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am 1. August 2000
It is an astounding tale on many levels. First- how could anybody read this book and not come away thinking that Jim Clark is a complete fool? This man let an ego-book about his life be written which gives him the attention span of a toddler. Then the author has the gall to tells us that Jim likes it so much that he/we will all be invited along for the next episode. Now we are expected to believe that this man is a "True Hero Of The Internet Economy"- all because he wanted many millions to build a bigger yacht.
As one who has been in the software business as well as an offshore sailor, I find every chapter to be filled with the most incredulous disregard for Planning Ahead. Jim Clark has had more good luck in one week than most us will have in a lifetime. I found the descriptions of many events to be light on facts, so don't go looking for many details here. It is a very light read- on par with the attention span of it's subject.
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am 3. Juni 2000
I was very disappointed in this book. It is completely lacking insight into the world of high tech. My impression is that Michael Lewis had enjoyed hanging out with a very rich man and needed to write up something, anything, to sort of justify the time he had wasted and so he just strung some pointless, not very interesting anecdotes together. I feel that I have been had. It really is a rather rubbishy book.
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am 12. März 2000
I bought this book at an airport I was passing through en route to someplace else. I knew Michael Lewis as an author, having read Liar's Poker, so I knew I would find his style appealing. I had no idea about Jim Clark at all.
To my utter surprise, the book was not only entertaining, but it brought to my attention some facts about the world that I live in that I had never fully realised:
1) You can choose to be a down and out misfit on the road to nowhere, or you can choose to show 'em all and make something of your life
2) Having decided to do something, there is no actual limit to how big you can think
3) An individual can actually swing the entire economy and all of its big established companies around to a different agenda and different competitive landscape
4) If you are blessed/cursed with the kind of mind that loves to dwell in "pure possibility", is never satisfied with the way things are and can always see how they could be, do what Jim Clark does - get on with changing the world! Actions speak louder than words.
5) Engineers have finally realised that they should be more fairly compensated, relative to the amount of value they create in the economy. The consequence of this is that financiers, who really don't understand what or how an engineer does what he does, must now compete to get a piece of the action. A financier, even if he has infinite money, cannot personally create anything of tangible value with his financial skills. Contrast this to what an engineer with good skills can create and you realise that what really counts is the creation of tangible things that make the human condition somehow better. This realisation is driving the new new economic realities - engineers can build a better world, financiers can only pay for them to do it.
6) You don't have to be especially bright or gifted to change the course of business history, but if you are, you owe it to yourself and others to use those gifts to the best advantage you can
So, all things considered, this book was a revelation and an especially welcome pleasant surprise.
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am 15. Februar 2000
This is an entertaining, readable book that manages to convey a surprisingly clear-eyed picture of today's Silicon Valley. I don't feel that the author overrated his subject, as Clark's achievements would be notable in any context: he started out as a solid technical expert, and subsequently combined a good "nose" for the New New Thing with a Pied-Piper-like ability to attract talented people and build a phenomenal work team. I also think he deserves considerable credit for his habit of sharing the wealth with the engineers who designed a product; in the past, the only people who got rich from an invention were the executives who marketed it and the investors who backed it! On the other hand, the author unsparingly chronicles Clark's less admirable behavior -- his temper tantrums, whims, failed relationships, and years-long grudges -- so I felt that overall the picture was a balanced one. Much of wealth creation today consists, not of coming up with a better mousetrap, but of convincing investors to buy into your "vision," and the stories of how Clark did this were very instructive.
