Super Pumped
In June 2017, Travis Kalanick, the hard-charging CEO of Uber, was ousted in a boardroom coup that capped a brutal year for the transportation giant. Uber had catapulted to the top of the tech world yet for many came to symbolize everything wrong with Silicon Valley. In the tradition of Brad Stone’s Everything Store and John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood, award-winning investigative reporter Mike Isaac’s Super Pumped delivers a gripping account of Uber’s rapid rise, its pitched battles with taxi unions and drivers, the company’s toxic internal culture and the bare-knuckle tactics it devised to overcome obstacles in its quest for dominance.Based on hundreds of interviews with current and former Uber employees, along with previously unpublished documents, Super Pumped is a page-turning story of ambition and deception, obscene wealth and bad behavior, that explores how blistering technological and financial innovation culminated in one of the most catastrophic twelve-month periods in American corporate history.

Super Pumped Details

TitleSuper Pumped
Author
ReleaseSep 3rd, 2019
PublisherW. W. Norton Company
ISBN-139780393652246
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Business, Science, Technology, Economics

Super Pumped Review

  • Thijs Niks
    January 1, 1970
    Mike Isaac masterfully narrates the struggle for power over Uber and its main characters.
  • Lucas Brandl
    January 1, 1970
    I followed a lot of this story in day to day news articles and still felt like I learned quite a few new things from the book. The story of Uber was so tied to Travis Kalanick for many years, and the company really took on the personality of the CEO. It is a story going on across Silicon Valley right now. Companies grew so fast that many things like HR, corporate governance, internal audit and legal compliance were put on the back burner. Despite all of this Kalanick still had considerable inter I followed a lot of this story in day to day news articles and still felt like I learned quite a few new things from the book. The story of Uber was so tied to Travis Kalanick for many years, and the company really took on the personality of the CEO. It is a story going on across Silicon Valley right now. Companies grew so fast that many things like HR, corporate governance, internal audit and legal compliance were put on the back burner. Despite all of this Kalanick still had considerable internal support, with petitions coming out to defend him. I appreciated the somewhat balanced portrayal of who Kalanick actually was, compared to the public persona that he became known as. He may not have been all the things the media portrayed him as, but he definitely was a lot of them. And ultimately his careless, win at all costs mentality is what made his tenure unsustainable.
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  • Sasha
    January 1, 1970
    As a transportation reporter this was a page-turner, it read almost like a novelization of real events. It was fascinating to go behind the scenes of key moments in Uber, ride-hailing, and tech/Silicon Valley history.
  • Mona Nomura
    January 1, 1970
    What a read! Because of the interconnected (almost incestual) nature of Silicon Valley, this tale of Uber takes you on an insider journey into the startup world, touching upon other products aside from Uber and unveiling some of the key people that shaped our current tech world.Perfectly cadenced, engaging, meticulously researched, and written in laymen’s terms I couldn’t put this book down and finished in one sitting. Highly recommended.
