Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Accidental Billionaires

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Accidental Billionaires

Article excerpt

In 2003, author Ben Mezrich - rather like a cool card shark running the table - was on a roll. His bestseller "Bringing Down the House," about card-counting Massachusetts Institute of Technology whiz kids beating the odds in Vegas, was the basis of "21," a Hollywood blockbuster produced by Kevin Spacey. And then allegations surfaced that Mezrich embellished scenes and concocted many of the details in his supposedly true tale.

Drake Bennett, whose detailed reporting in The Boston Globe broke the story the week after "21" opened, concluded that "Bringing Down the House" was "not a work of 'nonfiction' in any meaningful sense of the word." So readers may approach Mezrich's new book, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal with some trepidation.

But while they would be right to worry about the truth of Mezrich's account, a more comprehensive question should stir them as well. Is the ever-evolving Internet, which is transforming almost every aspect of civilization, susceptible to serious historical storytelling? Will the true tale of the Web ever be told?

"Accidental Billionaires" tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook. In an author's note, Mezrich allows that he invents dialogue, synthesizes details, and puts imagined thoughts into his characters' heads. Indeed, the resulting book reads like a novel - alas, a generic young-adult novel with crude plotting, cheesy descriptive passages, and grade-school vocabulary.Clearly Mezrich is no scholarly historian. But despite an emphasis on engaging characters and a compelling story, and despite his self- described immersion in the world of Facebook's founders, Mezrich's is a haphazard and clumsy book.

Barely 20 years old, Mark Zuckerberg was a student at Harvard University. He was also an impulsive hacker and an asocial loner, a mystery even to his more socially ambitious friend Eduardo Saverin. Then he turned a dating site proposed by upperclassmen (whose legal challenges continue to bedevil Facebook today) into a social- networking service for students at elite colleges, clumsily rebranding it as ", a Mark Zuckerberg Production."

Recognizing Facebook's game-changing power, Saverin underwrote Zuckerberg's project, offering himself as a business partner and adviser and putting money he'd earned as an investment prodigy on the line.

"Accidental Billionaires" follows Mark and Eduardo's excellent adventure from Cambridge, Mass., to Palo Alto, Calif., through piles of pizza boxes and pages of legal challenges, cease-and-desist letters, and clumsy sexual encounters. Zuckerberg refused to talk to Mezrich; perhaps in retribution, the character at the center of "Accidental Billionaires" is not only a mystery, but also a joke. Allegedly a genius, Zuckerberg here only comes to life when he's talking to Victoria's Secret models or planning to crash a ritzy party in Silicon Valley. …

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