The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story

The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story

by Michael Lewis
The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story

The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story

by Michael Lewis


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New York Times Bestseller. “A superb book. . . . [Lewis] makes Silicon Valley as thrilling and intelligible as he made Wall Street in his best-selling Liar’s Poker.”—Time

In the weird glow of the dying millennium, Michael Lewis set out on a safari through Silicon Valley to find the world’s most important technology entrepreneur. He found this in Jim Clark, a man whose achievements include the founding of three separate billion-dollar companies. Lewis also found much more, and the result—the best-selling book The New New Thing—is an ingeniously conceived history of the Internet revolution.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393347814
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 01/06/2014
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 156,278
Product dimensions: 10.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Michael Lewis is the best-selling author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, The Blind Side, The Big Short, The Undoing Project, and The Fifth Risk. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his family.

Date of Birth:

October 15, 1960

Place of Birth:

New Orleans, LA


Princeton University, B.A. in Art History, 1982; London School of Economics, 1985

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Boat That Built Netscape

The original plan, which Lord knows didn't mean very much when that plan had been made by Jim Clark, was that we would test the boat quickly in the North Sea and then sail it across the Atlantic Ocean. If nothing went too badly wrong, it would take us six days to sail down to the Canary Islands and another ten to the Caribbean. I had seen Clark in so many different situations that I felt sure I knew him, and the range of behavior he was capable of. But there is nothing like sixteen days on the high seas with a small group of people who have a lot of doubts about each other to test one's assumptions about human character. On the Atlantic crossing Hyperion would carry only the captain and his seven crew members, one or two computer programmers, Clark and me.

    Why Jim Clark was so worthy of study was another matter, and I'll come to that soon enough. For now I'll just say that the quirks in the man's character sent the most fantastic ripples through the world around him. Often starting with the best intentions, or no intentions at all, he turned people's lives upside down and subjected them to the most vicious force a human being can be subjected to, change. Oddly enough, he was forever claiming that what he really wanted to do was put up his feet and relax. He could not do this for more than a minute. Once he'd put up his feet, his mind would spin and his face would redden and he'd be disturbed all over again. He'd thought of something or someone in the world that needed to be changed. His new boat was a case in point.

    For all I knew, Clark would be remembered chiefly as the guy who created Netscape and triggered the Internet boom, which in turn triggered one of the most astonishing grabfests in the history of capitalism. Maybe somewhere in a footnote it would be mentioned that he came from nothing, grew up poor, dropped out of high school, and made himself three or four billion dollars. It might even be said that he had a nose for the new new thing. But to my way of thinking these were only surface details, the least interesting things about him. After all, a lot of people these days have a billion dollars. Four hundred and sixty-five, according to the July 1999 issue of Forbes magazine. And most of them are no more interesting than you or me. You have to trust me on this.

    Along the stretch of canal outside of Amsterdam where the water is deepest, the swollen tankers and stout tugs come to rest. Neither the driver nor I had the slightest idea where in this stand of massive industrial ships one might park a pleasure boat. It was not a place anyone would normally come for fun. The driver finally turned around and asked me exactly what I was looking for, and I told him I was looking for the sailboat that would take me out to sea. He laughed, but in the way people do who want to prove they get the joke. The Dutch do this a lot. They appear to live in terror of being mistaken for Germans, and to compensate by finding a funny side to life where none exists. Tell a Dutchman that your dog just died, and he will pretend that you have just made some impossibly witty remark. This is what the driver did when I told him I was about to go sailing in the North Sea. It was early December, the winds were up around thirty-five miles an hour, and the North Sea—well, the North Sea in winter is not the place to be in any kind of sailboat. The driver roared in the most un-Germanly fashion. "Yachting!" he said, and burst out laughing again, far too loudly, as if he had seen me my one joke and raised me another. "Yes," I said, which only brought forth more peals.

    The great mast rescued us. One moment we were lost; the next we turned a corner and spotted on the horizon the tall, rigid white rod. Its brightly colored pennants flew in relief against the gray sky, and its five spreaders reached up into the clouds like a chain of receding crucifixes. They beckoned everyone within five miles to drop his jaw in wonder. It was then that the driver finally stopped laughing. "Yacht," after all, is a Dutch word.

