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In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives Hardcover – April 12, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The contradictions of the Internet search behemoth are teased apart in this engaging, slightly starry-eyed business history. Wired magazine writer Levy (Hackers) insightfully recaps Google's groundbreaking search engine and fabulously profitable online ad–brokering business, and elucidates the cutting-edge research and hard-nosed cost-efficiencies underlying them. He also regales readers with the "Googley" corporate culture of hip techno-capitalism: the elitist focus on braininess, the campus game rooms, the countercultural rectitude of billionaire founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin (which can read more like puerile arrogance as they roller-blade into meetings with business-suited squares). Levy's narrative updates a familiar portrait of the company, with breathless accounts of recent innovations. He offers a smart analysis of the tensions between Google's "âÇÿDon't Be Evil'" slogan and its censorship of its Chinese Web site and the privacy implications of its drive to sponge up all information—but he accepts Google's blinkered conception of e-ethics and its demands for huge tax breaks with too much complacency. (Apr.)
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"Levy is America’s premier technology journalist. . . . He has produced the most interesting book ever written about Google. He makes the biggest intellectual challenges of computer science seem endlessly fun and fascinating. . . . We can expect many more books about Google. But few will deliver the lively, idea-based journalism of In the Plex.”
—Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Washington Post

"Almost nothing can stop a remarkable idea executed well at the right time, as Steven Levy's brisk-but-detailed history of Google, In the Plex, convincingly proves. . . . makes obsolete previous books on the company."
—Jack Shafer, The San Francisco Chronicle

"The rise of Google is an engrossing story, and nobody's ever related it in such depth."
—Hiawatha Bray, The Boston Globe

"Dense, driven examination of the pioneering search engine that changed the face of the Internet.

Thoroughly versed in technology reporting, Wired senior writer Levy deliberates at great length about online behemoth Google and creatively documents the company’s genesis from a 'feisty start-up to a market-dominating giant.' The author capably describes Google’s founders, Stanford grads Larry Page and Sergey Brin, as sharp, user-focused and steadfastly intent on 'organizing all the world’s information.' Levy traces how Google’s intricately developed, intrepid beginnings and gradual ascent over a competitive marketplace birthed an advertising-fueled 'money machine' (especially following its IPO in 2004), and he follows the expansion and operation of the company’s liberal work campus ('Googleplex') and its distinctively selective hiring process (Page still signs off on every new hire). The author was afforded an opportunity to observe the company’s operations, development, culture and advertising model from within the infrastructure for two years with full managerial cooperation. From there, he performed hundreds of interviews with past and current employees and discovered the type of 'creative disorganization' that can either make or break a business. Though clearly in awe of Google’s crowning significance, Levy evenhandedly notes the company’s more glaring deficiencies, like the 2004 cyber-attack that forced the removal of the search engine from mainland China, a decision vehemently unsupported by co-founder Brin. Though the author offers plenty of well-known information, it’s his catbird-seat vantage point that really gets to the good stuff.

Outstanding reportage delivered in the upbeat, informative fashion for which Levy is well known."

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"An instructive primer on how the minds behind the world's most influential internet company function."
—Richard Waters, The Wall Street Journal

"[Steven Levy] spent much of the past three years playing anthropologist at one of the Internet's most interesting villages and set of inhabitants -- the Googleplex and the tribue of Googlers who inhabit it. . . . A deep dive into Google's culture, history and technology."
--Mike Swift, San Jose Mercury News

"The wizards of Silicon Valley often hype their hardware/software breakthroughs as 'magical' for the products' ability to pull off dazzling stunts in the blink of an eye. And true to the magicians' code, these tech talents rarely let mere mortals peer behind the curtains. . . . That's what makes Levy's just-out tome so valuable."
—Jonathan Takiff, The Philadelphia Daily News

"The most comprehensive, intelligent and readable analysis of Google to date. Levy is particularly good on how those behind Google think and work. . . . What's more, his lucid introductions to Google's core technologies - the search engine and the company's data centres - are written in non-geek English and are rich with anecdotes and analysis. . . . In The Plex teems with original insight into Google's most controversial affairs."
—Andrew Keen, New Scientist

