Reading list

The primary goal of Tech Won’t Save Us is to inform listeners about the tech industry (and hopefully to expand their sense of possibility) through conversations with informed and expert guests. But there are more ways to learn than weekly podcast episodes, and many of those interviews are based on much more in-depth books.

This list is far from comprehensive, but hopefully it will provide you with a starting point to explore alternative, critical, and historical perspectives on technology and the tech industry. It focuses on books, but occasionally provides links to other essays and media if you want to learn more.

Some notes before you start looking:

History | Around the world | Cities and transport | Critical insights | Workers and the economy | Companies and CEOs | Social media | Media and culture | Coming soon

Some of our favorites

The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology

Langdon Winner | 1986

Originally published in 1986, Langdon Winner’s essential exploration of the politics and social implications of technology was rereleased in 2020 because it remains a key text for understanding the problems we face today. He asserts that technical decisions are political decisions, and the technical systems we build have significant consequences for how we live and the world we want to create.

Buy it from Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

Also by the author: “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” and Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought.

Progress Without People: New Technology, Unemployment, and the Message of Resistance

David F. Noble | 1995

The ideology of technological progress makes us believe that technological advances deliver social progress, and that lulls working people into accepting technologies that reduce their power. David Noble demonstrates how capitalism (and, in particular, the military) shapes the technologies that are developed to privilege those that increase control and disempower workers, even when they are less profitable than those that would do otherwise. There is a clear need to learn from the Luddites to challenge that state of affairs.

Buy it from Between the Lines or Chapters Indigo.

Also by the author: “Present Tense Technology” (One/Two/Three) and Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation.

Abolish Silicon Valley: How to Liberate Technology from Capitalism

Wendy Liu | 2020

One of the most impactful technology books published in the past few years. Wendy Liu uses her story of being a believer in the promise of Silicon Valley and how that faith began to unravel to outline the serious problems with the tech industry and its model. Instead of leaving it on that note, Liu uses her technical background and socialist leanings to reenvision how technological development could proceed to serve the public instead of the shareholders.

Buy it from Repeater Books, Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

See also: Uncanny Valley (US/UK/CA) by Anna Wiener.

Automation and the Future of Work

Aaron Benanav | 2020

In the 2010s, it was common to hear claims that automation was going to replace many of our jobs, leaving us destitute or with unparalleled leisure time. Aaron Benanav delivers a corrective to those assumptions with an analysis of how automation is actually being used in the global economy. Yet that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a positive future to be had; it may even be better to the fully automated utopia we were previously sold.

Buy it from Verso Books, Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

Also by this author: part one and two of his series in the New Left Review, and “How to Make a Pencil” in Logic Magazine.

Too Smart: How Digital Capitalism is Extracting Data, Controlling Our Lives, and Taking Over the World

Jathan Sadowski | 2020

It feels like smart technologies are being built into every facet of society, but is the tradeoff really worth it? Jathan Sadowski performs an informative analysis of the impact of these technologies on our cities, our homes, and ourselves — and his findings should leave us worried about what the future holds. Smart technologies are expanding technocratic power, and we need to get control of them before it’s too late.

Buy it from Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

See also: episode 44 with Salomé Viljoen.

Future Histories: What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Can Teach Us about Digital Technology

Lizzie O'Shea | 2019

It’s no secret that Silicon Valley is far more focused on the future than the past, but that’s the wrong approach for those trying to gain a critical understanding of the tech industry and how we might think of how to use it in a better way. In an essential contribution, Lizzie O’Shea looks backward to unearth a “useable past” to help inspire how we think about a digital future.

Buy it from Verso Books, Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

History

From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism

Fred Turner | 2006

How did computers go from being tools of the military-industrial complex to the bringers of personal empowerment and digital utopia? Fred Turner tells the story of the network that Stewart Brand built around the Whole Earth Catalog in the 1960s and the influential role it played in shaping the politics of the personal computer, and later the internet. It’s an important narrative in understanding the cyberlibertarian ideology, and how countercultural ideas are repurposed to get people to buy into a neoliberal technological politcs.

Buy it from Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

See also: “The Californian Ideology” by Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron; and “Cyberlibertarian Myths and the Prospects for Community” by Langdon Winner.

