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The Making of Peter Thiel’s Networks

Who Peter Thiel is does not really matter. What matters about him is whom he connects.

Andrew White/The New York Times/Redux

When Silicon Valley premiered on HBO in 2014, people said one of its main characters, Peter Gregory, had to be Peter Thiel. On the show, Gregory is a famous venture capitalist who gives a ragtag crew of developers their first seed funding. Socially graceless and often inscrutable, in one episode he keeps panicked founders waiting to hear whether he will grant them a $15 million bridge loan. He stares at a stack of burger buns while ruminating on the life cycles of cicadas in Myanmar and Brazil, before sharing the fact that he has decided to buy Indonesian sesame seed futures. Would the founders like an advance on the windfall he expects? It was the kind of long-winded macroeconomics riff that Thiel has been known to deliver. But Peter Gregory was not based on a real person, the showrunner, Alec Berg, insisted. “The honest answer,” Berg told Business Insider, “is we didn’t even really know who Peter Thiel was when we did season one.”

The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley’s Pursuit of Power
by Max Chafkin
Penguin Press, 400 pp., $28.00

By 2014, it was becoming less and less plausible for anyone with even passing contact with the tech industry to deny knowing who Peter Thiel was. Not only was Thiel the former CEO of PayPal, but the first outside investor in Facebook, and an adviser to Mark Zuckerberg. In 2010, the vulpine, graying CSI alum Wallace Langham played Thiel as a cutthroat mentor in Aaron Sorkin’s movie The Social Network. The following year brought the launch of the Thiel Fellowship, which offered kids under 22 $100,000 if they would forgo college to found startups, a stunt that eventually landed Thiel on the cover of Newsweek. His 2014 book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, written with Blake Masters, was a blockbuster. To date, it has sold over three million copies worldwide.

In the years that followed, Thiel came to represent a side of Silicon Valley to which national media were only beginning to pay attention. He funded the lawsuit by pro wrestler Hulk Hogan that bankrupted Gawker Media in 2016. He spoke at the Republican National Convention that year. After the election, he joined Trump’s transition team and, among other things, brokered a meeting with the CEOs of several major tech firms at Trump Tower. If Steve Jobs had been regarded as the patron saint of computing technologies in an era of widespread optimism about their democratizing effects, in the Trump era, Thiel became known as the opposite. Not that he minded. He would “rather be seen as evil than incompetent,” he famously quipped.

Max Chafkin’s biography of Thiel, The Contrarian, arrives well into the cultural moment that has come to be called the “tech backlash.” It follows a number of other critical books about major tech CEOs by beat reporters who have reframed their subjects as villains, rather than model leaders: Mike Isaac’s Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, Reeves Wiedeman’s Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork, Brad Stone’s Amazon Unbound, and Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang’s An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination. All feature a close-up of the anti-hero CEO’s face, partly obscured by text or cropping or both on the cover—a sly update to the cover of Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography, Steve Jobs. These books, along with studies like Safiya Umoja Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression and Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, and events like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, have helped to bring about a new wariness toward tech firms.

Chafkin, too, takes a critical stance toward his subject, as he expertly tracks Thiel’s rise, his money, and his influence. It turns out to be a curious strength of The Contrarian that Chafkin never got to talk to Thiel on record. Other writers have criticized Thiel for his apparent inconsistencies—for being a libertarian who is in the business of selling nation states software and consulting services, for instance. And other reviewers have faulted Chafkin for not pressing harder on Thiel’s political theory. But, whether by design or not, the limitations of this biography enable it to capture the key thing about Thiel: His significance does not lie in his unique genius. Who cares what Peter Thiel thinks about Carl Schmitt or Leo Strauss or René Girard, except to the extent that an intellectual air has bolstered his reputation, as he has built payment systems used across the world and data analytics software adopted by police and health departments, the military, and ICE? Who Peter Thiel is does not really matter. What matters about Peter Thiel is whom he connects.

