High Technology Tell All Books

Tell All Books are nothing new and some of the most explosive ones of all time have already come from California (in and around Hollywood). Suddenly, tell alls are focusing on high tech companies instead of movie stars. So far this year two have been published with a lot of fanfare and I bet there are several others that are under contract from major publishing houses.

The first was Dan Lyons book Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble which is about his time at Hubspot. I love that the very first review on the Amazon page for the book is from the Los Angeles Times and says “Disrupted by Dan Lyons is the best book about Silicon Valley today” as it is indicative of the content of the book, which I’d categorize as ironic at best and notionally confused. Why? Because, ahem, Hubspot is in Boston, where the majority of Lyons’ book was based.

The second, which I gobbled down on Friday and Saturday, is Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley by Antonio Garcia Martinez. This book actually takes place in Silicon Valley and we get to spend a lot of time at Y Combinator, Twitter, and Facebook.

Both books are classic tell alls, which is to say that they are juicy, salacious, sarcastic, nasty, critical, provocative, self-effacing, cringeworthy, and generally an effort in both education (“let me tell you how the world works”) and self-justification (“look at the injustice visited on me by how the world works.”) Each will titillate, depress, sadden, frustrate, and amuse you. Each will likely cause you to have conflicting feelings about the authors. I expect both authors view this as “the truth – at least my truth – is more important than being liked.” Or maybe they just got healthy advances from their respective publishers (Hachette and Harper).

While I have no interest in debating either Lyons’ or Martinez’s personal truth, I fell like their excessive cynicism and general loathing of most of the people they worked with undermined their stories. While big swaths of each books were fun to read, some parts of them didn’t ring true to me, especially in the case of Lyons, where I felt like I was reading the words of a sad and angry person trying to justify – in hindsight – what had happened to him. Occasionally there would be a bright spot and I’d feel like the story had turned a corner and was going to have some positive content, but in both cases they turned dark quickly again.

Having read my share of tell alls over the year, including some that were passed off as autobiographies, I mostly feel sad – sometimes for the writer and sometimes for all the people in his way. I hope that the process of writing the tell all gives some release and closure on what clearly was an unpleasant and unfulfilling life experience. Or, I’m hopeful it leads to more enlightenment, or a more satisfying role in life for the person, as it appears it has for Dan Lyons from a casual read of his blog.

I don’t know Lyons or Martinez, but I know plenty of people in each of their books. Sometimes I share their view of the people they write about. Other times I don’t. But I kept searching for some optimism somewhere in each of these books and found none. Ultimately, that is what disappointed me about each of the books.


Also published on Medium.

  • TeddyBeingTeddy

    In my experience, there’s a bit of correlation and causation here. Negative people don’t tend to do well at high growth startups. And those that fail either embrace failure, take accountability and learn from it…or they point at everyone around them and go scorched earth.

    It’s hard to be positive when the earth is crumbling around you, but fruitless cynicism is a cancer that must be dealt with at any company.

    • Dan Mitchell

      Yeah, and just look what the haters did to Madoff. We need more positivity!

  • Great post. That’s so true.

    Even without resorting to lies, many current books and articles generally jump to judgments about facts and situations. Judgments are very hard and tend to be overly explanatory and subjective. Chance, casual effects and unintended “collateral damage” is therefore excluded. In the end, as you said, Optimism disappears.

  • ZekeV

    All war books, however cynical, are in a sense pro-war. That is what bothers me about these missives from the dark heart of Silicon Valley. They say nasty things about famous people and places, but will nevertheless be taken as a how-to guide by armies of newly-minted engineers and b-school types. Just as Martinez says he took a copy of Liar’s Poker with him to Goldman, we now get another class of SBS grads with a copy of Chaos Monkey tucked under their polo-shirted arms…

  • Lyons’ book badly misrepresents The Alliance — apply the opposite machine to his characterizations: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/un-disrupted-what-alliance-actually-says-employment-chris-yeh

    • Yeah, I didn’t read Lyon’s book but the the linked NY Times piece made it painfully obvious he hadn’t read The Alliance.

  • Resident

    Well, as someone who has known you for years, I’m pretty disappointed with this post. You seem completely oblivious to your personal privilege, and incapable of understanding how latinos and blacks, such as myself, are discriminated against in this industry (turns our my Stanford + Ivy League education is of marginal help). The next time we run into each other I’ll smile politely, while internally relishing the fact that I know you are just another privilege white guy in the valley who desperately clings to the false belief this industry is a great meritocracy. Shame on you.

  • I noticed that on GoodReads you gave Martinez’s book 4-stars, but re-reading your article, it feels like you are lumping them together and your closing remarks led me to be surprised to find that rating.

    • I gave Lyons three stars.

      I liked, but didn’t love, Martinez’s book. It was better than Lyons, but it wasn’t awesome.