Learn more Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Amazon Music Unlimited for Family Shop now Fitbit

There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

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, and there are literally hundreds of articles written about it every day. (I know this because I just did a quick search for Google in Google News.) Over the years there has also been no shortage of books on Google. However, in terms of the depth and breadth of its research, as well as the amount of first-hand information that it provides, Steven Levy's "In The Plex" stands in a category of its own.

In the minds of its founders and most of the early employees, Google is first and foremost a technology company. The business model of online advertising came about almost as an afterthought, and one continuously gets the sense that its purpose is to pay the bills so that Google geeks can have a free reign in pursuing their latest techie interest. This attitude is an integral part of Google's DNA, and any book that aims to provide the reader with a better sense of what Google is all about needs to get this point across. Unfortunately, there have been several books in recent years that were more concerned with all the intangible aspects of life in the age of Google and had almost completely missed this point. "In The Plex," I am happy to say, did not fall in that trap. Steven Levy comes across as an extremely competent and well-informed technology journalist who clearly relishes the opportunity to write about all the intricacies of Google's engineering prowess. In this respect as well, this is a quintessentially Google book. If Google were a person, this is probably what its autobiography would look like. Levy, who currently works for Wired magazine, literally embedded himself deep within Google and over the course of two years or so interviewed hundreds of Google employees. The result is a very comprehensive book on almost all aspects of Google's technology and business.

The book is very informative, probably more so than all the other books on Google out there combined. Even some of the already widely familiar stories about Google's origins and early years have been given new details. The book is also remarkable in that it provides a lot of information on some very specific technical details and innovation that Google has accomplished over the years. Granted, much of it is many years, or even over a decade, old, but for the longest time Google has been extremely cagey about revealing any of that information to the wider audience. The fact that most of the information in this book has been obtained directly from Googlers, including the notoriously secretive founding duo, may signal that Google has come to the point where it has become confident in its own strength and comfortable with the idea that revealing certain information about itself will not jeopardize its business model.

I relished the opportunity to find out more about some of the Google's early "magical" features and projects. For instance, even though I had been relying on it for years, I finally understand how Google's famous spell-checker works. The reader can also learn more about the early days of Google's book scanning technology, the development of its massive data centers, the rise and fall of Google video, and several other Google projects and initiatives that have been undertaken over the years. All the stories are to the point and are not laden with techie jargon.

The part of the book that I liked the most was the one that dealt with Google's abortive efforts to gain a foothold in China. China's government is notorious for its online censorship and the very restrictive measures that it used when dealing with foreign companies on its soil. Nonetheless, it was very hard for Google to forgo the world's second largest economy (third at the time) and the world's most populous nation with well over billion and a half of inhabitants. Google tried to compromise and work out some sort of rapprochement with the Chinese government, but this attitude was so antithetical to almost all of Google's core beliefs and business practices, that it was doomed from the get-go. One person that was particularly uncomfortable with the whole situation was Sergey Brin, who immigrated with his family to the United States from Soviet Union when he was just six years old. His family's experience with totalitarian regime shaped his thinking, and it proved decisive in the long run. What finally triggered Google's pullout from China was a Chinese government's hacking into Google Chine's servers and accessing of some highly classified information. The showdown with China reads almost like a spy thriller, and it highlights all the complex interconnections between business, technology, policy and politics that will dominate life in the twenty-first century.

This book's laser-like focus on Google is actually one of its weaknesses. Many of Google's main rivals are mentioned, but mostly just in passing. There is also very little discussion of Google within the larger online economy. All of this has an effect that it is sometimes hard to put many of the interesting facts and stories in this book within a larger context. Another one of the book's weaknesses is the lack of critical assessment and analysis of various products, projects, policy decisions, and inevitable failures. The author appears a bit too eager to present Google's version; any criticism remains of the mildest variety. One gets a sense that this book was thoroughly vetted by Google's PR department. I guess that is the price one has to pay for having unprecedented access to Google's own internal information. However, for the most part it was worth it.

One thing that did surprise me with this book was the very limited attention that it gave to some of the most headline-grabbing issues that currently grip Google: Android OS and social networking. Android is mentioned in one of the earlier chapters, but only in terms of its early development and the fallout that it engendered with Google's relations with Apple. Since those early days Android has become a major player in its own right, a very viable alternative to iPhone, and very likely the dominant mobile operating system in the near future. And as was hinted at one point in the book, it also brings in very healthy revenue. Social networking fares even worse than Android. It has been relegated to the epilogue, even though companies like Facebook and Twitter are threatening the very model of the web that is at the core of all of Google's services.


