How an asocial loner created the Internet’s greatest social network.
In 2003, author Ben Mezrich – rather like a cool card shark running the table – was on a roll. His bestseller “Bringing Down the House,” about card-counting Massachusetts Institute of Technology whiz kids beating the odds in Vegas, was the basis of “21,” a Hollywood blockbuster produced by Kevin Spacey. And then allegations surfaced that Mezrich embellished scenes and concocted many of the details in his supposedly true tale.
Drake Bennett, whose detailed reporting in The Boston Globe broke the story the week after “21” opened, concluded that “Bringing Down the House” was “not a work of ‘nonfiction’ in any meaningful sense of the word.” So readers may approach Mezrich’s new book, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal with some trepidation.
But while they would be right to worry about the truth of Mezrich’s account, a more comprehensive question should stir them as well. Is the ever-evolving Internet, which is transforming almost every aspect of civilization, susceptible to serious historical storytelling? Will the true tale of the Web ever be told?
“Accidental Billionaires” tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook. In an author’s note, Mezrich allows that he invents dialogue, synthesizes details, and puts imagined thoughts into his characters’ heads. Indeed, the resulting book reads like a novel – alas, a generic young-adult novel with crude plotting, cheesy descriptive passages, and grade-school vocabulary.
Clearly Mezrich is no scholarly historian. But despite an emphasis on engaging characters and a compelling story, and despite his self-described immersion in the world of Facebook’s founders, Mezrich’s is a haphazard and clumsy book.