New Part Two - September 4:
James Fallows
Michael Lewis

Part One - August 29:
James Fallows
Michael Lewis



Michael Lewis is the author of several books, including the international bestsellers Liar's Poker and The New New Thing. He has been the American editor of the British weekly The Spectator and a senior editor at The New Republic. Currently a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, he lives in Berkeley with his wife, Tabitha Soren, and their daughter, Quinn.

James Fallows is The Atlantic's national correspondent and the author of Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy (1996) and of Free Flight: From Airline Hell to a New Age of Travel, published this month. To learn about his new book and look through an archive of his recent articles, visit jamesfallows.com.



Previously in Fallows@large:

The Waste Land (June 21, 2001)
An e-mail exchange with Alex Kerr, author of Dogs and Demons.

Working Classes (May 2, 2001)
An e-mail exchange with Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed.

The Work of Words (February 21, 2001)
An e-mail exchange with Christopher Hitchens, author of Unacknowledged Legislation and would-be prosecutor of Henry Kissinger.

More by James Fallows

More on books

More on technology




Join the conversation in Post & Riposte.


Atlantic Unbound | August 29, 2001
 
fallows@large | Dialogues with James Fallows
 
.....
 
From: Michael Lewis
To: James Fallows
Subject: Re: The (next) Age of the Internet

Dear Jim:

I've picked out the questions I think I know the answers to, and ignored the others.

How did Next come about, when I was supposed to be living it up in Paris, on the proceeds of my fantastically well-timed previous book?

Next began in my e-mail in-box, when a bill from our general contractor collided with an offer from the BBC to make a series about the Internet. Not long after you reviewed The New New Thing (TNNT)—a review that I found nearly as flattering as your willingness, thirteen years ago, to eat lunch with me in Japan—our family left Berkeley for Paris. There we intended to remain, in literary remission, until our contractor finished putting back together the house he had just torn apart. But as the price of skilled labor in Northern California rose our bank account shrank, and someone had to go back to work. In short, I felt inspired to write this book for reasons only a true artist can appreciate.

That explains why I bothered to write a book. But it doesn't explain why I wrote this book. This book grew out of TNNT—the timing of which was, as we now know, fantastically lucky. TNNT was an attempt to pin down on the page a newly important but poorly understood character: the technology entrepreneur. If it "chronicled top of the market behavior," it did so purely by accident.

In any case, when I finished TNNT I found myself staring at two piles of material that had accumulated beside my desk. One was a catalogue of dot-com extravagance; the other was filled with examples of what I thought were more enduring changes inspired at least in part by the Internet Boom. When the boom went bust—with no discernable effect on the price of skilled labor in Northern California—the first pile of material quickly went stale. It took only a few months before all sorts of people suddenly knew all along that every commercial venture associated with the Internet was an act of folly. People who lacked the nerve to question the boom while it was happening were newly emboldened. It was as if the whole crowd was shouting in unison at the emperor that he had no clothes.

How did the collapsing market for Internet stocks affect Next?

Hugely. The truly sensational about-face in public opinion ruined the first pile of material but it greatly enhanced the second. The worse things became for the Internet, the more interesting it was to be, for argument's sake, on the Internet's side of the dispute. Just about all of Next was conceived, and all of it was written, on the assumption that most Internet stocks were doomed.

Why did I run a lot of the book in The New York Times Magazine?

I didn't intend for much of the book to appear first in The New York Times Magazine. It just sort of happened, mainly because, as I worked on the book, I enjoyed a few too many boozy dinners at the expense of the editors of The New York Times Magazine. These dinners invariably ended with me promising to deliver something to them, and what I delivered invariably wound up being a piece of the book, as I had nothing else up my sleeve. The lawyer for Jonathan Lebed—whose story takes up nearly a quarter of the book—insisted (shrewdly for his client) that I publish Jonathan's story first as a magazine article. And who better to publicize the case than The New York Times? I wanted to test the ideas in the third section of the book—the likely effects of the Internet on the mass market and politics—on a critical general audience, before I committed them to the library. And where better to find a critical general audience than in the pages of The New York Times? And then The Times bought first serial rights and ran another fifth of the book.

But I do like the idea of working out books in magazines. I wrote a book about the 1996 presidential campaign in the pages of The New Republic. No one bought the book, but it was a thrill to write. I felt like I was plotting my reporting, as one might plot a story.

What would I change about The New New Thing?

I haven't re-read TNNT since I handed it in. I'd like to think I kept enough distance between me and the money-making that the book isn't infected by the spirit of the boom; that it stands apart. And I still think the subject is worth a book—though, to judge from the paperback sales, fewer readers agree this time around. And I think I did about all I was able to do to get my man on the page. But now that I know what you wrote in The New York Review of Books—that I didn't bother to explain all sorts of important things I should have explained—I would certainly try to explain those things if I had it to do over again. J

Best,

Michael

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