This book is the potboiler version of how to create new industries, and advance the world for everyone.
Like the Victorian writers who detailed lovingly how royalty employed personal plumbing, Lewis focuses on Clark's obsession with gadgets. Many technically-strong, wealthy men like gadgets, so this is the Walter Mitty look for everyone who shares that fascination.
On the other hand, Lewis has little idea why people like Clark are successful and what the lessons are for the rest of us.
If you like the People Magazine approach to financial journalism, you've found your book.
If you want to learn how to be a high tech entrepreneur, I see little that will help you.
This is a soap opera tale, and if read as such you will feel totally rewarded. A larger-than-life character like Jim Clark makes a wonderful subject for a Lewis book.
on 28 May 2001
Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. I bought this book for two reasons a) The author came highly recommended for his book Liars Poker and b) if he did for the dot-com industry what he did for the finance industry it would be a great insight and a great read to boot.
What I got was a sycophantic, one-man song of praise for Jim Clarke. It was sickening in its own right, and depresssing to see such a sell out by the author.. That this book ever made it to print is a crime.
You know a book is bad, when the quotes on the dust-cover telling us how good the book is are not about the book in your hand, but another book - in this case Liars Poker.
The only good thing that came out of this is that I went and bought Liars Poker. It was every bit as good as I expected it to be. Shame on you Michael Lewis
on 12 July 2016
I have enjoyed all the Michael Lewis books I have read, enjoying real life events being told in a very readable way. This time I learned about Jim Clark, founder of a number of Silicon Valley companies, making a fortune for himself and for many many employees and investors. As Jim is described having new ideas, convincing others that they will be executable and will make money there is a background story. He has commissioned the building of a boat with the tallest, at that time, mast, to be managed/sailed via on board computers. A good read and Jim an interesting man.
on 16 April 2015
Hero Worshipping the Devil
Michael Lewis - one of my favourites - often centres his books around heroes - whether nice or nasty - and the New New Thing has his most blatant hero so far - Jim Clark. He is as repulsive as a hero gets, often confusing us with his selfish, ludicrous behaviour. Lewis falls for Clark like a high school sweetheart - blindly in love, yet somehow keeping enough of his senses to avoid being buggered to death.
Jim Clark is a genius, and as such invites our sympathy. Having an unusual background - A Plainview Texas failure, Clark develops his genius gradually, somehow getting degrees and graduate degrees in physics, computer science and engineering. He develops computer graphics and becomes rich with Silicon Graphics. But he has no time for the money men. He wants to help engineers (like himself) make fortunes. Then he decides the future is in a home device (The TV) that can run your life. He changes his mind - it is the PC and internet that will change life. He starts Netscape, makes another bigger fortune, but is screwed by Microsoft. Clark is a mini devil compared to Gates (if you don't hate Gates by now, read this!). He becomes besotted with money, and falls off the greed wagon. He builds computer operated mega sailboats. He goes loopy. Then he starts Healtheon, an awful internet interface in the US healthcare market. The book ends with him becoming even more ridiculously rich. It is this idiot, Clark, who started the idea of companies getting rich off hype, the new, new thing, and the gullibility of venture capitalists and the stock market.
The book is great when it stays on Clark, but Lewis goes overboard over the boating episodes, which are dull. Normally I like Lewis's weird heroes, like Billy Bean (Moneybag). but Clark is a big, red faced jerk. How he became rich and bored is only slightly interesting, I haven't bothered following him up - like what happened next, mostly because I don't really care about him that much.
Of course, it is a fascinating tale well told, for the most part. Only Clark is not much of a hero - more a rich jackass.
on 2 June 2001
If you liked Sandra Bullock in "The Net " you'll love Jim Clark in "The New New Thing ".
In both that movie and Michael Lewis' book, you'll learn diddlysquat about the Internet or the Web. Instead you'll get some hyped up, impressionistic flim flam hoping to move us, and entertain us with the exciting new world (as it was) of the Internet (circa mid 90s). The movers and fakers come straight from central casting.
The book floats along with Clark's cyber-yacht "Hyperion" as the centerpiece of the action. The fate of this boat, with its over-engineered, 25 SGI workstation driven technology was a disaster waiting to happen. Its bloated pretentiousness and lack of real connection with maritime fundamentals (just forget about the weather) is a good allegory to what was going on in those 5 fantastic years that followed the Netscape IPO of 1995. Those investors who went along for the ride thought they had discovered the fail-proof money making machine.
Lewis as a writer and Clark as an engineer, turned billionaire and aspiring yachtsman, appear to know very little about the fundamentals of sailing. You can't cross the Atlantic Ocean " in a straight line as quickly as possible" as Clark commanded his skipper. ( p316). There are some basic elements such as winds, currents and the curvature of the earth to contend with.
There is no doubt that Clark is a driven man, unashamedly escaping his past. There is a strong element of psychobiography in this book. For Clark everything has to be new. The mystery of the old tarnished tuba from Clark's schooldays, which sits in a corner of Clark's guestroom, is one of the keys to the past that Lewis reveals to the reader.
The most worthwhile part of the book (p398) is when Lewis reflects " Why do people perpetually create for themselves the condition for their own dissatisfaction?"
On the following page, he observes " People who are unhappy with the way things are, tend to remain unhappy even after they have changed them." These are profound insights. It is a shame that Lewis distracts us with all the trivia in between.
This book confirms that the two high points of the Californian economic miracle (Silicon Valley and Hollywood), are both a product of a systemic frustration with the shortcomings of reality. What else do we need to drive our hoped-for progress as a civilization and at the same time "enrich" our popular culture? Materialism, whizz-bangery and vicarious thrill seeking fills the gap.
