Books about technology don’t have to be filled with hardware specifications and configuration instructions. Sometimes they can be filled with stories about the people – the forgotten people who’s brilliance led to the devices, networks, and software we now rely on in daily life. I’ve read all of the books listed below, and would without hesitation recommend them on to anybody else with even a passing interest in the history of the internet, or software development in general.
Where Wizards Stay Up Late by Katie Hafner
In the 1960s, when computers were regarded as giant calculators, J.C.R. Licklider at MIT saw them as the ultimate communication device. With Defence Department funds, he and a band of computer whizzes began work on a nationwide network of computers. This is an account of their daring adventure.
What Just Happened by James Gleick
For the past decade change seemed to happen over night, every night. Fueled by the exponential rise of technology, the digital revolution was difficult for many to make sense of, but James Gleick watched and analyzed, criticized and commended, participated in and prophesized about the instantaneous transformations of the world as we knew it.
Hackers by Steven Levy
This 25th anniversary edition of Steven Levy’s classic book traces the exploits of the computer revolution’s original hackers — those brilliant and eccentric nerds from the late 1950s through the early ’80s who took risks, bent the rules, and pushed the world in a radical new direction. With updated material from noteworthy hackers such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Stallman, and Steve Wozniak, Hackers is a fascinating story that begins in early computer research labs and leads to the first home computers.
The Mythical Man Month by Frederick P. Brooks Jr.
Few books on software project management have been as influential and timeless as The Mythical Man-Month. With a blend of software engineering facts and thought-provoking opinions, Fred Brooks offers insight for anyone managing complex projects. These essays draw from his experience as project manager for the IBM System/360 computer family and then for OS/360, its massive software system. Now, 20 years after the initial publication of his book, Brooks has revisited his original ideas and added new thoughts and advice, both for readers already familiar with his work and for readers discovering it for the first time.
Weaving the Web by Tim Berners Lee
Given the way the Web has become the dominant communications technology of our time, one could argue that Berners-Lee is the guy who invented the future. Yet up to now he has remained reticent about how he did it. Weaving the Web is therefore the definitive account of how the World Wide Web came to be. No one else could have written this book–the history of the Web straight from the source.
Accidental Empires by Robert X. Cringely
Robert X. Cringely manages to capture the contradictions and everyday insanity of computer industry empire building, while at the same time chipping away sardonically at the PR campaigns that have built up some very common business people into the household gods of geekdom. Despite some chuckles at the expense of all things nerdy, white and male in the computer industry, Cringely somehow manages to balance the humour with a genuine appreciation of both the technical and strategic accomplishments of these industry luminaries. Whether you’re a hard-boiled Silicon Valley marketing exec fishing for an IPO or just a plain old reader with an interest in business history and anecdotal storytelling, there’s something to enjoy here.
iWoz by Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith
Wozniak’s life – before and after Apple – is a “home-brew” mix of brilliant discovery and adventure, as an engineer, a concert promoter, a fifth-grade teacher, a philanthropist, and an irrepressible prankster. From the invention of the first personal computer to the rise of Apple as an industry giant, iWoz presents a no-holds-barred, rollicking, firsthand account of the humanist inventor who ignited the computer revolution.
The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S. Raymond
The Cathedral and the Bazaar takes its title from an essay of the same name which Raymond read at the 1997 Linux Congress and that was previously available only online. The essay documents Raymond’s acquisition, re-creation and numerous revisions of an email utility known as fetchmail. Raymond engagingly narrates the fetchmail development process while at the same time elaborating upon the on- going bazaar development method he employs with the assistance of numerous volunteer programmers who participate in the writing and debugging of the code. The essay smartly spares the reader from the technical morass that could easily detract from the text’s goal of demonstrating the efficacy of the Open Source, or bazaar, method in creating robust, usable software.
Burn Rate by Michael Wolff
Michael Wolff was a journalist and writer; in 1998 he is a journalist and writer again. But in the first half of the ’90s he was an Internet entrepreneur, Chairman and CEO of Wolff New Media. This is Wolff’s story. BURN RATE is hugely informative about the world of the net and the web, search engines, closed systems, online pornography; it is also incredibly funny. As readable as a novel, BURN RATE is an all too human story of one man, at first idealistic and naive, then corrupted and increasingly cynical, and eventually burned out and tired, and of a world that bears as much resemblance to the school playground (not least in the age of it’s major players) as it does to the world of conventional businesses. If there is one book which tells us about what is going on in the complex and confusing struggle for the future of the Internet it is this one.
A Brief History of the Future by John Naughton
The Internet is the most remarkable thing human beings have built since the Pyramids. John Naughton’s book intersperses wonderful personal stories with an authoritative account of where the Net actually came from, who invented it and why, and where it might be taking us. Most of us have no idea of how the Internet works or who created it. Even fewer have any idea of what it means for society and the future. In a cynical age, John Naughton has not lost his capacity for wonder. He examines the nature of his own enthusiasm for technology and traces its roots in his lonely childhood and in his relationship with his father. A Brief History of the Future is an intensely personal celebration of vision and altruism, ingenuity and determination and above all, of the power of ideas, passionately felt, to change the world.
Deeper by John Seabrook
Although the author of this journey in cyberspace hardly ever goes anywhere – he just sits in front of his computer – his story is full of travel and incident. Readers meet Bill Gates and other major people in the industry via e-mail, join a virtual community to find out what daily life is like, adapt to the World Wide Web, and build a Web site. The voice of the book is at times comic, at others rueful, wanting to believe in the good thing s about the Net but sceptical of the hype, trying to account for the engrossing nature of this new frontier.
Microserfs by Douglas Coupland
Microserfs is not about Microsoft–it’s about programmers who are searching for lives. A hilarious but frighteningly real look at geek life in the nineties, Coupland’s book manifests a peculiar sense of how technology affects the human race and how it will continue to affect all of us. Microserfs is the hilarious journal of Dan, an ex-Microsoft programmer who, with his coder comrades, is on a quest to find purpose in life. This isn’t just fodder for techies. The thoughts and fears of the not-so-stereotypical characters are easy for any of us to relate to, and their witty conversations and quirky view of the world make this a surprisingly thought-provoking book.
JPod by Douglas Coupland
Ethan and his five co-workers are marooned in JPod, a no-escape architectural limbo on the fringes of a massive game-design company. There they wage battle against the demands of boneheaded marketing staff who torture them with idiotic changes to already idiotic games. Meanwhile, Ethan’s personal life is being invaded by marijuana grow-ops, people-smuggling, ballroom dancing, global piracy and the rise of China. Everybody in both worlds seems to inhabit a moral grey zone, and nobody is exempt, not even his seemingly strait-laced parents or Coupland himself.