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Malcolm Harris joins Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher to discuss Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World. A native of Northern California, Malcolm attended Palo Alto High School and that High School experience is a jumping off point of sorts — and a dark one — for the book that Malcolm joins us to discuss.
Malcolm’s hefty tome, a history of California told through a Marxist lens, opens with a grim reflection on the spate of suicides that darkened his high school years. Teens who took their lives on the train tracks over which Leland Stanford built Palo Alto and much of the booming Western economy that has made the Bay Area and California in general such a dominant pole of global wealth, innovation, and the allure of good, easy living.
It’s that darker side to this history that Malcolm brings into focus throughout Palo Alto, a history of Silicon Valley that traces the region’s celebrated ideologies, technologies, and policies to its roots in Anglo settler colonialism, racial capitalism, and the ravages of an extractive system that builds glittering new worlds and opportunities for a few, too often at the expense of everyone else up to and including the earth itself. Malcolm explores how the histories of big tech, the military industrial complex, and Stanford University converge in the story of Palo Alto, braided together in a way that at once builds the world we have today at the cost of a potentially better one.
Also, Emmanuel Iduma, author of I Am Still With You, returns to recommend three books: The Return by Hisham Matar, Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah, and A Spell of Good Things by Ayobami Adebayo.