The best books about the internet, its history, development, and challenges

Raphael Cohen-Almagor Author Of Confronting the Internet's Dark Side: Moral and Social Responsibility on the Free Highway
By Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Who am I?

Raphael Cohen-Almagor, DPhil, St. Catherine’s College, University of Oxford, is Professor of Politics, Olof Palme Visiting Professor, Lund University, Founding Director of the Middle East Study Centre, University of Hull, and Global Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Raphael taught, inter alia, at Oxford (UK), Jerusalem, Haifa (Israel), UCLA, Johns Hopkins (USA), and Nirma University (India). With more than 300 publications, Raphael has published extensively in the field of political philosophy, including Liberal Democracy and the Limits of Tolerance; Challenges to Democracy; The Right to Die with Dignity; The Scope of Tolerance; Confronting the Internet's Dark Side; Just, Reasonable Multiculturalism, and The Republic, Secularism and Security: France versus the Burqa and the Niqab.

I wrote...

Confronting the Internet's Dark Side: Moral and Social Responsibility on the Free Highway

By Raphael Cohen-Almagor,

Book cover of Confronting the Internet's Dark Side: Moral and Social Responsibility on the Free Highway

What is my book about?

This is the product of ten years of research. I wrote a large part of it when I was a Fellow at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, which is the best research center I know. Confronting the Internet’s Dark Side is the first book on social responsibility on the internet. It aims to strike a balance between the free speech principle and the responsibilities of the individual, corporation, state, and international community. It urges internet users, ISPs, and liberal democracies to weigh freedom and security, finding the golden mean between unlimited license and moral responsibility. This judgment is necessary to uphold the very liberal democratic values that gave rise to the internet and that are threatened by an unbridled use of technology.

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The books I picked & why

Technologies of Freedom

By Ithiel de Sola Pool,

Book cover of Technologies of Freedom

Why did I love this book?

This is a classic. The book provides an early assessment of the impact of new communications tools on freedom of expression. Pool observed how electronic networks were emerging and transforming the nature of print, arguing that we need to learn how to live with technology and make the most of it. Electronic technologies, Pool envisaged, will become the dominant mode of communication. Pool further envisaged that electronic technology would allow a great degree of diversity, more knowledge, easier access, and freer speech. He provided a lucid and perceptive analysis of the relation of American law to technology and its regulation. Pool was concerned with the negative consequences of new technology and feared its excessive regulation. It is not computers but policy that threatens freedom, he warned. This seminal work encapsulates many of the questions we face today. The challenges Pool described came to life as the pressures on government to control the internet grow, not without justification. 

By Ithiel de Sola Pool,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Technologies of Freedom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How can we preserve free speech in an electronic age? In a masterly synthesis of history, law, and technology, Ithiel de Sola Pool analyzes the confrontation between the regulators of the new communications technology and the First Amendment.

Book cover of Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet

Why did I love this book?

This book tells the fascinating story of the visionary pioneers who created the internet. The wizards are the internet’s forefathers. They were determined visionaries and doers. In the 1960s, when computers where regarded as mere giant calculators, J.C.R. Licklider, the first director of the American Information Processing Techniques Office, saw them as the ultimate communications devices. The early internet was devised and implemented in American research units, universities, and telecommunication companies that had vision and interest in cutting-edge research. Licklider, Vint Cerf, Steve Crocker, Len Kleinrock, Larry Roberts, Robert Kahn, and David Clark articulated the vision of a "galactic" computer network—a globally interconnected set of processing nodes through which anyone anywhere can access data and programs.

This captivating book enables a better understanding of the internet. It captures the hard work, genius, fortunate experiences, and early successes of the visionary wizards and their daring, stunningly successful venture that has changed, and is changing, the world. Undoubtedly, the field of internet studies will continue to grow and develop for generations to come by other computer wizards in a dazzling pace, the same pace that human zeal for innovation is developing.

By Katie Hafner, Matthew Lyon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Where Wizards Stay Up Late as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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.

Book cover of The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society

Why did I love this book?

