“It was easy to get me to want something,” the New Yorker columnist Anna Wiener confesses in her tech-industry memoir, Uncanny Valley, out today. She left publishing for her first tech job, at a New York ebook start-up, in 2013, and almost immediately fell for the industry’s charms. She moved to California to work at a mysterious data-analytics company, then an open-source software platform that had just been through a famous scandal.
The book about the four years that followed has already been widely praised, and it was regarded as a “most anticipated” for months, thanks in part to the thrill of its insider gossip—any reader could spend weeks guessing at which companies and CEOs and whistle-blowers are referred to obliquely in its pages. Slate’s Dan Kois wrote a guide to the book’s proper nouns, and confessed that he spent “forever” trying to identify the friend of Wiener’s who found out that he was a billionaire while the two of them were eating lunch, before finding his name in the acknowledgments. (It’s Patrick Collison, the CEO of the payment processor Stripe.)
There are plenty of abuses of power and absurd anecdotes in Uncanny Valley—a manager forcing a job applicant to take the LSAT on the spot stands out—but the strangest thing about the book is how well it makes Silicon Valley look like a mirage that anybody could be taken in by. In particular, Wiener dedicates significant space to her enchantment with “the boys”—the overconfident 20-somethings who were “ambitious, aggressive, [and] arrogant” but also “focused and content,” who both bolstered her spirits and made her feel old. They were not lonely. They were “clean-shaven and had good skin.” The life they had was one of promise and purpose.