Written by Gabriella Parsons, CNN
Gone are the days when books on Facebook could not be written without the social media phenomenon being muddied in some way.
When “The Facebook Effect: The Revolutionary Story of the Company That Connected the World” was released in 2015, someone involved in the social media industry took aim at its real-life depiction, speaking of his “deep sadness” that a successful businessman and political benefactor could claim to know more about the Facebook world, and yet he had “no idea how this site ever got started.”
The social media company has made many enemies during its seven-year existence, from venture capitalists, to angry activists, to much of the punditry on Facebook’s issues and consequences. “Peter Thiel” tackles these rifts and fractious debates, breaking down the most transparent of business relationships, as well as the downright paranoid.
A PR battle
In 2014, David Kirkpatrick, author of the definitive history of Facebook, “The Facebook Effect,” and the author of “Thiel: A Biography,” announced that he would be writing a biographical account of Thiel. Kirkpatrick said: “For more than three decades I’ve covered Silicon Valley and its many triumphs and trials, but I’ve never met a better or more mysterious figure than Peter Thiel. As venture capitalist and PayPal co-founder, technologist and now Facebook board member, Thiel is a founder, venture capitalist, and visionary who is shaping the way all of us experience the world.”
Kirkpatrick’s first book about Thiel was released in October 2016, and piqued the curiosity of David Streitfeld and Jenna Wortham at the New York Times. Since then, “Peter Thiel” has been translated into 18 languages, and was named an IndieBound and New York Times bestseller this past spring.
“I’ve been following Peter Thiel for years and I was always fascinated with his public persona,” Streitfeld told CNN. “He has often been the enemy of P.C. snobs. I felt like he was an honest and controversial character, so I wanted to write about him.”
After some initial trepidation about working with Kirkpatrick and Kirkpatrick, Thiel became an enthusiastic ally of the project.
The political connection
“Peter is just about the only billionaire I know of in recent American history who has an actual political and policy objective,” Kirkpatrick said. “He didn’t start these companies with the idea of putting money into political campaigns, but rather that they were going to create massive wealth on which the people could share. In my books, I’ve always tried to portray them as much more than just guys who made a few bucks.”
Although much of the book centers on Thiel’s notorious political and activist stance, Thiel isn’t a man of all his views.
The money is one thing. As the business industry’s most influential investor, Thiel has the means and the opportunity to turn his success into influence.
Who is the real enemy?
Author and “Peter Thiel” editor-at-large Shane Snow believes, regardless of how Thiel intended to use his early resources, “his sense of entitlement has prevailed over compassion.”
“More than anything else,” Snow wrote to CNN in an email, “Peter has succeeded by dismissing the people who don’t understand him.”
Although the book opens with Thiel on the campaign trail, where he supports insurgent candidates like Warren Buffet-backed Mitt Romney and Sen. Marco Rubio, Thiel’s passion didn’t shine through, “Peter Thiel” contends.
“He was nowhere near of the political arena, which was certainly his intended audience,” Kirkpatrick said. “There’s no doubt that he’s very impressed with Trump, but he’s also impressed with politicians for ages and is extremely suspicious of that aspect of politics.”
Perhaps the most important thing to discover about Thiel is why he has made his fortune and what he intends to do with it. “Peter Thiel” suggests that Thiel will be using his millions to influence and influence in Washington, while his worth and influence will ultimately be used for divisive campaigns and self-promotion.