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The Players Ball by David Kushner
Narrative nonfiction

The Players Ball

by David Kushner

Quick take

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

Why I love it

Siobhan Jones
BOTM Editorial Team

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 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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In 1994, visionary entrepreneur Gary Kremen used a $2,500 loan to create the first online dating service, 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 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 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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Get an early look from the first pages of The Players Ball.

Member thoughts

All (142)
All (142)
Love (24)
Like (85)
Dislike (33)
148 ratings
  • 16% Love
  • 57% Like
  • 22% Dislike
  • Greenwich, CT

    Fascinating insight on the rise of the internet! I learned so much and cannot believe that these guys spent so much time, energy, and money fighting over the domain. Egomaniacs!

  • North Robinson, OH

    I found this an interesting book. It was “educational” but light at the same time. This is the kind of history I really enjoy!

  • Brooklyn, NY

    Very informative. Their disputes were interesting

  • Punta Gorda , FL

  • San jose, CA

  • San Francisco, CA

  • Elgin, IL

  • New York, NY

  • Ray, ND

  • Marina del Rey, CA

  • Paradise Valley, AZ

  • Little Rock , AR

  • Mount Carmel , PA

  • Atlanta, GA

    There are a ton of typos and mistakes, to the point that he says Kremens freshman year at standford when he was 19 in 1982 but he means his first year of his MBA at Stanford when he was 26 in 1988.

  • Peachtree Corners, GA

    The books moves along quickly and simplifies the history of the internet and evolution of ownership laws. The characters are outlandish and some language seems more for shock than moving the story

  • Lexington, KY

    I enjoy reading tech, genius and crime! Reading some of the history of the internet was good and not too in depth. Con men/liars are interesting but not on the receiving end. Passing on to friend.

  • Austin, TX

    Interesting to read the story behind the rise of the internet. Being born in the 90s internet was almost always available somehow so it was thought provoking to see behind the scenes.

  • Somerville, MA

    Definitely could have been shorter as there were pieces of the story that didn't feel relevant. Overall it was a good book about the history and structure of the internet

  • Berwick , PA

    Pretty interesting read about the rise of the internet. I learned things I never knew about the beginning of the internet era. Informative but not boring.

  • Waban, MA

    This was interesting, but it felt rushed and shallow. I wish there had been better editing and a more in depth story. But it was a quick, fun read.

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