This is by far the most thorough and informative book on Google that is currently available. If you are interested in learning more about Google and are going to use just one source then this book should be it. It is well written, interesting, and free of puff pieces. It has a few shortcomings, but overall they are insignificant compared to the amount of material that one can glean from it.
0Comment| 38 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 2 January 2013
Didn't know much about Google and how it worked. Now I do. Well written and detailed. Personal analysis of the key players was not too sycophantic. Good read.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
VINE VOICEon 19 September 2011
I bought this book automatically because I had previously read and enjoyed Levy's previous works: Insanely Great, Hackers and Chaos. Given his heritage covering technology companies and personalities as both an author and a journalist, I was curious what he would make of Google.

The book is expansive and provides a lot of additional colour around Google, some of which I found of interest as I had worked at Yahoo! competing against Google and working with some of the early darlings of the web 2.0 movement - Flickr and Delicious. There were a couple of things that surprised me such as Google's use of machine learning on areas like translation explained why grammar is still so bad in this area as it needs heuristics that lexicographers could provide similar to that offered by Crystal Semantics.

Overall it was interesting to see that as with most large organisations Google is not only fallible but run through with realpolitik and a fair bit of serendipity. This contrasts with the external perception of Google as the technological Übermensch. A classic example of this is the series of missteps Google made whilst competing in China, which are documented in the book. From staffing practices, promotional tactics and legal to technology; Google blew it's chances and Baidu did a better job.

As an aside it was interesting to note that Google used queries on rival search engines to try and work out how to comply with Chinese government regulations, which is eerily like bad practices that Google accused Bing of last February in `hiybbprqag'-gate.

There is a curious myopia that runs through a lot of later Google product thinking that reminded me of the reality and perceptions that I was aware of existing inside Microsoft from the contact I have had with the organisation through the various different agencies I have worked at. A classic example of this is the Google view of a file-less future, which by implication assumes that people won't have legacy documents or use services other than the Google cloud. It is a myopia that comes part of arrogance and a patronising attitude towards the consumer that Google always knows best about every aspect of their needs.

Contrast this with Apple and iTunes. Whilst Apple would like to sell you only content from the iTunes store, it recognises that you will have content from different sources: Amazon MP3s, ripped CDs, podcasts and self-created files that iTunes needs to play nicely with.

The `no files' approach assumes ubiquitous bandwidth which is likely to be a fiction for a while. (Part of the reason why I am able to write this post is that I was stuck for half-a-day on a train journey to Wales enjoying patchy mobile phone coverage and a wi-fi free environment, which allowed me to focus on reading this book in hardback). This approach smacks of the old data lock-in that Microsoft used to have with proprietary file formats for its Office documents.

Levy does a good job pulling all of this together and chronicling Google, but he fails to cast a critical eye over it all. I suspect that this is because he is too close to the company: the access that he gained enveloped him. Which is a shame as all the experience and insight Levy could bring to the book that would add value to the reader is omitted. Whilst In The Plex is an interesting historical document, it could be so much more.
0Comment| 9 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Journalist Steven Levy's previous books about Macintosh computers and about hackers make him the perfect insider-outsider, with the knowledge to write a detailed history of famously private Google. Granted unprecedented access, Levy appears to have insightfully interviewed everyone about every moment of Google's history to present this canonical version of the company's saga. Levy seems a little too close to his subject, so perhaps his book is not a warts-and-all chronicle, but most of the stories are fascinating, and it is all well reported. getAbstract recommends this heavily anecdotal history to readers who are launching a start-up, intrigued by computers and cultural history, or interested in a nice, detailed dose of the truth behind all those Google rumors.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 1 February 2016
In the Plex is literally the most comprehensive account of the founding and early days of Google that you’re likely to find on the market, and it’s a true pleasure to read. Google is a fascinating company, and it turns out to be super interesting to see how the early ethos of Larry Page and Sergey Brin have shaped the company’s culture.

It’s interesting to note that Levy has enjoyed more contact with some of the key figures in the industry than most others, and this access has helped him to form a compelling manuscript that borrows from elements of good fiction writing to deliver a biography of a company which feels as exciting as the company itself does.

