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After obligatory and perfunctory grooming, the first productive venture I did this morning was to log onto my computer and check my Facebook page. A friend request came from a cute member of my college's cheerleading squad. Although I graduated over twenty years ago and the cheerleader has kids, a job, and a life 400 miles away, the memories of Sarah put a smile on my face the entire day. My wistful feelings would certainly make Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg smile. In the CD audiobook The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich and narrated by Mike Chamberlain, the story of Facebook is told with a heavy emphasis on college girls, friendship betrayal, access to power and one social outcast who created the dominant website for connecting people.
The most glaring weakness of Billionaires is Mezrich never talked to Zuckerberg himself. In the introduction, the reader is told the book is a "dramatic narrative account" culled from the memories of dozens of sources and legal documents. Most of the memories come from Eduardo Saverin, a Harvard classmate of Zuckerberg, who provided the seed money to buy the initial servers for Facebook. The reliance on Saverin may explain why Zuckerberg is portrayed in a one dimensional fashion. Saverin seems to be Zuckerberg's only conduit to the college world of parties, girls and late nights away from a computer screen.
Due to family pressure Saverin needs to succeed in a traditional path. He wants to join the all male Phoenix- S K club to improve his chances with girls. He accepts a Wall Street summer internship. He feels a need to finish his Harvard education to polish himself for the business world. Saverin seems to be the most conflicted protagonist. On one hand, Saverin is handicapped socially by being a tall, geeky awkward Jew. On the other hand, he made six figures trading oil futures watching hurricane patterns during the summer. How can a college man with a huge bank account not have some confidence with the ladies?
Adding intrigue to the Facebook story are the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler. If Eduardo Saverin is pushed into the establishment by his family, the Winklevoss's are the establishment. They rowed for the United States in the 2008 Olympics. Their father taught at the Wharton School of Business. Tyler and Cameron belong to the most exclusive male-only final club, the Porcellian. Tyler and Cameron think the Harvard honor code is sacrosanct. The Winklevoss twins enter into a verbal agreement for Mark to program the social networking site, HarvardConnection. The twins feel Zuckerberg broke the honor code when he neglects their project to work on Facebook. Their father's connections grant them an audience with Harvard President Larry Summers, who summarily dismisses the honor code claim.
Zuckerberg wants to live by a computer hacker's code. In a drunken evening, he created facemash.com which allowed users to compare Harvard co-eds, an Ivy League hotornot.com. Although he faces disciplinary actions from the administration, Zuckerberg remains a Harvard student. If the author did not take too much dramatic license, Zuckerberg finds inspiration while attending a speech by one of the wealthiest Harvard dropouts, Bill Gates. Zuckerberg drops out of Harvard after spending the summer in Silicon Valley. While in California, Zuckerburg meets the ultimate hacker, Sean Parker. Parker founded Napster, a free file sharing service for music. Most importantly, Parker has access to Silicon Valley venture capital money and outrageous San Francisco parties. At one point, the nerdy Zuckerberg keeps the attention of a Victoria Secret model. Because Mark idolized him, Parker thinks he controls the situation.
Everyone Mark Zuckerberg encounters thinks they know more than this computer geek. Eduardo pushed Mark by using money as a weapon. Mark pushed back by using Sean Parker's venture capital connections. The Winklevoss twins thought traditional channels would make Mark succumb. Mark just wrote more computer code. Sean Parker was arrested at a party. Mark just fired him. In this account of Facebook history, the geek shall inherit the earth.
Mike Chamberlain, the narrator of the book, has an intelligent, calm voice that was well suited for most scenes. But his voice remained understated for many parts involving emotion. If a profanity was uttered, I rarely heard anger in his voice. When Saverin and Zuckerberg made out with two "hot Asian chicks" in a dorm bathroom, Chamberlain might as well been reading an instruction manual. In one scene Chamberlain put on an affected British accent so strained it could fray the long-standing relationship between the United States and Great Britain.
Even with a cynical eye towards Saverin motivations and the countless gratuitous sex scenes, The Accidental Billionaires provides an entertaining, if not completely honest, look at being an outsider at the most exclusive campus in the country. More cogently, the reader learns how one computer geek was underestimated by his best friend, wealthy Olympic athletes, a fellow hacker and countless girls to become the youngest self-made billionaire in history. Zuckerberg loved his Facebook creation more than the female attention or the multiple commas in his net worth. That focus of purpose is exemplified by the three words on Zuckerberg's business card: I'm CEO-Bitch. Hopefully, Zuckerberg will one day give his own account of the founding of Facebook.
© 2010 Justin Tillinghast
Justin Tillinghast holds degrees in economics and political science from Bucknell University. After spending fifteen years in Washington, DC working as a Congressional Aide and stand-up comedian, he works for the Census Bureau in Horseheads, New York.