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  • Ben Leiter
    January 1, 1970
    What Is It?: As an urban, sans-car individual, Uber was a godsend. The local public transportation system had limited routes and inconvenient hours. It could get me from home to work, but few other places. Indianapolis isn't big enough to have a robust taxi presence, but the few times I'd used it were unreliable and expensive. Once Uber landed in Indy, I was hooked. Suddenly I could get anywhere I wanted quickly and inexpensively. Should I have known that it was too good to be true? Should I hav What Is It?: As an urban, sans-car individual, Uber was a godsend. The local public transportation system had limited routes and inconvenient hours. It could get me from home to work, but few other places. Indianapolis isn't big enough to have a robust taxi presence, but the few times I'd used it were unreliable and expensive. Once Uber landed in Indy, I was hooked. Suddenly I could get anywhere I wanted quickly and inexpensively. Should I have known that it was too good to be true? Should I have known that such convenience had to come with a hidden cost? Of course. I enjoyed the service far too much though to care. Thankfully, New York Times tech reporter Mike Isaac did care. He was one of the many writers and whistle-blowers who helped reveal the toxic culture of Uber and the criminal actions of its' founder Travis Kalanick. Considering that company's many scandals are public record and that Kalanick was removed as CEO in 2017, a book about his reign may seem unnecessary. To the contrary, Super Pumped is a fascinating examination of how Silicon Valley enables and empowers individuals like Kalanick. It's also full of the palace-intrigue involved when kingmakers are forced to take back the crown they gave.Why Is It Good?: Regardless of your interest in or awareness of the tech world, Isaac has written an incredibly accessible and perversely entertaining book. The story begins in Vegas where Uber is hosting an "X to the x" party to celebrate hitting $10 billion in revenue. It's lavish, over the top and features a private performance from Beyonce (also an Uber investor). Isaac knows we want to watch Rome burn, but that we also want to experience the vicarious thrills of it being built. The front half of the book is all about intelligent, shitty people catching fire. The back half is all about them getting slaps on the wrist as the world burns. While reading it, you can envision the Scorsese film-adaptation (The Wolf of Silicon Valley?). Hopefully when (not if) the film/television version is made, it's done with the same care that Isaac brings to his rigorous reporting and nuanced examination of the people involved.How Can It Help?: When Uber came to town, I applauded them for disrupting a corrupt and entrenched industry. When Uber lowered the cost of rides, I didn't think about the effect it had on drivers. I was just grateful to have more money to spend at the bars and restaurants their cars took me to. When Kalanick made overtures to President Trump, I self-righteously obeyed the #deleteUber hashtag. Would I have been so principled if Lyft didn't exist? Probably not. Would Lyft have donated to the ACLU if it weren't a PR masterstroke that made Uber look worse? Same answer. We all cut moral corners in the name of convenience and money. Those corners are how Kalanick created a billion dollar company. They're also the forgotten corners that Isaac illuminates. What's scary is that even though all (hopefully) of his skeletons are out of the closet, Kalanick is still filthy rich and working on a new start-up. Have we learned anything? Will we ever? Our odds are better if more people read Super Pumped. I'd try to answer that question, but my Lyft is here.
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  • Sparse Greener
    January 1, 1970
    This is one most poorly written books I’ve read in years. I picked it up because I’ve always disliked Uber and thought this would be an Uber-focused version of “Bad Blood” (one of my favorite books I’ve read this year). It was not even in the same league. By the end I actually liked Travis more, and truly loathed the author for making me sit through 350 pages of painful drivel.The writing is horribly self-congratulatory (“there was a New York Times reporter involved. That reporter was me” is evo This is one most poorly written books I’ve read in years. I picked it up because I’ve always disliked Uber and thought this would be an Uber-focused version of “Bad Blood” (one of my favorite books I’ve read this year). It was not even in the same league. By the end I actually liked Travis more, and truly loathed the author for making me sit through 350 pages of painful drivel.The writing is horribly self-congratulatory (“there was a New York Times reporter involved. That reporter was me” is evoked multiple times as if to remind the reader that the book can’t be as bad as it seems because of the authors employer). The authors obvious insecurity comes creeping through throughout the book. It’s also full of childish errors. At one point the author says Travis has “Savant-like math skills” because he can calculate how long it will take to get somewhere in a car given the distance and the speed. I reread this 5 times, thinking it must be a joke. It was not.A few pages later I found out why simple arithmetic counts as Fields Medal worthy: the author insists that a 1.5mbps modem is “thousands” of times faster that a 28.8kbps modem. Apparently for the author 1500/28.8=~50 is an impossibly complex math equation. These were just two of the 11 tweet-worthy mistakes or idiocies scattered throughout the book. Some of the other egregious examples: saying all companies have a single founder, that consumer-facing companies always get higher valuations than enterprise software/infrastructure companies, or that VCs investors hope to earn a 20% total return on their initial investment “after 10 years” (not compounded annualized return, which would have made sense). I wondered at times if the author had decided to save money by not hiring an editor.In addition to being painfully self-absorbed and full of errors, the writing is incredibly formulaic. It felt like the whole book had been written by a machine-learning algorithm trained to imitate non-fiction. The book had all the superficial traits of the genre, without any infusion of actual writing talent. Unless you enjoy comically bad writing, avoid this book at all costs.
