The best technology books

41 authors have picked their favorite books about technology and why they recommend each book.

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The Human Condition

By Hannah Arendt,

Book cover of The Human Condition

Hannah Arendt is one of the most original thinkers of the twentieth century. I love her ability to weave together continental philosophy, in which she was trained, with the dilemmas of the modern world. Arendt grapples with the origins of our actions, which belong to us but also precede us, as we are all embedded in the march of history. This is fundamentally a critique of both liberalism and neoliberalism, which celebrate the individual at the expense of the relational. Arendt makes the case for why humans can only express their ‘who-ness’—their identity and humanityby participating in the public sphere, within the ‘web of relations’ between individuals who come together at a ‘shared table.’ This is a book I return to again and again, each time getting more insight into the complex ideas of this gifted philosopher.

Who am I?

I came to activism at a young age, inspired by a book given to me by a friend in Grade 10. I also grew up poor; my trajectory into university was unusual for my demographic, a fact I only discovered once I was doing my PhD in the sociology of education. By the time I started interviewing activists for my doctorate, I had a burning desire to understand how social change could happen, what democracy really looked like, and who was left out of participating. I am still trying to figure these things out. If you are, too, the books on this list might help!

I wrote...

Citizen Youth: Culture, Activism, and Agency in a Neoliberal Era

By Jacqueline Kennelly,

Book cover of Citizen Youth: Culture, Activism, and Agency in a Neoliberal Era

What is my book about?

What are the ties that bind the 'good youth citizen' and the youth activist in the twenty-first century? Contemporary young people are encouraged—through education and other cultural sitesto 'save the world' via community projects that resemble activism, yet increasingly risk arrest for public acts of dissent. Through an ethnographic study of young people working on activist causes across the three largest urban centres in one of the wealthiest nations in the world (Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, Canada), this book unpacks the effects of neoliberalism on democratic participation and explains what it means to be a certain kind of youth citizen in the twenty-first century. 

We Have Been Harmonized

By Kai Strittmatter,

Book cover of We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China's Surveillance State

Frankly, it makes me squirm to recommend this book, but it’s a topic we Americans need to understand better. Under Xi Jinping, China has expanded its use of surveillance cameras and begun a “social credit” system to track people who are—and aren’t—following the rules. Kai Strittmatter, who reported from China for a leading German newspaper for more than a decade, relies on strong research and concludes that China is Orwellian. And yet, most Chinese citizens I know do not feel watched and oppressed. I’m eager to get back to China to judge for myself. Published in September 2020.

Who am I?

A Seattle-based author, I have written eight books, including When the Red Gates Opened: A Memoir of China’s Reawakening, about the eight years I spent as Business Week’s reporter covering China, 1982-1990. In it, I give readers an inside look at China’s transformation from Maoism to modernity. A fluent speaker of Mandarin, I have traveled widely in China for over forty years and befriended Chinese people at many levels of society, leading me to a strong belief in the importance of direct cross-cultural communication and deepened mutual understanding.

I wrote...

When the Red Gates Opened: A Memoir of China's Reawakening

By Dori Jones Yang,

Book cover of When the Red Gates Opened: A Memoir of China's Reawakening

What is my book about?

The best books by foreign correspondents give readers a deep look inside another country at a particularly pivotal moment of history. I was fortunate to be a U.S. correspondent covering China during the 1980s, just as it began opening to the outside world. This book weaves my personal story as a young woman in a male-dominated profession—who met and married a Chinese man—with the dramatic ups and downs of China’s early experiments with capitalism. Today we are witnessing another pivotal moment in US-China relations, and it’s important for English speakers to seek out the “story behind the story.”

Energy and Civilization

By Vaclav Smil,

Book cover of Energy and Civilization: A History

Over the last two centuries, human per capita energy usage has grown 800 percent, while the population has also grown to the same degree. Life has changed profoundly due to our adoption of fossil fuels—but puzzlingly few people are curious to understand energy’s role in society and history. Smil fills the void to overflowing with this detailed account of how people have harvested energy from their environments, and how doing so has changed the ways they live.

Who am I?

