Having seen some recommendations for what Wired considered the essential books for any geek, and found it a bit esoteric in recommending the original Dungeons & Dragons manual, for example, I thought I’d recommend the five books I have read, owned, re-read and recommended on numerous occasions as the core of my own geek libary. It’s not a definitive list, as I’m sure there are some great books I’ve yet to read, and it’s not focused on marketing, because that requires it’s own list.
So if someone was intending to spend a while on a desert island and wanted to be a fully certified geek by the time they got back, what would I recommend?
The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier by Bruce Sterling:
Originally published in 1992, Bruce Sterling does an amazing job of explaining the roots of how hacking became a target of law enforcement and media scare stories, in addition to describing the various groups involved, from hackers to law enforcement and civil libertarians.
And whilst the names and people involved may have changed in the last 20 years, it’s still relevant – the motivations and aims of each group continue to this day. By that, I don’t mean that all hackers are working towards some kind of common vision, but that there are certain traits and motivations which are shared by a signficant proportion. And a study of hacking forums released just last week backs that up.
Code 2.0 by Lawrence Lessig:
If you’re not taking an active role in the political and legal threats to the internet as it is today, or at least considering them and their implications, then you really, really, really need to read this book to understand that the ‘free’ internet as we consider it exists only because of the underlying code, and that can be changed, manipulated and controlled by govering interests, including Governments in particular.
Neuromancer and/or Pattern Recognition by William Gibson:
Picking the first major novel by the creator of cyberpunk isn’t exactly a radical suggestion, but when it comes to weaving fascinating stories with a technology thread, there are few equals. However, if the thought of science fiction, or the memory of Keanu Reeves in Johnny Mnemonic put you off, then it’s definitely worth trying Pattern Recognition, which is set in the modern day with a suspence/thriller approach. You’ll barely spot the references to technology as it’s as integrated to the story as it is to many of our lives now. And one of the other works I love by William Gibson was his collaboration on ‘The Difference Engine’, with Bruce Sterling. Yep, the one I first recommended.
Makers or Little Brother by Cory Doctorow:
Again we’re venturing into science fiction territory, but the best recommendation comes from my own family. After 10 years of playing with websites, it was reading Cory Doctorow that prompted my father to say that he finally understood why I kept going on about the web, social networks, 3D printing etc.
In the Gibson vein, both are strong stories which happen to have technology woven into them, and Makers is particularly relevant given the current economic situation, and my own predictions about 3D Printing. Little Brother is more accessible, and don’t be put off by anything that comes with a ‘teen’ label. Sometimes we forget how intelligent teenagers actually are, but Doctorow hasn’t.
- Makers on Amazon.
- Little Brother on Amazon
- Both are available to download under Creative Commons via Doctorow’s site. One of Creative Commons founders? Lawrence Lessig, the author of Code 2.0 above.
Web Analytics an Hour a Day by Avinash Kaushik
The most practical and business-led recommendation isn’t exactly a hands-on guide to analytics product, despite the title. It’s actually a supremely good introduction to analytical thinking in general for businesses and websites, and then outlining the various useful metrics and methods to actually achieve progress, rather than just churning out pointless numbers for the sake of it. Google Analytics is used as the standard example for everything, but considering the fact it’s pretty much the default option as a free tool, that’s no bad thing, and all the information is transferable to whatever analytics package you prefer, but it means you can work directly on your own test site without spending any cash, for example. And it comes with a handy CD full of videos, podcasts and other info. So when the other books have inspired you to do something, now you’ll now whether that something is being successful or not.
And if you want to find out more without paying any money, then there’s
- Bruce Sterling’s blog for Wired.
- Lawrence Lessig on Twitter.
- William Gibson’s blog.
- Cory Doctorow News
- Occam’s Razor by Avinash Kaushik – Web Analytics Blog.
So those are my five (OK, stricly seven) books which form the core of my own geek library. They’re the ones I’d immediately replace if lost.
And while I could go on to recommend so many other great books, I’d rather read your recommendations for the must have geek books you love – so do leave a comment, as it’s not just me that will benefit…