R. Byrne Reilly’s ‘Peter Thiel: Players, Companies, Life’
Peter Thiel: Players, Companies, Life is planned by its author, investigative journalist Richard Byrne Reilly, to be the first of a series of three micro-biographies of “seminal, misunderstood” figures (presumably in Silicon Valley). Reilly has chosen to self-publish the book as an eBook though Amazon, Apple, Kobo and Barnes & Noble.
The biography is unauthorized, Reilly did not sit down with Thiel, though he said he contacted him or his office, and they were aware of the effort.
As the title suggests, the eBook ($4.49) is divided into three sections and is meant to be able to be read quickly. Jason Pontin, editor and publisher of MIT Technology Review, writes the Foreword.
“People want quick hits in terms to the data they are consuming. 40 minutes of your time is great and you can learn a lot about Peter Thiel,” Reilly said during an interview.
“There is nothing definitive about it, it’s an evolving, roving, intriguing snapshot of one of the world’s most powerful people.”
The book was in the works for ten months, Reilly said, though he thinks the second and third installments can be done in around three months. The book is derived from the author’s previous knowledge base from reporting on Thiel’s companies starting in 1999 when Reilly worked for Red Herring.
But the book was done a couple of months before it became public that Thiel was the money behind Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Nick Denton and Gawker Media. So those looking for insight into that episode in Thiel’s life may be disappointed.
In fact, the book really resembles that of a reporter’s notebook: a collection of quotes from Thiel about people such as Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, companies such as Uber and Amazon, and finally random thoughts such as Thiel’s desire to be frozen after death, or on being “sort of an outsider.”
Reilly said he boiled down what appears in the book from hundreds of possible quotes from articles and videos, to around 150 pages in iBooks (listed as only 89 Kindle pages in its Amazon listing).
The author gets many of the quotes you might have wanted to see.
“Twitter is hard to evaluate,” Thiel said during a CBNC interview. “They have a lot of potential. It’s a horribly mismanaged company. Probably a lot of pot smoking going on there. But it’s such a solid franchise that maybe it works with all that.”
During the same interview, Thiel, who is an investor in Lyft, said this about Uber:
“I do think Uber is the most ethically challenged company in Silicon Valley at this point… I do think there’s a question of how intensely you’re allowed to compete, and Uber is probably right on the line. I’m not saying they will get in trouble for it. There’s a good chance they’ll get away with it.”
Of course, there is, by necessity, also a lot left out. For instance, Reilly includes a quote from Thiel’s column for Cato Unbound, The Education of a Libertarian, one in which Thiel says that “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”
Later in the same column, Thiel essentially states that giving women the vote was, well, I don’t know:
The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.
That quote was picked up by Gawker’s Owen Thomas in a post headlined Facebook Backer Wishes Women Couldn’t Vote. Thiel then added a note where he sort of walked it back a bit.
But Reilly did include a part of that note to explain why Thiel says he is a libertarian:
I believe that politics is way too intense. That’s why I’m a libertarian. Politics gets people angry, destroys relationships, and polarizes peoples’ vision: the world is us versus them; good people versus the other. Politics is about interfering with other people’s lives without their consent. That’s probably why, in the past, libertarians have made little progress in the political sphere. Thus, I advocate focusing energy elsewhere, onto peaceful projects that some consider utopian.
For those who will be reporting on Peter Thiel in the future, Peter Thiel: Players, Companies, Life will be an indispensable resource for quotes, opinion, insights into the Silicon Valley figure. As Thiel is a Donald Trump delegate from California, it helps give insight into why there are powerful, rich personalities working hard to make sure Trump wins the White House.
Notes on the book’s production: The Foreword was written by Jason Poutin, editor and publisher of MIT Technology Review. The cover artwork, of which Reilly says he is especially proud, is by John Ritter. When it came to putting the eBook together, Reilly worked with Reedsy.