So much to read, so little time — right? Here is a list of some of the books that were released this year, and that kept us occupied during long commutes, plane rides, and downtime (what little of it we do get). We’d love to know what’s on your night stand, so if you have any suggestions of your own, be sure to share them in the comments.
And when you're done here, be sure to check out our book reviews, including Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick and William L. Simon.
Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America
Portfolio / Penguin, 292 pages
This is the story of Nintendo, as told through the "life" of Mario. Yes — that Mario. Part video game history and part cultural analysis, we could see how non-geek-types might grow tired of some of the technical details as the thing goes on. That said, we know that you're not a non-geek-type (why else would you be here?) so we think you'll enjoy this one quite a bit. Probably not the definitive look at the game company, but certainly enjoyable.
Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State
Dana Priest and William M. Arkin
Little, Brown and Company, 294 pages
This book about the rise of the contemporary American security state is both fascinating and frightening. If you want to fully appreciate the many ways that the US is becoming more akin to something from the fiction of William Gibson (or Franz Kafka), you’ll have to learn about things like GEOINT, CENTCOM, NSA, and JCITA. Luckily, the authors provide a glossary.
Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy
Pantheon Books, 290 pages
Robert Neuwirth calls the informal economy, "System D." The term is taken from the French word debrouillard, someone who is able to adapt to any situation. In common usage, a debrouillard can be an unlicensed street vendor, importer of counterfeit goods, a taxi service ("jitney," as they say in Pittsburgh), or anything else that is needed by people that regulated services can’t (or won’t) provide. Stealth of Nations serves as a sort of informal travelogue among the informal — but no less neccessary — back channels of the global economy.
Idea Man: A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft
Portfolio / Penguin, 358 pages
Like a lot of biographies, Paul Allen’s book starts strong and then loses focus around the time he makes some serious money and finds himself in a pick-up band with Jonny Lang and Mick Jagger. Still, for an early and intimate look into Microsoft, this book is indispensable.
World Wide Mind: The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines, and the Internet
Free Press, 242 pages
Michael Chorost is one of those people able to draw connections between disparate areas of knowledge, and this whirlwind journey through optogenetics, interface design, information science, and much more, posits a coming time when people can connect their minds to the internet, perhaps forming a sort of "global brain." It’s fascinating stuff, but a word of warning: the author’s visit to some sort of California encounter group (and the nudity that ensued) might make you a little uncomfortable.
The God Species: Saving the Planet in the Age of Humans
National Geographic, 280 pages
The God Species is one of those books that we’ve seen a lot of lately — both thrilling in its scope and frightening in its predictions (Stuart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline also comes to mind). Want a really good look at the science behind climate change, ocean acidification, and biodiversity? This will do the trick. But it will probably freak you out as well.
In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives
Simon & Schuster, 432 pages
Take two geniuses and add an unwavering faith in "the algorithm," and you get statements like this: "The basic premise of social networking — that a personal recommendation from a friend was more valuable than all of human wisdom, as represented by Google Search — was viewed with horror at Google." In The Plex is an unparalleled look at the company that's revolutionized how we use the internet, and it offers a glimpse into the future of the search giant.
Keyboard Presents: The Evolution of Electronic Dance Music
Edited by Peter Kirn
BackBeat Books, 229 pages
Electronic music performance and production are areas where art intersects with geekery, and if you've got a foot in either camp you might want to check this one out. Sure, hardware is covered, but it's the interviews (culled from the pages of Remix and Keyboard magazines) that really got us excited. Featuring Front 242, The Orb, Chemical Brothers, Juan Atkins, Richie Hawtin, and more, this book is a fun reminder that you can't spell "techno" without "tech."