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Former insider turned critic Wendy Liu busts the myths of the tech industry, and offers a galvanising argument for why and how we must reclaim technology's potential for the public good. Innovation. Meritocracy. The possibility of overnight success. What's not to love about Silicon Valley? These days, it's hard to be unambiguously optimistic about the growth-at-all-costs eth Former insider turned critic Wendy Liu busts the myths of the tech industry, and offers a galvanising argument for why and how we must reclaim technology's potential for the public good. Innovation. Meritocracy. The possibility of overnight success. What's not to love about Silicon Valley? These days, it's hard to be unambiguously optimistic about the growth-at-all-costs ethos of the tech industry. Public opinion is souring in the wake of revelations about Cambridge Analytica, Theranos, and the workplace conditions of Amazon warehouse workers or Uber. We're starting to see the cracks in the edifice, as we realise that the wealth that the tech industry is so good at creating is neither sustainable nor always desirable. Abolish Silicon Valley is both a heartfelt personal story about the wasteful inequality and unsubstantiated lies of Silicon Valley, and a rallying call to engage in the radical politics needed to upend the status quo. Going beyond the idiosyncrasies of the individual founders and companies that characterise the industry today, Liu delves into the structural factors of the economy that led to Silicon Valley in its current form, and links them to the economy at large. Ultimately, she proposes a more radical way of developing technology, where innovation is conducted for the benefit of society at large, and not merely to enrich a select few.


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Former insider turned critic Wendy Liu busts the myths of the tech industry, and offers a galvanising argument for why and how we must reclaim technology's potential for the public good. Innovation. Meritocracy. The possibility of overnight success. What's not to love about Silicon Valley? These days, it's hard to be unambiguously optimistic about the growth-at-all-costs eth Former insider turned critic Wendy Liu busts the myths of the tech industry, and offers a galvanising argument for why and how we must reclaim technology's potential for the public good. Innovation. Meritocracy. The possibility of overnight success. What's not to love about Silicon Valley? These days, it's hard to be unambiguously optimistic about the growth-at-all-costs ethos of the tech industry. Public opinion is souring in the wake of revelations about Cambridge Analytica, Theranos, and the workplace conditions of Amazon warehouse workers or Uber. We're starting to see the cracks in the edifice, as we realise that the wealth that the tech industry is so good at creating is neither sustainable nor always desirable. Abolish Silicon Valley is both a heartfelt personal story about the wasteful inequality and unsubstantiated lies of Silicon Valley, and a rallying call to engage in the radical politics needed to upend the status quo. Going beyond the idiosyncrasies of the individual founders and companies that characterise the industry today, Liu delves into the structural factors of the economy that led to Silicon Valley in its current form, and links them to the economy at large. Ultimately, she proposes a more radical way of developing technology, where innovation is conducted for the benefit of society at large, and not merely to enrich a select few.

