Silicon Valley Supervillain, Snooping On You & Me?
The Times of India Delhi|October 01, 2021
Peter Thiel’s biographer Max Chafkin discusses the controversial tycoon with Tulika Rattan
Tulika Rattan

Why have you titled your book ‘The Contrarian’?

Contrarianism is Peter Thiel’s investment philosophy – it’s this idea of breaking away from the herd, of doing or believing the thing that’s different from everybody else. It’s also, to some extent, Thiel’s life philosophy. He’s said he has a “background programme” running in his head that tells him to just say the opposite of whatever everybody else is saying. Thus he’s an immigrant who supports a nativist political movement, a technologist who is sceptical that climate change is real, and a libertarian who founded a massive defence contractor and data mining company, Palantir.

What accounts for his acumen in picking winners in technology areas where he has no real expertise?

The contrarianism explains part of it. Venture capital, which is a big part of what Thiel does, is about making lots of high-risk, high-reward bets, few of which pay off. But Thiel is also somebody who is just very good at sort of seeing into the future, anticipating new developments, both in technology and politics, either just before or just as they’re happening.

You refer to his informal networks. Does that encapsulate how Silicon Valley is a closed club of sorts at the elite level?

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