Nudist on the Late Shift: And Other Tales of Silicon Valley

Nudist on the Late Shift: And Other Tales of Silicon Valley

by Po Bronson

The Nudist on the Late Shift is the true story of a new generation at the proving point of their lives, written by the most exciting and authentic literary voice to emerge from Silicon Valley, Po Bronson.
This is a defining portrait of young people in the whirl of an information revolution and an

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The Nudist on the Late Shift is the true story of a new generation at the proving point of their lives, written by the most exciting and authentic literary voice to emerge from Silicon Valley, Po Bronson.
This is a defining portrait of young people in the whirl of an information revolution and an international gold rush. Masses of entrepreneurs and tech wizards, immigrants and investors, dreamers and visionaries, are heading west to seek their fortune and a new destiny. In Bronson, they have found their troubadour.
Already hailed by The Village Voice Literary Supplement as "the most complete and empathetic portrait of the Valley so far," The Nudist on the Late Shift establishes Bronson as the first author to capture the spirit of this new mecca. Recently chosen by the VLS as one of 1999's "Writers on the Verge," Bronson has spent the past decade searching Silicon Valley for the best stories, several of which have been published in Wired. Now he has woven those stories together, taking us inside the world of the newcomers, brainiacs, salespeople, headhunters, utopians, plutocrats, and innovators who are transforming our culture.
Writes the VLS: "Bronson evocatively portrays the overwhelming unpredictability of life in the Valley: getting fired can be part of daily life. But with a zero unemployment rate, the wounded don't stay that way for long. Bronson is at his best describing this radically shifting environment, where everyday folk with the right idea and the stamina stand to make millions in a couple of years, skipping rungs on the career ladder at a mind-boggling pace. Bronson recognizes that Silicon Valley's boom is made up of small explosions, and The Nudist puts us at ground zero."

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Editorial Reviews

Anita Hamilton
...a juicy collection of true tales...this clever storyteller keeps you laughing as you breeze from one episode to the next.
Time Magazine
Chris Barsanti
When satirical-fiction wunderkind Bronson set out to write about what exactly was happening in Silicon Valley, he had plenty of details to report but a much more difficult time finding a theme or metaphor to hang them all on. Bronson tries to link everything together by reporting on all the fabulously energetic, talented and truly odd people he discovered there. It�s an amazing group: headhunters, Imagineers, VCs (Venture Capitalists), a group of extreme sport-playing programmers living in a place called The Geekhaus, and the hip-hop computer kid from Massachusetts who raised the money for his new venture by growing weed in the woods. Fortunately, Bronson does not stick to the gee-whiz tone taken by many reporters telling the story of the geek who had an idea and then a year later got $20 million from his IPO. For every Sabeer Bhatia (inventor of HotMail), there are Dreiser-esque tales of starry-eyed programmers who never find the Yellow Brick Road to their first $20 million. Bronson (who covers the high-tech industry for Wired and Forbes ASAP, among others) has a nose for interesting people and events, but ultimately this seems more like a greatest hits collection of his magazine pieces than a bona fide book.
Steven Levy
Bronson sees Silicon Valley not just as a contemporary gold rush but a magical land where everybody from bankers to clerical workers speak the babble of bandwidth and red herrings. —Newsweek
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Having satirized Silicon Valley in his novel The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, Bronson now turns a much rosier eye on the pulsing heart of the information age. As Bronson examines the pursuit of high-tech entrepreneurial glory, his method recalls the way Robert Altman's Nashville gave moviegoers a sense of the chase for country music stardom — except there's very little pathos here and a lot of blue sky. Though he dutifully presents the long odds facing the would-be founders of the next Yahoo!, Bronson thrills to the culture of the Valley because he believes it fuses the often contradictory desires for security and adventure. "By injecting mind-boggling amounts of risk into the once stodgy domain of gray-suited business, young people no longer have to choose. It's a two-for-one deal: the career path has become the adventure into the unknown." Bronson clearly likes the wild-eyed optimists and masters of uncertainty he profiles. There's Sabeer Bhatia, the Indian-born founder of Hotmail, who established a company and, against the advice of more experienced heads, rejected several buyout offers from Bill Gates until Microsoft paid $400 million for Hotmail. There's the exec who let Bronson be a fly on the wall during the ulcer-inducing process of steering a company through an IPO. And there are the talented programmers, many of whom, though not yet 30, have Ancient Mariner-like tales of rejecting stock options — and thus forfeiting millions — in companies that were bought or went public. Bronson is tuned in to the quirks of both personality and culture. His prose, often funny, maintains impressive velocity and is well suited to the manic life of the Valley and its colorful menagerie of characters. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal - Library Journal
For novelist Bronson, Silicon Valley "is about the opportunity to become a mover and a shaker, not about being one." In his first work of nonfiction, he turns his satirist's eye on Silicon Valley (also the subject of his second novel The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, 1997). Inspired by the urban legend of the nudist programmer, a folktale that turned out to be true, Bronson profiles in witty, vivid detail the people who make the Valley the exciting place it is: young newcomers who come for the adventure and the risk; entrepreneurs like Ben Chiu of and Sabeer Bhatia of Hotmail who strike it rich, brilliant but socially inept programmers ("eccentricity is de riguer") who thrill to see their software "go live on the Big Green X" yet will drop everything to go squirrel hunting in Tennessee. As Michael Lewis's Liar's Poker (1989) captured Wall Street and the spirit of the greedy 1980s, so Bronson's new book reflects the Valley and the digital revolution it spawned in the 1990s. For all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/99.]--Wilda Williams, "Library Journal" Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
For the record, Po Bronsons latest book is not a how-to about getting rich in the Internet business. But its easy to see how The Nudist on the Late Shift could be taken as one, because the tales that Bronson tells in this fast-moving and basically satisfying series of essays focus on the workers who indenture themselves to risky startups and end up winners.

