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Publisher's Summary

A stunning story about how power works in the modern age - the book the New York Times called "one helluva page-turner" and The Sunday Times of London celebrated as "riveting...an astonishing modern media conspiracy that is a fantastic read." Pick up the book everyone is talking about.

In 2007, a short blogpost on Valleywag, the Silicon Valley vertical of Gawker Media, outed PayPal founder and billionaire investor Peter Thiel as gay. Thiel's sexuality had been known to close friends and family, but he didn't consider himself a public figure, and believed the information was private. 

This post would be the casus belli for a meticulously plotted conspiracy that would end nearly a decade later with a $140 million dollar judgment against Gawker, its bankruptcy and with Nick Denton, Gawker's CEO and founder, out of a job. Only later would the world learn that Gawker's demise was not incidental - it had been masterminded by Thiel. 

For years, Thiel had searched endlessly for a solution to what he'd come to call the "Gawker Problem". When an unmarked envelope delivered an illegally recorded sex tape of Hogan with his best friend's wife, Gawker had seen the chance for millions of page views and to say the things that others were afraid to say. Thiel saw their publication of the tape as the opportunity he was looking for. He would come to pit Hogan against Gawker in a multi-year proxy war through the Florida legal system, while Gawker remained confidently convinced they would prevail as they had over so many other lawsuit - until it was too late. 

The verdict would stun the world and so would Peter's ultimate unmasking as the man who had set it all in motion. Why had he done this? How had no one discovered it? What would this mean - for the First Amendment? For privacy? For culture? 

In Holiday's masterful telling of this nearly unbelievable conspiracy, informed by interviews with all the key players, this case transcends the narrative of how one billionaire took down a media empire or the current state of the free press. It's a study in power, strategy, and one of the most wildly ambitious - and successful - secret plots in recent memory. 

Some will cheer Gawker's destruction and others will lament it, but after listening to this audiobook - and seeing the access the author was given - no one will deny that there is something ruthless and brilliant about Peter Thiel's shocking attempt to shake up the world. 

©2018 Ryan Holiday (P)2018 Penguin Audio

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

I almost couldn’t make it through...

Although I liked the content, the delivery by the author reading the book was terrible. His breathy cadence really annoyed me and many times I found myself thinking, just stop the madness now. This is a book that I would definitely need to listen to again simply because I am sure that I missed a lot due to the reader....but I will more than likely never listen to again because I just do not think I could stand to listen to the author reading it again.

Ryan, if you want to narrate your books - please take some lessons, get a coach, have someone help you edit the audio....something...but my main advice would be to stick to writing and let a professional narrator do the narration.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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good story, bad narration

it was a compelling story but I found it hard to follow at times due to the way it was read.

18 of 20 people found this review helpful

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Great book until the end.

Had he ended it after the trial the book would have been amazing. But then he had to tear into trump to make some sort of point.

13 of 15 people found this review helpful

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Too long for the amount of material presented

What would have made Conspiracy better?

This book is way too long, and the story of Peter Thiel and Gawker is way too diluted with philosophical detours on conspiracies in general. I have a suspicion that Mr Thiel's conspiracy, an exciting story, would probably take two or three hours to tell, but the book is 11 hours... It almost feels like Mr Holiday tries to imitate the broad scope of Robert Greene books or Lawrence Freedman's Strategy. The problem is, Mr Greene and Dr Freedman discuss general principles with plenty of specific examples (Thiel's story would make a one-page example there), while Mr Holiday uses one major story to venture broadly in the matters of the strategy of conspiracy. The first such venture seems interesting, then it gets repetitive. Moreover, most of those ventures don't present anything paradigm changing; oftentimes, they reiterate common sense.
So to answer the question on what would make the story better - a good editor.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Mr Holiday found an interesting and relevant story, and presented a good collection of facts on it, interviewing both sides, etc. This is what's good about this book.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Windy, Fancy Quotes, & A Contradictory Conclusion

A windy rendition, spiced up by throwing in quotes by famous people, about the back story of the Hulk Hogan case. It has many “stream of consciousness” passages about what people might be thinking and then about what other people may think about that, etc. It tries to be philosophic but contradicts its principles in a scree against President Trump criticizing him for advocating actions against NFL players who disrespected the National Anthem. However, he approves of the NFL ruling that would suspend players for having the flag on their cleats during 911 and for wearing blue ribbons on their helmets for the police who were slaughtered in Texas. Of course, Hillary lost the election because of an invisible right wing conspiracy. Obama, who authorized wiretapping of a political opponent, is said to always “go high”. He really has to follow the media ideology because, as he knows from the Gawker case, they would crush him without much effort.

He reads like he is drinking water out of a canteen. After every phrase, he stops to take a swig leaving the reader waiting for him to swallow and begin again.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Worst audio book ever

I was really excited to read the story, it is a fascinating conspiracy to avenge a wrong. The author wrote what is EASILY the worst book possible, and then to make it just a bit worse still, he narrates it in a monotone slow deliberate voice. Every sentence has a parenthetical to some obscure reference in ancient history.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Rambling and political

The storyline is fascinating but the performance is terrible. It seems like Holiday repeats himself often while trying to make a point. In a bizarre twist he tries to tie Trump's presidency to Thiel's conspiracy. It is a stretch at best.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating real-life conspiracy mapped in detail

This was far more fascinating than I ever expected.

The short version of the story: In 2007, Gawker Media outed Peter Thiel, the billionaire investor who founded PayPal. Angered by this, Thiel embarked on what became a slow, patient campaign to destroy Gawker. The instrument of his vengeance, improbably, was Terry Bollea, better known as former professional wrestler "Hulk Hogan," who had launched a suit against Gawker for publishing a sex video of him banging his best friend's wife. Backed by Thiel's deep pockets, the Bollea lawsuit eventually ended the Gawker empire, driving it and its owner, Nick Denton, into bankruptcy.

