Palo Alto is nice. The weather is temperate, the people are educated, rich, healthy, enterprising. Remnants of a hippie counterculture have synthesized with high technology and big finance to produce the spiritually and materially ambitious heart of Silicon Valley, whose products are changing how we do everything from driving around to eating food. It is also a haunted toxic waste dump built on stolen Indian burial grounds, and an integral part of the capitalist world system.
In PALO ALTO, the first comprehensive, global history of Silicon Valley, Malcolm Harris examines how and why Northern California evolved in the particular, consequential way it did, tracing the ideologies, technologies, and policies that have been engineered there over the course of 150 years of Anglo settler colonialism, from IQ tests to the "tragedy of the commons," racial genetics, and "broken windows" theory. The Internet and computers, too. It's a story about how a small American suburb became a powerful engine for economic growth and war, and how it came to lead the world into a surprisingly disastrous 21st century. PALO ALTO is an urgent and visionary history of the way we live now, one that ends with a clear-eyed, radical proposition for how we might begin to change course.
"Extraordinary. In lucid, personal, often funny, and always insightful prose, Malcolm Harris finds the driving thrust of reaction not in capitalism’s left-behind regions but in its vanguard: California, and specifically Silicon Valley. We have not yet felt the full force of the shit storm that the titans of tech have been conjuring. We soon will. If you want to understand what’s coming, you need to read this book."
“Malcolm Harris's singular and brilliant PALO ALTO is a geologic survey of the bedrock of the imperial violence that lies beneath the surface of some of the country's wealthiest Zip Codes. The formations it follows stretch outward across the globe, to Asia, Europe, across the Americas and to the rest of the United States. In the end, the book provides not so much an account of strict cause and effect—the familiar history of the robber barons and tech tycoons—but a core sample of the thorough-going greed and pillage at the heart of American history: the expropriation, the violence, and the guilt that seep upward through the soil of neoliberalism's most fruitful plain.”
Malcolm Harris is an American journalist, critic, and thought leader. He is an editor at The New Inquiry and authored Kids These Days: The Making of Millennials and Shit is Fucked Up and Bullshit: History Since the End of History. His upcoming book, Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World, will be available on February 14, 2023.