The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America

Margaret O’Mara | 2019

Silicon Valley tends to have an aversion to its own history, preferring its collective myths that emphasize entrepreneurship and market competition. Margaret O’Mara peels back the curtain on that history, from the essential role of the federal government in subsidizing the growth of its high-tech industry to the influence of powerful institutions like the Pentagon and Stanford University in shaping what it became. O’Mara presents so many rich details and stories that fill out our understanding of the tech industry and the crucial moments that made it what it is today.

Buy it from Bookshop US, or Chapters Indigo.

See also: Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128 by AnnaLee Saxenian.

The Promise of Access: Technology, Inequality, and the Political Economy of Hope

Daniel Greene | 2021

Is technology a solution to poverty? Quite simply: no. Daniel Greene digs into the reframing of poverty policy as technology policy from the 1990s through to the present, illustrating how it was part of a neoliberal policy to gut the welfare state and expand the carceral state. But presenting technology as the solution has also had consequences for libraries, schools, cities, and the people these policies are supposed to help.

Buy it from Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

Space Forces: A Critical History of Life in Outer Space

Fred Scharmen | 2021

With billionaires blasting off to (the edge of) space and telling us our future is in the stars, it’s a good time to remember the roots of these ideas. Fred Scharmen unearths the visions of the Russian Cosmists of the 1890s, Nazi-turned-NASA engineer Wernher von Braun, Stewart Brand-affiliated physicist Gerard O’Neill, and many others to show how others have imagined life in space. But in the process, he makes connections to what’s happening today, and questions whether the path the billionaires are leading us down is the only one available to us.

Buy it from Verso Books, Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

See also: Dark Skies: Space Expansionism, Planetary Geopolitics, and the Ends of Humanity by Daniel Deudney and episode 54 with Manu Saadia.

Around the world

Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende's Chile

Eden Medina | 2011

In 1970, Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile, ushering in not only a (short) socialist experiment, but also a cybernetic one. Eden Medina tells the story of how Chile’s socialist government worked with British theorist Stafford Beer to try to build Project Cybersyn: a computer system to manage Chile’s economy. The project was never completed, as Allende was overthrown in a CIA-backe coup in 1973, but Medina explains how it holds lesson for the relationship between politics and technology.

Buy it from Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet

Benjamin Peters | 2016

Why did the United States build the internet instead of the Soviet Union? Benjamin Peters provides a fascinating dive into the history of Soviet cybernetics and attempts to realize civilian network projects for information distribution and economic planning. Peters contends the Soviet failure to build such a network was not due to a communist economic system, but rather bureaucratic infighting, whereas the United States shielded the ARPANET from market forces and provided reliable state subsidies. As he puts it, “The capitalists behaved like socialists while the socialists behaved like capitalists.”

Buy it from Bookshop US or Chapters Indigo.

Minitel: Welcome to the Internet

Kevin Driscoll and Julien Mailland | 2017

A decade before the internet, there was Minitel: a French computer network that rapidly gained widespread adoption as the government offered every telephone subscriber a free terminal. Kevin Driscoll and Julien Mailland explore its impact on French society as a whole range of digital services became accessible, but also what the comparison to Minitel can teach us about the internet that so many more of us use today.

Buy it from Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

See also: the Minitel Research Lab.

Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing

Mar Hicks | 2017

How did the United Kingdom go from leading the world in electric computing to losing that dominant position in the 1970s? Mar Hicks digs into the history of the government neglected the skilled workforce that did that work because they were women as it become more of a male industry. Not only does it reveal the falsehood of technocratic meritocracy, but also presents a warning for the United States in the present.

Buy it from Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside

Xiaowei R. Wang | 2020

A wonderful exploration of the political and social aspects of technology in rural China. Xiaowei Wang tells the stories of how rural Chinese communities are utilizing new technologies, and how their day-to-day lives are being altered as global supply chains reach beyond its big cities and factories into the countryside. At a moment when there’s a push for an antagonistic relationship with China, Wang’s book shows us just how connected we are to the country and its people.

Buy it from Bookshop US or Chapters Indigo.

See also: episode 30 with JS Tan.

Cities and transport

Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars?: Transit in the Age of Google, Uber, and Elon Musk

James Wilt | 2019

The tech industry is supposedly ushering in “three revolutions” in automative transportation, but will that really improve the mobility of most people? In the face of these promises, James Wilt makes the case for a different future of transportation: one oriented around public transit that is both equitable and sustainable.

