Tracy Kidder has guided a legion of readers along many a wondrous journey, and they’ll be eager to join his latest trip in A Truck Full of Money, a portrait of entrepreneur Paul English, who in 2012 sold Kayak—the online travel company he cofounded—to Priceline for $1.8 billion. It’s a timely, fascinating successor to Kidder’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize winner, The Soul of a New Machine, about an engineering team at Data General racing to create a 32-bit supercomputer.
The digitial world has changed dramatically in the three decades since, and Kidder has chosen a compelling, enigmatic subject to examine this new era. A Truck Full of Money is not only an intriguing account of one computer whiz’s rise (and occasional falls), but an in-depth look at the inner workings of the tech startup world.
Born in 1963, English was the sixth of seven children in a Boston-area working-class family. After becoming fascinated with computers at Boston Latin School, English successfully wrote a program to steal his teacher’s password and used it to access more programming commands. After graduating near the bottom of his class, his high SAT scores entitled him to free tuition at University of Massachusetts Boston, where he enrolled with thoughts of becoming a jazz musician. Programming provided his pathway to success, however, and along the way he discovered an innate talent for recruiting and managing the cream of the coding crop, ultimately creating a fiercely loyal inner circle that has followed him from venture to venture.
Just like the dot-com world, English’s life has included precipitous peaks and valleys, sometimes ignited by bipolar disorder. At one point in the mid-1990s, after leaving a company, he spent months in his attic creating a website for Xiangqi (Chinese Chess), programming “his way out of depression.” Never one to sit on his laurels, English is his own constantly churning idea factory, whether he’s creating a company, seeking ways to help the homeless in Boston or to further education in Haiti. (Kidder first met English when he was writing Mountains Beyond Mountains, an account of Dr. Paul Farmer’s charitable work in Haiti and elsewhere.)
Kidder’s highly readable account is as mesmerizing as the generous genius he depicts. English is both beguiling and passionately creative—planning an office space that transforms into a cutting-edge night club or showing up in his Tesla as an Uber driver while conducting research for his new travel company, Lola.
A Truck Full of Money is a wild, ultimately fulfilling ride from a master storyteller.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our interview with Paul English about A Truck Full of Money.