    Three minutes later we drove onto the dock up near the low white sailboat, next to the name painted in blue cursive on the side: Hyperion. You could tell the driver knew at least a bit about sailboats because he immediately called the boat a "sloop." A sloop is a sailboat with one mast, to distinguish it from a sailboat with two masts, called a "ketch." "How long is this sloop?" he asked me. "One hundred and fifty-five and a half feet," I said. "That is the biggest sloop I have ever heard of," he said. I said that that was because it was the biggest sloop ever built. His eyes moved from the hull to the mast, and from the mast to the boom, and from the boom to the sails, which, unfurled, would cover a football field. "How many men are needed to handle the sails?" he asked. "None," I said, "at least in theory."

    The Dutchman laughed again, but nervously, as if deciding whether it was better to be mistaken for a German or a fool. It wasn't until I told him that the boat did not exactly require a crew, that it could be completely controlled by a computer, that conviction returned to his laughter. The whole thing, after all, had been some foreigner's idea of a joke.

    When I arrived that morning of the first North Sea trial, Wolter Huisman was standing on the deck beneath the mast. Wolter owned the boatyard that had built Hyperion. Wet snow dribbled from his rain gear, and his woolen cap drooped around his ears. His chin sunk glumly into his dark tattered parka, and his old Dutch shoulders sagged like a commuter's at the end of a long day. He seemed to be melting. Coming up from behind, I caught him muttering to himself. Later I learned that Wolter hadn't slept. He'd stared at the ceiling all night, worrying.

    "What's the worst weather you ever tested a sailboat in?" I asked him.

    "Dis wedder," he replied. Then he sighed and said, at once apropos of nothing and everything, "When Yim wants something, Yim gets it."

    In his pessimism Wolter had found a strategy for getting through this life and onto a new and better one: so long as he insisted to himself that tomorrow would be worse than today, it did not matter as much if it was. He still had the Dutch habit of laughing at whatever you told him, just in case it happened to be a joke. But his laugh was harsh and unhappy. Wolter was pushing seventy, and his heart was old and weak, but this gloom of his was young and vital. Who could blame him? His fate was now intertwined with Hyperion's. And Hyperion was at this very moment the most spectacular maritime disaster waiting to happen since the launching of the Titanic.

    Of course, every new yacht that left the Huisman Shipyard was, so far as Wolter was concerned, an accident waiting to happen. It had taken Wolter, and his father before him, and his father's father before him, decades to build their reputation as perhaps the world's finest makers of yachts. Each time Wolter launched a new yacht, that reputation went up for grabs. But this was different. This was new.

    "Where is he?" I asked.

    "Behind duh computer," said Wolter. Pause. "When Yim sits behind duh computer, he is not any more in dis world."

    That was true. He was creating a new one.

    On that bitterly cold December morning Hyperion left its moorings so silently that the programmers didn't notice. The programmers were three young men Jim Clark had flown over from Silicon Valley to the North Sea to help him turn his new yacht into a giant floating computer. Technogeeks. Each was in his early thirties, each possessed a wardrobe that appeared to consist of nothing but T-shirts and blue jeans, and each was a former employee of Clark's first technology start-up, Silicon Graphics. They clambered up on deck from below, where they had been typing away on their keyboards, to see what they'd wrought. It was as if they hadn't quite believed that Hyperion would float.

    The bridge was a technogeek fantasy. Where an experienced sailor would expect to find a familiar row of gadgets—radar, sonar, radio, GPS, and so on—were four large flat-panel computer display screens. The three young men took seats in front of these and started pressing buttons. Soon enough they were making small quivering sounds that suggested all was not right with the computers. On one of the screens was a map of Holland. The map focused on the area immediately around us, perhaps twenty square miles. A miniature Hyperion inched stealthily across it, like a boat in a video game. But according to the computer map we were chugging on top of a farmer's field, and heading toward an airfield. The slender canal we were actually on lay three miles to the east. Any captain using the computer to run the boat would think he was heading full tilt into an aircraft watchtower.

    I walked out onto the deck to find that the same map occupied the computer screen in front of Allan Prior, the man Clark had hired to captain Hyperion. Allan was from the old school. He'd won the Whitbread around-the-world race in a sailboat so stripped down that it looked vandalized. Allan himself looked vandalized; the wind and the sun had ravaged his complexion. Allan did not believe that sailboats should be run by computers. Now he was staring straight ahead, attempting to avoid a large ferry that was making a dash across the canal. "Don't bother me with that," he said when I asked him why his boat was in the middle of a wheat field. "That's a computer problem." Clearly, he was in no mood to consider the undeniable fact that his entire boat was a computer problem.