30 review for Abolish Silicon Valley: How to Liberate Technology from Capitalism

  1. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    Review also posted on Medium. You Can’t Abolish Silicon Valley by Appropriating Activism Let’s start with the book’s title. I take issue with both the title and subtitle. First, with Liu’s appropriation of the term “abolition,” a word commonly associated with the movement to end slavery. Abolish Silicon Valley (ASV) draws readers in with this connection, but in its final chapters, Liu reveals that she is calling “only somewhat jokingly” for Silicon Valley’s abolition, belittling the original use of Review also posted on Medium. You Can’t Abolish Silicon Valley by Appropriating Activism Let’s start with the book’s title. I take issue with both the title and subtitle. First, with Liu’s appropriation of the term “abolition,” a word commonly associated with the movement to end slavery. Abolish Silicon Valley (ASV) draws readers in with this connection, but in its final chapters, Liu reveals that she is calling “only somewhat jokingly” for Silicon Valley’s abolition, belittling the original use of the term (244, all pages from ebook version). Later, she says that the title ASV “began as a Twitter joke” (292) Second, the subtitle claims that it will show the reader how to “liberate” technology from capitalism, a term commonly associated with social movements. The title serves as an incendiary bait-and-switch. Instead of laying out the framework for such a movement, Liu spends the first 75% of the book explaining her individual journey through the tech world in memoir form. Rather than focusing on the vague notion of capitalism as a target in her title and introduction, Liu needed to center the people, the workers. Moving on to the memoir portion, many pages of which had me laughing in disbelief. Was it supposed to be satirical? The first chapter, titled “No Girls on the Internet,” is the first of many ways that Liu re-asserts common stereotypes against women in tech. When Liu first starts to code at 12, she observes the numerous casual references to women’s lack of aptitude for programming and jokes about women’s lower place in society, but her conclusion is that she “would simply get used to it” (25). She pretended to be a boy in online discussion forums to avoid potential harassment. When applying to colleges, Liu picked her major with gender concerns at the top of her mind (30). I thought this meant that she wanted to choose a program with solid gender representation. What Liu actually sought was “the degree with the lowest female enrollment,” which she viewed as a “sign of intellectual rigor,” while she scorned anything female-dominated as “a scholastic consolation prize for those not smart enough for STEM” (30). She applied to a school that she otherwise didn’t want to attend, “solely because of its severely skewed gender ratio” (30). Later in the book, when Liu enters a tech company’s office and sees equal gender distribution, her first thought is that the diversity has “been stage-managed” (183). Liu never addresses the internalized sexism of her earlier years. Yes, she gives #MeToo and the sexual harassment protests at Google a sentence or two each, but besides this, Liu does not discuss how gender impacts the experience of every woman in the field. Instead, Liu espouses the views of three controversial male figures in tech: Paul Graham, Elon Musk, and Peter Thiel. While Liu may do this to make the book more accessible, its impact is to potentially alienate half of her readership. I’ve never seen a woman in tech refer to other women in this way, repeatedly, without clear acknowledgement of why these stereotypes are problematic. When browsing Goodreads reviews for ASV, I noticed a male reader recommending that people read Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley for a real look into SIlicon Valley. In a meticulous 2019 blog post, engineer Chip Huyen exposed the author Antonio Martinez’ deeply flawed perceptions of women in his workplace. After re-reading Huyen’s post, I saw many similarities between Martinez’ and Liu’s descriptions of women in tech. Liu continues to put distance between herself and the groups in which she could gain the most support when she describes her failed startup venture. After her team’s initial venture failed to gain traction, the group brainstormed new directions. Several of Liu’s ideas involved automating away jobs from the working class and keeping cost savings for themselves (185). On one page, Liu claims to want to do something meaningful for technology. On the next: “As I watched the employee assembling my requested ingredients into a bowl, I pictured a machine resembling a soda fountain in her place. A smooth, frictionless self-serve system for combining ingredients, with ordering and payment handled through a mobile app that required minimal input from workers. Humans were expensive, requiring minimum wage, sick days, lunch breaks; sometimes they misheard what the customer asked for. Humanity was messy. Much better to have a machine of gleaming steel managed through an unambiguous codebase” (161). When their team doesn’t go with this idea, she concludes: “I would have to settle for the subpar status quo where people who weren’t engineers were able to survive under capitalism” (162). I reread this passage several times. Even if these statements reflected Liu’s past views, who wants to be called subpar to a machine? Liu’s problematic descriptions of women and the working-class people supporting Silicon Valley’s gig economy make me question Liu’s intended audience with this book. Whose favor is she trying to gain? How does Liu expect to create solidarity in a worker’s movement (286) when she spends 75% of her book making subtle (sometimes) digs at the movements’ key players? If I had given up at this point, this book would have read like a Chaos Monkeys copycat. When Liu realizes the connection between Silicon Valley’s decades-long problems of inequality and the structural issues at the roots of capitalism, I took a deep breath and powered on. Only in the final chapter does Liu lay out her vision for a more ideal Silicon Valley, for the people. Yet, her solutions lack meat and practicality. These 20 pages, marketed to be the book’s entire focus, are greased with fatty “shoulds” and no “hows.” They read like the scribbled Post-It notes of an undergraduate student trying to “ideate” the solution to global hunger. Yes, I agree with Liu’s suggestions to give users more say in the products they use, to break up tech monopolies, to raise the minimum wage and give contracted workers unemployment benefits and healthcare. Many of us do. But what Liu’s brief sketches of a future Silicon Valley fail to accurately convey is the huge amount of work undertaken by tens of thousands of people across the country to make these demands common points of discussion. The voices of this growing movement are nowhere to be found. Liu sprinkles in a few wistful references to United Kingdom policy (271, 278, 281), but fails to describe current state-government-led lawsuits to classify ridesharing drivers as full employees, mounting protests by contract workers at companies such as Amazon and Instacart, progressive organizations devoted to combating gentrification and the Bay’s ever-growing housing crisis. She dismisses labor unions as being “in steep decline,” ignoring headlines in the last few years highlighting successful movements to unionize and the recent growth in the progressive movement (223). What are actionable ways tech workers can contribute to this movement while recognizing their privilege? Organizations to join, politicians and nonprofits to support, protests to publicize and attend? We must give voice to the people at the root of this movement instead of stealing their microphones away. In the book’s prologue, Liu sets out to disrupt Silicon Valley, the industry that typically does the disrupting (21). Liu’s plan: to disrupt activism, by neglecting years of existing work and repackaging well-known remedies to well-known problems in a shiny new box called patronization.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Dai

    As Liu writes, this is not a 12-step program. Instead, it's a deeply personal memoir of her journey deep into silicon valley / tech startup culture, and her growing disillusionment with not just her startup, but the industry as a whole. Most of the book, therefore, is descriptive rather than prescriptive, save the final chapter where she outlines her visions for the future and some key stepping stones for how to get there. I especially loved this final chapter. Liu calls for a "reclamation" of t As Liu writes, this is not a 12-step program. Instead, it's a deeply personal memoir of her journey deep into silicon valley / tech startup culture, and her growing disillusionment with not just her startup, but the industry as a whole. Most of the book, therefore, is descriptive rather than prescriptive, save the final chapter where she outlines her visions for the future and some key stepping stones for how to get there. I especially loved this final chapter. Liu calls for a "reclamation" of the things that make technology exciting in the first place; it's helpful that she has intimate knowledge of how the tech industry operates and how software itself is built. For instance, the section on intellectual property in this chapter is quite detailed, making a really interesting case for open-sourcing or at least making public currently-proprietary code; she still, however, suggests intermediary or hybrid approaches as a transition. While I will say I initially expected something closer to theorizing class in the context of tech/tech workers a la Marx, I'm so glad Abolish Silicon Valley turned out the way it did. The book itself is a reminder that regardless of what futures one might dream of (and regardless of what theories one might come up with), Silicon Valley is, at the end of the day, a collection of individuals with their own hopes and aspirations. It's individuals changing their minds--like Liu did hers--that will get us to that future.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Morgane

