Innovations rarely come from “experts.” Elon Musk was not an “electric car person” before he started Tesla. When it comes to improbable innovations, a legendary tech VC told Sebastian Mallaby, the future cannot be predicted, it can only be discovered. It is the nature of the venture-capital game that most attempts at discovery fail, but a very few succeed at such a scale that they more than make up for everything else. That extreme ratio of success and failure is the power law that drives the VC business, all of Silicon Valley, the wider tech sector, and, by extension, the world. In The Power Law, Sebastian Mallaby has parlayed unprecedented access to the most celebrated venture capitalists of all time—the key figures at Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins, Accel, Benchmark, and Andreessen Horowitz, as well as Chinese partnerships such as Qiming and Capital Today—into a riveting blend of storytelling and analysis that unfurls the history of tech incubation, in the Valley and ultimately worldwide. We learn the unvarnished truth, often for the first time, about some of the most iconic triumphs and infamous disasters in Valley history, from the comedy of errors at the birth of Apple to the avalanche of venture money that fostered hubris at WeWork and Uber. VCs’ relentless search for grand slams brews an obsession with the ideal of the lone entrepreneur-genius, and companies seen as potential “unicorns” are given intoxicating amounts of power, with sometimes disastrous results. On a more systemic level, the need to make outsized bets on unproven talent reinforces bias, with women and minorities still represented at woefully low levels. This does not just have social justice implications: as Mallaby relates, China’s homegrown VC sector, having learned at the Valley’s feet, is exploding and now has more women VC luminaries than America has ever had. Still, Silicon Valley VC […]
Jill Lepore Ms. Lepore’s lively, surprising and occasionally salacious history is far more than the story of a comic strip. The author, a professor of history at Harvard, places Wonder Woman squarely in the story of women’s rights in America—a cycle of rights won, lost and endlessly fought for again. Like many illuminating histories, this one shows how issues we debate today were under contention just as vigorously decades ago, including birth control, sex education, the ways in which women can combine work and family, and the effects of ‘violent entertainment’ on children. ‘The tragedy of feminism in the twentieth century is the way its history seemed to be forever disappearing,’ Ms. Lepore writes. Her superb narrative brings that history vividly into the present, weaving individual lives into the sweeping changes of the century. Lepore’s brilliance lies in knowing what to do with the material she has. In her hands, the Wonder Woman story unpacks not only a new cultural history of feminism, but a theory of history as well. Lepore specialises in excavating old flashpoints—forgotten or badly misremembered collisions between politics and cultural debates in America’s past. She lays out for our modern sensibility how some event or social problem was fought over by interest groups, reformers, opportunists, and “thought leaders” of the day. The result can look both familiar and disturbing, like our era’s arguments flipped in a funhouse mirror….Besides archives and comics Lepore relies on journalism, notebooks, letters, and traces of memoir left by the principals, as well as interviews with surviving colleagues, children, and extended family. Her discipline is worthy of a first-class detective….Lepore convinces us that we should know more about early feminists whose work Wonder Woman drew on and carried forward….A key spotter of connections, Lepore retrieves a remarkably recognisable feminist through-line, showing us 1920s […]
by Michael WolffBestselling author of Fire and Fury and The Man Who Owns the News chronicler of the Trump White House Michael Wolff dissects more of the major monsters, media whores, and vainglorious figures of our time. His scalpel opens their lives, careers, and always equivocal endgames with the same vividness and wit he brought to his disemboweling of the former president. These brilliant and biting profiles form a mesmerising portrait of the hubris, overreach, and nearly inevitable self-destruction of some of the most famous faces from the Clinton era through the Trump years. When the mighty fall, they do it with drama and with a dust cloud of gossip. This collection pulls from new and unpublished work—recent reporting about Tucker Carlson, Jared Kushner, Harvey Weinstein, Ronan Farrow, and Jeffrey Epstein—and twenty years of coverage of the most notable egomaniacs of the time—among them, Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, Andrew Cuomo, Rudy Giuliani, Arianna Huffington, Roger Ailes, Boris Johnson, and Rupert Murdoch—creating a lasting statement on the corrosive influence of fame. Ultimately, this is an examination of how the quest for fame, notoriety, and power became the driving force of culture and politics, the drug that alters all public personalities. And how their need, their desperation, and their ruthlessness became the toxic grease that keeps the world spinning. You know the people here by name and reputation, but it’s guaranteed that after this book you will never see them the same way again or fail to recognise the scorched earth the famous leave behind them.
