Did You Hear…? BlackBook’s Audio Book Review of Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton

Listen in on your own: buy Hatching Twitter or get a free download here.

There is, unequivocally, no better place to listen to a book about the inception of Twitter than San Francisco. Of course, the company’s headquarters are located there, but also lining the streets of the city are the buildings in which Twitter, which we scarcely can imagine living without, was born; the concept for “Status,” its initial iteration, mused aloud in a car somewhere along Valencia in 2006.

Although I’m usually based in New York, my happy accident of pressing play while riding BART and strolling through the Mission only intensified the enjoyment of Daniel Thomas May’s audiobook performance. Listening to the story while walking the same streets the book takes place only intensified the tension. May, recognized best as The Walking Dead’s Allen, digs into the already fast-paced narrative to give it even more momentum. Because the drama in the text is omnipresent – almost Shakespearean as power changes hands so often –  May’s reading sustains the tension, bringing to life each character’s fear, frustration, anger, and disappointment. (And there is lots of it.) At one point, Twitter board member Bijan Sabet writes a panicked email with eighteen successive “fuck”s in it, and May doesn’t miss a beat. As the recording plays, May helps keep one wondering how a company with so many flaws ever got itself through each day.

Nick Bilton’s Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal recounts the sticky six-year history of the service, following Twitter’s ideological evolution, power struggles and deception between its founders, as well as the narcissism and social change that 140 characters has sparked. The book is impeccably researched, painting a comprehensive, lively picture of not only the inner workings of the company itself, but also how the subsequent Twitterverse it created has provided context for so many events and movements. As the audiobook plays, one wonders when he’ll get a breather from the tension you could cut with a tweet, as Bilton says. (The answer: Never.) There’s one moment after Jack Dorsey’s dismissal as CEO during which board member Peter Fenton says, “I feel like I just walked into the conference room and there’s blood all over the wall.”

In Bitlon’s reporting, he obtains emails and internal documents, and talks to hundreds of sources to creative a narrative, ushering the reader through Twitter from the ground up. Hatching Twitter will forever change the way you look at everything from the status box to the Fail Whale, and give you pause about the purpose with which you Tweet — something on which co-founders Evan Williams and Dorsey never could agree in the first place. Sketched most unfavorably by Bilton is Dorsey, who comes off looking both petulant and egotistical — though everyone’s guilty for cutting out Noah Glass, who was responsible for many of Twitter’s earliest features, including timestamps, and the service’s namesake. Biz Stone, who can be credited for many of Twitter’s privacy policies, gets off easiest — and seems to be the only one who doesn’t get poison slipped into his punch.

Appropriately, the final minutes of my audiobook ticked down sitting on the runway waiting for my plane to take off back to New York. As the skyline of the Bay Area faded below me, I was stung by too apropos a parallel; I was leaving the knife-in-the-back world of San Francisco start-ups, and going back real life. When I landed, however, the first thing I did? Checked Twitter. May’s reading of one particular line from Hatching Twitter rang in my head; it really is “the accidental thing that turned the world upside down.”

Listen in on your own: buy Hatching Twitter or get a free download here.

Presented by Audible

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