Excerpt from The New New Thing by Michael Lewis, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The New New Thing

A Silicon Valley Story

by Michael Lewis

The New New Thing
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  • First Published:
    Oct 1999, 256 pages
    Jan 2001, 272 pages

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Three minutes later we drove onto the dock up near the low white sailboat, next to the name painted in blue cursive on the side: Hyperion. You could tell the driver knew at least a bit about sailboats because he immediately called the boat a "sloop." A sloop is a sailboat with one mast, to distinguish it from a sailboat with two masts, called a "ketch." "How long is this sloop?" he asked me. "One hundred and fifty-five and a half feet," I said. "That is the biggest sloop I have ever heard of," he said. I said that that was because it was the biggest sloop ever built. His eyes moved from the hull to the mast, and from the mast to the boom, and from the boom to the sails, which, unfurled, would cover a football field. "How many men are needed to handle the sails?" he asked. "None," I said, "at least in theory."

The Dutchman laughed again, but nervously, as if deciding whether it was better to be mistaken for a German or a fool. It wasn't until I told him that the boat did not exactly require a crew, that it could be completely controlled by a computer, that conviction returned to his laughter. The whole thing, after all, had been some foreigner's idea of a joke.

When I arrived that morning of the first North Sea trial, Wolter Huisman was standing on the deck beneath the mast. Wolter owned the boatyard that had built Hyperion. Wet snow dribbled from his rain gear, and his woolen cap drooped around his ears. His chin sunk glumly into his dark tattered parka, and his old Dutch shoulders sagged like a commuter's at the end of a long day. He seemed to be melting. Coming up from behind, I caught him muttering to himself. Later I learned that Wolter hadn't slept. He'd stared at the ceiling all night, worrying.

"What's the worst weather you ever tested a sailboat in?" I asked him.

"Dis wedder," he replied. Then he sighed and said, at once apropos of nothing and everything, "When Yim wants something, Yim gets it."

In his pessimism Wolter had found a strategy for getting through this life and onto a new and better one: so long as he insisted to himself that tomorrow would be worse than today, it did not matter as much if it was. He still had the Dutch habit of laughing at whatever you told him, just in case it happened to be a joke. But his laugh was harsh and unhappy. Wolter was pushing seventy, and his heart was old and weak, but this gloom of his was young and vital. Who could blame him? His fate was now intertwined with Hyperion's. And Hyperion was at this very moment the most spectacular maritime disaster waiting to happen since the launching of the Titanic.

Of course, every new yacht that left the Huisman Shipyard was, so far as Wolter was concerned, an accident waiting to happen. It had taken Wolter, and his father before him, and his father's father before him, decades to build their reputation as perhaps the world's finest makers of yachts. Each time Wolter launched a new yacht, that reputation went up for grabs. But this was different. This was new.

"Where is he?" I asked.

"Behind duh computer," said Wolter. Pause. "When Yim sits behind duh computer, he is not any more in dis world."

That was true. He was creating a new one.

On that bitterly cold December morning Hyperion left its moorings so silently that the programmers didn't notice. The programmers were three young men Jim Clark had flown over from Silicon Valley to the North Sea to help him turn his new yacht into a giant floating computer. Technogeeks. Each was in his early thirties, each possessed a wardrobe that appeared to consist of nothing but T-shirts and blue jeans, and each was a former employee of Clark's first technology start-up, Silicon Graphics. They clambered up on deck from below, where they had been typing away on their keyboards, to see what they'd wrought. It was as if they hadn't quite believed that Hyperion would float.

Excerpted from The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story, by Michael Lewis. © October 20, 1999 , Michael Lewis used by permission of the publisher W.W. Norton & Company.

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