Facebook to Bauhaus: 2020’s best tech books

Looking for a great book to bury yourself in as we escape the closing days of a pretty terrible year? Whether you’re looking for one for yourself or a gift for a fellow tech lover, 2020 had no shortage of great titles.

Here are our choices for the best tech books of 2020.

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Best tech books of 2020

Facebook: The Inside Story by Steven Levy

Inside the doors of the biggest social media giant.
Photo: Blue Rider Press

Here’s my short, five-word review of Facebook: The Inside Story: “It’s Steven Levy’s new book.” For my money (which this book got on launch day), Levy is the best popular writer about the tech industry. He’s got the perfect balance of writing chops, a great ear for anecdotes, and shed-loads of industry knowledge so you can never accuse him of being a solid journalist from another field dipping his toe into tech.

Any book by Levy is worth a read (his one on the making of the Macintosh is a genuine classic if you’re looking for an Apple book). Here, however, he turns his attention to the story of Facebook. It’s very compelling, even if you feel like you’ve followed the Facebook story in detail over the years. Levy gets plenty of inside access, but this is far from a hagiography content to sing the company’s praises at every turn. Really compelling stuff.

Buy it from: Amazon

No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram by Sarah Frier

Want to know how Instagram became so insanely big?
Photo: Cornerstone Digital

Speaking of Facebook, No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram covers one of the companies owned by Facebook that has triggered the current governmental quest to break up the social media giant. This book charts the rise of the astonishingly popular photo-sharing social network Instagram. You get plenty of behind-the-scenes information about the service’s creation, rise and eventual sale to Facebook (and beyond). But the book also delivers some incisive analysis of why Instagram became so popular. A great achievement.

Buy it from: Amazon

A World Without Work by Daniel Susskind

How will AI affect employment?
Photo: Metropolitan Books

The biggest immediate question hanging over artificial intelligence isn’t that of general intelligence, the point at which machines get smarter than we are. Instead, it’s this: What are robots going to do to the jobs of millions of people around the world? Economist and policy adviser Daniel Susskind tackles that question in his thought-provoking and well-researched book on the topic, A World Without Work. Technological unemployment is a big question and it deserves a serious, reasoned answer. Susskind provides it.

Buy it from: Amazon

Samsung Rising by Geoffrey Cain

How Apple pushed Samsung to be No. 1.
Image: Currency

Everyone reading this knows Samsung. But how much do you know about Samsung? If you’re anything like me, the answer is: not quite as much as you think. Samsung Rising, Cain’s page-turner of a book, traces the company’s history from dried fish retailer in the 1930s to the almost unimaginable tech giant it is today.

There’s loads of behind-the-scenes skullduggery here, along with plenty about Samsung’s ongoing battle with Apple to build the world’s best smartphone. It’s a compelling read. Of every book on this list, Samsung Rising is the one I devoured the fastest. And that’s not due to it being a short book.

Buy it from: Amazon

Blockchain Democracy by William Magnuson

How blockchain changed the world.
Photo: Cambridge University Press

The blockchain, as Ron Burgundy would say, is a big deal. In Blockchain Democracy, William Magnuson traces the roots of this idea from bitcoin innovator Satoshi Makamoto to the present day. I’m a sucker for books about the way technology and society affect one another. The rise of blockchain as an alternative tool for everything from financial systems to government is a fascinating case study.

Buy it from: Amazon

Home Computers: 100 Icons That Defined a Digital Generation by Alex Wiltshire

Take a stroll down memory lane.
Photo: MIT Press

I love cutting-edge technology. But I like the history of technology even more. This book from MIT Press offers a gorgeous look back at 100 vintage computers that shaped the tech world as we know it. Alongside behind-the-scenes information and factoids on each machine, you get prints ads, instruction manuals, product packaging and newly commissioned photos of the machines in all their glory.

Home Computers: 100 Icons That Defined a Digital Generation documents the usual suspects, from the Commodore 64 and TRS-80 to the Apple Lisa. However, the book also delves into oddities like the BT Tonto and the Pet 8032. The picks are from the 1970s and ’80s, so don’t go into this expecting an entry on the brand-new Apple Silicon-powered MacBook Air. But if the idea of a nostalgic (and information-packed) history of early personal computers appeals to you, this is about as well done as you could possibly hope for.

Buy it from: Amazon

Lurking: How a Person Became a User by Joanne McNeil

Great cover. Excellent book.
Photo: MCD

If I were going to buy Apple CEO Tim Cook a Christmas gift, I might be tempted to buy him Lurking: How a Person Became a User (and all I want in return is for him to spend an equal percentage of his annual earnings on me). Written by technology critic Joanne McNeil, the book charts the evolution of online life from its early days to now. It’s a fascinating read that’s especially good on social networks and the way the internet has commodified our personal data (which, given his focus on privacy at Apple, is the main reason I’d give this to Cook).

The way that identities have been shaped by the evolution of the internet — from its utopian early idealism to, well, whatever the hell life online is best described as here in 2020 — is a complex subject. McNeil asks all the right questions and provides some compelling answers.

Buy it from: Amazon

iBauhaus by Nicholas Fox Weber

iBauhaus: iPhone as the embodiment of Bauhaus ideals and design.
Photo: Luke Dormehl/Cult of Mac

This is the biggest oddity on this list. I suspect that nine out of 10 (or maybe even 99 out of 100 people) will skip over it. But that one out of 10 (or 100) will really like it. iBauhaus, written by art expert Nicholas Fox Weber, is all about the iPhone as the epitome of “Bauhaus ideas and design.” Bauhaus was a German art movement that combined the fine arts with crafts, the practical with the aesthetically pleasing.

Through a series of illustrated, essay-like chapters, this book details how the iPhone reflects these ideals in everything from its physical form factor to its software interface. It’s not your average Apple book. But if you’re a fan of both Apple and thought-provoking art criticism, it’s a compelling volume.

Buy it from: Amazon