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The 40 Greatest Tech Books of All Time

books covers for Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs and The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder

The Verge has published a list of the 40 best nonfiction books about “tech” (which relates to the industry centered around Silicon Valley & the internet and not technology in general). I was pleased to see Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet by Claire Evans and Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs on there, as well as Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents by Ellen Ullman and Neil Postman’s Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. I’m baffled that Tracy Kidder’s amazing The Soul of a New Machine didn’t make the top 5 or even 10.

But reading through the rest of the list, it occurred to me that I don’t really read tech books — and if I did, I didn’t get a whole lot from them. When I was younger and trying to understand the industry and momentous period I was participating in, I generally looked to books outside of tech as guides. I read things like How Buildings Learn by Steward Brand, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, Chaos by James Gleick, The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander, and Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.

Anyway, back to the list — it seems incomplete in a way that I can’t quite articulate. I would have liked to have seen Tom Standage’s The Victorian Internet on there. What else? I would like to hear about your favorite books about tech (or non-tech books that are sneakily about tech anyway) or what you think might be missing from the list. Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Update: Some great additional suggestions from the comments:

As many commenters noted, it’s hard to see how Hackers was left off this list. And My Tiny Life…it anticipated so much about how social media was going to function.

Reader comments

Marc HedlundJun 29, 2023 at 10:13AM

I probably would have included The MouseDriver Chronicles and The PayPal Wars.

Potato Jun 29, 2023 at 10:26AM

David Macaulay's "The Way Things Work" is my favorite OG tech book.

Ian BrownJun 29, 2023 at 10:28AM

Leslie Berlin’s "Troublemakers: Silicon Valley's Coming of Age" and "The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley" are must-reads. Great writing, and deeply researched.

LisaJun 29, 2023 at 10:52AM

I liked "The Google Story" by David Vise and "The New New Thing" by Michael Lewis. Enjoyable reads.

EmilyJun 29, 2023 at 11:00AM

"Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution" by Steven Levy

M. RambergJun 29, 2023 at 11:05AM

Hackers by Steven Levy covers the homebrew club of Satan Francisco to 1984. Old, but really good stuff.

JeffJun 29, 2023 at 11:11AM

Code, by Charles Petzold - which I just realized is out in a 2nd edition.

Josh P. Jun 29, 2023 at 11:34AM

The Switch: How the Telegraph, Telephone, and Radio Created the Computer by Chris McDonald talks about how technology that lead to modern computing evolved step by step, starting with signaling flags to telegraph switches to phone switchboards.

TomJun 29, 2023 at 11:50AM

Funny though that Scott Macloud was hired by Google to do the introduction of Chrome comic in 2008. Full circle back to “tech”!

laskouneJun 29, 2023 at 11:51AM

"Hackers" by Steven Levy should be in the top ten
I would also recommand "What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry" by John Markoff

Joe FuscoJun 29, 2023 at 12:03PM

"The Second Self" by Sherry Turkle. Written almost 40 years ago, but relevant to what the industry is doing with AI.

GeoffJun 29, 2023 at 12:06PM

How could they overlook “The Cuckoo’s Egg”?

Scott KirkwoodJun 29, 2023 at 12:10PM

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, for obvious reasons.

A Truck Full of Money by Tracy Kidder--great profile of any early tech wiz. Big focus on the person and his mind vs the industry, which is the kind of tech book I love.

Luke DavisJun 29, 2023 at 12:15PM

- Algorithms to Live by: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths
- More Than a Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech Hardcover by Meredith Broussard
- Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble

BGWJun 29, 2023 at 1:06PM

I'd like to second the comment from Geoff. "The Cuckoo's Egg", by Cliff Stoll. Even people who have zero interest in tech (my mom) cannot put this book down.

Dan HansenJun 29, 2023 at 1:45PM

- Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet by Katie Hafner, Mark Douglas Nelson, et al
- Creative Selection: Inside Apple's Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs by Ken Kocienda
- Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy
- Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age by Michael Hiltzik, Forrest Sawyer, et al
- Revolution in The Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made by Andy Hertzfeld
- Software Engineering a Better Life: How an Unfunded Software Startup Went Straight to Acquisition in the Pre-Internet Age by Dan Hansen (me)

DewayneJun 29, 2023 at 2:00PM

Another vote for “Hackers” and “The Cuckoo’s Egg.”

