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From Amazon to Zuckerberg: My A-Z of Christmas reading

Chistmas is coming and hopefully its bringing gift tokens with and if it does, why not settle down with one of these tech books?
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

The festive break is one of the few chances many of us get to catch up on reading; here's a few recommendations from me based on what I've been reading this year, and some more from further back...

The Everything store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon Brad Stone

(Bantam Press, £18.99  Little, Brown and Company, $30) 

What started out as a bookshop (well, not exactly since founder Jeff Bezos tried other lines before settling on books) had mushroomed into the true Everything store with that capital E.

Or at least, that is what Bezos wants to make it. Brad Stone's book is a great read for anyone curious about Amazon, Bezos and the company's future. It is worth the read and you don't have to be hooked on books to enjoy it. As you will learn, for Bezos books always were just the first step. By the time he is finished we may all be Amazon customers.

You can read my full review of the book here.

The Black Swan: The impact of the Highly Improbable Nassim Nicholas Taleb

(Penguin, £9.99 Random House, $17.00)

Okay, it's not new: The Black Swan was first published in 2007 and re-issued in a new edition in 2010 - and it is not, strictly speaking, about technology per se, but there are two good reasons for including it here.

Firstly, it is a cracking good read. Taleb's theory, in a nutshell, is that we tend to believe that life is fairly predictable and follows fairly predictable lines. From time to time, events can shake that comfortable predictability, but we, as humans, tend to wait for things to calm down and then we rationalise things under a veil of consistency.

In fact, says Taleb, we completely underestimate the impact of the highly improbable - that it is the highly improbable that has the most impact on our everyday lives. We don't realise it, he says, because we find other, more rational explanations for highly irrational event.

The second reason for reading Taleb's book is because you will be in powerful company. One person sold on Taleb's view of the improbably is Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos. He is a profound believe in the power of the improbable.

The lesson is clear: if you want to come up with a great idea then make it an unlikely one. What you need is an idea that nobody - nobody - believes will succeed.

What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry John Markoff

(Reprint Edition Penguin, £9.88/$16.00)

This is also not a contemporary book: it was published in 2005; but it is included here because one of the most important figures in this off-beat history of Silicon Valley is Doug Engelbart who died earlier this year.

Englebart, through his work with the Stanford Research Institute proved to be one of the greatest innovators through the earliest years of the IT revolution. He and his group developed innovations such as bitmapped screens, the mouse, hypertext, collaborative tools, and precursors to the graphical user interface. This was long before Silicon Valley took off in the 1980s.

Engelbart never receiver the credit he should have got. His is an unhappy story as our own Tom Foremski put it in his tribute in July, "It's a story that shows Silicon Valley's ignorance of its own history and its disgraceful treatment of truly inspired visionaries such as Doug Engelbart, in favor of celebrating PR-boosted business managers who say they are changing the world but don't come close." Well said, Tom and RIP Doug Engelbart.

The Apple Revolution Luke Dormehl

(Virgin Books, £8.99/$15.95)

In terms of authority few will compete with Walter Isaacson’s 630 page tome, Steve Jobs. It has gravity as well as weight, coming from a man who spent his life working for two of America’s premium news and current affairs outlets, CNN and Time magazine.

But if you want a different take on Jobs' life perhaps Luke Dormehl's 532 pager paperback might be up your street. This one is entertaining stuff that brings out something that smacks of the real Steve Jobs. And by real, I mean Jobs with warts and all.

For much of my career – and I was born in the same year as Jobs – I followed the man from that distance which is both a blessing and a curse for journalists. I feel in some ways that I knew him well but in others he seems a complete stranger.

I saw Jobs often at his best, showing off new, cool Apple stuff at MacWorld in some corner of the globe. He was always a class act, our Steve, but what Dormehl reminds us of is the dark side to Jobs, man quick to claim all of Apple’s achievements as his own even when they were not. Read either or both of the books and make your own mind up.

Dot Complicated: How to make it through life online in one piece... Randi Zuckerberg

(Bantam Press, £16.99 HarperOne, $27.99)

Randi Zuckerberg is the elder sister of Mark and was also one of the founders of Facebook. Her book is a good read. It is part memoir - and a very entertaining memoir at that, as Randi is good company - and part "how-to" guide.

The last part is most useful. The modern world of digital media is incredibly fast moving and complex. It seems that as quickly as you learn something new about a development that could be useful or helpful it is suddenly out of date, old-hat and redundant.

I have been writing about the fast-moving world of IT, the internet and digital media for 30-plus years and the one constant through all that time has been the ever-increasing pace of developments within the digital media. These days calling it superfast or even hyperfast does not quite describe it.

Now, you have to learn fast and forget just as quickly in order to absorb the next innovation. That is the world that Randi Zuckerberg guides you through in light and entertaining a fashion.

And if you are sceptical at all about what Randi has to say, why not check out the thoughts of the younger brother in The Boy Billionaire: Mark Zuckerberg in his own wordsGeorge Beahm (Hardie Grant £9.59, Agate B2 $10.95).

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