It’s difficult not to be alive and aware anywhere in the world today without recognizing the impact of Silicon Valley on the way we live our lives. Half a century ago the Santa Clara Valley that is the heart of what we know today as Silicon Valley was purely agricultural. Orchards of apricots, cherries, prunes, almonds, and walnuts dominated the region. Today it’s best known as the place where many of the world’s most powerful high-tech companies are headquartered. Google, Apple, and Facebook are there. So are Hewlett Packard, Intel, Tesla, eBay, Cisco Systems, Oracle, Adobe, and scores of others.
Naturally, a center of power such as Silicon Valley has been the subject of countless books. Amazon lists more than 50,000. So, any effort to make a comprehensive study of the region by reading books would be futile. Instead, over the past decade, I’ve attempted to select those that showed promise of casting the brightest light on the Valley. And below I’m listing those I’ve read and rated ★★★★☆ or ★★★★★ in my reviews, beginning with the top 5.
This post was updated on April 21, 2021.
Best books about Silicon Valley: the top 5
Troublemakers: Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age by Leslie Berlin—The people who put Silicon Valley on the map
Troublemakers chronicles a critical period in the Valley’s history (1969-76). Those seven years witnessed “the most significant and diverse burst of technological innovation of the past 150 years . . . Five major industries were born: personal computing, video games, advanced semiconductor logic, modern venture capital, and biotechnology.”
“Innovation is a team sport,” Berlin writes in the introduction to her book. She makes clear that her intention is to tell the stories of more than just the usual suspects. “Troublemakers . . . feature[s] some of the most famous names in Silicon Valley history, while also profiling seven other individuals in depth.” Read the review.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou—A cautionary tale about corporate power in Silicon Valley
Bad Blood is a cautionary tale about the corrosive effects of corporate power in Silicon Valley. It’s also vivid evidence for the invaluable role played by investigative journalists, whose work constitutes one of the few checks available in our society on corporate misbehavior. The multi-billion-dollar Theranos scandal detailed in this book is the most dramatic and best-known story of corporate fraud since Enron collapsed in 2001. And the Wall Street Journal reporter who spent years bringing the Theranos story to light brilliantly deserves one of the field’s highest honors: the George Polk Award in Journalism for Financial Reporting he received in 2016. Read the review.
AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order by Kai-Fu Lee—The best book about artificial intelligence I’ve read so far
Dr. Lee’s thesis is straightforward. China is fast approaching parity with the United States “in the defining technology of the twenty-first century,” he contends. This rivalry is the focus of AI Superpowers. But the book ranges far beyond this narrow question into a carefully balanced appraisal of the field’s potential for good—and for harm. He is skeptical about the prospects for machine super-intelligence that doomsayers like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have decried. Lee doesn’t envision machines killing off the human race. Read the review.
Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart Into a Visionary Leader by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli—The new Steve Jobs biography is terrific!
This book follows by four years Walter Isaacson‘s authorized, best-selling biography, Steve Jobs, which was released just months after Jobs’ death in 2011. Becoming Steve Jobs has been enthusiastically received by the people who knew him best: those he worked with at Apple and Pixar, and his peers in Silicon Valley. By contrast, the reception in the Valley for Isaacson’s book was mixed at best, despite the rave reviews it received in all the right places (The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The Guardian, The New Yorker, and so forth). I loved it, too. But I didn’t know the man. The coauthors of this book did, and for many years. Read the review.
The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity by Amy Webb—An artificial intelligence skeptic paints a chilling picture of a future dominated by AI
If you’re looking for an expert to confirm your fears about killer robots, the grey goo problem, or robots taking all our jobs, you’re in the wrong place. Amy Webb began her career as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. She has become a widely respected futurist, author, and founder of the Future Today Institute in Philadelphia. Webb is also a professor of strategic foresight at New York University’s Stern School of Business and frequently advises corporate and government leaders. It would be hard to find a better-credentialed person to view what human society can expect from the future of artificial intelligence. That’s the subject of her superb new book, The Big Nine. Webb is tough, and highly critical at times, but her approach is well-balanced. There’s no hysteria or irrational exuberance in this book. Read the review.
Next best books about Silicon Valley
Googled: The End of the World As We Know It by Ken Auletta—Ken Auletta takes us behind the scenes at an extraordinary company
Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley by Antonio Garcia Martinez—Confessions of a Silicon Valley techie
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson—The Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs
Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet by Yasha Levine—Shocking revelations: the secret military history of the Internet
The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone by Brian Merchant—The iPhone: the world’s most profitable product?
Genius Makers: The Mavericks Who Brought AI to Google, Facebook, and the World by Cade Metz—Teaching machines to make sense of the world
The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World by Brad Stone—Uber, Airbnb, and the sharing economy
Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World by Clive Thompson—Women programmers, blue-collar coders, and the world they’re building
The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future by Vivek Wadwa and Alex Salkever—An authoritative look at technology’s potential
Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener—An insightful Silicon Valley memoir
The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age by Tim Wu—It’s time for antitrust: break up big corporations to restore democracy
For further reading
If you look on reading the best books about Silicon Valley as a starting point for a broader inquiry, you might also be interested in:
- Two dozen good books about artificial intelligence reviewed here;
- My 10 favorite books about business history (plus dozens of others); and
- 20 good nonfiction books about the future (plus lots of science fiction).
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.