Valley of the Gods: A Silicon Valley Story by Alexandra Wolfe
There is no greater subject of fascination in Silicon Valley right now than Peter Thiel, seminal Facebook investor, PayPal Mafia don, Palantir founder, billionaire venture capitalist, oceanic city-state enthusiast, sworn enemy of political correctness, scourge of Gawker Media, recent New Zealander, prospective vampiric consumer of young people’s blood, and President Trump’s chief envoy to the CEOs of the tech industry. Or you might describe him as Alexandra Wolfe does in Valley of the Gods: A Silicon Valley Story: He is the tech sector’s “first philosopher,” who possesses “the big ideas, contrarian outlook and a willingness to back crazy concepts,” and who is, as Wolfe acknowledges in her author’s note, a friend. That chumminess might have been the germ of a revealing, insider-y unpacking of Silicon Valley and the utopians, dystopians, geniuses, and strivers who populate it—a This Town of the Left Coast geek elite. Instead it largely provides her access to Thiel’s first formal class of acolytes, a group of young men and women who in 2011 Thiel paid to skip college and attempt to incubate ambitious, world-shaking ideas, like asteroid mining. Whether Thiel’s radical libertarian outlook and declinist view of American innovation mark him as emblematic of Silicon Valley or as an eccentric, these ideas have never been worthier of interrogation. And yet, though Thiel hovers above Wolfe’s narrative like an Oz-like godhead, he is barely a presence in it, except when he’s the recipient of its adulation.
The author is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the daughter of Tom Wolfe, the New Journalism pioneer and author—a lineage that might not be fair to note except that Wolfe fille invites the comparison with at least two references to Ken Kesey (the subject of her father’s beloved The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) and a chapter titled “Asperger’s Chic,” a plain nod to her father’s liberal-ribbing essay “Radical Chic.” Her prologue certainly kicks off the book with a bit of Wolfean verve, hop-scotching through the haunts of Silicon Valley’s casually attired oligarchs and the investors and engineers riding their vapors. There’s the deck lounge overlooking the “Olympic-size pool skirted in fuchsias” at the Rosewood Sand Hill hotel in Menlo Park, and Prius-driving, Blue Bottle–guzzling entrepreneurs in Palo Alto, and the “Left Coast Ladies Who Lunch,” who “do so over Clif Bars while walking the Dish, the popular hiking trail on Stanford property.”
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