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  • Eric Mannes
    January 1, 1970
    So much of this book was fascinating. Starting with Part 3, I found myself highlighting every other paragraph. Lots of it was new to me, including the scope of fraud in the Chinese market that Uber dealt with (e.g., “giant makeshift circuit boards filled with hundreds of slots to insert SIM cards” to make it easy to create and cycle through new accounts). While other events were familiar from earlier reporting, they made much more sense within Isaac’s narrative. For instance, I’d read that Apple So much of this book was fascinating. Starting with Part 3, I found myself highlighting every other paragraph. Lots of it was new to me, including the scope of fraud in the Chinese market that Uber dealt with (e.g., “giant makeshift circuit boards filled with hundreds of slots to insert SIM cards” to make it easy to create and cycle through new accounts). While other events were familiar from earlier reporting, they made much more sense within Isaac’s narrative. For instance, I’d read that Apple execs had gotten angry at Uber for violating App Store rules, but why had Uber done that in the first place? My understanding had been “Travis Kalinick is a douchecanoe who doesn’t give a shit about anyone’s privacy and he built an organization in his own image,” and while that still seems entirely accurate, that was only one factor.This book was also a throwback, both to San Francisco in the summer of 2015 (I was there and I remember it ~all too well~) and to reading Shakespeare in English class. Isaac, I think, structured the book into five parts to parallel the five-act structure of a Shakespearean tragedy. There’s some exposition, some rising action, a turning point where the protagonist makes choices with consequences that will haunt them for the rest of the play, the realization of those consequences, and an awful end in which everybody dies. In this book, one person dies in a tragic accident and a lot of people get fired. (Travis remains a bazillionaire at the end, though.)But while this book shows that dramatic structure is still alive, it makes clear that copyediting is dead. I am astounded that of all the people who read a book that is destined to be a bestseller, _not one_ knew the difference between “cache” and “cachet,” noticed that Oprah Winfrey’s name was misspelled, or caught the inconsistent capitalization of “Muslim ban” within a single page. I read the Kindle edition, so maybe it’s all fine in hardcover, but, like, really? To me it is mind-boggling that these errors were never caught, and if you can’t get shit like this right, what else must be wrong with the book?
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  • Betsy Massar
    January 1, 1970
    Halfway through and yes, it's quite remarkable. It is like the author was hiding behind doorways in some conversations. So far, and admittedly I haven't seen all of it, I think it feels fair and even-handed, not over-sensational. The writing is also very good -- fast reading and I'm finding myself obsessed with this story. It's hard not to compare it to Bad Blood, equally juicy. The difference is that we all saw this -- we were all riding Ubers and loving the convenience and celebrating the fact Halfway through and yes, it's quite remarkable. It is like the author was hiding behind doorways in some conversations. So far, and admittedly I haven't seen all of it, I think it feels fair and even-handed, not over-sensational. The writing is also very good -- fast reading and I'm finding myself obsessed with this story. It's hard not to compare it to Bad Blood, equally juicy. The difference is that we all saw this -- we were all riding Ubers and loving the convenience and celebrating the fact that is has transformed urban transportation.And we all knew someone who worked there and hated the culture -- but who wanted to stay to cash out.UPDATE: <100 pages to goI am obsessed with this book and the story. I find it so amazing that such a large, transformative company was run just so poorly. I'm at the point where Bad Boy Travis is taking a break from the company -- and I do feel sorry for him, up to a point. I don't feel sorry for the enablers -- some whom I think Isaac let off pretty lightly. In fact, many of the characters he describes show up (at least up to this point) as quite admirable, such as the CTO Thuan Pham, among others.I cannot wait to talk about this book with friends and observers. I am less sanguine that it cannot happen again, and again and again, because the whole startup/crazy money chasing the next big thing/bro culture has no reason to change.UPDATE: finished the book and just raced through toward the end. I think everyone interested in startups/disruption and tech in general should read this book, for what it says about the whole cycle of money-funding-new-ideas.Was riveted by the ins and outs of Benchmark's actions and how one of the most founder-friendly firms in Silicon Valley, could push out a CEO who controls the shares and the board!Yes, I loved reading the book but am saddened the the problems will not go away because there's too much money sloshing around looking for the next big thing, with investors all FOMO about the next bro startup. Kalanick, who Mike Isaac described as having a philosophy of "Ayn Rand meets Wolf of Wall Street," is part of the system, not an outlier. Susan Fower's "very strange year" at Uber is happening again in firms all over, venture firms are ignoring women founders, and tools like AI propogate the same old ideas. Sigh.Still, it's great to dissect how this very visible company jumped the shark, and keep the conversation going about how Silicon Valley, innovators, and investors can do much, much better.OK, sermon over.Thanks for reading.
