Bilge from Bill G.

"The Secret Diary of Bill Gates" recycles yesterday's Web humor.

Published June 16, 1998 11:26PM (EDT)

| Bill Gates is a racist, sexist, sex-obsessed, megalomaniacal egotist who thinks he's a hell of a lot smarter than he really is.

That is the premise of "The Secret Diary of Bill Gates," a 272-page parody of Microsoft's maximum leader, based on the long-running Web site by the same name. It's unfortunate that the author -- anonymously named "Bill G." (quotes included) -- couldn't have just said that in the first page and saved the readers the other 271 pages of puerile humor, pointless effusions and vindictive jabs that make up the rest of this book.

"The Secret Diary of Bill Gates" may be, as our narrator "Bill G." claims in the intro, an "awesome Web site -- the #1 most popular site on the Net about you-know-who!" But, as others have learned before, a well-trafficked Web site does not a good book make.

The "Secret Diary" is a set of 365 brief diary entries (one for each day of 1997) which detail the purported daily thoughts and correspondences of Bill Gates. The majority of these entries consist of "ruminations" about the industry and Microsoft's superiority to its rivals, a detailed accounting of Gates' rising wealth, e-mails to adoring young fans who admire his haircut and sex appeal, countless top-10 lists and odes to his beloved Melinda.

There could be room here for a subtle parody of the thoughts of the richest man in the world as he takes Microsoft into industry monopolization. However, there's absolutely nothing subtle about "The Secret Diary." "Bill G." portrays his alter ego as a dork with the intellect of a 12-year-old, complete with repetitive interdictions like "Cool!!!!!" "Yeeeeaaahhh!" and "Rock 'n' Roll!" and an exclamation point on the end of most lines. The reader gets jabs at Gates' sex life -- "Melinda says my fitness regime is already paying dividends. Apparently, last night, my stamina was awesome!" -- and, just to make sure we know that Gates isn't intelligent, pointed comments along the lines of "I AM a visionary!" and "I'm so smart!"

A sample of some low points (along with their original punctuation):

  • a fictional correspondence with Spice Girl Mel B (a sample e-mail: "You're my favorite! You're the best-looking, most talented Spice Girl. You should go solo! Wow! This is SO cool! ... Wanna talk about the Internet with ME?!!!!!!!!!")
  • His Top 10 Phrases (included: "Way coooool!" "Into orbit!" and "Boy, I'm a smart guy!")
  • His thoughts on Kim Polese ("You're a chick! Chicks can't do software companies!")
  • His interpretation of wealth ("I can finally buy the little Hawaiian island of Lanai ... I could build my very own theme park ... Billywood!")

Not surprisingly, this kind of gibberish can only fill up so many pages (or diary entries, as the case may be). To fill the rest, the "Secret Diaries" has rehashed a lot of the silliness that's been circulating on the Web for years: the old "Top 10 Reasons a PC is Male" joke, the fart-that-is-a-fax tale and the "Top 10 Rejection Lines from Women" all get reworked as correspondences in Bill's life. There are even quotes from "Dilbert" cartoons.

But while the author may have found these kinds of jokes funny when he ran across them online, they show the main fallacy of "The Secret Diaries": They have no place in print.

The Web has proven itself to be a breeding ground for bite-sized, banal humor: scatological jokes, "men vs. women" comparisons, Top 10 lists and one-joke-wonder Web sites. Certainly this kind of comedy has its own devotees, and in fact the fleeting nature of the Web has made it a good home for this dubious cotton-candy art form.

Books, though, demand a bit more substance. But "The Secret Diary" too often reads like Webby filler -- juvenile one-paragraph jabs that might be worth a brief chuckle if you ran across them during your daily surfing, but not worthy of a 272-page tome.

The only mildly interesting aspect of "The Secret Diary" is the record of the ups and downs of 1997's technology news that it inadvertently provides: from Steve Jobs wavering on the Apple CEO job to Larry Ellison's sexual-harassment lawsuit. (There are also a few gems in the tech exec quotes sprinkled throughout the text, such as Steve Jobs' comment after taking Microsoft's $150 million: "Bill, thank you. The world's a better place.") But even these were probably more engaging when the events actually happened -- say, the day the diary entries originally went up -- and the fake Gates commentary doesn't add much.

Parodying Bill Gates is the journalistic equivalent of shooting a large fish in a very small barrel: It's easy to dislike the guy, simply because of the magnitude of his success -- but it takes a lot of bitterness to make fun of Gates' inadequacies for the duration of a whole book.

And, in fact, the ludicrous Bill G. portrayed in "The Secret Diary" is so distant from the real Gates that the book shouldn't even call itself a parody. There's satire, and then there are just plain old sex jokes. Too bad the paper was wasted on the latter.

By Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

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