    So much of this resonated with me. The experience of studying computer science in school as a young woman determined not to be like "other girls"; the excitement then quick disillusionment of working in tech and realizing first how boring it is, then how unethical; the eventual leftist radicalization. So, yes, of course I loved this! But what I also appreciate is that unlike many leftist books, Liu doesn't simply make her case for why something is bad and leave it at that. Instead she ends the bo So much of this resonated with me. The experience of studying computer science in school as a young woman determined not to be like "other girls"; the excitement then quick disillusionment of working in tech and realizing first how boring it is, then how unethical; the eventual leftist radicalization. So, yes, of course I loved this! But what I also appreciate is that unlike many leftist books, Liu doesn't simply make her case for why something is bad and leave it at that. Instead she ends the book with concrete changes that need to happen if we're to create a better future for ourselves. Yes, these changes will require a lot of work, coordination, and time. Nothing about it is easy. But it's inspiring, and (though I may be biased) I think she makes a very compelling case for why these changes need to happen and what a better world looks like. I hope this book pisses off more than a few VCs and CEOs, and I hope it rallies everyone else ;)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    The parts of this book that caught my attention were Liu's own experience with being a CS major and how her views have changed over the years...I read this at a strange time where I've been thinking about what constitutes success these days and if any of it is truly worth it in the end. In Liu's case, her answer is a mix between yes and no. I feel like this book needs to make its way to CS majors.....I see too many kids think of Silicon Valley the same way that Wendy is describing in this book a The parts of this book that caught my attention were Liu's own experience with being a CS major and how her views have changed over the years...I read this at a strange time where I've been thinking about what constitutes success these days and if any of it is truly worth it in the end. In Liu's case, her answer is a mix between yes and no. I feel like this book needs to make its way to CS majors.....I see too many kids think of Silicon Valley the same way that Wendy is describing in this book and it's strange to think about how many kids are going to wind up disillusioned. At the same time, I think that this book is an illuminating inside look into Silicon Valley, startups, and every other glamorized tech job. My path doesn't look anything like Liu's, but reading this book still felt incredibly necessarily especially during a time where there is pressure to go into tech for the money and the lavish life that it promises. I wonder what people who are going into this field would receive this book and how it might alter their views, despite money still being a large motivating factor. This book was especially strong toward the end (chapter 8 to the end felt like much better writing than the first half of the book) – and I love how Liu inserted a chapter on what to do about the malaise we are all feeling. I read a sliver of this in Joanne Mcneil's "Lurking", where she briefly described what a better internet would look like, but it didn't go to the extent that Liu did, which is why this chapter is one of my favorites. One of my favorite parts of the "solutions" section is the part about intellectual property: "Google's search index is another example of a trade secret that should be considered public property, as it is part of a societal commons. After all, Google did not create the content in the index; it merely organizes the content according to various mathematical calculations. And sure, the end formula may be complex, and it may have taken a lot of engineering effort to get there, but that doesn't mean Google should be able to lock it up and milk it for all it's worth – especially since some of the early engineering work was funded through public grants. The index, and all the algorithms that produce it, should be treated as a public good; Google should be licensed to run it for the public benefit, but it should have to make its terms public, and the terms should be contestable." On a more personal note, my sibling works for a startup and still has the same beliefs that Wendy did at the beginning of the book. It's scary to realize how many people actually devote themselves to these beliefs and the extremes that they go to just to have the most basic things in life promised to them (freedom, control, zero debt). Lastly, I applaud Wendy for writing so transparently about her growth. Liu introduced me to open software, social entrepreneurship, and other aspects to the tech industry that I hadn't known before. I wish the book incorporated more of the "abolish silicon valley" idea throughout – but it still held my interest, and watching Liu's growth unfold was interesting and helped shape her arguments. Ending this review with another underlined quote – "None of this can happen overnight; some of this can't happen in a decade. This is a long project that will require a radical restructuring of existing institutions and of the way we relate to the world as individuals. The path toward building a better world is always only partially complete; there will always be further to go, a horizon that can't even yet be imagined."

  5. 5 out of 5

    rosa guac

    "This book is meant for those whose belief has started to evaporate, and who are now thirsting for a narrative that speaks to their disillusionment. I write for those who are currently not in power, in the hopes that they’ll see the world differently, and from there go on to be part of something I could never have imagined on my own." It's fascinating because I resonated so much with Wendy's coming into consciousness regarding the failures of capitalism and the radical falseness of meritocracy. T "This book is meant for those whose belief has started to evaporate, and who are now thirsting for a narrative that speaks to their disillusionment. I write for those who are currently not in power, in the hopes that they’ll see the world differently, and from there go on to be part of something I could never have imagined on my own." It's fascinating because I resonated so much with Wendy's coming into consciousness regarding the failures of capitalism and the radical falseness of meritocracy. This was an affirming read about how easy it was for me to believe so effortlessly in a system that isn't fair, that exploits the most marginalized, and maintains a horrific economic divide between the haves and the have nots. Wendy's journey was humanizing because as an individual, it's so easy to feel paralyzed and immobilized by this fucked up way our society has oriented itself (with folks in these money making industries being the valiant soldiers that uphold these systems up for the ruling class). But reading this book gave me hope, validated my fears but also my goal that a better world is possible. Wish this was a required reading for all the kiddos going into tech lol.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rebekah Mercer

