In his book the author, accomplished entrepreneur and investor, lays out his view on today's progress in the world and offers the way for social changes he characterizes as revolutionary. The book is based on his lectures.
He distinguishes between horizontal and vertical progress:
Horizontal progress is the way of globalization - replicating the same existing things (factories, buildings, etc) around the world and multiplying pollution with the same pace.
Vertical progress is the way of substantial improvement of life by developing new technologies (technologies in a broad sense).
Thiel praises monopolies for their abilities to plan long-term and invest resources in new technologies. On the opposite, competition exhausts resources of businesses and brings little technology developments.
He claims that since around 1970s and until now there has been mostly horizontal progress, with high hopes of humanity having been dropped. He attributes this to infinite optimism of boomer generation, having been capitalized on previous achievements and automatically expecting further developments (thus optimism) without making any certain plans (thus infinite).
The author advocates changes at all social levels, from a worker up to the social elites - to start making concrete plans for developments and implementing them.
Thiel has much hopes for new startups to lead the vertical progress and provides some good advice on running startups (about market positioning for success, board of directors, executive compensation, importance of founders and sales).
He particularly critiques the state of biotechnology startups (partially engaged professors and other staff and infinity of research goals, not trying to better understand the nature of human body) and clean tech (leaders are sales people, not engineers, seeking government subsidies and brining no significant innovations in return), as well as IT companies most of which are mostly involved in horizontal progress.
The author also critiques other areas of stagnating knowledge. For example that the studies of how to improve longevity are effectively replaced by statistical tables created by insurance industry. And how we better know the physics of remote planets while knowing little of diet science.
Thiel believes China will never catch up with Western countries, and it has been actively pursuing horizontal progress at least to get as much of the world's pie as possible before the tide changes (e.g. with trade restrictions that are starting being imposed on China by US).
He is not expecting technologies to replace humans through 21st century, leaving the possibility of coming close to such edge for 22nd century. He calls for not fearing technologies and working on creation of new ones to improve our lives. Thiel is a believer in technologies to complement people in making things better, and mentions one of his companies Palantir as an example of such synergy (big data analysis by humans using technologies).