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Michael Wolff, the author of NetGuide, one of the first major guides to the Net, gives you a tour of this medium that could best be described as "Alice's Adventures Through the Monitor." Burn Rate is the story of Wolff's transition from journalist to entrepreneur in the Internet business--a business in which the investment elite beat down doors to invest vast sums of money in companies whose chief product seemed to be red ink. Wolff reports that what was being bought and sold was not technology, content, or even concepts. It was the potential to be in on something very cool that may one day be sold to somebody else--despite even more red ink.
Wolff's story could easily have been bitter but is instead both fascinating and hilarious. Wolff's money-losing company's negotiations with Magellan--a search-engine company that Wolff eventually discovers is also financially unstable--are comical. The scene where key big shots from a major publisher fall all over Wolff in their eagerness to buy an all-but-worthless name and database are a complete farce. Wolff is by no means above showing his own foibles. Some of the book's best parts are where he shows himself swept up in the intoxicating flow of a deal and calls home to report developments to his wife. She promptly translates the nonsense into sobering reality.
Wolff takes plenty of time off from his personal journey to explore significant events in the development of cyberculture, such as the transition of Louis Rosetto from a least-likely-to-succeed publisher into the creator of the revolutionary Wired magazine. He chronicles the emergence of America Online from dark horse to dominance, while the efforts of companies expected to be major contenders fade into the background.
His candid view shows it all--the oddball characters in expensive shirts and T-shirts, the crazy dealing, the exhilaration, the heartbreak, and the fear. This would be a wonderful work of satirical fiction if it weren't actually true. --Elizabeth Lewis [via]