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In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 12, 2011
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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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"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)
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Top customer reviews
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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.
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.
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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Levy's In the Plex is an accessible peek inside the world of the technological megalith.Read more