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

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3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  17,570 Ratings  ·  797 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
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Hardcover, 432 pages
Published April 12th 2011 by Simon & Schuster
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Lee Tyler Hi. I'm sorry but I can't see who is saying "hi" and I would love to address you directly. Please write a note on my message board.

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Hi. I'm sorry but I can't see who is saying "hi" and I would love to address you directly. Please write a note on my message board.

To answer your question, yes, absolutely yes but it on your list. Then read it as soon as you can. It's been ages since I've read it but I still have various passages of Steven Levy's incredible research float back to me.

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Community Reviews

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Molly
May 08, 2011 Molly rated it really liked it
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
Bojan Tunguz
Apr 13, 2011 Bojan Tunguz rated it it was amazing
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 N
Apr 24, 2011 Todd N rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kindle
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
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Loraine
Jan 18, 2014 Loraine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Danny
Sep 03, 2011 Danny rated it liked it
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
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Irena
Sep 28, 2013 Irena rated it it was amazing
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
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David
Dec 26, 2011 David rated it really liked it
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
Apr 09, 2012 Richard rated it liked it
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
Elizabeth Licata
Aug 03, 2015 Elizabeth Licata rated it it was ok
I expected In the Plex to be an objective history of Google and its various endeavors. As it turns out, I was only half right. It is, indeed, a history of Google.

This is not to say that Levy did a poor job researching the book. As far as I can tell he did a fairly in depth job. But when you describe saying to a developer, “I’d rather be doused with gasoline and set on fire than use your product” as “tough love” (171), I’m going to say you are a teensy-weensy biased.

Not only was this work less
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Rick
Jun 06, 2011 Rick rated it liked it
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
Gina
Jul 04, 2012 Gina rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 21, 2011 Alan rated it really liked it
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
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Hadrian
Apr 06, 2011 Hadrian rated it it was amazing
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.
Aaron Canaday
May 07, 2011 Aaron Canaday rated it it was amazing
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
Josh Steimle
Oct 25, 2011 Josh Steimle rated it liked it
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
Peter Mcloughlin
Good history on the culture of Google and its effect on society and computing. It is part business history it is part computer policy issue it is part tech. Google's story is an interesting and important one. Google's unofficial motto is "don't be evil" but it has gotten itself into troubling policy areas in its dealings with china and privacy issues. It is a corporate giant and as such it will inevitably fall into controversies. an interesting history.
Josh
Dec 22, 2011 Josh rated it liked it
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
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Charles
Jan 01, 2012 Charles rated it it was amazing
In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy

Levy is one of the best informed and best connected journalists writing about tech companies, and this book is the result of more than two hundred interviews with Google staff past and present and his following of the company since 1999. It is, therefore, a uniquely authoritative account of the business and the key people behind it.

Levy paints a picture of a relentlessly rational company - a culture in which you'd be best
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Nicholas
Dec 13, 2011 Nicholas rated it really liked it
Fascinating. I tore through this one this week. Partly because I had the time and partly because it was so interesting. This book presents the history of Google from inception to today. But it does so by 'vertical' as opposed to a linear history. Thus, the first section is about Google Search, the second about Adwords. There is a section about Google's culture, the shift toward data in the 'cloud', even a section on Google relating to government (primarily about anti-trust legislation and head-b ...more
Peter McCarthy
Aug 03, 2011 Peter McCarthy rated it really liked it
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
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
Brian Kirby
Aug 17, 2011 Brian Kirby rated it really liked it
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
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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
Justine
May 12, 2011 Justine rated it really liked it

Steven Levy did a phenomenal job of making a topic, that I new virtually nothing about, personally interesting and relevant. He did an excellent job painting the early atmosphere of Google the start-up company and it's gradually rise to the multi-billion dollar business giant it now is. However, there were two things that prevented this book from being worth 5 stars: 1. There are so many people in this story that it's honestly difficult to keep everybody straight. Levy did a pretty good job of r

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Hinch
Jul 01, 2011 Hinch rated it liked it
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
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Judy
Sep 06, 2011 Judy is currently reading it
This book focuses on lots of details which add up to the story of how Google developed to the point where its tentacles touch all of us internet users. I had to take a break from the section on how Google "learned" to make money from advertising--so much data data data and money money money--but I think the part that really made me step back was realizing how I had watched it develop on the sidebar of my computer monitor, day by day, week by week, as it came to "know" more and more about ME and ...more
William March
Dec 08, 2015 William March rated it it was amazing
This book follows the rise of Google from a nascent idea of a couple of brilliant university students all the way through the rapid ascent that made it a global information juggernaut; from servers housed in a friend’s garage, to butting heads with authoritarian regimes.

It is fascinating to read how deeply the roots of Google are buried in academia and how as a company they continue to foster an ethos of tackling major problems without concern for immediate monetization, much to the chagrin of t
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David
Jul 10, 2011 David rated it really liked it
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
Arvin
Jun 16, 2011 Arvin rated it really liked it
Very interesting book about how Google has always been and still for most part is a different sort of company (in particular, its main goal is NOT directly to make money). Even for people in the tech industry (especially those of us in Silicon Valley), this book provides a lot of interesting anecdotes and details that give a lot of depth and color to the traditional start-up success story of two super-smart iconoclast dreamers building a company that changed the world and continues to do so.

Now
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Seth
Aug 29, 2011 Seth rated it liked it
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
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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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