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In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives

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3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  7,094 ratings  ·  632 reviews
Written with full cooperation from top management, including cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, this is the inside story behind Google, the most successful and most admired technology company of our time, told by one of our best technology writers.

Few companies in history have ever been as successful and as admired as Google, the company that has transformed the Intern...more
Hardcover, 387 pages
Published April 12th 2011 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2011)
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Molly
A really great read; well written and interesting, nerdy without being alienating, and the deepest dive on Google's ethos I've seen. I'm not sure it makes me feel entirely comfortable about the degree to which we're all in Google's hands: Levy seems to really believe that Larry Page and Sergey Brin want only to "do good." But like Asimov's third law, that missive is both broad and scarily subjective. They're doing good in their opinion, after all, and the unintended consequences of a beast like...more
Arun
It was interesting to read the history of one of the most innovative tech companies of the 21st century, but I would have loved to learn more about the influence of Larry Page and Sergei Brin on Google. As is, "In the Plex" outlines the founding of Google to current-day Google, from the Montessori ideals of Google's founders, to some brilliant acquisitions (e.g. Android, YouTube). There are only cursory mentions of failures. The closest this book comes to a critical analysis was during the secti...more
Bojan Tunguz
Ever since its inception, and in many cases even before it became incorporated, Google has been referred to mainly in the superlatives. The briskness with which it became the dominant player in online search, the sheer size of its operations and the infrastructure, the incredibly short time within which it became one of the largest companies in terms of market capitalization - all of these are the stuff of legends. It is unsurprising then that Google would attract a high level of media attention...more
Todd Nemet
Disclosure: I worked at Google between 2003 and 2009 and consequently I own a couple of shares and if Larry Page would bother sticking around for more than fifteen minutes during earnings calls now that he is CEO the price might get high enough again for me to sell some of them.

Corollary to the previous disclosure: When I do sell some stock, you will be able to tell because the price will rise sharply right after I sell it.

Another disclosure: I know several of the people mentioned in the book, a...more
Loraine
Here are the highlights for me:
First there was Search. How did Google Search get to be the best, the fastest, the most reliable? Why did the other search engines at the time not have the vision to do the same? We get that fascinating story in the first chapters. It's not technical, but I think you have to connect with your inner geek to enjoy it. (Go ahead, we bookworms all have some of that in us.)
Google in China! I learned, finally, about Google's venture into China, an intriguing story often...more
Irena
I am a fan of WIRED and when I saw a book about Google by one of their writers, I had to pay special attention to it. I joined this course about understanding media by understanding Google on Coursera and it's been an eye-opener.
Among all the recommended course readings (Vaidhyanathan, Auletta, Battelle, Pariser, Jarvis and more), this is definitely the book you want to read before all others.
Insider stories from Googlers, detailed information about how certain projects came to be or ceased to...more
Gina
I have been a fairly close student of things Google, but learned a great deal from Levy's book--which makes perfect sense given his unprecedented access to Googlers (that is, those who make up the company, not those who use their products) and his exhaustive research (over 200 interviews, not to mention many hours spent in the Googleplex, the Mountain View headquarters of what, by the time of publication, was a company earning some $28 billion annually). Levy gives lucid explanations of the key...more
Alan
Reading this book reminds me to understand the background of the author. Are they a journalist, academic, business exec etc? How has their context shaped their presentation of ideas within their book?

In this case I think that Steven Levy shows his journalism background. He paints a picture of a company obsessed by the numbers but not necessarily willing to understand perceptions. And he does it by a series of parts and chapters based around a specific topic or idea that you could easily imagine...more
Rick
The first half, the early years, is super interesting and had lots of things I didn't know. And I do admire how this thing went right to the current time - it touched on all of the recent anti-trust stuff, etc. It's a pretty friendly account of google, but it frankly talks about the problems. There were some pretty choice passages in there that made me chuckle about some stuff. And it was funny to see a little Foursquare mention. The Google Books saga was SO interesting. So was the China stuff....more
Danny
As an information professional, I read this book as a way to better know our future information overlords.

I'm not anti-Google, but I do think that having one company in charge of all the information will inexorably lead to that company being EVIL, despite Google's cute little "Don't Be Evil" motto.

