The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley’s Pursuit of Power by Max Chafkin - review by Martin Vander Weyer

Martin Vander Weyer

He’s Probably Not Going to Be Your Pal

The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley’s Pursuit of Power


Bloomsbury 366pp £25 order from our bookshop

Who is Peter Thiel and why does he matter? The answer, according to this book’s blurb, is that he’s a US-based technology investor and political-campaign funder who wields behind-the-scenes influence on ‘countless aspects of contemporary life’. While some American readers may know what Thiel looks like and even think of him as a role model, I suspect that for most British readers his name will ring only a distant bell and his face is unknown. Jobs of Apple, Zuckerberg of Facebook, Bezos of Amazon, Musk of Tesla:
these we know. But Thiel of PayPal and Palantir? Not so much.

Max Chafkin is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek who has been covering technology and start-up stories in Silicon Valley and elsewhere for fifteen years. His objective is to place Thiel in a broad perspective of technological progress and US political change. For readers who don’t know much about Thiel already, he also faces the task of making him sound sufficiently powerful and charismatic that they finish the book thinking they now understand who’s really been pulling America’s strings.

Does Chafkin achieve that? On balance I’d have to say not quite, though he has produced a very competent example of the American style of investigative business writing. He assembles his material with clarity but doesn’t overload the detail and isn’t afraid to pass judgement. And he must have

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