Google! Me!

I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59, by Douglas Edwards. 416 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $27.

Your hankering for a book about the first five years of Google, told in first person by a non-techie marketer who joined when it was a startup, has been answered with the publication of I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59, by Douglas Edwards.

Edwards contributions to Google's rise are trifling, as is his book. After being hired, he realized he didn't really have that much to offer the unorthodox company, where Rollerblade hockey defines its freewheeling ethos. So he aspired to become the company's "word guy." In that capacity, he devised the term AdWords for the company's paid-search term, devised the company's 2004 April Fool's joke about establishing a Google office on the moon, and came up with the phrase "Ads by GOOOOOOOGLE" to brand AdWords.

"I sometimes struggled with a single word choice for an hour and then spent days defending it," he writes.

He also taught Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google with Larry Page, how to iron a shirt.

Even the expectations set in the book's subtitle are never met. There are no "confessions" here, no dirty linen aired, no damning gossip shared. Its tone and substance wouldn't seem alien if dropped into a Google employee newsletter. As for the rest of the subtitle, Edwards isn't even sure that he was employee No. 59. He says he started the same week as some other people, so he says his rank could be higher or lower.

Because Edwards played no pivotal role in the company's formation or success, because his book comes to press six years after his last day of work there--an eternity in Silicon Valley--because a slew of journalists, most recently Ken Auletta and Steven Levy, have told the company's story in detail, I'm Feeling Lucky adds little to our understanding of Google's early years.

The next time somebody wishes he had been a fly on the wall so they could have observed great men and women doing great things and tell this story, hand him a copy of this book. Edwards was that fly, and all he does is buzz about his inconsequential conflicts with bosses and colleagues as Froogle, Gmail and other Google products were created.

I'm Feeling Lucky, the book's title and, as all search engine users know, one of the search options on the Google home page, accurately describes Edwards, who left the company in March 2005 with an armful of Google stock options shortly after the company went public. He's one of the luckiest authors you're likely to read this or any year; he's just not an inspired one.

If this is the first book you've ever read about a Silicon Valley startup, you may enjoy its charms. You'll learn about the company cafe, where the wonderful cuisine is free, about Super Soaker gunbattles, about eccentric but brilliant software engineers, about compulsory employee-bonding trips, product launches and massages in the workplace.

I crack on I'm Feeling Lucky so hard because it could have been a terrific book. Edwards does have some talent with words. The expectations he sets in the subtitle are reiterated in the book's opening pages, where he promises to tell "how it felt to be subjected to the g-force of a corporate ascent without precedent" and given an "insider's view of how things worked (and didn't work)."

But Edwards' memoir fails to deliver because he either doesn't have much to say about his time at Google or he doesn't have the daring to rat out his enemies and friends with honest revelations about the place.

I can sympathize with Edwards. I've worked at Slate since it was founded in 1996 by Microsoft, and for the first four years I worked at one of the company's Redmond, Wash., campuses. Like a good journalist, I collected string for a memoir or an expose or a roman a clef, but my material wasn't good enough to keep me awake, let alone a reader.

The best hope for this book (and any memoir I attempt from Slate's Microsoft years) is that Google engineers will write code that will shrink 400-page books like this to their essence. I'm Feeling Lucky would be twice as good if it were half as long.

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