- Hardcover: 512 pages
- Publisher: Twelve (July 10, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1455559024
- ISBN-13: 978-1455559022
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 72 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,013 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley (As Told by the Hackers, Founders, and Freaks Who Made It Boom) Hardcover – July 10, 2018
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From the Publisher
"This is the most important book on Silicon Valley I've read in two decades. It will take us all back to our roots in the counterculture, and will remind us of the true nature of the innovation process, before we tried to tame it with slogans and buzzwords."―Po Bronson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Nudist on the Late Shift and Nurtureshock
"VALLEY OF GENIUS is its own kind of genius. Original in its construction, prodigious, funny, raw and polished, it is an amazing work of reporting from a skilled writer with an insider's love of Silicon Valley. You feel like you are in the room with some of the greatest entrepreneurial minds-men and women-of our time, listening to history in the making."―Julian Guthrie, New York Times bestselling author of How to Make a Spaceship
"The beauty of oral histories is that enough time has passed for people to say what really happened. And what really happened is one of the great stories of our day. Gripping."―Chris Anderson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Long Tail and Makers: The New Industrial Revolution
"A fantastic read! Adam Fisher's history of Silicon Valley is compelling and thorough, full of fascinating and inspiring stories carefully curated by someone who truly knows his stuff. Should be on every entrepreneur's desk!"―Ben Mezrich, New York Times bestselling author of The Accidental Billionaires
"VALLEY OF GENIUS is a blast-it's like eavesdropping on a huge party of all the hackers, thinkers and creators that built our digital world. Every page has some crazy detail I never knew before; I couldn't put it down."―Clive Thompson, author of Smarter Than You Think
"Much of the modern world was invented before the public noticed what was happening in the emerging Internet. Idealists and innovators worked together to invent the future that we live in now. VALLEY OF GENIUS is their story, told well, and I really enjoyed it."―Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist
"The stories Adam Fisher weaves together in VALLEY OF GENIUS alone make the book a fascinating read: tales of heroic innovation, risk and reward, boom and bust cycles. But Fisher achieves something even more important with this 'autobiography' of Silicon Valley: an understanding of how momentous technological changes in society come about, and how they can sometimes surprise even their creators with their broader impact."―Steven Johnson, bestselling author of How We Got to Now
"Adam Fisher has given us an animated, incisive account of Silicon Valley history, with all of its iconic heroes and villains, told in a symphony of testimonials from the very people who had a seat at the revolution."―Brad Stone, bestselling author of The Everything Store and The Upstarts
"If you want to hear how technology changed the world, why not hear it from those who did the changing? VALLEY OF GENIUS captures the voices of a revolution as they tell the biggest story of our time."―Steven Levy, author of Hackers
"VALLEY OF GENIUS is the creation story of our digital universe straight from the sweaty, brilliant (and often surprisingly funny) gods themselves. A fast, fun, and important prose poem that runs Atari to Zuckerberg. This is like an oral history of rock n' roll, if only rock n' roll was half as creative, smart, dirty, or new."―Charles Graeber, New York Times bestselling author of The Good Nurse
About the Author
Adam Fisher grew up in Silicon Valley playing Atari, programming computers, and reading science fiction. He now lives on an island in the San Francisco Bay and writes overlooking the water for Wired, MIT Technology Review, and The New York Times Magazine. This is his first book.
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At first this gives the impression that the author played more the role of researcher and curator than traditional author. And then it hits you. Fisher, in choosing the quotes and stacking them as if they represent the conversations taking place at a group therapy session, is creating the narrative through context. And that is both ground breaking and ingenious—and that makes it a perfect way to tell the story of Silicon Valley.
By the end of the book, in fact, the individuality of the speakers begins to fade away and it begins to read like a traditional narrative. Although, journalistic to the end, the citations are never compromised. Brilliant writing, to be sure, on a par with the brilliance he writes about.
The stories are fascinating and there is little question that there is an abundance of genius on display here, or that technology really has changed the world. But did the people portrayed here drive the change or were they propelled along by it? The same can be asked of Napoleon, or Thomas Jefferson, or take your pick. The answer, of course, is a little of both, but there is always a tendency to over-personalize larger historical trends that are far more complex than that.
