In 2008, when Aaron Sorkin read the 13-page proposal for a book that would attempt to detail the birth of Facebook, he stopped at page three and called his agent. It wasn’t the allure of the Internet that captured his attention—Sorkin, who created and wrote 88 episodes of The West Wing and films like The American President, had moderate disdain for the Internet, viewing it as a land of vastly overempowered amateurs. Bloggers had attacked his last TV show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, in 2007, and he had questioned their credentials, saying “everybody has a voice—the thing is, everybody’s voice oughtn’t be equal...nothing has done more to make us dumber or meaner than the anonymity of the Internet.” What entranced Sorkin, who has always gravitated toward the overlapping and conflicting spheres of idealism and power, was the realization that the invention of Facebook contained all of his favorite themes: the longing for acceptance, the wish for success, the idea that work will give you a home, and that home will solve your problems. But just as Mark Zuckerberg, the computer whiz who dreamed up and developed Facebook as a Harvard sophomore in 2003, was sued by, among others, his original business partner, fellow student Eduardo Saverin, the flip side of the creation story is almost always the destruction of relationships. As Sorkin saw immediately in the proposal, the Facebook saga was the speeded-up version of nearly every business narrative: In just five years Facebook went from a dorm room prank to a global brand worth billions. In that story was the foundation for an even larger, classically American subject—what you lose when you win.
“By the time I called my agent and said, ‘I want to do this,’” Sorkin told me when we met in August, “the book—which, you have to remember, wasn’t written yet—had already been sold to the producer Scott Rudin at Sony.” Sorkin, who is 49, was sitting on the patio at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, smoking a Merit cigarette. “I’m only smoking to help you out,” he said, interrupting himself. “It’s a nice transitional sentence: ‘as Sorkin lights another Merit.’” He laughed.
It is precisely this combination of insecurity and self-consciousness that Sorkin imbues all his characters with: They long to be cool, and yet they’re cooler than they think. As usual, he was wearing a suit with a button-down shirt. His blondish hair was streaked from the sun, and he was very tan. When he’s nervous, which is often, he has a tendency to speak like he’s projecting to the back of a theater. “I used to live in this hotel,” Sorkin said as he ordered a Margherita pizza. “I lived at the Four Seasons twice, for a year each time. I’m from the East Coast, and I never wanted to move to Los Angeles. My house in L.A., which is nearby, looks like I bought it with the money I made directing porn. It’s glass and fire and water. It’s a bachelor pad with a jetliner view. It isn’t my taste, but when I looked at traditional houses here, they made me sad, like I was pretending I was living in Westchester [New York], where I grew up. My house isn’t like me—I still feel like I’m staying in a very nice hotel.”