    This book isn't what I expected, and in a chapter near the end the author admits they 'only somewhat jokingly' are calling for the abolition of Silicon Valley ... I was expecting no joking at all! I thought this would be about alternatives to VCs and typical startup funding, with examples of what funding currently looks like, and explanations of how alternatives could create a fairer society. Instead for the vast majority of the book the author recounts their internship at google and then severa This book isn't what I expected, and in a chapter near the end the author admits they 'only somewhat jokingly' are calling for the abolition of Silicon Valley ... I was expecting no joking at all! I thought this would be about alternatives to VCs and typical startup funding, with examples of what funding currently looks like, and explanations of how alternatives could create a fairer society. Instead for the vast majority of the book the author recounts their internship at google and then several years of trying to make an adtech startup work. Elon Musk is heralded as a good example of someone who is 'anticapitalist', because he cares about the environment? The ways to improve are short and include examples like preventing Disney's copyright lobbying, and how pensions are better euro-style (considered a public good) than US-style (personal investments, tied to working X years, etc). I do agree with the improvement points but they are only one of the 12 chapters, and my main feeling about this book is that it just sounds like a moderately well informed friend telling me the story of their career, and that's not what I expected. But maybe I just have really great friends!!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Yxas

    This is a biographical account that reads like a bildungsroman: it details the author's journey from precocious coder to Google intern, to co-founder to someone somewhat facetiously calling for the abolition of Silicon Valley. The author's recollection of these personal milestones is shadowed by a gradual political awakening, which is shared with us retrospectively. You’ll find a lot of tech motifs here: long hours, a deference to Paul Graham, a soteriological view of Silicon Valley (we’re smart This is a biographical account that reads like a bildungsroman: it details the author's journey from precocious coder to Google intern, to co-founder to someone somewhat facetiously calling for the abolition of Silicon Valley. The author's recollection of these personal milestones is shadowed by a gradual political awakening, which is shared with us retrospectively. You’ll find a lot of tech motifs here: long hours, a deference to Paul Graham, a soteriological view of Silicon Valley (we’re smart and can fix the world with just software and first principles!) and more. What’s refreshing is Liu’s scepticism and reappraisal of those beliefs and customs - often considered unquestionable gospel by many people who work in tech. Towards the end of the book it becomes less biographical and more interrogative, as remembrances give way to analysis coupled with recommendations for how we might democratise tech devlopment. “Stupid Environment” is the standout chapter for me. Throughout the book, Liu’s prose is frequently intricate and captivating, but Stupid Environment felt markedly better than everything else. Compared to earlier chapters, it feels unrestrained, and it is delectable as a result. Though a little weakened by its density - it’s a pirouetting, critical panorama of capital accumulation, fiscal policy, Wall Street, inequality and more - it was a treat, and worth the price of admission alone. lol at the forthcoming broadsides at the author’s start-up failure. In fact, I see one has already arrived. Welcome. Allow me to make a brief comment. When a start up doesn’t work out it’s permissible, no even more so than that - it’s admirable to pivot. Yet an individual who performs the same manoeuvre is to be derided? I don’t think so. Had the author’s start-up succeeded it’s unlikely the author would’ve developed the same politics, and this is readily conceded by Liu herself in the book. But this shouldn’t undermine her appeals - it should enhance them. Cut us some slack. Before I make a purchase online, I, like many people, read one-star reviews about the product I want. Sometimes I’ll do so even when I’ve already committed to buying the product. If you have an interest in tech, or Silicon Valley, or Hacker News - and you’re an evangelist for that world, treat Abolish Silicon Valley as your one star review and read it. I’d also recommend this to anyone who wants to become an engineer or a product manager at a big tech company, to offset all the triumphal stories that’ll find their way to you along your journey. Irrespective of your politics or affinity for the valley, this is a brave, personal account which should be welcomed into the canon of modern tech critique. Well worth a read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Needs an editor and a direction This book was all over the place and needs to be fact checked Nancy Pelosi is not a Senator!!! My goodness.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Adora

    I found this memoir to be compelling and, admittedly ideologically predisposed to do so, agreed wholeheartedly with the vast majority of Abolish Silicon Valley's conclusions. It's a good addition to the startup bildungsroman genre along with Anna Wiener's Uncanny Valley, though the two books also feel very different. Wiener's writing represented a literary background, while Liu's origins as a technologist feel evident in her use of language (for all that she speaks to justice and fairness, there I found this memoir to be compelling and, admittedly ideologically predisposed to do so, agreed wholeheartedly with the vast majority of Abolish Silicon Valley's conclusions. It's a good addition to the startup bildungsroman genre along with Anna Wiener's Uncanny Valley, though the two books also feel very different. Wiener's writing represented a literary background, while Liu's origins as a technologist feel evident in her use of language (for all that she speaks to justice and fairness, there is prolific reference to externalities, optimization, efficiency, and resource allocation). Not that that is incompatible with pretty writing -- Liu's prose includes some lovely nods to SF's natural beauty, fog curling around the Bay Bridge, the collection of startup shirts so prolific it could make a quilt "warm enough for Quebecois winters." But this is ultimately a book that lives in the realm of ideas more than images or relationships, the momentum of this memoir coming from the author's changing values and ideological inputs (at one point, she writes of consuming books frenetically, a pace of 1/day) rather than dramatically rendered personal events. As such, this felt like a book that could speak equally well to the startup boy-kings still worshipping at the altar of meritocracy as to Jacobin readers calling for expropriation. Both may see in this memoir one of their own.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jade

