Top positive review
1,001 people found this helpful
I did like this book
on November 5, 2013
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. 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. MacKenzie listed one error, which didn't seem especially awful or material to me, and then referred only vaguely to "way too many inaccuracies". Without a more explicit list of mistakes it is hard to know what to make of that. Breaking news: a new 372 page book has some errors!
Since Mr. Stone did not have access to Jeff Bezos for this book, but had to rely on previous interviews and the accounts of others, it would be surprising if there weren't a few mistakes regarding his thought processes. As part of my agreement to be interviewed for this book, I was allowed to read a draft of the chapter which covered the time I was there, and I offered a number of corrections, some of which Mr. Stone was able to verify and incorporate. To the extent I am quoted, my quotes are, while not complete, fair and in context. I don't love or agree with everything that Mr. Stone wrote about me -- especially his broader conclusions regarding the circumstances of my departure from the company -- but I do think it was fair and reasonable. I am aware of at least one other interviewee who was also given a chance to check over the chapter in which his story was discussed. I obviously can't know this, but I suspect that if Mr. Stone had been granted access to Jeff Bezos, that he would have extended a similar courtesy. I have a pretty high degree of confidence that Mr. Stone made a significant effort, and did what was in his power, to make the book accurate.
The irony is, of course, that by reviewing the book as MacKenzie Bezos did, she has brought an immense amount more attention to it -- there are dozens of articles referring to her review via Google News this morning -- and its sales rank has shot up considerably. The book is not a fawning hagiography, but it is also hardly a completely negative account either. It describes not only Amazon's ultra-hardball business practices, but the better aspects of their services and products as well. To the extent of my knowledge it is a pretty realistic account, though necessarily incomplete. Of course Mr. Stone has his own point of view, and of course he does what nearly all biographers do, which is to impute thoughts and emotions to the people he writes about. It would be mighty dull reading without that, but I think readers are generally smart enough to understand that when they read biographies, especially unauthorized biographies, the author has to recreate some kind of persona to make the subject appear life-like. That doesn't make it fiction. This was written as a business book for a popular audience anyway, not as an academic treatise, so expecting every "Bezos thought..." to be footnoted, or couched in hypothetical language, is not realistic.
Especially in comparison to the sad collection of awful books that have been written on this subject, this one is much more detailed, more interesting, and a lot more deeply reported. Sure, there is plenty more that could be written about, and maybe someday somebody will. If and when that happens, I can only hope it is also "unauthorized" and not sanitized by a corporate PR department, and that some real investigative journalism is done, like Mr. Stone did here.