Thiel was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1967. The next year, his parents, Klaus and Susanne, moved to Cleveland, so that Klaus could attend graduate school at Case Western Reserve University. The city was burning that summer; a four-hour gun battle between the police and a group called the Black Nationalists of New Libya led to days of looting, fires, and further police crackdowns near campus. Klaus kept to his studies in engineering. After he had earned his master’s degree, the family moved around. They spent time in Johannesburg in South Africa, then Swakopmund in South West Africa (present-day Namibia), where Klaus worked on the construction of a uranium mine.

Chafkin sketches a peripatetic childhood. There is the scene where the strict German father, like a character out of a Michael Haneke movie, tells little Peter, “Death happens to all animals. All people. It will happen to me one day. It will happen to you.” (The boy had asked him a question about their cowhide rug.) There is the horrifying fact, according to a 1992 report Chafkin cites, that at the uranium mine, white employees handed out weekly pay to Black migrant workers from behind glass, apparently to avoid exposure to radiation. The workers, the report claimed, were “dying like flies.”

Although childhood passes in a few pages, Chafkin gives the reader inclined to armchair psychoanalysis plenty with which to work. It is not difficult to imagine how this boy might grow up to be an intense and awkward man, still determined to win admiration, if not love, for the sheer coldness of his intellect. Later in the book, Chafkin characterizes Thiel as unable really to believe in any basis for human connection other than power, or in relationships that do not boil down to transactions. “As far as I could gather in my reporting for this book,” he writes, “Thiel’s life has been full of important relationships, but few that seem to transcend money or power.” Visitors to Thiel’s mansion in San Francisco tell Chafkin there were no photographs or items of sentimental significance on display. “Thiel’s homes,” one tells Chafkin, “look like stage sets, and it’s hard to tell someone actually lives in them.”

The story really takes off when Thiel enters Stanford University in the mid-1980s and begins to develop the persona of a provocateur—as well as the social network that would set up his career. He does not seem to have pursued popularity. Chafkin speaks to classmates who recall behavior that ranges from merely weird and obnoxious to aggressive. One student remembers him ostentatiously taking his daily vitamins in front of a public fountain, “as if intent on showing his classmates that he was, in every way, superior to his hung­over peers.” Chafkin also writes that on “at least two occasions, he told peers that he thought their concern about apartheid was overblown.” (Chafkin’s book includes a statement from Thiel’s spokesperson that Thiel had “no recollection of a stranger demanding his views on apartheid,” and that he had “never supported it.”) “He was a strange, strange boy,” one classmate tells Chafkin. But by the mid-1980s, there was a strong and well-funded conservative movement ready to welcome—and weaponize—students like him.

Since at least the America First movement of the 1930s, right-wing activists had complained that federal regulations tilted the media against them. William F. Buckley’s 1951 bestseller, God and Man at Yale, established a genre of similar complaints against elite college campuses. People who knew Thiel in the 1990s said that he saw himself as “a Buckley-like figure.” But conservatism had changed since Buckley’s heyday. After Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, the right-wing movement and right-wing media activism had become stronger nationally—and less genteel. In the late 1960s, Republicans began to mainstream what had formerly been a far-right talking point about “liberal bias.” And donors working through think tanks and nonprofits funded a network of college clubs, newspapers, and conferences, inspired by their New Left counterparts, to counteract the liberal influence on campus and to break the monopoly of colleges on knowledge production and credentialing.

These structures helped Thiel build the first part of his network. In 1987, Thiel co-founded The Stanford Review, a conservative campus paper, with grants from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which supported papers like it across the country—Dinesh D’Souza’s Dartmouth Review, for instance, and Ann Coulter’s Cornell Review. (Coulter and Thiel would become close friends.) Complaining about liberalism on elite college campuses was emerging as a recognizable career path: After Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind became a blockbuster success in 1987, various foundation-funded books like Roger Kimball’s 1990 Tenured Radicals and D’Souza’s 1991 Illiberal Education would follow. In this moment, minor adjustments to the “Western Civ” curriculum at Stanford, specifically, attracted national media attention. In addition to running on ISI grants, The Stanford Review would scare up donations by sending letters to wealthy alumni about the scandal of new classes being offered on subjects like Black hair. 

