Review: Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal

Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and BetrayalHatching 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.

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Review: Xbox Revisited: A Game Plan for Corporate and Civic Renewal

Xbox Revisited: A Game Plan for Corporate and Civic RenewalXbox Revisited: A Game Plan for Corporate and Civic Renewal by Robbie Bach
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sometimes a book presents itself as being about something and when you read it, you realize it’s actually about something else entirely. Other times, however, the book itself is pretty clear about its topic, but the reader’s perception is that it’s going to be about something else.

With the exception of the title and the stylish black-and-green color scheme that was the banner of the original Xbox (oh, how I’ve missed that look), “Xbox Revisited” is clear that it’s a business book, not a gamer book. It even says in the subtitle that it’s more about “corporate and civic renewal.” This focus is not hidden! And yet . . . and yet . . . it was recommended to me via whatever computer algorithms seek out those connections. “If you liked Console Wars, you’ll like this book!” So, while it might be a lesson about the recommendation process rather than a comment on the quality of the boo itself, I must admit I came into this book expecting an entirely different experience. And that isn’t really the book’s fault, in this case.

I was hoping for a “Console Wars” style narrative about the development of the Xbox, which has long been my favorite video game console. I was hoping to see more about how it was developed, what it was like in the trenches at the very beginning; in short, how it all happened. Unfortunately, “Xbox Revisited” focuses on the development only at the highest level and summarizes most of that story. Author Robbie Bach even says he isn’t much of a gamer and so isn’t equipped to provide a gamer’s perspective. Thus, while Xbox is the product that’s at the center of the discussion, the book isn’t actually about Xbox.

Instead, the focus is on Bach’s business management theory, which is called the 3P Framework. Not being a business manager myself, I can’t speak to how effective it might be. As a reader, it does feel like a bit of a stretch to take the business plan that worked for a video game console and apply it to the rest of the country. Your mileage may vary.

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