Steven Levy just wrote a new book about Google called In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. It succeeds the most on the “how Google thinks” part–if you want to understand how Google thinks, get an overview of Google, or understand its impact on the world, this is the book for you.
I think anyone interested in Google would enjoy this book. People who don’t know much about Google will get a good overview. People who are really interested in Google or the search industry will get a better understanding of how Google thinks. And even if you’re an expert, you’ll probably learn a few new tidbits. For example, Levy reveals the identity of GoogleGuy, the Google representative who answered questions from webmasters as early as 2001. You’ll also hear about inside-Google allusions like Audrey Fino or Emerald Sea.
Given that Levy isn’t a computer scientist or a Googler, I wasn’t sure how deftly he would internalize or explain how Google looks at the world, but for the most part he nails it. The book, like many accounts of Google, emphasizes the company’s focus on making decisions based on data and logic. At some points I felt that Levy pushed this point too hard. On the other hand, I recently had a conversation with a Google colleague about Lady Gaga, and the word “scalability” cropped up a lot more than you would expect for a conversation about a pop star. I don’t think Google is full of purely left-brained eggheads, but I’m willing to concede that compared to the average population, we probably skew further in that direction than most places.
Reading the book, I realized how much you could write about the different facets of Google. Even in 400+ pages, some topics get short shrift; it felt like Levy covered Google News in a single, condensed paragraph. But Levy gives complete and clear explanations for the parts of Google that receive his focus.
Here’s a simple litmus test: if you’ve read more than 2-3 of my blog posts in the past or follow me on Twitter, you’ll probably enjoy reading In The Plex.