In 1985, Ken Auletta published Greed and Glory on Wall Street, a national bestseller. This was a colorful account of the battle for control of Lehman Brothers and was the first book that turned the machinations of previously discrete bankers into a topic for public fascination. In 1991, Auletta wrote Three Blind Mice, as the three great broadcast networks "lost their way," in the words of the book's subtitle. Then in 2001 came World War 3.0: Microsoft and Its Enemies, which was about the anti-trust cases that nearly brought the software giant down. Auletta's new book is Googled: The End of World as We Know It. Once again, he has identified an enterprise that is at the core of the way society now operates and, in this instance, how information is disseminated. Based on the history of Auletta's work, the appearance of the book is at once a measure of the company's dominance and a signal that pressures on its overwhelming power are growing.
Google may well go on to ever-greater triumphs. But if it does, it will defy the odds of Auletta's previous subjects and comparable communication companies, such as AT&T and IBM, who discovered that from the pinnacle the only place to go is down. For some time, I've been trying to figure out why Google is different from all those other great businesses that, one way or another, got their comeuppance. In the popular mind, Google has the most positive image of any media company (in the broad way that term has come to be defined) since the golden era of Walt Disney's animated features and theme parks. So what makes Google different from the other behemoths of the Internet age?