...[a] voyeuristic cultural history ... Racy and fun, Wolfe's dossier exposes the Valley as a high-tech playground, populated by workaholic millennials coding for driven, primarily male moguls, and by wunderkinds lured there by the call of like-minded brainiacs and the promise of big bucks—and of maybe participating in a polyamorous bang-fest or two in a mattress-strewn converted warehouse ... Wolfe's entertaining and intensive look inside this aspirational, transformational, and transgressive lifestyle is both celebration and cautionary tale.
Meet the conned, who, alas, include the author of Valley of the Gods: A Silicon Valley Story. Alexandra Wolfe spins a tale of Silicon Valley absurdity masquerading as altruism, although she’s unlikely to pitch it in these terms ... Wolfe certainly benefited from access to a colorful class of characters, even if they are predominantly male and resolutely infantile ... Adding insult to injury is Wolfe’s sometimes shaky understanding of how Silicon Valley got to be the 'valley of the gods' ... In this story, regulations and rules seem hardly to matter, which may explain why Santa Clara County has two dozen Superfund cleanup sites.
Whether Thiel’s radical libertarian outlook and declinist view of American innovation mark him as emblematic of Silicon Valley or as an eccentric, these ideas have never been worthier of interrogation. And yet, though Thiel hovers above Wolfe’s narrative like an Oz-like godhead, he is barely a presence in it, except when he’s the recipient of its adulation ... Eventually Valley of the Gods reveals itself in part as a tour through Silicon Valley’s cultural mores, from its group houses and startup accelerators and dating scene (insofar as it has one) to its highest-flying obsessions, like human immortality and advanced A.I. ... Wolfe doesn’t seem interested in mounting a critique of Silicon Valley writ large that is anywhere near as perceptive as Burnham’s, and she certainly doesn’t pursue the uglier directions that Thiel’s view of the universe has taken him.
Wolfe’s writing doesn’t differ much from those who came before her in this regard. She’s informative and has spoken with lots and lots of people up and down the peninsula. But unlike (most) others who come to the Valley with heaps of skepticism, Wolfe instead treats that plot of earth as if it’s mystical and magical, worthy of a place in history and something akin to the Greek odes to Aphrodite and Dionysus. But gods the nerds are not ... Wolfe’s writing can oscillate between graciously beautiful and being almost too explicative. (I didn’t need to know the name of everyone she met along her journey, but I feel as if I did.) But when her storytelling works, it works well ... Where I found myself getting frustrated was with Wolfe’s decision to omit facts that don’t fit that particular part of the story.
Valley of the Gods is couched as a behind-the-curtain look at various tech subcultures, but it’s mainly a collection of worn-out stereotypes and meaningless generalizations ... her knowing depiction of the valley relies on the kind of cliches that have informed dozens of previous books and magazine articles ... Wolfe focuses on Thiel Fellowship recipients, budding entrepreneurs who’ve skipped or postponed college in exchange for grants from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. While this approach provides her with some compelling people to interview, it also places Wolfe in the camp of Thiel fans...Elsewhere in the book, Wolfe isn’t shy about mocking entire professions for their supposed social backwardness, but when it comes to a powerful mogul like Thiel, she equivocates ... With its well-chronicled diversity problems and its enormous self-regard, Silicon Valley is always ripe for a takedown. But in Valley of the Gods, Wolfe does little more than string together a set of geek-centric cliches.
Wolfe, a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, starts slowly here. At first, she seems enthralled by these paragons of hoodie fashion culture and their big dreams. It's hard to believe she's serious when she writes, 'Even more than a testing ground for startups, Silicon Valley, to me, is a larger laboratory of cultural experimentation, where the only thing that's impossible is to predict.' By the book's end, as Wolfe tracks the Thiel fellows along their often-tortured paths through the new economy, it's clear she's half-serious. She captures the absurdity of this brave new world, pierces the hype but also conveys the dreams and the passions that can shape a world's economy.