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In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives | [Steven Levy]

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

Few companies in history have ever been as successful and as admired as Google, the company that has transformed the Internet and become an indispensable part of our lives. How has Google done it? Veteran technology reporter Steven Levy was granted unprecedented access to the company, and in this revelatory book he takes listeners inside Google headquarters - the Googleplex - to explain how Google works.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Don't be evil. That's Google's official motto. But what's really going on behind that simple little search box? Wired's Steven Levy guides us through a history of the rise of the internet, the development of complicated search algorithms, and, in many ways, a who's who of Silicon Valley — all beautifully narrated by L.J. Ganser.

What started as two geeks obsessed with improving internet search engines rapidly ballooned into a company eager to gobble up other useful startups (Keyhole Inc., YouTube, Picassa) as well as larger, more obviously valuable companies (most notably the marketing goliath, DoubleClick). Google's strategy has also been a game-changer in regards to the way we use data and cloud computing. Thanks to its highly lucrative AdWords and AdSense programs, the company exploded the way people think about the internet and the way people think about making money on the internet.

In the Plex gives listeners a real idea of what it's like to exist within the company's quirky culture. And Ganser knows when to keep it serious, but that doesn't stop him from adding just the right amount of snark to the “like” and “um”-ridden quotations from various engineer types. This edition also includes a fascinating interview between the author and early hire Marissa Mayer, the youngest woman to ever make Fortune's "50 Most Powerful Women in Business" list.

Levy dedicates a large section of the book to Google's controversial actions in China, the ultimate test of the company's “don't be evil” philosophy. Here, In the Plex takes an unexpected turn from company profile to a technology coming-of-age story for notorious “founder kids” Larry Page and Sergey Brin. How does “don't be evil” play out in a real world that is sometimes, well, evil? Results are mixed.

In addition to China, Levy touches on some of Google's failures, flubs, and flops, like the company's book scanning project and its development of Google Wave and Google Buzz. However, he seems to miss the point when he makes excuses for their inability to compete in the social space. It seems particularly obvious why a corporation completely run by data-obsessed engineers would have trouble making inroads in the world of social media, which is by nature more organic and subtle.

From the early days as a gonzo-style startup to the massive corporate giant that has quickly integrated itself into almost everything we do, this is an essential history of Google. —Gina Pensiero

Publisher's Summary

Few companies in history have ever been as successful and as admired as Google, the company that has transformed the Internet and become an indispensable part of our lives. How has Google done it? Veteran technology reporter Steven Levy was granted unprecedented access to the company, and in this revelatory book he takes listeners inside Google headquarters - the Googleplex - to explain how Google works.

While they were still students at Stanford, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin revolutionized Internet search. They followed this brilliant innovation with another, as two of Google's earliest employees found a way to do what no one else had: make billions of dollars from Internet advertising. With this cash cow (until Google's IPO, nobody other than Google management had any idea how lucrative the company's ad business was), Google was able to expand dramatically and take on other transformative projects: more efficient data centers, open-source cell phones, free Internet video (YouTube), cloud computing, digitizing books, and much more.

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 it's unapologetically elitist approach to hiring, Google pampers its engineers with 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.

But has Google lost its innovative edge? It stumbled badly in China. And now, with its newest initiative, social networking, Google is chasing a successful competitor for the first time. Some employees are leaving the company for smaller, nimbler start-ups. Can the company that famously decided not to be "evil" still compete?

No other book has turned Google inside out as Levy does with In the Plex.

This edition of In the Plex includes an exclusive interview with Google's Marissa Mayer, one of the company's earliest hires and most visible executives, as well as the youngest woman to ever make Fortune's "50 Most Powerful Women in Business" list. She provides a high-level insider's perspective on the company's life story, its unique hiring practices, its new social networking initiative, and more.

