Bronson, Po 1964-

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BRONSON, Po 1964-

PERSONAL: Born 1964, in Seattle, WA; son of Duncan and Louise Bronson. Education: Stanford University, B.A., 1986; San Francisco State University, M.F.A., 1995. Politics: "Every four years." Hobbies and other interests: "Laughing, women with skunk stripes in their hair, soccer."

ADDRESSES: Agent—Peter Ginsberg, Curtis Brown Ltd., 10 Astor Place, New York, NY 10003. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: First Boston Corporation, San Francisco, CA, bond salesman, 1986-88; Citi Respect ("San Francisco Politics"), 1988-89; Mercury House (nonprofit publishing company), San Francisco, CA, associate publisher, 1989-95. Cofounder of the Writer's Grotto, San Francisco; founder of a greeting card company. Producer of multimedia show The One?

WRITINGS:

Bombardiers (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 1995.

The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 1997.

The Nudist on the Late Shift and Other True Tales of Silicon Valley, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.

What Should I Do with My Life? (nonfiction), Random House (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor to Men Seeking Women: Love and Sex Online, At Random (New York, NY), 2000. Author of television pilot, South of Market, and of screenplays Stick or Flip and Dotcomarama. Writer for television series The Street, Fox Network, 2000. Contributor to Wired magazine and the New York Times Magazine. Member of editorial board, Zoetrope: All-Story.

ADAPTATIONS: The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest was adapted as a film by 20th Century Fox.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Why Do I Love These People, a book about families.

SIDELIGHTS: Po Bronson has won acclaim for his fast-paced, satirical novels about life in high-finance fields, such as investment banking and computer technology. His first book, Bombardiers, gave a picture of corruption and obsession in an office of bond traders. It was written after the author spent two years working in an office with similarities to the one portrayed in his book. Set in San Francisco, the novel revolves around Sid Geeder, a bond trader in his midthirties who hates his job. Geeder is seeking a way out of Atlantic Pacific by cashing in his shares of his company's stock, worth four million dollars. Unfortunately, his superiors at the bank threaten to fire him if he tries to retire, which would cause him to lose his take of the wealth. Geeder and several of his co-workers become increasingly sickened by the corrupt nature of bond-trading at the bank, especially when they learn that the company is plotting a buyout of the Dominican Republic. The title of Bronson's novel refers to bond traders who sell bonds that are sure to explode—that is, fail—thus triggering government bailouts, which create more bonds to sell and greater profits to be made by traders.

Numerous critics compared Bombardiers to Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Among them was Judith Wynn, who observed in her Chicago Tribune review: "What gallows humorist Joseph Heller did for Army bombardiers 34 years ago in 'Catch-22,' Bronson does for high finance in the '90s." Wynn further contended that Bronson had "written a hilarious, distinctly terrifying first novel that might make you consider switching your cash into a nice, boring money market account. Or a mattress." Hungry Mind Review contributor Dwight Garner also recognized similarities between Bombardiers and Catch-22, remarking that the books "do indeed share a similarly piquant sense of the absurd. The traders soon learn that, in order to be rewarded, it is 'better to talk in circles than to talk straight, just as it was better to sound sensible than to be sensible.'" Garner, however, found far more for which to praise Bronson than just his Helleresque writing style. He described Bronson as "an accomplished stylist who bowls you over with the sheer, onrushing audacity of his prose," and he concluded: "Bronson has written a subversive business novel that teems with manic energy and sour wit. He's a cultural bombardier, and happily, his aim feels unerringly true."

Bronson's next novel also turned on greed and ambition, but The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest was set in California's Silicon Valley, home of the information-technology revolution. To research the book, Bronson spent two years in the Silicon Valley, observing its inhabitants and their ways, and investing in some start-up companies. The story, set in the fictional La Honda research center, pits ruthless Francois Benoit against Andy Caspar, a brilliant young programmer who is assigned to design an affordable personal computer. When it becomes evident that he is going to accomplish that mission, which will not produce major profits for his company, he is thwarted at every turn. Andy and some friends start their own company, not realizing that even when they break away, they are still subject to manipulation. Dale Singer, a reviewer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, called the book "funny" and "insightful," as well as "informative and entertaining." Some reviewers noted the book's reliance on industry jargon as a weakness, but according to Michael Stern in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Bronson's laconic, precise prose usually strikes the right balance between detail and overkill, delivering the authentic flavor of what design challenges are made of while not getting too technical. And sometimes he perfectly captures the antic side of the Silicon Valley's mad quest for money and fame."

Bronson used the setting again in The Nudist on the Late Shift, a book of true tales that, according to Guardian reviewer Andy Beckett, "you could classify as journalism aspiring to prophecy." This work looks at the Silicon Valley phenomenon from many angles, examining what motivates the principle players and how business is conducted. It contains many "anecdotal gems" and "insightful observations," wrote Philip Sweeting in Computer Weekly. Eccentric geniuses and hardworking engineers are sketched, as well as the hard-driving rhythm of the Valley's work life. Reviewing The Nudist on the Late Shift, a writer for Business Week commented, "The author delivers a revealing profile of Valley culture, with its emphasis on time, luck, and work and its conviction that nearly everyone can be just as successful as the most recent Wired cover boy…. It's hard not to appreciate its nuanced look at the area's idiosyncrasies." Wilda Williams, a contributor to Library Journal, praised the "witty, vivid detail" with which Bronson paints the characters "who make the Valley the exciting place it is."