I’m a systems thinker (Senior Fellow at an environmental think tank, author of 14 books and hundreds of essays) who’s addicted to trying to understand the world. After a few decades, the following is my state of understanding. Power is everywhere and determines everything in our lives. Whether due to the physical power of energy channeled through technology, or the social power of organizations and money, we’re enabled or disabled daily. During the last century, fossil-fueled humanity has overpowered planetary systems, as evidenced by climate change, species extinctions, and resource depletion. Few think critically about power. Unless we start doing so, we may be inviting the ultimate disempowerment—extinction.

I wrote...

Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival

By Richard Heinberg,

Book cover of Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival

What is my book about?

Our human obsession with power has roots in nature and evolution. The same goes for our efforts to limit power--whether through climate negotiations, nuclear arms treaties, or government programs to reduce economic inequality. But lately, we have gotten ourselves into a fix: fossil fuels have increased our power over nature (and one another) so much and so fast that we are putting future generations in peril. Meanwhile, economic inequality is growing throughout the world, destabilizing governments and making it harder to manage our vexing social problems. If we're going to survive this turbulent century we need to understand power much better--and this book aims to help readers do just that. 

The Undoing Project

By Michael Lewis,

Book cover of The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds

If I ever assumed my decisions were the result of a carefully reasoned analysis of factual information, The Undoing Project would derail that comfortable belief. It is the story of the creative collaboration of two remarkable thinkers, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, whose work would overturn an idea at the center of most prior economic theory, the idea that people’s economic decisions are based on rational self-interest. The intense working friendship of these two men is a gripping story, and Michael Lewis brings the personal side to vivid life while also conveying the essence of their revolutionary thinking in lucid and approachable prose.

Who am I?

As a novelist, I am endlessly curious about people and like hearing their stories. As an erstwhile computer programmer and farmer, I also have a lifelong interest in science and natural history. When I find those two divergent interests have cross-pollinated in a single gracefully-written book, I am a very happy reader. I love books that weave together an intriguing scientific question with the human story of the scientists pursuing an answer to that question.

I wrote...

Tracking a Shadow: My Lived Experiment with MS

By Edith Forbes,

Book cover of Tracking a Shadow: My Lived Experiment with MS

What is my book about?

When I experienced my first episode of multiple sclerosis in 1993, no treatments existed. The doctors said there was nothing to be done. I was raised by a mother whose early widowhood had left her with seven young children, a ranch in Wyoming, and an ambition to change the world.  She did not like the phrase “nothing to be done” and neither did I.

I immersed myself in the medical literature, and thanks to my background in agriculture, I noticed a possible dietary factor in MS that was not being talked about. That observation launched me on a self-designed experiment that continues to this day. Tracking a Shadow tells the story of that experiment and the mother who taught me to ask questions.  

A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic

By Jane DeRose Evans (editor),

Book cover of A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic

This book has everything in it across 37 chapters: technology, landscapes, material culture, identity, and empire. It is one of the few volumes in this series of Companions and Handbooks from various publishers that takes an explicitly archaeological focus. It includes developments in the city of Rome over time, but broadens out to include Italy and Rome’s empire. The book benefits from drawing on the research of 37 leading experts, who present in concise sections key findings based on archaeological research – often from archaeological projects that they have led in the field.

Who am I?

I grew up in London and became interested in history from multiple visits to the British Museum and the Museum of London, but it was on an undergraduate trip to Pompeii that I realized that I was capable of explaining archaeological remains. That realization led me back to Pompeii and then Rome, but also to tracking down the archaeology of Roman roads. Writing has become important to me, perhaps, because I’m dyslexic and I’ve had some struggles to write in the past. Yet, as a dyslexic professor, working at Macquarie University (Sydney), I think I can offer students and readers explanations of history that reflect my ongoing passion for studying the past.  

I wrote...

The Roads of Roman Italy: Mobility and Cultural Change

By Ray Laurence,

Book cover of The Roads of Roman Italy: Mobility and Cultural Change

What is my book about?

I wanted to set out to readers how the Romans travelled and how important roads were to the development of their culture, as well as how roads underpinned the development of their empire. There is a technological aspect of viaducts and road surfaces, as well as the improvement of traction animals – notably mules. Thus, the book explains the development of a sustainable empire, not just through conquest, but also through the infrastructure of communications. Thus, I show how mobility underpinned Roman culture and its empire.

