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The SolarWinds Geek Summer Fun Reading List

Level 18

Summer is almost upon us, and with it comes the promise of at least a week or two of that mythical stretch of time called "vacation," or for you non-U.S. readers, that government-guaranteed period called "holiday.” (No, I'm not the least bit jealous.)

When we finally escape our desks and the glare of fluorescent lights, we’ll likely find ourselves outside, peering up at the piercing day-star we so rarely see, wondering what to do that doesn't involve a keyboard or screen (unless that screen happens to be an e-reader of some sort).

Well, we here at SolarWinds are here to help. The Head Geekä team, along with a few of our friends and colleagues, have assembled a list of titles you are guaranteed to find thought-provoking, engaging, or just plain fun.

Be warned: this list is... well, we asked a bunch of geeks for their thoughts on fun books to read, so let's just call it comprehensive and leave it at that, shall we?

Take a look, dip into your Amazon credits, slather on some SPF 50, and start putting something more than network diagrams, PowerShellä verbs, and IOS commands into that brain of yours.

  • "Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words" and "xkcd: volume 0" by Randall Munroe
    • Recommended by several of us.
    • Why: Randall Munroe, author of the popular Web comic xkcd, has a twisted sense of humor and the ability to take deeply technical concepts and put them into amusing contexts. Trust us. You’ll be copying pages from the book and posting them in your cube before you are halfway finished.
  • "The Decline and Fall of IBM: End of an American Icon?" by Robert X. Cringely
    • Recommended by Leon Adato, Head Geek.
    • Why: IBM is currently (and somewhat quietly) going through a sea change in its business. Understanding some of the background, history, and behind-the-scenes conversations about the company can help make sense of the headlines when they hit social media. Cringely has watched IBM rise and fall, and he’s the best prognosticator to foretell what might come next.
  • "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson
    • Recommended by Lawrence Garvin, Head Geek.
  • "Zero Day" by Mark Russinovich
    • Recommended by Lawrence Garvin, Head Geek.
  • "Trojan Horse" by Mark Russinovich
    • Recommended by Lawrence Garvin, Head Geek.
  • "Daemon" and "Freedom" by Daniel Suarez
    • Recommended by Doug Johnson.
    • Why: Suarez takes current technology, extends it to an imaginable utility, and uses that world to build a thriller. Both books basically make up one story, and the ending of the first would be disappointing if the second book didn't exist. The story involves a dark net that a large group of people use to gain control over their lives against an oppressive government. The significance of this is that Suarez persuades the reader to imagine this becoming reality within the next ten years, not as an eventuality in some weird future dystopia.
  • "Being Digital" by Nicholas Negroponte
    • Recommended by Leon Adato, Head Geek.
    • Why: Back in the 1970s, before iTunesâ, Napsterâ, and the Internet, Mr. Negroponte envisioned a world where "bits" could be de-coupled from atoms and presented on their own. That world has come to be, and this work continues to be prescient in its understanding of the human and technical hurdles we face.
  • "Accidental Empires" by Robert X. Cringely
    • Recommended by Leon Adato, Head Geek.
    • Why: First published in 1992, this book explained the current state of computing through the lens of what came before, specifically the monumental contributions of the Xerox PARC project. While we've come a long way since TrueType, ethernet, and the mouse, it's still a wonderful foundation for people wondering what personalities and historical decisions came together to bring about Microsoftâ, Appleâ, and the rest of the Silicon Valley landscape.
  • "The Black Swan" by Nassim Taleb
    • Recommended by Leon Adato, Head Geek.
    • Why: Monitoring professionals make their living attempting to set up systems to catch nearly impossible scenarios, but we may not truly grasp the folly of that course of action. Mr. Taleb does a fantastic job of explaining why black swan events tend to be so attention-grabbing yet unimportant in the larger picture, and how we can refocus our efforts so that they have a greater impact.
  • “Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America” by Jeff Ryan
    • Recommended by Kevin Sparenberg, Technical Product Manager.
  • “The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron” by Bethany McLean, Peter Elkind, and Joe Nocera
    • Recommended by Kate Asaf, Program Manager.
    • Why: I loved this book because I think the Enron scandal was all about hubris and thinking that being smart makes some people untouchable. The book has been updated to cover the trials as well.
  • “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine” by Michael Lewis
    • Recommended by Kate Asaf, Program Manager.
    • Why: I found this to be a bit of a slog to get into, but as boring as financial markets are, the author does a good job of intermingling some personal stories so you don’t totally fall asleep reading about default credit swaps.

Other recommendations (without attribution or explanation).

  • "Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence" by Gerard Jones
  • "Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet" by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon
  • "How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed" by Ray Kurzweil

Interesting list...  I may have to find a copy of "The Black Swan". There are several others that have possibilities...although most of my de-coupling seems to be science fiction/fantasy related.

Level 14

Just started reading @WAR by Shane Harris....

But these look like fine weekend reading fare...

Great list. I have not read any of these tomes as yet, but I think I'll start with The Black Swan, since it's closest to what I do every day. I may also pick up Daemon and Freedom as they also sound pretty interesting.

I'm working my way through Jules Verne at the moment. 20,000 leagues under the sea was brilliant, and I can't believe it's taken so long for me pick up his works!

Level 14

Thank you.  I have to forward this list to my wife since she is the Amazon Goddess.  I just need to finish 1984.  For some reason, a had a nagging urge to reread it.

Level 14

I definitely recommend Daniel Suarez and his Daemon and Freedom two-part series.  Suarez is a (was a?) government IT consultant who has a wickedly interesting view (albeit a little dark) on the use of technology.  Even though the books are only a few years old, we're already starting to see some of those predictions leak into the edges of our lives.

