Monday, May 11, 2020

A-List Angels: How a Band of Actors, Artists, and Athletes Hacked Silicon Valley by Zack O'Malley Greenburg

I would actually go into this disregarding the Goodreads blurb. The writing in this book is hardly "high-octane": in fact, it is rather slow-paced, and the last quarter of the book drags as it starts to run out of steam-- and content. I would also not compare  Zack O'Malley Greenburg to Michael Lewis, as this is hardly pulse-pounding stuff. Celebrities using their influence to generate more money is hardly noteworthy. That said, A-LIST ANGELS does bring up a subject I'm sure not a lot of people think about: just who, exactly, funds the social media companies we know and love? The answer is lots of people, but celebrities have an additional (but predictable) benefit: they're good influencers, too.

One thing that did genuinely surprise me was just how business-savvy Ashton Kutcher and Shaq are. I kind of fell into the trap of believing that they were exactly like their doofy on-screen personas, but hearing them being interviewed in this book was like getting a glimpse into a totally different side of the personalities they portray on the screen. Shaq, in particular, was surprisingly humble and low-key, which I couldn't help but admire-- especially in the face of some of his incredibly prescient investments into companies like Google.

Most of the focus on this book is on the tech companies these celebrity VCs invested in, but there are a couple others mentioned, like the esports organization NRG, Vitaminwater (which gets an astounding amount of fanfare, possibly because of how 50 Cent and Shaq were both involved with it), and the hilarious but ill-fated chess site, "WuChess," which involved RZA from the WuTang Clan. I feel like a lot of these references end up feeling really dated, and they reminded me of how much the internet has changed, and how quickly we take those changes for granted. It's hard to conceive of a time when Amazon wasn't the online behemoth it is today, and quietly sold CDs and books, and when Google didn't have AdWords and searches could sometimes be frustratingly inaccurate.

I would recommend this book to people who are interested in the tech industry or who want to learn some fun facts about some celebrities who some would consider "has-beens" at this point. It was interesting to see how the rich continue to get richer, even after they move out of the career paths that got them fame in the first place. According to Shaq, some of his investments rival what he made at the high points of his career as an athlete. It's also the perfect length, at just under 200 pages (not including the bibliography), so kudos to the author for quitting before the book fizzled out.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review! 

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

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