And I believe the choice of writing style may have been a tacit recognition of that on Fisher’s part. Individual to history to individual and back again. It’s powerful stuff from a purely literary perspective.
The Buddhists refer to “dependent origination”, the idea that nothing exists in isolation. We can understand many aspects of reality but can never know it completely, meaning that all reality must be interpreted in context and is, given the infinite number of variables that define reality, ultimately illusory.
During the Enlightenment, science and philosophy were considered two sides of the same coin. One was considered meaningless without the other. The word philosophy actually meant all knowledge, including scientific knowledge.
That, of course, isn’t the current thinking among scientists. All sense of philosophical context has been lost and, as a result, we are essentially “dumbing down” knowledge in order to make it fit the scientific paradigm of the day. Which is why so much scientific discovery is ultimately proven to be in error, or at least not complete.
Technology, it seems, is suffering a similar fate. Does AI take us to a new world beyond human intelligence or does it dumb down what it means to be human to fit the technological paradigm? Yes, autonomous driving cars will reduce the number of mistakes that human drivers typically make. But that’s within the context of human driving and that context will change. Will there be a whole new range of accidents that are enabled by the context of AI driving that don’t exist today?
At the end of the book Fisher asks the geniuses (not used pejoratively at all) of the Valley what the future holds. And to a person there are two themes: 1. We are the masters of technology because we have a culture of disruption and innovation. 2. Technology will change the world.
Fair enough. But what about context? A quick browse of any newsfeed suggests the world is imploding. And technology is certainly playing a role in that. Who is asking the larger contextual question about what that role is and how technology can become more than weaponized disruption in search of the next billion dollar payday?
If the technologists don’t address the larger issues of social context they won’t have the freedom to create the wonderful technologies they envision. Nothing, not even the Valley, exists in isolation. (And, no, I am not a Luddite. I actually went to the CEO of my first corporate employer to convince him to buy me a 128k Mac, at a cost of $4,500, as I recall, over the strongest possible objections of our corporate IT department, just because I could smell change in the air and thought we should at least understand it.)
This really is a brilliant book, brilliantly written, that everyone should read. I only hope that the genius outlined here finds context in the larger issues of social responsibility and progress. Technological progress without philosophical context will be hollow, at best, and destructive at worst.
Fisher did about 200 interviews and then disappeared. It turned out he was doing a clever thing: instead of writing articles or a book about the innovators, he lets us tell the story. Flip through the book and you don’t find any of his writing. Instead, he’s edited the interviews so it sounds like we’re all together. Chiming in, finishing each other’s sentences and stories, adding detail, arguing and contradicting each other - describing what we dreamed, did, and saw. Valley of Genius is a perfect example of what makes oral history so compelling.
It’s full of details that stories about technology often miss. For instance: our little company VPL had coined the term Virtual Reality and invented much of the technology when it was still way too expensive for any but the largest corporations. A year after the company folded, the Playstation came out with 3D graphics hardware that could replace $50,000 graphics computers for $300 — a factor of more than 100 — making vast new markets possible. But since that visionary team no longer existed, and its dreadlocked founder had moved on, the hype cycle was in remission and nobody seemed to notice. That scrappy team would have cannibalized two Playstations and had the first affordable VR system the week they came out. Instead the industry waited another 20 years. No previous VR story or book has come close to capturing that.
That spirit is all through the book — people taking apart TVs and hunting down a video signal to make the first affordable electronic game or computer, or staying up all night or all week creating software — to do something that had never been done before. Sure, understanding Moore’s Law (of exponentially faster cheaper hardware), and recognizing when this creates opportunities, is one of the keys to success. But “inevitable” innovation when technology advances — that’s a myth. Valley of Genius shows it’s really about tenacious, passionate individuals who don’t wait for technology to catch up with their ideas, and are ready when it does. It isn’t about technology; it’s about a few hundred people following dreams and changing the world. A brilliantly told, thrilling ride.