This book analyzes the impact of new technology on society. Castells shows that the internet has become the backbone of modern economy and business, creating a global network society. Imagination is instigating and enabling tremendous changes in every aspect of life. But many of us do not fully grasp the potential of new technology. To make the most of this modern galaxy, we need to understand how it operates, its logic, its benefits, and constraints, and how to manage it effectively. Castells argues that modern communication enables control but it also enables freedom. It is the role of government and organisations to see that the internet is developed and used in ways that are consistent with a social order in which people are enabled to become responsible human beings. In this edifying and quite accessible book, Castells explains the galaxy of networks, how it began, how it shapes new and old businesses, and how it affects political participation, modern communication, and life in general. Optimistically, Castells argues that the internet enables power that would sustain a culture of hope in the future.

By Manuel Castells,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Web has been with us for less than a decade. The popular and commercial diffusion of the Internet has been extraordinary - instigating and enabling changes in virtually every area of human activity and society. We have new systems of communication, new businesses, new media and sources of information, new forms of political and cultural expression, new forms of teaching and learning, and new communities.

But how much do we know about the Internet - its history, its technology, its culture, and its uses? What are its implications for the business world and society at large? The diffusion has…

Book cover of Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World

Why did I love this book?

Due to its global nature and reach, some people think that because the internet knows no borders, it also does not have limits. This concept is wrong. Goldsmith and Wu tell the fascinating story of the internet's challenges to governmental rule. They ask: who is really in control of the internet? And does the internet liberate us from government, borders, and even our physical selves? In a lively prose, the authors peppered their arguments with real-life examples concerning disagreements between giants of the internet and democratic and authoritarian governments. They show that governments have been asserting their power to direct the future of the internet.

Internet intermediaries have to filter content geographically to comply with local law for a small fraction of their communications. This imposes costs on them, and forces them to adjust to this cost of business. But in light of the internet’s many advantages, the authors argue that this cost will be trivial in the long run. This interdisciplinary book is well-written and engaging, full of fascinating sociological and legal insights as well as colorful portraits of key players in internet history.

By Jack Goldsmith, Tim Wu,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Will cyberanarchy rule the net? And if we do find a way to regulate our cyberlife will national borders dissolve as the Internet becomes the first global state? In this provocative new work, Jack L. Goldsmith and Tim Wu dismiss the fashionable talk of both a 'borderless' net and of a single governing 'code'. Territorial governments can and will, they contend, exercise significant control over all aspects of Internet communications. Examining policy puzzles from
e-commerce to privacy, speech and pornography, intellectual property, and cybercrime, Who Controls the Internet demonstrates that individual governments rather than private or global bodies will play…

Book cover of Media Ethics and Global Justice in the Digital Age

Why did I love this book?

For me, every book by Clifford (Cliff) Christians is always a celebration. I met Cliff in 1996 and we kept in touch ever since then. Christians has contributed to the field of media ethics more than any other scholar I know. In this book, Christians explores the fundamentals of ethics and justice in moral theory. In addition to “the usual suspects,” i.e., Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Rene Descartes, John Stuart Mill, Auguste Comte, and Max Weber, Christians explores modern liberal philosophy, feminist philosophy, African philosophy, Latin American liberation theology, Confucianism, and Islam. He does this in his usual dazzling and most comprehensive style, exhibiting wide knowledge of the literature and brilliant analysis that adds layers upon layers of sharp insights. As in his previous books, Christians invokes an ethics of care and humanity in order to alleviate poverty, homelessness, and unemployment, issues that trouble Western and non-Western societies, albeit in different degrees. The media and modern technology have an important role to play in setting the agenda, in bringing these concerns to public awareness, and in helping redressing historical and societal injustices.

By Clifford G. Christians,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Media Ethics and Global Justice in the Digital Age as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Today's digital revolution is a worldwide phenomenon, with profound and often differential implications for communities around the world and their relationships to one another. This book presents a new, explicitly international theory of media ethics, incorporating non-Western perspectives and drawing deeply on both moral philosophy and the philosophy of technology. Clifford Christians develops an ethics grounded in three principles - truth, human dignity, and non-violence - and shows how these principles can be applied across a wide range of cases and domains. The book is a guide for media professionals, scholars, and educators who are concerned with the global ramifications…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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