By Liza Roberts
Random House pounds 13.99
Naming the top 50 'movers and shakers of the European cyber-scene' is like recalling five famous Norwegians. Get past Ibsen and Grieg and you're struggling. Author Liza Roberts appears to have had similar difficulties with the stars of the European new economy.
Thus we get Isabel Maxwell, daughter of the infamous late publisher, who runs a US-based software business, and some fairly obscure companies and leaders, such as Quidnunc's Laurence Holt and Wapit's Hannu Bergholm.
What Roberts does well, though, is serving up the region's dot.com market in bite-sized chunks. The subjects are carved up into Pioneers, Name Brand Leaders, Start-ups and so forth, and then interviewed.
Inevitably, brevity and depth vary enormously. And by allowing her subjects to do all the talking, Roberts lets them get away with simple platitudes. So Martha Lane Fox coos breathlessly: 'We were young, and even better, one of us was a girl! Whoo-hoo! The British press took it and ran with it.' Then we hear how Martha hated the press attention and how smart Brent is. But we learn nothing about how lastminute.com plans to exploit its brand into meaningful revenues.
The interview with Tim Jackson is similarly disappointing. Renowned as one of the smartest but most irascible men in the sector, Jackson comes across as a bland, likable fellow, which will probably annoy him as much as it frustrates the reader.
Roberts is at her best when her breezy prose gets a second wind. It's a very American style and irony seems to pass her by. On Isabel Maxwell, she writes that her subject's current corporate interest 'seems to drown out much of that many-layered background'. Ouch.
There's good stuff among the mundane. The interview with Nick Denton, in which the former FT writer talks of his transformation to web entrepreneur with passion and wit, qualifies, as does the interview with Julie Meyer, co-founder of First Tuesday. However, both are media-friendly. When it comes to the likes of Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, number two at Nokia, Roberts fails to tease out the interesting nuggets of a subject more at home with his computer.
Europe's A-List is a jaunty breeze around young net entrepreneurs. But the lack of insight into what makes an e-business click is most disappointing.
Few of the 50 explain how they are going to sustain their business to profitability. Most of them head ventures that are loss-making, so perhaps they don't know.