The most remarkable fact about WeWork is not that a hyped-up twist on office leasing ended up imploding, says Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson in the FT; it is that Adam Neumann, its co-founder, “convinced so many people… that his unoriginal, loss-making start-up could change the world”. In The Cult of We: WeWork and the Great Start-Up Delusion (Mudlark £20), Wall Street journalists Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell explain how Neumann persuaded followers they were “rethinking work itself” by paying “over the odds for tiny workspaces”.
The question most readers will ask, says John Arlidge in The Sunday Times, is: “Why did investors buy Neumann’s fantasy?” For the same reason that “lies behind every boom and bust” – they did not want to miss their chance “to board what could be the next Silicon Valley rocket ship to riches”. The authors reveal in “excruciating detail” how Neumann’s business plan was “hopelessly flawed”. He was “too greedy for his own or his firm’s good”, and he had a “Messiah complex”, believing he could “bend anyone and anything to his will by force of personality”. In reality, “he cooked the books” and the firm lost on average $3,000 a minute.
The word “cult” is in the book’s title for a reason, says Tom Knowles in The Times. As Neumann’s “fame and stature grew”, he told colleagues he thought WeWork would be able to “end world hunger, broker peace in the Middle East and ‘elevate the world’s consciousness’”. There are “deliciously entertaining anecdotes” about his excessive behaviour: he once smoked so much cannabis on board the firm’s private jet that the crew had to put on oxygen masks. He always travelled with a hairstylist. He bought eight houses, and rented three more in the Hamptons during the summer to house nannies and staff, including yoga instructors and a wetbike driver.
Eventually it all came “tumbling down”. A disastrous attempt at stock flotation in 2019 revealed that a company once valued at $47bn was in fact due “to run out of money in two months”. This “often thrilling” account is also a cautionary tale about how investors fell for the Emperor’s New Clothes “once again”. There seems little doubt that “no one will have learnt any lessons from this”.
Available as an audiobook on Audible.
Uneasy may lie the head that wears the crown, says Barry Forshaw in the FT, but crime queen Val McDermid “maintains her regal position by a readiness to innovate”, as proved by 1979 (Little, Brown £20). Unlike her earlier, England-set Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series, this book sees a return to her native Scotland, “keenly drawn here”.
During the Winter of Discontent, ambitious young journalist Allie Burns is trying to “nail a scoop” that will establish her in the “sexist male newsroom”. Along with fellow reporter Danny Sullivan, she uncovers a homegrown terrorist cell. But “is it a good idea to infiltrate the group”?
McDermid was a newshound at the time, and it shows, says Mark Sanderson in The Sunday Times. The first novel in a quintet that will continue with 1989, 1979 is full of “the romance of print”. She makes you feel the “thrum of the presses beneath your feet” and the newsroom “crackles with competition and prejudice”. The tricks of the inky trade “are depicted with relish”. Then the story takes a sudden tragic turn and becomes a “shocking” murder-mystery. Returning to her old stamping ground has reinvigorated McDermid: “This is her best book in years.”
Available as an audiobook on Kobo from 19 August.