Nicholas Carlson, Twelve Books, 356 pages, $39

Since she took over at Yahoo in 2012, Marissa Mayer has been skating on some rather thin ice. The latest in a long line of bosses to try to revive the Web firm, she has seen Yahoo's share price soar thanks largely to its stake in Alibaba, a giant Chinese e-commerce outfit. But its core businesses in such areas as online advertising are still stuck in the doldrums.

A computer scientist by training, Mayer honed her skills at Google and has impressed "Yahoos" with her technical know-how. As a result, programmers who once shunned the firm are now more willing to join it.

But, as Nicholas Carlson's account makes clear, Mayer has also alienated some supporters by refusing to make big cuts in the company's bloated workforce and failing to reverse the slide in its share of online-advertising markets. Other missteps include a review system that forces executives to grade a certain percentage of the staff as underperforming. This has had some bad side effects, such as discouraging high-flyers from working together.

The question is whether she will ultimately succeed. Frustratingly, Carlson fails to deliver the coup de grĂ¢ce that his excellent reporting suggests is merited. Although the author paints a damning picture, he ends up hedging his bets, noting that Steve Jobs only launched the first iPod in the fifth year after he returned to Apple.

With shareholder activists lurking, Mayer may not get that much time.