    I returned to the programmers on the bridge. After a couple of minutes of furious typing, they had the boat back on the water. Yet the head programmer, a fellow named Steve Hague, retained a certain dubiousness. His eyes darted back and forth between the edge of the canal and the map on which Hyperion chugged along. All of the computer's gauges seemed to be either inadequate or inaccurate. A captain steering off them—which Allan Prior at that moment declined to do—would not only think that he was sailing through a wheat field. He'd think he was sailing through a wheat field in the wrong direction. For no apparent reason a red light flashed on one of the screens. It said, DANGER, DANGER, DANGER.

    Steve punched some buttons. According to the computer we'd been grounded. "It is truly unfortunate that we find ourselves in this situation," he said, at length.

    Yes it was. Just a few hours earlier the weatherman had predicted Force 4 sailing conditions. Force 4 implied pleasant winds of twenty knots and seas of perhaps six feet. Even before we left the canal and passed through the locks into the North Sea, the report lost its credibility. The gauges on the boat that measured the speed of the wind had frozen at fifty knots—the computer had not been programmed to register winds any higher.

    As we passed through the lock and into a harbor, we could finally see why Wolter Huisman muttered to himself. Fifteen-foot waves crashed against the seawall and flicked their white foam thirty feet in the air, where it mingled with falling snow. Gusts of wind blew at seventy miles an hour. The boat suddenly began to rock too violently for anyone to stare very long into his computer. The programmers scrambled out from the bridge and onto the deck, where Allan and Wolter stood together in the snow with pretty much everyone else: twelve boatyard workers, seven crew members, two Dutch friends of Clark's, a photographer, and a German television crew present to document the launching of the world's first computerized sailboat. The only person missing was Clark himself, but, then, people who knew Clark knew better than to expect him to be where he was meant to be. Sooner or later he'd turn up, usually when he was not wanted.

    "It's too goddamn windy out there," Wolter Huisman shouted, to no one in particular. "It is wedder to test people, not boats." He shot Allan a meaningful look, who shot it right back to him. They both knew that the weather was the least of their problems.

    When Hyperion left the seawall behind, it put itself at the mercy of a furious North Sea. Instantly, the boat was seized by forces far greater than itself; its magnificence was trivialized. A furious partial corkscrewing motion pulled us up to the right and then down to the left. We'd dip into a trough, experience a brief, false moment of calm, and then be picked up and twisted again. The German television soundman dropped to his knees, crawled over the side of the boat, and vomited. There was no question of his suppressing the urge; it was as if someone had pushed a button on the computer that instructed the man to be sick. There, prone and puking on the violent deck, he lifted his microphone into the air to capture the ambient noise. Room tone. A young Dutch friend of Clark's along for the ride chuckled and said, "The Germans. They will always do the job they are given no matter what."

    But the German soundman was a trend setter. It took about a minute and a half before the first Dutch boatyard worker leaned over the safety ropes and vomited the Saint Nick's cake he'd been served an hour before. A minute later he was joined by two poor colleagues who had been down below monitoring the engines. A few minutes after that the three fellows working on the foredeck came back to join the party. Then came the rest of the German television crew. Hyperion rose and twisted and plunged and settled, then rose and twisted and plunged and settled all over again. Within twenty minutes eight men had gone as lifeless as if they had been unplugged from their sockets. Those who weren't sick pretended to be amused. They clustered around the captain and clung to the rails and smiled crazily at each other.

    Eventually, Allan reduced the engine speed and hoisted the sail. He did this by pushing a button, which told the computer to hoist the sail, which the computer, for once, did. The mast was hatched with crossbars, called spreaders. The sail rose with a great flapping sound past them one by one until at length it reached the second-to-last spreader. Just when you thought there could be no more sail, more sail appeared. The mainsail alone was 5,600 square feet, a bit more than a quarter of a football field. The world's largest sail, as it happened. It was expected to handle up to eleven tons of wind. That is, the force on its ropes was the equivalent of dangling from their ends an eleven ton steel block. Already the ropes were being tested. "The wind is too strong to let it all out," Allan shouted to Wolter. Wolter nodded solemnly.

