Virtually True

Adam L. Penenberg

True Ailey is a journalist in a strange land, exiled by his network to a damp Southeast Asian republic gouged out a war-ravaged peninsula weeping monsoon tears. When his friend is murdered, True sets out to find the killers, and in the process untangles a vast conspiracy that threatens to upend the global balance of power. Set in the near future, Virtually True takes readers on a wild ride through a world where nothing is what it seems, corporations rule, technology has been woven into the fabric of people's lives, and information can be both weapon and life-saver.

In his first novel, award-winning journalist Adam Penenberg, whom Slate called "one of the best-known technology writers in the world," has peopled a literary thriller with unforgettable characters and crafted a plot worthy of Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and Martin Cruz Smith.

Silver medal, Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards, 2014

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Penenberg uses his encyclopedic knowledge of the weirdest frontiers of technology and marries it to his gifts for compulsive storytelling and high-energy prose to bring us one of the best novels of recent years. It will make you think long and hard about the mess we’ve made of our planet. Read it now, before the movie version comes to a theater near you.

~ Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City, 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist

In Virtually True, Adam Penenberg brings his considerable experience as a tech reporter to create a near future world that is both utterly disturbing and entirely believable. This is a fantastic novel, completely absorbing and full of memorable characters and fascinating ideas.

~ novelist David Liss, author of The Twelfth Enchantment

Its hero may ply his craft many decades in the future, with a bomb-proof self-cleaning suit taking the place of a grubby trench coat, but his readiness to risk life, love and sanity to uncover the truth traces a clear path back to Woodward and Bernstein. Equal parts journalistic masterpiece and sci-fi masterclass, Virtually True refuses to let go until long after its earth-shattering finale.

~ Paul Carr, author of The Upgrade: A Cautionary Tale of Life Without Reservations, and founder of Not Safe For Work Corporation.

In Virtually True, the imagination fires, the dialogue crackles. Adam Penenberg’s deeply imaginative novel is a wild ride of techno-subterfuge rooted in the eternally human quest for identity, and justice.

~ Paige Williams, narrative writing instructor at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard


Trial & Terror

Adam L. Penenberg

The good news is that public defender Summer Neuwirth just won her first case, which involved a brutal rape and kidnapping.

The bad news? Her client was guilty.

What's more, he knows all about Summer's past.

As Summer pursues her next case, this time to keep an innocent woman off death row, elements of that past--a mysterious case of childhood amnesia, her police officer father's involvement with a serial killer, a terrifying attack she survived just months earlier--entwine with her present legal work, her missing mother, and her rocky relationship with a private investigator, all of which culminate in a thrilling trial... and terror.

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Very good twists and turns. The ending was a mouth dropping moment for me. Absolutely great.

~ Denise Gardner, Amazon reviewer

Trial and Terror is a great thriller/mystery, taking a hundred twists and turns through the life of Summer Neuwirth. Summer is a Public Defender with issues. Lots of issues. Starting with getting her defendant off. Then finding out that maybe that wasn’t the best thing to do. Her mother is missing, the prosecutor’s been killed… but yet, there’s more. Nothing is what it seems, even the hunky investigator assigned to work with her has secrets. You’ll have to read to see how they all play out, but trust me – they do all come together, in ways you never expected.

~ Amazon reviewer


Sky Rivals

Adam L. Penenberg

During the Golden Age of Aviation of the 1920s and 1930s, two great pilots stood above the rest: one-eyed Oklahoma farm boy Wiley Post, shy and awkward on the ground but a daredevil in the sky; and Jimmie Mattern, a handsome, charismatic Hollywood stunt pilot from Texas. The whole world followed their exploits through screaming newspaper headlines as they flew in planes made of little more than wood, canvas, and bailing wire, competing to be the first solo flier to circumnavigate the earth.

One would succeed; the other would become more famous than he could have ever imagined. And both would change the face of aviation forever.