That said, I was most troubled in the book during the discussion of privacy, which as a librarian I've taken a blood-oath to defend. (No actual blood was spilled during the taking of this oath. Also, n...more
David
This is a fascinating look into the inner workings of Google. The book is well-written, and well-organized, with each chapter covering a theme. For me, the most interesting chapter is the description of the building of the search engine, and all the issues surrounding it. It is also very interesting, how the Google higher-ups did not anticipate all the controversy behind some of their recent projects, such as their foray into China, Google Print, Google Street View, and "Buzz". They just do not...more
Richard
Interesting, entertaining, and rather thorough for a mass market book. Lots of things I didn't know about Google. Other things I did know but only shallowly. There are a lot of things one might criticize Google for. Levy isn't much into criticism here, but he does present the information and the reader can draw his own conclusions. There are a few gag-inducing sections regarding President Obama and his administration that I read as expressing Google's corporate view of Obama, as opposed to an ob...more
Aaron Canaday
This book is a must read for anyone who is interested in technology and where the internet is taking us as a society. In many ways it is Google that is driving us there. Levy provides a surprisingly detailed perspective on the inside of Google which helps demystify the company a lot. It's great to see what is true about the company and what isn't. I was also surprised how balanced the book was. I assumed since Google allowed him to be an embedded reporter that the book would be skewed a bit and...more
Joshua Steimle
A decent biography of Google's history up to the beginning of 2011. Having read The Google Story previously, I prefer a narrative that is entirely chronological, whereas this book is divided by topic with each topic developing from the founding of Google up through the modern day. This results in a bit of confusion during the reading since one is not always entirely sure where one is in the timeline, nor how the events in one area of the business match up with the events in another area of the b...more
Hadrian
Very impressive book about the inner workings of Google. The chapters are grouped around several themes, from its early history, to Gmail, Videos/Youtube, PageRank, and the feud it has had with China. Full of detail about the inner workings of the company. A very high quality book - perhaps one of the best we have on this subject.
Brian Schroeder
Overall a good read. The history and ideals of Google were well represented, showcasing the transformation from 2 Stanford kids who didn't want to start a business to a company that could influence things in a global scale. Some parts got to be a bit technical, bogging down the reading a bit, but in a book about a computer company, what else would you expect? The chapter about Google's fight with China was definitely the most interesting, covering not only what Google did, but also how it was pe...more
Ritesh Pase
Throughout the reading of this book, I kept feeling that if I change the name Google with Amazon, the story would still make perfect sense. I guess it only goes to show that successful enterprises are not exactly very different from each other. This is a good book to get an insight into the way the collective brain at Google works (or at least the way it was meant to work). The culture of the organization is laid bare to the reader and just makes you realize that conviction in your ideas is a pr...more
Hinch
In The Plex provides an engaging insight into the evolution of Google. Steven Levy uses his unprecedented access to the "inner workings" of the organisation to deliver a detailed commentary of both the triumphs, and also the failings, of this internet juggernaut.

The book is arranged into a series of topic-based chapters that cover the search engine, online advertising, corporate culture, infrastructure, media, Google's foray into China, and finally, their involvement in US domestic politics. An...more
Seth
This book did a great job of describing Google's DNA and the thought process behind their decisions. As I read current news on Google, I can now see each move they make in light of their overarching mission to catalog the world's information and make it accessible, and I can also see each move from the perspective of incredibly smart engineers who think that data is always right. So from that perspective, the book succeeded.

However, there were a couple big goofs. It took a while to get into the...more
Terry
I thought this book would prove to be mostly hagiographic but Steven Levy does a good job of reporting rather than editorializing about Google. The book follows the history of Google with periodic highlights about technological advances and cultural changes and then goes back to discuss specific projects that were running concurrently. There is little correlation between importance of a topic and the degree to which it is covered except as it pertains to Google's core values. Google in China is...more
Nicholas
Levy's inside look at Google is clear, insightful, pointed at the right things, but ultimately reads a bit like a hagiography. I should correct this, Google's founders may well DESERVE a hagiography, but I was left with the feeling that this is Google's approved biography with conflicts and ethical dilemmas framed from Google's point of view. Again, this may not be a bad thing, as Levy is perfectly correct in noting that many of Google's critics simply don't understand the thing that they are cr...more
Steve
Here's a rare, all-access pass to see how Google operates. Steven Levy takes his readers inside Google HQ in Mountain View, shedding light on the company's unique culture and how it makes decisions. We also come along for Google's troubled ride in China, where the company's "Do No Evil" mantra was severely tested when its employees found themselves censoring search results to appease the government.

