I had a chance at a recent Wired event to chat with Steven Levy about In The Plex which I enjoyed greatly. It is a fun, fascinating read about how a great innovation in search and a second innovation — monetizing it — led to creation, development, and dominance of Google.
Levy, who had done a few way early and quite complementary articles on Google (before anyone knew who they were) was granted “unprecedented access to the company” and it shows in his quite revelatory book about how how Google became the company it is today.
The key to Google’s success in all of their businesses, according to Levy, is the engineering mind-set and adoption of such Internet values as speed, openness, experimentation, and risk taking.
I was tempted to accuse Levy of fawning over the company, but he is pretty brutal on how Google stumbled so badly in China as well as in social networking,
He writes with a deep understanding of engineering and software — which works terrifically well in this book. That technology savvy is what was noticeably missing from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs.
If you are curious as to how things operate in the Googleplex, this books gives you the details.
“Levy is America’s premier technology journalist. . . . He has produced the most interesting book ever written about Google. He makes the biggest intellectual challenges of computer science seem endlessly fun and fascinating. . . . We can expect many more books about Google. But few will deliver the lively, idea-based journalism of In the Plex.”
—Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Washington Post
“An instructive primer on how the minds behind the world’s most influential internet company function.”
—Richard Waters, The Wall Street Journal
“[Steven Levy] spent much of the past three years playing anthropologist at one of the Internet’s most interesting villages and set of inhabitants — the Googleplex and the tribue of Googlers who inhabit it. . . . A deep dive into Google’s culture, history and technology.”
–Mike Swift, San Jose Mercury News
“The wizards of Silicon Valley often hype their hardware/software breakthroughs as ‘magical’ for the products’ ability to pull off dazzling stunts in the blink of an eye. And true to the magicians’ code, these tech talents rarely let mere mortals peer behind the curtains. . . . That’s what makes Levy’s just-out tome so valuable.”
—Jonathan Takiff, The Philadelphia Daily News
“The most comprehensive, intelligent and readable analysis of Google to date. Levy is particularly good on how those behind Google think and work…What’s more, his lucid introductions to Google’s core technologies – the search engine and the company’s data centres – are written in non-geek English and are rich with anecdotes and analysis… In The Plex teems with original insight into Google’s most controversial affairs.”
—Andrew Keen, New Scientist
“Steven Levy’s new account [of Google], In the Plex, is the most authoritative to date and in many ways the most entertaining.”
—James Gleick, The New York Review of Books
“Dense, driven examination of the pioneering search engine that changed the face of the Internet. . . The author was afforded an opportunity to observe the company’s operations, development, culture and advertising model from within the infrastructure for two years with full managerial cooperation. From there, he performed hundreds of interviews with past and current employees and discovered the type of ‘creative disorganization’ that can either make or break a business.. . Outstanding reportage delivered in the upbeat, informative fashion for which Levy is well known.”