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Digging into DTP: Takeaways from a Q&A with ‘Kingdom of Happiness’ author

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Journalist Aimee Groth begins her new book, The Kingdom of Happiness: Inside Tony Hsieh’s Zapponian Utopia, as an enthusiast of Downtown Project, but she turns critical once problems arise with the $350-million endeavor. Here are some of our takeways from her February 23 Q&A at Velveteen Rabbit with KNPR’s Joe Schoenmann:

Gone gonzo. “I wasn’t a fly on the wall, I was engaged,” Groth said, detailing how she become “part of the tribe” in order to gain journalistic access. Furthermore, Groth described being “seduced” by Downtown Project. It was enough to invite questions of a romantic relationship between her and Tony Hsieh, which, after coyly mentioning “rumors,” she denied. A romance would certainly fit the fairy-tale storyline of late-stage capitalism. Either way, perhaps Groth should have written a memoir? –C. Moon Reed

Delivering (un)happiness. Even though he wrote best-seller Delivering Happiness, Groth claims Hsieh wasn’t all that happy in real life, giving him a 7 on a 1-10 happiness scale—the same score she gave him on her cult-indicator scale. –CMR

Parachute journalism. From reducing DTP’s entrepreneurial and real estate developments to “a cosmetic upgrade,” to then brazenly declaring that, “We can’t even argue [that Downtown isn’t] better off,” Groth sounded not only at odds with herself, but with her total lack of local perspective. –Mike Prevatt

Blinded by the bubble. Much like DTP’s Container Park, her view was pointed inward, fuzzing out not only local context, but the bigger picture—and the Downtown that extends beyond DTP’s “llama” property footprint. When attendee and writer Joshua Ellis spoke of low-income residents displaced by Hsieh’s real estate purchases, she agreed it was a sad outcome. But it also seemed like a detail she hadn’t much considered. –CMR

Human cost. She does sympathize with those who moved to Las Vegas at DTP’s behest and lost everything—including the three individuals connected to DTP who took their own lives—saying the price of innovation was “really high … I don’t think it was entirely worth it [given] the psychological and emotional toll…” –MP

Managerial crisis. Tony Hsieh might have lured hundreds to Las Vegas and DTP, but Groth depicts him as a terrible leader who offered little guidance, support and empathy to DTP entrepreneurs struggling to stay afloat. Say what you will about Groth or her book, but at least someone is holding him accountable. –MP

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C. Moon Reed

C. Moon Reed never meant to make Las Vegas her home, but she found a kindred spirit in this upstart ...

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