Author: John Cassidy
An artful blend of storytelling, history, and economics, Dot.Con provides the first complete and
authoritative account of the biggest financial story of the modern era. Salon.com: "The first good book
about one of capitalism’s most embarrassing debacles."
When Vannevar Bush, Franklin D. Roosevelt's chief scientific adviser, sat down in 1945 to write a
magazine article about the future, he had no idea what he was beginning. Bush's vision of a desktop
computer that would contain all of human knowledge inspired the scientists who built the Internet. In the
early 1990s, when a British computer programmer devised the World Wide Web and an Illinois student
invented an easy-to-use Web browser, the Internet was transformed from a scientific curiosity into the
biggest gold rush since the Klondike.
In Dot.con, John Cassidy, one of the country's leading financial journalists and a staff writer at the New
Yorker, relates the stories of Netscape, Yahoo!, America Online, Amazon.com, and other Internet
companies, large and small. In a lively and entertaining narrative, Cassidy traces the rise of Internet
stocks and the development of a populist stock market culture to the end of the Cold War. He shows how
an unscrupulous alliance of entrepreneurs such as Jeff Bezos, venture capitalists such as John Doerr,
stock analysts such as Mary Meeker, and investment bankers such as Frank Quattrone helped turn an
exciting technological development into an unstable and dangerous speculative bubble.
Cassidy doesn't restrict his attention to Silicon Valley and Wall Street. He demonstrates how many
prominent journalists and policy makers helped to expand and prolong the bubble, particularly Alan
Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve.
But in the end, Cassidy concludes, responsibility for the Internet boom and bust cannot be placed on any
one individual. It was a nationwide epizootic that involved tens of millions of Americans. And now that it is
over, the country as a whole is paying a heavy price for succumbing to greed and wishful thinking. An
artful blend of storytelling, history, and economics, Dot.con provides the first complete and authoritative
account of the biggest financial story of the modern era.
One of the strange things about history is how certain periods from long ago can seem recent, while
some events that just happened, relatively speaking, can appear ancient. As these words are being
written, President George W. Bush has declared war on terrorism, and American warplanes are heading
for Central Asia. Suddenly the Cold War, with its attendant undercurrent of fear, feels a lot closer, while
the carefree 1990s seem like a distant age. It is too early to judge the ultimate historic significance of the
terrorist attacks that were carried out on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11,
2001, but one thing is clear: they changed America's view of itself. The belief in U.S. military and
economic invulnerability, which grew stronger by the year during the 1990s, until it was taken for granted
by many, has been violently undermined. In the wake of the attacks, America's attention has shifted from
the secondary human concerns that dominated during the 1990s boom (saving for old age, getting rich) to
the primary matters of human survival (staying safe, providing a livelihood for one's family).
Already, it is hard to fathom that just a couple of years ago many intelligent Americans believed that the
marriage of computers and communications networks had ushered in a new era of permanent peace and
prosperity. Depending on which Wall Street or Silicon Valley guru you listened to, the Internet was the
most revolutionary development since the electric dynamo, the printing press, or the wheel. The most
striking manifestation of this thinking was the extraordinary prices that people were willing to pay to invest
in Internet companies. In nearly every sector of the economy, entrepreneurs, many barely out of college,
were rushing to establish online firms and issue stock on the Nasdaq, which was heading upward at a
vertiginous rate. Names like Marc Andreessen, Jerry Yang, and Jeff Bezos were being uttered with awe.
In March 1999, Priceline.com, an Internet company that operated a site on the World Wide Web where
people could name their price for airline tickets, was preparing to do an initial public offering (IPO). In
order to introduce Priceline.com's executives to Wall Street analysts and fund managers, Morgan
Stanley, the investment bank that was managing the IPO, hired a ballroom at the Metropolitan Club, at 1
East Sixtieth Street, a fitting location. The Metropolitan, which John Pierpont Morgan founded and
Stanford White designed, is a lavish remnant of a previous gilded age. Four stories high, its white marble
exterior is fronted by six Roman columns and an ornate cornice. After the guests had picked at their
lunch, Richard S. Braddock, Priceline.com's chairman and chief executive, told them that his firm had the
potential to revolutionize not just the travel business, but automobile sales and financial services, too.
This was a grand claim from a start-up that had been in business for less than a year and employed fewer
than two hundred people, but nobody in the room queried Braddock's presentation.
By the standards of the time, Priceline.com had impressive credentials. Jay S. Walker, the company's
founder, was a Connecticut entrepreneur who had already made one fortune by peddling magazine
subscriptions in credit card bills. Braddock was a former president of Citicorp, and Priceline.com's board
of directors included Paul Allaire, a former chairman of Xerox Corporation, N.J. Nicholas Jr., a former
president of Time Inc., and Marshall Loeb, a former managing editor of Fortune magazine. . . .
John Cassidy, one of the country's leading business journalists, has been a staff writer at the New Yorker
for six years, covering economics and finance. Previously he was business editor of the Sunday Times
(London) and deputy editor of the New York Post. He lives in New York.
"John Cassidy’s [Dot.con] deserves to be the boom’s standard account. It is informative, perceptive, and
"A marvelous book. . . . Dot.con will be read by generations of … B-school graduates."
"Admirably lucid and comprehensive."
"John Cassidy is one of the world’s best financial journalists. Dot.con [is] compelling."