The 10 best technology books

Which ones would you want on your e-reader?

  • The Cuckoo's Egg by Clifford Stoll

    A personal favourite. This gripping story of the dogged pursuit of a 75c shortfall in a mainframe account doesn't sound like the stuff of legends, but the story of how an astronomer turned computer expert uncovered a cracker from another continent holds the attention from start to finish, providing useful information on security techniques and Unix programming along the way.

    The administrators who failed to block Gary McKinnon could have learned a lot from this book: an absolute classic.

    The Cuckoo's Egg by Clifford Stoll, 1989, Bodley Head, ISBN 0-370316258
  • Microserfs by Douglas Coupland

    You couldn't make it up they said of Microsoft, but that was before zeitgeist author Douglas Coupland did precisely that in a novel that has done more to shape the company's image than any business tome. Coupland captures the coming of age not just of an upstart company, but of a whole state of mind. At the time, the geeks in this book seemed to be from a nerdy netherworld, but that was before the world became more like them. These guys went to MIT, like Lego, wear T-shirts and live in glittering world of work addiction that can now be seen as a prediction of the power of technology to lull spontaneity. Would Google hire these guys?

    Microserfs by Douglas Coupland, 1995, HarperCollins, ISBN 978 0007179817
  • Showstopper! by G Pascal Zachary

    An oldie but goodie. This tells the compelling story of the development of Windows NT, the software that was to drive Microsoft's dominance on the server, just as it had dominated the desktop.

    This is a gripping tale of how the project came together, starting right from the start. It also made a geek star of earthy, no-nonsense hacker Dave Cutler who led the project - the author does well to bring out the personalities involved without losing sight of the focus.

    Showstopper! by G.Pascal Zachary, 1994, Warner Books, ISBN 0-75151
  • Colossus: Bletchley Park's greatest secret by Paul Gannon

    It's not just patriotism that drove this choice. Although it's gratifying to read about the UK's contribution to computer development, this is a story that appeals to a wider audience too.

    The code-breaking work at Bletchley Park still holds a fascination for us today - the work has a resonance too in the way that intelligence agencies use some of the same techniques to crack terrorist cells. It's a shame that the government doesn't recognise this and support the development of the Bletchley Park site - this book explains exactly why we should treasure this site.

    Colossus by Paul Gannon, 2006,Atlantic Books, ISBN 1-843543303
  • by Kieren McCarthy

    We have a personal connection with this one as the author worked as news editor on Techworld while he was writing this book. But that's not the reason for including it, this is a rattling tale, full of the sort of dodgy characters more often found in gangster films - this is the only one of our choices that could become a Hollywood movie. It's a reminder of how much of the early days of the World Wide Web was like the popular image of the Wild West undefined with a whole array of chancers, swindlers, con men, idealists and lucky sods. This book captures that brilliantly. by Kieren McCarthy, 2007, Quercus, ISBN 1-905204663
  • Insanely Great by Steven Levy

    This is the book about Apple that tries to disentangle how the both most loved and most mistrusted computer of all time emerged from the primordial soup of home and lab-brewed computers of the early 1980s. Rarely can guys with long hair and soldering irons have had so much influence, turning a computer into a zeitgeist cult.

    The title neatly alludes to Steve Jobs' famous assessment of the Mac while summing up the author's obvious ambivalence. The Mac might be great, but there has always been the danger of a descent into insanity. A history of Apple for people who remember a time before the iPod and iPhone.

    Insanely Great by Steven Levy, 2000, Penguin, ISBN 978-0140291773
  • The New New Thing by Michael Lewis

    Jim Clark will go down as the guy who co-founded the company that invented the browser, Netscape, and before that Silicon Graphics, the company that helped develop the workstations that made today's CGI movies possible. Lewis' book is only about this in passing because what really interests him is how Clark spends his fortune - on the super-yacht Hyperion, a monster in more ways than one. Run by a deck of SGI workstations, Clark claimed to be able to sail it remotely from anywhere in the world.

    Lewis can't resist the metaphor: ego, money, a huge computer-driven boat that turns out not to sail well and nearly kills its crew. It's the hubris of the tech industry in an aluminium hull.

    The New New Thing by Michael Lewis, 1999, Hodder and Stoughton, ISBN 978 0340766996
  • Accidental Empires by Robert X Cringley

    If you ever wondered how the PC and its software world came to seem so important to so many people, this sardonic (and strangely out of print) masterpiece sets out to explain it.

    Noyce, Jobs, Wozniak, Gates, Manzi, and many others are all here. If some of these names and stories behind them have faded a bit for a world wowed by the Internet, none of it would have happened without the "bunch of boys who banded together to give themselves power." What made some more successful than others turned out to be the speed at which they left behind technology for its own sake and got into bucks and business. Apart from being informative, it's very funny.

    Accidental Empires by Robert X. Cringely, 1996, Penguin, ISBN 978 0140258264
  • The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S Raymond

    And the manifesto begat the book.

    Two years after his manifesto, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, caused a stir in the IT community, Eric Raymond gathered together his thoughts on open software development in a book of the same title. Eleven years later, we can see how so much of the philosophy outlined in the book has created a new paradigm for computing. Possibly the most influential computer book of them all.

    The Cathedral & the Bazaar by Eric S Raymond, 1999, O'Reilly, ISBN 1-56597249
  • Startup

    Arguably the best book ever written about what it is like to found a tech startup, Kaplan should know. In the early 90s, he founded and lost a high-profile company, one the world has long forgotten - Go Corporation, which tried to popularise a pen computing OS 15 years before Apple's iPad. Articulate, emotional, Kaplan has a lot to get off his chest.

    And speaking of Apple, Kaplan is in no doubt that the Newton was influenced by his company's OS even if it was Microsoft that did the coup de grace with its investment in its own Pen OS. Kaplan's company was a before such things existed. It had money, it had an idea, it had backing, and it was influential in its own way. It was also doomed.

    Startup by Jerry Kaplan, 1994, Penguin, 978 0140257311
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