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Book Review: The Everything Store by Brad Stone

Brad Stone’s enlightening story of Amazon’s humble foundation through to it’s current market leading status. Utilising years of research and interviews with Amazon staff, Brad explains the e-commerce giant’s vision and the reality behind the everything store.

The Fortune Book Club Book Review: The Everything Store – Jeff Bezos and the age of Amazon

Summary

Title: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos And The Age Of Amazon
Author: Brad Stone
Publisher: Corgi
Publication date: 01 edition (31 July 2014)
Pages: 464
ISBN-10: 0552167835
Rating: 3/5

Synopsis

Amazon has always been a captivating company, from its rocky first years to its unexpected rapid growth. Now one of the highest grossing companies in the world, Amazon has conquered the e-commerce market and solidified itself in the history books. But would any of this have been possible without its forward-thinking and somewhat brash leader Jeff Bezos? The Everything Store tells the story of Amazon’s inception thanks to numerous interviews with current and former employees and Bezos family members.

Steady progress towards seemingly impossible goals will win the day. Setbacks are temporary. Naysayers are best ignored.

Review

The Everything Store is an award winning book from acclaimed journalist Brad Stone, that focuses on understanding the Amazon mentality in order to provide insight into how the company grew from humble foundations to becoming the most valuable public company in the world. However, while enlightening, it failed to entice me as a reader and feels more like an account of history rather than a supposed gem of business literature.

Given his career as a business journalist for the likes of Newsweek, The New York Times and Bloomberg, The Everything Store feels more like a collection of long piece articles rather than a book. While it starts with a disclaimer that Bezos himself told him to write in a way to avoid the narrative fallacy (a cognitive bias that leads us, as humans, to think of everything having both a cause and an effect), the resulting piece seems to lack any attempt of delving deep into the details or personal opinion. After all this could be quite useful from an experienced journalist who has written on some of the largest tech giants in the world such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo.

That said, The Everything Store successfully creates a sense of authenticity and truth through its many references to interviews held with key members of the Amazon executive team both past and present. These interviews provide key insights into the atmosphere at Amazon and the mentality behind certain business decisions, such as the rapid expansion of the company, its failed early acquisitions in the height of the dot-com bubble and its reasoning for slow and deliberate diversification. All of which is not necessarily publicly known due to Amazon’s secretive and always positive facade in the media.

We don’t make money when we sell things. We make money when we help customers make purchase decisions.

Furthermore, the book also manages to successfully provide insight into the company’s leadership principles and ethos (which have been shared online by Amazon) and highlights the company’s devoutness to the customer. Brad’s research even goes as deep as to detail which books Bezos was reading, (which have been included in a list below) suggesting a certain closeness to Jeff himself although the two only met a handful of times over a 10 year period.

However, the whole validity and integrity of the information outlined by Brad Stone is called into question because of a crippling one star review of the book posted by Bezos’ ex-wife Mackenzie, who mentions factual inaccuracies and calls into question the author’s own abilities: “… 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. The book is also full of techniques which stretch the boundaries of non-fiction, and the result is a lopsided and misleading portrait of the people and culture at Amazon…”.

Whether or not Mackenzie was saving face, suggesting that the details of the book could be too damning for the true nature behind the company, or simply calling out Brad for factual inaccuracies, it’s impossible to tell. However, it’s hard to deny that the review does cast a shadow on the piece which in turn jeopardises the validity of the episodes mentioned. Moreover, I can’t help but agree with the statement that “The book is also full of techniques which stretch the boundaries of non-fiction“, as the writing style is somewhat difficult to sink your teeth into and passages seem somewhat emotive and fictional.

All in all, The Everything Store is a decent, albeit at times difficult, read that is either well researched and highly informative, or simply inaccurate and overly imaginative. As such, due to the factual uncertainty in its contents, it’s hard to rate the book anything more than 3/5.

Mentioned Reading

  • The Black Swan – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • Amazonia – James Marcus
  • Sam Walton: Made in America – Sam Walton
  • Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple – John Sculley
  • The Mythical Man-Month – Frederick Brooks
  • The Goal – Eliyahu M. Goldratt
  • Introduction to Algorithms: A Creative Approach – Udi Manber
  • Creation – Steve Grand
  • How Buildings Learn – Stewart Brand
  • The Innovator’s Dilemma – Clayton Christensen
  • Good to Great – Jim Collins
  • Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose – Tony Hsieh
  • The Monk and the Riddle – Randy Komisar

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By Jake Doran

Masters in Advanced Computer Science student at Keele University, interested in all things tech and business, with aspirations to undertake an MBA in the future.

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