Biography tells story of controversial, influential Peter Thiel

  • | Saturday | 23rd October, 2021

New Delhi, Oct 23 (PTI) A biography of venture capitalist Peter Thiel traces his journey from his upbringing as the child of immigrant parents to his founding of PayPal, early investment in Facebook and SpaceX, and relationships with fellow tech titans and also former US president Donald Trump."The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley"s Pursuit of Power" written by journalist Max Chafkin also throws light on how Thiel sought to export his values to the corridors of power beyond Silicon Valley, such as funding the lawsuit that bankrupted the blog Gawker to strenuously backing far-right political candidates, including Trump for president.Chafkin says Thiel is sometimes portrayed as the tech industry"s token conservative - a view that wildly understates his influence."More than any other Silicon Valley investor or entrepreneur - more so even than Jeff Bezos, or Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, or Mark Zuckerberg himself - he has been responsible for creating the ideology that has come to define Silicon Valley: that technological progress should be pursued relentlessly - with little, if any, regard for potential costs or dangers to society," he writes.For him, Thiel isn"t the richest tech mogul - though he"s almost certainly better at shielding his assets than the average Valley billionaire, having arranged to pay little in taxes on an investment portfolio worth something like USD 10 billion - but he has been, in many ways, the most influential."His first company, PayPal, pioneered ecommerce and - after being spun out of the company to which Thiel sold it, eBay - is worth nearly USD 300 billion, as of early 2021. Palantir, his second company, popularised the concept of data mining after 9/11 and paved the way for what critics of the technology industry call surveillance capitalism," the book, published by Bloomsbury India, says."More recently, it became a key player in the Trump administration"s immigration and defence projects. The company is worth around USD 50 billion; Thiel controls it and is its biggest shareholder," it adds.According to Chafkin, Thiel has been even more influential as an investor and backroom deal maker."He leads the so-called PayPal Mafia, an informal network of interlocking financial and personal relationships that dates back to the late 1990s. This group includes Elon Musk, plus the founders of YouTube, Yelp, and LinkedIn."They would provide the capital to Airbnb, Lyft, Spotify, Stripe, DeepMind - now better known as Google"s world-leading artificial intelligence project - and, of course, to Facebook," he writes.The book also discusses how Thiel formally endorsed Trump and donated USD 1 million to Trump"s first presidential campaign just days after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump bragged about sexual assault.It also tells how after the election, Thiel was feted by Trump"s inner circle and given an office in Trump Tower, along with the latitude to install his allies in the new administration.Chafkin says his book is aimed at trying to understand a man who has made billions of dollars in part by being inscrutable."I wanted to understand how he"d managed to build such a devoted following and how he"d been able to so consistently make the right bets, even when they seemed crazy. I wanted to understand how somebody so respected and beloved could have gotten that way while also acting ruthlessly," he says.According to the author, Thiel"s life has been full of important relationships, but few that seem to transcend money or power."Contrary to his own advice, he has built a world in which success, as he defines it, depends on a willingness - or really, a need - to shed ties and go it alone," he says. PTI ZMN RB RB

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