©2011 Steven Levy (P)2011 Audible, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"Thoroughly versed in technology reporting, Wired senior writer Levy deliberates at great length about online behemoth Google and creatively documents the company’s genesis from a 'feisty start-up to a market-dominating giant'.... Though the author offers plenty of well-known information, it’s his catbird-seat vantage point that really gets to the good stuff. Outstanding reportage delivered in the upbeat, informative fashion for which Levy is well known." (Kirkus Reviews)

"The book, a wide-ranging history of the company from start-up to behemoth, sheds light on the biggest threats Google faces today, from the Chinese government to Facebook and privacy critics." (The New York Times)

“With a commanding voice, L.J. Ganser narrates this history and exploration of Google….Ganser’s stern voice is clear and moves through the text with determination.” (AudioFile)

What Members Say

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Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    Kevin United States 10-11-12
    Kevin United States 10-11-12 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "The Definitive Book on Google"

    This book is way better than "What Would Google Do". I particularly like the sections that talked about Google's data centers: the machines they use, the cooling systems, the locations, etc. Techies and non-techies will get enjoyment out of this book.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gary Las Cruces, NM, United States 05-27-12
    Gary Las Cruces, NM, United States 05-27-12 Member Since 2001

    Letting the rest of the world go by

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    174
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    "Everything I knew about Google was wrong"

    Everything I thought I knew about Google was wrong. I have a whole new understanding and, yes, an appreciation for the success of Google. Google was much more than just a good search engine. They knew how to take that product and leverage it to make money. The author really lets you feel like your inside the company and understand how they succeeded. A very fun and eye opening read.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gretel Jackson, MS, United States 03-19-12
    Gretel Jackson, MS, United States 03-19-12 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    8
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    6
    2
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    "Google Puff Piece"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    This is not all an objective treatment. However, even with the author's reverence for the


    Would you recommend In the Plex to your friends? Why or why not?

    Yes and no: it's competent but nearly hagiographic. VERY few opposing viewpoints. I would bet that Google traded access for guaranteed favorable treatment.


    What about L. J. Ganser’s performance did you like?

    Outstanding narration.


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    No


    Any additional comments?

    The author would have been well-served to leave out the Obama-centric chapters near the end of the book. They add very little and sound too much like mainstream Obama puffery: according to Levy, the President's main problem is just being too darn rational.... Yeah, right.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dean Charlottesville, VA, United States 11-05-11
    Dean Charlottesville, VA, United States 11-05-11 Member Since 2008

    KoolMoeDean

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    "One of the better business biography-type books"

    This was more interesting than some other examples in this genre (Hsieh's book about Zappos or Employee 59 for example) probably because it was written by an outsider with access to the company, not a founder, former employee or someone with a direct stake in the company. It's interesting to see the development of the algorithm, the inside look at the corporate culture and other aspects of the company that is such a big part of all our lives, whether we like it or not.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. Adams 10-21-11
    J. Adams 10-21-11 Member Since 2009

    MrBizzleTex

    HELPFUL VOTES
    16
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    "Authoritative Read of THE Google Book"

    Mr. Levy wrote THE definitive book about google and his insights are fascinating. It is also clear that he was given access to individuals and documents that had previously not been available to other authors. The resulting story is a balanced book not just a love note to Google.

    The Narration by Mr. Ganser is pitch perfect! He is authoritative and clear. Even when the book drags just a bit Mr. Ganser's narration keeps you involved and listening.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amr 09-18-11
    Amr 09-18-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I thought this would be a fanboy book"

    I thought this would be a fan-boy book.
    There's a big part of this book that is just about telling the story of Google. How it started, how it has grown to be the Internet giant that it is now.
    But it's the Google story told by a journalist with a long relationship with Google. This doesn't affect his integrity but I think it makes him sees the world as Google sees it. Judge Google by their intentions rather than their actions. He's like one of those "embed" journalists that travel with the U.S. forces in Iraq. After a while, he starts to be one of them. This issue confirms my guess that this is a fan-boy book.

    But as I read on, the author raises questions about Google losing its soul (my words not his), and how it was transformed from an Internet startup to a giant corporation, and how all this affect Google. He's not a fan-boy, he's a fan of Google for sure but the way it was not necessarily the way it is or would be.

