The Accidental Billionaires: Sex, Money, Betrayal and the Founding of Facebook by Ben Mezrich
|The Accidental Billionaires: Sex, Money, Betrayal and the Founding of Facebook by Ben Mezrich|
|Genre: Business and Finance|
|Reviewer: Zoe Page|
|Summary: The inside story of the biggest thing in social networking sites, this is a sometimes bitter but mostly absorbing account as told by various people who, perhaps crucially, are no longer involved with Facebook.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: July 2009|
As subtitles go, Sex, Money, Betrayal... is the sort you'd generally associate with works by Danielle Steel or Jackie Collins. But, with a website? And a supremely geeky (in its beginnings) website like Facebook? Surely not. And, yet, that's exactly the claim you find on the cover of this book, a work of faction that claims to tell the inside story of the founding of Facebook.
Ben Mezrich is not, and never has been, associated with the social networking site. He is a Harvard grad, but that's the only link between him and the characters in the book, also students at the Ivy League institution. He wasn't there at the same time as them and, prior to writing this book, had never met the boys. He has, however, talked to many of the key players, and from doing so has pieced together a story of what might or might not have happened. That's why I'm calling it faction, while the publishers might prefer non-fiction. There is simply no way of knowing how much of the story is the truth, and how much has been fabricated or exaggerated. That's what artistic license is all about, after all. If this were a movie, it would no doubt be 'inspired by a true story'.
All that said, this is a fascinating read. Full disclosure: I've been on Facebook for approaching 4 years, log on almost daily and don't get freaked out when random strangers want to tag or poke me. One of the first things I ask new friends is if they're on the site, and I've used it for everything from organising parties to blogging about life in Mexico for the folks back home to, ahem, Facebook-stalking the odd ex-boyfriend. But, as is no doubt the case for many of the site's 250 million+ users, I knew very little about where it all came from, or how it got from a Harvard dorm-room to computers in every country I've ever been to or will ever visit.
This book aims to fill in some of the gaps, and in doing so paints an interesting picture of a world where friends betray each other, money, fame and power vary massively in importance and, when it comes down to it, all anyone wants is to get laid. With a cast of characters who wouldn't be out of place in any soap opera (handsome Olympic athletes, nerdy computer geeks and ambitious, business-minded immigrants) and a plot to match, this is a story complicated only by its (assumed) truth.
On its own, the book would not make a great novel, as it switches too much between points of view and snippets relating to not very useful or related events. But, when you remember that this is a true story, this matters less. Tracking the rise of the social networking phenomenon from the days of Friendster, Facemash, ConnectU and the more dubiously named thefacebook up until mid 2008, you could even see this as a business text where the characters break every rule in the book and succeed in spite of (or because of) doing so.
It would be easy to take this book at face value, as you might a textbook such as those these students regularly cram over. However, for me the missing ingredient is the main character's input. Mark Zuckerberg never contributed to the story which, as the author explains in the introduction, was of course his right. However, as the biggest fish in this pond of geeks, you do have to wonder how close to the truth the pages actually are, and how the final product might have been different had he been willing to tell his side of the story. Zuckerberg does not come out of the story particularly well, and there's a feeling of bitterness in some of the extracts as the other conspirators who did talk to the author explain how they were all screwed-over by their one-time friend.
What this all boils down to is an interesting take on what might have happened. I have no doubts that the story is, in parts, accurate, but also believe that areas have been skipped entirely, events smoothed over or told from a very one-sided point of view. In no ways does this make it any less of a read, but as for the real truth of the matter, I guess we'll never know.
Thanks go to the publishers for sending us this book.
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Further reading suggestion: If you're not taken with the Facebook boys' approach to leadership, you might like to take a look at some more proven techniques in the Guide to Management Ideas and Gurus by Tim Hindle.
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