If Thiel hated Stanford, he loved hating it. He stayed for law school, and well into his third year was still hanging out with undergraduates and writing for The Stanford Review. After a few years away—during which time he worked at the prestigious corporate law firm Sullivan & Cromwell in New York and interviewed for, but failed to secure, clerkships with Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia—he returned to Palo Alto. By the time he got back, he was already at work on a culture war screed, The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and Political Intolerance on Campus, which he co-wrote with fellow Stanford Review alum David O. Sacks.

A conservative Bay Area think tank called the Independent Institute published the book in 1995. The John M. Olin Foundation, the conservative nonprofit dedicated to nurturing a “counter-intelligentsia,” which had also supported D’Souza, gave the Independent Institute a $40,000 grant to publicize it. The Young America’s Foundation, the conservative youth movement that groomed Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller, among others, promoted the book, as did Thiel himself—he handed out copies from a giant stack to anyone who wanted one as they walked by the Stanford student union. The Independent Institute helped Thiel and Sacks find a national platform: They placed op-eds in National Review, The Washington Times, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as appearing on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club and on right-wing radio networks that were rapidly growing in the wake of Reagan-era deregulation.

As Thiel moved up in the world, he never outgrew the campus culture wars; he kept many allies from that era close. And throughout his career, Thiel would be drawn to figures who deployed culture war tactics like those he’d learned at Stanford. In 2007 and 2011, he donated to Ron Paul’s candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination—supporting a fringe libertarian figure known, before the Tea Party movement, for his newsletters, which used Stanford or Dartmouth Review–esque strategies to whip up controversy. Among other things, the newsletters referred to MLK Day as “annual Hate Whitey day” and called the end of South African apartheid the “destruction of civilization.” At a conference at the conservative Clare­mont Institute in 2010, Thiel ran into Chuck Johnson—then a student at Claremont McKenna College, who was already making a name for himself in conservative circles. 

Johnson, who would go on to write for Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller and Breit­bart, connected Thiel to key figures in the emerging alt-right. In 2016, Johnson introduced Thiel to Milo Yiannopoulos, then the tech editor of Breitbart, and to the Clearview AI founder Hoan Ton-That. After Google employee James Damore wrote a memo decrying the “ideological echo chamber” among his colleagues in July 2017, Johnson hosted him and other disaffected Google employees at Thiel’s house. And, when Thiel decided to attend the RNC in 2016, he asked Johnson to secure him a place as a Trump delegate.

Thiel was cultivating connections with a rising faction in the Republican Party. He was impressed by an ambitious young lawyer, who would later be a fellow enemy of Google: Josh Hawley, who happened to be a former contributor to The Stanford Review. He gave $300,000 to Hawley’s 2016 campaign for attorney general of Missouri and donated to his 2018 campaign for U.S. Senate. And in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Thiel moved in the orbit of Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon, who, according to Chafkin, would become Thiel’s main link to the Trump White House.

The national right-wing campus movement gave Thiel his political start. But Stanford also opened other, distinctive doors. The differentiating feature of Stanford—over, say, Dinesh D’Souza’s Dartmouth or Ann Coulter’s Cornell—was its status as a feeder for Silicon Valley. Through its electrical engineering and computing research, the university had enjoyed close ties to the military industrial complex of the Cold War and, by the 1980s, to new forms of financing that would rise as the Cold War state funding wound down. Sand Hill Road, the iconic seat of venture capital, was separated from campus only by a golf course. Professors and even ambitious undergraduates crossed it regularly.

When Thiel was starting his first hedge fund, he maintained his Stanford connection, lecturing on entrepreneurship and continuing to network on campus. This was how, in the summer of 1998, he met an important collaborator. Max Levchin—who had graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a computer science degree a few years after Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Net­scape—was in the habit of finding random classrooms to spend days in, because it was summer and the friend’s apartment where he was crashing did not have air conditioning. On one of these jaunts, Levchin stumbled upon Thiel’s talk. When he saw that there were only a few other people in attendance, he decided that it would be too rude to nod off, as he usually did. Levchin approached Thiel after the talk and struck up a conversation. They met for breakfast at Hobee’s, a Palo Alto diner, the next morning. 

The rest would become Silicon Valley legend. Levchin would go on to develop the fraud detection software that was the core of PayPal. And the two men gathered a clique that did much to shape the culture of venture capital and founder-focused startups as the global consumer internet truly took off.