    The story is told in terms of topics and products. Starting with important products to less important topics and failed products. This causes some jumps in the time line forward and backward which could be frustrating. At least I felt that sometimes it lacks connecting all those stories together.

    There's a focus in the book on technical details. They're explained in plain English in a way simple enough for a reader to understand but are also very intriguing for a developer or a person with technical background.

    There are two stories in the book that I was impressed by: Google's approach to Data Center and Google position towards China.

    This book is a good read and I recommend it if you want to find more information on Google or want to see the world as they do.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Helen 06-17-11
    Helen 06-17-11 Member Since 2010

    running2remake

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    "I learned therefore I loved...."

    This book is interesting and informative. It's historical and at the same time nicely considers current events and future prospects. The interview was a fun surprise!

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Dietrich 09-04-14 Member Since 2014
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    "Don't Be Evil*"
    If you could sum up In the Plex in three words, what would they be?

    Interesting, amazing and disturbing. It's great American entrepreneurial tale, but in the back of my mind I couldn't escape the realization that the core of their business is selling ads. Billions of dollars in ads, and said billions they spend like drunken sailors.


    What other book might you compare In the Plex to and why?

    Barbarians at the Gate, because that book features a similar value toward large sums of money and the desire to own everything.


    What three words best describe L. J. Ganser’s voice?

    Neutral, bland and unexciting. There were a few pronunciation curiosities... "DEC" is usually pronounced "Deck," and to the best of my knowledge, "Vista" in "Alta Vista" is not pronounced "Vee-stuh." Small quibbles, though.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    It's worse than you think.


    Any additional comments?

    I enjoy Steven Levy's books. Hackers is one of my all-time favorites. BUT it's clear that the cost of the level of access to Google that Levy was granted came at a cost of objectivity. Still, it's an interesting story.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Laura Lea Evans 08-31-14
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    "Who Knew?"
    What made the experience of listening to In the Plex the most enjoyable?

    This book put "faces" upon the Google facade removing the veil of mystery. Understanding more about "do no evil" as a company mantra was very significant to me along with the basic thread of user services that was explored and amplified in the book. The ubiquity of Google overshadows the fact that real people are doing real work behind the scenes and the story covered that so very nicely, putting humanity first.


    What did you like best about this story?

    I honestly don't have an answer for that. Demystifying Google probably.


    What does L. J. Ganser bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    The book is heavy left brain data so a narrative really enhances the experience whereas the right brain, in reading might give up totally! LOL


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Heavens no! I enjoyed it in bits and drabs while working.


    Any additional comments?

    Good expanded material and interview at the end of the book which was a surprising bonus and appreciated by this listener.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David PASADENA, CA, United States 05-27-14
    David PASADENA, CA, United States 05-27-14 Member Since 2010

    Started audiobooks years ago. Now instead of pop music on my ride to work or walk around the neighborhood I get enriched and smarter.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I want to quit my job and work for Google"
    What made the experience of listening to In the Plex the most enjoyable?

    The story s complex, and the timelines of different chapters overlap, but Levy stayed on topic while keeping the story in order. We get insight into the people, machines, ideas, and principles that make for a one of a kind complex organization.


    What other book might you compare In the Plex to and why?

    Outliers. The whole company is an extrodinary example of what exceptional people can do when they work hard and get lucky.


    Which character – as performed by L. J. Ganser – was your favorite?

    He does no characters, just reads the story. But he does a great job at that.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The chapter on China. The company prided itself on is morals which up that point were pretty easy to follow. They had to change from "Don't be evil" to pickiing the most beneficial choice. As the chapter unfolds this balancing act get more and more complicated.


    Any additional comments?

    If anyone at Google reads this and wants to hire a trauma surgeon, please call...

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 21-30 of 148 results PREVIOUS123415NEXT
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  • Mrs
    Wirral, United Kingdom
    3/5/12
    Overall
    "Great listen"

    This is a good listen if you’re interested in Google and Silicon Valley in general. A good accompaniment to Jobs autobiography I think.

