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on March 31, 2012
Subtitled _How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives_ this is basically the biography of a company. Right from Google's creation and through to the failure of Buzz with all the highs and lows in between.

Since Google is a company of the internet age there were areas where I skimmed, thinking that I knew all about this. More interesting to me was the behind the scenes information. It was interesting to see how the the viewpoints of senior Googlers differed from the common interpretation of their actions.

The section on China was particularly revealing with lots of description of the friction and disagreements within Google itself about whether to engage with China and when to pull out.

Another bit of particular interest to me was comparing the struggle that Google had once it became an established tech giant and the struggles the Obama administration had.

In both cases idealism and a certain naivety came into hard conflict with entrenched interests. And both groups discovered that while the facts are indeed the facts. The facts won't stop people from misinterpreting everything you do and seeing the worst in you.

I've always had a soft spot for Google and tend to think that at lot of the criticisms levied against them are rather ignorant or fail to recognize the realities of the world. This book reinforced that belief.

It is a bit of a dry read. Perhaps because the people are secondary to the company in the story of Google. It took me a while to read because I found it easier to dip in and out than to read whole chapters at a time. But it is fact with insight.
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on July 16, 2011
I really like books that give you a history of a business. I especially like books that give you a history of technology businesses because they are usually so current. This is exactly the case with this book.

Many have heard about what makes Google tick but this book take your behind the scenes from day one and reveals what makes the place tick. It demonstrates how Google is really an extension of the personalities of Sergey and Larry. Reading the book helps you to better understand why Google does the things that it does and its whole approach to business. This is extremely beneficial given that fact that most people use a Google product every day.

The book is well written, easy to read and very entertaining as it takes you through the history of Google, dwelling on the major moments and products that have made it the colossus that it is today. It is very interesting to see how major products like Gmail grew from extreme small, almost hobby like projects into the features of mass culture they are today.

Most importantly of all it it gives you fantastic insight into the way Google thinks, how it make decisions and most importantly what it sees its mission in the world. As they say, knowing is understanding and with this book you'll certainly be more knowledgeable about what makes Google tick.
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on August 2, 2011
This book breaks my reading plan totally. I was on The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference and Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip (P.S.) (Printed Chinese version purchased on Amazon China. Yes we do have copyrighted books in China:). And there are a lot of ebooks in Kindle as my reading list.
I love Google. I love their products, like Search, Gmail, Maps, Reader, and YouTube. In this book I got a lot of info (or gossips, depending how you define this small things) about the company.
The Chapter Six is unsurprisingly interesting to Chinese Google users. Not long after release of this book, tons of blog posts, illegal translations are flooding my RSS reader. This is phenomenal. And it haven't happened for a long time. The big heads - Tech Crunch, Business Insider and Mashable - also have at least one post on the book. They also reminded me to purchase a copy to fill my little monster of curiosity.
So this is it. I paid $12.99 to get a copy. Thanks to Amazon's kindle reader. I can get hands on the book in less than five minutes. If I place an order to a printed copy, I have to wait, like two weeks.
In my opinion, all the interesting gossips in this book have been leaked by the bloggers. Nothing more. Google has a hiding strategy. They have a lot stories hidden, which should be publicly known. That's why we have to buy a history book on Google. As Steven Levy wrote on Quora, this book has approved by Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt. Google even gave Steven a unprecedented access.
But some engineers think Google is no longer cool. A few left the company from Mountain View to Palo Alto. The most shocking big one is Sheryl Sandberg, who was a key person for Google ad division. She left Google for Facebook in March of 2008. It is hard to say Facebook is the future of internet, or social network will kill search engine. Yet, you know what I mean :)
In any aspect, Google is a great company. Without help from Google, I couldn't have learned Python script in a short time (higher productivity on daily basis), or enjoy the fantastic map service, read free ebook in public domain, maybe still using a offline RSS reader, and $300 revenue from AdSense...
Yet Google made strange decision facing evil and dark power. In my understanding of two co-founders, they should haven't make such a decision (to enter China market and quit). I don't have an answer even carefully read the Chapter Six. Maybe it's a result to satisfy everyone(?). Eric Schmidt said they had 5000 years patience. Yet they quitted in five years.
So let it be. Google should haven't been here.
However, this is the best book on Google by now. If you are interested in small stories on Google, buy one now.
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on July 28, 2014
This book describes the initial growth of Google, and does a good job of describing how the Google culture (kind of like Intel's chip production allocation culture) generally tries to be a data-driven culture that operates by collecting lots of data (eg user queries) and then analyzing the data to determine how to proceed. In this way, the culture de-emphasizes individual human opinions in favor of aggregate statistical results, where they are available.

But I have mixed feelings about the book. Much of it reads like so many of the other gooey, sugary fan books of various Silicon Valley companies where stereotypes are emphasized because it makes a "better" story because of the images that are invoked. (eg. It's cool to do all the anti-traditional (dare I say almost juvenile?) things (like scavenger hunts, etc) normally associated with tech start-ups and their people). It seems to me that ever since the late 1970s too many tech-company books have spread the "it's cool to do X" gooey company philosophies around, and this book seems to be no different.

