Sunday, September 6, 2009

Books Without Pictures: The Accidental Billionaires

I would not say that is necessarily a great writer, but he is an excellent storyteller. He demonstrated that with his first major hit, "Bringing Down the House", an intoxicating account of how a group of MIT students used their math skills to win big in Vegas that was later adapted (somewhat unfaithfully) into the movie 21. With "The Accidental Billionaires," Mezrich sets out to chronicle the events that led to the founding of Facebook, from its humble beginnins in a Harvard dorm room through the "sex, money, genius and betrayal" promisd in the book's subtitle.

It's an incredible story that was begging to be told and does deliver on all the intrigue that Mezrich guarantees right there on the cover. To summarize, Facebook was conceived by two somewhat socially-awkward Harvard students who "just wanted to meet some girls"; along the way to creating the social networking juggernaut we know today, they ended up screwing over several third parties, being dropped into social situations they had only dreamed of, and ultimately turning against one another as outside forces conspire to transform college dreams into big business realities.

Unquestionably the protagonists of this story are extremely unique and compelling and Mezrich does a great job in getting you inside their heads. One of Mezrich's great strengths is his diligent research and how hard he works to recreate scenes he was nowhere near from tireless interviewing of first and second-hand witnesses. You will not believe some of the insane stuff these guys go through and Mezrich makes sure to present it in a way that has you insatiably waiting for what will happen next.

However, Mezrich does note right in his foreward that only one of the two main players consented to be interviewed, and unfortunately that does shine through as the portrayal of sides throughout the story gradually becomes very one-sided. This wouldn't be a problem if it felt like Mezrich intended to villify one of his subjects while praising the other, but it seems that he did his best to keep things fair and balanced early on and then just loses control.

It's also impossible to ignore Mezrich's tics as a writer; first and foremost, he has a tendency to over-describe scenes and people to the point where you drift a bit waiting for him to make his point. He also employs repetition a little more than I care for and he can sometimes gloss over what feel like should be bigger moments in the flow of the story. Compared to "Bringing Down the House," this book definitely feels like it's less personally important to the author as well, though not extraordinarily so.

The bottom line is that I breezed through "The Accidental Billionaires," not because I was sick or because I had nothing better to do, but because I genuinely enjoyed it. When reading Ben Mezrich, particularly with this book, you have to put your writing snob glasses away and just sit back and enjoy; he illuminates characters and tells stories in such a way as to create genuine page-turner and this particular story happens to be a flat-out fascinating one to boot.

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