My Take on Makers by Cory Doctorow

makers cory doctorow

Cory Doctorow tells the story in the near future of a two hardware hackers who fall in with microfinancing venture capitalists and invent the “New Work” economy, and then find themselves swimming with corporate sharks, fighting with each other, and leading a band of global techno-revolutionaries.

The New Work economy is small groups of entrepreneurs producing their wares. The origination comes from the private equity leader who combines Kodak and Duracell together. But he is not looking to rebuild these manufacturing giants. He is looking to use their platform to enable those small groups of entrepreneurs.

Those entrepreneurs are the Makers in the title. Backyard hobbyists cobbling stuff together, using the internet to make their products more widely available. The two lead makers, Perry and Lester, work in an abandoned mall that has been turned into a junkyard. They cobble together their initial ideas from the stuff in the junkyard.

Doctorow digs into capitalistic corporate economics, social networking, sociology, culture, abundance, waste, and poverty, in addition to the maker culture.

I first ran into Mr. Doctorow in a Harvard Business Review interview.  One of his quotes on piracy or obscurity stood out:

“Of all the people who didn’t buy one of my books today, the majority of them didn’t buy it because they never heard of me, not because someone gave them a free copy.”

I like what he has to say. Unfortunately, his fictional storytelling is not as good. Most of the characters in this book are only minimally developed. I mostly liked Perry and Lester as loveable underdogs. The rest of the characters were very flat.

The story has some interesting vignettes, but seems disorganized. There are lots of ideas and subplots threaded throughout the book. The book is generally entertaining to read, although a bit clunky. I liked it enough to finish all 400+ pages in a few days.

Doctorow also continues the Van Halen myth that their aversion to brown M&Ms in their dressing room was just a wacky display of wealth. The true story is that it was a ploy to test reading directions. (see Compliance, Van Halen and Brown M&M’s)

Here are some of my other recent book reviews:


  1. I strongly agree with your “interesting vignettes, but seems disorganized” statement. I enjoyed the tangents about how certain technologies or social phenomenon play out, but I think most are under-developed and some could become the major themes of their own stories. I think its an attempt to paint a world where several technologies and phenomena interact with each other (as they do in reality), but I felt as though some themes had loose-ends that left me hanging. I felt the same way about Ad-Hoc WiFi networks in “Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town.” Perhaps this is intentional, just as in reality, few technologies satisfy or resolve neatly.
    I was first introduced to abundance themes in Chris Anderson’s, “Free.” I thought Doctorow’s use of abundance in fiction was interesting and thought-provoking.
    I applaud how Doctorow has embraced Creative Commons and digital publishing. His “piracy v. obscurity” argument is simple and strong. Doctorow, himself, embodies the abundance themes he describes in his work. He understands both the “bits economy” and the “atoms economy” and is able to explain these concepts to readers with his fiction and to the publishing industry with his rogue business plan as an author.

    1. Ryan –

      Like you, one of the things that lead me to the book was Doctorow’s stance on digital publishing and the digital economy. Perhaps I just had expectations higher than I should have.

      The book is full of ideas and thoughts. The story-telling just does not match up.

      1. I downloaded a free copy, so my expectations may have been lower. I’d probably be disappointed if I had purchased a $20+ copy.
        Have you read any of this other fiction?

  2. I agree with you, I agree with you, I agree with you. I can’t say it enough. And your write-up is better than most parts of the book. I am a huge Doctorow fan but the production of this book was so rushed (after sitting around for 4 years) and the text was so poorly edited that it was distracting from the very interesting plot. Too bad. I will stick to his blogs and articles from now on.

  3. and by the way, what happened to Hilda in the Epilogue??! grrr….i wish they had mentioned her!

    1. Eileen –

      Great point about editing. I think a strong editor might have kicked it back to Doctorow to tighten the story. There was a great story in there just waiting to be let out, but weighed down by lots of junk. (Just like the stuff cranked out by the 3D printers.)

      Why was the epilogue and epilogue? It seemed very central to the story and should have been developed to a full chapter.

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