The First Annual Big Technology Book Awards
Happy new year. Here are Big Technology’s best books of 2021.
Seasons greetings. Thanks again for being a Big Technology subscriber. There are 12,000+ people signed up now and I’m so grateful you’ve given me room in your inbox. Wishing you and your families a happy and healthy new year. Thanks again for reading.
One of the great joys of hosting Big Technology Podcast is that it forces me to read books — lots of them — so I can conduct informed interviews with authors. This year I’ve read so many great tech and business books that I figured I’d hand out awards for the best of 2021. There are plenty of worthy candidates, but here are the titles that stood out for me.
The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion
By Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell
The best business books tell narratives that reveal deeper truths about our world. The Cult of We nailed the assignment. By following ex-WeWork CEO Adam Neumann’s story, Farrell and Brown open a window into the overheated private capital markets and demonstrate how high-growth startups do extreme things to meet those markets’ unrealistic expectations. The Cult of We is a thrilling business story that teaches fundamental, important lessons about our modern economy.
Listen: The Definitive WeWork Story — With Eliot Brown And Maureen Farrell
Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire
By Brad Stone
Amazon is notoriously difficult to report on and its founder Jeff Bezos is a man of mystery. Brad Stone’s Amazon Unbound is delightful because it’s jammed packed with new information about the company and the man behind it. The book reveals just how instrumental Bezos was in developing Alexa, uncovers how his saucy text messages with a romantic partner leaked, tells us more about his involvement with the Washington Post, and has plenty more. This is Stone’s second book about Amazon, following The Everything Store, making him the company’s foremost chronicler. The only thing missing is participation from Bezos himself.
Listen: Amazon Unbound Author Brad Stone On How Nerdy Bezos Turned Into Ripped Bezos
The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley's Pursuit of Power
By Max Chafkin
It’s hard to overstate Peter Thiel’s influence in Silicon Valley. In The Contrarian, Max Chafkin tells his story from the start. The book brings you way back to Thiel’s PayPal days, revealing his battles with Elon Musk and his determination to disrupt the financial system. It concurrently traces how Thiel’s libertarian political ideology spread throughout Silicon Valley. Thiel is one of the tech world’s most fascinating characters, and this book brings you squarely into his world.
Listen: Unraveling The Mystery Of Peter Thiel — With Max Chafkin
The Devil's Playbook: Big Tobacco, Juul, and the Addiction of a New Generation
By Lauren Etter
A deeply reported look into the rise and fall of Juul, one that further illuminates the overall moral bankruptcy of the tobacco industry.
App Kid: How a Child of Immigrants Grabbed a Piece of the American Dream
By Michael Sayman
An accessible and endearing memoir about a teen developer beating the odds and coding his way to a solid career in tech.
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Apple Aims to Prevent Defections to Meta With Rare $180,000 Bonuses for Top Talent (Bloomberg)
The Apple vs. Meta (Facebook) war is escalating. Meta poached about 100 engineers from Apple over the past few months, and Apple has poached some from Meta, according to Bloomberg. Now, Apple is giving select engineers massive bonuses — as much as $180,000 — to keep them from leaving. These two companies hate each other and their war of policy is now expanding to one of talent.
Facebook’s Pushback: Stem the Leaks, Spin the Politics, Don’t Say Sorry (Wall Street Journal)
After Frances Haugen went public, the Facebook political machine got moving. The company worked to confuse her message, according to this Wall Street Journal report, guiding members of Congress to interpret Haugen’s revelations through a partisan lens. Publicly, Facebook took a ‘no apologies’ stance and remains committed to it. Facebook’s strategy is bold and defiant. It could easily backfire. But in our age of cynical politics, it just might work.
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What Else I’m Watching
I got Covid toward the end of December (now fully recovered!) and caught up on a bunch of TV. Here’s a quick rundown of what I watched and how it rated:
Loved this one. It’s an eight-episode series that portrays the case against Purdue Pharma, the Sacklers, and Oxycontin. Michael Keaton stars as a family doctor caught in Purdue’s web and crushes it.
Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)
Coach Lasso delivers. Season 2 granted itself the freedom to go absurd, and it worked. Ted Lasso seemed like a one-joke show but it hasn’t let up yet.
Morning Show (Apple TV+)
Season 1 was good, Season 2 wasn’t. Time to cancel this star-studded junk pile.
Twentysomethings: Austin (Netflix)
I binged this at the height of my symptoms. Kinda trashy? Yes. Did I love every minute? Also yes.
Don’t Look Up (Netflix)
I liked it. Sorry!
The Jets (CBS)
Bad NFL team. Do not recommend.
Together with AxiosHQ
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This week on Big Technology Podcast: 2021 In Review, 2022 Predictions — With Casey Newton
Casey Newton is the editor of Platformer, a CNBC Contributor, and a friend of Big Technology Podcast. He joins us for our final show of the year, where we look back on the biggest stories of 2021 and predict what's coming in 2022. Join us for a conversation about Big Tech's year of transition, the upcoming Web3 wars, and whether the cult of the founder is falling apart.
You can listen on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
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I’ll see you next Thursday. Happy New Year!