Books about tech history

There is a discussion on twitter that has led a bunch of people to start reading Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine. I read it years ago, but plan on cracking it open again when I am finished with Turing’s vision. It got me wondering what other books about tech history people have enjoyed.

Some that I have enjoyed:

Levy’s Hackers - in particular the section about MIT and the beginnings there.

The Dream Machine - story about JCR Licklider, and the rise of modern computing.

Dealers of Lightning - story of the work done at Xerox PARC.

The Supermen - story of Seymour Cray’s work. I wish it would have gone into more detail, but still an interesting book.

Nice picks. I really enjoyed Three Degrees Above Zero, which is about the history and heyday of Bell Labs. Pairs nicely with Richard Hamming’s “You and Your Research” talk.

My favorite tech history about gaming is Kushner’s Masters of Doom about Carmack and Romero. Goes from childhood to the release of Q3/Daikatana.

I have a book called The Idea Factory, which is about Bell Labs, but I haven’t read it yet. Another I’m looking forward to reading is called A Mind at Play, which is about Claude Shannon and information theory. I’ll have to pick up Three Degrees Above Zero.

A Mind at Play looks great! I am going to read that. I haven’t read The Idea Factory yet either, but I intend to. I like reading books written decades apart about the same subject.

Some others:

Andy Hertzfeld’s Revolution in the Valley - basically a collection of stories from the making of the mac.

Brian Bagnall’s books on Commodore and the Amiga. Fascinating and sad at the same time to read about some of the brilliant work done, and how it was screwed up.

almost but not quite the same genre, but…

Stoll’s book is one of my all time favorites. I’ve read it multiple times.

I don’t know if this is what you are after but I read Accidental Empires by Robert X. Cringely many years ago and thought it was an excellent book on the beginnings of the computer companies.

It’s a blog not a book, but the Digital Antiquarian is fantastic. While it focuses on games there are also long and fascinating digressions on things like the development of operating systems, Jobs’s days at Apple, Xerox PARC, IBM’s attempts to break into the PC market, and even the parallel development of computers in the Soviet Union.

I have never read Cringley’s book, but he did a series of interviews of tech people about a decade ago that were pretty good. It looks like their home on the pbs site is gone, but searching Cringley and NerdTV brings them up in youtube.

It has been a long time since I read it but IIRC he explains how IBM screwed up and how other tech companies moved to the forefront.

If you like fiction, Neal Stephenson has written several novels where he geeks out about old tech.

I’ve stalled out on Stephenson pretty much since Cryptonomicon. I’ve read Seveneves, but every time I crack open the Baroque cycle I only get about a 3rd or half way into the 1st book before I get distracted by something else. One of these days I will make it through though. Sometimes I wonder if I have some degree of ADD as I tend to get distracted like that a lot.

The Baroque Cycle is my favorite, but the bleakness of Seveneves punched me harder in the gut. (Until the last part which was silly and I won’t spoil.)

Yeah, Seveneves really got to me, especially thinking about my daughters and what would I do. I still need to read Reamde and Anathem.

Another book that I have started reading multiple times and not finished yet is Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

If you have any interest in the ‘80s’ 8-bit wars, try to dig up a copy of The Home Computer Wars by Michael Tomczyk.

I recommend Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators, which traces the development of computers forward from Ada Lovelace through the development of the transistor and Silicon Valley culture to the Internet and Apple and Google. It’s a fun read, and the parallels between innovators at different times are interesting.

+1. Great book.