Skip to content

Kara Swisher’s Burn Book

Kara Swisher has covered consumer technology as a journalist for decades and has developed a reputation of being tough but fair, and often smarter than the tech executives she interviews. I’ve followed and admired her for years, ever since she reported for the Wall St. Journal covering consumer products along with her boss, Walt Mossberg. Currently she can be found on her terrific Pivot and Sway podcasts.

Unlike most that cover tech, she understands it well enough to not be blindsided or be taken advantage of by the normal spin from the tech execs or their PR people. She’s confident enough of her own skills to rarely be deferential or treat the tech leaders as celebrities in her reporting, but never impolite. She’s not a pushover and works to bring facts to light; you feel she’s working for us, the consumer of news. And she just happens to be one of the best interviewers in journalism today.

Her new book, Burn Book, that I just completed is part autobiography and part commentary on how the tech industry has gone off the rails. She both loves technology and its potential, but is disappointed with how much it’s gotten wrong and, in particular, how some of the personalities are totally oblivious and even evil.

She doesn’t hold back. She names names, describes incidents, which embarrass those that deserve it, but probably won’t, because many are unembarrassable and oblivious to the harm they’re causing.

Swisher has developed relationships that have given her more insight than most reporters, with tech CEOs such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, and dozens of others. That’s come about from her AllThingsD conferences, where for years she and Mossberg brought tech luminaries together for a multi-day conference, while at the Wall Street Journal. It’s given her influence and access. I’ve attended several, including the one where she and Walt Mossberg brought Steve Jobs and Bill Gates together on stage for the first time.

Her stories are revealing and sometimes eye-popping. Unlike your typical reporter, her coverage is a lot deeper than most and, as cynical as she can sometimes be, she has the respect of most of those she covers, so much that she’s often asked for advice. We also learn about those where there isn’t respect, usually in both directions, and the details can be riveting.

We also learn what drives her through her own personal story that she shares. She understands how we have a limited time on Earth and, through her own personal tragedies and health scares, is driven to maximize her effectiveness. That led to, along with Walt Mossberg, leaving the clutches of the Wall St Journal and starting their own digital media company, Recode. We get a good look at the duplicity and lieing of WSJ executives who never appreciate the millions their conferences (AllThingsD) brought in. Her dealings with Rupert Murdoch, who she calls Uncle Satan, are just what you’d expect from this descipable person.

In a recent interview Swisher explained why she waited so long to write this book.

“I got asked to write books all the time during those ensuing years. I never really wanted to because I didn’t think the story was over, or finished.

“Then it got perfect because of two things. One, the tech companies got so big during COVID, got so enormous and so powerful. It started to really disturb me because they had no guardrails around them. …The second part was that AGI [artificial general intelligence] had become a thing, and so you can see, we’re at another inflection point. …

“I thought, someone has to tell people what these people were like, historically, and tell the truth. We’re heading into the most important phase. When are we going to take back control? It’s sort of like if I was around during Standard Oil and I knew them before. It was my duty to do that, so that’s why I did.”

We’re lucky she finally did write her book. The tech industry is rarely covered objectively because most reporters don’t understand technology well enough, allowing the industry to spin their own image with little pushback. This book goes a long way to reveal what really goes on. And my friends in technology appreciate this book probably more than anyone, because Swisher is out their revealing what botthers them the most.