I'm a historian who writes mostly about present-day technology, business, and society.
My most recent book is an exception and is centered on higher education, the liberal arts, and Stanford University in particular: A Practical Education. It looks at the contention between the liberal arts and engineering at Stanford, from the university's founding to the present. It also narrates the job-seeking experiences of ten recent Stanford grads who chose a major in the humanities.
In 2012, I published The Launch Pad, an account of the sixty-four startups that went through Y Combinator in summer 2011. It was the third book I've written about Silicon Valley startups. The first was published in 1993: Steve Jobs & the NeXT Big Thing, a story of a startup that struggled and struggled. From the misery of those dark years, Jobs learned much that would serve him well when he returned to Apple.
The other earlier book on startups was eBoys (2000), a fly-on-the-wall account of the workings of then-young Benchmark Capital. Work on it happened to coincide with the dot-com boom in the Valley and the boom's end.
I paid a visit to an earlier era of American startups when I worked on a biography of the original serial entrepreneur, Thomas Edison: The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World, which was published in 2007.
Some of the largest technology companies have served as my book subjects. In 1995, I wrote The Microsoft Way and in 2008, Planet Google.
I wrote the Digital Domain column for the New York Times, from the column's inception in 2004 to its retirement in 2013. (An archive of the columns and miscellaneous other pieces that I've published in the Times is found here.) Earlier, I contributed to The New Republic, U.S. News & World Report, and Fortune.
Before I began the wandering that led into Silicon Valley of the present moment, I had prepared for an entirely different career as a modern China historian. I spent my senior year of college studying Mandarin at Tunghai University, in Taichung, Taiwan. From there, I went to Stanford, earning a master's and a PhD in modern East Asian history. I spent two years (1979-81) in Nanjing, China, doing archival research for my dissertation on early twentieth-century Chinese agriculture.
My first book was a study of the transfer of American technology to China: The Stubborn Earth: American Agriculturalists on Chinese Soil, 1898-1937 (1986).
In what would turn out to be a transitional work, moving me closer to the present day, I published in 1991 a study of Sino-U.S. business ties in the 1970s and 1980s: Bulls in the China Shop and Other Sino-American Business Encounters.
I was born in 1954, grew up in Topeka, Kansas, and Denver, Colorado, and received my undergraduate education at Macalester College, in St. Paul, Minnesota. I live with my family in Burlingame, California.