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The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal

December 13th, 2012

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NATIONAL BESTSELLER“The Social Network, the much anticipated movie…adapted from Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires.” —The New York TimesBest friends Eduardo Saverin and Mark Zuckerberg had spent many lonely nights looking for a way to stand out among Harvard University’s elite, comptetitive, and accomplished  student body. Then, in 2003, Zuckerberg hacked into Harvard’s computers, crashed  the campus network, almost got himself  expelled, and was inspired to create Facebook, the social networking site that has since revolutionized communication around the world.  With Saverin’s funding their tiny start-up went from dorm room to Silicon Valley. But conflicting ideas about Facebook’s future transformed the friends into enemies. Soon, the undergraduate exuberance that marked their collaboration turned into out-and-out warfare as it fell prey to the adult world of venture capitalists, big money, lawyers.From the Trade Paperback edition.


Book Review

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out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12796 user reviews
History Books NATIONAL BESTSELLER“The Social Network, the much anticipated movie…adapted from Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires.” —The New York TimesBest friends Eduardo Saverin and Mark Zuckerberg had spent many lonely nights looking for a way to stand out among Harvard University’s elite, comptetitive, and accomplished  student body. Then, in 2003, Zuckerberg hacked into Harvard’s computers, crashed  the campus network, almost got himself  expelled, and was inspired to create Facebook, the social networking site that has since revolutionized communication around the world.  With Saverin’s funding their tiny start-up went from dorm room to Silicon Valley. But conflicting ideas about Facebook’s future transformed the friends into enemies. Soon, the undergraduate exuberance that marked their collaboration turned into out-and-out warfare as it fell prey to the adult world of venture capitalists, big money, lawyers.From the Trade Paperback edition.
http://www.bookpool.org/5892-the-accidental-billionaires-the-founding-of-facebook-a-tale-of-sex-money-genius-and-betrayal/

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  1. Web Samurai
    December 14th, 2012 at 04:14 | #1

    Rating

    I enjoyed Ben Mezrich’s “Bringing down the House” but his latest books have been terrible. First the very boring “Rigged”, and now “The Accidental Billionaires”, about the history of Facebook.

    All of his books follow the same formula: A young, brilliant man suddenly finds fortune and girls by using his skills to make money in interesting ways. Usually he has a mentor. His success causes some friction with his friends, but he eventually wins out, albeit at a price. This formula is so rigid one wonders if Mezrich begins his books with a Word Template… Chapter Five – Hero realizes the idea will make lots of money… Chapter Eight – Hero gets with girl way out of his league…

    The characters seem like hand-puppets even though they are allegedly real-life personas. You have the unlucky-in-love nerd, his pushover sidekick, and the jealous jocks. The dialogue is so mundane and contrived you can’t imagine anyone talking that way.

    As for women, they exist only as status symbols in Mezrich’s books.

    Now, the story about the founding of a website will not excite most readers, so Mezrich tries to sex it up with stories of lavish parties and groupies. The problem is Mezrich admits to creative storytelling in the Forward– collapsing time frames, combining characters, even imagining scenarios. So, in effect, everything not publicly documented could be fabricated.

    As a history or bigraphy, then, we already know that the book is useless. But it also fails as a compelling drama. In some chapters basically nothing happens. Mezrich will spend pages describing the setting in detail, the characters will make a few remarks, and then the chapter ends. What was it about? Why was it important? Who knows. But these chapters do pad out the book, which is a breezy read anyway. You will finish the thing in a few hours. There’s about 10 words per line, 20 lines per page, and very little content. The meat of the book takes us up to 2005, before Facebook’s truly phenomenal growth (it was still far behind MySpace at the time), and before anything is resolved. Like many of the chapters, the book just sorta ends. I suspect the movie rights to this book were sold before the book was even in the outline stage, and he was on a tight deadline.

    In short, this book gives you no reliable information, and is not even entertaining.

