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How-To Geek’s Holiday Gift Guide 2013: Books for Boys, Girls, Geeks, and Sentient Robots

One of the upsides to the explosion of science and geek culture over the last few years is an absolute tidal wave of great books that appeal to geeky interests of all stripes. Read on as we highlight great books for every geek on your list.

This is the fourth of the How-To Geek 2013 Holiday Gift Guides; to keep up with the rest of the guides throughout December, be sure to keep an eye on the article tag GiftGuide2013.

Whether you’re shopping for a geek that loves the hard sciences, Sci-Fi dystopias, visionary tracts focused on how the future should look, or just wants to geek out a good old fashioned game guide or encyclopedia, there’s no shortage of good reading material. Stroll through the virtual bookstore aisles with us as we highlight the best offerings across the board as well as alternative options if you know your recipient already has our top pick.

Video Game Lore: The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia

If you have a video game franchise fan on your list, it’s tough to go wrong indulging their fandom with a video game lore book. Among the most recent lore books published is The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia ($18), an impressive 280 page hardcover tome that spans the entire history of the Legend of Zelda game series.

Inside you’ll find artwork, interviews, timelines, comics, and an astounding amount of Zelda trivia. Even for lifelong fans of the franchise there’s something new to learn and explore. It’s a beautiful addition to any fan’s bookshelf.

If you know they already snatched the Historia up when it came out earlier this year, you can always surprise them with the beautiful player’s guide for the newest Zelda game, A Link Between Worlds ($24).

Don’t have a Zelda fan on your list? Don’t worry, you can find other lore/player guides for a wide variety of popular games and game franchises like: The Elderscrolls V: Skyrim Player Guide ($33), Diablo III: Book of Cain ($26), and MM25: Mega Man the Official Complete Works ($40). If it’s a popular game, you can bet there’s a guide, lore, or artwork book out there somewhere to go with it.

Dystopian Futures: Ready Player One

Although dystopian brings to mind a miserable and foreboding future, our top pick for dystopian Sci-Fi is actually a really light and enjoyable read. In Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One ($10), we find a world where the physical reality of most of Earth’s citizens is wretched, but they escape into a virtual world where anything is possible.

The story follows the adventures of Wade Watts, a high school student hell bent on solving the elaborate mystery left behind by the creator of the virtual world he and everyone he knows spends their waking hours inside. The best part of the book, by far, is that the puzzles left by the reclusive father of the virtual world all hinge on the seeker possessing and incredible knowledge of 1980s video game and geek culture.

Looking for other dystopian fiction for the sci-fi buffs on your list? Similar in many regards to Ready Player One, Cory Doctorow’s For the Win ($8) focuses on video game culture and life in a virtual world. This year’s The Circle ($15) by Dave Eggers is a thriller centered on a world where an all-powerful social media company pushes the boundaries of privacy, democracy, and even memory.

Video Games Are Serious Business: Reality is Broken

While our two previous categories focused on actual video game lore and how video game/internet culture plays out in Sci-Fi, not everyone on your list might be a video game franchise fan or a Sci-Fi buff. For those that prefer reading about internet and video game culture without the fandom or fantasy elements, there is a whole genre of books focused on video games in a totally different way.

One of our favorite about-gaming books is Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change The World ($13). McGonigal is an accomplished game designer who has spent years building games designed to enhance performance, serve as virtual training spaces, and otherwise improve lives and solve real problems. Reality is Broken is her take on how we can take the core components of good video game design and apply them to reality, effectively gamifying life so that we have more fun and accomplish more in the process.

For an equally as enjoyable read that’s more focused on video game culture and the meaning of video games, Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter ($13) is a tour of the heart of the video game and why it matters. In a similar vein, journalist Harold Goldberg takes us on a half-century tour of the history of video games with All Your Base Are Belong to Us: How Fifty Years of Video Games Conquered Pop Culture ($12), and historian Tristan Donovan explored every nook and niche in his 500 page tome Replay: The History of Video Games ($19).

Geek Culture and Philosophy: Futurama and Philosophy

Over the last few years there have been an enormous number of books published by the Open Court publishing house in their Popular Culture and Philosophy series and Blackwell’s Philosophy and Pop Culture series. What the series aim to achieve, and in most cases do effectively, is to combine a pop-culture icon or institution with serious philosophical inquiries.

While at first the premise might seem contrived, in reality it works surprisingly well. After all, television shows, movies, video games, are typically rife with moral and ethical choices made by the characters: existential struggles between good and evil, the individual’s struggle for identity against the backdrop of greater culture, and other problems that have kept philosophers up for millennia.

Typically around $15-20, you can find the pop-culture philosophy books for just about anybody on your shopping list. There are volumes for Futurama, Breaking Bad, Superman, The Legend of Zelda, and Doctor Who, among many, many, others. Search Amazon for whatever pop culture franchise you’re looking for and the term philosophy, and you’re bound to find what you want; Big Bang Theory and Philosophy, anyone?

We’re Doing Science! Fire Bubbles and Exploding Toothpaste

If all our suggestions are just too darn cerebral and you really just want to get down to blowing things up, don’t you worry: you’re not leaving empty handed.

There’s an entire new generation of books devoted to science experiments of all shapes and sizes. Steve Spangler, known for doing hands-on science segments for morning news shows across the United States, has a bunch of great books including Naked Eggs and Flying Potatoes: Unforgettable Experiments That Make Science Fun ($11) and Fire Bubbles and Exploding Toothpaste: More Unforgettable Experiments that Make Science Fun ($13)

Sean Connolly’s The Book of Totally Irresponsible Science: 64 Daring Experiments for Young Scientists ($10) is filled with kid-friendly experiments that ooze, pop, and explode. Older geeks (or well supervised tykes) will enjoy Backyard Ballistics: Build Potato Cannons, Paper Match Rockets, Cincinnati Fire Kites, Tennis Ball Mortars, and More Dynamite Devices ($15) filled with experiments that are as much fun as you can have without (probably) breaking any Federal laws. From the same author, William Gurstelle, and with and even bigger affinity for fire, you could also explore (hose in hand) The Practical Pyromaniac: Build Fire Tornadoes, One-Candlepower Engines, Great Balls of Fire, and More Incendiary Devices ($13).

Just like you’ll find no shortage of geeky philosophy books, you’ll definitely find no shortage of geeky science experiment books focused on everything from cooking to pyrotechnics.


Just like it killed us to narrow the list of video games for our video game gift guide, it was agonizing to pick through all the awesome geeky books out there to pick just a shelf full (or two) to share. Have a geeky book we didn’t cover but that you’d love to share? Join in the discussion below!

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 12/11/13

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