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The Silicon Boys: And Their Valley of Dreams Hardcover – June 23, 1999

4.2 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Pop quiz: Where are American kids taught the nuances of being millionaires as part of their junior high curriculum? Where do guests at a posh outdoor party grouse about the defects of high-end flushable Porta-Johns? Where does a school auction rake in $439,000? The answer: Silicon Valley, of course. David A. Kaplan captures all that excess and more in The Silicon Boys.

Kaplan's book is a history of the Valley, from the time when Stanford professor Frederick Terman encouraged David Packard and Bill Hewlett to establish their own company to when Sequoia Capital invested $1 million in a startup founded by Jerry Yang and David Filo. In between are the many Valley legends, including Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel, Kleiner Perkins, Apple, Oracle, and Netscape--as well as some of its most notable failures and tragedies, such as William Shockley and Gary Kildall. While the book begins with the opulence of Woodside, California, it ends surprisingly enough in Portland, Maine, with Bob Metcalfe, founder of 3Com, who fled the Valley for something "fresher" and "more alive."

As he traces the short history of the area, Kaplan, a senior writer at Newsweek, detects a not-so-subtle change in its values. He writes, "Nobody appears to be having quite as good a time in Silicon Valley. Passions have become mere professions; impulsiveness is now compulsiveness.... The Valley once was a new machine. It changed the world. It may do so yet again. But the machine has no soul anymore." Here's a thoughtful and colorful read for anyone interested in one of the most dynamic places on the planet. --Harry C. Edwards