Whitney BrowneJun 29, 2023 at 2:02PM

'Here Comes Everybody' by Clay Shirky

"The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity" by Alan Cooper. It was required reading at my first digital agency job

Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, By Steven Johnson

Aaron PressmanJun 29, 2023 at 2:24PM

Fumbling the Future (about Xerox PARC) by Smith and Alexander, Tom Standage’s Victorian Internet, and the book the foretold how social media would all play out, Julian Dibbell’s My tiny life

Andreas SchoedlJun 29, 2023 at 3:14PM

Accidental Empires - read it at least ten times.
The Cuckoo’s Egg - five plus times

What’s missing (to me) is a biography and corporate history of Gary Kildall and Digital Research. He seems always to end up as a footnote as „could‘ve been Bill Gates“, but his product (first PC operating system) CP/M and it’s many derivatives where instrumental in the PC revolution. Plus, his work with the TV show Computer Chronicles. I think that’s a fat book missing.

Scott HillisJun 29, 2023 at 4:39PM

The list feels incomplete because it is highly focused on the internet and culture rather than technology more broadly, with almost no discussion of science and engineering, nor of the hardware and devices that are the main ways people use technology in their daily lives. Some notable omissions (some of which have already been noted):

-Hackers, Steven Levy
-The New New Thing, Michael Lewis
-The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley, Leslie Berlin
-Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson
-Gates, Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews
-Masters of Doom, David Kushner
-Opening the Xbox, Dean Takahashi
-Everything Bad Is Good for You, Steven Johnson

LeeJun 29, 2023 at 9:23PM

Nothing captures the early microcomputer scene like Stephen Levy's Hackers . I'm even more surprised it was left off the list than that Tracy Kidder wasn't nearer the top.

Christopher Vickery Jun 29, 2023 at 10:21PM

The Most Human Human by Brian Christian belongs on the list, for sure.

Chris KJun 29, 2023 at 11:36PM

No Clay Shirky? The internet and SV tech is so wrapped around communal, social platforms. An omission in my opinion. “Here comes Everybody” as a start.

RalphJun 29, 2023 at 11:46PM

The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. Greatest science book ever.

JonathanJun 30, 2023 at 1:51AM

The Best of 2600: A Hacker Odyssey

These are all great suggestions! Jason, can do comments more frequently?

HannahJun 30, 2023 at 5:23AM

Ways of Being and New Dark Age - both by James Bridle

jkottkeJun 30, 2023 at 9:30AM

Throwing two more into the ring here that are tech-adjacent but that were pretty influential in the early 2000s: The Cluetrain Manifesto and The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

kdawsonJun 30, 2023 at 10:13AM

Here's a vote for the Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger.

saulJun 30, 2023 at 10:53AM

It's missing a bunch:
"What technology wants"
"Intel Trilogy"
"The Master Switch"
"Technology Revolutions and Financial Capital"
"Innovator's Dilemma"
among others..

KirstenJun 30, 2023 at 4:52PM

I love that you mentioned How Buildings Learn & TheDeath and Life of Great American Cities, though I would choose A Pattern Language from Christopher Alexander. I'd also add:
• Why Buildings Fall Down: How Structures Fail (Levy)
• The Great Good Place (Oldenburg)
• What Can A Body Do? (Hendren)
 • De Architectura (Vitruvius) for a really deep cut

AnaJun 30, 2023 at 4:54PM

The Computer Boys Take Over by Nathan Ensmenger

Sneaky tech books include:
Proxies by Dylan Mulvin, especially the Lena chapters
The Filing Cabinet by Craig Robertson
More Work for Mother by Ruth Schwartz Cowan

These might be slightly more academic but oh so good!

SteveJun 30, 2023 at 7:24PM

"The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture"

JeroenJul 01, 2023 at 1:47PM

Why is Lawrence Lessig missing from that list? Code and Code 2.0 were hugely influential books at the time.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.