    The narrator took a bit to get used to but in the end I found it easy to listen to him.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Carrie
    Tideswell, UK
    3/31/13
    Overall
    "Lots of lessons for young entrepreneurs"

    I loved this book. It showed how seemingly small decisions made when starting up a company can shape its whole culture and direction. And how this is challenged when they try to become a 'big' company. Well researched, and excellent narration. Recommended.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Erika
    Redhill, United Kingdom
    1/25/13
    Overall
    "Information giant that changed the world"

    I can't praise this book enough. I am not knowledgable with technology but use a mobile and laptop nd regularly use google. I found this book very informative and easy to understand. The language used makes it accessible to the non techy reader or listener, but is not so simplistic as to be ptronising. This book takes the listener through the history of google from ist formation to the present and gives some background to the founders which I felt helped me to understand the concept behind the company. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand more about the digital age we have come into, whether you are an older person with little understanding of technology but an interest in it, or whether you are a younger person who may use technology without realising that you are doing so. I particularly recommend this book to young people thinking of some sort of technology based university course or career. For me this book has unlocked some of the mysteries of how and why some of the technologys are packaged as they are, although perhaps thats because I was particularly ignorant before listening to this audio book? If so I am sure I am not the only one who suffers from that chronic condition that is ignorance. Thanks to google I am making a steady recovery. I enjoyed this book as an audio book and the narator read at a comfortable pace with a pleasant clear accent that is easy on the ear, even if the ear in question is UK rather than US. This is the sort of book that makes "Audible" worth while, because lthough the book is fairly long, and long winded at times, it is very easy to listen to and take in whilst doing chores or driving. Get this book, you can't go wrong, its really good.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • leeyue
    United Kingdom
    12/24/12
    Overall
    "Lee"

    An interesting and intriguing read. Good for anyone want to know more about some inner scene about the company.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Andrew
    Broadbottom, United Kingdom
    12/23/12
    Overall
    "Super Read, Very Insightful"

    this is a superb insight into the goings on of Google and how the worlds biggest search engine works. Its so insightful all webby type people should have a read or listen.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Kevin
    stanford le hope, United Kingdom
    12/23/12
    Overall
    "Interesting facts about how Google operate"

    This is a fascinating book about why Google is a good place for employees to work. As someone who isn't in the tech scene the book came as a bit of an eye opener. As a geek Disneyland, the staff work in an environment that allows them to innovate and create at a relentless pace. The audio also covers Google projects in other countries such as India. If you are a recruiter this is a book packed with insight and if you want to get a job with Google this is a good place to start. An enjoyable listen if you are active online and use search engines and would like to see the personalities behind them.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • G
    warrington, United Kingdom
    2/23/12
    Overall
    "Brilliant listen for any Google user"

    Great listen for anyone who has ever used a Google product. It's amazing to see how Google grew so quickly with such a great basic idea.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Gene
    Chicago, IL, United States
    7/31/11
    Overall
    "Great Story, Great Narration!"

    One of the best narrators I've heard. I enjoyed listening to Google's story and how the system works. I've had my earphones on for many many hours listening to this. Finished it in 3 days, I was definitely sad when it was done, I wish it was longer.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Howard
    London, United Kingdom
    6/5/11
    Overall
    "Great listen for any Google fan"

    Well researched and well structured book. Even if you know a lot about Google there are some great insights here. recommended

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • George
    Harrogate, United Kingdom
    5/26/11
    Overall
    "Remarkable"

    Finally, the inside track to a story you already know! We've all observed the little changes to google search, and big product launches like gmail and android, but if you're like me, you didn't know the how's or the why's. Engrossing and empowering, Steven Levy did a great job with the material and I feel some of the "googleyness" he mentions rubbed off him, and now it's rubbed off on me too. Big picture, innovation, revolution, evolution... I guess this is the first book ive read that you might class as a business book, but it's more of a tale, maybe even an allegory, for making the impossible possible, using smarts to change the world, doing things better than the traditional way, and more. Loved it.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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