I also found the book rather scary in its depiction of how our educational system fails to "connect" with the brightest students: Clark was bored in school, became a prankster, and eventually was expelled; if he hadn't chanced to meet a teacher who recognized his great talents in math, it's likely that his ingenuity and his desire for wealth would have led him into a life of crime. I felt that the author's attempts to explain Clark's behavior in terms of his unhappy family history and trying to "prove something" to the folks back in Plainview were rather weak: he's a typical "gifted" person in that he has an all-consuming interest in technology and will subordinate everything else to his pursuit of that. (If he were motivated only by a desire for wealth, he wouldn't be so willing to risk his own!) Our schools are still designed to turn out well-behaved "organization men," following the 1950's model that Lewis succinctly describes, and their failure to recognize real talent and teach its possessors how to use it well are, I feel, a major national failing.
All in all, this is a book that makes you think, as well as being amusing, and I feel everyone with an interest in high technology should read it.
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am 9. Februar 2000
Michael Lewis makes a substantial contribution to our efforts to understand what is happening now in today's business world...and what is likely to occur next. His is "a Silicon Valley story." As such, it has the obligatory plot and characters as well as a number of themes which he carefully develops. The net result is both informative and entertaining.
Exactly what is "the new new thing"? This moment's answer may be wrong by the time you finish reading this sentence. Really? Yes. Especially in the Silicon Valley, the next "new new thing" is the 21st century's equivalent of the Holy Grail. The problem is, as Lewis carefully explains, it is often an illusion..and even when manifest, it can so quickly become obsolete. "Silicon Valley to the United States what the United States is to the rest of the world." What is that? Briefly, "the capital of innovation, of material prosperity, of a certain kind of energy, of certain kinds of freedom, and of transience." As I soon discovered when reading the first few chapters, Lewis has written a literary hybrid: it combines the dominant features of the picaresque novel (featuring a central character who seeks and experiences a series of adventures) with the sequential essay (separate but interdependent discussions of a common subject). Lewis introduces his concept of "the searcher" who seeks the "new new thing" and "conforms to no well-established idea of what people should do for a living. He gropes. Finding the new new thing is as much a matter of timing as of technical or financial aptitude, though both of those qualities help." Lewis employs the searcher inorder to examine -- and understand -- a process which creates "fantastic wealth" in the Silicon Valley. The searcher is a "disruptive force" as he gropes his way along, constantly on the move...his mind moving much more quickly than his feet, preferring to live perpetually "with that sweet tingling discomfort of not quite knowing what what it is he wants to say. It is one of the little ironies of economic progress that, while it often results in greater levels of comfort, it depends on people who prefer not to get too comfortable." The searcher, for example.
Are we to believe that people who grope their way through life, wandering through the Silicon Valley, are playing a major role (a wholly new role) in wealth creation? Exactly. (This is a mentality and a behavior which Guy Claxton discusses so well in Hair Brain Tortoise Mind.) The main character of this story "had a structure to his life. He might not care to acknowledge it, but it was there all the same. It was the structure of an old-fashioned adventure story. His mere presence on a scene inspired the question that propels every adventure story forward: What will happen next? I had no idea. And neither, really, did he."
Throughout this book, as Lewis casually but precisely tells his "story", we are introduced to some of one of the most successful residents of the Silicon Valley, Jim Clark, who proves to be the "story's" central character. For Lewis, Clark embodies "a vast paradigm shift in American culture" from conventional models and visions of success toward an entirely new way of thinking about the world and control of it. Central to Lewis' discussion of Clark is Clark's sailboat Hyperion, the world's tallest single-mast vessel. There seems to be a progressive pattern of symbiotic relationships: United States < > Silicon Valley < > the searcher < > Jim Clark < > Netscape < > Healtheon < > Hyperion < > ? Revealingly, in Lewis' Epilogue, we are told that Clark has already begun work on the design of a new sailboat. "Hyperion was nice, but this...this was the perfect boat." At least for now.
What Lewis reveals is a restless mentality in constant search of the next "new new thing." His focal point may be Clark but, in my opinion, he is really examining the global economy in the 21st century which will continue to be driven by that mentality. There will always be a newer, better browser...a newer, better sailboat...a newer, better whatever. Men and women unknown to us now are "groping" to find them. And eventually they will...but will not then be satisfied. "Searchers" never are.