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  • Bartosz Majewski
    January 1, 1970
    Great reporting in one of my favourite genre: biographies of companies. And this is a fascinating story starring an Uber-Aggressive founder, Best VCs in the world, Taxi corporations connected to mafia, China and of course softbank. If you liked Bad Blood you are probably going to like this one as well.Listening to the audiobook I couldn't stop thinking about how similar parts of Uber's story are to late USSR (i know it's a fringe comparison, but I can't help myself)Both had its downs. For USSR i Great reporting in one of my favourite genre: biographies of companies. And this is a fascinating story starring an Uber-Aggressive founder, Best VCs in the world, Taxi corporations connected to mafia, China and of course softbank. If you liked Bad Blood you are probably going to like this one as well.Listening to the audiobook I couldn't stop thinking about how similar parts of Uber's story are to late USSR (i know it's a fringe comparison, but I can't help myself)Both had its downs. For USSR it was Genocide, Gulags, Chernobyl, and Afghanistan. For Uber, it was numerous scandals and reputational hazards. But the underlying issues that enabled the fall were economical, not cultural. USSR was not a viable economic concept. And neither is Uber on current unit economics that won't change until self-driving cars adopt (which won't happen on a mass scale) or a surge in pricing (which will dry up demand that drives supply). As Travis Kalanick reportedly said "We have only one problem. It's the guy in the front seat."But this is not a problem of anyone that got equity early. Everyone got massively rich, even in the scenario in which the company won't survive. I guess that if you shoot for the moon and fail (which I hope they won't) you still manage to grab a handful of stars.
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  • Sara
    January 1, 1970
    This book describes the rise and fall of Uber focusing primarily on its co-founder Travis Kalanick. Most of the book is further elaboration of the articles that swamped the news cycle for months about Uber’s toxic culture, Kalanick potentially being a sociopath, treatment of drivers etc. The part of the story I didn’t know was the role of Arianna Huffington. Through her role on the board, she and Kalanick grew close. She flew to be at his side after his parents’ tragic accident and was his close This book describes the rise and fall of Uber focusing primarily on its co-founder Travis Kalanick. Most of the book is further elaboration of the articles that swamped the news cycle for months about Uber’s toxic culture, Kalanick potentially being a sociopath, treatment of drivers etc. The part of the story I didn’t know was the role of Arianna Huffington. Through her role on the board, she and Kalanick grew close. She flew to be at his side after his parents’ tragic accident and was his closest confidante as thing started to unwind. But at the end she betrayed him. He truly had no one in his life at that time during his darkest time- losing his mother and his company all in a few weeks. I found myself reflecting on how the exact things that made Uber successful in beginning - disregard for status quo, desire to win, and enthusiasm at all costs - were ultimately the same things that led to its (more like Kalanick’s) downfall. 3 stars because it was somewhat repetitive of all the news articles over the years and very little character development. The writing doesn’t compare to a “Bad Blood” or “Disney War.”
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  • Jason
    January 1, 1970
    Mostly accurate, but lacks character development. I worked at Uber in SF beginning in 2015, and at a high level the events in the book that I experienced (Vegas off-site, China market) were fairly accurate portrayals of what actually happened. The biggest disappointment with the book was not whether or not events actually happened or not, but that it never really dug into the psyche of any of the main characters, likely because the author has never successfully managed to interview any of them o Mostly accurate, but lacks character development. I worked at Uber in SF beginning in 2015, and at a high level the events in the book that I experienced (Vegas off-site, China market) were fairly accurate portrayals of what actually happened. The biggest disappointment with the book was not whether or not events actually happened or not, but that it never really dug into the psyche of any of the main characters, likely because the author has never successfully managed to interview any of them or anyone personally close (e.g. not just colleagues, subordinates) to them in any real detail. Without that level of character development the book reads like a long newspaper article, and every major events described in the book has already been described in near identical ways in past articles.
