The Plot to Get Bill Gates, my third book, is meant as a fun, warts and all look at the World’s Richest Man and the corporate titans who, despite their age and all the’ve accomplished, become teen-boy-like obsessed with proving themselves bigger, better, or smarter than Gates. Think Moby Dick in Silicon Valley, where a loose knit cabal of Silicon Valley’s wealthiest and most successful leaders make up a kind of Capt. Ahab’s club distracted by the Great White Whale from Redmond, Wash. Yet Gates, the slope-shouldered billionaire with bad hair only seems to grow bigger, hungrier, and more dangerous after each attack.
Picture Moby Dick in Silicon Valley. Rivlin offers the true story of Bill Gates and those who would harpoon him in a hilarious investigation into the meaning of America’s most controversial mogul and his rivals.
To understand the magnitude of Bill Gates, one must first understand the people who hate him, most of whom suffer from an acute case of “Bill Envy.”
The Plot to Get Bill Gates is the true, hilarious story of a loosely knit cabal of Silicon Valley’s wealthiest and most successful leaders and their quest to defeat the richest man in the world. These leaders are known within Microsoft as Captain Ahab’s Club for their self-destructive fixation with harpooning the Great White Whale of Redmond, all two hundred pounds and $90 billion of him. Acclaimed journalist Gary Rivlin tells their tale as a high-tech variation on Moby-Dick, and by taking us deep inside the world of Gates and his enemies, he vividly reveals their consuming obsession.
Lead players in The Plot are Lawrence Ellison of Oracle, Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems, Ray Noorda of Novell, Marc Andreessen and James Barksdale of Netscape, Philippe Kahn of Borland, and Gary Kildall (the unsung programmer who could have been Gates), with special guest appearances by venture capitalist John Doerr, consumer activist Ralph Nader, zealous attorney Gary Reback, and the Fraternal Order of Antitrust Lawyers. The author describes each man’s ill-fated attempt at besting Gates, who seems to become bigger, hungrier, and more dangerous after each attack.
Rivlin also conducts an in-depth investigation of Gates himself, examining each crucial step in the ascension of the slope-shouldered billionaire with bad hair and unearthing the most telling details to explain why Gates is so rich and we aren’t. (The short answer: monomania.) Rivlin concludes with an illuminating analysis of Microsoft’s latest upgrade of its CEO, Gates 3.1, which seems to be operating with fewer bugs than previous incarnations.
Gary Rivlin’s reporting is irreverent and intellectually independent, free of the romanticized portraits and techno-hype perpetuated by many in the media. As an award-winning political reporter, he brings a fresh perspective to the avaricious, bloodthirsty behavior of these new icons. The result is a savagely funny morality play about big business at the century’s end.
This book began with a facetious line, delivered after a friend asked me how I’d sum up what was going on in Silicon Valley. It was spring 1997, and at that point I was spending all of my time writing about the Valley, for San Francisco magazine and as a contributing writer for Upside. Ironically, though the eyes of the nation were on Silicon Valley, in the Valley all eyes seemed diverted northward toward Redmond; Bill Gates’s name was on everyone’s lips. “It’s all just a plot to get Bill Gates,” I said to my friend. “A plot by everyone to prove themselves bigger, better, and smarter than this dislikable, slop-shouldered tyrant from Redmond.”
At that point I had been a journalist for more than 15 years. As a staff writer for an alternative weekly, I had covered Chicago’s City Hall (resulting in the book, Fire on the Prairie) through most of the 1980s. and I had spent several years as a street reporter on the youth violence beat (resulting in the book Drive-By). But by 1994, when I completed Drive-By, I was ready for a change. And just a short drive from my home was this stretch of land that, with the sudden surge of widespread interest in the Internet, was ground zero.
In the mid ’70s, I had spent a great deal of time in my high school’s computer room attempting to master BASIC. I had started college as an engineering major—until abandoning the hard sciences because of a new-found interest in politics and writing. But now journalism and my long dormant technical bent have merged. I dove whole hog into high tech, bringing with me an ingrained distrust for hype, a died-in-the-wool dislike of hypocrisy, and a strong love of narrative (i.e., tell it like a story). I cranked out articles for a variety of publications while simultaneously searching out the story line that would serve as the backbone for a book bringing readers into this era-defining business battle.
I see myself first and foremost as a storyteller. And so my aim with this book is to present an entertaining and compelling tale that helps the general interest reader and industry veteran alike gain insights into the nature of competition in computerdom and the larger-than-life personalities who rule this world. In a nutshell, The Plot to Get Bill Gates is a story of obsession: obsession with money, obsession with the Big Strike, but mainly obsession with Bill Gates, the world’s richest man and therefore the object of envy, attention, and resentment the world over. To my mind it’s a tale of obsession worthy of Melville, where a long line of Captains of Industries have taken turns playing the role of Captain Ahab, ostentatious in their hate for Gates—the Great White Whale. The more he is attacked, the angrier and meaner (and larger!) this whale grows. I hope you enjoy.
“Exquisitely readable…One of the best books on new technology…laugh-out-loud funny.”
“Mr. Rivlin has performed the not inconsiderable task of taking an already overworked subject and saying something new not only about it but about what it reveals about the rest of us.”
“Informative and entertaining….Rivlin, an investigative reporter, probably musters as much sympathy for Gates as anyone outside Microsoft ever has, but the portrait he paints is utterly devastating.”
“A resourceful reporter, a passionate writer, and a marvelous storyteller.”
“What a sweet book this is – so shrewd about the larger-than-life personalities who rule the world of computer software; so joyously written; so filled with both rollicking tales of the software wars and powerful insights about the nature of high-tech competition.”
“Rivlin captures the fear and loathing of Gates with snappy prose, keen analysis…and laugh-out-loud funny profile of Silicon Valley’s personalities and their world-class egos….The result is one of the best books on new technology so far.”
“The Plot to Get Bill Gates makes for a fun read that in a few places is downright laugh-out-loud funny. Rivlin is a good writer. His insights into the zeitgeist of high-tech business…cut to the quick.”
“Gary Rivlin’s book has the merit of a quick and clear-eyed wit, a knack for the telling detail that twists the knife in the wound at just the right moment, and impressive talent for data compression.”
“The Plot to Get Bill Gates combines impressive reporting, original analysis and a keen eye for telling details that illuminate a larger story of mass obsession. This is Melville updated for our times, with a Politically Incorrect twist of humor.”
This is an excerpt from the book’s Prologue, “Lord of the Manor.” Set at that tech conferences of all conferences, Stewart Alsop’s Agenda, it’s the story of that day in the fall of 1997 when Gates learned that the Justice Department was suing his company for violating its 1995 consent decree with the government. Later, Microsoft’s PR maven, Pam Edstrom, described it as “one of the worst of Bill’s life.” I checked: Gates made roughly $150 million on the stock market that day. To me that underscores one difference between Bill Gates and the rest of us. Short of awful news, like maybe the death of someone whom I care about deeply, I couldn’t imagine EVER describing a day I made $150 million on the stock market as “one of the worst of my life.”