The Kingdom of Happiness

 

Aimee Groth, Touchstone, 318 pages, $27. With the subtitle “Inside Tony Hsieh’s Zapponian Utopia,” Aimee Groth follows Tony Hsieh, the creator of Zappos, as he pours $350 million of his personal wealth into downtown Las Vegas to reinvent the area as a blissful business utopia. It wouldn’t be giving away the story to point out that it doesn’t end well for Hsieh. Groth brings you along on her journey — every single painful, tedious moment of it. Groth rides bikes around Burning Man with Hsieh, sits across from him on a private plane to Los Angeles, hangs out in his tony Airstream trailer, where he lives, in Las Vegas, goes to Zappos meetings, pool parties, more meetings, and over the course of the book, drinks enough fernet (nicknamed “Kool-Aid” in downtown Vegas) with Hsieh and the Zapponians (the term given to Zappos employees) to make you want to sign all of them up for a few weeks in rehab. When she’s sober, Groth documents Hsieh’s attempt to integrate “holacracy” into his organizations, a term that rids a company of hierarchy and titles, and instead creates an all-for-one do-what-you-want mentality. It isn’t so much that the book itself is unlikable, it’s the people in it. They, frankly, come across as self-centered lunatics who are intent on making a dent in the universe, without an ounce of self-awareness for the repercussions of how those actions could harm others. And while the book does have some skepticism, more often than not, it reads as if Groth considers Hsieh and the Zapponians as gods, not mere mortals who just happened to be good on computers.

NEW YORK TIMES