books to film

Book versus movie: The Facebook story is better told by the source of ‘The Social Network’

Ben Mezrich’s ‘The Accidental Billionaires’ is a far more rounded account of one of the greatest business successes of our time.

Even to those who may have forgotten everything else about the movie, the last scene of The Social Network remains unforgettable. Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Mark Zuckerberg, has sent a Facebook request to his ex, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), and he is shown obsessively clicking the refresh button on his Facebook page to see if she has accepted his request. The film is a determined attack on the cult of Mark Zuckerberg, but that one scene does more to humanise him than any public relations exercise from Facebook ever will.

Moments earlier in the film, Zuckerberg was told by his lawyer that he is, basically, “a good guy” and that he should not try so hard to be an asshole. The lawyer meant it in reference to the case that the Winklevoss twins have brought against Zuckerberg, but he – or rather the character Jesse Eisenberg plays – is right to take the advice for his personal life, which is littered with the debris of his failed romance with Erica.

The scene is fictional, and so is the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, from which the film is adapted. Aaron Sorkin won an Oscar for his screenplay, but the real question is not whether he adapted the book faithfully (he did, if only in spirit). It is far more interesting to ask if the book and the movie portray a realistic picture of Facebook’s meteoric rise.

Play
The Social Network (2010).

The company has long denied any acknowledgement of the film/book and Zuckerberg has, on more than one occasion, spoken of his hurt at his skewed portrayal. (He has categorically stated that he may be many things but he is not the girl-obsessed parody of the book.) It is telling that while the film focuses on the conflict between the major stakeholders in the Facebook story, its strongest moments are less about the warring accounts of who wronged whom than about an ecosystem that let a bunch of outsiders overthrow the prevailing order. And for that, it has The Accidental Billionaires to thank.

The book, which came out in 2009, a year before The Social Network, is an almost entirely one-sided homage to Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s friend in Harvard and the first investor in the nascent website. Saverin came from wealth and was popular in Harvard for having made money in oil investments while still in his sophomore year. Mezrich portrays both Zuckerberg and Saverin as socially awkward outsiders whose inability to score with the girls was a persistent pain point.

Mezrich, who also attended Harvard, gives us a sneak peek into the workings of the college, where clubs rule the roost on the social calendar and academics is only an adjunct to finding the right fraternity to join. The Winklevoss twins, champion rowers, come up with an idea for a website called the Harvard Connection aimed at helping students date. Their inspiration: their own inability to meet suitable partners due to the demands of the Harvard life.

When the Winklevoss brothers hear about Zuckerberg whose coding skills are well-known on campus, they approach him with the idea for their website. While he agrees to help them, he actually decides to work on his own website, a broader, more general version of the Winklevoss template. With help from Saverin, Zuckerberg launches what was then called “the facebook”.

Both The Accidental Billionaires and The Social Network encapsulate, in their own way, the insular nature of an institution where nearly everything is geared towards climbing the prestige ladder, whose ultimate perk is finding the right girl to show off to your peers. The book is thus an entirely male environment, and it is hard to shake off the feeling that be it the expert coder or the Olympic rower, there is little else driving the most brilliant young minds than the search for the opposite sex.

Play
The Social Network (2010).

The key differences between the film and the book emerge from the demands of the respective medium. A more leisurely product than The Social Network, The Accidental Billionaires is an achievement of creative writing that can be read for its own sake, even if you are in the Zuckerberg camp and feel that he gets a raw deal.

An example is the scene introducing the Winklevoss brothers as they row on the Charles at 4 in the morning. In the book, the scene is a slow build to the brother’s magnetic athleticism, capturing the paradoxical nature of their ascetic practice as one of the most privileged members of a super-rich university. In the film, this scene wraps in a few seconds, and is unfortunately devoted more to dissing the Winklevosses’ Harvard competitors than to recording their stunning devotion to the sport.

This difference extends to other realms. Sorkin’s screenplay embellishes Mezrich’s material to make it more cinema-friendly. There is, for example, no Erica Albright in the book, while she is a central, if infrequently present, character in the film. The film goes so far as to suggest that the hurting memory of the first scene, in which she dumps Zuckerberg, propels him to behave as he does.

