The New, New Thing

The New, New Thing (2001) by Michael Lewis looks at Jim Clark and the internet age.  It’s one of a number of books including Nudist on the Night Shift and Triumph of the Nerds that looks at the first Dot-com Bubble in Silicon Valley.

Jim Clark founded Silicon Graphics Incorporated (SGI) which was the computer company that brought real-time 3D graphics to the market. Clark laid out a chip called the geometry engine that was a VLSI design that performed matrix transformations, clipping and mapping and then created a company around the chip. SGI machines were used to create the computer graphics in Jurassic Park and SGI created OpenGL which became the first major standard 3D API. After founding SGI Clark helped found Netscape and became a billionaire.

Lewis follows Clark after founding Netscape when he is building a huge computer controlled sailing boat called Hyperion and founding Healtheon, a startup that was intended to revolutionize health care by making billing more efficient.

Clark is an amazing guy and Lewis paints a very full portrait of the person who grew up in poverty, was expelled from high school joined the navy and then became a physics professor before going on to found companies worth billions of dollars. The portrait of Silicon Valley at the time of the Dot-com Bubble isn’t quite as good. It’s a difficult time to cover because there were so many strange disasters and also the rise of huge companies like ebay, yahoo and Google.

It’s definitely an enjoyable read and provides a remarkable picture of Clark and technological transformation at the turn of the millennium.

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