Read these tech books now. Thanks us later.
The evenings are getting darker and colder. It can only mean one thing: It's time to get some good books and settle in for the winter. But what to read?
Your humble bibliophiles at Cult of Mac can help. Combing through our bookshelves, we've assembled a list of the books you should make sure you pick up before 2014's out. Now get reading!
Photo: Christian Bucad/Flickr CC
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
Walter Isaacson’s new book might not be quite the monster hit that his 2011 Steve Jobs biography was, but The Innovators is definitely the 2014 tech book you’re most likely to spot someone reading on the bus. Having focused on one of tech's most singular visionaries, The Innovators turns its attention to teams of inventors and computer scientists, offering a look at just how far technology have come over the past century.
If The Innovators has a downside, it’s that it can be cursory in its discussions of specific people. Jobs got 500 pages of his own, but Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, Doug Engelbart, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Tim Berners-Lee, Larry Page and others have to share less than that between them.
Still, if you’re looking for a tech book people will have read this winter, The Innovators should be high on your list.
Photo: Simon & Schuster
The Second Machine Age
To give it its full name, this is The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. It’s written by MIT academics Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, and despite its title it’s not a book that focuses only on the positives of technology.
Taking in everything from Google’s self-driving cars to the possibility that we might one day be put out of a job by the right algorithm, The Second Machine Age looks forward while Isaacson’s The Innovators looks back. Between them, this as close to a crash-course overview of computing as you could hope for.
Photo: W.W. Norton & Company
To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism
Evgeny Morozov isn’t a critic to everyone’s liking. The guy’s got a shtick, and that shtick involves hating on technology in all its forms. His previous book, The Net Delusion, looked at how the Internet has progressed from a tool capable of freeing oppressed peoples to one used for controlling them. In his follow-up, To Save Everything, Click Here, he examines the subject of “solutionism” — or the idea that, in Apple’s words, whatever the problem, “there’s an app for that.”
Morozov is grouchy, offers few of his own solutions, and is able to take the most well-intentioned tech idea and twist it until it resembles a dystopian nightmare scenario. That doesn’t make To Save Everything, Click Here any less valuable, however. If you want your technology optimism grounded with a bit of critical theory, Morozov will give you plenty to think about.
Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal
Nick Bilton’s Twitter biography, Hatching Twitter, came out late last year, but it’s well worth a read if you haven’t got to it yet. It’s less heavyweight and more narrative than, say, Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here, but that’s not to suggest in any way that it’s not worth your time. If you’re looking for a story in the vein of The Social Network (although infinitely better than the Ben Mezrich source material), this is certainly it.
Photo: Portfolio Penguin
How Google Works
Writing a book about Google is rapidly becoming a more oversubscribed area than writing about Apple. We’ve had histories from The New Yorker's Ken Auletta and Wired’s Steven Levy. We’ve had employee memoirs such as I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59. And we’ve had academic takedowns of googling, such as The Googlization of Everything (and Why We Should Worry) by Siva Vaidhyanathan.
What more could you possibly want to know about everyone’s favorite (or least favorite) Mountain View company? Answering that question is the thesis behind Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg’s How Google Works. Instead of looking at what Google does, it looks at Google’s management as a company. The results can be problematic — when is Google not? — but the book is the best inside glimpse we’ve had yet.
Photo: Grand Central Publishing
The Quantum Moment: How Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg Taught Us to Love Uncertainty
The Quantum Moment isn’t strictly a tech book, but it’s one I very much enjoyed. It’s an informative and reassuringly accessible book that describes the nigh-unapproachable world of quantum physics.
Authors Robert P. Crease and Alfred Scharff Goldhaber take readers through the work of pioneering physicists such as Planck, Einstein and Bohr, and offer fresh and entertaining takes on concepts such as entanglement and the uncertainty principle without ever talking down to readers. If you’re interested in the science behind time travel and parallel worlds, this is highly recommended.
Photo: W.W. Norton & Company
It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens
Author danah boyd (yes, it’s still styled like that) returns with It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, a fascinating new book about how teenagers communicate via social media. boyd looks at privacy, safety, danger and bullying in the age of Facebook and, while some of it is depressing stuff about trolls and misogyny, she also looks at the ways the online world can help alienated teens find new ways to engage and establish an identity. If you’re interested in the sociology of technology, this is definitely worth picking up.
Photo: Yale University Press
The Everything Store
Brad Stone's book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon got Bezos' wife to post an angry review online. Intrigued? Yes, you are.
Photo: Back Bay Books
The Formula: How Algorithms Solve all our Problems ... and Create More
Disclosure: Since this book is mine, I’m including it as a bonus book here, rather than one of the main eight. The Formula: How Algorithms Solve all our Problems ... and Create More is a book about algorithms and the increasing role they play in all our lives, from the way Google and Facebook shape our identities, to neural networks used by Hollywood to create hit movies, to the predictive policing increasingly used around the world. Take a look if you’re interested in the secret formulae that govern our lives.