In March, while working for his erstwhile employer, Newsweek , as senior editor for technology, Steven Levy took home the Apple MacBook Air to review and left it on a pile of papers. He hypothesizes that his wife didn’t notice the thing and therefore threw it out, along with the entire pile (a hypothesis his wife disputes). What an illustration of the Air’s famously superthin profile—and what a story. Of course, Levy pounced on it himself.
Erstwhile? No, no, it’s not what you’re thinking. Losing that loaner didn’t lead to a layoff. Levy had been weighing a move for some time, and when Newsweek foolishly offered fat buyouts to its entire staff, he pounced on that opportunity too. Now he’s at the tech mag Wired .
It’s good we got to him just when we did, because Wired ’s a bit of a competitor of ours, although the folks over there would prefer to reverse the syntax. But it certainly would have been hard for Levy to resist our invitation to write on a subject even closer to his heart than technology: technology books. In this issue he reviews his 10 favorite nonfiction titles and throws in three novels, just for fun.
Levy’s written five tech books himself, as well as one on true crime. He began in 1984 with Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution , now in an updated edition (Penguin, 2001). This was the book that acquainted the world with the notion that do-it-yourself software design could be a force for good as well as evil.
His most recent book, The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness (Simon & Schuster, 2006), reinforces Levy’s reputation as one of the savviest, most pluggedâ''in, and most objective connoisseurs and critics of all things Apple. The criticism part has won both the respect and the ire of Steve Jobs, who once called Levy’s home at 11:00 p.m. and launched into a dressing-down--only to be informed that he was speaking not to Levy but to his son. ”Well, you sure sound like him,” growled Jobs, before slamming down the phone.
So which book has most inspired Levy? ”My inspiration wasn’t the best technology books per se but the best nonfiction books, period,” he says. ”[Robert] Caro’s books on Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, Tom Wolfe’s books. Richard Rhodes’s The Making of the Atomic Bomb is simply great, but I hadn’t read it at the time I began writing books.”