Technics and Human Development

By Lewis Mumford,

Book cover of Technics and Human Development: The Myth of the Machine, Vol. I

Mumford’s classic describes the emergence of hierarchical power systems that subjugate both humans and the more-than-human nature, from ancient Egypt to modern capitalism and the “Pentagon of Power”. The book takes on the technocratic worldview, inherent in modern capitalism, with a huge scope of knowledge and remarkable detail, combined with Mumford’s deep humanism. Mumford also coined the term “Megamachine” to which I refer in my own book.

Who am I?

Besides my studies of history and philosophy and my work as a theatre writer, I have been active in the global justice movement for a long time, opposing neoliberal assaults on social rights and the biosphere. However, I felt that neoliberalism was just the most recent phase of a much older system, which is, by its very structure, incompatible with the survival of humanity, as it is based on eternal growth and accumulation – an impossibility on a finite planet. So I set out to dig deeper and explore the fundamental institutions and structures of the Megamachine that we must overcome in order to allow for a decent human life in the future. We need a shift from an economy based on private profit to an economy for the common good, a shift from the paradigm of control, domination, and exploitation of nature to new forms of cooperation with complex living systems.

I wrote...

The End of the Megamachine: A Brief History of a Failing Civilization

By Fabian Scheidler,

Book cover of The End of the Megamachine: A Brief History of a Failing Civilization

What is my book about?

The End of the Megamachine provides a uniquely comprehensive picture of the roots of the destructive forces that are threatening the future of humankind today. Spanning 5000 years of history, the book shows how the three tyrannies of militarized states, capital accumulation, and ideological power have been steering both ecosystems and societies to the brink of collapse. With the growing instability of the Megamachine in the 21st century, new dangers open up as well as new possibilities for systemic change, to which everyone can contribute. “The topic couldn’t be more important. A very valuable and surely timely contribution.” —Noam Chomsky

The Half-Made World

By Felix Gilman,

Book cover of The Half-Made World

Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World is a brilliant steampunk allegory about what philosopher Jürgen Habermas calls the colonization of the life-world for a faithless utilitarian reason. Gilman imagines a war that pits defenders of wonder, magic, and voodoo against soulless drones seeking gain through environmental degradation. This is a common enough trope in science fiction but what brings it to another level is Gilman’s personification of wonder and magic in a sleazy, violent anti-hero who is frequently possessed by demons. Gilman embodies the colonizers of the world as monstrous, dragon-like railway engines who order men around using telegrams. The innocent reader who will decide the fate of the world is a brilliant, female doctor who is trying to cure herself of her opium addiction. Gilman’s understanding of the rhythm of nineteenth-century language is amazing. His characters each have unique voices and his beautiful prose suggests that Gilman has spent years…

Who am I?

I’m a historian with a strong science background who paid my way through college and grad school as a network engineer and Perl programmer. My most recent work, like Nation of Deadbeats and my new book Oceans of Grain, are international financial histories of the world that look at the world through the lens of commodities, international trade, and labor.

I wrote...

Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend

By Scott Reynolds Nelson,

Book cover of Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend

What is my book about?

In 1998, quite by accident, I discovered the real person behind the legend of the Black “Steel Driving Man” named John Henry who defeated a steam drill and “died with a hammer in his hand.” I assumed he was just a legend, but a postcard, a surgeon’s report, and a stray line from the song led me to find the real man. John Henry died a young man, but not before rewriting the history of the South with his hammer. My book Steel Drivin' Man won historical and literary prizes and a front-page article in the New York Times. My work is at the intersection of history and storytelling, and there are a few works of speculative fiction that I return to again and again.

Operation Paperclip

By Annie Jacobsen,

Book cover of Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America

Von Braun was one of the hundreds of Nazi scientists hunted by the Americans in the dying days of the war and brought to the U.S. to continue their research—on everything from nerve toxins to human experimentation. Heavily researched and detailed, the book’s a chilling read and ethical challenge.

Who am I?

I’m an author, playwright and science writer near Ottawa, Canada. One thing that fascinated me in writing The Stardust Revolution was how 20th-century astronomy advances were grounded in the re-use of military technologies developed in WWII. Both radio- and infrared astronomy emerged from the use of former Nazi and Allied military hardware. This is because WWII was the physicists war—their inventions determined its outcome. These five books describe the key science and technology—atomic weapons, radar, and rockets—that won World War Two and have shaped the world since. The books are a great mix of biography, narrative non-fiction, and investigative journalism.