Andrea CarboniPostdoctoral research fellow, University of Sussex Clionadh RaleighProfessor of Political Geography, School of Global Studies, University of Sussex In 2021, coups d’état ousted four heads of state in sub-Saharan Africa. Army interventions in Chad, Mali, Guinea and Sudan halted a years-long decline in military takeovers. Some heralded this as the comeback of the army in African politics. Elsewhere in Africa, elected leaders in Tunisia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, among others, were accused of pivoting to authoritarian rule. Common authoritarian measures include suspending parliamentary assemblies, confining opposition leaders, extending term limits and violently repressing opposition and dissent. Here lies an apparent paradox: despite decades in which democratic institutions have become prevalent across the continent, African states continue to be vulnerable to military takeovers and autocratic forms of power. Multiple interpretations aim to explain this seeming contradiction. A popular explanation suggests that the world, and especially Africa, is entering a new phase of ‘democratic backsliding’. This follows a decades-long era during which several leaders were ousted by popular movements. Nowhere was this more evident than in North Africa. Here, the democratic aspirations of the 2011 Arab Spring were overshadowed by a return to authoritarianism and conflict. Yet, in many of Africa’s competitive autocracies, the removal of leaders is not associated with revolutionary change. In fact, there is a remarkable stability of senior elites and institutional practices across regimes. This seems to point to their resilience in the face of a supposed trajectory towards democracy. The literature on political survival provides a more compelling narrative to explain political change in competitive autocracies. A leader’s survival is conditioned on the support of senior elites. Leaders can typically spread power among their ‘rival allies’ to keep it and co-opt enough of those elites in exchange for political support. These actors can in turn leverage their collective power to secure greater influence and rewards from […]
Bashar Al Shawa, PhD Student in Architecture, University of Bath It’s been claimed that technology is the answer to the climate crisis. By eventually separating economic growth from its effects on the environment through improving energy efficiency, the argument runs, better technology promises to prevent catastrophic global warming. But among the many things that this argument fails to consider is the reality that new technology has often encouraged extravagant forms of consumption: from private cars and planes to kitchens full of appliances and air conditioning in countries with mild climates. Technology has also caused what’s called the “rebound effect”: where improving energy efficiency leads to cheaper energy and therefore higher rates of energy consumption. For example, buying a more fuel-efficient car will reduce your average fuel cost per trip and thus is likely to lead to more trips, taking away at least some of your anticipated energy savings. A similar trend appears in architecture, where advances in artificial cooling, heating and computer-aided design have – rather than creating more efficient designs – actually introduced wasteful building styles. In my work, I call this phenomenon the “architectural rebound effect”. This effect becomes especially clear when we look at how building façades (the “skin” that covers buildings) have evolved over the past 100 years. Façade failures The Cité de Refuge residential building in Paris, designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier in 1933, boasts one of the earliest examples of a façade made entirely out of glass. But with no windows or air conditioning, its summer indoor temperatures reached up to 33°C – making it a “notable failure” in architecture. To fix this, the façade was fitted with external shading devices and about a third of its glass was made opaque. This strategy was mostly effective: computer simulations have shown that the upgraded design reduced indoor summer temperatures to below 25°C. From the 1950s, fully glazed façades without shading […]
In February 1991, the media mogul and former MP Robert Maxwell made a triumphant entrance into Manhattan harbour aboard his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, to complete his purchase of the ailing New York Daily News. Crowds lined the quayside to watch his arrival, taxi drivers stopped their cabs to shake his hand and children asked for his autograph. But just ten months later, Maxwell disappeared from the same yacht off the Canary Islands, only to be found dead in the water soon afterward. His death was thought to be one of three scenarios: suicide, accidental or foul play. The leaning towards suicide still persists. Maxwell was the embodiment of Britain’s post-war boom. Born an Orthodox Jew, he had escaped the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, fought in World War 2, and was decorated for his heroism with the Military Cross. He went on to become a Labour MP and an astonishingly successful businessman, owning a number of newspapers and publishing companies. But on his death, his empire fell apart, as long-hidden debts and unscrupulous dealings came to light. For example, his use of three hundred and fifty million pounds from his company’s pension scheme. Within a few days, Maxwell was being reviled as the embodiment of greed and corruption. No one had ever fallen so far and so quickly. What went so wrong? How did a war hero and model of society become reduced to a bloated, amoral wreck? In this gripping book, John Preston delivers the definitive account of Maxwell’s extraordinary rise and scandalous fall. Footnote: He had on going challenges with Rupert Murdoch. Whenever Maxwell was close to buying a newspaper, Murdoch would invariable swoop and take the deal from him.