I think the strength of the book is the discussion of how search grew up, and the descriptions of the technical / algorithmic solutions and infrastructures that were required to implement the Google that we know today. I found the main weakness of the book to be all the tedious descriptions of how wonderful the corporate anti-traditional culture was, and how special it was (really, how could it be, after 30+ years of engineer - driven tech companies before Google?).

I would recommend this book to people who are interested in a layman's-level description of how search grew up, the issues that arose, and the technical / infrastructure solutions that were developed. The scale and technical sophistication of the Google infrastructure (like Amazon and it's AWS infrastructure) just boggles the technical mind, and it is quite interesting to read about it. But I really think the gooey cult stuff was overdone in the book.
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on July 5, 2011
If you are interested in learning about super egotistical individuals like Larry & Sergey and how they effectively used their personal quirks to build an empire, this book is for you. The author luckily does a great job of showing how peculiar Larry is and how, when he gets his mind to it, he is super frustrating to work with (at least that is what I took away). Sergey is your typical deeply analytical individual who most empires need to be successful.

The key part that I think I took away from this book is how Google has built the super infrastructure that is the modern web. The all commodity approach and design expecting failure is the bar setting way to go about building online services of this decade.

Beyond learning the great infrastructure work, Levy did a great job showing just how dysfuctional Google is at building strategy and that they are highly unsuccessful way more than they are successful. If they didn't have the great search engine driven by the innovative AdWords they might not be prevalent. They have found other niche areas with minor success but way more failures and this is a case study for how to *not* run your business when it is growing. My opinion...

Still, great read and excellent job by the author!
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on July 21, 2015
It's a good read. It's a tough subject to cover because Google does so many different things. I found myself wanting a much better understanding of what they're working on comprehensively, when they're working on it, what the goals are. I felt like the writing dipped deep into some subjects and so lightly in others as to just give me a PR taste for what might be. Like the Google Books scanning project. Where does that stand? Do people use it? How is it working in practice. Are we in year 6 of 7 or 2 of 7 or 8 of 7 or what? Quite impressionistic except for search, which was compelling and deep.
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on June 26, 2011
I was skeptical of In The Plex at first. It was long and the first few pages didn't really jump out at me. After the first chapter or so the book gets addicting. The way Levy writes makes you want to keep reading and reading. Whether it's a funny story about how Larry and Sergey manage this behemoth or another failed product adventure, this book keeps you wanting more.
What I found particularly interesting was that they were both "Montessori" kids. It was a term for kids who attended a different type of school, a more advanced school where children's gifts can be finely tuned at a young age. They were not brought up the same as 99% of most business leader hence the completely radical way the run Google.
Also it was interesting to understand some internal strategic initiatives that Google does. "OKR's" or Outcomes and key results, is how the manage projects. At one time in the book it says that 20,000 people worked at Google but no one really knew what anyone else did. How to deal with this? Implement OKR's.

I am a little biased because Google is such a fascinating company to begin with but this book is entertaining as it is educational. I'd recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about one of the monumental companies of our generation.
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on February 29, 2012
In little more than a decade, Google has grown from a smart, disruptive search company to an Internet behemoth, with over $39 billion in revenue and a product portfolio now spanning advertising, mobile, cloud computing, and video.

Since Google's inception, millions have used its search engine and services and come to rely on the company for fast, reliable information. Indeed, the company name itself is now a verb meaning "to search".

Steven Levy's In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives chronicles the story of Google, from its origins and founding, through its incorporation and rapid growth, and to its ascendancy as one of the biggest and most influential companies on the planet.

I found the text well-crafted and fascinating. Though a work of journalism, the narrative flowed very much like a story, with Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt cast as the main characters. The book elaborated all the major developments in the company's history, including the founding, the maturation of search and advertising as major revenue streams, "Don't be evil" and the distinctive company culture, incorporation, the acquisition of YouTube, Google's moral dilemma in China, and the company's recent challenges with privacy and social media.

I highly recommend In the Plex for anyone interested in learning more about the history and DNA of Google.
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on July 17, 2017
Levy takes a topic so complex, that even in his brilliantly simplistic layman's terms at times it takes a view attempts to truly comprehend, but paints an analytically illustrative picture of one of the most prominent and important companies in recent history. Insights from Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brian provide context for many of the tech giant's biggest decisions and its underlying foundational beliefs. Highly recommend this book for its entertainment value, as well as the likelihood that it will motivate the reader to pursue big goals.
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on July 13, 2011
A fascinating read that dives deep into the history of Google and its founders like no other resource before it. Captivating from the start, painting a vivid picture of the behemoth and the characters behind it. This is one book you won't regret reading and will end up recommending to all your tech junkie friends.

My only quarrel, that also extends to books besides this one, is with Amazon permitting publishers to charge more for Kindle editions than the physical books. Not only is this insulting to the consumer, but it works against the Kindle, Publishers, and Amazon. I nearly didn't buy this book because of this rampant asinine practice and after seeing what I would have missed, it irks me even more.
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