That's the short version, but the long version turns out to be detailed, fascinating, and a far-reaching epic story that touches on political biases, the culture wars, and meditations on the nature of conspiracy and revenge.

Many people have opinions about the case based entirely on what they think of the principals. When Bollea aka "Hulk Hogan" first won his lawsuit against Gawker, public opinion was generally in his favor. The trial had shown amply that Gawker didn't care in the slightest about truth or journalistic ethics. They would publish anything without regard for the impact on its subjects. The rich and famous were favorite targets, and everyone enjoyed the schadenfreude of seeing yet another celebrity being humiliated. Worse, they operated on the principal that they were essentially untouchable. "Never start a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel" - they relied on strong First Amendment protections coupled with the fact that even for a rich celebrity, taking on a multimillion-dollar media empire was doomed to be a losing fight.

But when it was revealed that billionaire Peter Thiel was behind Hogan's lawsuit, essentially providing infinite funds in a deliberate effort to destroy Gawker, opinion turned. Thiel was not beloved by the media, and the fact that he was a libertarian, and later a Trump supporter, cast the case in a new light for many. Now it was a story about a vengeful billionaire crushing the freedom of the press for hurting his feelings.

Any such simplistic summary does not do the story justice, and Ryan Holiday, who interviewed both Peter Thiel and Nick Denton, among others, for this book (and in fact was asked to convey messages between them) does an excellent job of plumbing the psychology of everyone involved and laying out all the complexities.

Thiel, for example, wasn't just a thin-skinned billionaire out for revenge. At the time Gawker "outed" him, his being gay was already an open secret, known to pretty much everyone who knew him. So why was he so upset at the brief story on the Valleywag blog titled "Peter Thiel is totally gay, people"? There were a number of reasons, and none of them involved embarrassment or shame at being gay. Thiel, rich and powerful as he was, was genuinely afraid of Gawker, which seemed to be picking on him, and everyone told him there was nothing he could do about it; media organizations like Gawker could expose, humiliate, and mock anyone they wanted with impunity. He came to see Gawker as a genuine societal problem, and eventually, he was persuaded that not only should someone do something about it, but that he was that someone.

And yes, if you're wondering about all the other creative ways a billionaire could inflict retribution... Thiel thought about them, and discussed options with the chief architect of his campaign. Not purely out of scruples, they elected to follow a 100% legal strategy, eschewing even legal gray areas that Thiel could easily have funded.

Terry Bollea, meanwhile, comes off as very sympathetic and vulnerable in this tale. Sure, he was rich and famous. But he was also busted up after years of pro wrestling. His marriage went to hell, his wife ran off with a younger man and took most of his assets, his son was in prison, and when he went to his best friend's house for comfort and support, his best friend's wife essentially seduced him, and unknown to Bollea, the two of them were taping every encounter.

Bollea didn't know this until years later, when the video fell into Gawker Media's hands, and they published it. Not only did he learn in the worst way possible what his ex-best friend had done to him, but everyone accused him of being just another fading celebrity who'd released the video intentionally for publicity. And Bollea wasn't just taped having sex; he'd vented to his lover, said horrible things about his family in what he thought was intimate privacy, and most infamously, dropped a lot of n-bombs when talking about his daughter's boyfriend. When this came out, it essentially cost him what was left of his career.

Bollea was genuinely crushed by all these events. When he sued Gawker, though, he didn't really have a hope of winning. He wasn't nearly rich enough to take on the Gawker empire. Until Peter Thiel came along.

The ins and outs both of what preceded the Bollea lawsuit and what followed are truly a Machiavellian tale, because this really was a conspiracy. Bollea himself didn't know who the mysterious backer was who was pushing him to take his lawsuit all the way. Gawker was overconfident and would never have been destroyed this way had they known what was really behind the lawsuit; they assumed Bollea would eventually settle, because he had to. They made strategic errors that exposed them legally and financially because they didn't realize this wasn't a faux-outraged celebrity trying to get an apology, this was a billionaire trying to destroy them.

Enter GamerGate and the culture wars and then the 2016 election, and the judgment against Gawker became fraught with implications that went well beyond the politics of outing and whether or not it's okay to publish someone's sex video without their consent.

I listened to this book mostly because I was a bit curious about the story, but it turns out to be truly an epic of modern journalism, American culture, and yes, illustrative lessons in how real conspiracies work. While years from now, this story may become dated as a piece of history from this particular moment in time, I highly recommend it to anyone with any interest in contemporary politics, culture, journalism, Silicon Valley, celebrity media, or the mind of Peter Thiel.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Not the best book in recent years, but a good one.

Ryan Holiday did some good work here. His writing is solid and his voice work is also commendable. I would recommend this book, but with an inkling of reservation. There is a story and a lesson here, but it may be one you have already read or learned. I was aware and on-board with much of the meat of this book, before I read it. So, sadly, I felt as though there was not a notible revelation. But I do believe there is substance and value to this piece. If the premise interests you, I would encourage you to give it consideration. If the premise is not interesting, I don't think you are missing something very pertinent.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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The last hour should have been dropped

This was a very interesting look at the Hogan, Thirl, Denton, Gawker story. I really don't know why the author went off on a Trump tangent in the last hour. Unnecessary to the story and came across as an excuse for him to virtue signal how he finds the "Alt Right", which apparently includes everyone to the right of Hillary Clinton is, appalling. That's fine, I really don't care what his opinions on that group are, I just found it attenuated to what is otherwise a very good book.

11 of 16 people found this review helpful