The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
The high-energy tale of how two socially awkward Ivy Leaguers, trying to increase their chances with the opposite sex, ended up creating Facebook.
Eduardo Saverin and Mark Zuckerberg were Harvard undergraduates and best friends - outsiders at a school filled with polished prep-school grads and long-time legacies. They shared both academic brilliance in math and a geeky awkwardness with women.
Eduardo figured their ticket to social acceptance - and sexual success - was getting invited to join one of the university’s Final Clubs, a constellation of elite societies that had groomed generations of the most powerful men in the world and ranked on top of the inflexible hierarchy at Harvard. Mark, with less of an interest in what the campus alpha males thought of him, happened to be a computer genius of the first order.
Which he used to find a more direct route to social stardom: One lonely night, Mark hacked into the university's computer system, creating a ratable database of all the female students on campus - and subsequently crashing the university's servers and nearly getting himself kicked out of school. In that moment, in his Harvard dorm room, the framework for Facebook was born.
What followed - a real-life adventure filled with slick venture capitalists, stunning women, and six-foot-five-inch identical-twin Olympic rowers - makes for one of the most entertaining and compelling books of the year. Before long, Eduardo’s and Mark’s different ideas about Facebook created in their relationship faint cracks, which soon spiraled into out-and-out warfare. The collegiate exuberance that marked their collaboration fell prey to the adult world of lawyers and money. The great irony is that while Facebook succeeded by bringing people together, its very success tore two best friends apart.
The Accidental Billionaires is a compulsively listenable story of innocence lost - and of the unusual creation of a company that has revolutionized the way hundreds of millions of people relate to one another.
Ben Mezrich, a Harvard graduate, has published ten books, including the New York Times best seller Bringing Down the House. He is a columnist for Boston Common and a contributor for Flush magazine. Ben lives in Boston with his wife, Tonya.
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|Listening Length||7 hours and 19 minutes|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||July 14, 2009|
|Publisher||Random House Audio|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #86,825 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#57 in Content Creation & Social Media
#198 in Biographies of Science & Technology Leaders
#310 in Biographies of Business Leaders
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The digital economy has spawned a series of meteoric companies and overnight billionaires over the past three decades. And just when it seemed this phenomenon had passed its zenith, along came Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. Yet another geeky kid with a high IQ and anarchistic tendencies, Zuckerberg created the precursor to Facebook as a hacker's prank during his short stint as a Harvard undergraduate. When the prank "went viral" literally overnight within the Harvard community, Zuckerberg knew he was onto something much bigger than he bargained for.
There were other ideas for online social networks being explored at the time. At Harvard itself, a couple of wealthy six-foot-five crew champions - identical twins - had a similar notion. The Winklevoss brothers knew little about computers, however, and had hired a programmer for the project, who dawdled with it for a while and then quit suddenly. To complete the task, the twins turned to Mark Zuckerberg, who was miles beneath them in social status at Harvard but had become an instant campus celebrity when he hacked the University computers. Everyone at Harvard, including the Winklevosses, knew who he was and recognized his technical prowess. Zuckerman too appeared to doddle with the project, but was in fact moving at lightning speed in secret to build his own social networking site. When he launched the surprise attack, the Winklevosses were stunned and accused him of stealing their idea and their code. In reality, the slow-footed twins had nothing worth stealing, since Zuckerman already had the idea and probably viewed the code as child's play. What he was guilty of was stalling the two brothers long enough for him to gain the first-mover's advantage.
Zuckerberg never looked back afterwards. After "the facebook" pervaded Harvard, he quickly introduced it to one college campus after another as the wild viral phenomenon fed on itself. With thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of new users flocking to the site, Zuckerberg was building a potential gold mine. However, a true-blue hacker to the core, he seemed to care little about business matters or even money. For this stuff, he partnered with his best friend, Eduardo Saverin. Saverin was also something of an outsider at Harvard, but he was more polished than Zuckerberg and had some business credentials. He had managed a small hedge fund one summer, and his father was a successful businessman. Saverin put his own money into the project and in yeoman-like fashion set about finding advertisers for Facebook.
