Is there any major player in Silicon Valley more mysterious than venture capitalist Peter Thiel? The PayPal founder, SpaceX investor, and noted right-wing supporter has managed to insert his impact into the fiber of our culture, yet there’s much about him that we don’t know—until now. Author Max Chafkin’s brand-new book, The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley’s Pursuit of Power, is the first definitive biography on the controversial and deeply influential entrepreneur. Chafkin joins Alta Journal newsletter editor Matt Haber to detail his research into Thiel and the political sway of Silicon Valley and to answer your burning questions about one of the internet’s most private powerhouses.
About the guest:
Max Chafkin is a features editor and tech reporter at Bloomberg Businessweek. His work has also appeared in Fast Company, Vanity Fair, Inc., and the New York Times Magazine. He lives in Queens, New York, with his wife, the journalist Christine Lagorio-Chafkin, and their children.
About the book:
The Contrarian is a biography of venture capitalist and entrepreneur Peter Thiel, the enigmatic, controversial, and hugely influential power broker who sits at the dynamic intersection of tech, business, and politics.
Since the days of the dot-com bubble in the late 1990s, no industry has made a greater impact on the world than Silicon Valley. And few individuals have done more to shape Silicon Valley than Peter Thiel. The billionaire has been a behind-the-scenes operator influencing countless aspects of our contemporary way of life, from the technologies we use every day to the delicate power balance among Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and Washington. But despite his power and the ubiquity of his projects, no public figure is quite so mysterious.
In the first major biography of Thiel, Max Chafkin traces the trajectory of the innovator’s singular life and worldview, from his upbringing as the child of immigrant parents and years at Stanford as a burgeoning conservative thought leader to his founding of PayPal and Palantir, early investment in Facebook and SpaceX, and relationships with fellow tech titans Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Eric Schmidt. The Contrarian illuminates the extent to which Thiel has sought to export his values to the corridors of power beyond Silicon Valley, including funding the lawsuit that destroyed the blog Gawker and strenuously backing far-right political candidates, notably Donald Trump for president in 2016.
Eye-opening and deeply reported, The Contrarian is a revelatory biography of a one-of-a-kind leader and an incisive portrait of a tech industry whose explosive growth and power are both thrilling and fraught with controversy.•
Check out these links to some of the topics Chafkin and Haber brought up this week.
- Read Matt Haber’s story, “What’s Peter Thiel Got Against California?” published in Alta’s free Thursday newsletter on California and the West.
- Buy Max Chafkin’s new book, The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley's Pursuit of Power.
- Read “Rebooting Steve Jobs” from Alta contributor Tom Zito.
- Read about the demise of Gawker Media, a project funded by Peter Thiel.
- Read reviews of The Contrarian in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal (which dubs it a “totally fake thing”).
- Read more about the PayPal Mafia’s impact on Silicon Valley.