5 Non-Fiction Books Every Technology Geek Must Read

Matt Smith 15-06-2012

I’ve always been fascinated by consumer technology, which is why I write about it. New innovations appear constantly. Some of them have promise. Others don’t. And the ideas that have the most weight in popular culture aren’t always the ones that eventually win.


You can learn a lot about consumer technology and its effect on society by reading blogs, but online sources have a tendency to follow the latest fad instead of providing exhaustive research of a topic. The classic non-fiction technology book still has significant value. Here are five that you absolutely need to read.

Generation Xbox by Jamie Russell

technology books

The most recently released book on this list, Generation Xbox focuses less on console hardware than the title suggests. It’s really a book about how the relationship between the video game industry and Hollywood has evolved over the years. It includes tidbits about the doomed Halo movies and the creation of the Mario Bros. flick that any game fan or movie buff Three Video Games That Should Be Made Into Movies [MUO Gaming] Video games and movies never seem to combine well. A great movie made into a video game always ends up being terrible, and a great game made into a movie never seems to come out... Read More will love to read.

That’s not the only reason why I recommend this book, however. By focusing on the love-hate relationship between gaming and Hollywood, author Jamie Russell is able to tell a story about gaming’s rise (and occasional fall) from the limelight of popular culture. The way these two powerful media industries interact says a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of each.

The Master Switch by Tim Wu

technology nonfiction books


If you actively look for books about technology and communication, you must have already heard of this book, if not read The Master Switch. Although only a few years old it has already established itself as one of the more important books written about the history of the communications industry in America.

Much of the book’s focus is on the juggernaut that was AT&T. There’s a lot of useful history packed in this tome, but the books goes a step further by taking the lessons of history and applying them to the Internet age. Wu is not certain that the Internet is naturally a tool for freedom of speech and makes some great predictions about how it might change if certain interests (primarily corporations) become too powerful.

The Race For A New Game Machine by David Shippy And Mickie Phipps

technology nonfiction books

This book is a bit of an odd-ball on this list because it is, by far, the least well written. Its authors are David Shippy, who was in charge of designing the Cell processor for Sony, and Mickie Phipps, a co-worker also high on the project’s totem pole. The book’s tone comes off as self-congratulatory as a result.


Still, this is an important story and these are the only people who bothered to tell it. The Cell processor was an amazing engineering achievement and theoretically gave Sony an edge, yet it was also responsible for many of the PlayStation 3’s flaws. You’ll probably have a new respect for Microsoft’s ability to execute broad-stroke business strategies after you finish this book – and less respect for Sony’s scatter-shot approach to engineering new products.

This book is also important because consoles are important. They are transforming from game machines to media centers the whole family can enjoy and will only become more popular over the next decade. This is no accident, and if you’d like to learn more about why Microsoft decided to get into this business I suggest you read Opening The Xbox by Dean Takahashi as a follow-up.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

technology nonfiction books
How could I write a list of non-fiction books for geeks without including Steve Jobs? This incredibly well timed biography is an insightful (and at 656 pages, rather long) retrospective on the life of the person who was known as one of the smartest and most ruthless leaders in the industry at the time he stepped down from his position as CEO of Apple.

Apple wasn’t his only gig, however, which is what makes this book a must-read. Jobs was also instrumental in making Pixar the company we know today, and was involved in several other projects, such as the NeXT Computer. Jobs’ successes and failures in technology What Is The Legacy Of Steve Jobs? [Geeks Weigh In] Steve Jobs has stepped down as CEO of Apple, and while he will continue as Apple's chairman, his relinquishment of the title is a clear indication that he sees his time as Apple’s leader coming... Read More are informative, but it is the story of his life and the excellent writing of Walter Isaacson that will keep you reading until the book’s final page.


You Are Not A Gadget by Jaron Lanier

technology books

You Are Not A Gadget is not an easy book to consume. Jaron Lanier’s philosophical arguments and dense prose can be hard to take in at first, particularly for anyone who’s used to the quick-and-easy style of online blogs. I suggest that you keep your nose in the page. This book is the best critical examination of the Internet and online culture that you’ll ever read.

