The Atlantic Tech Canon


Nearly every topic has a canon, a set of classics that you need to know. These works are recognized as key touchpoints of analysis and understanding. Technology, though, seems to resist that sort of thing. We think of it as something that is changing too fast for anything to remain relevant for long.

But it is precisely because technology does change that its lasting works are so important. What remains after round after around of creative destruction has proven its value. Many of the works that reach that threshold are scholarship, but certainly not all of them. We tried to reach deep and wide with this canon. We began with more than 200 suggestions from tech writers and scholars on Twitter and whittled them down to this core group.

Of course, no one will be wholly happy with this list. It may be a little too academic for some. Too focused on the recent past for others. Perhaps it's not digital-centric enough.

That's why we're thinking of this canon as a living document. We want your suggestions, which you can send us through this form. We're also more than open to critique or help. This is the start of the conversation, not the end, and we hope you'll help us sharpen our vision of what works deserve lasting glory.

At this point, the actual rankings are approaching arbitrary. These works all stand as great works that deepen and broaden our conceptions not just of what technology is, but what it means.

The great themes of technological art and literature are represented: the control of nature, the control of electrons, cyborgs, artificial intelligence, network building, Gutenberg, the rise of the digital. Read these books. They are worthwhile.

If there is one thing that stands out to me looking at the entire tech canon, it's that history matters in technology because history is how the world got to be the way that it is. (There are two books in the top ten with the word old in their titles.) We might be inventing the future, but it's out of the rags, riches and remainders of the past. We can't escape history, even by making new things.

And why try? It is how people use and shape technology -- where we intersect with our machines -- that determines what the world's possibilities become. If we left out all we humans already know and have made and bring to newly created things, we'd only know half the story. Our bodies and our brains and our ideas and our laws matter.

We are the software that runs the world's hardware.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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