⭑⭑⭑⭑ (4/5 see book reviews)

I knew John Carmack from his occasionally viral .plan files, which recount the days when Id Software was on the bleeding edge of PC Gaming.

Carmack is a legend to anyone who writes software, and the book offers an unflinching portrait.

But Masters of Doom tells the story of two Johns: John Carmack and John Romero—the co-creators of the exuberently violent first-person shooters Doom and Quake.

One relatable and endearing story from Carmack’s youth: the time he used some anarchist-cookbook-level, homemade thermite to break into his school’s computer lab to steal some Apple II computers.

The fourteen-year-old Carmack was sent for psychiatric evaluation to help determine his sentence. He came into the room with a sizable chip on his shoulder. The interview didn’t go well. Carmack was later told the contents of his evaluation: “Boy behaves like a walking brain with legs . . . no empathy for other human beings.” At one point the man twiddled his pencil and asked Carmack, “If you hadn’t been caught, do you think you would have done something like this again?”

“If I hadn’t been caught,” Carmack replied honestly, “yes, I probably would have done that again.”

Later he ran into the psychiatrist, who told him, “You know, it’s not very smart to tell someone you’re going to go do a crime again.”

“I said, ‘if I hadn’t been caught,’ goddamn it!” Carmack replied. He was sentenced to one year in a small juvenile detention home in town. Most of the kids were in for drugs. Carmack was in for an Apple II.

– David Kushner, Masters of Doom

The book tied together a lot of threads of 1990s geekdom: arcade games, BBSs and the early internet, dungeons and dragons, William Gibson novels, and software.

By the end of the book, I liked neither John Carmack nor John Romero. Carmack is an unlikable neckbeard: a despotic leader of a formerly fun software company. And Romero seems like he has more bluster than ability.

Still, I enjoyed their story.

And I’ll never forget the hubris of teenage John Romero, who signed a letter to Capital Ideas software:

John Romero, Ace Programmer, Contest Winner, Future Rich Person.

– David Kushner, Masters of Doom


  • Title: Masters of Doom
  • Author: David Kushner
  • Pages: 368
  • Format: eBook + Audio
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN: 0812972153
  • Genre: NonFiction