The best books on how technology is ruining everything

Who am I?

I grew up with digital technologies. It was the 1990s. Things could only get better. Or so we were told… I went to study computer science at Cambridge in the 2000s. Switched subjects a few times, and ended up with a degree in the history and philosophy of science. By the time I graduated, life had changed. The world economy was on the brink of collapse, China was on its way to becoming a superpower, and right-wing nationalism was on the rise. That experience absolutely shaped me as a historian and writer. The world of science and technology suddenly seemed a lot more politically fraught.


I wrote...

Horizons: A Global History of Science

By James Poskett,

Book cover of Horizons: A Global History of Science

What is my book about?

We are told that modern science was invented in Europe, the product of great minds like Nicolaus Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein. But this is wrong. Science is not, and has never been, a uniquely European endeavour.

Horizons pushes the history of science beyond Europe, exploring the ways in which scientists from Africa, America, Asia, and the Pacific fit into the story. Challenging both the existing narrative and our perceptions of revered individuals, above all this is a celebration of the work of scientists neglected by history.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy

James Poskett Why did I love this book?

This is a rare book. It is written by a philosopher. It can be read in an afternoon. And it will change your life. Forget your next self-help book. Read this instead. In Stand Out of Our Light, James Williams gives a straightforward (but extremely satisfying) account of the digital ‘attention economy’ and what is wrong with it. Williams used to work for Google, before he realised that things weren’t quite right. After all, the world built by big technology companies isn’t the one many of us would choose.

By James Williams,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Stand Out of Our Light as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Former Google advertising strategist, now Oxford-trained philosopher James Williams launches a plea to society and to the tech industry to help ensure that the technology we all carry with us every day does not distract us from pursuing our true goals in life. As information becomes ever more plentiful, the resource that is becoming more scarce is our attention. In this 'attention economy', we need to recognise the fundamental impacts of our new information environment on our lives in order to take back control. Drawing on insights ranging from Diogenes to contemporary tech leaders, Williams's thoughtful and impassioned analysis is…


Book cover of Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism

James Poskett Why did I love this book?

The online world doesn’t just hold our attention, it also shapes our beliefs. Safiya Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression documents the disturbing ways in which digital technologies reinforce racism. Even a simple Google search isn’t free from bias, often returning straightforwardly racist stereotypes as part of its auto-complete function. The image results are even more shocking. For a long time, Google’s motto was “Don't be evil.” It’s hard to take that seriously after reading this book.

By Safiya Umoja Noble,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Algorithms of Oppression as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A revealing look at how negative biases against women of color are embedded in search engine results and algorithms
Run a Google search for "black girls"-what will you find? "Big Booty" and other sexually explicit terms are likely to come up as top search terms. But, if you type in "white girls," the results are radically different. The suggested porn sites and un-moderated discussions about "why black women are so sassy" or "why black women are so angry" presents a disturbing portrait of black womanhood in modern society.
In Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya Umoja Noble challenges the idea that search…


Book cover of Superior: The Return of Race Science

James Poskett Why did I love this book?

In recent years, there has been a disturbing resurgence in scientific racism. From conferences at leading universities to government advisors, racist ideas that were supposed to have disappeared decades ago turned out to have been hiding in plain sight. Angela Saini’s hugely important Superior sets out the history and politics of post-WW2 racial science in detail. Combining science, journalism, and history, Saini shows how new technologies like genetic testing are being used to reinforce old ideas concerning racial differences. This is an essential call to confront the legacies of scientific racism that are still with us.

By Angela Saini,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Superior as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Financial Times Book of the Year Telegraph Top 50 Books of the Year Guardian Book of the Year New Statesman Book of the Year

'Roundly debunks racism's core lie - that inequality is to do with genetics, rather than political power' Reni Eddo-Lodge

Where did the idea of race come from, and what does it mean? In an age of identity politics, DNA ancestry testing and the rise of the far-right, a belief in biological differences between populations is experiencing a resurgence. The truth is: race is a social construct. Our problem is we find this hard to believe.

In…


Book cover of The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy

James Poskett Why did I love this book?

Everyone hates bureaucracy. But no one hated it quite like the late David Graeber. Amongst all of Graeber’s intoxicating books, this is my favourite. Utopia of Rules finally made me understand what exactly was so pernicious about bureaucracy. (Short version: it does the opposite of what it promises.) Graeber also sets out, with typical lucid prose, how new technologies, particularly digital technologies, are making everything even worse.

By David Graeber,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Utopia of Rules as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of the international bestseller Debt: The First 5,000 Years comes a revelatory account of the way bureaucracy rules our lives  

Where does the desire for endless rules, regulations, and bureaucracy come from? How did we come to spend so much of our time filling out forms? And is it really a cipher for state violence?
 
To answer these questions, the anthropologist David Graeber—one of our most important and provocative thinkers—traces the peculiar and unexpected ways we relate to bureaucracy today, and reveals how it shapes our lives in ways we may not even notice…though he also suggests…


Book cover of AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order

James Poskett Why did I love this book?

I spend a lot of time thinking about the relationship between science in Europe and Asia. Most of my work is historical. But I’m also interested in the future. In AI Superpowers, Kai-Fu Lee gives a first-hand account of the development of artificial intelligence in China and the United States. This book also made me realise that, if you want to know what the future of the digital world will look like, you need to look to China. Even since this book was published, many of the features that Lee describes as characteristic of digital technology in China are now commonplace in the United States and elsewhere. An essential, if somewhat terrifying, vision of the future.

By Kai-Fu Lee,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked AI Superpowers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE NEW YORK TIMES, USA TODAY, AND WALL STREET JOURNAL BESTSELLER

"Kai-Fu Lee believes China will be the next tech-innovation superpower and in AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, he explains why. Taiwan-born Lee is perfectly positioned for the task."-New York Magazine

In this thought-provoking book, Lee argues powerfully that because of the unprecedented developments in AI, dramatic changes will be happening much sooner than many of us expected. Indeed, as the US-Sino AI competition begins to heat up, Lee urges the US and China to both accept and to embrace the great responsibilities that come…


You might also like...

Being Your Cat: What's really going on in your feline's mind

By Celia Haddon, Daniel Mills,

Book cover of Being Your Cat: What's really going on in your feline's mind

Celia Haddon Author Of Being Your Cat: What's really going on in your feline's mind

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Mad cat lady Love study Kitten rehabber

Celia's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Being Your Cat takes you inside the mind and body of your feline. See what your cat sees. Feel how your cat runs or leaps high to get into the armchair. Discover how your cat feels and thinks.

What is it like to be rescued and put in a cat pen? How does your cat cope with the human lifestyle? What do they like? What do they hate?

Being Your Cat: What's really going on in your feline's mind

By Celia Haddon, Daniel Mills,

What is this book about?

Ever wondered why your cat won't sit on your lap? Why she would suddenly watch the football on television, how she sees the world and what she thinks of you and your family?

Prepare to enter the mind of your cat and revolutionise the way you see the world and your enigmatic pet.

Bestselling cat author Celia Haddon and veterinary expert Dr Daniel Mills take you into the mind of your feline and, drawing on the latest scientific research, describe how your cat experiences the world. This is a unique book drawing on a wealth of veterinary science and studies,…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in artificial intelligence, discrimination, and eugenics?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about artificial intelligence, discrimination, and eugenics.

Artificial Intelligence Explore 278 books about artificial intelligence
Discrimination Explore 29 books about discrimination
Eugenics Explore 21 books about eugenics