Book Review: Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture

Editor's note: Sometimes -- purely by accident -- we end up spending our free time on things that aren't games. In an effort to make the site more useful and to encourage us to write more, I've decided to take a stab at a good, old-fashioned book review. In case you're drawing a blank: books are those things that look kind of like a Kindle but they don't need to be charged. John Romero and John Carmack. The rock star and the closeted engineer. The master designer and the virtuoso coder. The gamer and the programmer.

If you're a human being in the Western world, you've heard of Doom, even if you haven't played it. And if you're reading this site, you probably know about John Romero and John Carmack, two of the founding members of id Software. But if you're like me, you only knew the cursory details: the two Johns' rise to fame, their infamous split after Quake was released and Romero's failed magnum opus, Daikatana.

David Kushner's book Masters of Doom does an admirable job of detailing the chronology of each of the two Johns' rise to fame and fortune from an inauspicious childhood. The entire story is told in a mere 300 pages, which I found myself flying through in just two days. However, the book was researched and written over six years, and features more than 500 interviews with all sorts of industry luminaries and, of course, the original id Software team.

While a narrative about a bunch of awkward game programmers huddled around their desks for months on end might not sound like riveting material, there's more than enough eccentricity in the characters and drama in the plot to keep the story flowing: Ferraris are bought, rockets are launched, marriages are broken, friendships are severed and money is squandered. But what else would you expect from the guys who turned the industry on its head and got rich on their own terms, all while provoking a national controversy on the role of violence in video games?

I've only read a few books about the history of video games, but Masters of Doom stands out as one of the most engaging, compelling, and worthwhile. Even a casual gamer will find something resonant about the story of these two awkward, ambitious guys who defied their families' expectations and forever changed the course of gaming.

Recommended for

  • Anyone curious about the rise of one of gaming's most infamous studios
  • Gaming history buffs who appreciate a thorough, well-documented book
  • People who remember the phrase "Doom clone"