I was both disappointed and heartened by the Ben Mezrich book. I had seen The Social Network over the weekend, before starting to read the book. I was surprised by how closely the movie followed the book. The chapters are short scenes, perfectly adaptable to the big screen. I have pointed out before, in an essay on Bringing Down the House, that I’m unsure as to Mezrich’s source work. I’m not accusing him of fabricating the story, but this book, like his previous books on MIT gamblers that I have read, is a narrative history that focuses on the tale, not necessarily the history, of Facebook.
My disappointment was in Aaron Sorkin. I had attributed the pacing, dialogue, and structure of the movie to his writing. I remain a fan of Sorkin’s Studio 60, so I know that he’s a good writer. I was just disappointed here that I couldn’t attribute the quality of the screenplay entirely to Sorkin.
I was also heartened, because when movie producers desire, they can actually capture the complexity of a book onto screen. It helps that Mezrich writes in movie style. His writing focuses a lot on the characters and atmosphere – again, this idea of scene building, less on what happened (if he did that, Accidental Billionaires would have lasted about 20 pages.) The book is also without frills, the details that add to the richness of the novel. I would have expected a true history of Facebook to focus on the similarities of Harvard Connection and TheFaceBook and whether Mark Zuckerberg intentionally held back Harvard Connection so TheFaceBook would be available first. It might also merit a comparison to how other companies like PayPal, Google, and eBay began. But, Mezrich focused simply on the sex, money, genius, and betrayal.
In this case, I would recommend either the movie or the book. One difference between the two is that the movie is more sympathetic to Eduardo Saverin than Mark Zuckerberg. The book played out a bit more evenly; even Sean Parker isn’t quite the Pied Piper that the movie made him out to be. What Mark, Sean, and Eduardo did all seemed reasonable, even if not rational. Also, some of the scenes are slightly reorganized, but reading or seeing the one is probably enough.