    This was really two kind of crappy books smooshed together into one incoherent mess. The first part is the poorly written memoir of an insufferable brat, and the second a poorly thought out manifesto.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ietrio

    The tantrum of the underachieving kid who can't rise to the ambitions of mummy.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kendyl

    When I picked up the book amongst the shelf of the nonfiction section of a local independent bookstore's website (currently, we are in the middle of a pandemic and bookstores are physically closed), I was immediately intrigued. I do, in fact, live in Silicon Valley, and the website I saw this book in is also in the greater Bay Area region. I grew up here as my family emigrated in the 60's and have personally seen the transition of a colorful, bold Bay Area into gentrified, technology-based Bay A When I picked up the book amongst the shelf of the nonfiction section of a local independent bookstore's website (currently, we are in the middle of a pandemic and bookstores are physically closed), I was immediately intrigued. I do, in fact, live in Silicon Valley, and the website I saw this book in is also in the greater Bay Area region. I grew up here as my family emigrated in the 60's and have personally seen the transition of a colorful, bold Bay Area into gentrified, technology-based Bay Area. I presumed this text would contain relevant, extensive research in the downsides of Silicon Valley culture (i.e. lack of user privacy, housing crisis, wealth inequality, etc.), which is also embedded with class, racial, and gender inequality, and ways in which we can envision a different Silicon Valley (and a global technological world). Alas, this was not the book. It should also be said that I have a background in social sciences (namely, sociology and anthropology) and I understand wholeheartedly that perhaps I am not the target audience of this work. Nonetheless, despite not being able to grasp certain technological terms nor the hardship of having a career in the field, the book was less about explaining to the reader how to "abolish" Silicon Valley than it is a memoir about the author's life and journey through graduating university and starting her career. To be honest, her chapter "A New Industrial Model", in which she goes on explaining what her title sets out to do, is (in my opinion) compiled of hollow "solutions", in which "Reclaim" serves as nothing but a pretty buzzword. It was clear to me in this chapter that Liu wrote this work a bit prematurely, still starry eyed and enthusiastic over discovering and learning what social problems and philosophy were. As I got to the end of the novel (which I was skimming at this point), it occurred to me that Liu wrote this novel because she was upset that she didn't succeed at her start-up. She writes in later chapters that she "always felt that there was something deeply wrong about her field" (paraphrasing), but nothing in her previous chapters about growing up and going through college alluded to this--only when she began to fail. In addition, I assumed she would have more insight on the gender inequality embedded in Silicon Valley culture (sexism, sexual harassment, glass ceilings, gender pay gap ETC.) since she talked about having a gender neutral alias growing up and didn't want to associate herself with being like "other" females in the beginning. However, it literally was not a problem throughout the entire novel. It was not talked about, not even in chapter 11. Overall - like I said, I have a different academic and career background than Liu - and I do think that she had great things to say about growing up and believing in meritocracy, or that one's career defined them. I believe that if she stuck to a memoir format (or advertised this novel in that way) then I would've liked this novel more. I probably wouldn't have picked it up and read it, but I wouldn't have been so irritated with it. Liu thought herself as radical, but to me she was more idealistic and naive, not defining the words she was using and not giving real ways in which we can "reclaim" entrepreneurship, work, public services, etc. It is still clear to me that she truly doesn't have extensive knowledge on what it means to abolish social structures, and that you can't talk about abolishing Silicon Valley without getting into the nitty-gritty of racism, classism, sexism, that exists in the Silicon Valley.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Avishek