Levy shows how Google's 3 head honchos--Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt--work together a...more
David
If you have an interest in finding out how Google ticks, this is the book for you. Steven Levy provides a very well balanced explanation for both the personalities and the corporate psyche for Google. We all know what Google has done, but when Levy pointed out the trials and tribulations of the small company trying to do good things, and later, the big company trying to do good things, I found it fascinating that the size of the business had such a big impact on the difficulty of the company to...more
Josh
In The Plex was good but it was a little long and wasn't especially focused. Google is super important and interesting though, so I'm glad I read it. Some thoughts:

1. Google is the company most likely to invent real Artificial Intelligence. It's an explicit goal and they have the data and computer power to do it. "From the very start, it's founder saw Google as a vehicle to realize the dream of artificial intelligence." Google is the largest manufacturer of computer servers in the world and the...more
Peter McCarthy
This is a very well written book. Steven Levy's prose is crisp, concise and clear and he carries the narrative along at a good pace, all the while maintaining a really fascinating almost-but-not-quite insider's look at Google. He clearly had access to Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt whenever he needed it and he also had lots of access to the other rock stars in the Google Experience, most notably Matt Cutts, Marissa Mayer and Vic Gundotra. There are plenty of direct quotes from everyone...more
Brian Kirby
As a huge fan of Google I was really excited to see this book at my library. I picked it up and read it in about three or four large blocks. I found that it was easy to read other than a few specific places. I enjoyed it and feel that I learned a lot about Google and tech culture. I only had two difficulties with the reading and I feel that these are very small complaints.

My main complaint about the readability is based on the sections of the book that describe how Google makes money from adver...more
Sean
I was a touch skeptical about whether I would like this book. While I'm no stranger to non-fiction, I rarely consider reading biographies of companies. Levy does a great job of detailing the birth, rise and current state of one of the more interesting companies of this age. I was repeatedly reminded of The Three Ages of Man. Google is clearly a full fledged adult, and entering that strange period where it's uncertain whether one should describe things as driven by eccentricity or midlife crisis....more
Eric Mahollitz
Pulling info from over 200 interviews, formal and informal meetings, and a ton of previously published material, this book delivers in so many ways. Though this is the only Google book I've read, I can't imagine being more satisfied with any of the others. Levy covers all the major accomplishments and snafus and even a few things I was previously unaware of. The writing style is very down to earth. Even in the midst of discussing artificial intelligence, machine learning, or some other esoteric...more
Zhifei Ge
Several stories of Google are really inspiring to potential or active entrepreneurs.

The first story is that Google did not monopolize the search engine patent. Instead, Google has many competitors with similar value proposition. Even Yanhong Li, Baidu's founder, had the search engine patent two years' earlier than Google. Other competitors in the US are Goto and others. This fact that the vision is shared by many independent entrepreneurs tells us that great companies start not by monopolizing...more
Caroline Gordon
I don't know where I was for the past 10 years, but it turns out Google has redefined computing. Sleepers wake! The future will be very different from the past. I had no idea that they have millions (well the number is not public) of servers and have redesigned data centre technology. Who also knew about mapreduce and the datcentre as a computer concepts? The democratisation of data and computing is here, how this will play out over time will be as fascinating as the story so far. This is certai...more
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Steven Levy (born 1951) is an American journalist who has written several books on computers, technology, cryptography, the Internet, cybersecurity, and privacy. Levy is chief technology writer and a senior editor for Newsweek, writing mainly in the "Science & Technology" section. He also writes the column "Random Access" in the monthly feature "Focus On Technology." Levy is also a contributor...more
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“Epstein came up with an elaborate plan, including TV ads, and presented it to the board. The board rejected it.

“It really came down to this,” McCaffrey later said. “We have a limited budget. Do we want to put that money into the technology, into the infrastructure, into hiring really great people? Or do we want to blow it on a marketing campaign that we can’t measure?” Larry and Sergey told Epstein that his interim stint was over”
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“[Google is] an omnivorous collector of information, a hyperencyclopedic vault of human knowledge, an unerring auctioneer, an eerily skilful student of languages, behaviour, and desires.” 1 likes
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