Quite a few people have been linking to this list on The Verge of what they consider the greatest tech books of all time.
To be clear, this is a fairly narrow definition of technology. It’s really a list of books about the history of computing. But there’s some great stuff in there.
I’ve been thinking the books about computing and technology that I’ve managed to get around to reading, and which ones made an impact on me. Some of these made it on The Verge’s list too, which is nice to see.
Broad Band by Clare L. Evans
I was blown away by the writing and the stories uncovered in “the untold story of the women who made the internet.” Here’s what I wrote when I read the book:
This book is pretty much the perfect mix. The topic is completely compelling—a history of women in computing. The stories are rivetting—even when I thought I knew the history, this showed me how little I knew. And the voice of the book is pure poetry.
It’s not often that I read a book that I recommend wholeheartedly to everyone. I prefer to tailor my recommendations to individual situations. But in the case of Broad Band, I honesty think that anyone would enjoy it.
Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
I read this one in 2020, not too long after it came out. In my end of year round-up, I described it like this:
A terrific memoir. It’s open and honest, and just snarky enough when it needs to be.
Close to the Machine by Ellen Ullman
I read this in 2018, many years after it first came out. Here’s how it came across to me:
Lots of ’90s feels in this memoir. A lot of this still resonates today. It’s kind of fascinating to read it now with the knowledge of how this whole internet thing would end up going.
Abolish Silicon Valley by Wendy Liu
This book is mostly excellent. But as I wrote when I got my hands on an advance copy, the juxtaposition of memoir and manifesto didn’t work for me:
Abolish Silicon Valley is 80% memoir and 20% manifesto. I worry that the marketing isn’t making that clear. It would be a shame if this great book didn’t find its audience.
The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage
Okay, this isn’t technically about computing, it’s about the telegraph. But it’s got the word “internet” in the title, and it’s a terrific read. Here’s what I wrote when I put it in Matt’s book-vending machine:
A book about the history of telegraphy might not sound like the most riveting read, but The Victorian Internet is both fascinating and entertaining. Techno-utopianism, moral panic, entirely new ways of working, and a world that has been utterly transformed: the parallels between the telegraph and the internet are laid bare. In fact, this book made me realise that while the internet has been a great accelerator, the telegraph was one of the few instances where a technology could truly be described as “disruptive.”
When Jason linked to the list of books on The Verge he said:
I’m baffled that Tracy Kidder’s amazing The Soul of a New Machine didn’t make the top 5 or even 10.
I’m more surprised that this book is held in such high esteem. It has not aged well. I read it in 2019 and had this to say:
This is a well-regarded book amongst people whose opinion I value. It’s also a Pulitzer prize winner. Strange, then, that I found it so unengaging. The prose is certainly written with gusto, but it all seems so very superficial to me. No matter how you dress it up, it’s a chronicle of a bunch of guys—and oh, boy, are they guys—making a commercial computer. Testosterone and solder—not my cup of tea.