The Google Story by David A. Vise
Social phenomena happen, and the historians follow. So it goes with Google, the latest star shooting through the universe of trend-setting businesses. This company has even entered our popular lexicon: as many note, “Google” has moved beyond noun to verb, becoming an action which most tech-savvy citizens at the turn of the twenty-first century recognize and in fact do, on a daily basis. It’s this wide societal impact that fascinated authors David Vise and Mark Malseed, who came to the book with well-established reputations in investigative reporting. Vise authored the bestselling The Bureau and the Mole, and Malseed contributed significantly to two Bob Woodward books, Bush at War and Plan of Attack. The kind of voluminous research and behind-the-scenes insight in which both writers specialize, and on which their earlier books rested, comes through in The Google Story.
The strength of the book comes from its command of many small details, and its focus on the human side of the Google story, as opposed to the merely academic one. Some may prefer a dryer, more analytic approach to Google’s impact on the Internet, like The Search or books that tilt more heavily towards bits and bytes on the spectrum between technology and business, like The Singularity is Near. Those wanting to understand the motivations and personal growth of founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and CEO Eric Schmidt, however, will enjoy this book. Vise and Malseed interviewed over 150 people, including numerous Google employees, Wall Street analysts, Stanford professors, venture capitalists, even Larry Page’s Cub Scout leader, and their comprehensiveness shows.
As the narrative unfolds, readers learn how Google grew out of the intellectually fertile and not particularly directed friendship between Page and Brin; how the founders attempted to peddle early versions of their search technology to different Silicon Valley firms for $1 million; how Larry and Sergey celebrated their first investor’s check with breakfast at Burger King; how the pair initially housed their company in a Palo Alto office, then eventually moved to a futuristic campus dubbed the “Googleplex”; how the company found its financial footing through keyword-targeted Web ads; how various products like Google News, Froogle, and others were cooked up by an inventive staff; how Brin and Page proved their mettle as tough businessmen through negotiations with AOL Europe and their controversial IPO process, among other instances; and how the company’s vision for itself continues to grow, such as geographic expansion to China and cooperation with Craig Venter on the Human Genome Project.
Like the company it profiles, The Google Story is a bit of a wild ride, and fun, too. Its first appendix lists 23 “tips” which readers can use to get more utility out of Google. The second contains the intelligence test which Google Research offers to prospective job applicants, and shows the sometimes zany methods of this most unusual business. Through it all, Vise and Malseed synthesize a variety of fascinating anecdotes and speculation about Google, and readers seeking a first draft of the history of the company will enjoy an easy read. –Peter Han