14 Essential Books on the Titans (and Threats) of Tech Today

Silicon Valley, decoded

October 23, 2018 9:00 am

It’s hard to get a holistic view of the tech world.

You’ve got ramen-fueled, dorm-set startups. Bitcoin anarchists reshaping the future of money. Terrorist groups exploiting hackable pacemakers (nope, not just a Homeland plot point).

And MIT theorists expounding on the future of AI.

Few workdays — hell, few entire professional careers — cover this spectrum.

But this reading list does, with 14 deep-dives into the past, present, and future of tech, existing at various levels of dystopia.

This list isn’t comprehensive. It doesn’t include fiction, like Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash or Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story. And it doesn’t include some megahits, like Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs or Michael Lewis’s The New New Thing. But it does include 14 authors asking where tech will take us — and the answers are horrifying, ecstatic and everything in between.

Read up … before you get got.

Live Work Work Work Die: A Journey into the Savage Heart of Silicon Valley
By Corey Pein

The gist: Actual journalist decides he, too, can be a start-up founder, to both terrifying and tragicomic effect.
The key players: Pein, dozens of wannabe startup billionaires operating at various stages of grief
The lesson: Start-up life is a gamble that rarely pays off unless you were rich to begin with, and you can die trying.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
By John Carreyrou

The gist: Start-up wunderkind who seemed too good to be true was actually way worse than anyone guessed.
The key players: Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, Larry Ellison, David Boies
The lesson: Don’t go chasing unicorns/ Please stick to the 401(k)s that you’re used to

The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal
By Ben Mezrich

The gist: “thefacebook” evolves from Harvard “Jewish fraternity” side hustle into democracy-destroying juggernaut Facebook.
The key players: Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, Sean Parker, women who burn things/smile blandly
The lesson: Do not ever, ever trust Mark Zuckerberg. Or VCs. (But mostly Zuckerberg.)

Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal
By Nick Bilton

The gist: “twttr” evolves from podcasters’ side hustle into the democracy-destroying juggernaut Twitter.
The key players: Evan Williams, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, Noah Glass
The lesson: Do not ever, ever trust anyone who claimed, at any point, to have been a Twitter founder. Or VCs. (But mostly Dorsey.)

Troublemakers: Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age
By Leslie Berlin

The gist: An actual historian — Berlin, the project historian for the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford University — breaks down nearly a half-century in the Valley.
The key player: Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Mike Markkula, Bob Taylor
The lesson: A certain disregard for the status quo is required for world-changers.

The Soul of a New Machine
By Tracy Kidder

The gist: Nearly 40 years ago, two rival divisions within a single company fight to produce the superior “superminicomputer,” balancing product quality versus time-to-market along the way.  
The key players: Tom West, the rest of the Data General Corporation (RIP) minions
The lesson: A finished product is more valuable than a better, unfinished one.

Betaball: How Silicon Valley and Science Built One of the Greatest Basketball Teams in History
By Erik Malinowski

The gist: How’d the Warriors get so good? Tech played its part.
The key players: GM Bob Myers, Joe Lacob, Steve Kerr, Steph Curry
The lesson: Start-up strategies can be applied to almost every industry/personality.

Future Crimes: Inside the Digital Underground and the Battle for Our Connected World
By Marc Goodman

The gist: Cybercrime will soon be omnipresent and unavoidable.
The key players: Author Goodman, a global security expert, “futurist-in-residence” at the FBI and beat cop.
The lesson: The “Internet of Things” shouldn’t apply to all things (like pacemakers; see also Homeland) — some things are better in their lower-tech states.

Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
By Max Tegmark

The gist: Artificial intelligence is already omnipresent and unavoidable, and will only become more so.
The key players: The main voice belongs to author Tegmark, an artificial intelligence researcher at MIT.
The lesson: AI is going to change how we live — is already changing it — so the time for us to decide how we want to use it, collectively, is now.

Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money
By Nathaniel Popper

The gist: If bitcoin is the future of money, we are all in for a wild ride, and it likely won’t serve the quasi-anarchist ambitions of some of its early advocates.
The key players: A return appearance from the Winklevoss twins, bitcoin founder “Satoshi Nakamoto”, Silk Road’s Ross Ulbricht
The lesson: The gold rush and the global scam might look exactly the same.

The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future
By Kevin Kelly

The gist: The titular inevitabilities include screens everywhere, the concomitant loss of privacy, and an emphasis on shared versus private ownership.
The key players: Kelly himself — futurist, frequent podcast guest, and founding Wired executive editor
The lesson: Resistance is futile. (You will be assimilated.)

Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley
By Antonio García Martínez

The gist: The lifestyle of a rising Silicon Valley talent is filled with things (people/places/events) that are physically, emotionally, and morally toxic.
The key players: Zuckerberg again, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook minions
The lesson: See The Accidental Billionaires. Also, don’t let anyone you love work in Silicon Valley.

The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World
By Brad Stone

The gist: Companies willing to move fast and break things, including governments, are the ones that’ll make all the money, at least for now.
The key players: Travis Kalanick, Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, Nathan Blecharczyk
The lesson: Disruption may not be good for most people, but the people making money won’t care.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
By Peter Thiel

The gist: Peter Thiel actually is building the future by single-handedly changing how industries work (not just tech but media, too) — this treatise can provide a peek into his thinking.
The key player: Thiel
The lesson: One man can literally change the world, if he’s rich and powerful enough.

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