AdMonsters Writers Holiday Reading List: Best Digital Advertising Ecosystem Books of 2023

For an industry bent on standards, the digital advertising ecosystem is rife with drama, as a stunning collection of books published in 2023 amply demonstrates.

Since the early 2000s, we’ve seen businesses built on friendship and then destroyed by bitter disputes. Fortunes were made in the blink of an eye, then lost just as quickly. Many of us have had front-row seats to the twists and turns that shaped our industry, sometimes taking sides and always hoping for the best. 

These books are on our reading list because they’re far from dry chronicles of an industry. The authors pull back the curtains so that we can see the ambition and egos that have changed the nature of publishing and the world. Most of all, they promise to be great reads!

Lynne’s Learnings

Traffic: Genius, Rivalry, and Delusion in the Billion-Dollar Race to Go Viral 

Ben Smith

Some of us remember Ben Smith as an editor at BuzzFeed. Traffic chronicles the rise and squabbles of new media that emerged in the aftermath of the early 2000’s dotcom crash. He opens with the inside tale of two online media rivals, Jonah Peretti of HuffPost and BuzzFeed and Nick Denton of Gawker Media, and their relentless quest for traffic. The book is a trip down memory lane for anyone in the business for a while.

For the Culture: The Power Behind What We Buy, What We Do, and Who We Want to Be

Marcus Collins

Drawing on his extensive experience as a strategist for Apple, Nike, and Beyoncé, Marcus Collins argues true cultural engagement is the most powerful vehicle for influencing behavior. If you want to get people to move, you must first understand the underlying cultural forces that make them tick.

Collins, who holds a Ph.D. in marketing, is a marketing professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and head of strategy at Wieden+Kennedy, fuses his experience with theories from social psychology, anthropology, and even French philosophy across seven chapters to guide readers to a deeper understanding of what drives culture and why reading the nuances within culture is pivotal to effectively reaching your market. Reading this, we’re reminded of what social media was supposed to do for brands — facilitate communities for people to gather around shared interests. The book is both an entertaining read and insightful.

Andrew’s A-List

Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence, and Power on the Internet

Taylor Lorenz

Taylor Lorenz has been the authority on internet culture for over a decade, documenting its far-reaching effects on all corners of our lives. In this debut book, Taylor traces how online influence came to upend the world, removing traditional barriers and creating whole new sectors of the economy. Lorenz shows this phenomenon to be one of the most disruptive changes in modern capitalism.

This book is full of memories for those of us who have loved social media. It also highlights what we have said all along: We can create platforms, but the user is always in charge.

Breaking Twitter: Elon Musk and the Most Controversial Corporate Takeover in History

Ben Mezrich

Breaking takes readers into the darkly comic battle between one of our time’s most intriguing, polarizing, influential men — Elon Musk — and the company representing our culture’s dearest hope for a shared global conversation. From employee accounts within Twitter headquarters to the mission-driven team Musk surrounded himself with, this is the full story from all sides. 

For those of us in the business, the stories recounted are very close to home, and many of us have spent 2023 following and writing about Musk’s antics and wondering if Twitter, now X, will survive.

Yakira’s Yesses

Growing Up in Public: Coming of Age in a Digital World

Devorah Heitner

With social media and constant connection, the boundaries of privacy are stretched thin. Growing Up in Public shows parents how to help tweens and teens navigate boundaries, identity, privacy, and reputation in their digital world. Drawing on her extensive work with parents and schools, as well as hundreds of interviews with kids, parents, educators, clinicians, and scholars, Heitner offers strategies for parenting our kids in an always-connected world.

This book is for parents like me who have young kids who will go online and wonder how we — and our children — will handle it.

Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed

Daskha Slater

When a high school student started a private Instagram account that used racist and sexist memes to make his friends laugh, he thought of it as “edgy” humor. Over time, the edge got sharper. Then, a few other kids found out about the account. Pretty soon, everyone knew. Ultimately, no one in the small town of Albany, California, was safe from the repercussions of the account’s discovery. 

Susie’s Selects

The End of Reality: How Four Billionaires Are Selling a Fantasy Future of the Metaverse, Mars, and Crypto

Jonathan Taplin

A brilliant takedown and exposé of the great con job of the twenty-first century—the metaverse, crypto, space travel, transhumanism—being sold by four billionaires (Peter Thiel, Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Andreesen, Elon Musk), leading to the degeneration and bankruptcy of our society.

While many in our industry — and society — revere these billionaires of heroes, Taplin wants us to understand that they’re pursuing their dreams at our expense. 

The Future

Naomi Alterman

If you loved Alderman’s first book, The Power, then this novel is a must-read. It’s a dazzling tour de force where a handful of friends plot a daring heist to save the world from the tech giants whose greed threatens life as we know it.

What I loved about The Future is its perfect pitch when writing about our industry. Many people try to include tech in their fiction writing, and it’s mostly cringe. Alderman gets it and uses it deftly. The book includes one of the best plot twists, so don’t tell anyone you’re reading the book, lest they can’t help themselves and spoil it for you.