  2. Tim Challies
    December 16th, 2012 at 22:24 | #2

    Rating

    I read this book because I wanted to understand the history of Facebook–a program (a site, a lifestyle) that is changing society. The book’s cover (a picture of a red, lacy bra and a couple of cocktail glasses) and subtitle (A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal) should have tipped me off that it was not going to be serious history. 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.” He does provide lots of interesting facts and shares the rather brutal history of Facebook (from Mark Zuckerberg essentially stealing the idea from people who had asked him to create a very similar social media site to the backhanded way that he forced his co-founder out of the company). I suppose it is a tale of money, genius and betrayal, though I don’t see how sex really enters into the true tale except as much as it would for any group of college students (except, of course, as a selling feature). So this is Mezrich’s take on the story, written in a tabloid fashion where what is true and what could be true blend together. By his own admission, Mezrich did not speak to Zuckerberg at all and relied very heavily on Eduardo Saverin, a valuable though hardly objective source (seeing as he is the very co-founder who was removed from the company). The framework of the facts seems to line up with what I’ve read elsewhere but the very nature of the book makes it somewhat less than trustworthy. Still, if you want to know how Facebook came to be, how it evolved from a week’s worth of work for a college student to a company valued in the billions dollars, this seems to be the only show in town. Even then, read Wikipedia first to see if it offers enough to satisfy your curiosity before plunking down the money for this book. Even at just $16.50 it’s hard to believe that it’s worth the money.

  3. M. Grad
    December 18th, 2012 at 16:16 | #3

    Rating

    I have read all of Ben’s most recent books and have greatly enjoyed his ability to put together facts and tell something in a compelling and behind the scenes fashion. I am so disappointed with this book. First off, just reading the wikipedia page about Facebook gives you as much, if not more, information about the founding of facebook. The story could have been told in 5 pages, since it is lacking research and content. He clearly did not do enough research or he should have written on another topic because the story lacks in every aspect. I feel truly robbed and completely let down.

  4. O.C.
    December 21st, 2012 at 06:28 | #4

    Rating

    I’m a finance guy, and I really enjoyed Mezrich’s Ugly Americans, so I was dying to get my hands on Accidental Billionaires. It chronicles the ups and downs of the creation of Facebook from the Harvard dorm rooms of Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin to the halls of Silicon Valley. Mezrich manages again to tell a true story about young kids making it big, in the most accidental way. I find it really interesting to know this point of view about the Facebook story, since before AB, all I really knew about was Zuck. Mezrich has dug up many points of view of the story, with insight from the Winklevoss twins and Sean Parker to name a few. AB is a quick fun read, that really illustrates how the behemouth of silicon valley really just started as a college prank. I highly recommend this book.

  5. Jiang Xueqin
    December 22nd, 2012 at 02:59 | #5

    Rating

    Ben Mezrich is a shoddy, silly reporter and a lousy, lazy reporter. He reports and writes not as if he’s a graduate of Harvard, but as if of the ESPN and Sports Illustrated Night School of Journalism. But he does have one gift, and it’s to track down a great story. “Bringing Down the House” was a great story and a terrible book, and “The Accidental Billionaires” is an even better story and a more terrible book.

    What makes “The Accidental Billionaires” so terrible is the sheer shoddiness and superficiality of the work. It seems that the author talked to the Winklevoss twins (who have always claimed that Facebook was their idea), to Eduardo Saverin (who initially financed Facebook back when it was a Harvard dorm enterprise), and a bit to Sean Parker (the founder of Napster who introduced Mark Zuckerberg to VC capital) — individuals who all have good reason to hate Mark Zuckerberg, and to have their side of the story told. Besides these self-serving interviews Ben Mezrich fails to do anything more substantive, and essentially tells the story from the perspective of these bitter and biased individuals.

    Yes, the Winklevoss twins, Eduardo Saverin, and Sean Parker felt betrayed by Mark Zuckerberg, but the question is why?

    The Winklevoss twins were future Olympians and alpha males at Harvard who were looking for a geek to build them a website so they can meet the girls they would like to screw (a website seem to them the most time-efficient way to advertise their sex appeal because they were so busy with their rowing). They wanted someone who could “get” (Mezrich uses the word “get” a lot in the book, and it’s possible that he’s the only writer who’s ever dared to use the word “getable” not ironically in a book) the idea and have the technical ability to build the website. But anyone who “got” the idea and was a computer whiz kid probably also “got” that he really didn’t need the Winklevoss twins.

