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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times Notable Book 

A biography of venture capitalist and entrepreneur Peter Thiel, the enigmatic, controversial, and hugely influential power broker who sits at the dynamic intersection of tech, business, and politics

“Max Chafkin’s The Contrarian is much more than a consistently shocking biography of Peter Thiel, the most important investor in tech and a key supporter of the Donald Trump presidency. It’s also a disturbing history of Silicon Valley that will make you reconsider the ideological foundations of America’s relentless engine of creative destruction.” (Brad Stone, author of The Everything Store and Amazon Unbound)

Since the days of the dot-com bubble in the late 1990s, no industry has made a greater impact on the world than Silicon Valley. And few individuals have done more to shape Silicon Valley than Peter Thiel. The billionaire venture capitalist and entrepreneur has been a behind-the-scenes operator influencing countless aspects of our contemporary way of life, from the technologies we use every day to the delicate power balance between Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and Washington. But despite his power and the ubiquity of his projects, no public figure is quite so mysterious.

In the first major biography of Thiel, Max Chafkin traces the trajectory of the innovator's singular life and worldview, from his upbringing as the child of immigrant parents and years at Stanford as a burgeoning conservative thought leader to his founding of PayPal and Palantir, early investment in Facebook and SpaceX, and relationships with fellow tech titans Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Eric Schmidt. The Contrarian illuminates the extent to which Thiel has sought to export his values to the corridors of power beyond Silicon Valley, including funding the lawsuit that destroyed the blog Gawker and strenuously backing far-right political candidates, notably Donald Trump for president in 2016.  

Eye-opening and deeply reported, The Contrarian is a revelatory biography of a one-of-a-kind leader and an incisive portrait of a tech industry whose explosive growth and power is both thrilling and fraught with controversy.

©2021 Max Chafkin (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“A judicious biography.... Unfailing diligent.... The Contrarian isn’t just about Thiel; it’s about Silicon Valley’s political coming-of-age, too.” (New York Times)

“Punchy and caustic...an engrossing look at one of Silicon Valley’s most eccentric and abrasive figures.” (Publishers Weekly) 

“[Chafkin] does an excellent job of unpicking the disparate elements of the Thiel mythology. Nothing is quite what it seems.” (London Review of Books)

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What listeners say about The Contrarian

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Very little mention of Trump

Don’t let delusional Trumpers influence your decision to purchase. The book is a neutral and sobering look at Thiel and his rise to power in Silicon Valley and beyond. Let’s face it, people like him, driven by sociopathic impulses and gifted with incredible intelligence, succeed widely beyond dreams when the timing is right and the decision making is almost supernatural. I enjoy reading stories like this. A good book so far and I recommend to anyone not triggered by politics.

14 people found this helpful

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Don’t burn a credit.

I tried, but it’s a cringe-fest. Sadly, the author doesn’t understand Thiel or his world. If you can’t respect your subject, you shouldn’t attempt to criticize him - much less write his biography. While this book is essentially a cheap editorial, the author’s insular worldview has rendered him incapable of forming opinions worthy of your attention. His community college-level tropes about white supremacy and extremism grow tiresome out of the gate. Had he forced himself to read Girard more than his one paragraph account demanded, he might have been able to scratch beneath the surface of Thiel’s ideology. He clearly didn’t. There are more perspicacious treatments of Thiel such as Holiday’s “Conspiracy,” and especially “Zero to One” itself. Chafkin reveals himself as a less than bright political hack attempting to kick at a great man’s shins. Apart from a few chuckles at the attempt, there’s nothing to appreciate here.

9 people found this helpful

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Comes across as biased against Thiel

It is well researched and I’ve learned a lot of facts about Peter Thiel’s background. However, it comes across as very biased against Thiel right out of the gate. It reads like more of a hit piece you’d read in a newspaper rather than an objective biography.

9 people found this helpful

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More a opinion & gossip rather than facts.

You are better off reading opinion column in New York Times.

Dont like leaving bad reviews but, author clearly has political agenda, and trying to make someone - not his readers happy.

5 people found this helpful

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Very disappointing… I regret purchasing

This author let his left leaning politic taint every page. Rather than remaining neutral the author is clearly biased to the point it ruins the book.

3 people found this helpful

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Important read about irresponsible use of power, technology, and money

I learned a lot by reading this book about how Peter Thiel has used his money and connections to gain more and more power and influence. His ambition doesn’t seem to be tempered by morality or consistency in his supposed libertarian beliefs. It is very important for people to understand his negative impact on the Republican Party and his corrupting influence on Facebook.

2 people found this helpful

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A must read

Well researched and documented book for a wider audience that needs to know the extend of Peter Thiel’s involvement in funding Trump and the alt-right for the past 5+ years. Peter's behavior seems to be more machiavellian than contrarian for the purpose of amassing power in whatever that may be to him at different times. His track record of unethical behavior seems to make him a dangerous person to the nation.

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Scary

it is truly frightening to see how deeply flawed an individual can amass such wealth and power. it is ironic that those that rail against deep states and New world orders are themselves the ones the most entrenched in it.....

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Outstanding insights into Peter Theil

Very well researched book - well laid out - extremely interesting - was disappointed when it ended because I was enjoying it and wanted the story to keep going …..

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Interesting read on Peter’s Machiavellian style

I had second thoughts getting this book due to the reviews. Although this isn’t a positive portrayal, I think it gave an honest take on how Thiel has managed to climb his way to the top. Taking unpopular bets with large upsides, grabbing power at opportune times and creating groups with him as a central figure to achieve his means. It’s a great read and I enjoyed this behind the scenes look at Thiel’s life.

1 person found this helpful