In early June, a bunch of people in the tech industry and in tech media received a pamphlet called “Iterating Grace” in the mail. It was a slim, well-designed and anonymously written 2,000-word satire of the tech industry, and it caught the eye of many tech reporters.
Book publishers were also apparently paying attention; “Iterating Grace” is today being published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the New York Times reports.
The book itself tells the story of a dude named Koons Crooks who starts taking the offhand “wisdom” of venture capitalists’ Twitter accounts to heart, and he ends up trampled to death by a bunch of vicuñas in the Andes.
It’s an elegant satire of Silicon Valley, a straightforward critique of the gospel-like way that the tech industry obsesses over the ideas of its ruling class. The text is interspersed with pages of scanned doodles and handwritten quotes from the Twitter accounts of well-known industry figures like Y Combinator’s Paul Graham and Sam Altman. “Iterating Grace” even mentions a former Re/code reporter, Nellie Bowles, in the story, which makes sense because Nellie’s work mainly deals with the culture and personalities of Silicon Valley’s elite.
Fusion.net Editor in Chief Alexis Madrigal, who received a copy in June*, performed the most exhaustive investigation of who was behind “Iterating Grace.” He came to the conclusion that “There is a code embedded in names of the people who received the book,” which could spell out a tweet, because there were 140 numbered copies initially sent out. Madrigal uploaded a fully digitized copy of the book here.
It’s an interesting theory! Here’s mine:
When the initial copies arrived in mailboxes, Nellie gave me hers and I read through it in about 20 minutes. Then, I spent an hour poring over it, attempting some Zodiac-killer-like codebreaking and failing. It wasn’t until I brought it home that a similarity in typeset and font color struck me when I started matching it against stuff in my book case.
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the initial “Iterating Grace” pamphlet with the cover of “Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari’a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia to the Streets of the Modern Muslim World.”
The gold and turquoise color scheme and the font look exactly alike. I didn’t think much of it, but I followed through and called someone from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which published “Heaven on Earth,” and is today publishing “Iterating Grace” in a paperback edition.
At the time, someone from FSG didn’t get back to me with any hard answers about whether they had something to do with “Iterating Grace.” I also reached out to Rodrigo Corral, the jacket designer of “Heaven on Earth,” who was made FSG’s Creative Director in 2011.
The New York Times reports that “Iterating Grace” became an FSG title because a literary agent heard about it from an FSG editor, liked it, landed the authors and brokered a deal with FSG, which ended up paying “a low five-figure sum.” Predictably, the anonymous authors (the Times refers to them in the plural) declined an interview with the paper.
A spokesperson from FSG told Re/code over the phone that “everything in the Times story is correct. FSG’s involvement came much later, after the initial copies were distributed. I don’t know anything about [the jackets’ similarity].” He also said that designer Rodrigo Corral does do freelance design work, but that he doesn’t “know for whom, or all the people he does it for.”
Though FSG’s denial is explicit, the covers are jarringly similar. The FSG spokesperson seemed completely surprised by the questions I had, though by acknowledging that Corral does do some outside freelancing, there’s enough in there to satisfy my inner Fox Mulder. But of course, it is possible that this is a coincidence, or that the authors of “Iterating Grace” were perhaps inspired (consciously or not) by the cover of “Heaven on Earth.”
I have also left a message with and sent an email to Corral. I emailed the address given in the initial copy of “Iterating Grace” (It’s firstname.lastname@example.org, you’re welcome), and promptly received a fittingly weird automatic reply:
EXPERIENCE + CURIOSITY = POWERFUL
EXPERIENCE – CURIOSITY = LIABILITY
THE WORLD IS DYNAMIC
I’ll update if and when Corral and the authors get back to me.
* Along with Nellie Bowles, Re/code Executive Editor Kara Swisher, former Re/code reporter Liz Gannes and a number of other people in tech and tech media. The copies were numbered one through 140.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.