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Book Review: “Uncanny Valley”

Uncanny Valley: A Memoir

Anna Wiener

Hardcover, 288 pages

Publication Date:  January 14, 2020

Publisher: MCD

Genre: Technology, Memoir

Despite the incredible number of books being published every year, the literary world likes to focus on a small handful at a time. Anna Wiener’s debut, a memoir about her time working at startups in Silicon Valley, is one of the privileged few to receive weeks, if not months, of attention ahead of its release. It has a spot on just about every “Books We’re Looking Forward to in 2020” list I came across. Unable to remain stoic in the face of all the hype, I preordered “Uncanny Valley” on Amazon, ensuring it would show up on my porch the day it was released.

Silicon Valley and startup culture have enthralled America for years. The strange lifestyles, eccentric CEOs and terrible workplace conditions and scandals pique everyone’s curiosity in some way. When “Bad Blood” came out in 2018, it achieved enormous popularity for exposing how startup wonder child Theranos and its founder managed to raise millions of dollars for a broken product. Since then, interest around Silicon Valley and all its inner workings have shown no sign of dying down, which explains some of the excitement leading up to the release of “Uncanny Valley.”

Wiener was living in New York City and working in the publishing industry in her mid-twenties when she decided to embark on a new career path and move to the West Coast to work for a startup. Publishing in New York can be difficult to break into, and Silicon Valley seemed to abound with endless potential. Wiener’s decision to move to California would change her life in more ways than one.

As someone who wants to go into publishing and has already worked for a startup, I was expecting to resonate with a lot of the feelings Anna experienced as she had to decide whether or not working in tech would provide her with a better future than working in a traditional industry. While I definitely could understand her stress about choosing a fulfilling job while still paying her bills, I never emotionally connected with Wiener or her book the way I thought I would. “Uncanny Valley” was full of interesting information and instances of great writing, but the tone of the book ultimately felt detached. Most memoirs are full of the emotional side of the author’s life and experience, but I never picked up on that here.

Despite that, “Uncanny Valley” does a good job of recounting just how different American life feels in an insulated environment like Silicon Valley. Anna was able to paint clear pictures of how differently it works from the rest of the world. She is well-qualified to give an insider’s perspective, and I found myself unwilling to set “Uncanny Valley” aside while I was reading it.

I have been following the news coverage of Silicon Valley the past few years, so some of her book was not necessarily new information to me, but I still found it worth my time. While I certainly think it is too early to call “Uncanny Valley” one of 2020’s stars, I do think it is an intriguing chapter in the larger story of America’s intersection of technology and culture.

Paige Holmes is a senior journalism major from Topeka, KS. Reading is her favorite thing to do because it teaches one how to think, imagine and live. Paige believes there is no better way to learn something or be entertained than by reading a book. Her favorite genre of books is fantasy/thriller and her favorite book is ‘Opening Moves’ by Steven James.

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