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am 31. Januar 2000
Due to lack of time, I purchased the unabridged tapes to listen to during my commute, and I plan on listening to it again and again. Bruce Reizen does a masterful job of narration, and if he actually did all the voices of the different characters, he's the most talented reader I've ever heard. Buy the tapes. You won't regret it.
As for the content of the book, I found it very informative. Although I work in high tech, I am not someone who keeps up with the who's who of Silicon Valley. It was very interesting to learn about Jim Clark and his role at SGI, Netscape, and Healtheon, as well as his passion for discovery and his disdain for traditional corporate organizations. He's one of the few engineers to 'make it over the fence', and get the financial reward he deserved without selling out and becoming 'managerial'. If you are an engineer or other technical specialist who's watched executives rake in the big salaries, bonuses, and stock options while you're worried if your annual raise will keep up with inflation, you'll cheer him on.
His yacht, Hyperion, was an important foil to Jim Clark's character. It seems superfluous at first, but it gives insight into his need to find new ways to conquer and control through technical wizardry. Michael Lewis brings this adventure to life, even if you, like me, could care less about sailing.
I thoroughly enjoyed both the story and the narration, and have been recommending this book to all my friends.
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am 30. Dezember 1999
A lot of the commentary on this book has focused on Jim Clark, the allegedly brilliant computer geek and machine-freak. Clark might be an interesting subject, but it will be left to another author to tell us why. To steal from Dorothy Parker, Lewis explains Jim Clark's life from A to B.
It's hard to criticize specific points of the book, because it attempts to achieve so little. In a biography it would be a sin to mention, as Lewis does, that the first 25 years or so of Clark's life cannot be discussed because Clark does not want to talk about them. The fuzzy bit about Clark apparently being married twice would be another sin, if it were a biography. But Lewis is not promising to tell the story of Clark's life. In the same way that Lewis claims Clark is not a scientist or an entrepeneur or a manager or a financier, his book is neither a biography nor a business case study nor a history of the Valley. Instead it is a shallow set of ramblings of Jim Clark stories as viewed through the eyes of our intrepid writer. Any incident not personally witnessed by Lewis is given short shrift, as he obviously has neither the time nor inclination to do actual research. Apparently, his editors didn't either. One egregious fact failure was his comment that Microsoft (no, despite being Redmond, I do not nor have I ever worked for the evil empire) is the largest company on the New York Stock Exchange. For a former investment banker (see "Liar's Poker") to confuse the NASDAQ with the NYSE is unbelievable, especially since it is widely known that the NYSE has been practically begging Microsoft to move its listing from NASDAQ to the NYSE since its IPO.
The book is also lazy. There is a scene where a team of people from Healtheon is explaining their strategy to some outside investors. Lewis writes that they were no more able to underastand software than he or his readers could. Well, Mr. Lewis, your job as a writer is to tell us stories and explain things for us. If you don't understand your subject I recommend that you leave this to writers who can.
The writing style is another annoying feature of the book (after reading about Clark I now feel to let my annoyance run free). Lewis mixes Hunter Thompson's first-person gonzo style (do we need to know that Clark invited Lewis onto both is yacht and his airplane?), with the repetition of "Bonfire of the Vanities" ("the new new thing!" "Masters of the Universe!"), and a very shallow simalcrum of "The Soul of a New Machine." All of these other authors give us more, and make better use of these literary techniques.
And that's the problem here. Clark and his companies are more than worthy to be the subject of a great book. When Tracy Kidder takes the time to write that book, I'll be first in line to buy it.
