Geeks and books go together like athletes and balls, but just as there are different sports, there are different types of geek reading. We’ve put together a top-10 list of books on a wide spectrum of geeky topics, all published over the past year.
Some of these picks should help you prepare for what promises to be a … well, let’s call it an “interesting” year for geeks and everyone else. Others will provide an opportunity for respite and reflection, with a few geeky tweaks.
In addition to the list you see here, check out our list of 21 science books for the holidays in 2016, plus this year’s top five reads from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. And don’t be surprised if some of these top 10 for 2017 end up on Gates’ reading list during the coming year.
‘Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines and Habits of Billionaires, Icons and World-Class Performers’: Tech investor/author/podcaster Timothy Ferriss pulls together words of wisdom from interviews he’s conducted with celebrities, entrepreneurs … and yes, titans of industry. Here’s an example from Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and now serves as Donald Trump’s top tech adviser: “If you have a 10-year plan of how to get somewhere, you should ask: Why can’t you do this in six months?” Perfect to read while you’re waiting to meet with your new angel investor. And for what it’s worth, GeekWire Deals has a “Tools of Titans” giveaway going on.
‘Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age’: Veteran Seattle biotech journalist Luke Timmerman chronicles the complicated life of Leroy Hood, who pioneered DNA sequencing, went on to the University of Washington and the Institute for Systems Biology, and co-founded Arivale, an innovative personal health startup. GeekWire co-founder and editor Todd Bishop says the book is “not just a historical record but a foundation for understanding breakthroughs still to come.”
‘I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life’: Science writer Ed Yong’s book about microbes and how they basically rule the biosphere is one book that we know for sure is on Bill Gates’ reading list. It’s also recommended in our holiday book guide, so you have no excuse. But if you’ve already read “I Contain Multitudes,” here’s an alternate selection: “This Is Your Brain on Parasites”‘
‘Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art’: Can the Internet and smartphone apps evoke sentiments on a scale with Nabokov and Nietzsche? They do for New York Times Magazine writer Virginia Heffernan. She’s been documenting the Internet’s development for decades, yet still manages to bring a beginner’s mind to the task. “Tentatively, avidly, or kicking and screaming, nearly 2 billion of us have taken up residence on the Internet, and we’re still adjusting to it,” she writes. Alternate selection: “The Jazz of Physics.”
‘The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter’: One of the lessons of the past year is that physical storefronts still matter, even for an online retail juggernaut like Seattle’s own Amazon. David Sax, who writes about business and culture for Bloomberg Businessweek, The New Yorker and other publications, tells the stories of innovators who take advantage of “analog” tools ranging from pen and paper, to board games and vinyl records, to brick and mortar.
‘The Terranauts’: T.C. Boyle’s latest novel plays to one of his favorite themes: how human foibles come to the fore despite our (seemingly) best intentions. The setting is based on the real-life Biosphere 2 project in Arizona, but Boyle turns the dial up to 11 with withering wit. It’s easy to imagine this saga of grand ideals, backstabbing and sexual politics taking place on Mars someday. (And in case you’re wondering, T.C. is no close relative of mine.)
‘How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race and the Birth of Private Spaceflight’: Bay Area journalist Julian Guthrie tells the story of space commercialization mostly from the perspective of XPRIZE entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, but you’ll also find revelations about the longstanding space ambitions of SpaceX founder Elon Musk, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Virgin founder Richard Branson. Even space geek Stephen Hawking weighs in with an afterword. Alternate selection: “What’s It Like in Space? Stories From Astronauts Who’ve Been There.”
‘The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It’: The next four years could be a rocky time for science, based on President-elect Donald Trump’s picks and pronouncements. Trump has said climate change is a hoax, Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s views on evolution are murky at best, and Trump’s choice for budget chief has questioned the need for government-funded research. For years, Shawn Lawrence Otto has kept his eye on the intersection of science and politics as a co-founder of ScienceDebate.org. Otto’s book on the subject, “The War on Science,” is a more urgent read now than it was when it was published in May.
‘The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture’: What’s a list of geek books without a nod to comic-book culture? Sure, there are plenty of compendiums out there, such as “Marvel: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know,” but the thoughtful comic-book nerd will gravitate toward this meta-saga about the Batman saga and what it says about American society, written by NPR book critic Glen Weldon.
‘Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses From Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets”: Tyler Nordgren, an astronomer who’s also an artist and an author, gets you ready for next year’s total solar eclipse. On Aug. 21, totality will be visible from a tiny slice of the United States stretching from the Oregon coast to South Carolina. Even if you’re content with the partial phase, which will be visible everywhere in the Lower 48, Nordgren’s book will give you a sense of the awesomeness and geekery behind the eclipse.