Zero to One, not unlike other books in its zeigeist/self-caricature orbit (Sapiens, Infinite Jest, and so on) is often so much treated like a referendum on the kind of person who would read this book rather than the book itself.

This is perhaps a fairer book to be overshadowed by its author than Sapiens (reasonable, interesting pop-sci that happened to be aggressively co-opted by Silicon Valley), given Peter Thiel and Blake Masters' [1] place in the world. But still, after twelve weeks of waiting for the library to get it in, I felt compelled to read it.

It's not bad! It's almost charming in its tendencies to wander off the garden path: Thiel will jump from a discussion of evaluating potential co-founders to a pedestrian reading of Rawls' A Theory of Justice to dressing up unique moats as "secrets" and then a screed about the failure of "green tech."

The book is short, and contains little fluff (which means I am biased for it by default.) I think the advice it proffers is good, albeit (at least at this point, nearly a decade after its initial publication) not particularly novel. The core of the book is the seven qualities of success:

  1. Revolutionary technology
  2. Unique insight
  3. Monopoly status
  4. Strategic timing
  5. A great team
  6. Effective distribution
  7. Enduring value

Like, that's a pretty solid list, and not particularly idiosyncratic. I think a lot of people latch onto the whole "monopoly" thing, which is a smart way for Thiel to dress up a fairly anodyne point (focus on overdelivering on a niche market and then expand) in a firebrand-y way. Which perhaps serves as a useful metonymy for the entire book: Thiel delivers rote but useful advice in a way that is more interesting than your median airplane book.

  1. One takeaway from this audiobook, which was read by Blake Masters: I'm not sure how anyone could listen to his aural performance and consider him with the requisite charisma to mount a successful Senate campaign. ↩︎


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