Many of the fortunes Bronson described in his first books vanished as the economy shifted into the twenty-first century, making the greed and ambition he had satirized in his novels seem even more pointless. Bronson went in search of sincere answers to a large question in his book "What Should I Do With My Life?" Through interviews and his own observations, the author examined the lives of people who had made courageous or unusual career choices. His subjects include a corporate lawyer who, following a kidney transplant, became a patient advocate; a woman who abandoned her career as a surgeon because she could not detach emotionally from her patients; an Olympic athlete who dropped her career to pursue motherhood; and an investment banker who turned to catfish farming. In addition to telling their stories, Bronson also examines the fears and mistakes common to those searching for a fulfilling career. Praising the author's "skillful probing" and selection of stories, a Publishers Weekly writer recommended the book as "brimming with stories of sacrifice, courage, commitment and, sometimes, failure," and added: "The book will support anyone pondering a major life choice or risk without force-feeding them pat solutions."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

periodicals

Across the Board, April, 1997, Matthew Budman, review of The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, p. 61.

American Prospect, December 6, 1999, Nicholas Confessore, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. 63.

Bloomsbury Review, November/December, 1995, pp. 24, 26.

Booklist, July, 1999, James Klise, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. 1902; October 1, 2002, Vanessa Bush, review of What Should I Do with My Life?, p. 277.

Boston Herald, March 23, 1997, Judith Wynn, review of The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, p. 65.

Business Week, February 27, 1995, pp. 21, 25; August 9, 1999, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. 14.

Chicago Tribune, March 28, 1995, Judith Wynn, Tempo section, p. 3.

CIO, July, 1997, Perry Glasser, review of The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, p. 22.

Computer Weekly, February 17, 2000, Philip Sweeting, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. 68.

Computerworld, May 26, 1997, Steve Ulfelder, review of The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, p. 82.

Economist, March 15, 1997, review of The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, p. S12; September 18, 1999, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. 10.

Fast Company, April, 2003, "An evening with Po Bronson," p. 115A.

Fortune, May 26, 1997, Eryn Brown, review of The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, p. 162.

Guardian (London, England), June 19, 1997, review of The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, p. S2; August 7, 1999, Andy Beckett, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. 9.

Houston Chronicle, July 23, 1999, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. 1.

Hungry Mind Review, spring, 1995, Dwight Garner, review of Bombardiers, pp. 43, 47.

IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, March, 2000, Garrett Romaine, review of Nudist on the Late Shift: And Other True Tales of Silicon Valley, p. 110.

Information Week, July 19, 1999, John Soat, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. 134.

Kiplinger's Personal Finance, January, 2003, review of What Should I Do With My Life?, p. 30.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1994, p. 1363; October 1, 2002, review of What Should I Do with My Life?, p. 1438.

Library Journal, April 15, 1997, Jodi L. Israel, review of The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, p. 138; July, 1999, Wilda Williams, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. 108.

Long Island Business News, February 7, 2003, review of What Should I Do With My Life?, p. 25A.

Los Angeles Times, May 25, 1997, Michael J. Ybarra, interview with Po Bronson, p. E1; July 27, 1999, Michael Harris, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. 6.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 12, 1995, pp. 1, 8.

New Scientist, August 14, 1999, Maggie McDonald, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. 50.

New Statesman, March 17, 1995, p. 39.

Newsweek, July 5, 1999, Steven Levy, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. 54.

New York Times Book Review, August 13, 1995, pp. 3, 24; April 27, 1997, Bill Kent, review of The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, p. 25; July 25, 1999, Amy Harmon, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. 10.

Observer Review, April 16, 1995, p. 18.

O, The Oprah Magazine, September, 2003, Annie Gottlieb, review of What Should I Do With My Life?, p. 227.

People, April 21, 1997, Samantha Miller, review of The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, p. 34.

Publishers Weekly, June 7, 1999, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. 64; June 14, 1999, Matthew Debord, interview with Po Bronson, p. 43; September 9, 2002, review of What Should I Do With My Life?, p. 49; January 27, 2003, Daisy Maryles, "Random's Winning Duo (David Frum, Po Bronson)," p. 116.

Red Herring, February, 2003, Jason Pontin, review of What Should I Do With My Life?, p. 24.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 23, 1997, Dale Singer, review of The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, p. 5D.

Sales and Marketing Management, April, 1997, Ginger Conlon, review of The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, p. 80.

San Francisco Review of Books, March-April, 1995, pp. 12-13; July 2, 1999, Sam Whiting, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. C1.

School Library Journal, July, 2003, Judy McAloon, review of What Should I Do With My Life?, p. 152.

Technical Communication, February, 2000, Garret Romaine, review of Nudist on the Late Shift, p. 110.

Time, April 3, 1995, p. 78; July 19, 1999, Anita Hamilton, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift and Other True Tales of Silicon Valley, p. 80; January 13, 2003, Lev Grossman, review of What Should I Do With My Life?, p. 60.

Times Literary Supplement, April 7, 1995, p. 25; September 17, 1999, John Mack, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. 32.

Wall Street Journal, July 16, 1999, Thomas Schoville, review of The Nudist on the Late Shift, p. W4; January 17, 2003, Cynthia Crossen, review of What Should I Do With My Life?, p. W8.

Washington Post, February 12, 1995.

Wired, January, 2003, Josh McHugh, review of What Should I Do With My Life?, p.. 73.

online

Bookpage, http://www.bookpage.com/ (December 11, 2002), Ellen Kanner, interview with Po Bronson.

Po Bronson Home Page, http://www.pobronson.com (December 11, 2002).*

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