The Search isn't a "business biography" of Google (snore), it's a complicated story about the emergence of the technology and business of finding stuff and putting it in the right place. John's thesis is that search is going to forever change how we live our lives and conduct commerce and I'm a true believer. The Internet's most profound salutary effect is the dramatic reduction of search costs. Now you can find out what your elected representative is saying day to day and how it compares to other representatives and what he promised to say. Now you can search for commercial goods that would never arrive at a retailer near you -- great news if you're the only punk in a small town looking for music and gear; great news if you're a left-handed person looking for the right kind of scissors.
I had a search a-ha moment just last week. I went looking for an out-of-print cassette recording of a radio play. None of the used-goods dealers on Amazon had any copies listed, but Amazon knew that there were several who likely had copies, and it sent them bids on my behalf. I ended up with a copy of the tapes within a couple days, for less than the original retail price. Now I'm considering giving away the 15,000+ books I put in storage because I thought that if I ever wanted to read them later, I'd never find them on the used-book market. The bottom has fallen out of the search-costs for used books and buying a title I'm looking for is likely to be cheaper than paying to keep it on the shelf in London.
Battelle's book uncovers the technological and commercial reality that underpins this and a hundred more like it. There's plenty here about Google and its competitors, their founders and the personalities, but only where it serves to illuminate the bigger picture.
Professionally, I've mostly known Battelle as an editor (he was briefly my editor at Wired Magazine), but he's also a witty, plainspoken writer with a real knack for turning complex ideas into easily digested stories.
This is better than a business book -- it's a book full of intriguing technical insights (even though I have my doubts about the Semantic Web that he addresses in the final section) that got me thinking hard about stuff I'd taken for granted.
One of the real perks of quitting my day-job is that I'm finally getting through my pile of must-read books. I was absolutely delighted that this one was so close to the top of the pile, it's an auspicious omen!