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Uncanny Valley
Cover of Uncanny Valley
Uncanny Valley
A Memoir
Borrow Borrow

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER. ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES'S 10 BEST BOOKS OF 2020.
Named one of the Best Books of 2020 by The Washington Post, The Atlantic, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, ELLE, Esquire, Parade, Teen Vogue, The Boston Globe, Forbes, The Times (UK), Fortune, Chicago Tribune, Glamour, The A.V. Club, Vox, Jezebel, Town & Country, OneZero, Apartment Therapy, Good Housekeeping, PopMatters, Electric Literature, Self, The Week (UK) and BookPage. One of Amazon's Best 100 Books of 2020. A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice and a January 2020 IndieNext Pick.

"A definitive document of a world in transition: I won't be alone in returning to it for clarity and consolation for many years to come." —Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion


The prescient, page-turning account of a journey in Silicon Valley: a defining memoir of our digital age

In her mid-twenties, at the height of tech industry idealism, Anna Wiener—stuck, broke, and looking for meaning in her work, like any good millennial—left a job in book publishing for the promise of the new digital economy. She moved from New York to San Francisco, where she landed at a big-data startup in the heart of the Silicon Valley bubble: a world of surreal extravagance, dubious success, and fresh-faced entrepreneurs hell-bent on domination, glory, and, of course, progress.
Anna arrived amidst a massive cultural shift, as the tech industry rapidly transformed into a locus of wealth and power rivaling Wall Street. But amid the company ski vacations and in-office speakeasies, boyish camaraderie and ride-or-die corporate fealty, a new Silicon Valley began to emerge: one in far over its head, one that enriched itself at the expense of the idyllic future it claimed to be building.
Part coming-of-age-story, part portrait of an already-bygone era, Anna Wiener's memoir is a rare first-person glimpse into high-flying, reckless startup culture at a time of unchecked ambition, unregulated surveillance, wild fortune, and accelerating political power. With wit, candor, and heart, Anna deftly charts the tech industry's shift from self-appointed world savior to democracy-endangering liability, alongside a personal narrative of aspiration, ambivalence, and disillusionment.
Unsparing and incisive, Uncanny Valley is a cautionary tale, and a revelatory interrogation of a world reckoning with consequences its unwitting designers are only beginning to understand.

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER. ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES'S 10 BEST BOOKS OF 2020.
Named one of the Best Books of 2020 by The Washington Post, The Atlantic, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, ELLE, Esquire, Parade, Teen Vogue, The Boston Globe, Forbes, The Times (UK), Fortune, Chicago Tribune, Glamour, The A.V. Club, Vox, Jezebel, Town & Country, OneZero, Apartment Therapy, Good Housekeeping, PopMatters, Electric Literature, Self, The Week (UK) and BookPage. One of Amazon's Best 100 Books of 2020. A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice and a January 2020 IndieNext Pick.

"A definitive document of a world in transition: I won't be alone in returning to it for clarity and consolation for many years to come." —Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion


The prescient, page-turning account of a journey in Silicon Valley: a defining memoir of our digital age

In her mid-twenties, at the height of tech industry idealism, Anna Wiener—stuck, broke, and looking for meaning in her work, like any good millennial—left a job in book publishing for the promise of the new digital economy. She moved from New York to San Francisco, where she landed at a big-data startup in the heart of the Silicon Valley bubble: a world of surreal extravagance, dubious success, and fresh-faced entrepreneurs hell-bent on domination, glory, and, of course, progress.
Anna arrived amidst a massive cultural shift, as the tech industry rapidly transformed into a locus of wealth and power rivaling Wall Street. But amid the company ski vacations and in-office speakeasies, boyish camaraderie and ride-or-die corporate fealty, a new Silicon Valley began to emerge: one in far over its head, one that enriched itself at the expense of the idyllic future it claimed to be building.
Part coming-of-age-story, part portrait of an already-bygone era, Anna Wiener's memoir is a rare first-person glimpse into high-flying, reckless startup culture at a time of unchecked ambition, unregulated surveillance, wild fortune, and accelerating political power. With wit, candor, and heart, Anna deftly charts the tech industry's shift from self-appointed world savior to democracy-endangering liability, alongside a personal narrative of aspiration, ambivalence, and disillusionment.
Unsparing and incisive, Uncanny Valley is a cautionary tale, and a revelatory interrogation of a world reckoning with consequences its unwitting designers are only beginning to understand.

