Such mythological descriptions, while extreme, underline an important fact. The ninth floor of 545 Tech Square was more than a workplace for many. For hackers such as Stallman, it was home.

As a single parent for nearly a decade-she and Richard's father, Daniel Stallman, were married in 1948, divorced in 1958, and split custody of their son afterwards-Lippman can attest to her son's aversion to authority. She can also attest to her son's lust for knowledge. It was during the times when the two forces intertwined, Lippman says, that she and her son experienced their biggest battles.

Hearing Breidbart's anecdote retold elicits a wry smile from Stallman. "I may have been a bit of a jerk sometimes," he admits. "But I found kindred spirits among the teachers, because they, too, liked to learn. Kids, for the most part, didn't. At least not in the same way."

Such speculation benefits from the fast and loose nature of most so-called " behavioral disorders" nowadays, of course. As Steve Silberman, author of " The Geek Syndrome," notes, American psychiatrists have only recently come to accept Asperger Syndrome as a valid umbrella term covering a wide set of behavioral traits.