136 of 146 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 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.
87 of 92 people found the following review helpful
There are two reasons why Liar's Poker was such a great book. First, it profiled some of the greatest characters of Wall Street during the 1980's. Secondly, Lewis was very critical of Solomon. Reading "Liar's Poker" makes you think about how ridiculous traders' views of the world were in the late 1980s.
The problem with "The New New Thing" is that Michael Lewis is not critical enough of Jim Clark. Jim Clark certainly was generous to Michael Lewis by letting him tag along on so many of his adventures, and it would probably have been inapproriate for Lewis to be more critical of his subject. But, this doesn't make it an interesting book.
If you're looking for the "Liar's Poker" of the Internet, try Michael Wolf's "Burn Rate," or Po Bronson's "Nudist on the Late Shift," both of which contain much more interesting people, much more information about the internet revolution, and much more cynicisim.
46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 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.
73 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 1999
Michael Lewis has written a humorous and insightful book about Jim Clark, the founder of Silicon Graphics, Netscape,Healtheon and myCFO. The story is educational in that it provides an insight into the process of conceptionalizing a technology idea, packaging and selling the idea to the venture capitalists,individual investors and those that have to bring the idea to a reality,convince the Wall Street investment bankers of the marketability of such a scheme to the investing public and the final IPO which makes everyone along the food chain rich. This educational story will certainly make you think twice before investing in future technology IPOs. For some, valuation is not a consideration. Lewis has a great style, which is not only informative, but also humorous. I especially liked the way he chides the American legal system (page 195). Anyone who has experienced serving jury duty will appreciate the arrogant and pompous process described by Lewis as the Department of Justice begins the trial against Microsoft. This is a must read for anyone who has ever invested in a high flying technology stock or wondered about life in the Silicon Valley.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 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.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2000
Jim Clark is charismatic ! Jim Clark is a genius ! Jim Clark is a megalomaniac ! This should make for a fascinating read, but the author is a smart-alec who in trying to be humorous trivializes most every incident in the story. Why so much text ( 2 chapters plus other minor parts ) should be spent describing how Clark vaporizes millions on his toy- the yacht with the world's tallest mast - and the endless details of its misbegotten trans Atlantic trip is beyond me. So boring I had to force myself to finish it. A much more interesting and palatable overview of Clark, in the perspective of all the other geniuses in the Valley is presented in The Silicon Boys.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 1999
Michael Lewis has a fascination with wealth and greed, evidenced by both his immensely popular LIAR'S POKER and the new THE NEW NEW THING. In LIAR'S POKER, greed, arrogance, and hubris take center stage in a funny, wicked, and entertaining tale. In THE NEW NEW THING, greed, arrogance, and hubris become supporting actors on a bigger stage. An older and more mature Mr. Lewis has captured a story that pits technogeeks against venture capitalists and, well, it would spoil the story to tell you who prevails. This book has it all: cult of personality, fortunes made and lost, suicide, luck, timing, largesse, personal failure, professional success, sailing off into the sunset and then returning, billion-dollar business plans scribbled on cocktail napkins with "a--hole" as the plan's centerpiece--all told superbly by Mr. Lewis. It is neither as funny nor as wicked as LIAR'S POKER, but it is not intended to be. It is, ultimately, inspiring. If you want a book that leaves you less concerned about wicked greedy selfish bastards than LIAR'S POKER, you may find this book better than LIAR'S POKER. Or at least more satisfying.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
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.
31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 1999
This is a very fast read. And if the "new new economy" crashes soon, this book will become a valuable historical record of the hysteria that could be found in the late 1990's Silicon Valley. The author does not provide any value judgements on the actions of Jim Clark; he leaves the reader with a few recent firsthand observations. Clark does not come across as any kind of visionary - he simply is portrayed as the person best equipped to capitalize on these odd economic times. Although Jim Clark claims to be creating the future though gathering engineering talent, he really does not seem care about the long-term viability of any of his creations. In the past 20 years Jim Clark has gone from brilliant engineering professor, to computer hardware pioneer (Silicon Graphics), to software rainmaker (Netscape), to manic Internet IPO machine. Today he stands as a living self-fulfilling prophecy - the new new thing will be wildly successful, because Jim Clark is involved - period - no other rational is required.
As someone who has read many recent books on business success stories, this one leaves me empty. I wish the author had dug deeper into Clark's past - or chosen a more inspiring subject.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 22, 2000
Have you ever read one of those books that when you are done you're not sure if you liked it, or what the message was? Well, get ready for that feeling of deja vu.</p>
The author attempts to present a biography of Jim Clark, the visionary behind Silicon Graphics, Netscape, Healtheon and MyCFO. However, a large part of the book is devoted to events surrounding the building and maiden voyage of a sailboat that Clark is building, the Hyperion. This boat has three distinctions. First, at the time of its maiden voyage in 1999 it was the largest sailboat ever built. Two, the boat was designed to be commanded by 25 Silicon Graphics computers with custom software written by a team of programmers that Jim Clark hired. The idea was that Jim Clark could command the boat from anywhere in the world and he would not have to rely on a crew. Three, the public offering of Netscape was accelerated so that Jim Clark would have the money to pay for the boat!
The main presentation of Clark is that of a visionary who can always see the future direction of industry before his peers, i.e., Clark is able to identify the new NEW thing. However, the reader is left with the feeling that maybe Clark is better at identifying what the stock market will value in the future and then incubating an idea for a company to fill the need. It is not surprising that none of the company's that Clark founded have experienced long-term success. Each of these companies, except Silicon Graphics, were not structured to be long-term players, but rather to be "flipped" by acquisition or IPO. Clark is a mercurial, brilliant individual with an attention deficit problem who is great at formulating ideas but, as is the case in many instances, he would be greatly served by having a strong, managerial type implementing his ideas.