Billion Dollar Loser : The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork, by Reeves Wiedeman.

It took reading 50 pages of ''Billion Dollar Loser,'' Reeves Wiedmann's new book about WeWork and its co-founder Adam Neumann, before I wrote my first ''insufferable'' in the margin alongside an especially galling anecdote - a testament to how steady and restrained Wirdeman's book is.

He could have easily let loose from the beginning with a sensationalist narrative of exploitation and degradation, but he bides his time, allowing his evidence to accrue.

This method gives the reader a chance to understand Neumann's arc - rising, despite some critics misgivings, before a spectacular fall in autumn of last year, when WeWork postponed its initial public offering and Neumann left the company.

Neumann's innovation with We Work was to repurpose office space for freelancers worldwide -rebranding precarity into community. Until the very end, Neumann was so assured of his own brilliance that when Wiedeman visited him in April 2019 for a profile that ran in New York magazine, Neumann offered some unsolicited journalism advice."

''Ask a question that has an opportunity to give something to your readers that could make them grow.''

''Billion Dollar Loser'' is full of mements like this, when Meumann says something that sounds like  gobbledygook, but is, from all we can gather, ultimately sincere.

Wiedeman stops short of calling him truly delusional, but Neumann seemed to believe that the pesky demands of having to turn a profile didn't quiet apply to him - even as he was determined  to live the ostentatious life of a bohemian tycoon.

He reconciled the contradictions of capitalism by embracing oxymorons. Neumann grew up in Israel, and when he began building WeWork in 2010, he said that what he envisioned was a ''capitalist Kibbutz.''

Emerging in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. WeWork took the advantage of distressed building rents and essentially engaged in a simple arbitrage : taking out long term leases, subdividing spaces and renting them out to short-term tenants at a markup.

It was a model that could be profitable - and in fact, competitors to WeWork already existed, though none of them were run by anyone with Neumann's market-dominating ambitions.

He wasn't content for WeWork to be another office leasing company, and looked enviously at the technology companies that were able to scale without incurring the unavoidable costs of real estate expansion.

WeWork would be a ''tech-enabled physical social network,'' Wiedeman writes of  Neumann's goal. ''He was a community builder, not a landlord.''

Wiedmann depicts the giant sums of money churning through WeWork as the embodiment of a confidence game that flourished in the last decade.

Neumann knew Jared Kushner from back in the day, when Neumann was still a ''boyish New York  landlord,'' and he watched as Kushner's father-in-law ascended to the White House.

''Hyperbole, autocratic leadership and a disconnect from reality were suddenly assets on the path to power,'' Wiedman writes. According to The Wall Street Journal, 2012 was the last [and only] profitable year in WeWork's history.

The companies extravagant Halloween parties seemed to wink at how unsustainable it all was.  The 2017 theme was ''The Great Gatsby'', in 2018, it was ''What Is Real?''

What turned out to be real were the constraints of the material world.

WeWork's business model, Wiedeman writes, ''depended on squeezing people into smaller and smaller spaces - a pandemic nightmare.'' ''It's the reduction and absurdum of Neumann's ''capitalist kibbutz. Everyone is deserving of ''growth,'' but some are apparently more deserving than others.

The World Students Society thanks review author Jennifer Szalai.


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