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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

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    Jeff MASON, OH, United States 08-21-11
    Jeff MASON, OH, United States 08-21-11 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
    21
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    47
    9
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
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    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Great for the stories."

    More of a "20/20" investigation of Google than anything else. Does assume you have the name familiarity that he does which can get difficult to follow at times.

    20 hours is a long time to explain only a decade, and there is some redundancy.

    The stories, are excellent. Steven obviously had an "all access" path in Google. If you have any questions about this company, or consider them on any level, there is information in this you'll be excited to hear.

    18 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Roger Smith Orlando, Florida United States 07-25-11
    Roger Smith Orlando, Florida United States 07-25-11 Member Since 2007

    Say something about yourself!

    HELPFUL VOTES
    257
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    339
    102
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    27
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    Story
    "Excellent Current Story"

    If you have listened to the earlier books "Search" and "Google", then you have not heard what this book has to say. It is excellent and covers many more products than just search. It is also extremely current.

    14 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lynn 04-19-11
    Lynn 04-19-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
    722
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    161
    144
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    376
    1
    Overall
    "A Rip Snorting Story"

    Steven Levy has successfully gathered all the details necessary to tell the story of Google - to the present in early 2011. The most interesting sections deal with Google's experience in China, insights into the Google culture in the US and abroad, and how particular decisions were made from the beginning. The growth of Google is here, conflict along the way is presented, and the ethical and technological challenges covered. The only downside of the book - it is too early to know how Google will adjust to being a a "big company." A benefit of the Audible version is the "extra" interview section at the end. The reading of L. J. Ganser is excellent, the writing is engaging, and the book informative.

    40 of 42 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Emily ARLINGTON, VA, United States 05-11-11
    Emily ARLINGTON, VA, United States 05-11-11 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Clever, honest, and even inspiring"

    If you use Gmail, Google Search, Google Analytics, hell, any Google product at all, or you've ever been frustrated by the bureaucratic process, you owe it to yourself to check out this book.

    21 of 22 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrew Gilbert, AZ, United States 04-23-11
    Andrew Gilbert, AZ, United States 04-23-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    3
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    Overall
    "Just ok for me"

    The book was very well narrated and written. It was just a bit boring.

    For the person not up on tech, the content may be more revelatory but for a blog follower on all things tech it was a bit underwhelming.

    I also think the author was too close to google to give an objective report. More a collation of news that we, for the most part, know.

    Alas, it passed the time during a few commutes. 2.5 stars - bland.

    40 of 43 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gwozdz 09-13-11
    Gwozdz 09-13-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Finally, I get Google"

    This is a must read for anyone who wants to truly understand Google. Their struggle and why they do what they do is so interesting. There's a lot of high level knowledge in this book that I've adopted into my work ethic. Now all I need is a copy of their OKR and apply it to everything!

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Miike 04-19-11
    Miike 04-19-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Google is Everywhere!"

    A fascinating and sometimes scary look into the power and depth of whatever Google is really trying to be. The concept of “cloud computing” where files on our personal computers/phones/whatever …no longer exist….” asks us to place all of our trust in a company that appears to mean well ………. that appears to have our best interests at heart – but when and where have we heard all of that before and what were the outcomes?

    A great – “should/must read” for all of us who use many of Google’s services on a daily basis.

    17 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Diane United States 06-04-12
    Diane United States 06-04-12 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    60
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    "A high-quality book, but boring"

    First, a disclaimer. I simply could not get past chapter 8 although I really wanted to. This book was clearly well researched, written, and read. But unlike Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs", which I found fascinating and thoroughly entertaining, there was nothing in this book of human interest to make the story come alive. Certainly it's a must read for industry enthusiasts, or any entrepreneurial type for that matter. As I am neither of those, however, it fell flat for me and I am giving up.

    10 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    A. Yoshida 11-23-13
    A. Yoshida 11-23-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "What would we do without Google?"

    This is great read on the history of Google, it's founders (Larry Page and Sergey Brin), and search technology. In the early days of the internet if you had typed in "newspaper," you would not have gotten "New York Times" or "LA Times" because they didn't have "newspaper" in its title. You had to know exactly what key words would generate the results you wanted. It's amazing to think how far search engines have come -- as you type, they predict what you want and populate key words for you. It is due to Google's extreme focus on technology and goals (speed, measurement, refinement, and openness). And there are many more amazing Google technologies that work seamlessly into our lives, which I have forgotten about -- Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Translate....

    There is a lot of reference to "Googley" people and culture and the company's motto of "don't be evil." I think some readers will find it as a bias towards Google. I think it simply describes a workforce obsessively dedicated to doing what they love. For example, many might argue that Google's entry into China was a major stumble and the book doesn't place much accountability on the executives of Google. I think it was daring that Google did that. Selling technology in China is a high-risk proposition. Corruption and copyright infringements turn many companies away from China. Google had to know failure was very likely. Google took a chance to do something for the people of China. Although they censored results as required by the Chinese government, the users were informed on the page whenever results were censored. It was a small step... but an important step to reflect the value of openness -- the Chinese people were told when they weren't getting everything they wanted to see because the government was censoring it.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matthew Peoria, IL, United States 06-01-11
    Matthew Peoria, IL, United States 06-01-11 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    9
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    "Levy hit another home run"

    An excellent treatment of the ups and downs for Google. Very interesting information about one of the most secretive companies in the world!