    Eduardo Saverin prided himself on being a businessman, and he saw Facebook as a good investment, and in hindsight, considering his return on capital, it will always be the best investment of his life. But for Mark Zuckerberg Facebook was a passion and an obsession. For him, Facebook was not about making billions and getting laid (those were side fringe benefits) — for him, it was about a revolution and total world domination (in the “Pinky and the Brain” sense of world domination). Mark Zuckerberg probably saw the movie “Gamer,” in which the computer genius villain literally controlled people’s minds and actions with his social networking sites, saw how the movie was purposefully attempting to mock him, and liked what he saw.

    And there’s really no mention to explain why Mark Zuckerberg dumped Sean Parker because even Parker conceded he was out of control.

    Mezrich’s book, while meant to be a condemnation of Zuckerberg, offered insights into why ultimately Facebook succeeded. Being incubated at Harvard helped and it was truly a great idea, but there’s also no doubt in my mind that the main reason Facebook succeeded (and not other campus social networks) was because of Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg was a totally focused, driven, and disciplined individual (he’s been called “socially autistic,” whatever that means), and the defining characteristic of such an individual is intolerance for those who are not like him. The Winklevoss twins were useless, Saverin was not committed, and Sean Parker was too Sean Parker — so they had to go. But those who stayed with him and shared his zeal were well-rewarded, and will continue to be so.

    Mezrich may not have been able to interview Zuckerberg, but a writer is supposed to have an imagination and be able to construct a character. The book vitally depended on an interior view of Mark Zuckerberg, and the author failed to construct one. It’s not enough to just say that Zuckerberg was a genius or even that he was “socially autistic.” We learn nothing about his childhood, his parents, his Exeter days, his fascination with computers, and his awkwardness with girls. And so we learn nothing about Zuckerberg.

    My best guess is that Zuckerberg is even worse and will become even worse than the way he’s portrayed in this book. He’s similar to Bill Gates and the Google founders in that they all have similar drive and discipline, but Microsoft and Google are real companies with real revenue models. But Facebook is more hype than anything else. Zuckerberg is living in a castle in the sky, and because he’s so removed from reality he will eventually implode and may even go insane (if he’s not insane already), but not before destroying a lot of what is good and noble in this world.

  6. Khaled Altaher
    December 23rd, 2012 at 16:11 | #6

    Rating

    Facebook transformed the lives of today’s young generation. This generation socializes today both physically and electronically! To a large extent, they socialize mostly electronically than physically. Thanks to Facebook!

    I am a Facebook user myself and I am quite hooked to it. I access it at least once a day and it helps me stay in touch with friends. I get news of my friends from facebook and I publish my own on it. I stay in touch with all my friends and get back together with friends I lost touch with a long time ago. Facebook truly changed our lives.

    This book gives you the story of facebook. The behind the scenes work that helped make Facebook what it is today. It shows how a Billion Dollar project like Facebook could change people and end friendships in a matter of seconds.

    Interesting book to read. I believe it serves more as a novel than an autobiography of Mark Zuckerberg. I recommend buying and reading it.

  7. Loyd E. Eskildson
    December 24th, 2012 at 04:52 | #7

    Rating

    Mezrich states that some of the material involves composite characters and imagined conversations. My sense is that the material would be much more readable and credible if he had just created a factual narrative limited to 3-5 pages. As it stands, the book is just a lot of words strung together, too verbose and suspect for even the general reader.

    Facebook purportedly began as a prank by a Harvard student (Mark Zuckerberg) that allowed comparing/rating its coeds. Since then three other Harvard students claim that generalizing the Facebook idea was theirs and that they paid Zuckerberg to do the original programming (case pending). It now has about 200 million members. The firm’s valuation is estimated at somewhere between $10 billion (per Russian $200 million investment for 1.96% in May, 2009), and $15 billion (per Microsoft $240 million investment for 1.6% in October 2007). Why these enormous valuation figures is not clear – seems like the stratospheric valuations prior to the [...] bust of the late 1990s all over again. “The Accidental Billionaires” also does not explain what Facebook’s sustainable competitive advantage is. Thus, the book also lacks value as a basic Harvard Business School case.

  8. Goodbookz
    December 24th, 2012 at 14:20 | #8

    Rating

    I listened to the unabridged audio of this book, and if you want to torture yourself with high school prose, endless filler with no purpose, and cardboard characters, then this is the audio for you. I agree with other reviewers that Bringing Down the House was a fun read, but this has no content, and appears to be based on Eduardo’s limited involvement during the Harvard dorm phase. Further, the audio narrator does not improve on this trainwreck, but substantially contributes to the annoyance factor.

