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The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest: A Novel Paperback – May 30, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

Bronson's last novel, Bombardiers, was wonderful, so it comes as no surprise that his latest novel is just marvelous. What does it take for entrepreneurs to risk everything, develop a product, start a company, and take it public? When social idealism, corporate politics, petty jealousies, money fever--all part of the business landscape in Silicon Valley--meet, the results make for a fun, fast-paced read. And if you're familiar with the culture of Silicon Valley, you'll find yourself asking if this is a novel or a chronicle of the times. Just make sure you clear your calendar before picking up this book--you won't be doing anything else until you finish. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Silicon Valley think-tank engineer Andy Caspar likes his job, but the head engineer has it in for him. Forced to work on creating a consumer PC that sells for less than $300, Andy gives it all he's got. His team progresses quite nicely until their bosses decide the project is a threat. Andy and his friends decide to start their own company. Little do they realize they are merely game pieces being manipulated by a master. Narrator Aaron Frye is comfortable in his role as the affable Andy. Frye also gets high marks for creating the memorable misfits on Andy's team and the various higher-ups at the think-tank. What he can't correct, however, is the narrative. Although unabridged, the novel is full of gaps and goes in several directions at once. On the other hand, author Bronson understands the vagaries of the technology industry, including the practical jokes, back-stabbing, and credit-hogging that runs rampant. Libraries with a technical constituency should definitely purchase!?Jodi L. Israel, Westwood, Mass.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 289 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; First Edition edition (July 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380816245
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380816248
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,592,855 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's NurtureShock was on the New York Times bestseller list for six months. One of the most influential books about children ever published, NurtureShock landed on more than 35 "Year's Best" lists and has been translated into 16 languages. The authors have won nine national awards for their reporting, including the PEN USA Award for Literary Journalism and the American Association for the Advancement of Science Award for Outstanding Journalism.

Prior to their collaboration, Bronson authored five books, including What Should I Do with My Life?, a #1 New York Times bestseller with more than ten months on the list. He has been on Oprah, on every national morning show, and on the cover of five magazines, including Wired and Fast Company. His first novel, Bombardiers, was a #1 bestseller in the United Kingdom. His books have been translated into 20 languages. Po speaks regularly at colleges and community "town hall" events. He is a founder of The San Francisco Writer's Grotto, a cooperative workspace for writers and filmmakers. He also serves as volunteer president of the San Francisco Vikings Youth Soccer League. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Diana Faillace Von Behren TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 27, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Author and Silicon Valley insider, Po Bronson, writes a very funny novel about four quirky guys with the right stuff who want to create something that matters in the realm of computers. From cutting edge software and hardware development companies to Palo Alto think tanks, the plot follows the creation of a less than $300 computer from a list of low priority projects at the think tank level to the actual modeling of a prototype that gets one rival top dog engineer's undies in a knot. The trials and tribulations that face the group compare to the highs and lows of an EKG with enough back-stabbing, personality manipulation and corporate espionage to keep the reading at a wonderous pace up until the last 20 or so pages. The crafting of the dramatic persona, especially the four progtammer/hardware specialists hinges closely to the usual stereotypical portrayals of techno geeks seen in movies and television shows. However this does not detract from the fun level of the story; indeed one gets the sense that these portrayal closely model reality. What does detract is the rather abrupt ending which winds down what could have been an all out page-turning business adventure with a stop-on-a-dime conclusion that certainly did not satisfy me.

Perhaps having seen the rather burlesque film version of this novel, I naively was expecting more bells and whistles and a more thorough troncing of rival engineer and threat Benoit. It never came, but perhaps that is due to the fact that I know nothing about the world of Silicon Valley where Bronson's could-be spoofs on the computer industry's behind the scenes star would lose their bite. Happily, the novel does not force a romance between Caspar and his housemate as in the movie version; here the attraction is noted and the reader can use his imagination to determine the outcome. Thank you, Po.