In the meantime, Zuckerberg had made contact with Sean Parker, the buccaneering and hyperactive young co-founder of Napster. Parker had flamed out with Napster and all of his other business ventures to date, but he still saw himself as a player and had ties to serious venture capital money. He introduced Zuckerberg to Peter Theil, a man with very deep pockets, who opened them up to set Facebook on its way as big business. Glibly jettisoning his Harvard career, Zuckerberg moved to California, while Eduardo Saverin chose to continue plodding along back in Cambridge. Sensing correctly that he had become superfluous to the operation and was being phased out, Saverin in a fit of pique tried to short-circuit the young business by closing its bank accounts, which he still controlled. Zuckerberg and his new partners struck back mercilessly by conspiring to drive Saverin out of the company. Zuckerman lured him out to California to review as set of re-incorporation documents, which amazingly Saverin signed without comprehending. Shortly afterwards, Facebook issued a ton of new equity that diluted Saverin's share of the soon-to-be multibillion-dollar company down to virtually nothing. He was out of a job and a fortune, and friendship was out the door.
In his epilogue Ben Mezrich describes himself as an "enormous fan of all the characters in this book", forcing us to wonder how he might write about people for whom he feels less enthusiasm. No one comes off well here. Zuckerberg himself, who didn't cooperate with the author, is a dark enigma. Like most compulsive hackers, he probably has a diagnosable psychological disorder. He could be a schizoid personality, or even suffer from Asperger's syndrome or one of the other mild variants of autism. None of these conditions preclude brilliance, and some can even enhance a person's ability to focus monomaniacally on technical problem-solving.
Eduardo Saverin appears a likeable enough person, but a patsy for whom it's hard to sympathize. For the guy for fancied himself the business brain behind Facebook, the fact that he would blindly sign a legal document authorizing his own destruction seems proof he needed to find another job anyway. Sean Parker, who also was later expelled by Zuckerberg and his new team, seems a stoned-out narcissist, albeit talented and engaging. The Winklevoss twins appear as privileged and rather dim-witted jocks. None of these characterizations are likely to be quite fair, but in a quick sketch, it's how they come across.
Mezrich writes in a style that's reminiscent of early Tom Wolfe and certain other authors whose work constituted what was called "new journalism" back in the 1960's. Like Mezrich, these writers were highly entertaining and easy to read, but they also generally sought to illustrate social themes. In Mezrich's case, his theme is the impact of progressive technology and mega-money on people's lives in twenty-first century America. Whether Mezrich is a "fan" of his characters or not, they don't come across as very happy people. They're engaged in socially useful business, and while not truly corrupt as people, they're self-centered and generally amoral. One gets the impression that mega-money is likely only to make these problems worse for them as their young lives progress.
Mezrich's limited purpose with this book is to entertain us and to illustrate these motifs. I think he succeeds, and I can recommend the book to people who don't expect from it more than it has to offer.
Many criticism have been levelled at this book over it’s accuracy and even the lay reader with no acquaintance with the principals of the events will be able to notice some glaring errors. For example, when Mark Zuckerberg is introduced we are told that the name of his dorn at Harvard is Eliot House, only to be told two pages later that he lives in Kirkland House. Considering this is the site of the dorm room in which Facebook was born, the subject of this book, and given that the event took place so recently the reader might feel the right to expect to be told not only the correct dorm but even the correct floor and room number as well. A mistake like this does prompt one to question the accuracy of many other details.
Where this book excels, however, is in its descriptions of the milieu which produced Facebook. The author, who went to Harvard, provides extensive descriptions of the student life and campus atmosphere and through the use of techniques borrowed from fiction puts you right there in that world. The thesis of the author is that Zuckerberg took the basic functions of social life at Harvard - the parties, the life in the dorms and cafeterias, the socializing on the weekends, the dating, and above all the exclusive Final Clubs - and translated that into a website which would provide an extension of ones social life online. In order to show this he delves into that college life and provides a great deal of information about everything from Harvard’s curriculum to it’s dating scene. At times the descriptions can be a bit breathless and even over the top. For example, in describing one of the most prestigious Final Clubs he writes, “the Porcellian was about learning how to rule the world.” Well, maybe that’s what its members believe. And the story grows out of this daily life in the Quad, where Zuckerberg raises money for Facebook from one of his friends in his fraternity while his roommates in the dorm are invited to help program and publicize the website.
Publicity, however, was easy to come by with thousands of Harvard students signing up almost overnight, encouraging all their other friends to sign up and while this process repeated itself at schools all across the country Zuckerberg incorporated in Florida and moved to Palo Alto the summer after his Sophomore year.
The first part of the book includes the dispute between Zuckerberg and the Winklevoss twins, two popular Harvard students who had an idea for a dating website for other Harvard students and asked Zuckerberg to design it for them. They feel they got burned by Zuckerberg and that he stole their idea but the book makes clear that Facebook started in an atmosphere of numerous other similar social networking websites like MySpace. Zuckerberg himself even designed an application called Course Match when he was a freshman that allowed Harvard students to see who was taking what classes.
After the move to California the setting changes from college to Silicon Valley, peopled with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Again, the novelistic techniques serve the story well and the description of the company raising money, hiring programmers and laying down roots while Zuckerberg freezes out one of his partners from Harvard is richly described.
Much of the interest of this book is in the exciting story it has to tell and the information Mezrich has compiled from some of the characters who were there when it happened. Unfortunately he doesn’t have much to say about Zuckerberg himself, repeatedly emphasizing how robotic he seems and how uncouth he is socially. At times he resorts to imagining things Zuckerberg may have done but probably never did in order to fill out his character. That’s too bad because when he sticks to the things his research actually bore fruit on - like the atmosphere of Harvard in the winter of 2004 and Silicon Valley that summer - he transcends the corporate history genre to tell a riveting tale of clashing personalities caught up with the fastest growing website ever.
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Having said all that, this is for me an excellent book and delivers a really interesting, objective, entertaining portrayal of the creation and evolution of Facebook. Taking us from its (not so) humble beginnings in the dorm rooms of Harvard all the way through the developmental years in Silicon Valley. What I find most fascinating is the shear ruthlessness Zuckerberg exhibits towards not just potential rivals but also to his best friend and how he values Facebook over everything with a level of intensity similar to that of a person exhibiting strong psychopathic tendencies. By extension this makes me wonder more about the potentially dangerous impact Facebook could have on impressionable minds which lets face it is most of if not all of society.
Ben Mezrich has done a great job delivering a very clear, fast paced, fun and engaging book. I am looking forward to getting into his other work and would definately recommend this to anyone with an interest in Facebook and also in mental health/personality disorders.
In its narrative technique, Accidental Billionaires constantly switches viewpoint from one character to another, so that no one has the whole picture, the perfect, all-knowing overview. There is no omniscient narrator who decides among the competing viewpoints, an omission that allows the author to attribute criticism or condemnation of others to characters within the drama, but makes it difficult for the reader to reach a definitive conclusion about the events. Did Mark Zuckerberg steal someone else’s idea and get mega-rich on it, or was he a computer genius who developed an idea way beyond its origin and made that idea his own? The issue remains undecideable.
One aspect of the book’s appeal is that it gives the reader vicarious entry into a world of privilege, a series of exclusive subcultures: Harvard and its elite societies, the influential billionaires of Silicon Valley and the insiders to Facebook itself. Accidental Billionaires is partly a story of “lifestyles of the rich and famous” at a barely post-adolescent stage of their careers. This aspect, the exclusivity, is in tension with the “here comes everybody” ethos of the internet. Ostensibly, Facebook was always going to oppose and exceed that exclusivity, either sexually, where geeks could hope to hook up with hot girls, or on a much wider scale, where anyone with access to the internet could connect with and “friend” anyone else. Of course, Facebook has produced its own hierarchy and elite, where a few people are plethorically wealthy and control huge amounts of information about the rest of us.
Generically, there are large issues involved in Facebook and the internet as a whole: the relationship of private to public, individuals to institutions, elites to masses, security to risk, order to disorder, information and its ownership and so on. This is why reading about Facebook is interesting and useful, not so much for the details of its creation, or who stole what from whom or didn’t, but as a prompt to consideration of major issues that affect all of us: our relation as individuals to society, government, politics and power, to freedoms and restrictions, issues that go way beyond Facebook. The thoughtful reader will look past Mezrich’s enjoyable account of Facebook’s creation to consider these wider questions.
Not happy really, be wary before buying if you’re a fan of the film like me and wanted the far superior cover.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on January 19, 2021
Not happy really, be wary before buying if you’re a fan of the film like me and wanted the far superior cover.
Definitely worth reading if you are in the army stages of setting up a business or an especially fast moving tech one...