This June, the 2,001-word “Iterating Grace” — subtitle “Heartfelt Wisdom & Disruptive Truths from Silicon Valley’s Top Venture Capitalists” — appeared on the doorsteps of tech industry insiders, journalists and investors alike, who said they were befuddled by its origins. Who created this? What were their motives?
The inside cover of “Iterating Grace” indicated that there were 140 copies of the text. (Lest anyone need reminding, that’s the same number of characters allowed in a tweet.)
Perhaps the most engrossed recipient was Fusion editor-in-chief Alexis Madrigal, who posted the book online in its entirety and also dedicated two pieces to speculating about the identity of its authors.
Set in artful typeface and adorned with carefully handwritten missives from the real Twitter feeds of Silicon Valley venture capitalists, the slim book is at once a satire and an object of mystery.
The plot follows Crooks, an ex-tech industry employee who finds spiritual deliverance in meditating on Silicon Valley’s philosophies far, far away from the digital mecca itself.
One passage explaining Crooks’s awakening reads:
In Silicon Valley, so many people had collaborated to create so much, only to watch it crumble and wonder how real it had ever been. For a lot of tech workers, this only led to despondency and debt. But Crooks seemed to find the dot-com economy’s impermanence electrifying. Start-ups, he realized, were a kind of spiritual exercise.
Following his desire to experience start-ups in their “purest possible form,” Crooks makes the inexplicable decision to move to the Bolivian highlands and begin an existence bearing striking resemblance to that of Christopher McCandless, a young college graduate who retreated into the Alaskan wilderness and died at the mercy of its elements.
Like McCandless, Crooks leaves behind extensive documentation of his manic thought processes, including annotated books, mundane journal entries and the aforementioned tweet-inspired calligraphy. But while McCandless fought to continue living until his last moments, the narrator of “Iterating Grace” suggests that Crooks blissfully allows himself to be trampled by a stampede of vicuñas, llama-like animals that inhabit South America.
Before his demise, however, Crooks appears to reach a philosophical-cum-digital nirvana of sorts, in which he concludes that the meaning of life is to be found in the venture capitalists’ tweets:
The answers he’d been searching for had been there, in the Bay Area’s innovation economy, all along — articulated, unwittingly, by an elite class of entrepreneurial high priests.
“Iterating Grace” takes Silicon Valley axioms to darkly hilarious extremes, and many of the book’s recipients have lauded it for offering a deft portrait of the industry.
“It’s just a perfect little skewering of the current moment,” Madrigal wrote. “To my mind, there is no way that this is a corporate stunt. The writing is just too good.”
It has proven good enough, at least, for a five-figure book deal with Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, the New York Times reported. A literary agent from contacted the email address attached to the book and convinced the two reluctant authors to publish it. They agreed under the condition that their identities wouldn’t be revealed, and according to the Times, the only person who knows their names is an employee in FSG’s contracts department.
“It sounds kind of goofy to say it,” said Sean McDonald, the book’s editor, “but there’s a purity in people paying attention to the book itself, and putting a name on that might deflate that.”
That hasn’t stopped people from trying to guess the authors’ identities, though. After his first article on “Iterating Grace,” Madrigal received a range of theories from readers who were equally intrigued.
Brain Pickings founder Maria Popova surmised based on the book’s sophisticated typeset that it was the work of a former Wired designer, while others pointed the finger at Joshua Cohen, whose novel about the Internet was released shortly after the appearance of “Iterating Grace.”
Others were skeptical about the project’s “purity” and guessed that it’s all part of an elaborate marketing ploy.
Casey Newton, an editor for the tech news site The Verge, told the Times: “When it comes to any sort of stunt that gets a lot of attention on social media, all roads lead back to Taco Bell or Mountain Dew.”
Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly identified Sean McDonald as the one person who knows the authors’ identities.
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