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 155 results PREVIOUS1216NEXT
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  • Alastair
    Shrewsbury, United Kingdom
    3/10/12
    Overall
    "A surprisingly inspirational book"

    A really excellent and engaging book. I used Google before without much thought but since the book I can see where the company has made significant differences in the internet and the general information in the world - I mean more than Google search. The insights into how it 'thinks', whats required to do that, and how our data is used is amazing.
    The ethos of the early companies aim to make products to improve the world (free)/make available info I believe comes through their actions strongly and as far as big companies go I believe they are far from 'evil'. Excellent narration for an engaging story.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Monsieur
    9/21/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "very interesting!"
    Would you listen to In the Plex again? Why?

    no, I think it's a one shot listen, but definitely worth it the one time!


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    larry page


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

    no, but a joy to listen to in bursts over a week or so


    Any additional comments?

    really insightful, a great listen for anyone into technology / computer science.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Andrew Ward
    7/7/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Insight to the intrusion"
    What did you like most about In the Plex?

    Explaining where and why google came to be was informative and understanding why they wanted to do what they do was eye opening


    What was one of the most memorable moments of In the Plex?

    That they didn't want to be a company they just wanted to work on search and stay at Stanford


    If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    Insights into the sharing of your privacy


    Any additional comments?

    anyone who thinks Google is just a big brother company should listen to this to see the reason why they want all that data and how they want to use it.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Adam Evans
    Birmingham, UK
    6/30/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Google is god..So much more than a search engine"
    Where does In the Plex rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Definitely among the top ten. If you didn't think small ideas could chance the world, this book will get you thinking big and dreaming.

    For someone like me who practically lives on the web and loves technology this is a rare chance to understand how it all works. Google have changed the way we do everything for the better, and most people don't even realise it. What's better they manage to make every one of their innovations either free or very very low cost. Making their innovations accessible to every person from every background. They truly make the world a better place.


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

    It's very hard to compare it anything. There is only one google. I guess the only thing even remotely near to it would be The story of Facebook. Nothing else in the past 50 years has come close to changing our everyday life as much as google.


    Have you listened to any of L. J. Ganser’s other performances? How does this one compare?

    I haven't had the pleasure before but he read it well. Good pace tone and audio quality.


    If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    Oops I started a revolution!


    Any additional comments?

    Google can't be avoided. It's got a finger in everything around us. If you want to understand where the world is going and how we got to where we are or even just want to understand how to market yourself and your business better, there are some amazing insights in here.

    Be warned though it's no short read and sometimes it's quite techie. Definitely worth knowing. I used to like google but this book has turned me into a power user and lifelong fan - I now live and work in the cloud, it's improved and changed the way I do most things from day to day.

    NOTE: I listened to this book on my android phone, typed this review on my chromebook while streaming video to my TV via my chromecast dongle. I also run a small business and all of our documents and systems are kept in the cloud using google apps.

    Join the google revolution ;)

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Jameski
    UK
    12/5/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "An excellent insight into the Google phenomenon."
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    An excellent audio listen outlining the background and evolution of Google and its creators. The detail and experiences in the way that the book has been written by Steven Levy is superb, gaining exceptional access to Larry and Sergei as well as other key influential people with Google allows Levy to tell a factual and very interesting story that keeps you interested throughout. One of the best audio books I've listened to !!


    What did you like best about this story?

    The detailed factual content and the way its written giving background from inception to almost current day


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

    no real character, just very well narrated


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Peter
    EDINBURGH, United Kingdom
    12/2/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Brilliant insight"

    Superb book, great insights into early as well as later Google. I couldn't imagine that there will be so much material to cover 20 hours worth of a book, but I have to say that there wasn't a section which I didn't find interesting. Very well researched and performed well as well.

    One small note is I have no idea what was going on with chapter numbers - was saying 'chapter 3' half the time, with 'chapter 2 or 4' mixed in randomly.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • James
    Woking, United Kingdom
    9/19/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Explains Google well"
    What made the experience of listening to In the Plex the most enjoyable?

    The content is very rich, all aspects of Google appear to be dealt with in logical ways, so that following the timelines and individual issues is not a problem.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    The founders are really the main "characters" all the way through, and the book gives some insight into their personalities without a huge amount of access to them directly, just their company.


    If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    The birth of a giant


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • P
    Aberdeen, United Kingdom
    8/2/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A little boring"

    The first half of the book is interesting and kept me interested but the sections on china, google books were just lenghtly and boring with too much pointless detail.
    It does a good job on explaining how google was developped and how is essentially works. I would recommend this book to someone who really loves google products or wants to create a IT start-up.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • J. Freeman
    HULL, United Kingdom
    6/24/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Interesting in parts"

    One of those books that I am not enjoying enough to get excited about but not hating enough to delete. It's interesting in part but not enough to make up for the dullness of the subject.

    The narrator is also very cheesy.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • chris
    Epsom, United Kingdom
    6/8/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Somehow left me flat ;-("

    Having been an avid fan of audio books and captivated recently by the Steve Jobs biography. This review of Google seem somewhat 'clinical'. It was fine, historically interesting, giving insight but ultimately it just seemed a serious of facts strung together in a less than captivating way which did not draw you in or make you really care what happended (even though we all know how well Google has done).

    I listened to it all but by halfway through the first half I was wishing it over but continued to the end.

    Not the strongest book I have heard by far and don't expect a light story, but if you want to know about google then the author had access to the heart of the business.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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