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Brad Stone is the author of The Everything Store, a book about the website you are now reading. He is a senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek and a former reporter for The New York Times and Newsweek.
I wasn't really planning on reviewing this book, because I was mentioned in it several times and it didn't seem appropriate. But several other people who were also mentioned in the book have already posted reviews, and in fact, MacKenzie Bezos, in her well known 1-star review, suggested that other "characters" might "step out of books" and "speak for themselves".
I was at Amazon for the first 5 years of its existence, so I also have firsthand experience of those times at the company, and I have been a fairly close observer since I left. I spent considerably more time in the Amazon work environment during those years than MacKenzie Bezos did. By and large I found Mr. Stone's treatment of that which I know firsthand to be accurate -- at least as accurate as it is possible to be at this great a remove, and with no contemporaneous documentation of the early chaotic days or access to certain of the principals. Relying on people's memories of nearly twenty-year-old events is of necessity somewhat perilous. Of course there are a few minor errors here and there, but I don't have firsthand knowledge of important mistakes much less anything that appears to be intentionally misleading. But there are a few minor glitches. In my case, I can testify that I did not, in fact, have a bushy beard at age 17 when I worked at the Whole Earth Truck Store & Catalog in Menlo Park. It was a publisher and seller of books and other things, not a lending library. It was in a storefront and was no longer a mobile service operating out of a truck by the time I worked there (p. 32). But I do not think this is a reason to disregard the entire book; it's just some not terribly relevant detail the author got a bit wrong in a way that doesn't change the story materially.Read more ›
Brad Stone did a lot of research and the result is a glimpse into the history of one of the world's most exciting companies. More than 300 interviews with current and past employees -- myself included -- netted an intriguing collection of stories. More significantly, his book communicates an important set of business principles and a taste of the difficult decisions Jeff Bezos made along the way.
I'm currently retired, but spent 10 years working alongside Jeff and the incredible team he assembled, so I have first-hand knowledge of much of the period the book covers. While I found it rather interesting, lots of stories are missing or just inaccurate. Brad painted a one-dimensional picture of Jeff as a ruthless capitalist. He completely missed his warmth, his humor, and his empathy -- all qualities abundantly present in the man.
One of my favorite things about Jeff is his laugh. But Brad's quote from me implies exactly the opposite: "You can't misunderstand it," says Rick Dalzell, Amazon's former chief information officer, who says Bezos often wields his laugh when others fail to meet his lofty standards. "It's disarming and punishing. He's punishing you." Nothing could be farther from the truth. In actuality, Jeff's laugh is spontaneous, sincere, warm and endearing. It diffuses stressful situations. Clearly, Brad misunderstood me.
The story of Jeff and Amazon is a fascinating one and deserves to be told in all its complexity. Even with the details this book contains, there's a whole lot more that's been left out, making this an incomplete and somewhat unbalanced telling of Jeff's and Amazon's story.
In the first chapter, the book sets the stage for Bezos’s decision to leave his job and build an Internet bookstore. “At the time Bezos was thinking about what to do next, he had recently finished the novel Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro, about a butler who wistfully recalls his personal and professional choices during a career in service in wartime Great Britain. So looking back on life’s important junctures was on Bezos’s mind when he came up with what he calls ‘the regret-minimization framework’ to decide the next step to take at this juncture in his career.” It’s a good beginning, and it weaves in nicely with what’s to come. But it’s not true. Jeff didn’t read Remains of the Day until a year after he started Amazon.
If this were an isolated example, it might not matter, but it’s not. Everywhere I can fact check from personal knowledge, I find way too many inaccuracies, and unfortunately that casts doubt over every episode in the book. Like two other reviewers here, Jonathan Leblang and Rick Dalzell, I have firsthand knowledge of many of the events. I worked for Jeff at D. E. Shaw, I was there when he wrote the business plan, and I worked with him and many others represented in the converted garage, the basement warehouse closet, the barbecue-scented offices, the Christmas-rush distribution centers, and the door-desk filled conference rooms in the early years of Amazon’s history. Jeff and I have been married for 20 years.
While numerous factual inaccuracies are certainly troubling in a book being promoted to readers as a meticulously researched definitive history, they are not the biggest problem here.Read more ›