Buy it from: Between the Lines, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life

Adam Greenfield | 2017

Adam Greenfield’s book goes beyond cities and looks more broadly about the ways that Silicon Valley is trying to remake the way that we live in their interests. The book is filled with essential insights, including important points on smart cities, predictive policing algorithms, and the orientation of tech companies to urban space. As we reconsdier our relationship to technology, we should learn the lessons of Greenfield’s analyses.

Buy it from: Verso Books, Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

Also by the author: Against the smart city.

A City is Not a Computer: Other Urban Intelligences

Shannon Mattern | 2021

Throughout history, many metaphors have been used to describe the city and its systems. Shannon Mattern unpacks what we can learn from that history and what’s wrong with conceiving of the city through a computerized lens. There are many more intelligences present within the city, and they shouldn’t be pushed aside for the narrow algorithmic approach of the “smart” city.

Buy it from: Princeton University Press, Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

Critical insights

Your Computer Is on Fire

Thomas S. Mullaney, Benjamin Peters, Mar Hicks, Kavita Philip (eds.) | 2021

A fantastic collection of critical essays by some of the best scholars in the field that force us to pay attention to the serious problems with how we think about technology and that are being created by our technological systems. Their goal is to provide a wake-up call, and even if you just pick out a few of the chapters that you find most appealing, you’ll feel it — and want to read the rest.

Buy it from Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code

Ruha Benjamin | 2019

By now most people are familiar with how facial recognition systems discriminate against Black people, but the degree of inequity and racial bias built into our technical systems doesn’t stop there. Ruha Benjamin argues that we face a “New Jim Code” as a result of these racist technologies. She seeks to give listeners the tools not just to identify them, but to oppose them and consider how things could be better.

Buy it from Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

What Tech Calls Thinking: An Inquiry Into the Intellectual Bedrock of Silicon Valley

Adrian Daub | 2020

There’s no doubt that influential people in the tech industry think they have the answers to what ails society, but how should we understand their worldview? Adrian Daub dissects the ideas espoused by Silicon Valley’s thought leaders, and traces them back to their source to dispel any notion we have about their originality or seriousness.

Buy it from Bookshop US or Chapters Indigo.

The Innovation Delusion: How Our Obsession With the New Has Disrupted the Work That Matters Most

Lee Vinsel and Andrew L. Russell | 2020

Silicon Valley tells us we need constant innovation and disruption to make the world better, but is that the reality? Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell call that ideology into question, and demonstrate how the tech industry’s approach to “innovation” is actually bad for society is a whole host of ways. Instead, the call for us to invest much more in the unsexy maintenance and upkeep of the infrastructures and public goods we rely on instead of falling for the big promises that new technologies can solve our problems.

Buy it from Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

Politics of Bitcoin: Software as Right-Wing Extremism

David Golumbia | 2016

The crypto industry may have soared during the pandemic, but its future is not one we should welcome with open arms. In the face of that excitement, David Golumbia’s attempt to outline the politics embedded within the technology and champion by its creators and biggest boosters is an essential book to return to.

Buy it from University of Minnesota Press, Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

See also: “Old Utopias, New Tax Havens:: The Politics of Bitcoin in Historical Perspective” by Stephen Eich, the work of David Gerard, The Crypto Syllabus, and Web3 is going just great.

Platform Socialism: How to Reclaim our Digital Future from Big Tech

James Muldoon | 2022

The platforms through which we live so much our digital — and increasingly physical — lives are controlled by a small number of major corporations and that gives them enormous power over us — but does it have to be that way? James Muldoon lays out an alternative vision: one of a digital economy that is designed not for profit and control, but collective prosperity and human flourishing. It’s a world we should strive toward.

Buy it from Pluto Press, Bookshop US, or Bookshop UK.

Companies and CEOs

The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone

Brian Merchant | 2017

The iPhone has transformed how we interact with digital technology and internet, but how did it come to be? Brian Merchant tells the long story of the iPhone’s development, including where many of its key technologies came from, but also of its production. The latter parts takes him both to minig sites and Foxconn’s biggest factory in Shenzhen. It’s the essential story of the iPhone, with the pieces Apple would prefer we didn’t know or remember.

Buy it from Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

See also: Dying for an iPhone: Apple, Foxconn, and The Lives of China’s Workers (US/UK) by Jenny Chan, Mark Selden, and Pun Ngai

Bit Tyrants: The Political Economy of Silicon Valley

Rob Larson | 2020

All the tech giants have their preferred mythologies and origin stories, but that doesn’t mean we have to believe them. Rob Larson tells the stories that Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon don’t want you to know. Then, when you despise the Big Five even more, he makes the case for a digital socialist alternative.

