If you are looking for a great Summer read, think tech books. You don’t need to be a geek to enjoy fun tech tales, there are plenty of tech stories written in plain English that will captivate and inspire you.
To get you started with reading tech stories, here is a list of some of my favorites. They are all written in plain English for everyday people and don’t use geek speak. The stories are fascinating and could make you an even bigger fan of tech…
FREE: The Future of a Radical Price
If you’ve ever wondered how Google became such a profitable company by giving away its services for free, check out FREE: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson. Imagine if you had to pay each time you used Google search. Even if the cost were 1¢, you’d be less likely to search on a whim. Would Google be more profitable if it charged for its searches? If you run a business can you afford not to give away things for free?
Anderson takes a fascinating look at the economics of free and how the concept of giving things away is shaping our world. The book also reminds you of a time when much less was given away for free.
Ironically, this book is not free.
Where’s My Jetpack
While The Wonder of Tech may lead you to think that we are living in the midst of advanced technologies, Where’s My Jetpack? by Daniel H. Wilson questions why we’re even not more advanced. Flash Gordon, Epcot, World’s Fairs, Star Trek and even The Jetsons envisioned personal technology that included robots, jetpacks and other advances.
This book explains what happened to past promises about the future and why the 21st century hasn’t brought us the innovations we expected. What is particularly fascinating about this book to me is that some of the inventions Wilson writes about, such as self-driving cars, have become a reality since this book was written.
Ironically, Where’s My Jetpack is not available as a Kindle book.
Ghosts in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker
If you think all hackers are evil, Kevin Mitnick will change your mind. In Ghosts in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker by Kevin Mitnick and William L. Simon, you will learn about the concept of “ethical hacking” and how ethical hackers are actually helping to protect people, governments and corporations against thieving hackers.
Ethical hackers are tech’s answer to secret shoppers who are hired by companies to evaluate stores’ customer appeal. Companies and governments hire ethical hackers to try to infiltrate computer systems and expose vulnerabilities that could be exploited by evil hackers.
This book reads like an thriller novel, but Mitnick’s story is real. He explains his hacking in plain English so you don’t need to be a techie to enjoy or understand his gripping account of how he became an ethical hacker. He also includes more complex descriptions of his hacking for techies who may be interested, but even these explanations are well-written and easy to follow.
If you want his story to continue after you finish reading the book, you can follow him on Twitter @KevinMitnick.
You may think of Roald Dahl as the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach and Ian Fleming as the author of James Bond novels and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but after you read The Irregulars by Jennet Conant you will regard these men very differently. Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming were sent to the United States by Britain to be spies during World War II in order to help persuade the US to join the Allied Forces in battling Germany.
Dahl, Flemming and other British spies who were stationed in Washington, DC during the war were supplied with advanced tech gadgets to help collect information and then deliver it to the British government. The story follows Dahl’s journey from being a fighter pilot in the RAF stationed in North Africa to a British spy in Washington. The book reads like a James Bond novel, even though it’s a work of non-fiction.
$20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better
Rising prices for gasoline may seem like dark clouds on the horizon, but $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better by Christopher Steiner will show you the silver lining. If you’re thinking there is no way that higher prices to fill your tank is a good thing, this book is for you.
Steiner envisions what our lives will be like as gas prices rise to different heights. As someone who lived in the UK where petrol prices are much higher than in the US, I was fascinated by Steiner’s predictions, many of which are already true in Europe. Higher gas prices mean fewer vehicular deaths and more incentive for companies and governments to develop transportation technology that could improve our daily lives. This book won’t make you cheer when prices at the pump rise, but it may take away a bit of the sting.
The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal
The film that won the Academy Award for Best Film in 2012, The Social Network, was based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. This book may or may not belong in the non-fiction category of this post as much of the book is admittedly based on speculation.
This book is intended to chronicle the story of Mark Zuckerberg starting Facebook, but Mezrich never interviewed Zuckerberg for the book, so many scenes start with a disclaimer that the information is purely speculative. If you’re a fan of The Social Network film, this book will show you which parts are based on fact and which are based on fiction.
Always On: How the iPhone Unlocked the Anything-Anytime-Anywhere Future–and Locked Us In
How has society been changed by the rapid adoption of personal technology in our every day lives? If you’ve been wondering about this issue, check out Always On: How the iPhone Unlocked the Anything-Anytime-Anywhere Future–and Locked Us In by Brian X. Chen. Chen, a New York Times tech reporter, takes a balanced approach as he analyzes how the iPhone and other developments in personal technology have materially altered the way we live.
The book examines whether the advent of smartphones and the ability to search for information have actually made us smarter or dumber. The book also discusses the impact of technology on our privacy and predicts how our lives will continue to be affected by technological advancements in the future.
The Demon Under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor’s Heroic Search for the World’s First Miracle Drug
The Demon Under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor’s Heroic Search for the World’s First Miracle Drug by Thomas Hager isn’t technically a story about personal technology, but it is an enthralling story of technology that affects our personal lives. The Demon Under the Microscope chronicles the discovery and development of sulfa, an antibiotic that pre-dated penicillin. The book discusses the obstacles that scientists overcame, including acceptance of the basic premise that medicines could cure illness.
This book makes you appreciate how far medicine has advanced in the past 100 years and how different our world would be without those advancements. After you finish reading The Demon Under the Microscope, I suggest you check out Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam by Pope Brock. Although Charlatan isn’t a tech book, it entertainingly illustrates how the acceptance of medicine was impaired by scammers.
If you’re looking for a high-tech, fast-paced story, check out Daemon by Daniel Suarez, a tale of tech gone wrong. When 34 year old computer gaming genius Matthew Sobol dies unexpectedly, the computer programs he put in place in the event of his untimely death get activated and the result is international mayhem. The novel is a tech thriller, but is written in plain English for both techies and non-techies to enjoy.
If you believe that cell phones will lead to the end of civilization, you may want to avoid Cell by Stephen King as nightmares are sure to ensue. I won’t reveal spoilers, but let’s just say you will think twice before answering your next cell phone call.
For fun summer reading, check out these terrific tech tales. Whether you’re a fan of fiction or non-fiction, there are plenty of stories to keep you entertained, no geek speak required!
Do you enjoy great stories? Have you read any of the books I listed? Do you have any favorite tech books you can recommend? Let us know in the Comments section below!