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Non Fiction

The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich (The Founding of Facebook)

Are you a Facebook user? Do you love it? Or are you sick of people talking about and being in the Facebook all the time?

Facebook is the biggest thing of the century, next to Google of course. I don’t use Facebook very often, I tried not to get addicted to it, although I know a lot of people who do and update their status every hour. There are similar social networking sites like Friendster or Myspace before Facebook, but none bears the ease of use features and the interaction one gets from Facebook. A lot of crime and bad emotions have occurred through the use of Facebook. In the papers I have read about the case where someone changed their status from being in a relationship to single, or block someone out from the list, or say something inappropriate and get bashed up or murdered for it. Or one case in the UK recently, Headmasters are taking action against teachers who posted indecent pictures of themselves on Facebook, so on and so forth… Facebook has created quite a stir.

It’s down to purpose and intention of the users really. I’m just happy to make use of it as a tool to get hold of friends and families more easily. Whatever the good, the bad and the ugly of facebook, online social networking has never been this easy and it looks like it will be around for awhile.

But do you know that the founding of Facebook has its ugly history? The tool that is based on principles of transparency and friendliness actually was born out of in-fighting and power struggles that caused rifts on friendships? Do you know the founder of Facebook was an extremely socially inept IT geek?

It is a general perception that IT geeks are socially inept, not all of course, the statement is a generalisation. But Mark Zuckerberg, the kid behind the creation of Facebook was truly socially inept. The book The Accidental Billionaires, mostly based on first account of Eduardo Saverin, Facebook co-founder, describes Zuckerberg as quiet, dead-pan and slept through important meetings with advertisers in his early days (page 144). Instead of walking up to Cameron Windlevoss and say hi like a man, he sprinted away (may be the guilty conscience at play here) (page 164). Mark didn’t even bother to fill up bank account paperworks as joint account and co-signatory with Eduardo (page 195).The good thing is Mark didn’t have the capacity or interest to hate anyone (page 205). All he had in focus was working on his codes and launching the Facebook.

I will risk revealing the spoilers of this book. A lot of what goes on about the founders of Facebook are public knowledge anyway but if this is the first time you are hearing this, here’s what happened…..

Eduardo Saverin and Mark Zuckerberg – an awkward maths prodigy and a painfully shy computer genius – were the archetypal social misfits of polished, elite Harvard. Yet one day master-hacker Mark created a rateable database of female students, which was so popular it crashed the university’s server. Narrowly escaping expulsion, the two friends refocused the site into something less controversial – ‘The Facebook’. Mark wanted to call the early version of this as Facemash. Thank goodness they have the good sense of just leaving it as Facebook. It spread like wildfire across campuses, around the country and beyond. Suddenly everyone – from hot girls to venture capitalists – wanted to know Eduardo and Mark.

Before the creation of Facebook, Mark has been toying with the idea far earlier than the Winklevoss twins and the twin’s good friend Dviya Narendra’s idea of launching the HarvardConnection (later renamed to ConnectU). Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss are a pair of identical twins. They are also Olympic hopefuls for rowing event. They competed in the men’s pair rowing event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Their father was a self made man who runs a successful consulting firm. Dviya Narendra is the son of two immigrant doctors from India. In high school, he scored a near-perfect on the SAT. In 2004, Divya graduated from Harvard, cum laude in applied mathematics. He is currently attending Northwestern University School of Law and the Kellog School of Management for his MBA, expected to graduate in 2012.

Since the departure of the programmer Victor Gua from HarvardConnection project, The Winklevoss twins and Narendra was looking for someone to continue the work and Mark Zuckerberg agreed to take over the job by verbal agreement. Mark also has his hands on all the source code and programmes of the HarvardConnection project.

The Winklevoss twins (Tyler and Cameron) and Diyva Nadendran

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, Mark stalled the development of HarvardConnection, instead he launched his Facebook project out on the campus before finishing HarvardConnection.

The problem didn’t stop there, from the launch of Facebook as campus based social network to the point where it got its financial backing from Peter Thiel (The founder of PayPal) the cracks between the friendship of Mark and Eduardo deepens.

Those simple college-kids arguments spiralled into out-and-out legal wars. The great irony is that Facebook succeeded by bringing people together – but its very success tore two best friends apart.

There lie the questions I asked myself after reading the book:

  • Did Mark plagarise and use the HarvardConnection source code to further advance his own Facebook project?
  • Eduardo wanted to finish college and pursue his internship with investment banks in New York, it looked as if he places his priority in finishing his education above being fully committed to Facebook. Was he foolish to insist that he will be based in New York while the rest of the team are based in The Silicon Valley?
  • Eduardo funded the project through his own money before any big money from VCs funding came along, does he deserve the same credit as Mark Zuckerberg who has the brain to develop the site but have no financial investment in the project?

This is what I think. I think Mark Zuckerberg operates on a different level of integrity.

