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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ben Mezrich at Bryant Park

Authors AJ JAcobs and Ben Mezrich at Bryant Park
One of the most interesting things to do in summer in NYC is the Word for Word Author Series at Bryant Park. Every Wednesday from 12:30pm- 1:45, authors are interviewed and discuss their latest books. It's a beautiful setting, under shady trees, with people eating their lunches; it's just wonderful.

On July 13, AJ Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically, interviewed Ben Mezrich, author of Accidental Billionaires, the book on which the smash movie The Social Network was based, and Bringing Down the House, the basis for the movie 21. 

Mezrich's newest book is Sex on the Moon which has been cleverly called "the Right Stuff Meets Catch Me if You Can". It's about a young man accepted into a NASA co-op program who ended up stealing a safe filled with moon rocks as a sign of love for his girlfriend. He was caught when he tried to sell them on the Internet, and spent seven and a half years in prison.

Jacobs said that Mezrich's genre is "the business thriller with a little bit of sex". Mezrich laughed as he recalled trying to talk Jacobs into helping him steal the C-Span bus. Mezrich talked about his somewhat checkered beginning: a movie script based on one of his earlier novels that ended up an Antonio Sabato Jr. movie on the SyFy network, a script for the X-Files TV series, and "a lot of trash".

Then he met the MIT students in a bar, who told him their story about how they could beat the house in blackjack. That became Bringing Down the House, and to this day, he still hangs out with those guys.

From that book, Eduardo Saverin emailed Mezrich because he was angry about Mark Zuckerberg cutting him out of Facebook, which he claimed they founded together. That discussion led to The Accidental Billionaires.

Mezrich called the Winklevoss brothers, (the brothers who sued Zuckerberg over Facebook, and whom Mezrich referred to as 'the Winklevii') "two of the greatest characters in history", and said that "when you meet them, you want hate them, but they are the nicest guys."

Saverin settled his suit against Zuckerberg, and one of the conditions of the settlement was that Saverin never speaks to Mezrich again. Saverin sent Mezrich a restraining order the next day. Mezrich said that he has never met Zuckerberg, but he would like to, and thinks that it may happen.

Mezrich also said that he thought the movie The Social Network was an accurate representation, and that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (who won an Academy Award for his script) did "a wonderful job".

Onto his newest book, Mezrich calls Thad, the main character on the story, "charismatic, extremely smart, likable and very complex". He called him "the first geeky guy I wrote about who got laid", and "my most romantic character".

Thad saw The Social Network movie, and contacted Mezrich about his story. Mezrich said that he had a special dedicated phone line (like the Batphone?) installed so that people could contact him with their stories. He says that he gets 20 phone calls/emails a week; some legitimate, some not.

Mezrich said that Thad still wants to be the first man on Mars. He called Thad "a good kid who's gotta control his impulses." The girl Thad stole the rocks for didn't want to talk to Mezrich; she is a professor now and she did no jail time and dumped Thad while he was in prison. Mezrich was a bit conflicted about putting her in the book; he changed her name and said that he would "feel bad if it does something to her life, but the story needs to be told."

There is some controversy about the manner in which Mezrich writes his books. He recreates dialogue, but states that in a disclaimer in the beginning of the book. Jacobs was asked how he felt about that, and he started that he thought it was fine, as long as there is a disclaimer.

Jacobs said at the beginning that Mezrich talks very fast, and he certainly does. They got out a lot of information in the one hour talk, too much for me to write up here. I started reading the book, and it's good so far. Thad is a Mormon, and that may help, since Mormons are a hot topic, what with the HBO show, Big Love, and the Broadway smash hit The Book of Mormon.  It can't hurt.

I'll post a review when I finish.

There are a few more weeks left in the Word for Word Series; if you have the opportunity, check it out.


  1. These events are great - thanks for writing about this one.

  2. Thanks, Colleen. There have been so really interesting ones there this summer!

  3. Hi Diane, I've just found your blog which I'm really enjoying...my husband & I are visiting NY for the first time from late Sept to early Oct and was wondering if you knew of any book readings/signings that were happening in the city then. I thought a local would be the perfect person to ask!


  4. Nicole- I usually go to B&N.com, and Tony.com (Time Out NY magazine website) for info on book events. Two fabulous bookstores, the Strand and McNally Jackson Books are also must-sees. I'll check out what's going on and send you a note. Thanks for your kind words about the blog!