Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal by Nick Bilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A taut, well written, and gripping narrative about the rise of Twitter and the intrigue that led to a Game of Thrones-style power struggle, although without the head lopping. As a narrative, it’s excellent and excellently readable, although I can’t help but wonder about author Nick Bilton’s personal allegiance.
This is a story with pretty clearly defined heroes and villains and Jack Dorsey is definitely the book’s villain. He’s credited as having provided interviews which led to the writing of this book, although the author notes that not all interviews were necessarily happy to provide them. If he wasn’t displeased before, I can’t imagine he’d be happier now, because Bilton pulls no punches in how he depicts Dorsey as an egomaniac, a manipulator, and a Steve Jobs wannabe.
On the one hand, this is troubling; one expects such an account to be as neutral as possible. And while Ev (the other main player in the Twitter power struggle) has his own flaws, they’re usually not depicted as severely as Jack’s. It’s possible that these two men really are that different, but it still feels like we’re meant to root for Ev and feel hurt by the betrayal that ousts him from his own company. So does the work succeed, even though it doesn’t feel neutral?
On the other hand, this book is written really, really well. It’s a hell of a tale and it’s a rare talent that can turn board room politicking into exciting drama. The emotional content of the book is above and beyond any other “corporate narrative” I can recall; this book is many things, but it’s not dry. It is a quintessential ‘can’t-put-it-down’ read.
My personal recommendation? If you’re reading this to make a judgment about Jack Dorsey’s personal character, or if you’re, say, writing a research paper about Twitter . . . I’d hesitate to consider this one a source. My feeling coming away from the book is that there are two sides to every story and this book is only one side.
On the other hand, it’s damn fun, full of highs and lows, and it explains the genesis of Twitter perfectly; the early days of the Fail Whale, why the damn site crashed all the time, why it all felt like it was cobbled together with superglue and wishful thinking (because it really was), and all the other quirks that have become part of Twitter’s character and its charm. From the inability to actually explain what exactly Twitter is (even the creators disagree!) to its evolution from “What are you doing” to “What’s happening,” if you’re a Twitter user, this is a book you’ll want to pick up. Even if you’re a Twitter agnostic, or even just Tweet-curious, it’s a fine book of corporate narrative drama that delights and entertains.