Hard to imagine Larry and Sergey having a “harem”.
But according to a new tell-all history of the world's most famous search-engine company, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin apparently had just that back in the day: a well-stocked harem, along with raucous parties fuelled by copious amounts of booze, gluttonous feasts and girls, girls galore.
The title of Adam Fisher's just-released tome is a mouthful: Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley' (As Told by the Hackers, Founders, and Freaks Who Made It Boom).
It's juicy with a capital J. But it's not the first book of its kind to dish out the dirt on this storied land of testosterone-addled geeks.
Here are a few other page-turners from the land that tech built:
Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys' Club of Silicon Valley
San Francisco-based Bloomberg journalist Emily Chang kicked off 2018 with this scathing and, at times, borderline salacious take-down of the male-focused world of Silicon Valley. A VentureBeat review describes Chang's perspective thusly: “In essence, tech bros, singled and married, organise large, drug-fuelled parties where men pick and choose sex partners from the abundance of attractive women invited. The parties are attended, according to Chang's interview with dozens of participants, by 'powerful first-round investors, well-known entrepreneurs, and top executives'.” The book, of course, is not just about sex. But the sex Chang describes is what gave her work such buzz when it was published earlier this year.
As New York Times book critic Jennifer Szalai put it, 'it's the sex in this book that will probably get the most attention.' Chang recounts cases of sexual harassment and vicious online trolling. She also includes a chapter on polyamory and sex parties that's heavy on salacious details and light on named sources. Participants tell Chang that they're proudly disrupting tradition: “Their behaviour at these high-end parties is an extension of the progressiveness and open-mindedness – the audacity, if you will – that makes founders think they can change the world. They describe Molly tabs moulded into the shape of the Snapchat logo, and food being served off the bodies of naked women.”
I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59
This book by Doug Edwards, who left Google in 2005 and once worked as a Mercury News marketing employee, offers a tantalising peek into the world of Google before the company went public and proceeded to change the world as we know it. As my colleague Levi Sumagaysay wrote at the time of the book's release, the history “lays out Edwards' personal struggles and accomplishments during his approximately five years as 'the voice of Google',” which is what he was called by former senior VP Jonathan Rosenberg as the company wrote and revised its S-1 SEC filing when it went public in 2004. Edwards gives readers a glimpse into Google's geek culture – data- and engineering-driven, free massages and gourmet food – with plenty of other details only someone who has worked there would know.” Among the many juicy tidbits in the story, Edwards tells readers that “bast**ds” was one of Page and Brin's favourite words. Go figure.
Disrupted: My Year in Startup Hell
Tech journalist Dan Lyons pulled back the curtain on Silicon Valley's startup culture with his 2016 first-person look at the wacky side of entrepreneurial tech. Taking a job at a marketing software startup called HubSpot, Lyons discovers what a Fortune review called “a cult-like devotion to a nonsense corporate mission, a boiler room of sleazy sales reps, a candy wall, free beer, and all the other trappings of modern startup culture”. Disrupted, said the reviewer, is “a juicy read”. It's also a fun read: HubSpot's culture, Lyons tells us, has what one reviewer calls “some appallingly bad practices, like creating the appearance that people who quit were actually fired, punishing workers that don't attend every after-hours social gathering, and mismanagement by inexperienced early hires”. Oh, yeah, there are also workplace stories of free candy and theme parties, toilet talk among the boys and one HubSpot's co-founder who brings a teddy bear to meetings.
Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley
Antonio García Martínez's memoir got some rave reviews when it came out last summer. Writing on Medium, Corey Breier practically puts Martinez in the same camp as Dostoevsky, saying “the author mixes juicy personal anecdotes with tell-tale corporate exposes, all held together with a gripping, true narrative and interspersed with historical quotes about the human condition”. The author of Chaos Monkeys went from being a quantitative analyst, or “quant”, at Goldman Sachs to starting a YC backed tech startup that, as Breier explains, “survived an IP lawsuit to be acquired by Twitter, to negotiating that deal so that he could go to Facebook instead. Eventually he was fired from Facebook due to internal politics, and now he lives on a sailboat in the Pacific Northwest”. The book, he says, oozes with yummy details of life inside the tech bubble.
In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives
Steven Levy's critically acclaimed history of the search engine giant was written with the full cooperation of Brin and Page. It lays out the inside story behind Google and how it became the game-changing blockbuster it is today. The veteran tech reporter takes readers inside the Googleplex after first introducing readers to the Stanford students who went on to revolutionise Internet search. As a review on Goodreads puts it, “the key to Google's success in all these businesses, Levy reveals, is its engineering mind-set and adoption of such Internet values as speed, openness, experimentation, and risk taking. After its unapologetically elitist approach to hiring, Google pampers its engineers – free food and dry cleaning, on-site doctors and masseuses – and gives them all the resources they need to succeed. Even today, with a workforce of more than 23,000, Larry Page signs off on every hire”.
Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure
Sure, this one seems a bit dated, coming out, after all, in the prehistoric days of Silicon Valley 1996. But author Jerry Kaplan, a well-known figure in the computer industry at the time, had the creds to write about a subject near and dear to his high-tech heart. Goodreads' review says the book “tells the story of Kaplan's wild ride: how he assembled a brilliant but fractious team of engineers, software designers, and investors; pioneered the emerging market for hand-held computers operated with a pen instead of a keyboard; and careened from crisis to crisis without ever losing his passion for a revolutionary idea”. As for the tell-all aspect, the reviewer says “Kaplan vividly recreates his encounters with eccentric employees, risk-addicted venture capitalists, and industry giants such as Bill Gates, John Sculley, and Mitchell Kapor. And no one – including Kaplan himself – is spared his sharp wit and observant eye.” — The San Jose Mercury News/Tribune News Service