You know you’re onto something when Hollywood calls before your book is even out. Writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) and producer Scott Rudin (Doubt) already have dibs on this one, which tries to paint the birth of Facebook as a hormone-fueled affair full of treachery and white-hot greed. It’s a sexy idea, one that promises either a juicy tell-all or a hard-hitting exposé. The Accidental Billionaires is neither.
Tracking the rise of Facebook from campus lark to multibillion-dollar empire, the book is a breezy blend of fact and fiction — the same sort of dodgy journalism that got Ben Mezrich in trouble when he published 2002’s Bringing Down the House, about card-counting MIT students in Vegas. The basic plot of Billionaires is public knowledge: Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg ditched several angry business partners — including cofounder Eduardo Saverin — on his way to becoming Silicon Valley’s first boy billionaire. But Mezrich admits that the details, ranging from plausible (Zuckerberg and Saverin get lucky with groupies) to far-fetched (Zuckerberg breaks into a dorm to steal information), are drawn both from research and imagination.
Mezrich doesn’t offer so much as a footnote to differentiate fact from fancy here, although passages that stray too far into fiction are tagged with ”One can imagine that…” or ”The odds are good that…” Even more frustrating is Mezrich’s limited supply of sources. Zuckerberg declined to talk for the book, so the author resorts to rhetorical pretzels to get inside his head (”In Eduardo’s eyes, to Mark, Sean Parker was a god,” he writes of Zuckerberg’s meeting with the Napster cofounder). All this might be forgivable if the end product were actually a spicy page-turner. But its few bits of dirt — a party here, a hookup there — feel pretty tame. If the movie’s going to be any fun at all, Sorkin had better stick about as close to this book as Mezrich did to the facts. C+