Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Book Review: The Accidental Billionaires (2009) by Ben Mezrich.

I'd hate to see what Ben Mezrich would write if he wasn't a fan.

At the end of The Accidental Billionaires about Facebook's founding, Mezrich curiously writes: "I am an enormous fan of all the characters of this book; I am in awe of their genius, and I am grateful to have been able to get a glimpse into a world of creation I'd never known before." (p. 258; emphasis added.)

Given the encompassing term "all", this would necessarily include then-Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who appears significantly in the book when an ethics complaint was brought to him by Harvard students in connection with (then) thefacebook's founding as a dorm-room project there.

Consider Mezrich's (a Harvard grad's) bizarre treatment of Dr. Summers. While referring to him as "pudgy" four times and as "chubby" in pages 126 to 131, Mezrich flourishes: "Summers shook his head. His jowls reverberated with the motion, like fleshy waves in a swirling epidermal storm." (130.) Mezrich resumes his theme later chronicling a Harvard graduation ceremony: "Summers was almost ready behind the lectern, his wide jowly face just inches from the microphone." (238.) I've seen Dr. Summers (now a White House economics advisor, and former Secretary of the Treasury); he's not morbidly obese, so this embarrassing, excessive personal attack must have some other agenda--one I can't ascertain.

Perhaps the "all" was not intended to refer to Dr. Summers, and can therefore be chalked up to unintentionally overinclusive or imprecise language.

Nevertheless, there's no doubt that Facebook's principal founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is a central figure in the book. It's mysterious too why Mezrich would sum up his book by claiming himself a "fan", when the preceding pages present Mr. Zuckerberg in an unflattering light (at least in part). Indeed, the book's subtitle contains the word "betrayal" and Mezrich levels the charge squarely at Mr. Zuckerberg throughout the text, and notably, in its conclusion.

Mezrich too wrote the popular, Bringing Down the House, which became the movie, 21. Having read Bringing Down the House, about MIT students who gamed Vegas casinos, I eagerly anticipated reading Mezrich's latest. This book doesn't disappoint. Mezrich's prose moves swiftly and is unladen with extraneous scenes or plotlines. From a legal perspective, this book will especially appeal to lawyers because there are not one but two legal disputes discussed in The Accidental Billionaires. A fascinating ethical scenario enfolds, which could be excellent fodder for a law school professional responsibility class.

In this decade, Mr. Zuckerberg has followed in fellow Harvard dropout Bill Gates' footsteps, whom Mezrich intriguingly records Mr. Zuckerberg watching speak at Harvard while a student. Mezrich writes that Zuckerberg became a billionaire by 25. This is the business formation story of the day. Mezrich shrewdly seizes on this important, multi-layered narrative, and he does it justice.


Labels: ,