The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story
by Michael Lewis, 1999
I wasn’t on the internet much before the dot-com bust, so this book was an interesting view into the internet and Silicon Valley culture of the 90’s. The book was written by Michael Lewis (The Big Short, Moneyball) in 1999, around the time Google was getting started, and the book quips about how silly it is that Google was valued at $75M at the time in one of the final chapters. The central figure is Jim Clark, who helped found Silicon Graphics, Netscape, and Healtheon, which all (briefly) became billion dollar companies. Reading it, you’re struck by how flimsy the business notions of many internet companies are. The Netscape browser was popular, but never really had a way to make money and was eventually bought by AOL. I use the Firefox browser nowadays, which is the biggest remaining “branch” of the Netscape browser. Healtheon wanted to insert itself into the middle of the health care bureaucracy, somehow, in a way that never made sense in the book. It eventually merged with WebMD. Throughout the book, Microsoft was the big, bad wolf lurking in the background, with the clout to swamp any startup/industry it focused upon.
Nowadays, this book is valuable for the look into the internet culture of the 90’s and for understanding how Silicon Valley acquired so much power. Lewis was embedded with Clark for many months to write the book, so there is a lot of discussion of tech entrepreneur behavior, which often seems crazy from the outside. An interesting book to read, but only if the subject matter appeals to you.