    I was super excited to pick up this book and pre-ordered after reading the author's interview (on Mercury News). The title showed a lot of promise. The first 77% percent of the book is biography of the author and she describes her life as an engineer and how she went about starting up a company. This part is alright if you are interested in knowing about the decisions and struggles that engineers and founders have to make in their professional life. But I would highly recommend reading Chaos Monk I was super excited to pick up this book and pre-ordered after reading the author's interview (on Mercury News). The title showed a lot of promise. The first 77% percent of the book is biography of the author and she describes her life as an engineer and how she went about starting up a company. This part is alright if you are interested in knowing about the decisions and struggles that engineers and founders have to make in their professional life. But I would highly recommend reading Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley to if you really want to understand the Tech Industry, VC funding, and start-up culture at Silicon Valley. The first part was underwhelming because the only experience the author has physically working in Silicon Valley is an internship at Google. Rest of the work was based out of Montreal and NYC with occasional visits to the Bay Area. So I was not really convinced on the depth of understanding the author has about the culture at Silicon Valley. The one chapter (~15%) of the book that actually talks about the title of the book is a laundry list of ideas. It is a decent read if you want to pick up on those ideas and do your own separate reading and analysis on the merits and demerits of such ideas. If the title was more meaningful and aligned to the actual content to set the expectations right with the readers or if the one line/para ideas listed in the final chapter would have been discussed in details this would have been wonderful.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    So good I picked it up at 9pm and didn't go to sleep until I'd finished it. Part memoir part manifesto. Liu describes her journey from teenage PHP open-source geek to startup-work-yourself-to-death hustler to eventually realizing that there's some deep political and philosophical problems with the way the modern tech industry works. A good beginner's explanation of the way that the interests of capital-holders -- public shareholders or VCs or professional founders like Travis Kalanick -- shape t So good I picked it up at 9pm and didn't go to sleep until I'd finished it. Part memoir part manifesto. Liu describes her journey from teenage PHP open-source geek to startup-work-yourself-to-death hustler to eventually realizing that there's some deep political and philosophical problems with the way the modern tech industry works. A good beginner's explanation of the way that the interests of capital-holders -- public shareholders or VCs or professional founders like Travis Kalanick -- shape the modern tech industry more than programming enthusiasm or nerding out. From inside tech it looks like we're all about solving problems. From outside tech, our investors think we're just another way to get return on investment. I really enjoyed the book, but it's unlikely to persuade anyone who's not already down with the general idea. The last chapter is a manifesto for what a tech industry could look like without capitalism, which is an idea I'm totally foreign to, so I had a lot of trouble understanding the finer points.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    2/3 memoir charting Liu's journey from her steadfast belief in the myths of Silicon Valley and startup culture to her current activism, 1/3 manifesto outlining a public policy framework for curbing the excesses of capitalism with regards to the American tech industry. Though the title is misleading (i.e. the work is more memoir than manifesto), I appreciated Liu providing her own experiences in the tech industry as context for the ideology she now espouses. In particular, she lucidly demonstrates 2/3 memoir charting Liu's journey from her steadfast belief in the myths of Silicon Valley and startup culture to her current activism, 1/3 manifesto outlining a public policy framework for curbing the excesses of capitalism with regards to the American tech industry. Though the title is misleading (i.e. the work is more memoir than manifesto), I appreciated Liu providing her own experiences in the tech industry as context for the ideology she now espouses. In particular, she lucidly demonstrates how the rationales of individuals, such as herself, result in the greater pathology of the industry, for example in the justification of gross valuations as a reflection of a start-up's socially beneficial work. As a software developer who had barebones education in the ethical implications of my work, I'd especially recommend this to anyone in the tech industry seeking an accessible, introductory understanding of the societal context in which the industry operates.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sherry

    Mostly memoir, a little bit manifesto. Deeply, deeply relatable. Touches on topics like internalized misogyny in the context of education. The book has some similarities to Anna Wiener's Uncanny Valley, but differs in that it's written from the perspective of someone who has bought into the glorification of STEM work (mostly the T and the E) from a young age. Who would I recommend this book to? Young people who are striving towards a career at a FAANG company or an equally lucrative startup. Doe Mostly memoir, a little bit manifesto. Deeply, deeply relatable. Touches on topics like internalized misogyny in the context of education. The book has some similarities to Anna Wiener's Uncanny Valley, but differs in that it's written from the perspective of someone who has bought into the glorification of STEM work (mostly the T and the E) from a young age. Who would I recommend this book to? Young people who are striving towards a career at a FAANG company or an equally lucrative startup. Does the rampant inequality in a city colonized by the tech companies you work at ever make you feel uncomfortable? Ever find it weird how so many of your peers end up working in ad-tech, or companies enabling the financing of consumer debt? Ever get the gnawing feeling that your work is not socially valuable? Do you think that switching jobs to work at a "socially impactful startup" is the solution to the gnawing feeling? Wendy Liu's book might be for you. "I used to believe that the world was basically fair, and so I had no responsibility other than to maximise my individual success within it. But somewhere down the line, I started to see the entire system as flawed, unsustainable, unacceptable. I had to unlearn so much of what I had previously believed, because none of it made sense anymore. Focusing on individual achievement within the system no longer seemed reasonable when it felt like the legitimacy of that system was crumbling."

  17. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    Part memoir of a technophile losing her faith in SV, part blueprint of how to move past the rampant hyper- technocapitalism we live under, 100% an essential read - especially for those who still believe.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Fionn McGorry

    While the first nine chapters are interesting, the last two are where the value comes: the proposals and analysis are strong and worth considering seriously. 👍

