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Book Review: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon 45

Nick Kolakowski writes "Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos regarded Apple co-founder Steve Jobs as a rival, but the men had more in common than they might have believed. Like Jobs, Bezos had a vision of a tech company, started it on a small budget with a tight cluster of coworkers, and fought to grow it into an industry giant. And as detailed in The Everything Store, a new book about the rise of, Bezos also boasts a Jobs-like temper, riddling his subordinates with withering insults when he feels a project is imperfect or falling behind schedule." Read on for the rest of his review.
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
author Brad Stone
pages 392
publisher Little, Brown and Company
rating 9/10
reviewer Nick Kolakowski
ISBN 0316219266 (ISBN-10); 978-0316219266 (ISBN-13)
summary The rise of Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos

Brad Stone spent years researching Amazon as a journalist, speaking to Bezos a handful of times in the process. His footwork clearly shows in the book, which is exhaustively detailed without ever feeling bogged down. The most surprising thing, perhaps, is that Bezos didn’t start out of an all-consuming love for books, although he reads voraciously; in the early 1990s, realizing that the Internet was the Next Big Thing, he drew up a list of potential products that best fit the nascent e-commerce model in his head, including computer software and music.

“The category that eventually jumped out at him as the best option was books,” Stone writes. “They were pure commodities; a copy of a book in one store was identical to the same book carried in another, so buyers always knew what they were getting.” At the time, only two major distributors actually handled shipping books, which would make it easier for Bezos to set up a supply chain; and in reasonably short order, his growing team figured out how to get each volume to the customer relatively intact.

Much of the book details Amazon’s rapid growth in the years preceding the dot-com bubble. In his quest to create an “everything store” capable of shipping a wide variety of products to nearly anywhere in the world with a mailing address, Bezos pushed his employees relentlessly; many couldn’t take the pace. Even as customers ordered books, movies, and other goods from a handsome and smoothly running Website, the underlying infrastructure strained to handle all that traffic; meanwhile, the warehouse and distribution operations (headed up by executives poached from WalMart) evolved into a lab of sorts, as the company did its best to figure out how to ship products in the quickest and most efficient ways. (Praise today’s startups all you want, but most of them never have to handle real-world logistics on a massive scale.)

The book paints a nuanced portrait of the hard-driving Bezos, who comes off as a spectacularly unsentimental individual more than willing to fight to the bitter end with pretty much anyone to get what he wants. Stone offers up a bit about Bezos’ childhood—even as a youngster he was ambitious, and technically inclined—and tracks down his biological father, who was unaware that his son had grown up to become a billionaire businessman. (When they finally communicate, it’s by email; Bezos writes a quick message that he bears the old man no ill will for leaving him as a baby, and wishes him “the very best.”) But the overall focus here is on Bezos the Businessman, plunging into the details of everything from the Kindle to free shipping, and determined above all else to conquer the world’s marketplaces.

This is one of those biographies that will probably end up on the shelf of every self-styled “entrepreneur” and Internet CEO looking for a role model. For those who’re merely interested in Amazon, e-commerce, or stories about people who bulldoze their way to success, The Everything Store is a highly entertaining read.

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Book Review: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

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  • There is a 90% chance of any given book review on slashdot having that score. You'd think it would be the other way around, but no; poor, pitiful, neglected 6/10.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 25, 2013 @04:44PM (#45239535)

    They are like the bad old Microsoft in one sense: they use their capital (and investors tolerant of many consecutive quarters with no profits) and the cash horde they accumulate in one market to become predatory competitors in another market, kinda like Napolean's military strategy (BTW young Bill Gates was reported to have read *many* biographies of Napolean). So, that's the way it should be, some might say. But wait, Bezos is not doing this to be your friend; once he drives out the most effective competition in a segment (music CDs, for example), he'll jack up the prices once again so he can get a cash cow for his next target. So don't get too used to those big discounts.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think a lot of people realize this already though, the trouble is there aren't a lot of options left.

      Generally you can still buy new release music / books / movies at brick and mortar stores, but if you want something else you'll find yourself at Amazon.

      Why? Because they have it, in stock, ready to ship at convenient prices.

      No waiting months for back catalogue stuff. No $25 CDs with 12 songs on them, no single shelf for an entire genre with content spilled over from god knows where, no haggling on eBay, j

    • Plus they like to use FedEx Smart Post for shipping.
    • by alexander_686 ( 957440 ) on Friday October 25, 2013 @05:14PM (#45239801)

      As long as Wal-Mart is out there I expect the big discounts to continue.

      Also AMZN does not hoard cash like Microsoft and Apple. Just the opposite. They have often been criticized for their heavy investment in infrastructure and other capital projects to drive the next wave of growth.

  • Amazon isn't the "everything store" until you can buy a house there. In the early 20th century you could buy a house from Sears. Of course I'm sure there were plenty of details left for the purchaser.

    Anyway, Amazon is the closest thing to a 21st Century Sears. People comment on Amazon listings and discuss them just like people used to salivate over stuff in a Sears catalog.

    • And by some twist, Sears is flailing and on life support because people buy from Amazon now.

      • No, Sears got crushed way before Amazon was around. discount stores (Wal-Mart, Target) , big box stores (Best Buy), and specialized mail order catalogues had long ravaged Sears.

      • by puto ( 533470 )
        Sears starting dying in the 90s when they had the MBAs pension off their older employees early and lower wages and commissions. I know I worked their in college, and my commissions from selling electronics went from 10-15 percent to 1-3 percent, and if something was returned within six months, they would take your entire commission back. Plus Sears had higher prices than many stores on many items but would give anyone credit, which of course the majority of people they gave it to never paid their bills.
      • Oh wow, real close. Closer than I thought they'd come. I don't think steel buildings will meet occupancy requirements in most areas, but wow. Oh... so.... close. Flying under the radar doesn't count. Getting it past the government is the hard part.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 25, 2013 @05:01PM (#45239673)

    I was always a low level engineer so I can't claim that I personally interacted with either Gates or Bezos (although one time I nearly slammed a door into Bill's head but I don't see the point of dwelling on missed opportunities).
    From my PoV they are both driven individuals who also drove their employees hard. However I think Bezos is the better businessman. Both of them generate a significant amount of fear with their underlings. You never wanted BillG going off in your product review and I saw people turn white when they got the infamous one character email from Bezos (the character in question being '?'). But at MS the fear was all theatrics. There is a huge amount of outright morons that to this day constitute a large chunk of MS middle management and not only are they allowed to screw up project after project, they often get rewarded for it (I have seen one rise from first line manager to corporate VP; hasn't shipped anything in 15 years).
    At Amazon consequences were real, and went far beyond mere humiliation at the hands of the boss. I have seen director level people being asked to empty their desks within the hour. As a cog this filled me with joy.

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll