Book Review: Bringing Nothing to the Party
On Amazon, this book is tagged 'liar', 'alcohol', 'sociopath' and 'jail'. But also with 'entrepreneur', 'web 2.0' and 'dotcom'. It should probably also be tagged 'genius raconteur'.
The book tells the tale of Paul Carr's successful beginnings - a published author while still at university, a Guardian columnist a couple of years later and a blogs-to-books publisher shortly after that - to the grisly end of his stab at Web 2.0 e-trepreneurship, Fridaycities (a site which continues under the leadership of his former business partner as Kudocities). With the Credit Crunch beginning to close its jaws on new Internet investment, Bringing Nothing to the Party couldn't come at a more opportune moment.
We have to express an interest here - Carr spoke on a panel about social websites at our conference last year, NMK Forum, which gets name-checked within the volume. At that point, Fridaycities was still in business, and Carr was, as ever, an eloquent and intelligent contributor, despite (as he reveals) not having slept the night before.
There's lots to like in the book, particularly if you have been to any London Internet social events. Carr captures the flavour of these sorts of evenings very well - khaki trousers and check shirts seem to figure prominently. Lots of the regulars show up: Michael Acton Smith, Saul Klein, Nic Brisbourne, Robert Loch, Mike Butcher, etc. Carr's prose style makes for easy reading, and - as you'd expect from the architect of projects such as The Friday Thing - the gags come thick and fast. It's a little like John O'Farrell's Things Can Only Get Better, but with more swearing and a lot less politics. Carr is an excellent story-teller, and you'll end up really wanting to corner him at the bar on one of these nights.
If there's a problem with the book, then it's that the alleged 'story' - the rise and fall of a dotcom entrepreneur - doesn't actually amount to very much. It's the 'padding' that contains the most colour - the wild parties, the people he bumps into at bars, the wilfully doomed relationships, the back stories behind some of the big sites on the Web. That's not an enormous problem, but if you already know about the origin of the name 'Google', for example, you sometimes wish he'd get on with it.
The other story, the real story, is about Carr, though. His journey from gonzo journalist, to accidental business owner, to accidental web business mogul, to very-near-jailbird, to working out what actually makes him happy in life. It's somehow quite surprising how much we end up liking him by the end of the book, having documented his personal and business failings quite so comprehensively. It's a well-worn formula in fiction that might make readers roll their eyes when the good-for-nothing protagonist finally achieves wisdom (cf. anything by Nick Hornby or Tony Banks), but when it's real-life then that's something different.