What a year 2021 was! I finished 101 books, which is right in line with what I’ve been doing for the last decade. I finished my presidential reading project, I tried to find fresh reading rhythms with a new baby and a couple new jobs, and I read more for pleasure than for practicality than ever before.
This intro is a bit short—the suburbs just north of where I live are burning down as I write this. Our city, Arvada, is safe for now, but is right on the edge of the danger zone. We’re okay, but it’s been a distracting day to say the least. As it always is, reading has been and will be a comforting balm in the midst of chaos. May it be for you, too, when needed.
That all said, this end-of-the-year edition features two great new books that will serve to stoke your tech-dystopian fears. It remains a topic I can’t stay away from. Let’s jump in (with a few announcements first)!
The Big Read Starts Tomorrow!
If you’ve been hemming and/or hawing about joining The Big Read and reading War and Peace in 2022, now is the time to sign up! Here’s what you’ll get:
Weekly recaps from me, right to your inbox + troves of historical background details, context-setting, and other info to guide your reading
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Leo Tolstoy’s timeless wisdom on love, conflict, death, meaning, power, and more
What was the best book you read in 2021?
If you haven’t chimed in yet, be sure to check out this awesome discussion thread I posted earlier in the week. It’s so fun seeing everyone’s responses! Lots of picks for A Gentleman in Moscow, The Thursday Murder Club, Richard Powers, The Midnight Library, and plenty of others. Bookmark this one and your reading list will be covered for years.
The Shining by Stephen King
My newest Stephen King review is posted over at stephenkingreader.com. The Shining combines the horror niches of the isolated haunted house, someone driven crazy by cabin fever, and a young boy with a mix of psychic abilities (he can see ghosts, read minds, see the future, etc.). It seems like it’d be a lot to roll together, but King does it incredibly effectively.
Really, though, the book is about the characters. Rather than the driving plot of Carrie or the large cast found in ‘Salem’s Lot, King narrows in on just a few primary characters and studies them to the core. Really enjoyed it, overall.
Next up is Rage, a book that’s now out of print and generally hard to find (but I did it).
Published: 2020 | Pages: 336
The title says it all, really.
I’ve read about a lot of Silicon Valley founders—Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Travis Kalanick, Jeff Bezos, Adam Neumann . . . but none are as out there as Peter Thiel.
From PayPal (and its early battles with eBay), to Palantir (one of the foremost surveillance companies in the world), to well-known investments in Facebook and SpaceX (to name just a couple), Thiel has been near the center of Silicon Valley power for decades.
And yet, he’s never really fit in.
He’s gay, but wasn’t out until he was outed by Gawker—a company he then single-handedly shut down. He’s libertarian, but in recent years has leaned conservative—“full MAGA” according to none other than the grim reaper himself, Steve Bannon. He’s incredibly private, but founded a company that makes billions by spying on people’s digital lives.
Chafkin covers all of these contradictions with an incredibly well-reported narrative that drives along with as much verve as any Silicon Valley story I’ve read.
The tech revolution is about power and money isn’t it? As Leo Tolstoy writes in the final chapters of War and Peace, “The crucial question of history [is] ‘What is power?’” Chafkin, a fan of Tolstoy’s classic novel, digs into that question from the start and doesn’t relent.
Ultimately, The Contrarian is the gripping, sometimes shocking story of Peter Thiel’s impact on Silicon Valley and the world at large. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in tech and modern politics/power.
Stay tuned—on Sunday I’ll send ya’ll a great interview with author Max Chafkin that I just didn’t have space for in today’s email.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
The Every by Dave Eggers
Published: 2021 | Pages: 577
I cannot believe that The Circle, the precursor to The Every, was published back in 2013. Nine years ago: Facebook and Twitter had just gone public. Microsoft bought Nokia (lol). TikTok was three years from launching. Instagram had less than 100 million users—compared to well over a billion now.
The tech landscape was so different, and yet, in The Circle, Eggers nailed so many aspects of why Big Tech makes us crazy.
In The Every, Eggers is back at it, with even more wit, prophetic voice, and page-turning story-telling.
Mae Holland returns as CEO of the Every—a company formed by the merger of Facebook, Google, and Amazon-like companies (though they’re never named outright). It’s just as creepy and existentially dreadful as it sounds.
All elements of privacy are under attack, every interaction gets rated, and the world is on the verge of being completely and willingly taken over by a tech company.
One woman, Delaney Wells, aims to shut the thing down from the inside. She lands a job, proposes ridiculous over-stepping ideas again and again, and the public eats up every single one.
She has to think bigger.
Eggers nails every aspect of this book. I cared deeply about the characters, I laughed and grimaced and shook my head, I was shocked by the ending, and I read all 577 pages in just a few days. Loved it.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Thanks so much for reading and subscribing and giving me some inbox space. Farewell to 2021 and may 2022 bring you all the excellent reading that your heart desires.