The best books about technology adoption through history

Who am I?

I’m a serial adventurer and entrepreneur who loves to read, teach, and encounter our world in as many different ways as I can. I am an innately curious programmer and a goal-oriented completionist at heart. I’ve cruised around America’s Great Loop, run a marathon, written more than fifteen books, and been involved with many small businesses. I also love to work with new programming languages. I was around for the early days of the Java, Ruby, and Elixir programming languages. I built teams to build products using each one of them. My passion is to help programmers break through their blockers with fresh insights. 

I wrote...

Seven Languages in Seven Weeks

By Bruce A. Tate,

Book cover of Seven Languages in Seven Weeks

What is my book about?

Let’s be honest. This book is not about learning seven languages and adding them to your resumé. No one can really learn that many languages that quickly, but you can be curious enough about them to visit them just as you would visit a city, a mountaintop, or even a continent. Languages are evolving tools, and by attacking non-trivial problems with different tools, you can learn about the essence of them. Then, you can bring those techniques back to your everyday job. 

Seven Languages in Seven Weeks is a book about technology adoption. Each language shows a particular programming paradigm, from Ruby’s object-oriented underpinnings to Prolog’s logic programming to Haskell’s type system. The industry is moving toward functional languages, and this exploration can help you understand why.

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The books I picked & why

Guns, Germs, and Steel

By Jared Diamond,

Book cover of Guns, Germs, and Steel

Why this book?

Technology adoption is one of the central struggles for humankind.

For me, this Pulitzer Prize winner is the ultimate adoption story. It seeks to determine why history unfolded differently on different continents.

The book explains historical narratives beyond rote biological and racial differences. It delves into linguistics, epidemiology, agricultural sciences, and war. It’s one of the few books that doesn’t have a European-centric view of world history.

This book opened my eyes to technology adoption and how it has always played a role, maybe one of the central roles, in world history. The lessons it teaches help me to keep looking deeper for true motivations and determinants of success.

Guns, Germs, and Steel

By Jared Diamond,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Guns, Germs, and Steel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why did Eurasians conquer, displace, or decimate Native Americans, Australians, and Africans, instead of the reverse? In this "artful, informative, and delightful" (William H. McNeill, New York Review of Books) book, a classic of our time, evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond dismantles racist theories of human history by revealing the environmental factors actually responsible for its broadest patterns.

The story begins 13,000 years ago, when Stone Age hunter-gatherers constituted the entire human population. Around that time, the developmental paths of human societies on different continents began to diverge greatly. Early domestication of wild plants and animals in the Fertile Crescent, China,…

Book cover of A History of the World in 100 Objects

Why this book?

I love adoption, but sometimes I don’t have the energy to read a whole treatise on the subject.

This book is about 100 historical objects, from the Rosetta Stone that helped linguists unlock Egyptian scripts to a throne built out of weapons arising in Mozambique from an African civil war. They span millions of years and six continents, and each object has its own significance.

I love this book because it felt like 100 smaller adoption and conflict stories wrapped into one small package, and I could read one at a time. One of my fondest memories of my daughter was reading her paper copy as we flew from one continent to another.

A History of the World in 100 Objects

By Neil MacGregor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A History of the World in 100 Objects as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 2010, the BBC and the British Museum embarked on an ambitious project: to tell the story of two million years of human history using one hundred objects selected from the Museum's vast and renowned collection. Presented by the British Museum's Director Neil MacGregor, each episode focuses on a single object - from a Stone Age tool to a solar-powered lamp - and explains its significance in human history. Music, interviews with specialists and quotations from written texts enrich the listener's experience. On each CD, objects from a similar period of history are grouped together to explore a common theme…

Book cover of Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers

Why this book?

This was the book that got me into thinking about technology and adoption.

It introduces a framework for thinking about the major groups of people who adopt new technologies. It pays particular attention to the chasm, a difficult adoption challenge that occurs after early adopters accept a technology but before mainstream adoption. Entrepreneurs need to understand these concepts.

This book particularly resonated with me because of my days as an early adopter of the Ruby programming language, and later the Elixir programming language. 

I spent years on the conference circuit speaking about programming language adoption, and this book helped me see why these concepts matter.

Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers

By Geoffrey A. Moore,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Crossing the Chasm as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bible for bringing cutting-edge products to larger markets--now revised and updated with new insights into the realities of high-tech marketing
In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey A. Moore shows that in the Technology Adoption Life Cycle--which begins with innovators and moves to early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards--there is a vast chasm between the early adopters and the early majority. While early adopters are willing to sacrifice for the advantage of being first, the early majority waits until they know that the technology actually offers improvements in productivity. The challenge for innovators and marketers is to narrow this…

Book cover of The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War

Why this book?

This story may seem out of place on a list like this one, but allow me to put this second Pulitzer Prize winner into context.

Set at the climax of the Civil War, this book is at once about the forced adoption of new social ideals and the rules we use to govern ourselves. Lay on top of that foundation a story about generals being too slow to come to grips with much more powerful technologies and the delicate storytelling of Shaara, and you have the makings of an amazing story. 

This is my favorite book that delicately deals with real people amidst failure. Underneath it all is a study of the failure to adapt to a particularly important technology: tiny grooves in the barrels of rifles that spin bullets. It’s a hard lesson, beautifully told.

The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War

By Michael Shaara,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Killer Angels as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“My favorite historical novel . . . a superb re-creation of the Battle of Gettysburg, but its real importance is its insight into what the war was about, and what it meant.”—James M. McPherson
In the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation’s history, two armies fought for two conflicting dreams. One dreamed of freedom, the other of a way of life. Far more than rifles and bullets were carried into battle. There were memories. There were promises. There was love. And far more than men fell on those Pennsylvania fields. Bright futures, untested innocence, and pristine beauty…

Book cover of High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out

Why this book?

Adoption and change often lead to the kind of conflict that regularly breaks people.

I find that creators are often equipped to deal with technical creation, but are rarely equipped to deal with conflict. In this book, Amanda Ripley walks through how several skilled professionals found themselves in conflict.

Then she walks through how those conflicts started, who the players are, how they interact, how to engage in healthy conflict, and eventually how to get back out again.

Many of my peers in open-source technology, especially creators of languages and frameworks, find themselves in conflict and don’t have the tools to deal with it.

This book helped me think of conflict in a systematic way, and how to plot a course back out again. 

High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out

By Amanda Ripley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When we are baffled by the insanity of the "other side"-in our politics, at work, or at home-it's because we aren't seeing how the conflict itself has taken over.

That's what "high conflict" does. It's the invisible hand of our time. And it's different from the useful friction of healthy conflict. That's good conflict, and it's a necessary force that pushes us to be better people.

High conflict, by contrast, is what happens when discord distills into a good-versus-evil kind of feud, the kind with an us and a them. In this state, the normal rules of engagement no longer…

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