Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry

Jacquie McNish & Sean Silcoff

PUBLISHED 05.26.2015

05.03.2021 – 05.20.2021

GENRE Nonfiction


Fuck Startups

Losing the forest for the trees

i found this book interesting but disappointing. it wasn’t bad by any means but i think it missed a lot of opportunities that felt like very low-hanging fruit for me.

perhaps it’s what i personally want to get out of a story about corporate bullshit. in the much-hyped and very disappointing hulu documentary about wework, my main issue was that it really didn’t interrogate wework’s place within silicon valley culture, founder worship beyond just adam neumann, or the 21st century economy at large. none of these stories exist in a vacuum.

losing the signal falls into the same trap. i acknowledge that it was published in 2015, and therefore written before much of the widespread criticism of startups and startup culture. (2015 happened to be the year john carreyrou began his investigation of theranos (and later published a much better book) but no one saw that coming.) so, in 2021 it simply wasn’t that interesting a story. companies are mismanaged and then collapse. obviously! how many times have we seen that? that’s not even really an article – that’s a lede.

it was a very informative book, but one that required me to seek out the interesting parts amongst an otherwise muddy narrative.

every so often the book would mention a broader context, like the recession stopping companies from buying phones for employees. however, even in 2015, work-life balance was a hot topic. i know this for a fact because as a marketing employee at one of the top business schools in the world at the time, i saw it show up all the time in not just academic study from professors, but news articles in mainstream press. this book tells the story in the background about how blackberry basically single handedly ruined work-life balance. that should have been foregrounded; it’s hugely impactful, and will remain relevant long after the last blackberry gets tossed in the dump and people forget what bbm even means.

if their aim was really to just write a story about the leadership of blackberry and how personalities clashed and ruined a huge business, i actually would have been fine with that. but while mcnish and silcoff are very thorough and had great access, these corporate negotiations and personal clashes were just not written with a lot of humanity or thrill, unlike bad blood for example. (again, this may be an unfair comparison; bad blood, billion dollar loser, true-crime-vibe podcasts weren’t in vogue at the time. but i can only review from the context i have.)

in short (too late) the book felt slightly unfocused. it absolutely told a complete story, and was very competent if bland history. but, if this was a story about the two men in charge of blackberry, it was too dry. if it was a story about the company’s rise and fall, it was not thrilling. if it was a story about blackberry and its impact on the world, it did not focus enough on that impact. in the end, it was a very informative book, but one that required me to seek out the interesting parts amongst an otherwise muddy narrative. it’s really too bad they weren’t able to focus on a single thread.