The best books on the origins of the tech industry

Joanne McNeil Author Of Lurking: How a Person Became a User
By Joanne McNeil

Who am I?

Joanne McNeil has written about internet culture for over fifteen years. Her book considers the development of the internet from a user's perspective since the launch of the World Wide Web. Her interest in digital technology spans from the culture that enabled the founding of major companies in Silicon Valley to their reception in broader culture.


I wrote...

Lurking: How a Person Became a User

By Joanne McNeil,

Book cover of Lurking: How a Person Became a User

What is my book about?

A concise but wide-ranging personal history of the internet from the point of view of the user. 

In a shockingly short amount of time, the internet has bound people around the world together and torn us apart and changed not just the way we communicate but who we are and who we can be. It has created a new, unprecedented cultural space that we are all a part of—even if we don’t participate, that is how we participate—but by which we’re continually surprised, betrayed, enriched, befuddled. We have churned through platforms and technologies and in turn been churned by them. And yet, the internet is us and always has been. In Lurking, Joanne McNeil digs deep and identifies the primary (if sometimes contradictory) concerns of people online: searching, safety, privacy, identity, community, anonymity, and visibility. 

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128

By AnnaLee Saxenian,

Book cover of Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128

Why this book?

Until the 1980s, it seemed like Route 128 in Massachusetts was set to be the dominant location for the tech industry. What could have been a dry look at comparative corporate organizational structures is instead a compelling analysis of the contrasting cultures, business climates, and other forces resulting in the ultimate victory of Silicon Valley. The book is full of fascinating details that I haven’t read anywhere else like the role that California community colleges played in ensuring companies could swiftly train new employees.


Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, from the Afronet to Black Lives Matter

By Charlton D. McIlwain,

Book cover of Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, from the Afronet to Black Lives Matter

Why this book?

Black software, McIlwain writes, “refers to the programs we desire and design computers to run. It refers to who designs the program, for what purposes, and what or who becomes its object and data.” The book is a much needed examination of the role that Black entrepreneurs, engineers, designers, and users contributed in building the internet.


The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network

By Katherine Losse,

Book cover of The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network

Why this book?

A memoir that covers Losse’s experience working at Facebook from 2005 when she was the company’s 51st hire. Losse weaves her own experience—at first as a low-level employee in customer support and later as Mark Zuckerberg’s ghostwriter—with sharp analysis of Silicon Valley’s changing role in politics and culture. A powerful reckoning with her own complicity working for a company that exhibited dangerous “totalitarian” ambition from its very beginning.


A People's History of Computing in the United States

By Joy Lisi Rankin,

Book cover of A People's History of Computing in the United States

Why this book?

A thorough look at the origins of personal computing and connections between computer users beginning in the 1960s that highlights the BASIC programming language and The Oregon Trail game. Shines a light on the role that universities and the education system played in fostering networks between users.


From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism

By Fred Turner,

Book cover of From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism

Why this book?

Beginning with Steward Brand’s influence through his projects like The Whole Earth Catalog, the WELL, and Wired magazine, this book examines the unique culture of Silicon Valley. An essential history and one that clarifies the tech industry’s seemingly contradictory values of revolution and corporate power.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in computer networks, Northern California, and social media?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about computer networks, Northern California, and social media.

Computer Networks Explore 7 books about computer networks
Northern California Explore 11 books about Northern California
Social Media Explore 58 books about social media

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Communicating with Grace and Virtue: Learning to Listen, Speak, Text, and Interact as a Christian, and Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World if you like this list.