From Publishers Weekly

While Po Bronson's The Nudist on the Late Shift (Forecasts, June 7) delves into the daily life of Silicon Valley's hungry strivers (some of whom succeed), Kaplan takes a broader view and focuses on the menAand the Valley bigshots are almost all menAwho have already become legends and made Silicon Valley into the "Valley of the Dollars." As Kaplan sees it, men like workaholic venture capitalist John Doerr, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, and Jim Clark (Silicon Graphics, Netscape, Healtheon) pay lip service to the Valley ethos of innovation while relentlessly searching for the quickest way to the next buck. In addition to his rough handling of figures accustomed to VIP treatment, he takes a historical perspective, looking back further than the 1970s, when the area earned its name, all the way to the 1930s, when two prized pupils of Fred Terman, a Stanford professor commonly thought of as the "Father of Silicon Valley," started a company. Their names were David Packard and Bill Hewlett. Kaplan, a senior writer for Newsweek, salts his story with tart observations of Valley culture: Where else, he asks, is there a "junior-high curriculum that teaches basic skills in How to be a Millionaire. Every year the first math assignment for seventh-graders is spending one million hypothetical dollars and plotting it on a spreadsheet." Mixing history, reportage and healthy irreverence, Kaplan gently punctures the Valley's most cherished myths about itself, and, in a nod to Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine, concludes somewhat wistfully that "the machine has no soul anymore." (July)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (June 23, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688161480
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688161484
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,288,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Sheryl L. Katz VINE VOICE on December 11, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you've found the Silicon Valley and related industry to be worth reading about, and if you've read most of the other books on the subject, you won't find much new or interesting, or even that entertaining in this book.
The breezy, irreverent style is pretty much a knockoff of the classic approach taken to the Valley by Robert X Cringely in Accidental Empires (if you've read that book or seen the TV shows you'll recognize a lot of the stories here). If you've read the Gates Biographies, the Larry Ellison biography, the William Shockley Biography, the and the book about Intel, you'll start to think this book is a stringing together of twice and thrice told tales.
I did find the sections about the workings and history of the venture capitable firms to be interesting, and the material in them to be new - at least to me - but the rest of the book was so much a warmed over retelling of better, deeper books it makes me think I just haven't yet read the book on venture capitalists that those chapters came from.
If you haven't read the other books I've mentioned, and you want a readable account telling some of the big stories of the Valley, then this book is an acceptable primer. But, as others have noted, it just tells the "big" stories and really doesn't get at what the Valley is about.
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Format: Hardcover
Kaplan writes a lot of good detail that you don't find in other books, but he misses the boat on describing Silicon Valley's appeal. Firstly, money isn't really the issue for most people. That's not why people are working 16 hour days. These people love what they do, and saying they do it for the $ is like saying a criminal seriously thinks he'll get the electric chair. It's a remote possibility if all kinds of factors fall into place, but it essentially feels like something that happens to other people. Kaplan shouldn't confuse the lifestyles that moguls have with the lives of actual workers.
Secondly, there is no other industry that gives 20-somethings the opportunities, responsibilities and respect that Silicon Valley does. Everywhere else, you have to start out of college and slowly work your way up the ladder.
Thirdly, it is about changing the world. I grew up in a blue collar family that didn't have a lot of books in the house, and any academic interests I had to pursue on my own. I would have killed for the information that is now available on the web, and I'll do anything to get that information to more people who don't currently have access to it. I'm hardly alone.
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By A Customer on December 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I suppose that some people think the most interesting thing about Silicon Valley is how rich people are. Kaplan certainly seems obsessed with the tremendous wealth of his subjects. I almost couldn't get through the opening chapter, which seemed and endless account of extravagant parties, expensive homes and millionaire's toys. The chapter on Larry Ellison is also marred by repeated visits to the subject of his wealth.
The rest of the book is a good overview of the history of hi-tech in the US. You meet innovators and the charismatic leaders. You learn what various companies do and how they got to where they are. If you work in the hi-tech industry you know this stuff, but I didn't know Sun from Oracle and this book cleared that all up for me.
If you're interested in the hi-tech industry AND you enjoy "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" you'll probably give this book five stars!
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Format: Hardcover
Did you ever wonder where and how Netscape got its start? Think you know how Yahoo became the search engine powerhouse? Do you what Marc Anderseen did to become a millionaire?
Read this most fascinating and captivating tale of the powerful giants of the silicon valley. Follow along as the "Boys" make their mark in computer history and how each of them made their millions.
Find out who is the one man that Bill Gates fears or what the "boys" think of Steven Jobs. You'll read about greed and the lust for power, the undying quest by these men to become the best at what they do.
The book is more than just the story of the rise to the top, it is laced with so much history of the silicon valley and those that had and has the desire to make it work and prosper. A very good book indeed!
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By A Customer on November 4, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Kaplan's book about Silicon Valley focuses on the big names and he does come up with some great "dirt" on each of them. (How Jobs Screwed Wozniak, how Clark abused Andreessen, etc.) He also throws in some interesting history of the big companies there. Ultimately, though, it's no more satisfying than reading a stack of People magazines. For a more thoughtful guide to the Valley, read Po Bronson.
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Format: Paperback
This book's first chapter at one point refers back to the "Gold Rush fever" that hit San Francisco in the late 1840s. It's a good corollary to those seemingly "seeking gold/riches" in today's Silicon Valley.
What struck me most about the book were the stories of excess and power among the Valley's richest executives. People like Larry Ellison, Jim Barksdale & Jim Clark, and Steve Jobs, for example. And yes Bill Gates, even if he is technically about 800 miles to the north.
Speaking of Gates, the author makes what I found to be an interesting observation: That the Justice Department's "wish" to divy up Microsoft into two or more companies would not create more competition. His feeling is that any company complaining about Microsoft's so-called "monopoly" would do better to study how Microsoft got to be where they are and why. The rationale being that the Valley tends to "eat its young," and that it might be easier to stop this "Godzilla" by beating it at its own game.
Among the other stories told here? Stories about the people and companies that got left "behind." Companies like Shockley Semiconductor, academic institutions like the University of Illinois and their original browser, and even people like the tragic figure, Gary Kildal.
The stories in this book most likely have been told elsewhere judging by other reviews I've seen. Even so, they are told in entertaining fashion in this book.
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