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Review:Nudist On The Late Shift 29

As we've done before, both jonkatz and myself have read, and written reviews of Po Bronson's forthcoming book, Nudist on the Late Shift. While this book will get a huge amount of media attention - it's worth it. Click below to read more.
Nudist on the Late Shift
author Po Bronson
pages 288
publisher Random House
rating 9/10
reviewer Jeff Bates & Jon Katz
summary Po Bronson does an exhaustive study of Silicon Valley People

Hemos' Review

Mostly because I'm actually posting the story, I've taken the liberty of writing the first review. Katz is below.

Po Bronson is actually, almost in spite of all the hype surronding him. I was not familar with his other two books, but had heard his name and the book floating around recently, and was pleasantly suprised when Random House mailed me an advance copy.

It's difficult to quantify Bronson as writer, but for those of you familar with his work, I would say that Douglas Coupland (of Microserfs fame) and he are authors in the same intellectual space. Both of them pay attention to the people in their stories, making themselves into conduits for the stories their characters have to tell. The characters in Nudist feel real (Well, because they are real, but...) because Bronson seems to become simply the fiber optic cable that passes them down to us.

And the characters are interesting to watch and read - from French start-ups, to the founder of Hotmail, Bronson captures a wide swatch of the personalities of the Valley. The characters are seemingly always just waiting for the big break - or actually got it. It's the infectious spirit of the Valley - that this business is going to be one, or your next idea will be the one, and that no one can lose. Only occasionally do hints of worry come in, expressed in poignant ways.

The rose colored glasses of the characters is a definite theme of the book, but I don't find this to be a weakness of the book itself. It's the feeling of the times, that like Paris in 1920s, San Fransico in 1848-1849, this is a time that the whole world is looking and watching, and that there is more then enough to go around. The only well that may run dry is the well of ideas in your own mind - and that's the only real concern of possible need/shortfall.

Overall, I was quite impressed by the book - Tom Wolfe, one of the greatest American authors puts Bronson on his short list of two modern authors. I'm not quite that impressed, but Bronson is worth the read - despite the media coverage.

Jon Katz's Review

Po Bronson is one of the first serious writers to mine the human side of the second Great Goldrush that is Silicon Valley. Most journalists are drawn to the middle-aged movers and shakers at the top of giant computing companies, and the gazillion-dollar start-ups that are now a hallmark of life there.

Bronson is drawn to the young billionaires on their way up and the bizarre and oddly poignant supporting cast of wizards, visionaries, programmers, engineers and money-launderers in suits - workaholics all, that is turning a small valley in Northern California south of San Francisco into the world's next Hong Kong.

At 34, Bronson is the chairperson of Consortium Distributors and has published two novels. He is also the reigning, soccer-loving glamorpuss of the San Francisco based digerati, so brace yourself for a nauseating round of hype - cover of Wired, piece in the NY Times Magazine, slobbering profiles, TV and other media, big Web campaign on Yahoo and other portals and sites - when his first non-fiction book "The Nudist on the Late Shift," is published this summer by Random House ($US 25). ( I am published by Villard Books, a subsidiary of Random House. I don't know Bronson).

Don't let the hype run you off. Sometimes it's warranted. Silicon Valley has a heart of solid gold, and Bronson has captured it wonderfully. The book follows the lives of 15 people, from Sub-35 billionnaires (people who have made their first billion by age 35) who sleep under their desks at night until there's too much junk, to Indian immigrants who build half-billion dollar businesses, to the programmer who bursts into tears watching Babylon 5 because the show's characters have the kind of relationships with people that obsessive work has denied him.

"The Sub-35 billionaire is really a new life-form" writes Bronson, "an economic mutation that emerged from this little pond of vigorous capitalist Darwinism. It's as if dinosaurs suddenly hatched again in the Alviso mudflats off San Jose. The Sub-35 billionaire, this new species, captures the imagination not just like any zoo animal -- he's a brontosaurus." It's a fitting start to this book. "The Nudist on the Late Shift" is a wickedly-penetrating study of the biology of Silicon Valley.

Bronson doesn't miss once in his profiles. They are not only the often hilarious and surprising portrait of individual people, but of a new culture, sparingly and lovingly drawn.