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Get ready to loop the loop and fly sky high in this enthralling story of the race to be the first pilot to circumnavigate the world. Events are related in an easy to get lost in manner, making this a real page turner, packed with information about the people and events. The two main stars of this historic race are Wiley Post and Jimmy Mattern, both of whom are very colourful characters in their own rights and they are brought back to life in the pages of this book.

This is not a dry, fact filled book, it is one which shares the background information in an engaging manner, keeping the reader wanting to learn more about what happens next. The author’s interest and intrigue is apparent throughout the book and his writing style encourages readers to share his love for the characters and events involved in these historic events. I don’t often read non-fiction novels like this but this is certainly one I have no hesitation in highly recommending. — Splashes into Books review blog

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A wonderful account of the epic race around the world between Wiley Post and Jimmie Mattern in 1933, the peak of the Golden Age of Flying. Penenberg describes in vivid detail the struggle of two aviation pioneers trying to overcome bad weather, poor equipment and difficult circumstances as they attempt to become the first to fly solo around the globe. Riveting and suspenseful, this book takes readers into the cockpit of these primitive airplanes as two reckless thrill-seekers push themselves physically and emotionally to the limits of endurance in their attempt to become a part of history. Now mostly forgotten, this incredible race was followed by the media for weeks while millions of people worldwide held their collective breaths in anticipation of record-setting accomplishment. Great read! — David D. Kindy, Amazon reviewer

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This book will take your breath away! There are so many thrills that reading this story is like riding a roller-coaster. Having been born into a flying family, I have always admired the pioneers of aviation and the risks they would take just to see if it could be done. The two rival pilots in this story, Wiley Post and Jimmie Mattern, were the best of their day. During this Golden Age of Aviation, pilots were competitive but also willing to help each other out. Jimmie and Wiley were determined to beat each other at circumnavigating the world, but only one can be the winner. This is their story.

Adam Penenberg has done a fabulous job of telling this story. You will be right there in the cockpit with these guys, and it’s a thrill. These two were flying around the world before there were instruments to tell you where you were. They get lost and found and lost again, and they have the whole world waiting to see if they will be heard from again. Sometimes they go days without contact, living on chewing gum and tomato juice. And Wiley is doing it with just one eye. I think everybody should read this book but it will be especially appealing to aviation history buffs or lovers of thrilling stories. — A Line from a Book review blog


Blood Highways

Adam L. Penenberg

Blood Highways is the heart-wrenching account of the biggest product liability case in history: the Ford-Firestone fiasco. At the center of the story are two people: Tab Turner, a charismatic trial attorney from Arkansas, who has made a career out of forcing Ford and other automakers to own up to knowingly trade human lives for profits; and Donna Bailey, a single mother and outdoor enthusiast who fought back from the brink of death to confront those ultimately responsible for her accident.

Weaving together harrowing depictions of the accidents and their consequences with the stories of the men and women who labor to police the auto industry and its reckless cost-cutting, Blood Highways will transform the way you view corporations, the government, the courts, and the media. Above all, this book shows the price the public pays in wrecked and mangled lives when companies focus more on shaving costs than making quality products.

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Publishers WeeklyIn a stinging invective, journalist Penenberg outlines the ethical failures and calculated improprieties of two principal automotive-industry companies, along with the struggle of attorney Tab Turner to hold them accountable. Already an established consumer-rights lawyer, Turner began to focus on Ford Explorers equipped with Firestone Wilderness tires in the mid to late 1990s, when the number of cases in which the tread separated from a tire and resulted in an often fatal rollover accident began to become significant. … Penenberg… offers extensive endnotes from an array of sources to back up his claims… . It’s a comprehensive and disturbing book … .

Booklist: Following closely on Keith Bradsher’s High and Mighty, this latest indictment of sport utility vehicle (SUV) safety may portend the start of a new movement against these popular vehicles based on the threat they pose to the safety of all motorists. Business journalist Penenberg’s work focuses on the Ford/Firestone tire debacle, which was a major news story, and the work of an attorney who repeatedly took on two of the most powerful corporations in the world. The book offers a comprehensive look at a notorious corporate scandal and a courtroom drama and investigation that ends in triumph for the many victims.

