Book review - Never Lost Again

Thu 06 June 2019 | tags: books

Book review - Never Lost Again

Never lost again: the Google mapping revolution that sparked new industries and augmented our reality by Bill Kilday (HarperBusiness, May 2018). ISBN: 9780062673046.

Summary: "Never Lost Again chronicles the evolution of mapping technology--the "overnight success twenty years in the making." Bill Kilday takes us behind the scenes of the tech's development, and introduces to the team that gave us not only Google Maps but Google Earth, and most recently, Pokemon GO.

My take on this book is that the author had incredible courage to be so specific about the events of the book, including names of the key players, their actions under stressful situations (patent violation lawsuits, internal power struggles at Google, and heavy user demand on production servers). Since the book is about the people and not about the underlying technology, this makes sense, but obviously the author had to wait years after leaving Google (from CA in 2006 and then leaving Google entirely) before it was somewhat safe to discuss these subjects. The interpersonal conflict with Marissa Meyer in particular stands out, as the author describe not wanted to be fired from Google on the spot for trying to do his job and being confounded repeatedly by Meyer's interference. To then write a book about it, get it cleared, and still include these details shows the author's commitment to bold, Texas-style storytelling. It would have been far easier to cop out and censor the past or replace all of the names with vague descriptions of headwinds or other euphemisms.

As the author primarily worked in marketing, he doesn't get involved with the technology throughout much of the story, but he provides enough names of the engineers and other key players to keep the narrative interesting. It's really amazing to see that the author got more inside information after 2006 so that he could provide credit to the engineers who made it all possible. Also, the struggles of John Hanke to keep the startup running and then navigate the internal politics of Google are also presented in brazen detail to warn any ambitious newcomers about the real struggles of managing a fledgling business.

Anyway, I guess reviews are supposed to have scores, so I would say 4.5 out of 5 stars for a dramatic presentation of the human struggles to achieve mapping for the masses. I would have liked to see a little more discussion of the technology, but the human connection compensates for it.