My personal favorite is the journey of Sabeer Bhatia, who arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport at 6 p.m. on the evening of September 23, l988 on a flight from Bangalore India, starving, puzzling over how to get to Cal Tech, where he had been awarded a scholarship. He had $250 in his pocket. At school, he loved to attend brown bag luncheons attended by people like Scott McNealy, Steve Wozniak, and Marc Andreessen, whose basic message was always the same: you can do it too.

So he did. He founded Hotmail, the personal database and free e-mail company, despite many rejections from numerous potential investors. In l998, after coolly rejecting a series of Microsoft offers, he found himself at a meeting in Redmond with Bill Gates and a platoon of Microsoft executives. Reluctantly, he sold Hotmail to MS for $400 million.

Reading this, you can't stop asking yourself why Gates didn't do the same thing Bhatia did, rather than spend a half-billion dollars to buy him out. Bhatia, in fact, often wondered the very same thing. (To this day, some analysts think Bhatia could have gotten a billion if he'd waited a bit.) The answer, Bronson explains, lies in understanding Silicon Valley.

Bronson's book doesn't provide much insight into technology or computing, or of day-to-day live in Silicon Valley. Nor does it give much sense of the battered lives of the many losers who aren't as bold, lucky or determined as Bhatia. The strength of this book isn't only in the stories Bronson's characters tell, but in the unadorned simplicity of their telling. Even reading about the price of Valley real estate, you want to get on the next plane and give it a shot, thinking "you can do it, too".

Bronson writes with the confidence and authority of someone who really knows his stuff, from the inside out. He makes no judgements. His subjects speak for themselves, leaving us to judge for ourselves. And he recognizes that the modern-day Valley is really the latest incarnation of the ultimate American fantasy/myth - there are unimaginable riches in them hills for those who are brave and determined enough to head West, stake their claims and dig.

This is great stuff for anybody who has ever fantasized about scoring big, or who has ever come near a computer. In fact, one of the nice things about the book is that it's equally compelling whether you love the Net, or plan never to go on it.

Buy this book at Amazon.

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Review:Nudist On The Late Shift

Comments Filter:
  • Damnit, Russ, you know not to let everyone know.


  • I read his other silicon valley book, "The First $20 Million is Always The Hardest" and loved it. Some criticize Bronson as an opportunist trying to capitalize on recent trends... So what? He's a damn entertaining writer.

    I read the Wired excerpt and can't wait for his newest to come out. While waiting you may well want to check out the First $20 Million .... It's well worth a few bucks for a paperback edition.

    As for the release date of "Nudist..", amazon lists July of 1999.

  • Posted by Mary CW:

    What do people think of the excerpt in Wired? IMO I hope there's more to the book than what's revealed in the excerpt. The excert has somewhat entertaining "this is your life" vignettes of various random wanna-be-rich people. OK, so this is "human interest," but I hope that the book contains a little more context and interpretation.
  • I think posts should be downgraded for using words like zeitgeist.

    Same thing goes for gestalt. :)

  • Hemos and Katx clearly got pre-release copies- anyone know when the masses (like myself) will be able to get their hands on it?
  • just a guess but...
    It was posted this way so that people who are filtering out Katz's articles will have this one filtered out. if you remember, in the past these side by side collumns have been posted under the non-katz name, and have gotten complaints by people who wished not to see them, and felt that their precious time was wasted by having a 4 line summary appear on the front page of slashdot, which of course nessitated them to read the article, and post an indignant response. With the acticle posted like this, those people's time will not be wasted.
  • Are you kidding? Most of the guys would have felt priviledged. But I've take your advice on board.
  • It's really strange. But the amazing thing about datacentres is the contained environemnt. A couple of times at my former employer's I managed to do the middle 6 hours of a nightshift naked. It feels really strange, typing away, with the heating up full bore, but it's sort of cool. I didn't do it much though. My worst nightmare would have been dropping off and only beeing waken by a relief (or the arrival of the office staff), so I didn't make a habit of it. I can recomend it though. It's very sensual.
  • Hey Jon, what's up? Anyone have any ideas on this? Let us know, that was my favourite stuff to read.
  • Yeah, I have to agree. Bronson is not in the league of Coupland. Microserfs was far, far better than The First $20 Million ..., so much so that I didn't even want to go back and read Bronson's Bombardiers. Although, a year later, I think I have forgotten how annoyed by The First $20 Million I was, and I probably will read Bombardiers, and/or this new book, since the excerpt in Wired was reasonably interesting.