Among them: the entrepreneur whose idea catches fire, the company staffers who complete an IPO and the programmers who earn so much they only need to work a couple weeks a month to finance private planes and exotic vacations. The overriding message: Its not who you know or how big your bankroll is. A good idea and a lot of chutzpah are all that stand between you and millions in (mostly paper) profits.

OK, youve heard that one before. True, Bronson isnt the first writer to explain why Silicon Valley has become a modern-day mecca for pilgrims praying at the altar of the almighty dollar. In fact, Bronson helped invent the genre as a Wired feature writer who became something of a golden boy of computer-industry literature with the publication of his 1997 novel, The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest. Its this fiction writers flare for nudging out just the right detail to illustrate a point that makes Nudist more fun than most of the Silicon Valley histories that have preceded it.

The real-world characters he finds could have stepped out of the pages of a novel, including Michael, the Massachusetts transplant who earned money to fund his touchscreen keyboard company growing high-grade pot, and Oma Kemmis, aka Mom, a sixtysomething software saleswoman with a reputation as the No. 1 closer in the business, and emphysema so bad she uses a respirator.

Bronson doesnt completely overlook the captains of Net industry, though. One of the books better sections chronicles the rise of Sabeer Bhatia from starving immigrant and engineering student to cofounder of Hotmail, the Web-based e-mail provider that rocketed to success – and brought Bhatia riches. Equally engaging is a profile of futurist George Gilder, whom Bronson trails as Gilder frantically casts around for just the right angle for a magazine article assignment while hopping between speaking engagements.

If Nudist were a sandwich, you might say that its filling is better than its bread. The 23-page intro is about 20 pages too long, although it does acquaint readers with the title character, a crackerjack programmer named David whose preference for working au naturel nearly gets him fired. And the final chapter isnt a summary as much as another helping of vignettes served up to show that the saga of Silicon Valley success is never-ending.

But summing things up is beside the point. Bronson is at his best when he doesnt preach, but rather lets his eclectic characters speak for themselves. So go ahead and take notes from this cast, and you could end up a winner, too.

– Michelle V. Rafter

Other New Titles of Interest

Profit Patterns

By Adrian J. Slywotzky and David J. Morrison (Times Business, $28)
The authors of the popular Profit Zone take a new tack: Rather than focus on the generals driving American business innovation, they reveal the generals codebook of business strategy.

Cyber Rules

By Thomas M. Siebel and Pat House (Doubleday/Currency, $28)
Six more rules for making your business an e-business, from the cofounders of Siebel Systems.

Amy Harmon
...[O]ne of the virtues of Po Bronson's engaging montage of Valley life is that it manages to maintain an appropriate sense of wonder at the culture that has emerged there even as it is aware of some of its favorite conceits....[He] has an eye for detail and a rare ability to spin the worlds of business and technology into entertaining stories.
The New York Times Book Review
David Skinner
The busy world of high tech has a likable absence of cynicism, and Bronson describes it, in general, without suspicion....Bronson is one of those people who, with the stock-market boom, seem to have been mugged by a happy reality.
The Weekly Standard
Kirkus Reviews
The growing subspecialty of business books that deals with the brainiac talents and picaresque entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley is upgraded to version 2.0 with this knowledgeable communiqué from cyberspace. Just as Hollywood is said to have done, Silicon Valley lures mature talent and young folk bright or attractive enough to cast hundreds of sitcoms. Novelist and Wired contributor Bronson (Bombardiers, 1995; The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, 1997) presents the wildcatters of the valley, from the seller of used cubicles to the multimillionaire who bedded down each night under his desk, from the devious headhunters to the young CEOs of software firms with killer apps. In a series of profiles, he probes their minds and hearts. We witness the closing days of an IPO (more dramatic than the preceding scutwork). Here, among the processors, terminals, modems, and servers are the individual progrananers, salespeople, venture capitalists, visionaries who build financial empires on vapor, and the new generation of studly geniuses who truly want to change the way the world operates. It just takes being first with one big idea. Here are the superachievers who risk all for exponential dollars. And here's the nude guy, who is no urban legend. It's all quite bizarre, of course, especially the money, which is "puppylike,

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Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.84(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.09(d)

Read an Excerpt

If the most torturous fate was a mind, caged,
who would understand?

If you always found life's elixir in striving rather than getting,
who would understand?

If you gambled rather than nest-egged and hit jackpot once of seven,
who would understand?

BY CAR, BY PLANE, THEY COME. They just show up. They've given up their lives elsewhere to come here. They come for the tremendous opportunity, believing that in no other place in the world right now can one person accomplish so much with talent, initiative, and a good idea. It's a region where who you know and how much money you have have never been less relevant to success. They come because it does not matter that they are young or left college without a degree or have dark skin or speak with an accent. They come even if it is illegal to do so. They come because they feel that they will regret it the rest of their lives if they do not at least give it a try. They come to be a part of history, to build the technology that will reshape how people will live and work five or ten years from now. They come for the excitement, just to be a part of it. They come because they are competitive by instinct and can't stand to see others succeed more than they. They come to make enough money so they will never have to think about money again.

They are the new breed, Venture Trippers, who get off on the dizzying adventure of bloodwork. It is a mad, fertile time. Working has become nothing less than a sport here in Superachieverland: people are motivated by the thrill of the competition and the danger of losing, and every year the rules evolve to make it all happen more quickly, on higher margins, reaching ever more amazing sums.

They come from places wallowing in an X-Y-axis attitudinal coordinate, a slow-mo way of thinking about one's life that offers a plodding story line they can't manage to suspend their disbelief of. They try to live that story, but they keep popping out, keep finding themselves saying, "What the hell am I doing with my life?"

They come because what they see ahead of them, if they stay where they are, is a working life that seems fundamentally and unavoidably boring. Nothing seems worse than the fate of boringness. They feel they are being offered a neo-Faustian trade-off by society: all of life's sprawling dimensions will be funneled through the narrow pipe of the career path.
And rather than choosing not to work hard, the Venture Trippers are taking the opposite approach from the Slackers. They're saying, If I'm going to have to make that trade-off, then hell, why the fuck not? I'm young, let's raise the stakes. Let's up the bet. Let's make it exciting. Let's put it all on black. Let 'em roll.
And they come.

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