This Months Book Review
Po Bronson, The Nudist on the Late Shift. New York: Broadway Books, 1999.
Reviewed by Eric Wm. Skopec, Ph.D

Technology? Venture capital? Initial public offerings? What drives Silicon Valley?

Po Bronson is neither the first nor the most insightful author attempting to explain the Silicon Valley phenomenon. However, his perspective is both unique and entertaining.

Bronson began his research, he says, while seeking an icon to feature on the ABC television show, Nightline. While he had access to many of the area’s movers and shakers as well as emerging leaders and wanna-bes, he found the community to be unremarkable–an “endless suburb, hushed and nonchalant, in terrain too flat to deserve the term ‘valley.’” Moreover, he says, there are two problems in describing Silicon Valley:

1.      There is very little there, there.

2.      What is, is shrouded in secrecy.

Faced with these difficulties, Bronson found his answer in the people he met along the way. His unstated thesis is that people are at least as interesting as the technology, and he sets his task as describing “a diverse free-for-all of experiences.” The result is a book aptly subtitled “and other true tales of Silicon Valley” which Bronson describes as “a montage of the core experiences that define the work/life adventure” of the participants.

Peppered throughout the book, readers will find useful, but not necessarily original, insights into the nature of the business. For example, Bronson observes that successful start-ups are notoriously tight-fisted because “every dollar of cash raised in the beginning will cost the entrepreneur ten times that when he succeeds.” Similarly, he notes that establishing a personal network is vital, and that “any kid with a good idea can make it big—as long as he networks like crazy [because the Valley is] a meritocracy … based more on the merit of how well you knock on doors than on the merit of your Java code.”

Following a brief introduction, Bronson organizes his material into eight chapters, six of which are named for players in the Silicon Valley drama:

1.      The Newcomers

2.      The IPO

3.      The Entrepreneur

4.      The Programmers

5.      The Salespeople

6.      The Futurist

7.      The Dropout

8.      Is the “Revolution!” Over?

Aside from the final one, each chapter describes the experiences and aspirations of one or more people in the Valley. By themselves, these chapters are fascinating studies in psychology, idiosyncrasy, and ambition. Reading them leaves the reader with a feeling of familiarity; a feeling so strong that you could start a conversation with any of the participants as easily as with an old friend. Read as a whole, however, The Nudist on the Late Shift gives the impression of a slightly disjointed travel guide—you know you’ve read something about each monument, but you have to refresh your memory at each site.

Bronson’s style is at once the book’s greatest strength and most telling weakness. Scripted as a series of relatively brief vignettes suitable for presentation as video clips, The Nudist on the Late Shift reads like an anthropologists’ working notes: incident, anecdote, quotation, and explanation. As a result, readers seeking entertainment can approach the book a chapter at a time, reading pieces in their spare moments. On the other hand, those seeking more substantive answers may feel that they have been shortchanged. The flaw is most apparent in the final chapter which fails to answer the key question—“ Is the ‘Revolution!’ Over?” Rather than building a case, Bronson closes with a panegyric on adventure:

The glory is now in taking the risk yourself. There’s nothing cool anymore about being a mere advice-giver. There’s nothing cool about a safe, steady six-figure income. It’s cooler to be invested in than to invest, cooler to make news than to analyze news, cooler to be fully engaged than to consult those who are engaged. The talented are jumping back into the real game. Now that’s the right way to create inventions of genuine value.

While this reviewer largely agrees with Bronson’s sentiment, his enthusiastic conclusion invites the wry extension that its cooler to do than to write and cooler still to write than to review.

Reviewed by Eric Wm. Skopec, Ph.D. , Regional Director of Business and Management at Learning Tree University.

Dr. Skopec is responsible for developing and managing LTU’s business programs including the ground breaking E-Marketing certificate and the widely respected Project Management program. He has written nine books including Everything’s Negotiable (AMACOM, 1994), The Practical Executive and Team Building (NTC Business Books, 1997), and The Global Telecommunications Revolution (Irwin/McGraw-Hill, forthcoming). His email address is at ERIC@LTU.ORG .

Learning Tree University has campuses in Chatsworth, Thousand Oaks, and Irvine, California, and selected courses are available online. For further information, please visit  .

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