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Awards-
About the Author-
  • Anna Wiener is a contributing writer to The New Yorker online, where she writes about Silicon Valley, startup culture, and technology. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, New York, The New Republic, and n+1, as well as in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2017. She lives in San Francisco. Uncanny Valley is her first book.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 11, 2019
    Technology journalist Wiener looks at Silicon Valley life in this insider-y debut memoir that sharply critiques start-up culture and the tech industry. In 2013, Wiener left an assistant job at a New York literary agency to work for an e-book start-up run by young men who were uninterested in reading books. That job led to a move to San Francisco, where she worked in customer support at a data analytics start-up, then at a start-up that focused on software development. Wiener humorously describes the employee perks at the office (“a miniature theme park” with a wraparound bar, a roof deck, a speakeasy), though she decided to primarily work from home “in sagging leggings.” Wiener writes of how she struggled to be taken seriously in a male-dominated industry that lacked diversity; attended lavish work events—at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Lake Tahoe—while San Francisco’s homeless population increased; communicated with coworkers using just emoji; and watched 20-somethings get rich overnight. She eventually became disillusioned with her job (“I was burning out and failing up”) and left in 2018 to pursue writing, but not before buying up her vested stock options. Wiener is an entertaining writer, and those interested in a behind-the-scenes look at life in Silicon Valley will want to take a look.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from November 1, 2019
    A former tech worker-turned-journalist gives the inside scoop on life inside the wickedly weird and wealthy world of Silicon Valley startups. Before Wiener took a customer support job at a San Francisco-based tech startup, she was a broke 20-something pursuing dead-end jobs in the New York publishing industry. Friends who had left the city warned her that the San Francisco they loved had been replaced by "a late capitalist hellscape" that catered to the "on-demand" whims of young techies with "plump bank accounts." Wiener quickly learned that the tech workplace was younger, more casual, and more male-dominant than she had expected. Helping company clients, she often felt like she was one step above artificial intelligence. "I was an intelligent artifice, an empathetic text, a snippet or a warm voice, giving instructions, listening comfortingly," she writes. Despite bouts of existential angst, within a year of moving west, Wiener moved into middle management and a work life that included a healthy salary as well as "an acronym and enterprise accounts." Still, her salary represented a tiny fraction of the total wealth--which sometimes amounted to billions--she saw generated in the high-stakes startup world around her. As she burrowed deeper into the tech world, she saw excesses that repulsed almost as much as they excited her. Quasi-autocratic corporate cultures, including her own, demanded body-and-soul loyalty for "perks" such as ultrastylish workplace surroundings, interoffice skateboarding, luxurious company retreats, and work-at-home privileges on platforms that looked like "video game[s] for children." Wiener also witnessed the ruthlessness of Silicon Valley's quest to control consumer behavior through data acquisition and the way it actively promoted men while telling females to "trust karma" when it came to advancement. Equal parts bildungsroman and insider report, this book reveals not just excesses of the tech-startup landscape, but also the Faustian bargains and hidden political agendas embedded in the so-called "inspiration culture" underlying a too-powerful industry. A funny, highly informative, and terrifying read.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2020

    In Wiener's absorbing, fast-paced debut, the New Yorker staff writer recounts her experience moving from an ebook start-up in New York to a data analytics company in San Francisco, and, later, to an open-source start-up, all while in her 20s. Wiener's descriptions of Silicon Valley expose an industry in which sexism and misogyny are commonplace, where work and personal identities blur and overlap as people become indistinguishable from their brands. For Wiener, regular occurrences, including inappropriate comments and touching, combined with uncertainty around her own identity, led to a sense of loneliness and unease. She excels when challenging the tech industry: questioning its reluctance to diversify and refusal to hold itself accountable for digital surveillance. Brief, fervent chapters tell of working on, and for, the internet; the negative impact it had on Wiener's psyche; and the burnout and imposter syndrome she experienced as a result. VERDICT Wiener is a talented writer, and her story will engage fellow millennials who have found themselves obsessively refreshing social media or mindlessly scrolling to pass the time. Insight into the history of Silicon Valley, and the ideologies transforming society, are a bonus that will ensure the book's longevity.--Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal

    Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    December 1, 2019
    Wiener was providing technical support without much real technical knowledge, but when the CEO called her in for a meeting, he wanted to know only one thing: was she "Down for the Cause"? As the nineteenth employee (and fourth woman) of the analytics start-up, Weiner had a front-row view of Silicon Valley's tech-crazy culture. Her entr�e into the tech world started when she left a thankless book-publishing job to work at an e-book start-up, where, at age 25, she was older than all of the company's founders. Although Wiener assiduously avoids naming any of the platforms she worked on, she leaves enough clues for careful readers to fill in the blanks. In the course of a few years, she moved to the analytics start-up and then an open-source start-up, her salary ballooning to six figures without her learning any real skills. A compelling takedown of the pitfalls of start-up culture, from sexism to the lack of guardrails, Uncanny Valley highlights the maniacal optimism of the twentysomethings behind the screens and the pitfalls of the culture they are building.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

  • Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times

    "Extraordinary . . . Wiener's storytelling mode is keen and dry, her sentences spare--perfectly suited to let a steady thrum of dread emerge."

  • Lauren Oyler, The New York Times Book Review (cover review) "[Wiener] is here to fill out our worst-case scenarios with shrewd insight and literary detail . . . Wiener is a droll yet gentle guide . . . The real strength of Uncanny Valley comes from her careful parsing of the complex motivations and implications that fortify this new surreality at every level, from the individual body to the body politic."
  • Mark Athitakis, Los Angeles Times "Biting and funny . . . Uncanny Valley will speak to you as well as any book about millennial culture. Its humor is a proxy for the despair Wiener feels about tech culture's predicament and her helplessness at doing anything about it . . .Uncanny Valley ought to be read by policymakers just as closely as any set of statistics."
  • Sophia Nguyen, The Washington Post "[Uncanny Valley] defamiliarize[s] us with the Internet as we now know it, reminding us of the human desires and ambitions that have shaped its evolution . . . Wiener's book is studded with sharp assessments."
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