Winter 2024
Andrew Smith’s first book, Moondust, was a #1 UK and international bestseller, nominated for two British Book Awards (including Read of the Year), and cited by the Times as one of its “100 Best Books of the Decade.” His follow-up Totally Wired—centered on the late 1990s dot-com bubble and its tumultuous crash—was published to rave reviews, hailed as “effervescent and vivid . . . a book whose time has come” (Sunday Times). Smith’s latest, CODIFIED, is a mesmerizing, up-to-the-minute account of the world of coders, as experienced through his own endeavor to become one.
Throughout history, technological revolutions have been driven by the invention of machines. But today, the power of the tech 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 controls the future?
CODIFIED follows Andrew Smith on his immersive trip into the world of coding, taking us behind the scenes into the lives—and minds—of the new gatekeepers 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. Along the way, he becomes involved with a wild array of characters and takes part in several lively rituals of initiation into the coding world: he visits a global coding conference in Ohio, where he meets the creator of the Python programming language; and he takes part in a 24-hour “hackathon” in Silicon Valley, a Darwinian race to see who can build the best app overnight. At the start of his odyssey he travels to Magdeburg, Germany to have his brain scanned by a team of scientists studying the effects of coding on the human brain and will share the results of the final comparison scan. Smith delivers a vivid, effervescent portrait of a culture working in an office or coworking space near you—all while wrestling with everything that’s at stake in this stage of technological evolution. How do we control a technology that most people can’t understand? And are we programming ourselves out of existence? By-turns illuminating, alarming, and amusing, CODIFIED is an essential book for our times.
“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
Andrew Smith has worked as a critic and feature writer for the Sunday Times, the Guardian, the Observer, and The Face, and has penned documentaries for the BBC. He is the author of the internationally bestselling book Moondust, about the nine remaining men who walked on the moon between 1969 and 1972, and Totally Wired. He was raised in the UK and currently lives in California.