In what may have been an act of self-destructive stupidity, I read Chaos Monkeys on the plane on the way to San Francisco, ahead of my first visit to Facebook HQ. If ever there was something to smash the bright eyed idealism that accompanies the start of a new job and replace it with world weary cynicism, it would be a book that starts by describing your CEO as a smartphone addicted mutterer, surrounded by people who spoke only in corporate platitudes and MBA-speak, and heads downhill from there. I like a good hatchet job as much as the next guy, but it’s a strange experience watching somebody air out the dirty laundry from a place you’re going to…
That said, the first half of the book is a pretty entertaining read. Although Antonio Garcia Martinez admits (and comes across) as a self-aggrandizing, narcissistic swine, he’s gifted with a good turn of phrase, although either he or I was lacking in stamina. Over the long haul, one or other of us gets worn down by this constant boastfulness, like being trapped in a room with a supremely rich thirteen year old who has to justify his existence to you by continuously telling you how cool he is.
The first part of the book concerns moving from Goldman Sachs to Silicon Valley, starting a company and selling it to Twitter before joining Facebook. In the second half, the chapters shrink in size until they resemble warmed-over blog posts (there are a few chapters which are exactly that, good pieces on adserving from three years ago, served up to pad the book out to an acceptable length.
Then the last chapter feels like an attempt to mend fences, to explain his bitterness at his erstwhile employer to be a function of really, really caring about where he worked. It doesn’t ring true with the rest; like the villain of the piece breaking down and crying that he just wanted to be liked.
It’s enlightening to reflect on how our fates were intertwined. The product that Martinez worked on at Facebook, FBX, was something I was in charge of using while I was working for Expedia in Singapore. At the time there were various frustrations we had with using it, and this view into what was going on from the inside explains a lot about why we were getting frustrated. He even mentions the head of an agency we had to work with to get to use FBX, and the way he writes it this man was an aggressive genius who couldn’t be faulted. That agency has been and gone: shades of Ozymandius by proxy, one supposes.
Not that I’m bitter about Martinez building FBX and not making it something that was solely designed to make my life at Expedia less complicated. Things are much more convoluted than that.
As my energy flagged, some way toward the end of the book as I crossed the Pacific, or as his energy flagged, he paused to put the boot into The Boy Kings, another Facebook memoir, a “so-so firsthand account of life at early Facebook” I began to realise that he was a fairly good explainer of ad technology, a wannabe Michael Lewis, and insufferable in large doses. Even the nice turns of phrase aren’t always original, uncited quotation of Orwell’s characterisation as the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket making you begin to doubt that he’s anything more than an aggregator of somebody else’s thoughts. Plus the boasts about the racing fast cars, the fathering of children he didn’t want (did nobody in Silicon Valley have access to prophylactics?), the dumbassery … it just begins to grate.
So, not the worst I’ve ever read, and not the best either.