For your friends and family, the right book will endure even when the latest gadgets go out of style. As for you — well, the fact that books are easy to wrap doesn’t hurt.
From art to history to philosophy, technology intersects with just about every topic out there, and there’s probably a book about it. Check out our guide to the best gifts for people with with an attention span longer than a tweet.
On art and language
1. Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, by Gretchen McCulloch
Best for: Parents who have no idea why their Gen Z kids talk the way they do.
For every criticism you hear from a grammar Nazi online, there’s a Gretchen McCulloch theory to counter it.
In her cheeky New York Times bestseller, McCulloch tracks how the internet has influenced contemporary linguistics. At the heart of her book is a simple but powerful argument: apps, mobile devices, and social platforms have empowered new forms of interaction — including memes, gifs, and emoji — that changed the way we define language.
Don’t @ me, but this is ~the~ book to read for the people wondering why the internet loves thicc corgi gifs. Got it? Gr8.
2. The Artist in the Machine: The World of AI-Powered Creativity, by Arthur I. Miller
Best for: Art lovers and recent art school graduates contemplating their future.
Technology explores possibilities through systematic approaches; art translates them into physical representation and creative expression. Arthur I. Miller, a professor of science philosophy at University College London, says artificial intelligence can do both — to a certain extent.
Artificial intelligence is reimagining art for the digital world. Today’s computers can , , and . But true creativity demands consciousness and emotions. Miller probes the nature of these two uniquely human traits, and introduces his readers to artists and computer scientists who seek to redefine them.
3. Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet, by Claire L. Evans
Best for: Hidden Figures fans and feminists.
The internet wasn’t built overnight when Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web or when Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook. There’s a whole herstory behind the internet’s success today, and Claire L. Evans pays tribute to it.
A challenge to the masculine narrative Silicon Valley has conveniently shaped for itself over the years, Evans’ book chronicles the lives and works of female pioneers in technology. She starts with the Victorian-Age mathematician , and follows the footsteps of other women who defied gender conventions to invent nascent forms of social networks and internet databases — women who helped make technology what it is today.
4. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr
Best for: Deep thinkers who think about how they think.
The internet enabled access to an unprecedented amount of information. But it certainly isn’t technology’s first attempt at mass communication. From the invention of alphabets to printmaking technologies, “tools of the mind” — as Pulitzer Prize finalist Nicholas Carr describes them — have shaped human thought for centuries.
Here, Carr takes a psychological and cultural approach to documenting intellectual history. He articulates how different forms of information technology bear different assumptions about the nature of knowledge and intelligence. Whereas the printed book assumes and empowers the capacity for creative thought and deep contemplation, the internet is designed for optimized, high-speed consumption — a manifestation of the industrialist desires and ethics of our time. The Shallows is as much about the intellectual premise of the internet as it is about the nature of the human psyche.
On social justice
5. Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, by Ruha Benjamin
Best for: Activists and tech insiders who care about creating a just future.
Jim Crow–era laws of the late 19th and early 20th centuries constructed an elaborate system of racial stratification that continues to inform racial dynamics in the U.S. today. Princeton University professor Ruha Benjamin thinks the “Jim Code” is its contemporary equivalent.
Her book is a great companion to Cathy O’Neil’s bestseller, . Benjamin shares real-life observations about the way our society increasingly turns to algorithms for automated answers and decisions, even though those algorithms are informed by social frameworks fraught with racial biases.
6. Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, by Zeynep Tufekci
Best for. 280-character poets trying to decide whether the revolution will be tweeted.
Inventors of social networks dreamed of the internet’s democratic potential. But as protesters across the world turn to social media to mobilize movements, governments and institutions also leverage their technological prowess to battle activists on all fronts.
Drawing on first-hand observations of protests across the world — the Zaptista uprisings in Mexico, the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement in New York — techno-sociology expert Zeynep Tufekci decodes the ways which social media has both bolstered momentum for social movements and exposed their vulnerabilities.
On powerful institutions
7. Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, by Mike Isaac
Best for: Curious observers of startup and labor cultures.
Mike Issac breaks down how Uber became an example of the toxic tech startup culture and a cautionary tale about the future of labor.
The award-winning New York Times technology reporter interviews hundreds of Uber’s current and past employees and obtains previously unpublished documents to craft this revealing account of Uber’s rise and fall. He details the ways which venture capitalists took over the startup unicorn, and how it waged war against taxi unions and drivers for industry dominance.
8. Permanent Record, by Edward Snowden
Best for. Cyber-skeptics who cover their laptop cameras.
The author of this memoir requires little introduction. At 29 years old, former CIA employee Edward Snowden leaked top-secret documents that revealed the National Security Agency’s involvement in a global mass surveillance program. As the intelligence community branded Snowden a traitor, disillusioned Americans questioned the integrity of their government institutions.
Six years later, Snowden reveals how he helped develop the clandestine surveillance system and why he felt compelled to expose it.
9. Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms, by Hannah Fry
Best for: Existentialists.
Hannah Fry fancies asking questions like this one: “What if you want to buy a driverless car and must choose between one programmed to save as many lives as possible and another that prioritizes the lives of its own passengers?” In Hello World, Fry reinterprets the trolley problem for our time.
As Fry looks to the future, she explores humanity in a reality where automated decisions are rendered superior to human discretion, where data and code disregard private concerns for utilitarianism, and where algorithms pit the need for empathy and compassion against the desire to achieve objective fairness. Part scientific, part philosophical, Fry’s book dissects — and attempts to offer answers for — the ethical dilemmas computers and humans alike confront as they make decisions in a world redefined by technology.
10. Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, by Cal Newport
Best for: Marie Kondo wannabes.
More often than not, the internet pushes us into a bottomless abyss of information. Some have grown to become dependent on the digital world for leisure and entertainment, others have chosen to eschew online distractions, opting instead for activities in the physical world. Cal Newport wrote this book for those who wish to be more like the latter.
Newport digs into the habits of digital minimalists, and how their practices can help readers who want to reconnect with their inner selves. He parachutes his readers into a state of mindfulness as he walks them through ways of rediscovering wonder and meaning offline.