by Ryan Holiday
Visit the Amazon page for details and reviews: Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue
Rating: 7 / 10
Read: March 2018
This is the true story of how a Silicon Valley billionaire (Peter Thiel) orchestrated—and succeeded in—a plot to bankrupt and destroy the gossip website, Gawker.
In 2012, Gawker published a video of wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan sleeping with his best friend’s wife. Hogan didn’t know he was being recorded at the time and demanded that Gawker remove the video. They refused.
Peter Thiel—a well-known tech billionaire and early Facebook investor—saw his opportunity to exact revenge against the gossip blog. He had a personal vendetta against the media company that cared nothing for decency and privacy. So, he secretly funded Hogan’s entire legal assault. Four years and millions of dollars in legal fees later, a Tampa jury ruled in favor of Hogan and awarded him $140 million in damages. This was the end of Gawker.
Conspiracy is entertaining and thought-provoking. Should wealthy people be able to wield enough power to single-handedly bankrupt businesses they disagree with? Probably not. But I’m not upset in this case because I hate smutty media…
Holiday’s writing is a little wordy—even more so than his other books. Maybe he had to hit a minimum word count. But, he does a good job of connecting this modern conspiracy with historical anecdotes and writings.
Highlights and Notes
Mankind has always crucified and burned, a great playwright once said. We take a secret pleasure in the misfortune of our friends, said another wise man.
Kind of morbid. But there’s some truth to it.
When we don’t get exactly what we want in life, we secretly take it out on other people by being happy when something doesn’t work out for them.
Human beings can be pretty messed up.
Selfish people are easy to understand. They act on motives. It’s when we begin to see that something deeper than self-interest is at play, that they cannot be made to see reason, that we begin to despair of ordinary means of resolution.
I mean, I’ve always found it much easier to just walk away and forget about it.
But I guess that wouldn’t have made for a good book about conspiracies.
Girard’s theory of mimetic desire holds that people have no idea what they want, or what they value, so are drawn to what other people want. They want what other people have. They covet.
I don’t know who Girard is, and I have no idea what “mimetic” means, but I do know that God thought this was such a big deal He included it in the Ten Commandments. And the same Peter Thiel funded the biggest reason our “coveting” is at all all-time high (Facebook). Hmmm.
To begin you must study the end. You don’t want to be the first to act, you want to be the last man standing.
Wait. I thought the Facebook mantra was, “Move fast and break things.”
I think Thiel was just in it for the money with Facebook.
Deterrence is an important strategy. The more intimidating you are, the less people conspire against you. Yet the powerful must always be very careful with their threats, with their demonstrations of superior resources. Aimed poorly, they have a nasty habit of backfiring.
‘The truest way to be deceived is to think oneself more knowing than others’ is La Rochefoucauld’s maxim.
What is it with these “theories” and “maxims” from people I’ve never heard of? Can’t we just say, “Get off your high horse?” Or, “Sit down. Be humble” (simple and blunt, yet eloquent—thanks Kendrick).
However it’s phrased, we all know it’s true. No one likes arrogance.
Being feared, Machiavelli says, is an important protection against a conspiracy. The ultimate protection, he says, however, is to be well liked. Not simply because people who love you are less likely to want to take you down, but because they are less likely to tolerate anyone else trying to, either.
The great sin for a leader, Frederick the Great once observed, was not in being defeated but in being surprised.
Another character I don’t remember from history class, and another gold nugget of wisdom.
Most people can deal with loss on a level playing field. There’s no shame in losing when you’re prepared for the battle but fall short. What sucks is losing because you’re surprised by something you didn’t consider.
Gawker thought they could just keep delaying Hogan’s trial until he ran out of money and couldn’t pay the legal bills. They never considered that someone else was in the shadows funding him. And that ultimately cost them their business.