    Not until you have hoisted a sail and turned off the engine can you fully appreciate the euphoria that accompanied the invention of the steam engine. The boat, now engineless, was subjected to a grosser, more primal force. The waves crashed and the spray came in sheets and the partial corkscrewing motion became a full corkscrewing motion. The eight men in Puker's Alley retched all over again. This time it wasn't so funny to the others. A wave washed over the deck and knocked two of the Dutch shipyard workers on the bow off their feet; they were saved from the sea by their safety ropes, which they alone wore. The three technogeeks clung to the rails and tried not to remember that they didn't belong here. They knew without being told that anyone who went overboard was as good as gone. A person tossed into the North Sea in December would last only a few minutes before freezing to death; and in these conditions it might take an hour to pick up a man overboard, if you could find him. Maybe for this reason no one bothered to don a life jacket.

    It was then I noticed Wolter, his arm wrapped tightly around a rail, trying not to look at everything at once. It was Wolter whose ass was really on the line out here. If a Huisman mast snapped, or a Huisman hull leaked, and a Huisman yacht sank, a long and glorious family tradition bubbled to the bottom of the North Sea floor. That is why Wolter and his three hundred stout and sturdy craftsmen back in their tiny village in the north of Holland resisted change. They did not cling to the past mindlessly. But they were as immune as people can be to the allure of a new way of doing things. Traditional, in a word.

    Wolter had spent the past three years wrestling with a great force that had neither the time nor the taste for tradition. The struggle had turned Wolter into an old man. Before Jim Clark had come to the boatyard at the end of 1995, Wolter had never heard of Silicon Valley, or of the Internet, or, for that matter, of Jim Clark. Yim, as Wolter called him, had sat down amid the exquisite models of ships built centuries before, and the old black-and-white photographs of Wolter and his ancestors at work building them. He had seen a yacht Wolter had just finished building, he said, and wanted one like it. Only bigger. And faster. And newer. He wanted his mast to be the biggest mast ever built. And he wanted to control the whole boat with his computers. Specifically, he wanted to be able to dial into his boat over the Internet from his desk in Silicon Valley and sail it across the San Francisco Bay. It was as if someone had distilled manic late twentieth-century American capitalism into a vial of liquid and poured it down Wolter's throat.

    Only a small part of the discomfort experienced on that wintry, gray December afternoon on the North Sea was physical. Most of it occurred inside of people's minds. Clark pushed people into places they never would have gone willingly. Often the people who'd been pushed assumed, for one reason or another, that Jim Clark, the rich man from Silicon Valley who seemed to know what was about to happen before anyone else, would make sure that it didn't happen to them. The problem with their assumption was that it wasn't true: all Jim Clark ever guaranteed anyone was the chance to adapt. His penchant for disrupting his environment was at the bottom of every new company he created; now he'd used it to transform a sailboat. The many strange deep sensations on board—Wolter's dread, Allan's frustration, the computer geeks' unlikely feelings of responsibility—all were the doing of Clark and his new technology. It was a single great, messy experiment, which, in retrospect, was bound not to end well. And it didn't.

    At the moment when the seas were most fierce, the boat's tiny population huddled together on the stern. Hyperion pitched and rolled; its passengers clung to the rails and to each other. Even Allan, who had sailed around the world three times in boats the size of Clark's bathtubs back in California, was numb as a mummy. "It's not sailing," he hollered to Wolter. "It's more like throwing something into a washing machine to see what breaks."

    It would have occurred to no sane person at this point to crawl along the side and have a look around. But that is what Clark did. He emerged from his cabin, where he'd been fiddling with his computer, and made his way up the safety ropes along the side. Since Hyperion was 157 feet long, and he was six foot three, this took some doing. I should say that he did not look as he was expected to look; his appearance was just another element of surprise in a surprising universe. He was tall and broad in a way computer nerds are not supposed to be. His blond hair was neatly combed. His features were small and delicate: one could easily imagine that he resembled his mother. He was handsome. Unlike most men who make billions of dollars for themselves, he had an expansive, easy manner. At any rate, that's the first impression he made. If you looked closely, you could see that each of the slow and easy gestures was countered by another that was small, tense, almost involuntary. His body language was engaged in a debate with itself. It was as if he had an itch that he was refusing to scratch.

