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A Native Son of Palo Alto Thinks His Hometown Will Kill Us All

Malcolm Harris argues society's ills can all be traced back this one city

I meet Malcolm Harris, voice of Millennials and anti-capitalist crusader, at a Brooklyn coffee shop, suggested by his publicist for a book-tour interview. He goes for a guava croissant along with his $3.75 drip. He hints this is not an endorsement of a bourgeoisie micro-luxury, but an ironic jab at the media tycoons of Condé Nast who are picking up the tab.

Harris, a spry 34, is generating considerable buzz with his book, Palo Alto. He well knows the town and the tech industry at which it sits at the heart. He grew up there, was schooled there and even learned [basic] journalism at Palo Alto High School under Esther Wojcicki, mother of the (recently retired) YouTube CEO Susan and former mother-in-law of Sergey Brin. His antitrust lawyer father took on Microsoft in a major trademark case in the mid-aughts. But as an author, Harris is less into forging a first draft of history than using research to promote his preexisting point of view. "It's not a work of journalism," he said of his book. "It's a Marxist history."

Whatever you call it, Palo Alto is epic—an unrelenting 700-page indictment of capitalism, California, and the town that railroad baron Leland Stanford named in 1876 to honor a tall tree that still stands, and soon after made the home of his new university, which still dominates the region. Some might view Harris' book as a companion piece to another doorstop-sized chunk of tech rejection, Shoshana Zuboff's The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. But Harris thinks Zuboff's book overemphasized the surveillance part and went too easy on the capitalism. "It doesn't really get to the global political economy," he said.

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