    If you want to read something humorous (and a touch scary), Michael Wolff's Burn Rate is now in paperback. It describes the founding of Wired in one section, which I thought was pretty funny. Most of the book focuses on how anyone who has the money to get a company going on the internet has no idea what the internet is really about. I found it to be an interesting read.
  • You and Mr Slippery need to get out more.

    Yes, I've done nightshifts in datacentres. One had a very nice female security guard ... the repercussions would have been mindboggling had I attempted this. I'd probably still be in jail or the nuthouse.
  • Hmm, first have a really good idea, well, moderately good idea, or even a well masked bad idea. Or alternately go to work for someone who had a good... etc, idea.

    Slave away for the 'idea.' Believe that your giving up some semblance normal life for this great concept. Evangelize on how this idea is going to change the world. (or maybe just the valley)

    Once you've got everyones attention, slap a large price tag on everything you've done so far and head for the auction block.

    It's that last bit that I just can't get my head around. You create something, you believe in it's (and your) ability to change the world. Then when things get big, you sell it to someone who doesn't have any vision for where it's going, and watch them tear it apart.

    Is it really worth it?

    And should we be praising this system, and it's 'winners?'

    I don't know. But from what I've seen, the people here in the valley are forgetting to live, forgetting why they got into this stuff in the first place. Or worse, the second wavers, the people who aren't in it for any ideas/ideals at all, their here to get rich.
  • No, but this month's Wired has an excerpt.
  • I tried to read Burn Rate but only got about 2/3 of the way through it. The first part was interesting but I thought things got real dry in the middle. When I find myself continuosly nodding off while reading I have a hard time finishing the book.

    Has Slashdot ever had a "Whats your favorite book" forum? It might be interesting to see what the favorites are.
  • Ever seen 'em in the same room? I rest my case.
  • JonKatz has Multiple Personality Disorder.

    What else can explain the Hellmouth Series and then the TPM Review?

  • Posted by *JonKatz* on Monday June 14, @11:39AM EDT

    from the douglas-coupland-meet-your-twin dept.
    As we've done before, **both jonkatz and myself** have read, and written reviews of Po Bronson's forthcoming book, Nudist on the Late Shift. While this book will get a huge amount of media attention - it's worth it. Click below to read more.

    As suggested by the word marked with *'s, this post was made by JonKatz. Then why is he saying "both jonkatz and myself"?
  • What is most refreshing about Po Bronson is his angle...he digs in and examines real life human issues that everybody can relate to whilst adeptly gutting the organic underbelly of the mutant gold mining beast which is Silicon Valley. A sociologist first and an autoptician second. And a hell of a story writer...

    Keep your eyes peeled on his personal site [] for the full skinny.

    Now back to working on that first 20 million...

  • Bronson is a literary opportunist - much like Katz. His MO is mostly to seize the weekly cultural zeitgeist and amplify to the nth power. Basically he's a hype man. He fits in well at Wired, the source of all hype...
  • Summary of excerpt:

    Take three unintersesting people and blow their piddly accomplishments and dreams into something you can write about. The worst was the girl they covered - she didn't even have a job. As for the guy at Infoseek who "wants to change the world" - you're at the wrong company.

  • If you wish to continue this habit in the future - mark your chair with a biohazard sticker so no one else has the misfortune of sitting on it.
  • by Talisman ( 39902 ) on Monday June 14, 1999 @07:27AM (#1862206) Homepage
    Whatever happened to him building his own Linux box? Perhaps he finished it and I missed the follow-up story but last I read he was pretty bad off.

    Did he give up trying?


    "Man is the only animal capable of blushing, and he is the only one that needs to." - Twain
  • Looks like July. eyword=nudist+on+the+late+shift
  • Yeah, hacking naked rocks. I've only done it while telecommuting though - I don't think it would go over well at my current contract, IBM. (Unless maybe I painted my whole body blue.)

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter