The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich

Plot Summary

The Accidental BillionairesThe Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich
Published by: Doubleday on July 14, 2009
Genre: Biography, Business, Non-Fiction, Technology
Pages: 260
Source: Purchased
Buy on AmazonBook Details
Rating: ★★★

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 less-than-smooth approach with the female population.

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 ruptured. 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 jacket cover

My Review

I guess I should begin by saying that I started reading this book after having seen the film that was based on it (The Social Network). I wasn’t necessarily looking for an accurate account of the foundation of Facebook. As a bit of a computer geek myself, I found the film enjoyable and I approached the book almost as a form of fiction. I just wanted an interesting story that I would enjoy.

When reading other reviews, one of the biggest critiques I found was that the book doesn’t just deal with just facts. Yes it’s based on real life events, but it’s certainly more dramatic and elaborate than any facts we have available. In the author’s note, the author admits to making up dialogue and filling in his own content where there were gaps in his research. Naturally, this upsets some reviewers. For example:

“Mezrich writes the book in the style of dramatic narrative which apparently means ‘when I don’t have facts, I’ll just make ’em up and when the story gets slow, I’ll fabricate a sex scene.'”, review by Tim Challies

I, on the other hand, like fiction. I wasn’t looking for a purely factual informational piece. And I do like sex scenes! 😀 (But to be honest, there are no actual sex scenes in the book. There are only a few moments where it’s implied that someone went off and had sex.)

I think it’s important for those reviewers to understand that Facebook was a college creation. It was created by college students in dorm rooms and some of those students did like to party. So yes, there will be parties, sex, girls, drinking, and throwing around words like “fuck” and “shit.” I don’t see that as “dramatic narrative” — I see it as accurately describing the setting and environment that Facebook was created in.

As a web developer and a bit of a computer geek, there was a lot that I could relate to in this book. This part particularly resonated with me:

Mark was mostly likely wide-awake now, deep into the process. He didn’t care what time it was, or how late it got. To guys like Mark, time was another weapon of establishment, like alphabetical order. The great engineers, hackers—they didn’t function under the same time constraints as everyone else.

The Accidental Billionaires, page 48

This is exactly how I get when I embark on a new web project. Like this blog for instance. I got an idea and suddenly my world was full of possibilities. I cursed the fact that I was away from my ‘main’ computer, which has all my top notch design and development programs. But I ran with the idea anyway, building up the entire site from scratch on my laptop in basically 24 hours. I was almost like a machine—powering through the day and night with my sole focus being on this project. Other obligations seemed meaningless and irrelevant.

So if you just want to read about a piece of college life and entrepreneurship and enjoy a story, the book is a good and interesting read. If you’re looking for a serious piece of non-fiction and just want the facts about Facebook as a company, try a Wikipedia article instead.

The one thing I didn’t really like was how the author switched from writing in past tense — as if the events definitely happened — to saying things like, “We can imagine that this is what happened next” or “We can imagine this is how it happened” or “We can imagine Mark doing that.” It kind of pulled me out of the immersion of the book; it’s like I went from reading a story to reading about someone guessing at what happened. I have no problem with the author making assumptions, exaggerations, or even making up dialogue, but I prefer it to be written as actual events. I think the author’s note was enough to cover his ass and make it clear that not everything happened exactly the way he wrote it.

At the end of the day, it was a good read, an enjoyable book — but not amazing.

The thing about the Internet was, it wasn’t in pencil, it was pen.
You put something out there, you couldn’t erase it.
Facemash was out there.

The Accidental Billionaires, page 57

The Verdict


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I'm a 30-something California girl living in England (I fell in love with a Brit!). My three great passions are: books, coding, and fitness. more »

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