  9. A. J. Wolfson
    December 26th, 2012 at 00:12 | #9

    Rating

    Here is what you need to know about this book:

    1. Is it an enjoyable read? YES. Read the book in about a day and a half and couldn’t put it down at the end.

    2. Is it an interesting story? YES. For the first time, I really felt that I was there (the “fly on the wall”) as a whole idea unfolded from end-to-end, to become something that makes Microsoft and Google quiver in their boots.

    3. Is it an interesting plot? YES. Its a real tragedy of friendship, greed, and power. It is a delightfully unexpected path woven together well by Mezrich.

    I saw lot of reviews and reports about this story, and read it eyes-opened. Is this verbatim of what actually happened? Of course not, but do you really believe everything that gets written by Jenna Jameson or Marilyn Manson in their “true autobiographies”. Is it clear enough that this is the way the main plot played out? — to me there is little question.

    So if you want to enjoy a good read, pick up this book. It you want to stock up on dry factoids, pick up an Encylopedia Brittanica — I hear they are real cheap nowadays ;)

  10. Mark
    December 26th, 2012 at 08:26 | #10

    Rating

    I just “went through” the 7+ hour audio-book version of this book. I enjoyed both it and also the 14+ hour _FB Effect_ audio-book version of “The FaceBook Story.”

    I think that the accusation of “this” version as being sensationalistic, while the other version as being “special access” fluff, have certain elements of truth, and that the “real picture” is somewhere in-between, is probably correct…so if you have the time and trying to make a similar impact on the world, you want to try both!

  11. A. P.
    December 26th, 2012 at 15:33 | #11

    Rating

    I was amazed how poorly this book is written. I originally thought that it was the author’s first book, but to my amazement it turned out that he already published 10 books! I only read it because I was curious about the story, but seriously, the story could be written in 20 pages, not two hundred something. Also, the constant mention of “hot blond” or “hot Asian” chicks was extremely annoying and offensive. Isn’t it strange that every character in the book views women purely as a sex object and is only attracted to blonds or Asians. Or is it the author, Ben Mezrich only attracted to Asian or blond chicks? Anyway, this book was a total waste of money for me.

  12. Patrick
    December 27th, 2012 at 16:31 | #12

    Rating

    The Accidental Billionaires is about the founding of Facebook and centers on the founders Mark Zuckerberg’s and Eduardo Saverin’s friendship as Harvard undergrads. They each shared both academic brilliance in math and a geeky awkwardness with women. Eduardo struggles for acceptance and finds himself joining one of the university’s Final Clubs, elite societies that have groomed generations of powerful men. Mark is less interested in campus life and college acceptance. One night Mark hacks into the university’s computers and begins to compile a database of all the female students on campus. This stunt crashed Harvard servers and nearly got Mark kicked out of school. From that project the framework for Facebook was born.

    The Accidental Billionaires is an entertaining book, but you have to take the story with a grain of salt. Mezrich highly dramatized the story in the hopes to gain another movie deal. The main details of the story are accurate and true, but the majority of the book is drama and filler to jazz up a normally boring story about a website. Overall I found the book entertaining and a nice glimpse at the founding of Facebook.

  13. Jeff Bennett
    December 27th, 2012 at 20:19 | #13

    Rating

    I read this very quickly and skipped over a lot of frat boy paragraphs as I was interested in the basic history of Facebook. Who knows how accurate this is but it sounds about right given what I already heard. The book served my purpose by highlighting some important things about the way such companies seem come out of nowhere with obvious notions. It still amazes the way skill haphazardly aligns with the luck of it all, the common sense feel but unpredictability of the market, and the nature of people in such a quick evolutionary fire from a simple spark or two.

    A decent read about an amazing phenomenon. The business lessons are buried in tabloid-like accounts but they are there.

  14. Ricky L. Lax
    December 28th, 2012 at 08:49 | #14

    Rating

    Even Ben Mezrich’s fiercest critics have to admit, the guy knows how to pick a good story. In 2003 Mezrich grew famous after writing about the MIT blackjack team (Bringing Down the House), and this year he’s found an even bigger story to tell: the creation of Facebook.

