Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mis-hit by Mezrich

book review

Book: The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal
Genre: Non-Fiction, Business
Author: Ben Mezrich
Publisher: Doubleday
Excerpt: “One look at the kid, and it had been obvious to Eduardo that he didn’t know the first thing about the sort of social networking one had to master to get into a club like the Phoenix. But then, as now, Eduardo had been too busy chasing his dream to spend time thinking about the awkward kid in the corner. Certainly, he had no way of knowing, then or now, that the kid with the curly hair was one day going to take the entire concept of a social network and turn it on its head, that one day the kid with the curly hair struggling through that prepunch party was going to change Eduardo’s life more than any Final Club ever could.”

According to an often repeated maxim, “There are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth.” However, with all the people involved in the tale of Facebook, the story of the world’s biggest social network has about a dozen different (and often contentious) sides. The Accidental Billionaires, the book that formed the basis of the critically lauded 2010 film The Social Network, chronicles the creation of Facebook in a Harvard dorm room by Mark Zuckerberg and his college friends Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes and the ups and downs following its success. It also includes Napster co-founder Sean Parker joining the company and the legal trouble faced by Facebook due to the assertion by three Harvard seniors — Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra — that Zuckerberg had stolen their idea and intentionally mislead them.

The book, as Ben Mezrich states in the Author’s Note, offers “a dramatic, narrative account based on dozens of interviews, hundreds of sources and thousands of pages of documents, including records from several court proceedings,” and it seems to rely heavily on Eduardo Saverin’s side of story. This is the book’s first problem; Mezrich failed to find access to the account and perspective of Mark Zuckerberg, who declined to speak to the author, and without any input from Facebook’s chief creator and the person most responsible for its inception, creation, and success, there just isn’t much to the story. A lot has already been written about Facebook in magazines and on websites and The Accidental Billionaires is not only brought down by its unobjective sources and hindsight bias but it also fails to provide a unique take on the subject and is lacking in terms of content that would offer any revelations.

The book’s second problem is its style. The author works with limited content that has been stretched and padded to a book-length narrative, producing an account focused on being more dramatic than informative. The literary licence and practice of sensationalising the entertaining elements of the story in effect take away from the credibility of the book and at times, the poor style and language choices even come off as rather crude. Also, the book has no way of offering any form of conclusion on an active subject, and much has been added to the Facebook annals since The Accidental Billionaires was first published last year.

In short, the story at the core of Facebook’s inception could have been, and indeed has been, told better in fewer pages and seems more suited for an article-length piece. Most of the facts are even nicely summarised in the Wikipedia entries about Facebook and key people involved in the company. Plus, if you’ve been keeping up with the contentious tales and legal drama that have plagued the website, then you already know most of what this book aims to reveal. If you know nothing about the social network, then The Accidental Billionaires is probably not the best source to shape your perceptions of the company and its creators, as it clearly isn’t the most clean and objective take on the story.

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 12 December, 2010

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