  19. 4 out of 5

    MrLee7474

    This is an exceptionally well written and engaging book. The title is a little sensational as the author herself admits, but the story she has to tell is both unique and, by her account, very common. In a nutshell, it is an autobiography tracing the author's life journey from a self-taught programming nerd who volunteered on open source projects in high school to a Randian hero entrepreneur chasing millions of dollars and her place in the pantheon of tech gods. She finally crash lands when her n This is an exceptionally well written and engaging book. The title is a little sensational as the author herself admits, but the story she has to tell is both unique and, by her account, very common. In a nutshell, it is an autobiography tracing the author's life journey from a self-taught programming nerd who volunteered on open source projects in high school to a Randian hero entrepreneur chasing millions of dollars and her place in the pantheon of tech gods. She finally crash lands when her nascent start up fails. But unlike some she didn't just dust herself off and try again. She shook off the studied disdain many in STEM fields have for the "soft sciences" and went looking for answers. While some may dismiss her account as sour grapes in the wake of her start up's failure, I think the honest testimony of someone like her is sorely needed because she speaks with far more authenticity than the usual bevy of ivory tower academics bemoaning neoliberalism. Her journey to an anti-capitalist and human centred view on tech is all the more engaging because of this. How can you run a human centred open source program when the entire system is built on the logic of kill or be killed? If you don't patent your ideas, someone else will, and they may well turn around and sue you for infringing on their intellectual property. Despite her sharp critique, she aims not at the tech workers, or even necessarily the CEOs and entrepreneurs, but at the system. Through her personal journey, Liu goes from being someone who "assumed that meritocracy was a concept invented in Silicon Valley in the 2000s", to questioning the very fundamentals of the modern day world economy. Why is it that Google, a company who's former motto was "Don't be evil", has armies of low paid workers on their campuses who have no hope of ever living like the software developers they cater to? Why is it that a piece of software that plays fast and loose with the public's personal data - with no greater social utility than helping to push more adverts- can garner millions upon millions of dollars in capital? All while the majority of Americans cannot afford a sudden $400 emergency. I have to say that personally I was green with envy when I found out how much an entry level programmer at Google makes. And she turned them down! That's just how powerful, and just how much money the tech sector holds for those who can break into the inner circle. Liu provides insight into just how much the industry can warp the goals and expectations of people like herself - she started off drawn to open source community programming, and ended up chasing money and renown - she was even insulted by a mere million dollar offer to buy out their company after working at it for all of 2 years. A mere million dollars. I think this book is essential reading for anyone interested in tech, and especially for those who work in it. For a long time tech portrayed itself as a meritocratic almost utopian profession; a place that would break down the historical boundaries of nation, race, class, and language. While there are certainly more academic and theoretically rigorous analyses of these phenomena, Liu's work is an essential primer for the average reader because she exposes the lie at the heart of Big Tech in simple non-academic language. Silicon Valley exists in a flawed world and cannot separate itself from that. In fact much of it consciously reproduces the flaws and inequities of the outside world while explicitly claiming to be immune to them (just take a look at diversity in Silicon Valley). Tech companys are susceptible to all the corrupting influences and behaviours we see in other sectors: reliance on precarious workers, discrimination, racism, enviromental pollution, corruption, union busting, misclassifying workers, tax evasion. The list goes on. The industry has simply hidden behind it's relatively luxurious office conditions and eccentric CEOs to hide this fact. The book is very much the story of how the scales fell from her eyes and how she came to reconcile the public image with the mundane, sometimes even corrupt, reality. But Liu does not take aim at her comrades in tech, in her closing chapters she goes further than others by tying these failures into the prevailing economic system: capitalism. This draws the critique away from a narrow moralistic condemnation found in much centre-left analyses. It removes the contradiction of arguing for "more female drone pilots" or "more ethical CEOs" when the system weeds out such contenders before they even get started. This is important because it means that those who make up the industry can avoid the guilt/rage trap. The trap of either sinking into inward looking guilt, versus reflexively raging against those who call out the failings of their industry. The systemic critique recognises the limits of individual culpability: no one programmer at Google can change the company, and quitting in moral outrage to go live in the woods is obviously useless. But if all of the so called Googlers refused to work on unethical projects, as they have begun to do, then there is real hope for change. Tech workers aren't the problem, in fact they're the only one's who can help solve it. Liu tops things off by outlining how tech can move forward to a more open source and tightly regulated future, in which intellectual property is always utilised for the public good, and excess profits are a sign of market failure not success. While these ideas are painted in broad strokes and often inspired by other places - a surprising repeat source is the UK Labour Party - it's a breath of fresh air to have someone who also has some idea of the solutions they're looking for. Overall a very enlightening and readable account of the tech sector. If you liked this, and wish to know more about the push for more ethical tech, you may find the online essay "The Making of the tech Worker Movement" very valuable.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Emily Carlin

    Two books in one. The first section is straight memoir; the story of a young woman who is almost a caricature of an idealistic tech enthusiast. She worships Paul Graham, "falls in love" with Fountainhead, scoffs at work/life balance, is superficially liberal but deeply apolitical, and wants to make it big as an ad-tech founder without any criteria for evaluating what she's building besides "will I make lots of money?" The aforementioned ad-tech startup fails and thus begins the second section: A Two books in one. The first section is straight memoir; the story of a young woman who is almost a caricature of an idealistic tech enthusiast. She worships Paul Graham, "falls in love" with Fountainhead, scoffs at work/life balance, is superficially liberal but deeply apolitical, and wants to make it big as an ad-tech founder without any criteria for evaluating what she's building besides "will I make lots of money?" The aforementioned ad-tech startup fails and thus begins the second section: A pivot to left politics. This second half is less memoir, more manifesto. I basically agree with all of the analyses of tech's failings and admire how much detail Liu goes into about how we might build something better. The cynical and small part of me is a bit critical of this neat evolution from the first section to the second -- from 100% bought in to the promises of tech to 100% anti-capitalist "abolish silicon valley." It doesn't feel ... human? Maybe this is because the book lacks a credible social world. I guess I feel like so much of my own political evolution has happened "in community." Reading and thinking on my own obviously greased the gears, but the gears got turning in response to the people/world around me. So perhaps I'm just projecting :) One way I'm trying to think about why this book didn't quite feel real to me is by comparing it to a tech memoir that did: Uncanny Valley. Anna Wiener's story felt so much closer to life (and thus profound, moving, helpful). Part of this might be Wiener's ambivalence from the get-go; as she gets into tech and as she gets out of it. But another part of it could be Wiener's concrete rendering of her social worlds in New York and in San Francisco -- not to mention a similarly concrete rendering of the material conditions of her life (i.e. where her money comes from, how much money she got from her GitHub stock, etc.). Liu's arc, in comparison, feels more conceptual and separate from the messy details of life as it's lived. I admire how honest she is in describing herself during her idealistic tech days and then how passionate and thoughtful she is in critiquing the tech industry and imagining something better. And maybe it's really hard (impossible?) to describe the actual mechanics of personal transformation, so she has to do it in this sort of ex post facto way that ends up feeling phony. Or maybe I just relate to Anna Wiener more and so this reaction is nothing more than the product of my experiences/background/sensibilities. In any case, I am glad that this book exists. I enjoyed the experience of reading it, learned a lot, and have a feeling I'll continue to think about it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    Someone I follow on Twitter retweeted the author when she first posted the preorder for this book and with the title "Abolish Silicon Valley" I purchased immediately. I was really excited to read this as someone who grew up and still lives in the Silicon Valley and is critical of the tech industry. The book is an incredibly easy read and I read it in three days. While I didn't hate the book, I would not recommend for anyone who is well-read in anti-capitalist lit / tech industry critique - you w Someone I follow on Twitter retweeted the author when she first posted the preorder for this book and with the title "Abolish Silicon Valley" I purchased immediately. I was really excited to read this as someone who grew up and still lives in the Silicon Valley and is critical of the tech industry. The book is an incredibly easy read and I read it in three days. While I didn't hate the book, I would not recommend for anyone who is well-read in anti-capitalist lit / tech industry critique - you will agree with all her points in the end but it will be kind of "duh" moment and you have to read about her failed startup for way to long to get there. It's very much a beginners book (nothing wrong with that) and is a great book for techies that are juggling their own personal morals/ethics in their workplace or anyone who is beginning to question the tech industry.