    When he reached the bow, he climbed up toward the world's tallest sailboat mast, which rose to a point 189 feet over the deck. He put his hand on it, to steady himself. There he stood for some long while, a large yellow lump of Gore-Tex, directly beneath the tall, rigid white rod of his ambition. He was looking, it appeared, straight up at the sky. What he was looking for, no one could say. Probably he was thinking about something he might like to change. Possibly he was not thinking at all but groping. That is how his mind worked—the logic always came after the initial, inexplicable, primal impulse. But whatever he was doing he didn't do it for long. Once he'd found his footing, his mast began to sway. At first its movements were barely perceptible; then they became more pronounced; at last they were violent.

    Later someone who had been on the bridge said he had heard a loud crack. The rubber at the base of the world's tallest mast had shattered. The foot-wide seal that kept Clark's 189 feet of carbon fiber standing straight had frozen into a crystal, and then broken to bits. The mast came loose in its socket. Its three and a half tons rocked wildly back and forth, like a broomstick rattling around inside a garbage can. As quickly as he could press a button, Allan Prior lowered the sail, before the mast itself broke and fell over into the sea.

    "Yesus," Wolter Huisman muttered, and looked away.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Boat That Built Netscape
Chapter 2: The Accelerated Grimace
Chapter 3: The Past in a Box
Chapter 4: Disorganization Man
Chapter 5: Inventing Jim Clark
Chapter 6: The Boom and the Mast
Chapter 7: Throwing Sand in Capitalists' Eyes
Chapter 8: The Great Brain Quake of August 9, 1995
Chapter 9: The Home of the Future?
Chapter 10: God Mode
Chapter 11: How Chickens Become Pork
Chapter 12: New New Money
Chapter 13: Cheese Sandwiches for Breakfast
Chapter 14: Could Go Either Way
Chapter 15: At Sea in the Home of the Future
Chapter 16: Chasing Ghosts
Chapter 17: The Turning Point
Chapter 18: The New New Thing
Chapter 19: The Past outside the BOX

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"The most significant business story since the days of Henry Ford...Lewis achieves a novelistic elegance." --Boston Globe

"May be to Silicon Valley what Pepys's diary was to 1660's London or Twain's Roughing It to the American West of the last century." --Kurt Andersen, The New York Times Book Review (front-page review)


An Interview with Michael Lewis, author of The New New Thing

Business editor Amy Lambo recently chatted with Michael Lewis about his highly anticipated new book, The New Thing, a fascinating character study of Silicon Valley legend Jim Clark and his entrepreneurial, high-tech artistry. How did Netscape founder Jim Clark become your central figure in this Silicon Valley tale?

Michael Lewis: [Silicon Valley] is such a hard subject for a book because it seems, at first glance, so diffuse. There are thousands of people in this kind of ant colony-like environment. So the temptation is, as a writer, to take ten of [these people] and devote equal attention to each and hope that each one represents something. That clearly was not going to work for what I had in mind. What I had in mind was The Great Gatsby.

A lot of the work took place before I even discovered who the subject was. There was a year of legwork—basically floundering around and writing kind of disposable magazine pieces in finding out who said the most about the place, who was it that was unique to the place. An awful lot of the people out here are not dissimilar to "types" in other walks of the economy. The venture capitalists—they're a lot like Wall Street people, and if Silicon Valley never happened they'd probably be on Wall Street. But it became clear that there was this unique character, a [Silicon Valley] type. And it was the person who said, "This is the thing" and caused the resources—the money and the people—to race toward that thing. A peculiar kind of entrepreneur—a combination of a futurologist and an inspiration and kind of a Pied Piper-type of character like no other character anywhere else in American life. If you asked, what would these people be doing if we didn't have this fantastic little technology world out here, in a lot of cases the answer was, they'd be in jail because they were barely socialized. And I became riveted by this. It was astonishing the range of behavior that was tolerated from this kind of character. He wasn't expected to behave like an ordinary American businessperson. He was expected to be different. And, I was attracted to that eccentricity.

When I got to this point in my thinking, I recall the conversation that I had with [Silicon Valley venture capitalist] John Doerr right after I got out here. I was asking him, "Who's interesting?" And the first person he said was Jim Clark. He said "[Clark's] the only guy who's ever created, as far as I know, in American history, three separate multibillion-dollar companies." [Silicon Graphics, Netscape, Healtheon] And, of course at that time, the third one [Healtheon] was worth $0, but Doerr was assuming that it was going to be worth something big. And Doerr said, "He's got this amazing over-the-horizon radar. He's got this thing."

