Book of the week: Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal by Nick Bilton

Facebook’s early days look tame compared with the feuding depicted in Nick Bilton’s chronicle of Twitter’s genesis.

(Portfolio, $29)

Are all social-media moguls actually anti-social? asked Rich Jaroslovsky in Compared with the feuding depicted in Nick Bilton’s “absorbing, occasionally appalling account” of Twitter’s genesis, even Facebook’s early days suddenly look tame. Though former CEO Jack Dorsey is commonly credited as Twitter’s principal inventor, three other Silicon Valley strivers clearly played equally significant roles in launching the massively successful micro-blogging site that recently enjoyed a blockbuster initial public offering. Dorsey, Evan “Ev” Williams, Christopher “Biz” Stone, and Noah Glass were buddies in 2006 when they abandoned an ailing startup to launch a new social-networking website. Alas, as Twitter grew, clashing personalities and ambitions unleashed a barrage of backstabbing.

“Writing in a style well matched to its subject—extensively detailed, occasionally overreaching, unexpectedly addictive”—Bilton makes Twitter’s growing pains vivid, said David Shaywitz in The Wall Street Journal. Glass, a rowdy hacker whose critical early contributions included dreaming up Twitter’s name, was booted from the company before it even incorporated. Stone, the diplomat in the group, threatened several times to quit out of disgust with the infighting. “Mostly, however, this book is about Twitter’s yin and yang: Jack and Ev,” said Mat Honan in Hatching Twitter opens in October 2010 as then-CEO Williams is hunting for a wastebasket to vomit into after Dorsey has mounted a boardroom coup. Though Williams previously forced Dorsey from the helm, he’s the most sympathetic figure here. Not only did he finance Twitter early on, he’s shown trying in vain to keep Dorsey’s ego in check.

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Bilton tips the scales a bit too far, said Hannah Kuchler in the Financial Times. He makes Williams a shrewd, much-loved leader and casts Dorsey as a math-challenged narcissist who fails to address Twitter’s early technical flaws, then tries to cast himself as a new Steve Jobs. Bilton’s hammy flourishes “climax at the end,” when Bilton imagines astronaut and Twitter star Chris Hadfield gazing down from space and seeing Williams engaging with his children while Dorsey paces a lonely $10 million bachelor pad. That “cringe-worthy” moment aside, Hatching Twitter proves far more entertaining than the average startup chronicle, mining a story so rich “it is destined to be told and retold.”

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