Paper Belt on Fire, by Michael Gibson

Review by Rob Yates

ubman"Our community of hackers tells me I have a garage-sale writing style. Odds and ends, bits of memoir, bursts of photography, shards of scholarship, vignettes, reportage, untranslatable words, history, shifting points of view... I turn to poems as often as economics. And if I digress at times, and weave multiple story arcs, I beg you to hold on tight"

Gibson gives readers this caveat in the foreword, but it is impossible to describe how simultaneously appropriate and understated this is. Never have I been more certain that someone could beat me in chess, fix my car, cook a gourmet meal, recommend a hostel in Thailand, and talk punk rock all night.

Paper Belt on Fire is part epic poem, part philosophy, part self-help manual, and part social commentary, all wrapped up in an autobiography that would qualify Gibson as Dos Equis next Most Interesting Man in the World. His writing style is as captivating and frantic as the stories he tells; the people and places feel honest as they weave together, buoyed by philisophical musings, with some genuinely funny parts as well.

The book follows Gibson, starting with his CIA interview, into his work for Peter Thiel, and through the foundation of the 1517 Fund with Danielle Strachman. At every turn, Gibson puts established orthodoxies to the test, defying broadly accepted predictors of success and ridiculing the importance given to institutional certificates as credentials.

The 1517 Fund is named for the year Martin Luther published his 95 Theses, railing against the absolute bureaucratic authority of the indulgences the Church afforded to anyone who could afford them. Similarly, Gibson disavows contemporary attitudes giving deference to people who possess certain meaningless certificates with the right name on them. From New England Ivy League schools down to D.C. strongholds, dubbed the "Paper Belt," elitist institutions gatekeep their club, reserving entry for those who embrace piece-of-paper meritocracy, bestowed exclusively by those same gatekeepers.

Paper Belt on Fire thoroughly dismantles the paper paradigm's validity, while also explaining how truly dangerous the stagnation created by this mindset is for the advancement of humanity. Gibson then gives reason for hope, detailing some ways out of this mess, and what to look for next.

It is impossible to properly celebrate this book in a brief review, but I highly recommend it, five out of five stars, two thumbs up. Definitely worth your time.

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  • Rob yates
    published this page in Book Review 2023-04-10 23:26:00 -0400
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