Buy it from Haymarket Books, Bookshop US, or Chapters Indigo.

Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber

Mike Isaac | 2019

Uber today operates in cities around the world, but its reputation has taken a hit from the days when it was considered by many as simply a cheap and reliable taxi-like service. Mike Isaac builds on his years of reporting on the company to tell the full story and the terrible consequences of its founders push for rapid growth at all costs. After all the promises of how Uber would improve mobility, it hasn’t delivered, despite an enormous cost.

Buy it from Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

See also: “Words Matter: How Tech Media Helped Write Gig Companies into Existence” by Sam Harnett and “The Drive to Precarity: A Political History of Work, Regulation, & Labor Advocacy in San Francisco's Taxi & Uber Economies” by Veena Dubal.

The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley’s Pursuit of Power

Max Chafkin | 2021

Peter Thiel has been an influential figure in Silicon Valley for decades, but he’s been getting more public attention for publicly backing Donald Trump. In this thoroughly researched biography, Max Chafin charts Thiel’s trajectory, including his days as a right-wing provocateur at Stanford to building a base of power at PayPal. The story he tells is not only one about a libertarian billionaire, but about a politics that isn’t as foreign to Silicon Valley as it may sometimes seem.

Buy it from Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

See also: episode 105 with Moira Weigel.

Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors

Edward Niedermeyer | 2019

The hype around Tesla has been central to the creation of the myth of Elon Musk as a great innovator and driver of progress. In this deep dive into the company, Edward Niedermeyer lays bare the many problems, deceptions, and flaws with the company and its products that get overlooked. It provides essential insight as Musk’s credibility increasingly comes into question.

Buy it from: BenBella Books, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

Workers and the economy

Breaking Things At Work: The Luddites Were Right about Why You Hate Your Job

Gavin Mueller | 2021

Being a Luddite is often associated with being backward or in opposition to progress, but that’s a misconception of what the Luddites represent that serves capitalists, particularly those in the tech industry. Gavin Mueller looks back at that history to show the long antagonistic relationship between workers and new technologies. He argues that workers today need to learn from the example of the Luddites, and shows there are many who are already doing it.

Buy it from Verso Books, Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

See also: Zachary Loeb’s review.

Work Without the Worker: Labour in the Age of Platform Capitalism

Phil Jones | 2021

The world around us appears to be increasingly automated and we’re told new technologies will increasingly replace workers at their jobs. Phil Jones complicates that picture by looking behind the curtain of these supposedly automated solutions to see the workers who power the algorithms and artificial intelligence that gets presented as the work of a computer. This future of work isn’t one where we don’t labor at all, but rather one where is even more precarious, low-paid, and devoid of any protections.

Buy it from Verso Books, Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

See also: Sleep Dealer, directed by Alex Rivera.

Riding for Deliveroo: Resistance in the New Economy

Callum Cant | 2019

Gig companies claim their apps provide workers an unprecedented level of flexibility and a good living, but what is life like under the tyranny of the algorithm? Callum Cant tells the story of food delivery workers in Deliveroo from the angles of a worker and a researcher to show how these companies control their workers. But that power is not absolute. Cant explains how workers fought back, and how the technology could be reoriented toward positive social uses.

Buy it from Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

Platform Capitalism

Nick Srnicek | 2016

In recent years, it seems that every company wants to find a way to become a platform. Nick Srnicek provides the essential breakdown of platform capitalism, including what constitues a platform, the history of how we arrived at this point, and the problems they introduce to building a better future. To challenge it, we first need to understand it.

Buy it from Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

Social media

Lurking: How a Person Became a User

Joanne McNeil | 2020

In this wonderful personal history of the internet, Joanne McNeil examines the reasons people came online in the first place and how digital life has evolved since those early days. McNeil tells the stories of widely known websites, but also those that have been largely forgotten to time, and asks us to consider how things could have been different.

Buy it from Bookshop US or Chapters Indigo.

The Twittering Machine

Richard Seymour | 2019

Over a decade into this experiment, what have been the consequences of the social industry? Richard Seymour digs into the structure of these platforms and incentives behind them, along with the calamities that have emerged from their near-ubiquitous position in our lives. This book delivers a wake-up call for our relationship with social media.

Buy it from Verso Books, Bookshop US, or Chapters Indigo.

