In “The Impossible First,” Colin O’Brady tells the tale of a solo trip across Antarctica, on skis and pulling a sled of supplies.
It had never been done before: to make a crossing of Antarctica alone, unsupported and unassisted, via the South Pole, a 930-mile trek in temperatures substantially below zero and wind chills doubling the cold. Undaunted, O’Brady, who experiences a “ferocious, uncontainable optimism that boils over inside me at the beginning of almost any new challenge or adventure,” has set a number of speed records in such events as climbing the tallest peaks on all seven of the continents and climbing to the highest ground in each of the 50 states. He is also a triathlete of note, so there was little doubt about his physical preparedness to take on the Antarctic adventure. When he writes about the “inspirational path of the polar pioneers before me, and what they’d taught the world about endurance, strength, and perseverance,” you know he is on solid ground. However, this adventure would take more than two months in a formidable, monotonous landscape. As we see, the mental challenges in dealing with such an environment occupied much of his time. O’Brady is a confident, crafty storyteller, and he has plenty of captivating stories to tell about his exploits and his family life, which he intertwines with his voyage. Many of his tales have an underlying theme of audacity accomplished through “grit, purpose, and a growth mindset.” He also has a charming partner in his wife, Jenna, and it is a pleasure to see them working together to get through the rough spots, whether winning over a new sponsor or talking the author through especially difficult moments. She helps to humanize O’Brady, so he is not simply a robotic master of control and discipline. This inner saga works hand in hand with the physical challenges to make for a full tapestry of remarkable experience.
A brutally sublime tale of derring-do that transports as well as teaches.
In “Uncanny Valley,” former tech worker-turned-journalist Anna Wiener 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 Friends who had left the city warned her that the San Francisco they loved had been replaced by “a late capitalist hellscape” that catered to the “on-demand” whims of young techies with “plump bank accounts.”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.