Play
The Social Network (2010).

It is also likely that the film did better than the book because in our attention deficit era, it is far easier to watch than to read. But that should not blind us to the charms of Mezrich’s project. Even if it were it not Mark Zuckerberg’s story, The Accidental Billionaires would have made an interesting beach read about the elitism and narcissism of those lucky enough to attend the Ivy Leagues.

But since this is Facebook we are talking about, the mounting tension of the website’s rather simple origins and outsize success lies more in the expectation than in the telling, a key contrast that Mezrich both benefits from and builds upon. From Zuckerberg’s alleged pilfering of the Winklevosses’ idea to the lawsuits that he finally faced, both from the brothers and Saverin, Mezrich thrashes out the details in crisp chapters. The book can thus read like a thriller, while sticking to an overall rubric of literary non-fiction.

The film is a more in-your-face beast, setting up its premise from the word go, and dispensing with chronology to offer the viewer a 360-degree view of the controversy. Within the first five minutes of its run time, we are in the lawyers’ chambers with Zuckerberg sitting opposite the Winklevosses in one setting and Saverin in the other. The story then runs back and forth, with Eisenberg introducing a measure of silken menace to the character that Mezrich’s on-the-page Zuckerberg lacks.

Play

Justin Timberlake plays Sean Parker, the man who bankrolled Facebook when it started getting serious, an inspired casting choice that comes closest to how Mezrich portrays him in the book. A party animal with a taste for hard drugs, Parker is as different from Zuckerberg as a nerd can be from a jock, yet the two ultimately take Facebook from campus oddity to everyday essential.

Andrew Garfield’s choice for Saverin does not justify itself. Sorkin goes beyond the book’s premise of Zuckerberg being the villain of the piece by showing Saverin as someone who was not much interested in building the company once it moved from Harvard dorms to Silicon Valley. While this is a nice balancing touch missing from the book, the fresh-faced, earnest-looking Garfield hardly qualifies to play someone who would rather party than be on the desk, crunching numbers.

What the film does better than the book is inshining a more damaging light on the sexism that can thrive even in a supposedly enlightened environment. The Harvard women are mostly absent in the film and the few times we do see them is when they are falling over the Harvard men in club parties. One gets the feeling that the girls got into Harvard on some different, lesser criterion, so it is some relief when they finally protest a website that Zuckerberg makes to compare their hotness quotient, even if the scene is too brief.

As a David Fincher film, The Social Network is drenched in a rich palette of subdued colours that reproduces the dim, gorgeous lighting of Harvard dorms especially well. But in spite of its beauty and brisk pace, it is bested by Ben Mezrich’s book in leaving a lasting impression. In the absence of Zuckerberg’s inputs, the book does not always meet the burden of proof. But even alternative truths can be rescued by a detailed unravelling of events and exquisite prose. Mezrich’s account of one of the greatest business successes of our time amply demonstrates his gifts as a storyteller.

“Incongruous movie quotes gave Zuckerberg, who could otherwise lapse into long periods of silence, tremendous pleasure. He also inserted them in the site. Whenever you searched for something in those days there was a little box below the results that had tiny type that said, “I don’t even know what a quail looks like.” It’s a throwaway line from The Wedding Crashers. Another quote that appeared there was a Tom Cruise line from Top Gun: “Too close for missiles. Switching to guns.” The quotes came to encapsulate, in the fashion of schoolboy in-jokes, the spirit of the company — playful, combative, and despite the technical sophistication, a bit juvenile. Students at colleges around the U.S. spent hours arguing about the significance of these inscrutable epigrams.

As the Facebook boys started dealing increasingly with real business professionals, a reputation for rambunctiousness spread throughout the valley. “It’s Lord of the Flies over there,” one executive told an executive recruiter. Zuckerberg had to be careful which business card he handed out at meetings. He had two sets. One simply identified him as “CEO.” The other: “I’m CEO…bitch!””

— Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch. For those of you just looking for a high quality fitness tracker, the Fitbit Charge has Rs. 4500 off on 22nd September.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.