Insider Google story feels all too familiar

I’M FEELING LUCKY: THE CONFESSIONS OF GOOGLE EMPLOYEE NUMBER 59
BY ZOE STRIMPEL
Allan Lane, £20 hhhii

DOUGLAS Edwards’ take on the Google story isn’t your average account of the rise and rise of the internet giant. We know this because he is at pains to tell us. I’m Feeling Lucky, he says, is an insider’s view – an unashamedly subjective look at the relationships upon which Google was built. A lot of what you have read about the company, Google’s founders explained to him, is embellished anyway.

It’s a shame, then, that Edwards spends so much time revisiting this same mythos. At one point he reels off a list that could have been pumped out of a random Google cliché generator – Super Soakers destroying office equipment, dismantled rollerblades cluttering up the Googleplex, games of dust-bin bowling.

Like the company itself, I’m Feeling Lucky careers from the wacky to the technically complex – verging on esoteric – often in the same sentence. But every so often you can find fascinating glimpses into the cool, robotic minds of founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page; their never-wavering confidence in their product; their disdain for PR and marketing (Edwards was a marketing executive) and their unironic aversion to advertising.

If I’m Feeling Lucky had been written five years ago, it would have been invaluable insight into one of the world’s most recognisable companies. But in 2011, it adds little we don’t already know. The real story – which Edwards foresaw but didn’t last long enough to see to its conclusion – is how the early days at Google laid the foundations of the problems it now faces on issues such as privacy.

You’re left with a punchy first-person account of a lot of things you already knew. Edwards is relegated to the role of a talented raconteur in the corner of a bar, telling a well crafted version of an anecdote you have heard before. Sadly, it’s not quite enough

By Steve Dinneen

ELIXIR
BY BRIAN FAGAN
Bloomsbury, £20

THIS is an account of the role of water in the shaping of 5,000 years of human history. Best-selling author Fagan looks at how triumphs of technology – from the advent of irrigation, to the aqueducts of the ancient Greeks, to the steam powered pumps of the industrial revolution – have resulted in plenty, a plenty he calls dangerous.

Fagan’s message is that either we live by our ancestors’ lessons and promote sustainability, treating water as a precious finite natural resource, or face destruction. It’s a scholarly book written with novelistic flare. But the more pro-business among us may find his politics offputting since he seems to be full of nostalgia for an age when lives were brutish and short, but we had “reverence” for water. Although the issues raised are real, this book seems to be more in favour of halting progress than promoting it.

By Alexander Sainty