“Certainly, Mark saw himself as leagues beyond the Winklevoss twins. Who were they to try to harness his abilities? Just a couple of jocks who thought they ruled the world. Maybe they did rule the social world, but in the land of Website and computers – Mark was king.” – page 82

“This wasn’t how the world was supposed to work. Tyler and Cameron had grown up believing that order mattered. Rules mattered. You worked hard, you got what you deserved. Maybe in Mark’s hacker world – his computer-geek worldview – things were different. You just did whatever the hell you wanted, you launched prank sites like Facemash, you hacked into Harvard’s computers, you thumbed your nose at authority and mocked people right in the pages of the Crimson (Harvard Student papers) – but that simply wasn’t acceptable”. – page 106

“Mark’s own argument – that there are an infinite number of designs for a chair, but that doesn’t mean everyone who makes a chair is stealing from someone else. If anything, they were all borrowing from Friendster when it came right down to it; ConnectU Twins hadn’t invented the wheel, that was for sure. Mark had done nothing wrong, nothing that every other entrepreneur in the Valley hadn’t done a dozen times before.” – page 201

With 3 face-to-face meet-ups and 52 email exchanges, I think Mark stringed the Winklevoss twins along for far too long. Maybe Mark is socially inept, he doesn’t know what clear communication means, that you either do the job you promised to or refused outright the intention of not wanting to take the HarvardConnection website further. Unless he has much to gain by stringing the twins along. Whatever the gain may be, Mark doesn’t operate at the same honour code as the twins do.

Eduardo Saverin deserves the treatment that he got. In fact he got some financial gain out of Facebook because he invested his money in the first place.

A surprising entree to the whole story was Sean Parker. The founder of Napster. I am not going to reveal what happened at the end, because the ending is just as good, if not great. 😉

Another view of looking at the whole Facebook debacle is that once you get rich, friends and strangers will clamour for a piece of the pie, even the remotely associated. So it may look as if Mark’s friends wanting to leech off him to get their share of fame and money. There are some truths about this, but I have read many true accounts about the founding of famous technology companies, and they are all done through hard work, sheer genius, getting the right funding and excel with excellent teamwork between founders and employees. This is the first one which is shrouded with so many scandals and dispute, and I wonder why?

My Verdict: 4.5/5

As juicy as tabloid newspaper, News of the World.

Here’s the book title again:

The Accidental Billionaires – Sex, Money, Betrayal and the Founding of Facebook.

There is definitely mention of a lot money, multiple betrayals, but not much sex.

The book reads like a thriller. It is this kind of real-life thriller that draws my full attention and I finished the book within 2 days. The juicy nature of the true story more than compensates for any flaw one might detect about the writing (not that there is any). Before I read fiction, I was reading lots of techie entrepreneurs’ life stories. Michael Dell, Bill Gates, the founding of Google etc. and they all fascinate me. Because Facebook is such a big part of everyone’s life, it pays to know what goes behind the incorporation of the company. I highly recommend this book, even if you are not into techie stuff, because it is juicy. 😉

Paperback. [258 pages], Arrow Books 2010, Settings: America, Source: Library Loot. Finished reading on: 1st February 2010.

Are Havard graduates suppose to look this good? Better looking than the actors who are playing them in my view!

Speaking about the movie, The Social Network, has garnered 8 Oscar nominations. The nominations include best: picture, actor, director, adapted screenplay, cinematography, film editing, soundtrack and sound mixing. The 83rd annual awards ceremony will take place on Sunday, February 27 at 5 pm Pacific Standard Time.

Despite spokespeople for the real social network’s continued insistence that the movie doesn’t represent a factual history of the company, people have come to regard the film as a true story. Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has publicly said that his personal friends have told him they got inspired by the movie, and it seems that most people identified with the character portraying the CEO, Jesse Eisenberg.

Have you watch the movie? How do you think The Social Network will fare in the eight categories in which the film received Oscar nominations?

About the writer:

Ben Mezrich (left) and wife Tonya

Ben Mezrich (born 1969) is an American author from Princeton, New Jersey. He graduated magna-cum-laude with a degree in Social Studies from Harvard University in 1991. Some of his books have been written under the pseudonym Holden Scott.

Mezrich is best known for his first non-fiction work, Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions (ISBN 0-7432-4999-2). This book tells the story of a group of students from MIT who bet on blackjack games using a sophisticated card counting system, earning millions of dollars at casinos in Las Vegas and other gambling centers in the United States and the Caribbean. The story was made into the movie 21, released in 2008.

In this book, The Accidental Billionaires Mezrich said:

‘I have tried to keep the chronology as close to exact as possible. In some instances, details of settings and descriptions have been changed or imagined’.

The book came into being when he was introduced to Eduardo Saverin by Will McMullen. Mark Zuckerberg, as is his perfect right, declined to speak with the author for the book despite numerous requests.

I am reading this for 2011 Non-fiction challenge hosted by The Broke and the Bookish under pop culture category.

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.

