Feature

The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal by Ben Mezrich

Ben Mezrich tracks Mark Zuckerberg's rise from geeky Harvard underclassman in 2003 to “the youngest­ billionaire of all time.”  

(Doubleday, 260 pages, $25)

It’s fun to imagine what Mark Zuckerberg’s life has been like since the 25-year-old founded Facebook, says author Ben Mezrich. Now “the youngest­ billionaire of all time,” Zuckerberg was a Harvard sophomore of little distinction in 2003. But one night, stung by a girlfriend’s rejection, the geeky underclassman hacked into the servers of various dorms and created Facemash, a site that displayed paired headshots of other students and urged visitors to vote on which in each pairing was ­“hotter.” Within a year, Zuckerberg transformed his puckish initial concept into a social-networking site that went viral. Success, Mezrich says, brought riches, charges of intellectual theft, even sex with groupies. By the summer of 2004, he was spotted leaving one party with a Victoria’s Secret model.

“Nonfiction” apparently means something different to Mezrich than it does to the rest of us, said Luke O’Brien in Boston magazine. A year after the best-selling author was forced to admit that he played loose with the truth in Bringing Down the House and two other books, Mezrich opens Accidental Billionaires with a lengthy disclaimer indicating­ that he’s “again fudged facts to fit his idea of a good yarn.” Hollywood is already turning Mezrich’s latest into a screenplay, so his methods serve their purpose. The shame of it is that Mezrich had a $1.9 ­million advance that he could have spent on real research, and there’s “rich material” to be mined from Zuckerberg’s rise and the legal battles he’s fought with Harvard classmate Eduardo Saverin and other former business partners.

Mezrich’s tactics almost force us to pity Zuckerberg, said Rich Jaroslovsky in Bloomberg.com. At one point, the author recommends that readers “imagine” the fledgling hacker, having broken into a dorm to download photos, being forced to crouch behind a sofa to avoid detection by a lusty Harvard couple pawing each other nearby. The entire scene is pure invention. Such speculative riffs “might be forgivable if the end product were actually a spicy page-turner,” said Adam Markovitz in Entertainment Weekly. It’s not. Mezrich’s most salacious anecdotes amount to little more than “a party here, a hookup there.” In other words, “pretty tame” stuff.

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