–Peter McNeil, Distinguished Professor of Design History, UTS, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. André Leon Talley dreamed of a life ‘in the pages of Vogue, where bad things never happened’ Every time we see a “fashion moment”, we use the words of André Leon Talley, from his description of Galliano’s 1994 Japonisme show. Talley, who died recently age 73, was a flamboyant, over-the-top figure from the fashion industry, inclined to snobbery and rather overbearing. He had a longstanding love of French culture and the cross-fertilisation of fashion, art, poetry and life. Most prominently, he worked at Condé Nast for four decades, where, as creative director and editor-at-large of Vogue, he shaped the way we understand and talk about fashion. Born in Washington in 1948, Talley was raised by his modest grandmother in segregated North Carolina and graduated high school in 1966. Slight and bookish, he dreamed of: living a life like the ones I saw in the pages of Vogue, where bad things never happened. A regular church-goer, he later said that particular ritual was akin to going to a royal court. The bright women’s clothes and careful accessories seen there were filed away mentally. Talley went to college at the historically black university, North Carolina Central University, before completing his masters at Brown University, Rhode Island – the first in his family to attend an Ivy League School. At Brown he wrote his thesis on black models in the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, a figure who upheld fashion as the epitome of modernity. New fashion narratives Talley’s first fashion job was as an assistant with Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The “fashion empress”, as he called her, had been fired as editor of American Vogue (1963-1971) for her over-literary imagination and costly fashion shoots. In her second life as a […]
By Gerald Posner, Paperback, 816 pages Award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author Gerald Posner reveals the heroes and villains of the trillion-dollar-a-year pharmaceutical industry and delivers “a withering and encyclopedic indictment of a drug industry that often seems to prioritize profits over patients. Pharmaceutical breakthroughs such as anti biotics and vaccines rank among some of the greatest advancements in human history. Yet exorbitant prices for life-saving drugs, safety recalls affecting tens of millions of Americans, and soaring rates of addiction and overdose on pre scription opioids have caused many to lose faith in drug companies. Now, Americans are demanding a national reckoning with a monolithic industry. Gerald’s dogged reporting, sets Pharma apart from all books on this subject as we are introduced to brilliant scientists, incorruptible government regulators, and brave whistleblowers facing off against company exec utives often blinded by greed. A business that profits from treating ills can create far deadlier problems than it cures. Addictive products are part of the industry’s DNA, from the days when corner drugstores sold morphine, heroin, and cocaine, to the past two decades of dangerously overprescribed opioids. Pharma also uncovers the real story of the Sacklers, the family that became one of America’s wealthiest from the success of OxyContin, their blockbuster narcotic painkiller at the center of the opioid crisis. Relying on thousands of pages of government and corporate archives, dozens of hours of interviews with insiders, and previously classified FBI files, Posner exposes the secrets of the Sacklers’ rise to power-revelations that have long been buried under a byzantine web of interlocking companies with ever-changing names and hidden owners. The unexpected twists and turns of the Sackler family saga are told against the startling chronicle of a powerful industry that sits at the intersection of public health and profits. Explosively, even addictively, readable Pharma reveals how and […]
-John Carreyrou This is the full inside story of the breathtaking rise and shocking collapse of Theranos, the multibillion-dollar biotech startup founded by Elizabeth Holmes, by the prize-winning journalist, John Carreyrou, who first broke the story and pursued it to the end, despite pressure from its charismatic CEO and threats by her lawyers. He has won the Pulitzer twice. In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionise the medical industry with a machine that would make blood testing significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work. In Bad Blood, John Carreyrou tells the riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a tale of ambition and hubris set amid the bold promises of Silicon Valley.
Matthew RadburnPostdoctoral Research Fellow, Keele University Clifford StottProfessor of Social Psychology, Keele University It seemingly can happen anywhere – and at any time. From London to Hong Kong, apparently peaceful cities can sometimes erupt suddenly into widespread, and often sustained, unrest. But what role does psychology play in this? And can it explain how, why and when crowds turn to violence? The recent film Joker tells the bleak story of how a mentally ill loner, Arthur Fleck, becomes the infamous comic book villain – and inspires a riotous popular movement. In the film, the stage seems well set for a riot. Gotham City is depicted as “… a powder keg of lawlessness, inequality, corruption, cuts and all-round despair”. But is the crowd protesting this – or acting as a mindless mob? As commentator Aditya Vats has pointed out, the film appears to reflect the views of the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who argued that society has a drive towards chaos and destruction. In the film, Fleck is portrayed as the individual who unleashes these apparently innate tendencies when he brutally kills first three wealthy young bankers – and then a TV talk show host live on air. Subsequently, thousands of rioters in clown masks are shown rioting, looting and killing, seemingly inspired by his actions. This is a simple, and popular, representation of real-world crowd violence. But does it accurately reflect the true psychology underpinning “riotous” behaviour? There are three “classical” theoretical explanations of the crowd that endure in the popular imagination. The first, “mad mob theory”, suggests that individuals lose their sense of self, reason and rationality in a crowd and so do things they otherwise might not as an individual. The second is that collective violence is the product of a convergence of “bad” – or criminal – individuals enacting their violent personal predispositions together in the same space. The third […]