“A mountain range of scrambled eggs towered over foothills of breakfast potatoes…”
If you can read that without laughing, then have I got the book for you.
Ben Mezrich is a Harvard graduate, and I’m going to go right ahead and assume that his degree is not in creative writing.
The Accidental Billionaires is the story of Mark Zuckerberg, and those who managed to get caught up, however fleetingly, in the juggernaut that was to become Facebook.
Sort of bizarrely written as though the reader might start with any chapter, Mezrich has an annoying habit of repeating the same information every five pages or so, I suppose in case we forget how books are supposed to be read.
The worst is the beginning of each chapter, when Mezrich decides to put on his scene-setting pants. Dear lord. Chapter three begins with a memorably purple description of the Charles River by the Harvard campus, describing the water as “a serpent’s twist of greenish blue,” a “swirl of greenish blue,” and, just for good measure, “green-blue water,” in six sentences. When he’s finished making sure we understand the Charles’s subtle variations in water colour, Mezrich moves on to explaining the fibreglassian nature of a boat in a similar manner.
As another example, we are introduced to the Winklevoss twins at the beginning of chapter 3. We are informed that the twins are brothers, and related, and tall, and siblings, and tall. They return in chapters 8 and 10 without comment, but in chapter 12, I guess in case chapter 11 left us with severe amnesia, we are reminded of the Winklevoss’s status as related brothers who are siblings.
There is a lot of pointless, scene-setting information and oddly long descriptions of food. Look, I understand the appeal of food in literature, when it’s done with some sort of purpose. The food in the Harry Potter universe exists to make that magical otherworld more complete and tangible, and to showcase JK’s imagination. In, I don’t know, Jane Austen novels, food can be used to suggest class and sophistication (or lack thereof). In many novels about immigration, “ethnic” food is described to evoke memories of home, or the comforts of a certain culture. But mashed potatoes in a cafeteria? The only purpose I can fathom for the existence of so very many sentences in this book is the padding out of what, in spite of its complexity, is otherwise a surprisingly brief story.
Once you get past all that, though (particularly, as I mentioned, the first paragraph or two of a new chapter – although the last couple of lines in a chapter are also pretty overwrought), the story flows reasonably well, the writing stops being distracting, and you can focus on what you came here for: the creation of Facebook, and all the sex, money, genius, and betrayal that ensued.
Mezrich certainly does a good job at not portraying any of those involved as villains. In the acknowledgements, he says that he was a huge fan of all the “characters” in his book, and I can’t really think of anyone who seems to have been treated unfairly. Each characters’ beliefs and motivations are presented in a way that you really can understand the entitlement the characters feel for credit, money, fame, a place in history.
Billionaires is a fairly quick and easy read about a fascinating subject, marred, if you are unable to turn off your inner editor (and, unfortunately, I always, always am), by absolutely hilariously terrible, pompous writing.
Cannonball Read III: 1/52