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July 24, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 11:38am

10 books tech executives should read this summer

Hacking, spying, social media, big data and more.

By Jimmy Nicholls

Chances are you are looking forward to a few weeks away from the office this summer, but do you want to return with your brain turned to slush, or even more refined, witty and knowledgeable than before? If the answer is the latter then we have the list for you.

1. Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

Flash Boys

One might accuse Lewis of a dash of cynicism as he continues to capitalise on humanity’s long hatred of moneymen, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of this account on high frequency financial trading.

As the dust jacket puts it, Wall Street is no longer "about alpha males standing in trading pits hollering at each other", but like many other industries has been captured by nerds. But the use of computers to trade stocks in microseconds raises serious questions about the future of both finance and technology.

2. It Began with Babbage by Subrata Dasgupta

It Began with Babbage

Anyone who makes their money through advising firms on IT would do well to verse themselves in a history of computers, and this volume provides an ideal chance to revise the subject.

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Beginning with Charles Babbage, a 19th century English engineer known to some as the father of the computer, the book chronicles the history of computer science. Along the way Dasgupta emphasises the strange position the subject finds itself in, concerned more with purpose than discovery.

3. Alan Turing by Andrew Hodges

Alan Turing

This June was the 50th anniversary of the death of Alan Turing, a computer scientist whose work cracking German ciphers during the Second World War was described by Churchill as the single biggest contribution to Allied victory.

After the war he attained notoriety after being convicted for homosexuality, accepting chemical castration as an alternative to prison. As shown in this 1992 biography, the rest of his life and later death remain mysterious, but the anniversary offers a ripe excuse to revisit the work of artificial intelligence’s leading pioneer.

4. No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald

No Place to Hide

A year after the Snowden leaks one of the Guardian reporters who broke the story has laid out the saga in its entirety, as the news still causes tremors in international politics.

Greenwald has long viewed his role as something more than a journalist reporting the facts, and some will have trouble with his slanted view of events. Nonetheless there are few better sources to hear the story in detail, and anyone interested in the leaks will find the book of interest.

5. Naked Statistics by Charles Wheelan

Naked Statistics

While the description of statistics as "sexy" by Google’s chief economist Hal Varian is more hopeful than realistic, the impending advance of big data will ensure that those unversed in the subject may soon be out of a job.

This year’s primer on the topic by the author of Naked Economics may thus prove popular in the boardroom. Novices with numbers will find Wheelan’s elucidation of the basics useful and readable, though sceptics may be unconvinced by the unflinching optimism for the future for big data.

6. 500 Social Media Marketing Tips by Andrew Macarthy

500 Social Media Marketing Tips

It’s fitting that a guide on how to make the most of social media is divided into the sort of soundbites that wouldn’t be out of place on Twitter.

Readers are advised on everything from the minutiae of setting up a Facebook page to the general picture of what makes good social media marketing. YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Snapchat and Facebook are all accounted for, and the book even offers free updates and a selection of profile templates.

7. The Rise of the Humans by Dave Coplin

The Rise of the Humans

Not everyone will be enamoured by the steady encroachment of technology on our lives, a feeling that this book by Microsoft UK’s chief envisioning officer seeks to address directly.

Coplin’s fears of computers becoming akin to "information firehoses" will no doubt appeal to many, especially given the plethora of companies hawking big data software these days. On the other hand he doesn’t dismiss the potential of the technology entirely, and outlines his thoughts on how businesses can make best use of computers. Also, it’s free on Kindle.

8. Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick

Ghost in the Wires

Mitnick is among friends in the security world as a former hacker turned good, but he is one of the few who have turned their experiences into books for a popular audience.

The book follows the hacker’s years on the run from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), living under various fake identities and jobs as he continued to break into computer systems. In an era where data breaches are becoming increasingly important this insider’s account of hacking is more relevant than ever.

9. Future Perfect by Steven Johnson

Future Perfect

While the Internet of Things is already causing concerns in IT security, some only see positivity in a better connected future.

Johnson is one of those, and in this book he outlines his radical hopes for a society based on peer networks. Some will find the his optimism unconvincing, but few will dispute the challenge the internet poses to the established order.

10. Untangling the Web by Aleks Krotoski

Untangling the Web

Taking an alternative view to Johnson’s book, Krotoski investigates how the internet has already affected our lives.

Untangling the Web covers every subject from relationships to death, including the important topic of how the internet is changing our relationship to information. Krotoski’s background in social psychology makes her ideally placed to take a sober look at computers, without being quixotic or hysterical about the future.


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