In 1996, Sergey Brin and his Stanford Ph.D. classmate Larry Page started developing what would become the Google search engine.
On his personalized Stanford site from those early days, he wrote, “Research on the Web seems to be fashionable these days and I guess I’m no exception. “
Today, Google is the primary subsidiary of Alphabet, Brin and Page’s monolithic tech company with a market cap of more than $480 billion. Aside from serving as president of Alphabet, Brin is also CEO of its secretive company X, which aims to develop potentially world-changing technologies like self-driving cars.
In a 2000 interview with the Academy of Achievement nonprofit, conducted when Google was still four years away from its initial public offering, Brin said there were two books that especially inspired him to dedicate his career to blending technology and creativity.
‘Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!’ by Richard P. Feynman
Feynman (1918-1988) won the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in quantum electrodynamics and remains a giant in his field. He is perhaps best known in pop culture for his entertaining autobiographical works, which Brin says all left an impact on him. “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” first published in 1985, is regarded as the best introduction to these works.
“Aside from making really big contributions in his own field, he was pretty broad-minded,” Brin told the Academy of Achievement. “I remember he had an excerpt where he was explaining how he really wanted to be a Leonardo [da Vinci], an artist and a scientist. I found that pretty inspiring. I think that leads to having a fulfilling life.”
Feynman, who created a portfolio of drawings and paintings under the pseudonym “Ofey,” explained in a 1981 BBC interview how art and science complement each other: “I have a friend who’s an artist and … he says, ‘I as an artist can see how beautiful this [flower] is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,’ and I think that he’s kind of nutty. …
“I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. … All kinds of interesting questions, which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower.”
‘Snow Crash’ by Neal Stephenson
Brin said he is a big sci-fi fan, and Stephenson’s acclaimed 1992 novel “Snow Crash” is one of his favorites.
It takes place in a dystopian near future where the US has been replaced by corporate microstates and a computer virus is killing programmers.
Within the complex, fun story Stephenson predicts the rise of online social networks, and what would become Google Earth in 2004.
The book “was really 10 years ahead of its time,” Brin said.
“It kind of anticipated what’s going to happen, and I find that really interesting.”