Uncanny Valley

A Memoir
Narrated by: Suehyla El-Attar
Length: 8 hrs and 45 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (160 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times best seller

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice and a January 2020 IndieNext Pick. An Amazon Best Book of January. One of Vogue's 22 Books to Read this Winter, The Washington Post's 10 Books to Read in January, Elle's 12 Best Books to Read in 2020, The New York Times' 12 Books to Read in January, Esquire's 15 Best Winter Books, Paste's 10 Most Anticipated Nonfiction Books of 2020, and Entertainment Weekly's 50 Most Anticipated Books of 2020.

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

The prescient account of a journey in Silicon Valley: a defining memoir of our digital age.

In her mid-20s, 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-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 Macmillan Audio production from MCD

©2020 Anna Wiener (P)2020 Macmillan Audio

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Could have been better

Well-written and wonderfully read, but what a whiney memoir it turns out to be of an exciting time and place, and also — odd for so good a writer — how inadequate to what she apparently imagines as what should be her rage. I am sorry to say this, and I wanted more from the book.

What's good? Her style is well-wrought, strong throughout. And the reading its terrific.

What's not so good? Well, there is a problem with the narrator: Nothing is quite right for her, and, as she confesses repeatedly, although she is treated very well given her job, she is never convinced that this work in the tech trade is what she wants to do, or that her life or her trade has the virtue she thinks it should have, or that she is any good at it, or that the tech ethos is anything but corrupting. She avoids consideration about the societal implications of her choices, and her condemnations tend to the aesthetic or merely descriptive. She sees a homeless man wearing a sweatshirt from the company she works for, a beggar in swag. “It was the city’s socioeconomic gap personified, I said. It felt even more significant that the man in the light-rail station was black, and not just because San Francisco was losing its black population at a rapid clip. To my knowledge, the company had just two black employees.” Her co-worker listens to her story, described as "a novelistic apparition, a hallucination," and says, “I wonder whose it was … We’re not supposed to give away the hoodies.” I suppose that that's honest in its descriptiveness, and so I should be appreciative; but I wanted more. Stylistically, I found that "To my knowledge, the company had..." not a judgment but an afterthought, an "oh yeah and ..." moment.

Other quibbles: Her verbal pantomime with corporations becomes mere virtue signaling, tossing rocks from behind a fence — Facebook is the “social network everyone hated,” Edward Snowden is “the NSA whistleblower who was back in media,” Microsoft is the “highly litigious Seattle-based software conglomerate.” Her catalogue of offenses — discrimination, antisemitism, racism, sexism — become, in effect, mere lists, as she writes them down but does not engage with them except ironically and as things that make her uncomfortable. In fairness, at this point in the book, which is the second half of it, she is burned out. Not from the work, which she describes as work from home barely getting out of bed, but from her own lack of engagement in it, her uncertainty about what she wants to do with her life.

So, I say it again: the book is wonderfully written, witty through most of it, but the main character is surprisingly more self-centered and shallow than I had expected, and becomes wearying. It is callow when it should be engaged and fierce. Its style sometimes lapses into vacuous word games. All in all it could have been a much better effort for someone with her obvious writing talent. I look forward to her next book, however, which I am sure will be better.

9 people found this helpful

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I was and am there

As a user experience designer living in San Francisco, this book 100% resonated with me. Anna Weiner perfectly captures the yearning, ennui and sense of disillusionment my friends and I now share, the feeling that this magical city is slipping away, and the continuing seduction of tech’s promise. Her portrait of startup culture as experienced by the semi-marginalized is startlingly accurate and beautifully written.

4 people found this helpful

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Well written, yet pedantic and boring.

I found the content to be uninteresting.

The most fun I had was tracking down all of the unnamed companies.

Mixpanel - Analytics Company
Github - Open Source Company
Seattle Litigious Company - Microsoft
Social network everyone hates - Facebook

3 people found this helpful

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The point?

I’m not thoroughly entertained by this book and perhaps I’ve missed the point. A long commentary or critique of work in SF start up culture with snarky asides but little in the way of substance, insight, or suggestions. Not sure what is so relevant about this book or why it’s so popular but then I’m not unfamiliar with news and I tire of criticisms after 6+ hours but that’s just me.

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

An insight into Silicon Valley

A fascinating look into the toxic culture of Silicon Valley. There’s rarely anything surprising, but this story is told in fascinating prose that moves through scenes at a pretty rapid clip. Always fascinating, Weiner is here to rattle the industry even if it’s just a scream into an unheard abyss.

2 people found this helpful

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Paradigm Enriched

Born in 1947, TV didn’t arrive in my little valley until I was 9. Rotary wall, party line phones, inter... what? But I now have a fancy phone that I can ask questions and get lucid answers, WiFi runs my home and Entertainments. Anna, bless you for filling in much for me; a paradigm changer for sure. Thank you for your crisp, clear, vocabulary challenging, witty writing. Well done!

1 person found this helpful

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Wonderful insight lovely writing

Some pearls in this book, especially in the beginning. The “bingo” episode is priceless. Wonderful view into Silicon Valley from a woman’s perspective and from the perspective of someone who hasn’t drunk the kool aid. In the end, a reminder of the value of three dimensions.

1 person found this helpful

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Mind-blowing read and extraordinary performance

Hands down: one of my top ten books. Yes, I work in tech, and even in the San Francisco neighborhood the author writes about – yet her insights into what's really happening here and why all of us should be aware and concerned stretched my understanding in ways that had me shouting "BRAVA." Exceptional writing, juicy subject matter, and a fantastic read by narrator Suehyla El-Attar, who clearly "gets" what's going on here. Can't say enough. Read it.

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A pretty accurate depiction

I enjoyed Wiener's writing style, and the absence of company names that have become part of our daily lexicon (and names that we use as verbs today). I'm now more curious to read something by someone who has a technical role in this industry though, but I don't expect that their writing style would be as eloquent and defined. I found that she articulated a lot of my feelings about the tech industry, startups, what San Francisco has become (I remember SF in the earlt 2000s), people's attitude toward community now, how much less valued tangible things and skills have become (and continuing to) better than I ever could. I didn't strongly disagree with anything she wrote per se, but I wasn't pumping my fist in a "right on" attitude to some of her gender notions, sexual harassment aside, (and yes I am a woman in this industry) either. Overall, great book.

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Great memoir

I live in the Uncanny Valley and have even worked at some of the same companies as Anna Wiener. Wiener has great insight into tech culture and SF, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about it from her perspective, and she's a very talented, beautiful writer. She is shrewd and self-critical, and paints a nuanced picture of many of the flaws, foibles, and blind-spots of the tech industry, which until recently was filled with hype and unrelenting optimism. I personally disagree with the allegations that it's at all whiny. I think she's equally critical of herself as the people she encounters, and is detailing some of what she has seen, and how she has evolved (like frankly much of the country) from buying into the tech rhetoric to becoming more skeptical of it. If you're interested in both some of the details of living and working in this field, I'd definitely recommend this memoir.