Mr. Lanier believes the Internet hasn’t lived up to its potential. He argues that freedom of information hasn’t hurt companies as much as it has hurt the artists and journalists who create new content. He also accuses “Web 2.0” of being anti-intellectual. Wikipedia can be a wonderful resource, for example, but he also points out that the predominance of a few websites (such as Wikipedia) makes the web much less diverse than many believe it to be.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot packed in this short book and there’s even a few chapters devoted to finding solutions to the criticisms the author brings up.



These books are some of the best that you can possibly read if you’re interested in learning more about consumer technology. Many of them focus on specific topics or angles, but it’s easy to see how the lessons found inside them apply to other areas of interest to geeks.

What do you think? Have you read a non-fiction technology book that you think should be geek canon? Let us know in the comments.

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  1. Anonymous
    January 19, 2016 at 3:15 am

    How did you leave out "In the Beginning.....was the Command Line" by Neal Stephenson?

  2. Rusty Hicks
    July 27, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    As a librarian I am thrilled about the book referrals for Geeks! I'm going to put all five of these into our collection. Thanks, MakeUseOf!!!

  3. Phúc Ng?c
    July 27, 2012 at 9:33 am

    I am not an iFan, but I admire Steve very much! R.I.P my hero!

  4. cd9ea21e8e5ccf1b9b8b411cc5913d2f
    July 19, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Great list, I can't believe I haven't read not even one of them! How about the "Hacking the Xbox: An Introduction to Reverse Engineering" by Andrew Huang?

  5. m1ckDELTA
    July 4, 2012 at 1:31 am

    A good list, thanks. Since others are chiming in...

    It probably goes without saying (it hasn't been mentioned anyway) that, "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman, is a prerequisite to any of these. I hope I'm stating the obvious.

  6. Geetanjali
    June 22, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    Was worth reading this....Thanks Matt!!
    You inspired me to read 'The Master Switch' asap!!

  7. Le Mon
    June 20, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Where can i download PDF files of these books ? curious to read...

  8. Le Mon
    June 20, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    Where can i have PDF files?

    • Matt Smith
      June 23, 2012 at 4:51 pm

      Try an ebook store.

  9. Babar Mumtaz
    June 20, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    great - and the further suggestions by others is useful - mostly for identifying books that I had not always heard of. However, an e-book link to these would have been useful - many of these books are to be dipped into - and not having to carry them around would be ideal

  10. Leslie D Hudson
    June 20, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Thanks I enjoyed your post.

  11. Parag
    June 20, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Good food for thought. I always wondered how does one sync their daily routine given so much tech stuff around us!!!! The Authors caught on to my thoughts. Great book, not to be missed

  12. ???????
    June 20, 2012 at 4:01 am

    great post,thanks for share

  13. HASSAN
    June 19, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    The father of technology!

  14. Alex Chimu
    June 19, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Steve Jobs' biography is awesome!!

    • Aibek Esengulov
      June 20, 2012 at 9:36 am


  15. Jack Jeraco
    June 19, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Matt:…I truly applaud you for putting your list out for us to peruse; people enjoy taking shots at these lists and anyone brave enough to put out a legitimate article…nice job! I’ve read a couple and will finish the list in due time. As Paul said earlier “The Cuckoo’s Egg” is the one I’d have added to any “tech non-fiction;” however, after looking at your list I see why it was left off…again, nice job…think I found a new blog to follow: Smidgen PC…nice!

  16. john
    June 19, 2012 at 1:35 am

    I find very intresting the 2nd & the last

  17. Ann Bartholomew
    June 18, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry - difficult to follow the cast of characters sometimes (there are so many) but it's quite fascinating to read & see how the Personal computer developed from the behemoths that were there in the beginning & to understand what they were trying to accomplish - a computer for everyone. And even 40 years ago, they were imagining what we have today - handheld computers (tablets & smartphones)....

