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The Players Ball by David Kushner
Narrative nonfiction

The Players Ball

by David Kushner
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Quick take

The frisky story of the internet, the rise of digital porn, and the advent of online dating.


In 1994, visionary entrepreneur Gary Kremen used a $2,500 loan to create the first online dating service, Match.com. Despite only 5 percent of Americans using the internet at the time, Kremen insisted his invention would transform our lives. That wasn’t all he accurately predicted. He also anticipated that internet addresses, or domain names, would be the bedrock of the dawning digital frontier, eventually gathering the same kind of value as real estate properties. So, while his friends thought he was crazy, he bought dozens up, including the domain Sex.com. Love and lust, he believed, would fuel this new world to new heights. But in 1995, as Kremen prepared to launch his next venture, he was shocked to learn that someone named Stephen Michael Cohen had stolen the rights to the Sex.com name and was making millions that Kremen had never seen.

In The Players Ball, award-winning journalist David Kushner draws from years of research and interviews to vividly recreate the Wild West years online, when innovators and outlaws battled for power and money. He explores the risks, rewards, challenges, and back alleys of how the world online came to be and provides essential insights about where it’s heading. The Players Ball is the rollicking true story of a decade-long cat-and-mouse game between a genius and a con man that changed the way people connect, and defined the digital age.

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Why I love it

At BOTM, we believe that nonfiction should read like fiction. Sure, there’s a lot of content out there that we all should know. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be boring, overly wordy, or reminiscent of history class. That’s why we’re constantly on the lookout for real stories that are fast-paced, hard-to-believe, or just plain entertaining. In essence, we like when the truth is stranger than fiction.

The Players Ball is one such tale. Reading it will give you a sharper understanding of the rise of the internet, before Tinder was a multibillion dollar company, and domains like sex.com could still be bought (or stolen). But this book is so much more than a deep dive into the days of dial-up. It’s a knock-down-drag-out story of all-out war between two entrepreneurs: Gary Kremen, the inventor of online dating, and Stephen M. Cohen, a shrewd conman with a penchant for the Hugh Hefner lifestyle.

This book, a microhistory about the early days of digital, will teach you a thing or two about VC funding, cybererotica (yes, that’s a real word), and intellectual property. It will also provide you with a handful of gossipy anecdotes about two rowdy businessmen who make today’s crop of tech bros look like straight up gentlemen. Don’t miss this wild ride.

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