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The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google Hardcover – October 3, 2017
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“An existential alarm bell wrapped in a business lesson wrapped in an entertaining and often hilarious (and, yes, occasionally blue-languaged) series of stories built with great writing. It keeps you entertained to make sure you’re informed.” – 800-CEO-READ
“Galloway takes the reader through a refreshingly clear-eyed look at the nature of dominance at Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook Inc. and Google. He is interested in how these companies become more valuable with use instead of less, how they benefit from low cost of capital and the implications for things [that] could further strengthen their dominance.” —Brad Stone, Bloomberg Technology
“As the power of technology’s biggest companies comes under more scrutiny, NYU business professor Galloway reveals how Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google built massive empires.” —Publishers Weekly, “The Top 10 Business Books of Fall 2017”
"This is that rare book that not only informs but entertains. You'll never look at these four companies the same way again." - Jonah Berger, author of Contagious
“Scott Galloway is honest, outrageous, and provocative. This book will trigger your flight-or-fight nervous system like no other and in doing so challenge you to truly think differently.” —Calvin McDonald, CEO of Sephora
“The Four is an essential, wide-ranging powerhouse of a book that, like Scott Galloway himself, marries equal parts incisive, entertaining, and biting. As in his legendary MBA lectures, Galloway tells it like it is, sparing no business titan and no juggernaut corporation from well-deserved criticism. A must read.” —Adam Alter, author of Drunk Tank Pink
“If there is a blunter, more opinionated, faster-talking expert on the Internet than Scott Galloway, I haven’t come across him. Or her.” —Philip Elmer-DeWitt, Fortune
“Scott Galloway’s The Four is a bareback ride upon the four horses of the economic apocalypse – Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google. It is a timely exposition of the nature and concentration of power in the world today and, as a result, is much more than just a business book…The book contains more insights and provocative ideas than Amazon has Boeing 767s… My recommendation is to walk down to your local book store and buy this – or more likely, buy it on Amazon.”
Tom Upchurch, Wired
About the Author
Scott Galloway is a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, where he teaches brand strategy and digital marketing to second-year MBA students. A serial entrepreneur, he has founded nine firms, including L2, Red Envelope, and Prophet. In 2012, he was named one of the “World’s 50 Best Business School Professors” by Poets & Quants. His weekly YouTube series, “Winners and Losers,” has generated tens of millions of views. This is his first book.
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Why not a five star rating then? Well, while the book has some big thesis insights into the internet corporate behemoths and online commerce, it generally stays with the big part. This is valuable, and I’m guessing most readers will walk away with some fresh insights. However, once a big idea is noted, he tends to not delve deeper (particularly notable when the subtitle promises "the Hidden DNA." There were even a few times when The Four feels like a blog rant, giving him an opportunity to vent at one of the big companies (most notably that Apple wouldn’t help the FBI crack the code of an iPhone to help them gather evidence on a San Bernardino shooter/terrorist). He also spends a bit of time telling us some obvious things, though in fairness to Galloway, it is tricky to know what to leave out as common knowledge when you are writing for a general audience. As someone who knows a fair bit about ecommerce, I may be showing my bias here, but confirming my sense of some obviousness is the notably lower rating (at this writing at least) that Amazon readers of business books give the book compared to general readers.
I also wish Galloway would have delved deeper into the cultural and political implications for society when a handful of companies dominate the digital economy and have outsized influence in nearly every sphere. He touches upon this, but just touches. Perhaps that is too much to ask of a business book, but even the bigger picture business implications don’t get considered in a sustained way. Originally I wanted to say Galloway could be superficial, but that isn’t quite right--especially since he can definitely be trenchant and often has a wicked sharp wit. What I finally realized is that the shortfall comes from his impatience. He says as much as he describes himself and his impatience comes across in some of the stories he tells about himself (most notably in his handling of his efforts to bludgeon the New York Times to change). Ultimately this impatience leads to the book's greatest weakness.
Another example of The Four's superficiality/impatience: he casually refers to evolutionary “explanations” for business phenomenon. I am very much inclined toward evolutionary explanations for human behavior as well, but they come off as tossed out there instead of carefully thought through. Galloway’s breezy style also doesn’t help here. That is, Galloway enjoys being flip and cussing a fair bit. I’m not prudish in the slightest and think that he can often be quite amusing, but there is something about using LOTS of f-bombs and s-bombs (<not spelled out only because I assume Amazon would delete curse words) that take away their power when they are used too often. And ultimately they diminish some of the very weighty issues. Even that suggests a kind of impatience. That is, a tossed out flip dismissal is often used as a substitute for well crafted writing.
In short, The Four has value, but it had potential be lots more. So I definitely wouldn’t turn other readers away, but don’t get your hopes up for a masterpiece.
This examination takes place at a very interesting time for, as author Scott Galloway makes abundantly clear, the only competition the Four face is from each other, and the race is now on between them to become the premier operating system.
The first half of the book looks at the history of retail and the business strategies of each of the Four (such as the inspired decision to transition Apple from a tech to a luxury brand and to move into retail), whilst the second half chiefly considers the Four’s relations with governments and competitors and suggests future trends.
Galloway most definitely knows what he’s talking about. Now Professor of Marketing at NYU’s Stern School of Business, he previously founded or co-founded nine firms, some of which foundered at the hands of the Four. These experiences have not embittered him. On the contrary, he writes not only with great insight but also with considerable humour, not least about the origins of our consumerist cravings.
In so doing, Galloway occasionally overstates his case, as when he writes that, “At its core, Apple fills two instinctual needs: to feel closer to God and be more attractive to the opposite sex.” The bald facts are already sufficiently astonishing - Apple has “a cash pile greater than the GDP of Denmark, the Russian stock market, and the market cap of Boeing, Airbus and Nike combined” - for there to be any need for this kind of hyperbole.
This book is by turns frightening and funny, depressing (on the demise of quality print journalism) and visionary (on the possibility of a tuition-free university).
I cannot recommend it too highly, as it is both a superb eye-opener and an entertaining page-turner.