... sharp and disturbing ... Chafkin’s chronicle of Thiel’s wild abandon during the Obama years contains some of the most suspenseful passages in the book, as the narrative hurtles toward his acquisition of actual political power ... Chafkin is especially interested in the friction between Zuckerberg and Thiel, who drifted apart for a time as Thiel became more involved in conservative politics. The words spent on discord in this relationship — and on tension between Thiel and other tech titans — distract from the more urgent chronicle of Thiel’s rise as one of the pre-eminent authors of the contemporary far-right movement ... chilling — literally chilling. As I read it, I grew colder and colder, until I found myself curled up under a blanket on a sunny day, icy and anxious. Scared people are scary, and Chafkin’s masterly evocation of his subject’s galactic fear — of liberals, of the U.S. government, of death — turns Thiel himself into a threat. I tried to tell myself that Thiel is just another rapacious solipsist, in it for the money, but I used to tell myself that about another rapacious solipsist, and he became president.
... entertaining and disturbing ... In the end, the answer to the riddle of what Thiel truly believes is a disappointing one — not through any fault of Chafkin’s, but because his subject is less fascinating than he would have us believe. For all his intellectual horsepower, Thiel is a painfully recognizable type to anyone familiar with Tucker Carlson, Stephen Miller or Andrew Breitbart — all brainy conservatives who came of age in California, revolted by, and revolting against, its prevailing progressive mores ... Chafkin’s title has it exactly right: Thiel is a contrarian, a man who doesn’t truly stand for anything — only against. What could be more boring than that?
The title hits the mark. The subtitle causes difficulties ... Despite his limited access to Thiel, Chafkin succeeds in shedding light on his subject’s formative experiences. But then he faces the hard choice: Which of the mature Thiel’s multifarious exploits deserve emphasis? ... At least as of now, showing that Thiel’s political machinations have made a difference is hard. His $1.3 million donation pales next to the tens of millions spent by the hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer on the Trumpian right during the 2016 cycle...Seeking nonetheless to build a case for Thiel’s political salience, Chafkin takes a fateful turn. He tortures the evidence to make it scream louder ... Chafkin’s exaggerations are doubly unfortunate. Thiel is indeed a financier of the Republican right, and perhaps he will emerge as a kingmaker with real power in some future political cycle...But drawing dubious connections does nothing to advance this point, and meanwhile Chafkin’s political emphasis obscures another part of his subject. Thiel’s approach to venture capital gets short shrift in his book. Yet venture investing is where Thiel’s contrarianism has yielded the clearest rewards—and where his impact on the world is arguably strongest ... Thiel’s contrarianism may be alarming in its reactionary Stanford Review guise. But an aversion to imitation and a willingness to commit capital to long-shot ideas are also the special forces that drive the most dynamic part of our economy.