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am 10. Dezember 1999
This book follows Jim Clark, the founder of Silicon Graphics, Netscape, and Healtheon. The book follows his paranoid awareness that everything new is a threat to the old. Thus, Clark pushes for every idea that for some magical reason leads the wave of the future. But his brilliance was capped and controlled by corporate capitalist who eventually engulfed his ideas and stopped him from starting "New New Thing(s)." His knack to start new things is relatively unimaginable at first, but would catch on like wildfire when he and his engineers got to work on it. He was not only good at creating hype, but he was almost like the hype master. "Even if people weren't quite ready for the technology, the technology would be forced upon them."(p. 81)
Clark passionately believed that it should be the techno geeks that run the show. It made no sense to Clark that although he and his team were making money, it wasn't enough. He felt that it was the geeks that made the innovations and change, almost as if the creators should deserve all the credit and not the venture capitalists. "He disliked...the phalanx of financial intermediaries who sat between the creators of wealth and their just desserts" (p. 253). Clark goes after the world, which is symbolically represented by his yacht Hyperion, for Hyperion was an extension of being the biggest yacht at the time and his suggestion that no other would be larger.
Clark achieved that goal, and changed the design of the pyramid of capitalism; "old-fashioned capitalist just came along for the ride" (172). Clark's revolution of the Internet changed the formula of success because "it (the Internet) persuaded people to invest in it (companies) first, and hoped the profits would follow"(p. 173). These new ways of thinking/investing changed a lot of things in the investment world and put a lot of those techno geeks on top of it.
This book wonderfully illustrates Jim Clark's rise to the top and his persistence to stay there. The book has that I can't put down effect and keeps the reader curious of Clark's unorthodox practices of anarchy, technology, business, and quest for more money. Clark pushes technology to the limit. And "every Serious American Executive now agreed he had no choice but to adapt" (p.251). This book is a great book and is inspirational in a way that only a madman, funny anecdotes, and a love of money can explain.
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am 30. November 1999
This book is just a fun read. It is not an academic book, and Lewis does love to dwell on the excesses or silly points, but Lewis captures better than any other author the culture and people of Silicon Valley, who have legally created a stupendous amount of wealth in less than a decade.
There were two parts of the book I particularly loved: First, the part on the engineers from India was compelling. These kids grow up on the brink of starvation and work their tails off to make it to Silicon Valley to seek their dreams. The book keenly demonstrates how Jim Clark is able to harness these kind of people and let their talents operate in the most productive way, and also make them rich beyond their wildest dreams.
Second, the best part of the book was the second to last chapter, about how Jim Clark came from absolute poverty in Texas. Clark had to defend his mother from his drunken father, and his mother had only $5 a month after the bills were paid. The book keenly demonstrates how Clark's sense of anarchy and adventure led him to rise far above the hand he was dealt in life.
The story of how Clark has made 3 different billion dollar companies is amazing, and even more amazing is that he is using his talents to create a fourth company instead of only sailing his crazy boat.
You'll learn a lot when you read this book, it will inspire you, and you'll enjoy it. Read it soon, before the next new new thing makes it irrelevant.
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am 22. November 1999
This book is interesting, and kept me turning pages, but somehow it just doesn't capture the world he covers as well as, say, his books on Wall Street or politics. I think I know why. Lewis is, himself, a Wall Street/political kind of guy. He's not a geek. So it's much harder for him to understand Geek World. Works like Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon do a better job of that -- but in a way only geeks, or at least quasi geeks, can understand. I'd bet that the people giving this book strong reviews are non-geeks, and the people giving it lukewarm reviews (like this one) are geeks (like me). Lewis probably does a good job translating the world to non-geeks, but something is inevitably lost in the translation. That's what the inhabitants of Geek World are noticing -- just as a native speaker of French might disapprove of an English translation of Rabelais. The only other complaint is that in his coverage of the Microsoft trial, the lawyers -- especially for the government -- are made to look stupid and ineffectual. Lewis couldn't know, of course, how it would turn out, but the joke's on him. No matter how many billions you have, you trifle with lawyers at your peril. At the end of the day, often *they* have the billions. Just ask the tobacco companies!
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