‘BURN BOOK’ Review: Kara Swisher’s Memoir Covering the Tech Industry and the Billionaires It Made

Technology Policy Brief #110 | By: Mindy Spatt | April 16, 2024
Featured Photo: www.thelettertwo.com


Kara Swisher’s ‘Burn Book’, subtitled “A Tech Love Story” recounts her glamorous and successful career covering the tech industry.  It is filled with interesting tidbits of conversations and her insights into the personalities of Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and other tech celebrities, but fails to address the political power the industry has amassed, or how to rein it in.


When I went searching for  Kara Swisher’s new book in San Francisco and found it was sold out at all of the bookshops I normally frequent I imagined it was filled with elegant prose, smoking hot exposes and salacious anecdotes.  When I finally got my hands on a copy I found it a bit disappointing.  Much of the book describes already published interviews and repeats fairly well known critiques of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, and the evolution of Steve Jobs.

Swisher starts us off with a meeting that occurred at Trump Tower shortly after the disastrous 2016 election.  This meeting, she states, was when things “went off the rails.”  On finding out that Elon Musk, Peter Theil, Jeff Bezos, the CEOs of Oracle and Microsoft and many others  were going to meet with Donald Trump Swisher phones them all and explains why it would be a bad idea to do so.  By this point in her career Swisher is so connected to the industry she covers that she’s not only asking questions of the tech industry titans, she’s offering them her mostly unsolicited advice.

She correctly concludes the reason industry leaders didn’t take her advice on not taking the meeting was because they care far more about making money than they do about Trump’s immigration policies or misogyny. But why is Swisher surprised?  They had already become a well-funded lobbying juggernaut fighting vociferously against any form of regulation or consumer protection.  Wasn’t it off the rails when they crushed all attempts to regulate them?  Or when Zuckerberg and the other young, clueless and privileged tech bros became the billionaires?

Swisher doesn’t return to that moment or that meeting.  Only at the end of the book does she touch on the need for the tech industry to be “reined in”, but despite her insider knowledge and expertise she doesn’t say a word about how to do that, or call out their lobbying efforts and influence.  Since she notes in the final chapter she’s decamped Silicon Valley for Washington DC, this would seem like a logical direction for her to go in.

To her credit, Swisher acknowledges that she is ambitious and, as she puts it, “a capitalist.”  And she’s justifiably proud of her success in an area of journalism that was almost exclusively male when she entered it.  She describes the genesis of her popular and profitable Recode conferences and other projects and acknowledges that she became an insider, enjoying the status and perks that came with that status while remaining confrontative and incisive in her work.

One insider anecdote she does describe isn’t salacious but gives a visual image to a problem she raises repeatedly, the immaturity of the young techno billionaires.  At a baby shower for Google co-founder Sergey Brin, guests wore diapers (over their clothes) and baby hats, and refreshments included “an ice sculpture of a woman whose breast was oozing White Russians…..”  But that was then, 2008 to be exact, and this is now.  She doesn’t say whether they’ve changed or matured, especially after becoming parents, or, for that matter, whether she has.  In the few somewhat offhand references to her personal life, she mentions 2 teenage sons and two younger children, but there’s nothing about balancing those responsibilities with a  high-powered job or her home life.  After seeing how phenomenally well this book is selling, perhaps she’ll write something more juicy in the future.

Engagement Resources:
  • “Burn Book: A Tech Love Story” by Kara Swisher, Simon and Schuster 2024.
  • An Ugly Truth, Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination By: Sheera Frenkel & Cecilia Kang, Harper Collins 2024.
  • Like War, The Weaponization of Social Media By: P. W. Singer & Emerson T. Brooking, Harper Collins, 2018.

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