I wrote...

The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars

By Jacob Berkowitz,

Book cover of The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars

What is my book about?

Three great scientific revolutions have shaped our understanding of the cosmos and our relationship to it. The Copernican Revolution, which bodychecked the Earth as the pivot point of creation and joined us with the rest of the cosmos as one planet among many orbiting the Sun. Then, the second great scientific revolution: the Darwinian Revolution. It removed us from a distinct, divine biological status to place us wholly in the ebb and flow of all terrestrial life. This book describes how we're in the midst of a third great scientific revolution: The Stardust Revolution.

The Stardust Revolution takes readers on a grand journey that begins on the summit of California's Mount Wilson, where astronomers first realized that the universe is both expanding and evolving, to a radio telescope used to identify how organic molecules-the building blocks of life are made by stars.

The Circle

By Dave Eggers,

Book cover of The Circle

The book is far superior to the dumbed-down movie version. We live today in a society willfully ignoring how much of ourselves we voluntarily give away to tech companies and what they do with it. The concept in this book that large corporations collect and sell data on all of us isn’t Sci-fi, it is our reality. It was proven in 2013 that internet and phone companies were selling our information to the government. Either no one noticed, or no one cared because regardless of if people are aware we are all living in the Circle now.

Who am I?

I’m just a book-loving girl working in a corporate world who’s sick to death of the inaccurate representations of technology in fiction. FYI, tracing a phone call is instantaneous, no need to keep that pesky murderer on the line these days. Technology is so ingrained in our daily lives and most people have very limited knowledge of what it actually does, so I became fascinated with the idea of using real modern-day tech in murder mysteries. I got so obsessed with the idea I decided to write it. No Sci-Fi of future tech, it may seem farfetched, but all the electronic wizardry used in my novels is real and accurately represented.

I wrote...

There is No Cloud

By Kat Wheeler,

Book cover of There is No Cloud

What is my book about?

Cameron Caldwell is living her best life…. Well sort of. Turns out moving to New York City isn’t exactly like Sex and the City. But she does have her dream job working for the world's largest Smart Home Technology company. Her job is basically herding cats with an expense account. The monotony of being a corporate sales rep is made tolerable by her two supportive work besties Bill and Phil. But when Cameron discovers something strange in one of her customer's technology her life takes a dramatic turn. Partnering with NYC homicide detective Will Justus, Cameron uses her insider knowledge to help solve a series of murders with the same technology used to commit them.

Leonardo Da Vinci

By Walter Isaacson,

Book cover of Leonardo Da Vinci

Walter Isaacson’s biography left me in a constant state of awe. How in the world could one human being accomplish all that Da Vinci did, across so many fields of endeavor, in a single human lifetime? Ultimately what I took away from this book is how limitless human potential really is, especially if we pursue big dreams.

Who am I?

I’m a man who has led two lives. The first was as a junk dealer’s son from Buffalo, New York, who worked his tail off in school, won a full scholarship to Columbia University in 1958, and began dreaming of entering politics and someday becoming governor of New York State. The second life arrived suddenly during the third semester of my junior year when blindness seemed to rob me of my dreams. It didn’t, and along with dear friends and a loving family, these biographies have played a central role in keeping my dreams alive.

I wrote...

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: How Daring Dreams and Unyielding Friendship Turned One Man's Blindness into an Extraordinary Vision for Life

By Sanford D. Greenberg,

Book cover of Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: How Daring Dreams and Unyielding Friendship Turned One Man's Blindness into an Extraordinary Vision for Life

What is my book about?

It’s a memoir built around a tragic event—the day in February 1961 when a Detroit surgeon blinded me ironically to save my eyes—but it is far from a tragic tale. My future wife, Sue, my college roommate Art Garfunkel, and others got me back on my feet and helped me find my way from there. Today, I consider myself, as did Lou Gehrig in his distress, “the luckiest man in the world.” That’s the story I tell, in part to understand my own life and in part to encourage others. It's also available in a Young Adult edition.

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