The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story
Reviewed by Stuart Wade, Fri., Nov. 19, 1999
The New New Thing:
A Silicon Valley Storyby Michael Lewis
W.W. Norton & Co., 256 pp., $25.95
Not by accident, Michael Lewis' new book The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story, begins aboard Jim Clark's massive toy: a huge computer-controlled sailboat. It is the central metaphor for the restless Internet mogul, seeker of the "new new thing" and engineer founder of Silicon Graphics (SGI). Clark created Netscape and became a billionaire nearly out of spite for the men who wrested control of SGI from him. One of Clark's newest ventures is Healtheon, whose goal is nothing less than remaking the health care system.
Like Tom Wolfe, Lewis is gifted at producing intimate visual detail even when he's discussing complex topics. His 1989 debut Liar's Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street was a terrific insider's view of the young bond salesmen making and losing fortunes on Wall Street. Trail Fever, a document of the 1996 Republican presidential campaign, stuck closely to a pretty boring-sounding script of also-rans trying to bump off Clinton, but was nevertheless hilarious.
The New New Thing posits that Silicon Valley is to America what America is to the rest of the world. Young, speculative, and irresponsible, it is often hated by traditionalists, yet it points the way for everyone.
However, the metaphor-happy Lewis walks a tightrope between keeping his distance from and being too enamored with the less-than-compelling private Jim Clark. While "Clark the businessman" may be a compelling read, Clark the man isn't, as illustrated by his periodic flights to see his mother in his native Plainview, Texas (he never comes into town; she drives out to the airstrip where they eat lunch together). This is the book's ultimate weakness, and that's why The New New Thing is really only a tale for tech-heads. Michael Lewis fans will have to wait until his next time out to absorb the full force of his broad talent.