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In the Plex

How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives
Written by: Steven Levy
Narrated by: L. J. Ganser
Length: 19 hrs and 45 mins
4 out of 5 stars (18 ratings)

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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.

©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 Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Great nuggets on Google thought process

I enjoyed getting a chance to see how Google operates. Understanding how they grew the business and what decisions are like in a good look into how to grow on the web. I would have liked to get more into the nitty gritty about some of there more questionable practices.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

great book

Love the story. Good performance. Interesting ideas. Wood recommend to anybody interested in modern business.

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Everyday Mom
  • US
  • 2011-04-23

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.

50 of 54 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Lynn
  • 2011-04-19

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.

45 of 49 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Emily
  • ARLINGTON, VA, United States
  • 2011-05-11

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.

25 of 27 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Roger
  • Orlando, Florida United States
  • 2011-07-25

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.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Jeff
  • MASON, OH, United States
  • 2011-08-21

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.

24 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • No Pleased
  • 2011-04-19

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.

20 of 22 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Diane
  • United States
  • 2012-06-04

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.

19 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Matthew
  • Peoria, IL, United States
  • 2011-06-01

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!

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • TM
  • 2013-12-05

A Reporter Reporting, not a Writer Writing

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

The narrator does the best he can with the material, but it is dry stuff and slow-going.

Any additional comments?

Having enjoyed "I'm Feeling Lucky", and assuming it was a single persons perspective on the amazing start-up story, I thought I would try another book about Google. However, this book had no narrative arc. It was just a series of reported events with dry quotes from Google employees. I did my best to stay engaged, but about half way through the second part I found other books to listen to.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Ryan
  • SOUTH MORANG, Australia
  • 2013-09-13

Became a chore Very Soon On

What disappointed you about In the Plex?

It was very Name and Date heavy... It got in the way of the story... All I heard was a blur of names of people who worked there or attended certain events...

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Boredom

5 of 5 people found this review helpful