All in all, I enjoyed the novel; I just wish it had a longer ending.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 17, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Po Bronson's first novel, Bombardiers, a slightly surrealistic satire on bond salesmen, was a cross between Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities and Joseph Heller's Catch-22. It won some plaudits for its literary ambitiousness, but Bronson's overkill on the pointlessness of his characters' lives left a bit of a sour taste. This novel, a fictionalized story of the inventions of the Network PC and Java by a small Silicon Valley start-up, is far less stylized, but the characters are more likable, idealistic, and inspiring. This is to Bombardiers as Wolfe's The Right Stuff was to his Bonfire.
The depiction of computer nerds strikes me as realistic and sympathetic, although I'm sure not all Silicon Valley geeks appreciate the portraits. I also liked another realistic touch: there is no sex in the novel, and almost no women characters. This contrasts well with the other Silicon Valley start-up novel, Douglas Coupland's Microserfs, which starts out with a terrific portrait of life as a sleep-deprived minion of Bill Gates, then degenerates into a pilot for a sit-com that could be pitched as "It's like the cast of 'Friends' starts a software company."
I was especially impressed by how Bronson set up certain characters to be the villians of the plot, then showed us that from inside their heads they see themselves, with some justification, as the good guys. The conclusion is quite surprising: the most Machiavellian of the bad guys gets exactly what he was conniving for (a huge investment by a venture capital firm), then has to live with the bureaucratic consequences. I ended up feeling quite sorry about his plight.
Bronson is probably the most true-blue member of the small School of Wolfe (Richard Price is the senior member, with Jay McInerney floating in and out).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 12, 1997
Format: Hardcover
"The First $20 Million..." is truly an entertaining journey through the dreams, disappointments and above all, egos, that infuse the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley. Po Bronson's style is direct and journalistic, very much in the Tom Wolfe manner. Those who are acquainted with the oncoming battle between PCs and Network Computers will find the plot even more topical: it centers on the development of a programming language strikingly similar to Sun's Java. Be forewarned, it is more a "Bonfire of the Vanities" than a "Primary Colors," and those looking for a straight thinly masked versions of today's industry moguls may be disappointed (although watch for a great lampoon of Intel Chairman Andy Grove). While clearly satirical, the novel is tempered with believable and sympathetic characters, which make it far more interesting than a simple "roman-a-clef" for industry insiders
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 26, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Po Bronson agains shows his grasp of the ironic is well beyond any other current author. After disembowelling Wall Street in Bombardiers, Po grabs Silicon Valley and exposes the "infite loop" of money, ideas and egos that makes the Valley machine hum. A Machivellian masterpiece! Po, take on Capitol Hill next!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Alvin Tanhehco on March 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I haven't had this much fun reading a Silicon Valley culture book since Jerry Kaplan's Startup. It's very well-paced and easy to follow. I loved it!
La Honda is a research center staffed by "ironmen" (the author's term for hard-core engineers) who want to design and build the latest and greatest technology (not for the money, but for the pride and thrill to be the first). At the time the story starts, the latest and greatest was a processor called the 686 (a spoof on the Intel Pentium's successor). Francis Benoit is the lead designer for this chip. Ever since the beginning, he's had a grudge against Omega Logic (a chip maker that sponsors several of La Honda's projects including the 686) for "dumbing down" his previous chip (the Falcon). He had designed the Falcon to be exponentially faster than its predecessor and capable of doing parallel processing. But because of business reasons, Omega only used one of the two chips being shipped with every system while charging a higher premium. That made the world think Francis wasn't able to deliver what he promised. He will stop at nothing to make sure this never happens to him again.
Andy Caspar is the main protagonist of the story. He's an ex-employee of Omega, and a new employee at La Honda. All his life, he's wanted to develop software, but his first project was to do testing. He exelled at this. Naturally, when he had a chance to work on the 686 he quickly jumped in only to be talked down by Francis to work on another project (the sub-$300 machine) to guarantee him another year at La Honda. Little does he know that what he thought was a hopeless project would end up forcing him (and his three other teammembers) to part ways with La Honda and try to start up their own business.
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