A California Institute of Technology alumnus too smart to be unemployed, Fussell (Hello World!, 2014) finds happiness through failure in this lighthearted, contemporary memoir.
Fussell brims with intelligence and has a wholly realistic, hard-knocks sense of how business and stock options work in California’s tech epicenter, where startups bloom and often quickly fade away. His experiences with a string of 10 such companies will be of interest to others entering or already in this arena. But those throughlines are only part of this wide-ranging expedition into personal philosophy, social responsibility and family values. The titular joke is that there are no slums in Palo Alto, only those neighborhoods where cracker box houses command seven figures for the privilege of residing in and around Silicon Valley. Even renting, as the author and his family do, costs absurd amounts of money but ensures that children go to superlative schools and breathe the rarefied air of these environs, where everything is top-notch. In these brief, colorfully illustrated pages, the author seems convincingly not neurotic and truly happy. He loves his wife deeply, adores his two daughters, welcomes relatives with open arms, volunteers his valuable time to technical programs for young students and endlessly pounds tennis balls to perfect his serve. He also regards women as “clearly the superior gender” (though badly treated in business), favors Eastern over Western culture, drives the freeway like a maniac, and reveres huge motor homes, preferably with two bathrooms. Otherwise, he diligently refills the ever draining (metaphorical) aquarium that is home to his “koi,” aka his wife Rebecca and two daughters, using what must be the eye-popping hourly flat rate he charges any high-tech startup or suitable enterprise that needs his services. His forays into the rudiments of programming will alert most readers that they are out of their depths. For instance, when describing binary, he says: “With just the digits ‘0’ and ‘1,’ you can represent any number that you need. Say you needed to pay an eight-dollar tab. You would pay that with what might look like a thousand dollar bill.” An expensive distinction!
A pleasure from start to finish and evidence that really smart people often have a lot of luck.