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  • Vivek
    January 1, 1970
    Half Silicon Valley, half Succession. As someone who works in tech, a deeply depressing book. More than Bad Blood, which was a story about bad people doing admittedly bad things and hiding them from plain sight -- this book is an indictment of silicon valley and tech itself. Everyone agrees that Theranos was acting maliciously, but I'm not sure everyone agrees that most of what Uber did was wrong, and if you plop any random techie in the valley into Travis Kalanick's shoes, I'm not sure they wou Half Silicon Valley, half Succession. As someone who works in tech, a deeply depressing book. More than Bad Blood, which was a story about bad people doing admittedly bad things and hiding them from plain sight -- this book is an indictment of silicon valley and tech itself. Everyone agrees that Theranos was acting maliciously, but I'm not sure everyone agrees that most of what Uber did was wrong, and if you plop any random techie in the valley into Travis Kalanick's shoes, I'm not sure they would make materially different decisions. First half of the book is a little slow, but really picks up about halfway through. The inside story of the boardroom battles is cant-stop-reading good.
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  • Gabe
    January 1, 1970
    A few years ago I listened to an episode of The Dollop about Uber's CEO. So I knew a fair amount of his attitude towards business/life and the company's culture. As someone who has never taken an Uber or Lyft or used any ride sharing service, I found the data involved and the privacy breaches fascinating and (obviously) concerning. Overall, this was a great investigative look into Uber as a company, the rise of the CEO and all his Bros, and how the media reacted to the company's various mishaps. A few years ago I listened to an episode of The Dollop about Uber's CEO. So I knew a fair amount of his attitude towards business/life and the company's culture. As someone who has never taken an Uber or Lyft or used any ride sharing service, I found the data involved and the privacy breaches fascinating and (obviously) concerning. Overall, this was a great investigative look into Uber as a company, the rise of the CEO and all his Bros, and how the media reacted to the company's various mishaps. That being said, I felt the book could have used another pass by an editor. Several times throughout the book, passages or ideas were repeated, to the point of annoyance (toward the end). I would recommend this book.
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  • Katie Parrott
    January 1, 1970
    Mike Isaac’s access to Uber insiders is unparalleled in tech right now, and I read most of his coverage of the goings-on documented here when he covered them for the NYT with rapt attention. There are new details here, and Isaac does an admirable job of pointing out how the whole debacle was enabled and fueled by broader trends in Silicon Valley (founder worship, growth at all costs mentality, insular “protect our own” tech bro culture and general lack of concern for morality and fair play). But Mike Isaac’s access to Uber insiders is unparalleled in tech right now, and I read most of his coverage of the goings-on documented here when he covered them for the NYT with rapt attention. There are new details here, and Isaac does an admirable job of pointing out how the whole debacle was enabled and fueled by broader trends in Silicon Valley (founder worship, growth at all costs mentality, insular “protect our own” tech bro culture and general lack of concern for morality and fair play). But they clearly rushed this to publication after the IPO and it shows - the content is disorganized and repetitive, the syntax is frequently clumsy, and even as a not particularly sharp eyed proofreader I spotted a ton of copy editing errors.
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  • Valentine
    January 1, 1970
    This was really good! A lot of it I'd already read as it happened during Uber's Hell Year of 2017 - as the news broke in Recode and Susan Fowler's explosive blog post and by the Rat King himself in the NYT. So in that sense it read like a greatest hits of insane moments (not a bad thing to re-read by any means). And even then there were some bits I didn't know about, and Isaac has done the good hard reporting work.The jacket cover compares it to 'The Everything Store' and 'Bad Blood', and on tha This was really good! A lot of it I'd already read as it happened during Uber's Hell Year of 2017 - as the news broke in Recode and Susan Fowler's explosive blog post and by the Rat King himself in the NYT. So in that sense it read like a greatest hits of insane moments (not a bad thing to re-read by any means). And even then there were some bits I didn't know about, and Isaac has done the good hard reporting work.The jacket cover compares it to 'The Everything Store' and 'Bad Blood', and on that spectrum I'd say it's much better than 'Everything Store', but maybe not quite as jaw-dropping as 'Bad Blood'. I'd give it 4.5 stars if I could.
