Author(s): Noam Cohen
How the titans of tech's embrace of economic disruption and a rampant libertarian ideology is fracturing America and making it a meaner place
In The Know-It-Alls former New York Times technology columnist Noam Cohen chronicles the rise of Silicon Valley as a political and intellectual force in American life. Beginning nearly a century ago and showcasing the role of Stanford University as the incubator of this new class of super geeks, Cohen shows how smart guys like Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerberg fell in love with a radically individualistic ideal and then mainstreamed it. With these very rich men leading the way, unions, libraries, public schools, common courtesy, and even government itself have been pushed aside to make way for supposedly efficient market-based encounters via the Internet.
Donald Trump’s election victory was an inadvertent triumph of the "disruption" that Silicon Valley has been pushing: Facebook and Twitter, eager to entertain their users, turned a blind eye to the fake news and the hateful ideas proliferating there. The Rust Belt states that shifted to Trump are the ones being left behind by a "meritocratic" Silicon Valley ideology that promotes an economy where, in the words of LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, each of us is our own start-up. A society that belittles civility, empathy, and collaboration can easily be led astray. The Know-It-Alls explains how these self-proclaimed geniuses failed this most important test of democracy.
A stunningly well-researched book about the rise of Silicon Valley and its role as a strong force in American life. The power of the internet and start-ups has grown immeasurably in the past 30 years and Cohen does not shy away from detailing how the lust for power has driven some famous men whom we only need to know by surname, including Bezos and Zuckerberg.
Elisa, Book Grocer
`Many people have started to suspect that something has gone wrong in Silicon Valley. This book explains what that is. The Know-It-Alls is a smart, insightful, and ultimately terrifying read about the sinister motives behind the utopian rhetoric. A fantastic read.' -- Dan Lyons, author of New York Times bestseller, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble `These finely researched portraits are a joy.' * Nature * `So Silicon Valley moguls are essentially all privileged white male superegos, living the life of racism, sexism and ageism, and of course, obscene wealth. This is not news, but Noam Cohen has put together an alternate history of the computer era, bent at this angle. It makes for uncomfortable reading, meaning, it's effective.' -- San Francisco Review of Books `Individualism is a big part of what makes America great - until it becomes a euphemism for selfishness and arrogance among lucky winners who prefer to believe that luck and other people had nothing to do with their success. The Know-It-Alls is a terrific case study of some of the unreckoned costs of the digital revolution, and how one piece of the American idea threatens to overwhelm the others.' -- Kurt Andersen, author of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire `Why is the Internet the way it is? How has commerce come to dominate the scramble for clicks and eyeballs? What kind of people, essentially all of them young men - brainy, ambitious, focused, very young men - created cyberspace? Via the careers of a dozen of them, Noam Cohen tells the story in this entertaining, refreshingly unworshipful survey.' -- Hendrik Hertzberg, author of Politics: Observations & Arguments and !Obamanos! `An enlightening breakdown of how Silicon Valley billionaires have shifted popular discourse in their favour.' * Kirkus * `Noam Cohen's The Know-It-Alls provides a provocative and illuminating examination of Silicon Valley. Using profiles of its core digital capitalist giants and the immense political, economic and cultural power they have quickly come to possess, Cohen raises troubling questions about how this can possibly square with a fair, decent, humane, and democratic society. This immensely readable book should be mandatory reading.' -- Robert W. McChesney, author of Digital Disconnect `A fascinating intellectual profile of the people who have increasingly come to rule our world. With precision and skill, Noam Cohen tweaks the pretensions of a handful of tech oligarchs, whose self-styled project to better our lives results in little more than a power grab at our economy and our democracy. As America's centre of gravity inexorably shifts to Silicon Valley, and the original vision of a decentralized Internet of personal expression gets drowned in a sea of commerce and advertising, I'll be turning to Cohen's insights into the profiteers responsible again and again.' -- David Dayen, author of Chain of Title `A surprising and absorbing book that opens up the stories of people that you should have been, but were not, interested in learning more about. Why should you have been interested in them? Because their values have become the value coded into the new economy. When I finished reading it, my picture of Silicon Valley had been permanently changed.' -- David G. W. Birch, author of Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin
Noam Cohen wrote the Link-by-Link column in the New York Times from 2007-15, reporting on Wikipedia, Twitter, Bitcoin, ad blockers and other disruptive technologies. He lives in Brooklyn with his family.