Levy’s writing is clear and lucid, easy to understand and straight to the point, making this one of those books that seems to just whizz by because you enjoy reading it so much that you don’t have to stop to think. The author promises to show you “how Google thinks, works and shapes our lives”, and they certainly deliver on that promise – I already knew a lot about Google, but I didn’t know everything that Levy uncovered during his research.

I mean, how could you? It’s so thorough that there’s very little that’s known about Google that Levy didn’t cover, apart from perhaps a few of their newer innovations that didn’t make it into the scope of the book. You can tell that he’s writing with a passion, and yet he manages to maintain a sort of neutrality throughout – he writes using the facts, and while he does offer up his own interpretations, it’s ultimately left to the reader to arrive at their own conclusions.

If you’re interested in the internet then you’re pretty much guaranteed to enjoy this, because it’s playful enough to be enjoyable while straight-laced enough to teach you everything you need to know about the company. Google is one of a handful of companies which could change the world for the better in front of our eyes, so why wouldn’t you want to learn more about their company, culture and ethos?

Besides, if you’re as much of a geek as I am then you’ll have a nerdgasm at the explanations that are offered for some of Google’s most spectacular inventions, including the devilish simplicity that lay behind Page Rank, the algorithm they built a business on. There’s a good story behind Google AdWords, too.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 1 October 2014
This book was, like most books I have read about this giant company, a fascinating read. Describing the journey of the company from an idealistic start-up to one of the largest companies in the world it is hard not to be impressed with this chronicle of Google.

For the most part the book was very well written and obviously it has been incredibly well researched. From the personal details about the people who work at Google through to the technical workings of some of Google's products and thought processes, it was obviously painstakingly put together from a massive amount of information.

This made it the most complete chronicle of Google that I have read to date. Whilst this is a good thing, it also meant that the book was quite long and as such began to suffer from pacing issues. The early years which cover the first half of the book was exciting and fast paced. However as the company becomes more established and they start entering the realms of big business along with big business problems the pace of the writing slowed.

Other than this slight reduction in the pace of the story though, it is a very easy and enjoyable read. My only other criticism however is the reason why this book has lost a star in my rating; the voice of the author is quite biased in tone.

Because of Google's unofficial motto, 'Do no evil', I kept getting the impression that when describing every situation in the book the author was siding with Google as though their ideas were automatically right. He does actually commit to this bias in anything other than tone but I was definitely picking this up throughout the book.

The trouble with this is that evil is a subjective term. What Google considers to be evil isn't necessarily what others agree with and more than once when I was reading this book I was hoping to see a little more from the opposition's views.

The Google founders have a very black and white way of viewing the world and whilst they often have views I am sympathetic with, the book glosses over the fact that Google is now a giant that will trample over anyone who gets in the way of what they perceive to be the right thing and they really don't care about collateral damage. In some cases I would say that they are guilty of being the very thing they hate by refusing to compromise on any situation.

Still, that being said this is a very interesting book and whilst there area few subjective areas, overall it is a very complete look at nearly 15 years of technical innovation and an incredible rise to power. For anyone with an interest in technology, business or recent history then I will happily recommend this book.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 3 July 2011
As someone who has read all the current books about Google, this is easily the best book written yet.

The book covers the company from the early days up until late 2010 / early 2011. The book is an excellent example of a business biography and the author has clearly received a wide and long access to senior Google staff.

If you want to read about Google, this is the one.
0Comment| 6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 19 May 2012
Very interesting and entertaining book about one of the world's most recognisable brands: Google.

Main points from the book:

- do first, sort out the problems as you go along. Avoid dealing with problems too far in advance: if you do your ideas will die before they get beyond your own skull.
- there's no such thing as `the one right way' to do something. Use your imagination and surprise yourself and others. Commitment is worth far far more than slavish rule-following. (ie: cargo cultism doesn't work...)
- Montessori education seems rather interesting...
- sticking to one thing is how to get really far
- the time is always ripe for something big...
- it's possible to believe you're doing good in the world even when you're heading up a multi-billion dollar advertising monster. And to persuade someone to write a very positive book about your project too...

A worthwhile insight into Google anyway. Would be interested to see a more balanced `review' of the company though :)
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 6 December 2013
What could have been a dry but informative read is a well structured narrative covering the details of technology we use every day and the people behind it.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 1 October 2013
Arrived quite promptly, well-wrapped and in a good condition. The book itself really eye-opening and interesting, a good read for anyone.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)