Geeky books to get you through the summer

With vacation time upon us, here are IDG Enterprise editors' recommendations for summer reading that should appeal to geeks of all shapes, sizes, and ages

Most of the year, your reading materials are likely technical guides, journals, instruction manuals, or how-to books. With summer vacation upon us, take a break and crack open a book that doesn't include any coding language.

Presented here are IDG Enterprise editors' recommendations for summer reading that should appeal to geeks of all shapes, sizes, and ages, with a mixture of new books and classic books that you may have already read, but are worth a second glance.

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"Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void," by Mary Roach

While most of us will likely never travel in space, scientists from around the world are preparing for what life may be like for long space journeys. In this very entertaining book, Mary Roach discusses all sorts of questions about what it's like to live in space, including the lack of privacy, the inability to smell flowers, what happens when you vomit in your helmet during a space walk, and of course, sex in space.

"Physics of the Future," by Michio Kaku

If you're sick of reading about space elevators, flying cars, and Internet-enabled contact lenses in your favorite science-fiction novel, pick up this book, in which theoretical physicist Michio Kaku details life in the year 2100. Kaku shows developments in computer technology, artificial intelligence, medicine, space travel, and more, as well as how these inventions will affect the world's economy.

"Liars & Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive," by Bruce Schneier

Internationally renowned security expert Bruce Schneier delves into the world of trust, bringing together "ideas from across the social and biological sciences to explain how society induces trust ... how trust works and fails in social settings, communities, organizations, countries and the world."

"Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier," by Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Internet poster-boy for space exploration, famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses the future of space travel now that NASA has put human space flight on hold. This book offers "an eye-opening manifesto on the importance of space exploration for America's economy, security, and morale." It also covers Tyson's insights that includes how aliens, if they exist, might be able to find humans.

"Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything," by Joshua Foer

This book starts with the author's "yearlong quest to improve his memory under the tutelage of top 'mental athletes,'" but also discusses the latest research, cultural history of remembering, and tricks of the mentalist's trade to bring us an understanding of human memory. You're not likely to forget reading this book.

"Ready Player One," by Ernest Cline

If you grew up in the '80s and spent any time playing classic video games, role-playing games, or watching movies and listening to music in that decade, this book is a must-read. In a future world where everyone is obsessed with 1980s culture, a teenage boy embarks on a worldwide treasure hunt based in a virtual world with clues that all point back to the 1980s.

"Amped," by Daniel Wilson

The best-selling author of "Robopocalypse" returns with "a stunning, near-future world where technology and humanity clash in surprising ways." In the book, "people are implanted with a device that makes them capable of superhuman feats," which results in a set of laws passed that restricts the abilities and rights of those people who are "amplified."

"Steve Jobs," by Walter Isaacson

In all likelihood you've already devoured this book, but in case you're just emerging from the mourning period over Jobs' death, use your summer vacation to delve into Isaacson's officially approved biography of the Apple titan, and learn why we're still obsessed with the cult of Jobs and Apple.

"Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the Battle for the Internet," by Charles Arthur

Students of computer and Internet history will enjoy this book, which starts in 1998 and focuses on an antitrust case, a small Internet startup, and a former giant trying to rebuild itself. Watch how the fortunes of Microsoft, Google, and Apple changed over the years, and get inside dirt about what was going on at each of these companies.

"When Parents Text: So Much Said ... So Little Understood," by Lauren Kaelin and Sophia Fraioli

Get ready to laugh at this collection of text messages between parents and kids. While the parents are well-meaning, the texts they send end up being hopeless, silly, and a bit corny. The kids, meanwhile, are "bewildered yet patient: the perfect straight man." Anyone who's had to explain new technology to an older generation should appreciate these tales.

"How to be a Geek Goddess: Practical Advice for Using Computers with Smarts and Style," by Christina Tynan-Wood

This advice guide shows women "how to sort out technology decisions without ever having to ask a man." Tynan-Wood uses wit, intelligence, and a "minimum of geeky acronyms" to show women how to buy the right computer for your needs, décor and budget; surf the Web with confidence; master the email inbox, cellphone, and instant messaging; and keep the kids safe from spyware, viruses, and other online scams.

"Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share," by Ken Denmead

Editor of the popular GeekDad blog on, Ken Denmead offers up a book of projects for all ages that can help dads and kids create projects such as a nighttime kite with lights and a video camera attached to balloons, and build a working lamp with Lego bricks and CDs.

"Fermat's Enigma," by Simon Singh

This book describes one of the world's greatest mathematics mysteries and the quest by mathematicians from around the world to solve the theorem. It doesn't get overly technical, so anyone with a basic understanding of math should enjoy this tale.

"Designing Virtual Worlds," by Richard A. Bartle

If you play a lot of multiplayer online games but wondered more about the behind-the-scenes workings of the worlds that have been created, check out this book, which offers a "tour de force of virtual world design," and provides the reader "with a deep, well-grounded understanding of virtual world design principles." Examples range from the earliest MUDs to the present-day MMORPGs.

"Soon I Will Be Invincible," by Austin Grossman

A very quick read that highlights the life of a supervillain and a new superhero as they struggle with their roles and who they're really supposed to be. It's not as cut-and-dry as they appear in the comics pages -- anyone who has ever read a superhero comic book will identify with the stereotypes as they're turned on their head.

"Snow Crash," by Neal Stephenson

Classic novel that introduced the world to concepts like the Internet (known here as the "metaverse"), virtual worlds (Second Life, MMOs), and computer viruses. I'm surprised this hasn't been turned into a movie yet. It's a very enjoyable book and a must-read for anyone who enjoys cyber-punk fiction.

"Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Boxset," by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Even if you didn't enjoy the 2010 movie adaptation (or if you did), check out this box set, featuring all six volumes of O'Malley's "epic tale of a slacker's quest to win the heart of the girl of his dreams by defeating her seven evil ex-boyfriends!"

"The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead," by Max Brooks

While most people agree that zombies don't (or can't) exist, it never hurts to be prepared should something bad happen in the future. This "exhaustively comprehensive" book covers every aspect of zombie physiology and behavior, as well as preparea you for defense tactics, weaponry, and how to outfit your home for a long siege against zombies.

"Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen," by Christopher McDougall

A book that starts with a simple question, "Why does my foot hurt?" turns into an epic adventure as author Christopher McDougall seardches for the world's greatest distance runners and learns their secrets, showing the reader that "everything we thought we knew about running is wrong."

"Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity," by James Hansen

This may not be the feel-good-book of the summer, but if you're interested in climate change, it's a must-read. Hansen, the world's leading climatologist, "speaks out for the first time with the full truth about global warming: The planet is hurtling even more rapidly than previously acknowledged to a climactic point of no return." While this may sound like continued doom-and-gloom, Hansen also shows "that there is still time to take the urgent, strong action that is needed -- just barely."

"Geek Wisdom," by N.K. Jemisin, Genevieve Valentine, et al.

Offers a series of fun short essays by a variety of writers that re-interpret quotes from movies, TV, books and other sources to reflect today's tech culture. A great summer read.

"Roadside Picnic," by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

A little-known 1970s classic Russian science fiction novel that was later made into the Russian film "Stalker" (and I believe it's also a video game); now re-issued in a new translation.

"Nested Scrolls: The Autobiography of Rudolf von Bitter Rucker," by Rudy Rucker

The autobiography of the self-described "mathematician, transrealist author, punk rocker, and computer hacker."

This story, "Geeky books to get you through the summer" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.