"Steven Levy's new account [of Google], In the Plex, is the most authoritative to date and in many ways the most entertaining."
—James Gleick, The New York Review of Books

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (April 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416596585
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416596585
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (190 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,575 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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84 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Robert Howburnowski on April 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Among recent great books describing the business and impact of information technology, In the Plex is one of the best. As impactful as Pulse: The New Science of Harnessing Internet Buzz to Track Threats and Opportunities, and with story-telling as engaging as Idea Man: A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft this book will be on the shortlist of 2011 "must reads" in the business of technology.

One of my favorite writers, Steven Levy of Wired, gained what may be unprecedented access to the employees and upper management of Google in order explore the history, the work environment key management decisions of one of the most innovative and culturally-influential companies of all time. Google manages this with 24,000 employees who see Google as the perfect employer for them. Levy describes Google as a place for the "unspeakably brainy", a kind of "geek never-never land" - just the right kind of environment to maximize innovativeness. Among the perks is the requirement for every engineer to spend a share of their time on personal projects. And as daunting as it sounds, Levy says Co-founder Larry Page actually still signs off on every single hire.

The co-founders Sergey Brin and Page literally started Google from a garage. (The name was a misspelling of the mathematical term for 10 to the 100th power - Googol. But the name stuck.) Their big idea: efficient searches and how to make money at it by selling keywords. Levy then leads us through Google's history of fantastic growth and innovation focusing mainly on big decisions in the firm.
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121 of 152 people found the following review helpful By Reader on May 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover
If you want a good history of Google's early years, this is the book for you. The author, a Google booster, had unparalleled access to current and former Google employees and presents more information about the history and development of the company than has reached print before. If you're interested in the causes of Google's recent stumbles, though, the author's hagiographic approach gets in the way of understanding. Here are a half dozen "evil" approaches from the "don't be evil" company that simply are not adequately explained.

(1) Google went into the China market and self-censored itself based on what it understood the Chinese autocrats wanted it to do. It didn't get out of China until the Chinese government launched a sophisticated hack that not only broke into and stole Google's top secret code, it stole the gmail contact lists of Chinese dissidents. Why didn't Google recognize the slippery slope of the rationalizations that allowed it to participate in this charade, especially co-founder Sergey Brin, who had escaped from a similar regime?

(2) Google was initially in favor of the positive public good of "net neutrality" when it was trying to break into the field, but suddenly it's no longer in favor of such neutrality for wireless. Why the about-face?

(3) In its book scan project Google initially took the legal position that what it was doing was fair use, and the author makes clear that the legal community thought it would win on this point. (p. 362). Yet ultimately Google bought into a suggestion from the Writers Guild of America that Google should become the designated internet bookstore for copyrighted books that are out of print and that it should create a registry to determine who should be paid for the books.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mr. G. Carroll on September 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book automatically because I had previously read and enjoyed Levy's previous works: Insanely Great, Hackers and Chaos. Given his heritage covering technology companies and personalities as both an author and a journalist, I was curious what he would make of Google.

The book is expansive and provides a lot of additional colour around Google, some of which I found of interest as I had worked at Yahoo! competing against Google and working with some of the early darlings of the web 2.0 movement - Flickr and Delicious. There were a couple of things that surprised me such as Google's use of machine learning on areas like translation explained why grammar is still so bad in this area as it needs heuristics that lexicographers could provide similar to that offered by Crystal Semantics.

Overall it was interesting to see that as with most large organisations Google is not only fallible but run through with realpolitik and a fair bit of serendipity. This contrasts with the external perception of Google as the technological Übermensch. A classic example of this is the series of missteps Google made whilst competing in China, which are documented in the book. From staffing practices, promotional tactics and legal to technology; Google blew it's chances and Baidu did a better job.

As an aside it was interesting to note that Google used queries on rival search engines to try and work out how to comply with Chinese government regulations, which is eerily like bad practices that Google accused Bing of last February in `hiybbprqag'-gate.
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