Enter the underpinnings of the social network in The Accidental Billionaires

April 10th, 2011 Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Kelly, Non-Fiction

Facebook is one of those programs that people love or hate. It’s a time suck with privacy issues. It’s a great way to stay in touch with friends around the world. It’s a fun way to exchange quips and trivia with friends. Multiple family members across generations are on it, which definitely squelches the cool factor since it’s hard to be edgy with Grandma hovering about, questioning the meaning behind slang terms.

The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich looks at the creation of Facebook, from its initial “thefacebook.com” site for Harvard University students to its eventual quest for worldwide domination. Or, rather, venture capitol and the funding it needed to develop from a dorm room operation to true company.

While The Accidental Billionaires is enjoyable, I sometimes doubted its veracity. In general, I struggle to accept narrative non-fiction that spends too much time on someone’s thoughts or feelings in an exact moment. (Seriously, do you remember what you thought exactly two weeks ago at 3 PM? Let alone three years ago? I can tie specific thoughts to certain events, but I doubt I could recreate scenes from five years ago with any level of specificity, other than what I want to remember.) The book also didn’t use any comments, quotes, or direct interviews with Mark Zuckerburg himself, and it’s hard to show the complete founding of a company without insight from the man primarily responsible for the vision and success of the start-up.

The book focuses on the early days of Facebook, and doesn’t get into the details of lawsuits surrounding the company. It definitely leaves some key questions—how much did Harvard Connection/ConnectU influence Facebook—very vague. I’m sure Mezrich worked with the material he had available to him (and I’m sure confidentiality agreements limited any party not directly involved with the lawsuits from knowing details). But I would have liked something that delved in deeper and seemed to be supported by documentation as opposed to interviews with undisclosed sources. But read it for yourself and see if you agree with me.

It’s also weird to analyze a book that’s about real people living—and maybe googling—today. The book turns them into characters, for better or for worse, and it’s slightly uncomfortable to analyze them through the lens of a book. It’s much easier to dissect In Cold Blood, as the author (Truman Capote), the victims (The Clutter family), and criminals in the book (Perry Smith and Dick Hickock) are all deceased. It’s also a clear-cut story—a family was slaughtered, and their killers were convicted and executed for the crime. It’s much harder to determine who, if anyone, is really a victim in The Accidental Billionaires.

Title: The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal
Author: Ben Mezrich
Date Read: April 2011
Source: Public Library

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