  22. 4 out of 5

    George Mossessian

    The memoir section was a bit longer than I strictly needed, I would’ve loved for it to be half as long and to double the length of the second half, BUT it was clearly important for the author to write it and her urgency transfers spectacularly through the writing, making it a page turner nonetheless. Excellent as a case study follow-up to Capitalist Realism, and on its own. As I am gradually becoming disaffected with my own path in tech, this is immensely relatable in its premise and insightful The memoir section was a bit longer than I strictly needed, I would’ve loved for it to be half as long and to double the length of the second half, BUT it was clearly important for the author to write it and her urgency transfers spectacularly through the writing, making it a page turner nonetheless. Excellent as a case study follow-up to Capitalist Realism, and on its own. As I am gradually becoming disaffected with my own path in tech, this is immensely relatable in its premise and insightful in its execution, putting precise words to thoughts and feelings I’ve had bouncing around in my own head for at least the past year.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    I enjoyed reading this book because it gave me a vignette into what startup life looks like as well as ideas for how silicon valley can be changed to serve the people better. There is this one chapter that condenses all her proposals (I'd have to re-read that section again) but it contained a lot of interesting ideas that I'd never think of. I applaud the author for sharing her personal journey (it takes courage) and her struggles with identity (re: meritocracy and feeling deserving of the high I enjoyed reading this book because it gave me a vignette into what startup life looks like as well as ideas for how silicon valley can be changed to serve the people better. There is this one chapter that condenses all her proposals (I'd have to re-read that section again) but it contained a lot of interesting ideas that I'd never think of. I applaud the author for sharing her personal journey (it takes courage) and her struggles with identity (re: meritocracy and feeling deserving of the high status to empathizing with workers), as I certainly thought about those questions before but was never encouraged to think more about it. I'd recommend this book to people who work in tech.

  24. 5 out of 5

    William Robinson

    I was hoping I'd enjoy this book as I've seen some recent Zoom/YouTube events where Wendy Liu was a speaker and she had a lot of interesting things to say. I was not disappointed, I loved this book. The memoir was entertaining and engaging whilst the realisation and subsequent deep dive into leftist literature was highly relatable. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who has ever used the internet, so if you're reading this, that means you.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Wendy Liu has written one of the best books on the tech industry to date. Anchored in left-wing principles, “Abolish Silicon Valley” is a narrative of the author’s own experience in tech, and offers a potent corrective to tech hagiography, thankfully no longer in vogue. As someone who knows many people involved in tech, I want to send them all copies of this book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gemma Milne

    This book is cracking. The memoir was super relatable (as an ex-intern of an investment bank...) and the final quarter of the book is an enthralling whistle-stop tour of the internal capitalistic issues at the heart of Silicon Valley. Brilliant for getting your cogs turning; I found myself writing tonnes of notes in the margins and adding many new books and articles to my reading list.

  27. 5 out of 5

    6r36.v1073t

    Exceptional book. A very thoughtful and compelling look into the conditioning and de-conditioning of a young tech entrepreneur. Better yet, Liu offers nuanced critiques coupled with real solutions, all in a well-organized and digestible memoir style which can appeal to literature lovers and fidgety tech-types alike. Quite the debut!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Angie

    really appreciated reading about the transformation of someone's opinions about SV. nothing incredibly new, but super helpful in understanding the thought process backing change/radicalization, and the last chapter helped me think more concretely about what a meaningful alternative requires

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    A real challenge...if you’re open-minded Definitely a bracing take on the neoliberal order most of us inhabit. My only (slight) criticism is that the first half of the book, Ms. Liu’s backstory that provides the evidence for her perspective, is a bit long-winded.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Marissa

    3.5 stars. Title isn't descriptive of the work. Good for people like Liu who are just delving into anti-capitalist literature and are beginning to question their role in the tech industry. The manifesto at the end is less abolish and more reform.

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