It’s hardly surprising that an industry as influential as technology has spawned more interesting books about technology than the average bookworm could handle. From nonfiction looks at tech readers to fiction with a “hard-tech” slant, here are five must-reads.
1. Steve Jobs: A Biography
Whatever your opinion of Apple, there’s little question the Cupertino behemoth is an American success story and a tale of how much influence a single man’s force of personality can spawn. In the end, that’s what makes Steve Jobs: A Biography such an interesting read. It talks about Jobs’ triumphs and personal failings with a steady, unflinching journalistic gaze.
Though the book isn’t without flaws, it is packed cover-to-cover with moments that will make the reader mouth wow to themselves—both for good and bad reasons—and leaves them with a much stronger understanding of the man who built Apple. A tech book, but also a glimpse into contemporary American history.
2. Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley
Like the Jobs biography, Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley explores a tech world most of us will never see firsthand. Unlike some of the other must-reads and books about technology on this list, however, the tone is much more critical.
Ultimately, this is what makes Monkeys such a good read. Whether you give author Antonio García Martinez total credibility or not, there’s plenty to love about this engaging tell-all’s willingness to, well, tell all. If you’ve got a squeaky-clean image of Valley culture in your head, this one may shock you a little.
Is a fictional book an outlier in a list like this? Sure. But Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon still has a lot to offer techies via its lessons on a technology we rely on every day: encryption. If you’ve always wanted to know more about encryption but thought it was a little dense for your taste, this 900-plus page fictional view—which takes place in the WWII era and present-day—is the perfect winter reading material.
4. Alan Turing: The Enigma
He plays an important role in Cryptonomicon, but Alan Turing’s role in Alan Turing: The Enigma is far from fictional. Indeed, the depth of research is what makes author Andrew Hodges’s work so incredible. Short of inventing a time machine and befriending the pioneering computer scientist, this is as close as you’re going to get to knowing the man.
Of course, Turing’s tale also lends to the allure. Turing’s professional accomplishments are impeccable, but on the other hand, the persecution he received seems unthinkable in this modern era. In a list of must-reads, Turing’s tale sits atop the best books about technology of all time.
5. Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
If we told you a book influenced the Elon Musk into action, would you want to read it? The answer is most likely “yes”—and Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence is that book. By applying philosophy and contemporary political and social concerns to the field of AI, author Max Tegmark paints a picture of our future with artificial intelligence and lays out a compelling argument for safeguards.
Unlike must-reads that focus on accomplishments, Tegmark—a cosmologist by trade—has a real concern behind his words—what if AI develops its own interests? And what if they don’t align with our own? At the minimum, the book will give you plenty of dinner-conversation fodder.