Book Review: The Accidental Billionaires
With the release of The Social Network last Friday and it’s early success, both critical and commercial, I thought it was a good time to check out the source material for the movie, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, by Ben Mezrich. I had the Audible.com audiobook in my library and, having never listened to it, threw it on my iPhone and blew my way through it in just three days of driving to and from work. It was an incredible listen from beginning to end and I fully intend to listen to it again and read it, as well as see the movie.
Before reviewing the book, let’s consider the website which the story revolves around. Almost 10% of the human race has a Facebook profile now, which is a fact that is amazing, mind boggling, and maybe even a little scary all at the same time, especially considering the continuing issues Facebook has had with privacy over the years. There was even a “Quit Facebook Day” this past Memorial Day, an event which barely registered on the social network radar. Facebook is a juggernaut, and, like other modern tech titans, has humble beginnings, this time in a dorm room by a Harvard University sophomore, Mark Zuckerberg.
Mark didn’t go it alone, though. In the beginning, he had help from fellow Harvard students Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes. Mark and Dustin were the programmers, writing the underlying code for the site. Chris handled graphic design of the site. Eduardo was the businessman, putting up the initial funding to purchase server space and working on getting advertisers for the site so it could support itself. Together, they grew what was then thefacebook.com, taking the Harvard campus by storm, expanding beyond into other Ivy League schools, then further still into even more college campuses.
The road wasn’t without bumps, though. Three fellow Harvard students, Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra, sued Zuckerburg and Facebook, claiming he had stolen their idea for a social networking site and used it to create thefacebook.com. Eduardo Saverin was eventually forced out of Facebook, also suing in oder to get recognition as a co-founder of the site. Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster and Plaxo and the first to hold the title of President at Facebook, had to step down from his position in 2006 after an arrest for cocaine possession. Some companies buckle under the strain of events like these, but, as we all know, Facebook just continued to grow.
The book itself tends to take Eduardo Saverin’s point of view the most, which isn’t surprising considering he worked closely with Mezrich during the writing of the book. The focus of the book, however, isn’t an attempt to sling mud at Zuckerberg, but to tell the story of how Facebook came to be. While some of his actions are questionable, it is left up to the reader to determine whether or not Zuckerberg is a genius, just a smart person who had the luck of being in the right place at the right time, or somebody who used other people’s ideas, money, and emotions to get to where he and Facebook are today.
As for the audiobook, the reader, Mike Chamberlin, does an excellent job with the material. He reads it straight, not attempting to wring every drop of emotion he can out of the story, while also not delivering his lines like a Harvard lecture. The story and the reader both are captivating and, as I stated at the beginning of this review, are well worth listening to and/or reading again.