A Fortune magazine photo shoot in 2007 captured the core group. The photographer styled Thiel, Levchin, and their friends like gangsters from a Scorsese film, in outsize sportswear, leather blazers, and silk shirts, hanging out at a San Francisco Italian restaurant, Tosca. Elon Musk skipped the shoot. With only one exception, those pictured were graduates of the schools Thiel and Levchin had attended. There was Thiel’s college friend and former running mate for student government, Reid Hoffman (Stanford 1990), who founded LinkedIn. Thiel’s ­co-author, David O. Sacks (Stanford 1994). Keith Rabois, who graduated with a B.A. from Stanford in 1991 and would have earned his law degree there in 1994, if blowback after a free speech prank had not led him to leave for Harvard. (According to Sacks and Thiel, who described the episode in their book, Rabois stood outside of the room of a resident fellow one night and yelled, “Faggot! Faggot! Hope you die of AIDS!”) Luke Nosek (Urbana-Champaign, 1996), Premal Shah (Stanford 1998), Ken Howery (Stanford 1998), and Roelof Botha (Stanford MBA 2000) were joined by Yelp co-founders Jeremy Stoppelman (Urbana-Champaign 1999) and Russel Simmons (Urbana-Champaign 1998), and YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim (Urbana-Champaign, 2004). Members of this crew formed Founders Fund in 2005, which would make billions founding and investing in other companies.

The Fortune article described Thiel as possessing the “relaxed self-confidence of Michael Corleone.” I am not sure “relaxed” is the adjective I would use to convey the tensile, murderous calm of Al Pacino’s performance in that movie. But as an act of branding, it worked. The photo was a way of signifying with The Godfather that these men were renegades. The moniker that Fortune gave the group in their headline stuck: “THE PAYPAL MAFIA.”

The PayPal Mafia resembled and yet differed from the Bay Area social networks of an earlier era, which had brought together military and industrial research scientists with tinkerers and hobbyists, and commune dwelling with computation. In his book From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Fred Turner describes the group that coalesced around Stewart Brand, an older Stanford graduate, and the Whole Earth Catalog in the late 1960s. After early involvement in social movements, Brand embraced his libertarian tendencies, and the Whole Earth network promoted free expression, free stuff, free love, and the freedom to found new communities where you could live these ideals. They translated the values and practices of the commune counterculture into a cyberculture that created (and commercialized) online communities and tools of self-expression. Friends and employees of Brand’s would go on to build major elements of Amazon and Facebook; Steve Jobs often described Brand’s catalog as an inspiration for Apple.

Thiel and his cohort would invest in companies whose leaders cited Brand as an influence. But, even if the PayPal Mafia shared libertarian leanings with the Brand network, its core philosophy was profoundly different. Thiel was not Brand. He was never a hippie, and he is not really technical; he was a finance guy who got to pick the engineers. These Revenge of the Nerds types did not drop out to tune in; they dropped out to raise a Series A. It was a new kind of California dreaming for the era when greed was good. Members of Thiel’s network came together in the anti-identity politics that the culture wars turned into a movement of its own, in an environment where venture capital and newly globally networked computers would create possibilities for dizzyingly rapid growth.

Chafkin moves at a brisk pace through the stories of companies that Thiel built with members of this clique. When Thiel and Levchin started PayPal in 1998, the company was called Confinity. (The joke was, their “confidence” was “infinite.”) This is where Thiel’s standard operating procedure and philosophy began to crystallize. PayPal seized on the method of losing money to literally buy market share: Wall Street investors were valuing companies based on number of users, rather than profitability, and PayPal realized that they could pay people to join, and the stock market would support them. 

Confinity soon found itself in competition with a rival payments startup, Elon Musk’s The two companies hemorrhaged money trying to compete with each other until they merged in 2000, with Musk as CEO. The move almost certainly saved Confinity, but Thiel and Levchin were unhappy. Musk and Thiel could not seem to work together. A mutual acquaintance: “Musk thinks Peter is a sociopath, and Peter thinks Musk is a fraud and a braggart.” While Musk was away on his first honeymoon, Thiel’s allies staged a coup against him and brought Thiel back as CEO. One of the first things Thiel did, Chafkin writes, was propose “that PayPal turn over all its cash to Thiel Capital, his hedge fund.” Chafkin reports that the board shot this suggestion down, irked that a CEO would risk his company’s “limited cash on speculation—particularly speculation that had the potential to enrich the CEO personally.” Then, right after selling the company to eBay, Thiel abruptly left.