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  • Brady Salz
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating and disappointing look at what "tech culture" really is. Easily up there with 'Soul of a New Machine' for tech non fiction, but a little too light on the tech for me. Mike Isaac does a wonderful job interleaving so many twisted threads - it truly reads like a thriller instead of a corporate biography.
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  • Charlie
    January 1, 1970
    Bad Blood, but for Uber. Very enjoyable - so much happened with this company in such a short time span, that it’s helpful to have things synthesized in one book. Though in some cases, it feels like so many threads are crammed together that there’s not enough room for logical segues or broader themes.
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  • Topherjaynes
    January 1, 1970
    What a riveting read by Mike Isaac. We all know the ending, but that makes the journey through the book more gripping. Isaac peels back the layers and breaks down the core story behind VC and Founders throughout Uber's troubled history. While it is not sympathetic to Kalanik, it does feel like the villain gets off the hook in the very end, but this is non-fiction so not Isaac's fault.
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  • Rob Tsai
    January 1, 1970
    I picked up this book because of WSJ reporter and Bad Blood author John Carryerou's endorsement is on the back cover, and it's an engaging and easy read on the growth of Uber, and all the sordid scandals behind Kalanick's leadership.Most of the scandals were heavily covered in the trades at the time, but it was fun reading the narrative in one sitting.
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  • Rob Mentzer
    January 1, 1970
    Man Travis Kalanick seems terrible! At some point here it truly becomes comical how seemingly all his insane risks, bad bets and douchey behavior just blew up on him all at the same time. Really great reporting and super page-turning book. I know he is still a billionaire plutocrat, but he did lose his company, and as gotterdammerung stories go this is a really fascinating one.
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  • Chrissie
    January 1, 1970
    This is a really interesting, fast moving read about the history of Uber that I could not put down. For anyone who enjoyed Bad Blood or American Kingpin you should definitely pick up this book. I’d give it a 4.5.
  • Kristina
    January 1, 1970
    Five stars for impressive research and details.The subject of the book itself is an embarrassing reminder of the bs level that currently exists in the glorified tech industry.Starup biography name generator would call this Bad Blood on steroids.
  • Erin
    January 1, 1970
    Between "Bad Blood" and this, I'm now a big fan of the Silicon Valley clusterfuck genre.Excellent reporting and a fascinating look into a LOT of things: the fraud, the battle to get into China and how tech start-ups - Uber and others - operate.
  • Eric
    January 1, 1970
    It’s like Bad Blood, but for Uber. Bad Blood author John Carreyrou even wrote a testimonial. Super Pumped offers detailed, page-turning insights into the rise and subsequent tribulations at Uber, with big implications for the modern “bro” culture in Silicon Valley. Highly recommended.
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  • Jeremy Ray
    January 1, 1970
    Not quite Bad Blood, but super addicting nonetheless
  • Steve Nolan
    January 1, 1970
    I was wondering, "how's a book about Uber gonna have enough stuff in it?" Turns out, it really did! Was very compelling! Great book. 4.5
  • Ian
    January 1, 1970
    An unexpectedly hilarious and shocking look into one of the weirdest, most driven psychopaths in the Valley and his gaggle of hangers-on, flunkies, handlers, and investors.
  • William Krasne
    January 1, 1970
    Isaac is the best person to write this book, and it’s really awesome. Unparalleled access to the rise of what Bill Gurley correctly calls “the most successful Silicon Valley startup of all time”
  • Dylan Groves
    January 1, 1970
    you could listen to the podcast about dov charney and get the same basic story.
  • Jeff Berman
    January 1, 1970
    Basically Bad Blood but for Uber.
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