Discussion

23 thoughts on “The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich (The Founding of Facebook)

  1. Wonderful review, JoV! I am not on Facebook – I quit a few months ago – but I have heard about the movie…although I think the movie overshadowed the book to a great deal. 4.5 from you is very generous – now I only wish I have my hands on a copy of the book. The movie is sitting here – but now I am torn if I should watch the movie first and read the book later?

    Posted by Soul Muser | February 5, 2011, 12:40 pm
    • Soul, Thanks. Good for you Soul to quit facebook! I think the movie should be better…. What about read the book first then watch the movie? I usually try to do that if I can. 😉

      Posted by JoV | February 5, 2011, 9:04 pm
  2. What an interesting book and a deep insight into the whole issue about facebook. This book goes high on my wishlist. Great review.

    Posted by Geosi | February 5, 2011, 4:19 pm
  3. I do use facebook, because my friends are on there, so I know when I send them a message on there they’ll read it within the hour 😉 But the status thing is really tempting, I know I change it too often (which is why I’m not on twitter, I’d get on everyone’s nerves) ;D

    It’s really interesting how the social networks affected society and communication!

    Posted by Bina | February 5, 2011, 5:41 pm
    • Bina, I use facebook too, only because it is easier to get in touch with friends. I recommend this non-fiction book I read in 2009: Here comes everybody by Clay Shirky
      https://bibliojunkie.wordpress.com/2009/06/29/here-comes-everybody/

      It talks about the revolution of collaboration and social networking on our lives.

      oooo… that status thing is quite tempting.. I try not to do it. Therefore it explains why I don’t twitter. But here’s one update from me now:
      “I am typing this and flossing my teeth.” How’s that? 😉

      Posted by JoV | February 5, 2011, 9:15 pm
  4. Hey there! I just wanted to let you know that you are now able to post your reviews for January/February. I want to read this book! I just watched The Social Network and I’m so intrigued now! Great review.

    Posted by Jamie | February 5, 2011, 8:21 pm
    • Jamie, Thanks I’ll hop over now and post the review. Do read the book anyway, the book might enlighten you about how they feel and what they think, which may be lost in the movie dialogue! 😉

      Posted by JoV | February 5, 2011, 9:23 pm
  5. Hi there. Very insightful review you have here on the founders of Facebook. I’m not much of a non-fiction reader but this one does sound juicy. I’ve seen the movie and I thought it was quite good.

    Posted by linashaik | February 6, 2011, 1:44 am
    • Lina, There are so much good non-fiction books out there which are just as thrilling as novels. I can recommend, if you tell me what you like to read. Thanks for stopping by. 😉

      Posted by JoV | February 6, 2011, 2:18 pm
  6. I know The Social Network is an unfairish portrayal of the events that took place, but it was a damn good movie. I think it’s sure to win for screenplay and probably editing as well. I wanted to dislike it, because I don’t care for Aaron Sorkin, but it was a good film and won me over.

    Posted by Jenny | February 6, 2011, 2:10 am
  7. I love using FB. I don’t think we could call it “addictive” unless those who play the games there. FB replaces SMS and in some ways, replaces Internet Chat. And it is just as strange to call texting friends (or calling friends before SMS becomes popular) being an addictive activity.

    And since I am such a heavy user of FB, I ought to give this book a try! Thanks for the recommendation.

    Posted by Wilfrid | February 6, 2011, 6:20 am
    • Wilfrid, hmmm not sure I could relate to texting friends, I don’t do much of that either. Texting and FB is a little unfair comparison. The richness of information sharing with friends make people wants to hang around in FB and check out what their friends are doing a little bit more. Whereas with texting there is nothing much to do except well… “texting”. And Zuckerberg knows that, the advertisers know that. That’s how FB earn their money, through advertising.

      Hope you get to read the book soon, tell me what you think! 😉

      Posted by JoV | February 6, 2011, 2:22 pm
  8. This is definitely more than a book review by the photos that you are able to collect to accompany this review.
    I have enjoyed The Social Network and it was one of the best movies I watched in 2010.

    Posted by Marvin | February 7, 2011, 3:03 am
  9. Great review and analysis of the book. Even though I have always felt this resistance against reading this book let alone watching The Social Network, your post did open my mind a little bit to it. I guess this story about the real people behind the success is quite interesting after all.

    Posted by Chinoiseries | February 7, 2011, 7:44 pm
  10. I am actually keen on reading Bringing down the house.Reading about such mavericks is good fun.. awesome review ! .. lol at the view that the harvard grads are better looking than the people in the movie.. heartily agree with that one 😉

    Posted by bhargavi | August 7, 2011, 12:32 am
    • Bhargavi,
      yeah, I’m keen to reading Bringing the House down too. it is suppose the other way round, Hollywood stars looking better, maybe that’s why I didn’t like the movie! lol 😉

      Posted by JoV | August 7, 2011, 6:09 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: It’s a Wrap: February 2011 « Bibliojunkie - February 28, 2011

  2. Pingback: Bringing Down the House « Bibliojunkie - December 19, 2011

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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