    Maybe “found” isn’t the right word; the story was up for grabs. But Mezrich was the one who grabbed it, and now he’s reaping the benefits. Kevin Spacey snapped up the movie rights before the author had even completed his first draft. And having read the book, I can see why; The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook–A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal has the makings of a summer blockbuster: swank Silicon Valley parties, gorgeous Ivy League coeds and an unlikely hero: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

    In Accidental Billionaires, Mezrich reveals that Facebook began as a website that simply allowed Harvard students to vote on which of their female classmates was hottest. According to Mezrich, the first, second and third hottest girls at Harvard all lived together. The last four digits of their room’s phone number were 3-8-2-5 (F-U-C-K). “The Harvard housing office,” explains Mezrich, “was notorious for bizarre little pranks like that. Putting kids with similar names in the same room … there was a Burger and Fries, and at least two Blacks and Whites … Someone probably needed to get fired.”

    Along with funny anecdotes like that one, Accidental Billionaires offers everything from pop sociology (“To the Epsilon Pi kids, a Jewish girlfriend might be nice, because it would make Mom and Dad happy. But, in reality, an Asian girlfriend was much more likely”) to technological criticism (“You didn’t go on MySpace to communicate, you went there to show yourself off. It was like one big narcissistic playground. Look at me! Look at me! Look at my Garage Band, Comedy Routine, Acting Reel, Modeling Portfolio and on and on and on”). But the one thing the book doesn’t offer is abundant firsthand knowledge.

    In the book’s preface, Mezrich concedes that Zuckerberg turned down all interview requests. So Mezrich was forced to do a bit of literary dot-connecting in the form of imagined scenes. Mezrich begins certain passages with phrases like, “We can imagine him …” and “We can picture what must have happened next …” It’s frustrating, but at least Mezrich admits what he doesn’t know. That’s more than you can say about a lot of narrative nonfictionists.

    The thing that upset me about Mezrich’s speculations is that, throughout the bulk of the book, I’d assumed the author had done extensive interviews with the two secondary players (student financier Eduardo Saverin and Napster co-founder Sean Parker). But late in the book, Mezrich has imagined scenes involving both of them. So either he didn’t interview them after all, or he didn’t do so as thoroughly as I would have liked.

    My other complaint is that Mezrich tries to be clever at the wrong times. For instance, when describing the music that played at a 2003 Alpha Epsilon Pi Meet & Greet, Mezrich writes, “The iPod was churning away, filling the air with a mixture of pop and anachronistic folk rock–either the result of a schizophrenic’s playlist or some bickering committee members’ poorly thought-out compromise.” Suddenly music genre juxtaposition suggests bureaucracy or mental disorder? Come on, Ben.

    Mezrich is best when he keeps the editorialization to a minimum and action at a maximum. The part when Zuckerberg hacks into Harvard’s computer system and steals the names and photos of the undergrads is fantastic. If Mezrich can keep writing scenes like that one, if he can keep finding the right stories to tell and if he can keep expanding his brand of populist narrative nonfiction, he’ll be in good position to become the Washington Irving of the 21st century.

  15. Richard Cumming
    December 28th, 2012 at 13:34 | #15

    Rating

    Mark Zuckerberg is the very public face of Facebook so this book will let readers know all about the genius Harvard computer nerd who turned a prank into the biggest social network on the web, right? Sorry, if you want to know anything new about Zuckerberg you’ll have to search elsewhere.

    He would not speak to the author. Zuckerberg’s former friend and partner Eduardo helped out. He doesn’t seem to know Zuckerberg at all. By the end of this book he admits that he never really knew the guy well. Even the anonymous sources don’t add much to this discussion.

    The bare bones of Facebook are here. The embryonic growth phase. The lawsuits. But it is written as a sort of fiction. The author imagines conversations and the details of events. Mezrich went to Harvard so he is writing what he knows, sort of.

    The book is already optioned for a film. Perhaps the film will be bolder about portraying Zuckerberg as more than a mysterious cipher? Hard to say, with Zuckerberg’s cash perhaps everybody is just afraid of litigation. Who knows?

    This book is not any great revelation despite what some adoring critics might claim. A pretty wrapper but not much on the inside….

    p.s. Be sure to read the review by Kim Albert aka “BigMamma” in this group of reviews. In the comments section you will find a fascinating conversation between this reviewer and Ben Mezrich, the author of “Accidental Billionaires.” Enjoy!

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