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. Enjoy!
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.
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.