The reason I recalled this conversation with Doerr was because somebody else out here told me the story of [the venture capitalist] Glenn Meuller—that this guy had blown his brains out when Clark had told him he couldn't have a piece of Netscape. I thought, "My God. What an incredible thing." I wanted to go find out if it was true. That was my excuse to myself and to Clark for going to see him. How did he take to you at first, and how did you gain his trust?

Michael Lewis: He was uncomfortable at first. A guy just walked into his life and asked him, "Is it true that you murdered this guy?" And he said, " was more complicated than that." [Meuller's death] was very disturbing to [Clark], and he thought he was responsible for killing [Meuller] for months and months. But [Clark] knew who I was and that helped [establish trust.] It also helped that he hadn't read Liar's Poker. He only knew it kind of vaguely—heard it was a funny book. As we got more deeply involved and he started dragging me into business meetings, a lot of people were saying to him, "What the hell are you doing? Have you read Liar's Poker?" So sure enough he went off and read it. And I thought, "Oh no." What was his reaction?

Michael Lewis: He was laughing. He said, "That book's great. Those investment really ripped 'em a new a--hole. That's what I'd have done, too." I could tell that the way he thought of the investment bankers was not entirely different from the way I had portrayed them. And so it actually had this weird effect of reassuring him that I was someone who thought like he did. It just solidified the relationship and instead of scaring him off, it pulled me closer. And then I moved into his life.  Did he ever regret giving you such open access?

Michael Lewis: At some point he just threw up his hands and said, "I know this is nuts having you around here but it's too late." It took several months before I came to the conclusion that [The New Thing] was all with him, that I didn't need to fan out more than that. That through him I could get to everything that I thought was really interesting about this place. He would lead me to the engineers, and he would lead me to the venture capitalists, and he would lead me to the investment bankers, and he would be our jungle guide. By the time I figured that out, he was in so deep, it was too late.  What did he think of the finished book?

Michael Lewis: It has not disturbed our relationship, but he has powerfully mixed feelings about it. I shouldn't speak for him, but I think it really disturbed him, seeing his personality in such concentrated form. And, on the other hand—he would never say this, I don't think— he's very aware of his own importance. He understands that he's the prime mover. And so, it's nice to have someone come in and understand that about him. He liked that. Plus, some of it he thought was hysterical. He knew it was going to be difficult for him to read it because he knew how ambitious I was...and that there were going to be times when his feelings would not be spared. I think he was sort of prepared for that.

I sent him the book once I got a galley and I gave him 24 hours with it. And I went down the next morning and saw him, and it was really funny...half of him was saying, "You motherf-cker." And half of him was saying, "This is a great story." And I think that the truth is he behaved in character. He does not care about the past. His interest in this book is "how's it going to affect this next thing I'm doing?"  You already mentioned Gatsby and the Pied Piper. Are there other legendary figures/fictional characters who Jim Clark is reminiscent of?

Michael Lewis: I think of Gatsby and I think of Shiva the Hindu god of creation and destruction...this notion that the creator is also the destroyer. I also had things in mind, like Las Vegas. Places and things that are so distinctively of us, of this country. I just thought, "This guy is not created anywhere else but in the American experience."

Also, if businesspeople hadn't turned it into a cliché, the answer is, he's like an artist. Like Picasso or someone. It's this sheer will imposed on the world. It just so happens that his palette is technology. It's someone groping for a mode of expression. Someone who's got this thing on the tip of his tongue and he's trying to find a new way to say something. When you watch him --- temperamentally, psychologically, whatever --- it's like watching an artist. He reminded me of artist friends, people who were engaged in that particular quest for finding new modes of expression. That's sort of the type. It just happens that the business world has found a place for this type. Could you relate to that as a writer?

Michael Lewis: Yes. Very much so. He could see that what I was trying to do with my life was not wildly dissimilar from what he was trying to do with his life. In my case, it was what the next book was. He would make that analogy sometimes. It was kind of true. There were states of mind that he experienced that I could very closely relate to. One was the restlessness of not having a impossible it is to live with a person who needs the project [and is going through] the pain of conceptualizing it. I found there was a period of six months of writing the book when I really didn't know what I was looking for. I was really kind of miserable. That's his personality, too...up and down. In the preface of Liar's Poker, you wrote, "Never before have so many unskilled 24-year-olds made so much money in so little time as we did this decade in New York and London." What sort of "never before" line sums up Silicon Valley?