Distributed Blackness: African American Cybercultures

André Brock Jr. | 2020

A fascinating exploration of how Black people express themselves and their culture online. André Brock Jr. explores the platforms and practices that have been central to African American internet use, and demonstrates that blackness is not a subculture but central to social media platforms. One of Brock’s focuses is the sense of joy and community that comes from being Black online.

Read it open access from NYU Press or buy it from Bookshop US.

Subprime Attention Crisis: Advertising and the Time Bomb at the Heart of the Internet

Tim Hwang | 2020

It’s not an exaggeration to say that much of the internet depends on advertising, but the way it’s developed has created massive vulnerabilities. Tim Hwang details how online advertising — largely thanks to Google — financialized attention by copying the stock market and how that’s created a massive bubble as ads don’t deliver the clicks and engagement they’re supposed to. If (or when) that bubble pops, there will be big consequences for the web as we know it.

Buy it from Bookshop US or Chapters Indigo.

Media and culture

Netflix Nations: The Geography of Digital Distribution

Ramon Lobato | 2019

The shift to streaming services lke Netflix has taken television away from national broadcasters and increasingly placed it within the realm of regional or global internet services. Ramon Lobato examines the implications of this change for television viewers in different countries around the world, existing media institutions, and the distribution of media in the internet age.

Buy it from NYU Press, Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

See also: Portals: A Treatise on Internet-Distributed Television by Amanda Lotz and Platform Power and Policy in Transforming Television Markets by Tom Evens and Karen Donders.

Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon

Mark McGurl | 2021

Today Amazon is a monopoly whose reach spreads into many industries, but it began as a bookseller, and over the past nearly three decades it’s reshaped the book industry and the novels that come out of it. Mark McGurl maps the evolution of fiction and the consumerist logic driving ongoing changes to how and what we read.

Buy it from Verso Books, Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age

Astra Taylor | 2014

The internet has traditionally been hailed as an empowering medium that allows us to equally express ourselves and capitalize on our creative passions in an unprecedented way. Astra Taylor challenges these assumptions, showing how inequality is amplified in the digital arena and a new group of “gatekeepers” from Silicon Valley have arisen to join the film, publishing, and music oligopolies. Taylor reinforces the reality that technology alone does not deliver a better world.

Buy it from Bookshop US or Chapters Indigo.

See also: “Digital Proudhonism” by Gavin Mueller.

The Circle of the Snake: Nostalgia and Utopia in the Age of Big Tech

Grafton Tanner | 2020

Nostalgia is a dominant force in Western culture as people look for comfort in an increasingly troubling present, but corporations are seizing on that trend for their own gain. Grafton Tanner outlines how the attention economy weaponizes nostalgia to keep us locked in feedback loops that feed their need for engagement, and how that can have serious consequences for society.

Buy it from Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

Coming soon

Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation

Paris Marx | July 2022

The first book from the host of Tech Won’t Save Us. Over the past decade, Silicon Valley has promised new technologies would solve longstanding transportation problems, but those solutions have continually failed to deliver. Through an exploration of the history of transportation and a critical analysis of everything from electric vehicles to self-driving cars, Paris Marx demonstrates the problems inherent to these techno-optimistic plans, and why the only real solution is a collective one.

Preorder it from Verso Books, Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

Internet for the People: The Fight for Our Digital Future

Ben Tarnoff | June 2022

The internet is broken, and that’s because it’s run by private firms that need to turn a profit. In 1995, the internet was privatized, and Ben Tarnoff argues that was a terrible mistake. He outlines the history of privatization, the effects its had, and makes the case for a radical solution: its deprivatization.

Preorder it from Verso Books, Bookshop US, Bookshop UK, or Chapters Indigo.

Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech

Brian Merchant | 2022

There are a lot of misconceptions about the Luddites, and as the term gets used with more frequency (including on this podcast!), it’s time for us to understand that history and what lessons it holds for the present. Brian Merchant tells the story of what happened the first time machines came for humans, how they responded, and what their story tels us about the threat of Big Tech. Brian has been on the show multiple times, and his book should be at the top of your list for 2022.

Preorder it from Bookshop US or Chapters Indigo.

Terraform: Watch/Worlds/Burn

Brian Merchant and Claire L. Evans (eds.) | August 2022

VICE’s speculative fiction vertical Terraform is publishing its first ever anthology, and its stories are sure to force you think about the technologies that surround us and where they might be taking us in a new way.

Preorder it from Bookshop US or Chapters Indigo.