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5 Great Books for Geeks

5 Great Books for Geeks

Reading time: 4 minutes

Time for a good read?

You probably have some tech-savvy people on your holiday list (after all, you’re pretty tech-savvy yourself). After you find them the perfect piece of gear, it’s nice to top it off with a good read. Here are five books from 2018 that’ll make great gifts. (And yes, get an actual book…they’re more fun to unwrap.)

1. Gods and Robots: The Ancient Quest for Artificial Life

By Adrienne Mayor. Princeton University Press, $29.95 (288 pages)
The idea of artificial intelligence isn’t a modern one - the Greeks were dreaming up ways to make it happen more than two millennia ago. Mayor, a classicist and science historian, examines myths from ancient Greece (with a couple detours to China and India) about bio-techne, or “life crafted by artifice.”
She finds plenty of mythic automata that go back as far back as Homer and range from animated statues to robotic servants, as well as some fascinating real devices that were built in antiquity, including a bronze giant named Talos that was the world’s first robot.

2. AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order

By Kai-Fu Lee. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $29.95 (272 pages)
The US and China are driving the AI revolution, but they are doing it in very different ways, according to Lee, an AI expert, venture capitalist and former head of Google China.
While Silicon Valley focuses on cutting-edge innovations by a handful of elite researchers, China is training an army of capable engineers to implement existing AI breakthroughs and make money. (It also doesn’t hurt that the Chinese have access to vast amounts of data without the constraints of privacy laws.)
Both methods have their advantages, and both countries’ development into AI “superpowers” will leave the rest of the world far behind - which Lee thinks will cause huge economic upheaval. Lee’s ideas about how to curtail that upheaval (which he also presented in an excellent TED talk) make this worth a read.

3. Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

By Jaron Lanier. Henry Holt & company, $18 (146 pages)
Over the past two years social media has been in the hot seat, the target of endless scathing critiques about how they use our data to manipulate us politically and emotionally (the most damning being Facebook’s recent expose in the New York Times).
Lanier, who was a virtual reality pioneer in the 1980s, starts off by making the same familiar arguments. But then he pushes further, saying that it’s the public’s moral duty to ditch Twitter, Facebook and their cohorts - that only a mass user exodus will force social media to course-correct itself. “If you’re not part of the solution,” Lanier writes, “there will be no solution.” His reasons why are fresh and compelling, whether you agree with them or not.

4. Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley

By Emily Chang. Penguin Random House, $28 (320 pages)
Chang, a Bloomberg TV journalist, shines a harsh light on Silicon Valley’s deeply-ingrained sexism problem. The “Brotopia” she describes is a modern utopia where anyone with a good idea can succeed - if they’re a man.
Chang starts off by chronicling women’s role in early technology (such as the pioneers in Hidden Figures) and how, over the decades, they’ve been edged out as Silicon Valley evolved into the male-dominated scene it is today. The tales Chang tells are upsetting and uncomfortable but important to share in order to create change not only in Silicon Valley, but across the industry.
For anyone in the tech sector looking to dismantle workplace sexism, this is a must-read.

5. It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work

By Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. HarperBusiness, $27.99 (240 pages)
Long hours, unproductive meetings, fake “perks” like free dinners and game rooms designed to keep you in the office…the cofounders of the project management software shop Basecamp aren’t having any of it.
In their latest sharply-written work manifesto, Fried and Heinmeier Hansson share their strategies for running a “calm” office instead:

Stop equating long hours with work quality, stop setting artificial goals that stress everyone out, and get rid of 99 percent of the meetings on your books.

Seems too good to be true? Turns out it works great, and they have a successful company full of happy employees to prove it. Get a copy for yourself and sneak an extra onto your manager’s desk.

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