Every century is shaped by a key event, writes Andrew Smith (Moondust) in the exhilarating Totally Wired: The Rise and Fall of Josh Harris and the Great Dotcom Swindle. For Smith, the 21st century was wrought by the "Dotcom Crash of March-April 2000." Not only did it signal the economic crash of 2008, it predicted the trouble with truth that seemed to characterize the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath.
A key figure of the dotcom era, says Smith, was the enigmatic Josh Harris, one of the "first internet moguls" of the digital age and founder of the website Pseudo. When readers first meet Harris, he has inexplicably moved to Ethiopia. Smith catches a flight to interview him, and what follows is one of the most fascinating portraits of a startup founder in recent memory.
Harris spent his early years as an entrepreneur in New York City's high tech hub, Silicon Alley. He was the mastermind behind baffling experiments in crowd tolerance and voyeurism. One of them, called "Quiet," involved Harris convincing 100 people to stay under surveillance in a deserted warehouse in the city with all the food and drugs they could tolerate. The event was shut down by FEMA. Harris rode the tech wave to unimagined wealth before losing it all in 2000.
The present-day Harris is no less perplexing. Often Smith is left wondering whether the strange incidents that happen when he's in proximity of the man (gunshots, dogs howling) were in fact staged by Harris for reasons unknown. Totally Wired examines just how thin the line is between brilliance and madness. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor