A Truck Full of Money

Tracy Kidder. Random House, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9524-4

In this fascinating biography, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Kidder (Mountains Beyond Mountains) chronicles the life and complex personality of Paul English, founder of the travel website Kayak. As Kidder recounts, English grew up as one of seven children in a blue-collar Boston family, evincing a mind for computers at the dawn of the digital age. Kidder traces his journey, beginning with his years as a 12-year-old hacker and continuing through a series of professional endeavors, most notably the sale of his first company for $33 million and the founding of Kayak. The story also follows English and team as they work on his latest vision, providing insight into the functioning of venture capital firms and how projects can morph in unexpected ways. Though Kidder is obviously fond of his subject, he also frankly discusses English’s flaws, such as “distractibility” heightened by bipolar disorder, problems with authority, and a general refusal to follow rules. Through English’s story, Kidder poses the question, “Does programming attract strange people, or does it make them strange?” Though English is perhaps not a traditionally inspirational figure, his life story certainly holds lessons for burgeoning entrepreneurs: he’s a philanthropist and master of innovation, and also comes off as remarkably immune to feelings of failure or regret. This is a biography not just of one man, but of an era and of the startup subculture. (Sept.)