Michael Lewis: Never before have so many skilled 24-year-olds made this kind of money. The difference is one of magnitude. Who would have thought that the kind of money that was being talked about on Wall Street in the '80s would, ten years later, be thought of as chicken feed? It's just astonishing to me. Clark is part of a larger movement of rich people getting so much richer that it's changing the dynamics of the society. He's just one of them. But if you look down the Forbes rich list and cough up all the people who inherited their money or were born to upper-middle-class families with access to Ivy League schools, then you're down to probably about 40. And of those 40, rank them from the direness of the circumstances in which they were born. Clark would be number 1 on that list. This "rocketing through" the American social order—it's an unbelievable thing. Another person I thought about [when writing about Clark] was Bill Clinton. The amazing thing about Bill Clinton's story is how far he came. These sort of personal stories have world historical significance because, if you look at world history, there are not many things like it.  At the end of The New Thing, you actually explore Clark's impoverished upbringing by taking a trip to his hometown in Texas. That felt like an important exclamation point to your whole Jim Clark character study.

Michael Lewis: It was. I was hoping the reader was going to be surprised to find him or herself in Plainview, Texas, at the end of the book. Very much so, because it went from the world of IPO road shows and yacht rides to this family that barely survived.

Michael Lewis: They were [so poor that they were] going to eat the cat. I couldn't believe it. Someone once said that an explanation is where the mind comes to rest. I don't think you can explain people in that way. They need to be partially explained. I just wanted to suggest to the reader that maybe all of this that's going on [in Silicon Valley] has something to do with the nature of our whole society. That someone like Clark comes from such an extraordinary place, that his psychological motivations grow out of circumstances that most people who are in his position just didn't experience or never could imagine. Why is it that someone thrives on disrupting the world around him essentially? Maybe it's in that story. Maybe it's where he's from and how he experienced it. I was also struck by the dynamic of the engineers and programmers that surrounded him. He took care of them, immersed himself in their world, but yet you felt at times that they were just foolish for putting up with him. Are they the sympathetic characters in all of this?

Michael Lewis:  Well, they all get rich. At what price, though?

Michael Lewis: That's a very good question. I can't say. I think that they all think they're better off, for sure; they're very grateful. Success tends to come at a price just generally. These people worship [Clark]. He is to them like [aviator] Chuck Yeager, who all the test pilots wanted to be like. Or Ken Kesey even. Or these [Thomas] Wolf characters that are essentially leaders of a status culture who people emulate. He is one of these people that they all want to be like. Once I had [Clark] on my radar screen, I ran across lots of young people starting businesses who had Jim Clark in mind. Is there some kind of satisfaction for you in observing Silicon Valley and looking at it as something that trumped the Wall Street culture of Liar's Poker? In The New Thing, you even refer to the investment bankers at one point as "taking the bleacher seats" to the Silicon Valley venture capitalists. Sounds like you're enjoying this turnaround.

Michael Lewis: Well, yes. Because this is what I really admire in [Clark]. I admire people who take personal risk and expose themselves. The Wall Street investment banker types are not people who take risk. They're people who take extraordinary fees for being at the table when money is changing hands. I don't really admire that. I don't think it's evil; I just think they're overpaid. It did bother me that young people would want to go do that because it pays so well. They think that because it pays so well it must be of great social importance. Here, [Clark] is taking great personal risk. The interesting thing is, even though he's got three and half billion dollars, he is as exposed as he's ever been when he starts something new, because everything is on the line. His whole identity is on the line. And he lives that way. He doesn't "diversify his portfolio." I kind of like that. It's exciting to watch.

The second thing is—and there's an interesting debate here—what's happening in the valley is socially beneficial. There's no question these people are generating or are really close to the cause of the great boom. So, I don't have any doubt that they're important. Now there's this whole other question about whether [Silicon Valley] society is a good society or a bad society. And it makes me uncomfortable, a place that doesn't value the past and is so oriented to the future. I think there's a kind of despotism— this neglect of the fathers by the sons, this speed-it-up kind of Oedipal thing. It disturbs me. But that's more complicated. Economically [Silicon Valley leaders], I think, just generally make the world better. It is nice to see them win in a funny way. Especially since they're an oppressed class. A lot of people here—they fixed the machines. Or their fathers were the middle managers who got laid off from IBM. So it's nice to see people who didn't used to win, win for a change. It's like watching the New Orleans Saints have a winning season.

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