Thiel would be similarly unpredictable at Facebook. He became an investor in Mark Zuckerberg’s social network in 2004—a move that brought fantastic wealth—but he was not always a booster for the company. In 2012, Thiel gave a notorious speech to Facebook employees (“My generation was promised colonies on the moon,” he said, after being introduced by Zuckerberg. “Instead we got Facebook.”) and dumped much of his stock at $20 per share immediately after the IPO. (Chafkin notes that the stock would trade at $300 per share in March 2021.) Especially shocking was his investment in Clearview AI in 2017: The company that Hoan Ton-That created scraped Facebook profile photos and took advantage of Facebook’s real name policy in order to develop a real name database to sell to the police. It was a direct affront to a company that many of Thiel’s contacts in Congress and the Breitbart universe accused of anti-conservative bias. (Thiel would later distance himself from Clearview, and Founders Fund passed on investing in it.)

Palantir, which Thiel co-founded in 2003, took its inspiration from the business opportunity that Thiel saw in the war on terrorism. In the wake of 9/11, Thiel recognized that the various government and military agencies needed better methods to clean and synthesize their data on security threats. PayPal had developed software to track financial fraud in its systems; could Palantir develop software to track terrorists? Thiel recruited his former Stanford law classmate, Alex Karp, as CEO of the new company. (Thiel himself is Palantir’s chairman.) In 2010, forward-deployed engineers at Palantir pitched the software to Michael Flynn, who responded, Chafkin writes, by “making an urgent request to the Department of Defense to buy enough Palantir licenses for the entire force in Afghanistan.” H.R. McMaster, who would replace Flynn as Trump’s national security adviser in 2017, was “an enthusiastic Palantir user and champion.” Still, in 2016, Founders Fund valued Palantir “40 percent lower than the official $20 billion figure.”

Chafkin follows the Thiel story through the first year of the pandemic. A lot of this has been previously reported, including by Chafkin himself. But by putting things together, in order, Chafkin makes some important patterns clear.

One is Thiel’s skill in attracting media attention. Some of the puff pieces Chafkin digs up are cringe-worthy in retrospect. See: a 2007 profile in which the writer Kara Swisher called him “Silicon Valley’s most interesting venture capitalist and all-around great character” and told him, “I gotta say, Peter, you got class!” In recent years, journalists have framed him as more villainous than quirky. But that works for Thiel, too. As he learned in his campus war days, controversy is a highly effective way to get attention. And even negative attention has consistently benefited Thiel. When Palantir IPO’d in the early fall of 2020, Bloomberg ran an article with the menacing headline: “PALANTIR KNOWS EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU.” On the one hand, the privacy concerns sound off-putting. But on the other, they give the impression that Palantir is all-seeing and possesses more power than it really does. This impression cannot have hurt Palantir’s valuation, which reached over $40 billion by January 2021.

Another pattern that emerges from The Contrarian is related: an unconventional approach to lawsuits. Thiel backed Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker. And in 2016, Palantir sued the U.S. Army. Under a 1994 law, designed to prevent government overspending, Chafkin explains, the U.S. Army is “required to consider cheaper, commercial products” instead of simply accepting the prices offered by big defense contractors. Palantir’s lawyers argued that the Army had failed to allow it to submit a bid for its big software database. The lawsuit shocked the defense community. But it paid off. The Army gave Palantir the opportunity to “build a prototype system and present it to a panel of soldiers.” It was, Chafkin writes, “exactly the kind of contest that Palantir had called for in a lawsuit a few years prior.” In 2019, Palantir won an Army contract worth “as much as $800 million.” Its business with the U.S. government has continued to grow. Since the onset of the pandemic, Palantir has won contracts with the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, and with health agencies of numerous other countries for tracking Covid.

