August 19, 2016 Last Updated 3:31 pm

Re-up: Interview with the author of Peter Thiel micro-biography

With the announcement this week of the shuttering of Gawker, it is as good a time as any to repost this 3-part series on the recent micro-biography authored by R. Byrne Reilly on the man who funded the lawsuit that brought down Gawker Media

Originally appeared on Talking New Media on June 29, 2016

If you are in either the media or tech business, you’d have to have been living under a rock not to have heard the name Peter Thiel a lot recently. The PayPal co-founder, and early investor in Facebook, admitted that Hulk Hogan lawsuit against Gawker Media which resulted eventually in the digital media brand to file for bankruptcy protection.

The lawsuit may have been about a sex tape, but it really was about Nick Denton’s media property’s propensity to piss off Silicon Valley bigwigs, especially Thiel, whose name appeared on the Gawker websites with regularity.

PT-cover-300So, the release of the eBook Peter Thiel: Players, Companies, Life just weeks before Thiel admitted to be the money behind the lawsuit would seem to have come at a very fortuitous time for its author, Richard Byrne Reilly.

Reilly, a veteran of the now defunct innovation magazine Red Herring, self-published his book, releasing it into the iBooks Store, Amazon, B&N and Kobo.

“It’s so great that this happened just as the book came out. I couldn’t have asked for more in terms of PR push,” Reilly said to me during an interview in Santa Cruz.

Of his subject, Peter Thiel: “You love him, you hate him. Nobody knows where he’s going. By the time you sit down and talk to him he’s two and a half weeks ahead. He’s already on Mars with Elon (Musk) setting up the tents and construction cranes.”

The Thiel biography is planned to be the first of a series of three micro-biographies, each self-published in digital form only. The eBooks are derived from Reilly’s knowledge base built up from his reporting beginning in 1999, and meant to me what Reilly describes as non-linear biographies that can be read in 40 minutes on a mobile device.

“People want quick hits in terms to the data they are consuming,” Reilly said. “Forty minutes of your time is great, and you can learn a lot about Peter Thiel.”


Peter Thiel was born in Germany, but came to the US as a baby and was raised in Foster City, California. He studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Stanford University, then got his law degree from Stanford Law School in 1992.

Thiel co-founded PayPal in 1998, and when it was sold in 2002 he netted more than enough money to make his $500,000 angel investment in Facebook, which netted him around 10 percent of the company. Seven and a half years later the company’s IPO was valued at nearly $100 billion. Thiel sold off much of his stock, but retains 5 million shares and a seat on the board.

December 2007: Owen Thomas (now with the San Francisco Chronicle) writes a post titled “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people” for Valleywag, a Gawker-owned gossip blog about Silicon Valley.

The first comment on the story is from Gawker’s founder Nick Denton:

If Silicon Valley is the bastion of tolerance it likes to believe, and if the tech industry cares only about money, it’s surprising that Thiel would have kept his personal life a secret from journalists and his closest colleagues, for so long. He was so paranoid that, when I was looking into the story, a year ago, I got a series of messages relaying the destruction that would rain down on me, and various innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, if a story ever ran.

It wasn’t the last time Gawker wrote about Thiel, as a quick search of the website will reveal.

Thiel, for his part, is a bit of an oddity in Silicon Valley, a libertarian who is a Donald Trump supporter in a sea of Democrats. But that is the common impression of the Valley, and likely an inaccurate one.

But for Reilly, he thinks the whole Thiel-Gawker battle is about bullying on the part of Nick Denton.

“I think it is a case of someone feeling that they were bullied, and no one likes a fucking bully, proverbially or metaphorically. The bully is the bad person in the room,” Reilly said.

The Book ➡︎

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