Peter McCarthy's Reviews > In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives

In the Plex by Steven Levy
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's review
Aug 03, 2011

really liked it
Read in August, 2011

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 who did something that Levy recounts.

This is a primer for anyone who wants to know anything about Google- how it started, what its successes were, what its failures were and what Google the company is all about. Levy is not a cheerleader and this is not a fawning biography of Sergey and Larry. He gives failures the same treatment as successes and he never falls back on any inevitability arguments or implies in any way that something just happened- he always provides good background and solid insights on each of the sub-stories told throughout the book.

Sergey and Larry aren't treated as heroes but as the complex men they are- you get a good sense of what they are good at it and what they are not so good at. They disastrously tried to eliminate managers from their engineering force at one point in Google's history for no better reason than they didn't like managers stifling the creative capabilities of their engineering team. But the author also gives them credit where it is due to them- where they saw value that no one else saw, where they pushed relentlessly for ideas that others told them they were crazy to pursue or where they stuck with their instincts and made good, sound business decisions.

The last couple of chapters and the epilogue devolve in to a little unfocused criticism of the company in that almost every thing that Google did in 2009-2010 was riddled by the once formerly search giant being no longer nimble enough to get out of its own way. You get the sense that Levy has bet on the hunch that Google is destined to fail because the things that made it so successful in the early part of the decade were the things that cursed it in the later part of the decade. That remains to be seen and may ultimately determine where this book places in history. If Google does indeed fail over the next ten years- Levy's book will be part one of the primer on the lesson of Google. If it does not, this book is still valuable in terms of the great writing and the excellent story telling that Levy does throughout.
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