The Contrarian is primarily plot-driven. But the analogies that it suggests between contrarianism as a media strategy and contrarianism as a business strategy may be crucial to understanding the cultural logic of our time—not to mention the origins of the Silicon Valley culture wars out of which Thiel has emerged as the best-known figurehead. Like the structure of contemporary media, the structure of contemporary venture capital rewards increasingly extreme behavior. The investor is not avoiding risk, but managing it: Out of every 100 bets, 99 will be wrong, but the one that is right will scale globally, and this can pay for the rest and more. Note that this structure incentivizes more and more outrageous bids: This startup will reinvent water. That startup will reinvent pooping. (The digital marketer behind the Squatty Potty did in fact work on Thiel’s Ron Paul super PAC.)

In both the culture wars and investing, contrarianism is presented as heroic. But in both cases, if he plays his cards right, the contrarian protects himself from risk. Pull outrageous stunts; they may backfire; but when one works, you can use it to leverage the social capital you have as a Stanford student into a national platform. At worst, the classmates who dislike you still dislike you. So what? The failure is priced in.

Chafkin returns at various points throughout The Contrarian to the question of what Peter Thiel really thinks. “What exactly, I wondered, did Thiel actually believe?” he starts. And later wonders, “Did he believe in anything?” A biographer can hardly avoid these questions, especially when his subject has staked so much on styling himself as a philosopher king. But in the end, I think they are the wrong ones, or at least they are the wrong way to identify Thiel’s real significance.

Sure: It may be useful to point out his hypocrisies. Here is an anti-elitist who says college is a scam and that students should skip it, yet who has built his whole career on the network he created by loudly hating his elite college. Here is a libertarian who nonetheless is building software for multiple nation states. A proponent of life extension who has expressed disdain for Covid lockdowns. Yet these views are not exactly inconsistent. To tell young people to forgo college, and give the ones you like direct access to your own college network, is to take over the gatekeeping power of colleges. To disparage the state, while building a business that sells billions of dollars’ worth of services to it, is to take over state prerogatives. What could be a more consistent expression of the will to power than wanting eternal life for yourself, and dismissing concerns about a global pandemic as overblown?

Thiel has exerted a fascination to writers like me, and to readers looking for a main character in an era when both political and technological powers are shifting. But, upon closer inspection, our stories may not be doing what we think they are. Criticisms of Thiel reinforce a narrative in which he boldly opposes and, more to the point, outfoxes common wisdom. Exposés double as advice. In summer of 2021, ProPublica revealed that Thiel had used a Roth IRA, a tax instrument designed to help the middle class save for retirement, to shield billions of dollars’ worth of tech stocks. The report condemned Thiel. But within days, The Wall Street Journal had published a follow-up explaining to its readers how to do the same: “If business titan Peter Thiel’s $5 billion tax-free individual retirement account has you jealous, here’s a way to build a pot of tax-free retirement savings without paying much in taxes: A mega-backdoor Roth conversion.”

Thiel presents a special trap to the liberal arts graduate—or professor—who wants to feel relevant. A Silicon Valley billionaire is talking about René Girard! His friend, the CEO of Palantir, wrote a dissertation on Theodor Adorno! But to engage too long with these ideas, as ideas, is not only to miss the point. It is to keep this small handful of men—and the occasional woman—at the center of every conversation, and to let them pick the subject.

The tech backlash has created an appetite for new kinds of questioning and critical narratives about the industry—and that is a good thing. But replacing heroes with anti-heroes does little to alter the narrative about how a handful of geniuses have changed the world through their insuperable intelligence; the genre continues to trade on a deep desire to make myths about the men behind the machines. And in the case of Thiel, specifically, to focus too much on him as an individual precludes understanding, much less contesting, the nature of his power.

Thiel is not Jobs or Musk, a charismatic CEO associated with a particular invention. He is not an inventor but an investor, and, for the most part, he prefers to stay behind the scenes. He leverages his network—or, more precisely, his status as a node between several networks that were not previously densely connected. To understand his influence, we have to track how his ideas and his practices have traveled and, where they have become a kind of social glue, the people they join together. To do that, we will need to look at the PayPal Mafia and the machines their money has built from outside, below, within.