Also recommend Black Swan and the Steve Jobs biography.  If you enjoy the Steve Jobs biography I would also recommend Creativity, Inc. -- the story of how Pixar came to be.  My favourite insight (I'm about halfway through) is how many times Pixar succeeded in spite of having no idea how to succeed.  Their successes came because they were tenacious, driven and understood value.

Thing Explainer is on my list.  It's the least I can do as a #geekdad

How Google Works and How to Talk Like Ted are two phenomenal books.

Level 9

Better get started.

Amazon will only let me buy two books at a time.......


adatole​ - on Daemon & Freedom, yes a thousand times yes. I've re-read those books at least 3 times each. Thanks for the other recommendations - I was just about to need a reload on my reading list and this hits the spot!

Level 9

Thank you for the great recommendations!  Back in school, we had to read “The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron.”  I found it to be pretty interesting.

I also found the following to be enjoyable:

"Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline

"The Cyberthief and the Samurai" by Jeff Goodell


+1 for "Ready Player One". Great read.

Thanks for the list!  Lately my reading's been all Kindle for Android; the free S/F has been very entertaining.  I confess, I use it to escape from IT pressures.


rschroeder​ - Uh oh, what's S/F? I want to be entertained.

Science Fiction is S/F.  Some folks also cross the line and say S/F is Science Fiction and Fantasy (but I prefer to say F&S/F for that).  There are tons of free works to read, many of them introductions--but still full books--by authors hoping you'll read and love their style and their characters; maybe even enough to pay for subsequent books in the series.  Of which there may be two or ten!

Subsequent books are often $.99, and if I like the free one I have no qualms over spending a buck on the next book--and the next, and the next!.

Frankly, I can spend $7 on a meal at MacDonald's or Subway, and the experience is over in fifteen minutes.  Spending $.99 on a fun and interesting book--which will last me several days during my leisure time and breaks, and which will also entertain me over and over during future reading for those same hours--well, that's a true no-brainer in my book.  And a great value!


Ah, gotcha. And you're absolutely correct - great value for sure.


I thought The Big Short movie was very interesting. Seeing similar aspects of that now in Australia.

Level 14

If I can find the time to dip into this list, I'll have to take a look at a few of these.  Some look to be interesting reads.  I know I have been wanting to read "Steve Jobs".

Level 14

Ready Player One got a call out in a recent Wired article on VR. Must add it to my books to read list.

Go old-school, check out works from the '40's and 50's by the greats (Heinlein, Asimov, Clark) but don't forget to test the "next-in-lines" or "honorable mentions".  "Starlight: The Best of Alfred Bester" is full of things that'll twist & entertain your S/F funny bone.  Cordwainer Smith wrote some seriously amazing things (The Game of Rat & Dragon and The Ballad of Lost C'Mell, for examples). 

Many of the concepts of "the greats" hold true today, even as some of their best theories have been moved to the shoulder of the road to make room for newer, better ideas. 

Just because it's old does't mean it should be thrown away.

Level 14

I remind my kids of that all the time -- and more frequently as I grind out the next 20+ years towards retirement.

Level 10

Great share adatole​! Some of these I have never heard before, will surely make me busy this summer.

It occurs to me that, living in Minnesota as I do, I don't need a summer reading list.  Summer is brief too spend reading, the warm weather too precious and fleeting, to spend my all-too-brief summer planning time with a book.  I'll spend all the good weather out fishing or camping or water skiing or canoeing or exploring.

Winter, on the other hand, is perfect escape weather for me, when I'm not snowboarding and ice fishing and winter bird watching and snow shoeing and hiking frozen rivers and . . . hmm.

Maybe I just need a book list for when I'm physically busy, but my mind is available.  Like during lunch.  Kindle for Android is perfect for fifteen minutes of pleasure reading--and always handy.

I am usually not a fan or Techie history books. Let's just write it off as personal preference. And I have never been a fan of Steve Jobs... have piqued my interested on:“The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron”

I remember that time oh so vividly.

Netflix has an interesting documentary showing the relationships between Jobs & Gates that you might find interesting.  "American Genius:  Jobs vs. Gates"   I enjoyed it, remember I was wondering at both of them back in the 90's--"Why are they doing these things?"

Level 21

This is a great list, thanks adatole​!  I am especially interested in "The Black Swan", sounds like a great read!

Level 9

"Ready Player One" One of my faves!

Level 11

This almost makes me want to try to enjoy reading.


I've been reading Zero Day lately... I love Mark Russinovich and all of his tools he made!  The sysinternals are awesome and now his wininternals tools are part of MS DaRT toolkit!

About the Author
In my sordid career, I have been an actor, bug exterminator and wild-animal remover (nothing crazy like pumas or wildebeasts. Just skunks and raccoons.), electrician, carpenter, stage-combat instructor, American Sign Language interpreter, and Sunday school teacher. Oh, and I work with computers. Since 1989 (when you got a free copy of Windows 286 on twelve 5¼” floppies when you bought a copy of Excel 1.0) I have worked as a classroom instructor, courseware designer, desktop support tech, server support engineer, and software distribution expert. Then about 14 years ago I got involved with systems monitoring. I've worked with a wide range of tools: Tivoli, Nagios, Patrol, ZenOss, OpenView, SiteScope, and of course SolarWinds. I've designed solutions for companies that were extremely modest (~10 systems) to those that were mind-bogglingly large (250,000 systems in 5,000 locations). During that time, I've had to chance to learn about monitoring all types of systems – routers, switches, load-balancers, and SAN fabric as well as windows, linux, and unix servers running on physical and virtual platforms.