A satire on working in the corporate world, Company by Max Barry is funny, intelligent, and oftentimes right on the nose as to what it's like working for a large corporation. It brings back a lot of memories – I worked for a large company for nearly ten years, and much of what Company depicts rings true: The Grapevine, the rumors of lay-offs, forwarded voice mails, separating the managers from the peons – and, of course, the ever-present donut...
Company starts off with a scene in which sales rep Roger is upset that one donut is missing from the tray. Normally there are eight donuts, but this time there are only seven. Who ate two donuts? This mystery does get solved before the end of the book, but what makes the donut mystery so funny is that this running joke continues throughout the book, popping up when least expected, as Roger keeps insisting on finding the culprit. In fact, a co-worker is falsely accused of stealing that extra donut and is fired subsequently (lack of team spirit).
Main character Stephen Jones, soon referred to by only his last name, finds himself confused as to what Zephyr Holdings does as a company. He sees the sales reps selling, but when he finds out that they are selling products to other departments in the same company, he is completely baffled. Jones sets out on a mission to ferret out the reason Zephyr exists, and what he finds out boggles his mind.
Zephyr is not even a real company; it is a test company that a group called Alpha plays with, trying out theories and seeing how employees react. They write manuals for major corporations to learn from Alpha’s studies. Jones is eventually accepted into Alpha - they see that he is smart, since no one ever figured out that there was no level 1 (home of the CEO) until he came along. It is now up to Jones to help the rest of Alpha keep their identity a secret, and to continue studying his fellow employees for the good of all. He is now a mole.
But Jones soon becomes disillusioned, especially when lay-offs come along and people are let go for no apparent reason except to see how the company as a whole will react and whether it will continue to prosper or fall apart. Does fewer people mean more productivity? Time will tell. In the meantime, people lose their jobs for no particular reason except the whim of Alpha and its CEO, who has taken Jones under his wing.
Company is a fascinating look into the life and death of a fictional Fortune 500 company. It’s intelligent and full of laughs. Those who have worked for huge corporations will definitely relate to what these employees go through. Company is highly recommended and will be counted as one of my favorite books of the year.