Review of In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives

If you were to name the most successful, powerful, global, and all-pervasive companies in the world, Google has to be on a very short list. Maybe even at the top of the list.

What other company’s mission is no less than to list and assemble everything ever written into a searchable database stored in the cloud?

Google is at once rated the #1 most trustworthy and admirable company in the world, yet also feared for and suspected of gathering so much information about so many people that they make the IRS and FBI look like your local neighborhood gossip.

In this comprehensive and fascinating book, Steven Levy ( chronicles the yesterday and today, while speculating on the tomorrow of Google, from its1998 origins to the genesis of its current battle with Facebook (see the latest—as of 5/13/2011—developments here and on Levy’s own website).

Allowed unprecedented access inside the Googleplex, Levy conducted over “200 interviews with past and present Googlers, as well as a number of people who could shed light on its operations and practices.”

A highly-skilled and sure-footed writer, Levy tells the spellbinding tale of how Google’s founders–Larry Page and Sergey Brin—“revolutionized Internet search,” created “Googlenomics,” Gmail, and Google docs, and have done so with a conscience.

“Don’t be evil” is Google’s corporate slogan. Some may debate their fidelity to that slogan, but Levy’s book balances whatever economic and business concessions Google’s made with the overall verdict clearly in their favor: Google is, indeed, a company with a social conscience.

Detailing the history of how Google’s dealt with one riveting legal issue after another—“intellectual property challenges, defamation, invasion of privacy, and content regulations”—Levy’s impeccable and insightful investigative reporting makes it very clear that Google’s key players always tried their best to play fair, be honest, and come down on the side of openness and transparency. Even if it hurt themselves, as Google searches sometimes did. Google’s corporate policy of not censoring anything on the net—such as sensitive private information that a search turned up—stood firm even when its own CEO, Eric Schmidt, “had trouble dealing with [the] privacy” issue.

In what is surely one of history’s greatest understatements, Larry Page predicted early on in Google’s development, “There’s going to be large changes in the world because of all this stuff.”

If you Google, you’re being Googled. Take the word apart and you have: Go ogle. Hmmm. Everyone who Googles needs to read this truly eye-opening book.

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