Read these ten books to learn how technology shapes the world

Here are ten books which have played a crucial role in helping me understand the impact of  technology on society. Composing such a list is quite a  painful endeavor and I've had to omit several key texts by key thinkers...Perhaps, we can make up for that in the comments section: what books would you add to this list? 

So here it comes -  in no particular order:

The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom by Yochai Benkler

Benkler's seminal work that introduced the term"peer-production" to wider audiences and outlined the emerging laws of the digital economy. It's a dense book - and it certainly does not make for an easy reading - but Benkler is still the closest we have to the Marx of the Internet age. eor of "peer-production" is more complex than it appears and he does an excellent job of providing an interdisciplinary perspective...


The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World  by Larry Lessig

I think it's Lessig's best book: sharp and powerful. Legal barriers to innovation have never been outlined so clearly.

 Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule by Shanthi Kalathil and Taylor C. Boas

It's a very short book which emerged out of a 2003 study on the same subject done by experts at the Carnegie Endowment. To my knowledge, this is the first text to offer a contrarian (then) argument that the Internet may actually help to solidify - rather than undermine - authoritarian regimes.

The Gift: Creativty and the Arist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde 

Even though this book was written well before the Internet (first edition appeared in 1983), I think it is still essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the types of incentives that are driving the digital economy.

Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World by Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu

This book offers the first realistic account of the battle that is unfolding between national governments, international law, and cyber-utopians of the early 1990s. It explains why it's unlikely that Tom Friedman would ever write a book called 'Cyberspace is flat".   

Democratizing Innovation by Eric von Hippel

Even though the hype around Von Hippel's work is not as pervasive as it was two or three years ago, his book is still a must for anyone who wants to understand the ethos of any online communities - and how to make them work for you.

The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers by Tom Standage

Standage (who - full disclaimer -  still edits my occasional pieces for The Economist's Technology Quarterly) offers a contrarian view on the relative importance of the telegraph (and the relative unimportance of the Internet) seen through the prism of history.

The Myth of Digital Democracy by Matthew Hindman.

This is a very new- published just a few months ago - and still mostly underappreciated book, but I think it opens up a very important debate about the democratic nature of the Internet that we would see unfolding in the next few years. Even though it's primarily focused on the US, it does an excellent job of dispelling many of the myths about the democtratizing effect that the Web has on our public sphere.

Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
by John Robb

I'd say it's the best book to read if you want to wrap your head around the assymetry of modern cyberwarfare (that said, we DO lack good books about cyberwarfare). Even though the book is much broder in scope and mostly examines how "global guerrillas" - armed and extremely decentralized non-state groups - are rising to power, its methodology and conclusions apply to the world of cybersecurity as well.

Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge
by Cass Sunstein

It's the most optimistic (and direct) of Cass Sunstein's writings about the Web. It's an important book that added much-needed nuance to the powerful (but often overblown) arguments that Sunstein expressed in his other writings on the subject.

Photo by wonderlane/Flickr

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