  18. Paul
    June 18, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    This is a must read...

    The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage is a 1989 book written by Clifford Stoll

    • David Kupy
      June 18, 2012 at 7:43 pm

      Exactly my recommendation....It reads like a mystery novel but true.

    • Garry
      June 19, 2012 at 11:19 am

      I headed here to add this, but you've beaten me to it - a great read.

  19. Josh
    June 18, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    This one is very old and hard to find, but examines a critical battle of media, content, and hardware from a pivotal time in electronics:

    Fast Forward: Hollywood, the Japanese & the VCR Wars

  20. Pentelion
    June 18, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Lanier book brings many relevant thoughts. Very recommended.

  21. Mark Bloggs
    June 17, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    Interesting list. I bookmarked it for my next book purchase. I was planning to get the Steve Jobs book next but there are some good ones here.
    Currently reading "Say Everything" by Scott Rosenbeg...about the history of blogging. Informative so far :-)

    I just started a Tech Blog myself so these are good books for reference...thanks

  22. Andy frame
    June 17, 2012 at 11:25 am

    I second Tracy Kidder's book. Also Computer Wimp by John Bear.

  23. Bakari Chavanu
    June 17, 2012 at 8:11 am

    Great list, Matt. I read the Jobs biography, but it truly made me indifferent toward the man, despite the grand contributions he made. I do however look forward to reading the Lanier and Tim Wu books.

    Another book I would recommend is "The Rise of the Image, the Fall of the Word". It was published back in '98, but it definitely is on mark about the future of digital media.

    • Matt Smith
      June 17, 2012 at 10:46 pm

      The Steve Jobs book also made me feel indifferent towards him. He had some great ideas but also some terrible ones and it's hard to be a fan of someone so dismissive towards everyone else.

      • Kelly Buchanan
        June 18, 2012 at 5:20 am

        Agreed about the Jobs book. Great minds don't always come with great heart.

  24. Morphy
    June 16, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Who the hell decides all these "must read"'s or what?

    I've read some of these, they are rubbish - self serving, self aggrandising pseudo-elitist crap.

    Mildly interesting at most, certainly not "must have" books!

    • Matt Smith
      June 17, 2012 at 2:41 am

      Um, I decide them, because it's my article. I thought that obvious.

    • Kyle
      June 18, 2012 at 6:52 pm

      Unhelpful comment. Would like to know what books you think are "rubbish" and why? What books would you recommend?

      I like the list Matt. Can't wait to check some of them out.

  25. Dave Parrack
    June 15, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    I would add The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick. It's a fascinating read and the movie based on it isn't too shabby either.

    I must say the Steve Jobs bio absorbed me from beginning to end, even though I don't own a single Apple product.

  26. Randy
    June 15, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    The World is Flat

    • Matt Smith
      June 17, 2012 at 2:41 am


    • Cat
      June 19, 2012 at 1:08 pm

      Yep,Matt's right. Stay away from Friedman. Same school as Wolfram - supercilious, self-congratulatory, intolerant of all that entertain differing worldviews. Nuh-uh.

  27. Anil
    June 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    Incredibly good collection. thanks for sharing the rest 4 (already knew about Steve Jobs') ;)

  28. Phil
    June 15, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    For a historical view, I would recommend three:

    Fire in the Valley: The making of the personal computer;
    Where WIzards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet;
    Big Blues: The Unmaking of IBM (good historical information regarding Bill Gates, IBM and the early years of the PC.

  29. Mark Crummett
    June 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    "Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The origins of the Internet," by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon

  30. Christine H
    June 15, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    The Human Factor by Kim Vincente--older but still has a lot of relevant food for thought

    Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv--why we need to unplug sometimes, and--especially--make sure our kids do, too

  31. Nigel
    June 15, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    "The Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder is an absolute classic following the hardware and software teams pushing out a new mini computer in the "early days"