Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue

To learn more or purchase on Amazon: Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue

Author: Ryan Holiday


Quick Summary

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 seek revenge against the gossip blog and the lack of decency and principles it represented. 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.

Author Ryan Holiday was granted intimate access to all the players involved in Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue. The story isn’t about privacy laws or scandals—it’s about successfully engineering and executing a conspiracy.

No one in the world knew Peter Thiel was behind the entire plot until after the judgment was awarded. Should a single billionaire be able to wield enough power to take down an entire company? Will this set a precedent where rich people single-handedly destroy businesses they don’t like? I don’t know.

But the play-by-play how this Conspiracy went down is well worth the read.

Recommended If…

    • You like historical/narrative nonfiction books (think Michael Lewis or Ben Mezrich)
    • You’re bored of all the psychology books I keep recommending
  • You think “conspiracies” are not a real thing

My Take

Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue is both entertaining and fascinating. Holiday’s writing is a little wordy—even more so than usual in this book (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.

And if nothing else, it’s always fun to read David and Goliath stories where the “little guy” conquers an unbeatable enemy. Even though the “David” in this story (Hogan) was secretly funded by an even bigger Goliath (Thiel). Or maybe I just loved it because I hate smutty media…

Favorite Highlights and Thoughts

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.

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Brandon Richardson is the best-selling author of zero books.

He's never been featured in Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Wired, Inc., or any other business magazine.

But, he did leave a 15-year career behind to start living life on his own terms. And he likes to writes about it.

He also think it's super-weird when people refer to themselves in the third person on their own websites.

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