Those readers who have limited familiarity with the technology behind the Internet revolution, deserve more explanation of the significance of the key underpinning developments that were central to Clark's enterprises. Microsoft and the Browser Wars get a good run but surely the role of non-Windows operating systems such as UNIX warrant some passing comment in this book.
Lewis's writing style can be tiresome particularly his use of the F--- expletive on almost every page. Adding color to the dialog is one thing, and it may reflect the way some people talk, but it is more distracting than useful in a work of non-fiction like this.
The author evidently resides in Paris (France not Texas) these days. From that locale, you would think he would be less parochial when discussing the eating habits of non-Americans. He sneers at the cheese sandwiches the young Dutch investment analysts eat for breakfast...
The climax of the book is when the Hyperion has engine failure in mid Atlantic. If this book is ever going to make it as a movie, it will need some good continuity work. On page 345, with the yacht's motor stopped, the engineer goes down to the engine room --- "It was hot. It was loud enough that Robert needed ear mufflers". Did he forget to turn the Hi Fi down?
With so much emphasis in this book on the ups and downs of stock prices, you would think the author and Clark would know when things were heading south. Most of the time they were at sea in the Hyperion no one knew the direction of the wind. The yacht with its over-reliance on technology is reminiscent of lots of bloat-ware that choke up our PCs. The Hyperion was lucky it didn't disappear into a fatal blue screen of oblivion.
The most fascinating scene in the book is where Clark, only two days into the voyage across the Atlantic, becomes totally bored with his new toy boat. This says it all.
"The New New Thing " provides a valuable insight into one of the key personalities of the Internet market frenzy of the late 1990s. Unfortunately, since we all seem to be consumed these days by chasing newness, this book (and the lessons it teaches) will be totally forgotten in a few years time. Henry Ford would be at home in Silicon Valley today. History is still all bunkum when technological advancement, takes precedence over people or nature
For readers who want real insights on where the Web came from, the people who were responsible for it, and the business cultures that have emerged in its wake should read "Architects of the Web", Robert H Reid's great book from 1997. "The New New Thing" in contrast looks like a tired relic from the last century only two years after publication.
on 20 August 2013
Michael Lewis is one of the funniest and most insightful writers around. I have never failed to enjoy one of his books, although I haven't read his baseball related ones yet (I have no interest in the sport).
on 5 March 2014
Very easy to read and a fascinating insight to the first tech bubble. Unlike many other financial histories, it gives good detail of how/why. Clark was a fundamental figure in this period of economic history and his role is important to understand. Read the book in a couple of days and didn't really feel we're any areas of weakness.
on 6 December 2000
An easily readable account of the rise and rise of internet entrepreneurs in California's Silicon Valley, that manages to capture the essential insanity of the whole shebang. If ever there was a bubble waiting to burst, it was this one, but Lewis here concentrates on many of the people who've cashed in before the fall. Trouble is, as the book progresses and charts the obscene amount of money that is being made, I began to wish feverently that it would all end in tears for this bunch of Manon worshipping droogs. Lewis doesn't help matters at all, potraying most of the protaganists as little more than the sum of their bank accounts. In the end, despite his best efforts to coin a phrase, the New New Thing turns out to be the Old Old Thing after all: money.
on 25 April 2000
I listened to the abridged tape (3hours) of the book, so I am only commenting on what it contains. What I found most dissapointing is Lewis' ongoing fascination for the Hyperion boat project as if it was a metaphor for all that is Jim Clark. You know it isn't going to come to much because that is common knowledge and quite frankly stories about boat testing are never that rivetting especially when half the people on the boat are inexperienced. We get tales of vomiting, masts breaking, boredom and frustration with computer systems that seem to have no idea how to perform the most basic of sailing tasks. OK, interesting for a few pages but as a running theme throughout the tape NO I dont think so. Clark's story is amazing but we don't get enough details on how he did it (apart from being very antsy towards practically everyone) or what makes him tick. What we do learn though is that he has been instrumental in ensuring engineers get a good cut of the equity and that explains why engineers ran to be involved in his projects. Its a fundamental and necessary shift in power from suits to techies. The rest is just the question of why get so rich? Isn't a billion enough?. We dont really get a clear idea of how such wealth has affected Clark or how he feels about responsibilities it bestows on him (if any). Lewis tries to turn this into a jolly romp with the conclusion that Clark is the locus of the 'new new' ideas but perhaps we would gain more from a series of probing question and answer interviews with Clark and those that know him or had dealings with him. I suspect that he agreed to the book because he guessed (rightly) that Lewis would not subject him to any more scrutiny than that given by an admiring 'believer'. Kitty Kelly would have done a far better job but then maybe a man who wants to sail a boat by computer is not the best subject for a biography anyway.
on 15 November 2009
I read this book because I am a fan of Michael Lewis, and I enjoyed reading Liar's Poker and Moneyball. This book is about Jim Clark and Silicon Valley. Clark was an unsuccessful college professor who founded three billion-dollar companies: Silicon Graphics, Netscape, and Healtheon. I personally liked the part about Silicon Valley. I found it very educational to learn how an idea can be taken from scratch and at the end sold in the public markets through an IPO. After reading this book, people who are constantly chasing the next hot IPOs may wake up and realize that most of the money has already been made by the founders, venture capitalists, and investment bankers, before leftovers are served for the public.
- Mariusz Skonieczny, author of Why Are We So Clueless about the Stock Market? Learn how to invest your money, how to pick stocks, and how to make money in the stock market