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In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives Hardcover – April 12, 2011
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"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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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
Top customer reviews
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Even Google mistakes are cast in a positive upbeat light. No real discussion of blunders like the Logitech Google relation with Google TV.
Wasn't explicitly looking for the bad....but just looking for something truthful and insightful. Google and its founders success are obvious. They've done great things and the founders and employees have done excellent ground breaking work. And the book is written well in the sense that it's easy to read and conveys information in the form of stories versus more dry treatments. However, it reads only like something a fan would write about their idol...and there are discrete instances where I even cringed at how much of a fanboy book this was.
It's unfortunate but a reality that it's hard to obtain inside access to companies in order to write about them and then not write anything but a glowing story. Otherwise...no one else will let you in. Not to mention that it's written about contemporary living powerful people and a corporation...so it would be intimidating to write anything more blunt. It's no wonder that you see books on the likes of Ford and Edison long after their time that are more of an exposure of reality....and we will probably have to wait 50-100 years to hear what really makes Google tick, how the founders think, and how the company works. Which is a shame because it could be helpful to entrepreneurs who really would like to learn from such folks and not just be fed fluff. The real deal, warts and all, the good and bad, will have to wait.
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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
Levy's In the Plex is an accessible peek inside the world of the technological megalith.Read more