In her mid-twenties, 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-of-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.
Praise for Uncanny Valley
"[Wiener] is here to fill out our worst-case scenarios with shrewd insight and literary detail . . . Wiener is a droll yet gentle guide . . . The real strength of Uncanny Valley comes from her careful parsing of the complex motivations and implications that fortify this new surreality at every level, from the individual body to the body politic."—Lauren Oyler, The New York Times Book Review
"Extraordinary . . . Wiener’s storytelling mode is keen and dry, her sentences spare—perfectly suited to let a steady thrum of dread emerge."—Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times
"Biting and funny . . . Uncanny Valley will speak to you as well as any book about millennial culture. Its humor is a proxy for the despair Wiener feels about tech culture’s predicament and her helplessness at doing anything about it . . . Uncanny Valley ought to be read by policymakers just as closely as any set of statistics."—Mark Athitakis, Los Angeles Times
"The quality of Weiner’s on-the-ground observations, coupled with acuity she brings to understanding the psychology at work, makes the book illuminating on a page-by-page basis . . . [Wiener's] empathy makes the portrait all the more damning . . . Weiner’s book isn’t a warning so much as a lament over the damage done and the damage still to come."—John Warner, Chicago Tribune
"Uncanny Valley is a different sort of Silicon Valley narrative, a literary-minded outsider’s insider account of an insulated world that isn’t as insular or distinctive as it and we assume . . . Through [Wiener's] story, we begin to perceive how much tech owes its power, and the problems that come with it, to contented ignorance."—Ismail Muhammad, The Atlantic
"Wiener has the two talents that every memoir needs: A devastating eye for detail . . . and the ability to map her experience onto a cultural shift much larger than herself . . . I deadened my phone and laptop while reading this so I could give it my Undivided Attention. I’m recommending not only the book but also this reading method."—Molly Young, Vulture
"Equal parts enchanting and subversive . . . [Wiener's] account of living inside the Bay Area bubble reads like HBO's Silicon Valley filtered through Renata Adler; Wiener is a trenchant cultural cartographer, mapping out a foggy world whose ruling class is fueled by empty scripts: 'People were saying nothing, and saying it all the time.' The book's author does the very opposite."—Lauren Mechling, Vogue
"[A] hyper-detailed, thoroughly engrossing memoir . . . At the intersection of exploitative labor, entitled men, and ungodly amounts of money, Wiener bears witness to the fearsome future as it unfolds."—Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire
"Weiner’s book feels destined to be a key and lasting portrait of a crucial moment in our relationship with tech culture: a perfect blend of humor, shrewd insight, and earnestness."—Stephen Sparks, Lit Hub
"[Wiener] is an extremely gifted writer and cultural critic. Uncanny Valley may be a defining memoir of the 2020s, and it’s one that will send a massive chill down your spine."—BookPage (starred review)
"Alternately outrageous and outraging. What makes Uncanny Valley unforgettable is not just Wiener's unique take on tech, but the fun of being along on the journey with her. Her immense intelligence and facility with language make the pages fly. She's generous, quippy, introspective and always self-deprecating. Technophobes have nothing to fear; she employs jargon mainly for laughs."—Katie Weed, Shelf Awareness
"I've never read anything like Uncanny Valley, which is both a searching bird's-eye study of an industry and a generation, as well as an intimate, microscopic portrait of ambition and hope and dread. Anna Wiener writes about the promise and the decay of Silicon Valley with the impossibly pleasurable combination of a precise, razored intellect and a soft, incandescent heart. Her memoir is diagnostic and exhilarating, a definitive document of a world in transition: I won't be alone in returning to it for clarity and consolation for many years to come."—Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion
"Uncanny Valley is a generation-defining account of the amoral late-capitalist tech landscape we are fatally enmeshed in. With grace and humor, Anna Wiener shows us the misogyny, avarice, and optimistic self-delusion of our cultural moment, wrapped up in the gripping story of a young woman navigating the blurred boundaries of a seductive world. Insightful, compelling and urgent."—Stephanie Danler, author of Sweetbitter: A Novel
"Like Joan Didion at a startup."—Rebecca Solnit, author of Call Them By Their True Names
“A rare mix of acute, funny, up-to-the-minute social observation, dead-serious contemplation of the tech industry’s annexation of our lives, and a sincere first-person search for meaningful work and connection. How does an unworn pair of plain sneakers ‘become a monument to the end of sensuousness’? Read on.”—William Finnegan, author of Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
"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."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"A compelling takedown of the pitfalls of start-up culture, from sexism to the lack of guardrails, Uncanny Valley highlights the maniacal optimism of the twenty-somethings behind the screens and the pitfalls of the culture they are building.”—Booklist
"[An] insider-y debut memoir that sharply critiques start-up culture and the tech industry . . . Wiener is an entertaining writer, and those interested in a behind-the-scenes look at life in Silicon Valley will want to take a look."—Publishers Weekly
Reviews from Goodreads
Read an Excerpt
Depending on whom you ask, it was either the apex, the inflection point, or the beginning of the end for Silicon Valley’s startup scene—what cynics called a bubble, optimists called the future, and my future coworkers, high on the fumes of world-historical...