Boston Globe: Corporate greed is the target of [Blood Highways], a dramatic account of problems with Ford’s popular Bronco and Explorer sport utility vehicles and the Firestone Wilderness AT and ATX tires. Penenberg’s book argues persuasively–and sadly–that in this country, corporate accord and profit seem far more important than safety and conscience.

USA Today … Adam Penenberg, an investigative reporter who exposed a fabricated New Republic story by journalist Stephen Glass in 1998, has clearly done his own exhaustive reporting. He even boasts at the start: ‘All the characters and events depicted in these pages are real.’ So are the truths revealed in these pages. At times, you wish they weren’t. Penenberg meticulously marches the reader through a human and journalistic drama punctuated by deadly engineering flaws and corporate arrogance that resulted in lives being lost and ruined in the insatiable quest for profits. This is a book about one lawyer’s battle and one woman’s struggle for survival and justice as billed. But it is far deeper. These two stories intertwine to lead us through the blinding maze of suits and countersuits, whistle-blowers, politicians, consumer advocates, journalists, engineers and corporate executives. The only way out: Build safer cars. Penenberg invites you to feel the sweat, the exhaustion, the fear, the frustration and the pain of all concerned. That’s good storytelling, and Penenberg lands the details gracefully.

San Francisco Chronicle: In a swift, dramatic account, Penenberg unspins the convoluted political and legal history of the dangerous automotive pairing. Around Bailey’s 10-month odyssey–from the accident on March 10, 2000, to her $27 million settlements with Firestone and Ford in January 2001–he weaves the broader, disastrous stories of both car and tire, and of the various struggles to remove them from American roads. Penenberg tracks Ford’s Explorer stability problems back to a May 1987 engineers’ report; he digs back to the 1988 Bridgestone-Firestone merger–and a subsequent aggressive cost-cutting spree that reduced the amount of rubber in each tire–to find the root of the ATX and Wilderness tires’ fatal flaws. (Along the way, he accumulates an exhaustive, 29-page endnote section.) Penenberg fills the narrative with rich, detailed characters: safety advocates and car investigators, victims and executives, lawyers and journalists. … [H]owever, the real hero in Penenberg’s tale is not Bailey, the bed-bound victim whose case cracked the industry, but Turner, who comes off as a prince among sharp-toothed plaintiffs’ attorneys.

New York Law Journal: [Blood Highways is] a gripping story, and Penenberg tells it well, deftly weaving together the narratives of victims, lawyers and corporate officers alike … [His] comprehensive investigation into the SUV industry unearths problems that go beyond the Firestone debacle. It shows how institutions put in place to protect consumers have been co-opted by the industries they were created to watch … SUVs are still not subject to substantial safety regulations, and Americans continue to buy SUVs under the false impression that they are safer than ordinary cars. Penenberg’s book begs the question, just who is watching out for our safety?

(These reviews refer to an earlier edition of this book, published as Tragic Indifference by HarperCollins, 2003.)


Adam L. Penenberg

A journalism professor at New York University who has written for Fast Company, Forbes, the New York Times, The Washington Post, Wired, Slate, Playboy, and the Economist. A former senior editor at Forbes and a reporter for Forbes.com, Penenberg garnered national attention in 1998 for unmasking serial fabricator Stephen Glass of the New Republic. Penenberg’s story was a watershed for online investigative journalism and portrayed in the film Shattered Glass (Steve Zahn plays Penenberg).

Penenberg has published several books that have been optioned for the movies and serialized in the New York Times Magazine, Wired UK, and the Financial Times, and won a Deadline Club Award for feature reporting for his Fast Company story “Revenge of the Nerds,” which looked at the future of moviemaking. He has appeared on NBC’s The Today Show as well as on CNN and all the major news networks,and been quoted about media and technology in the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wired News, Ad Age, Marketwatch, and Politico.