Brad Stone’s “The Everything Store: The Age of Amazon” is a very thorough journey through the life of Jeff Bezos, how he created Amazon, and many of the lessons he learned on the way. I’m not sure if the book is an “official” biography, but it is worth a read; if you’re anything like me it will leave you conflicted about Bezos and his company.
Starting with his early life, “The Everything Store” is not just a chronicle of Amazon, but a chronicle of Jeff Bezos’ life. Two points which stood out to me were his remarkable talents at school, and how fortunate he was to have parents who were able to encourage him and help him develop his abilities. I believe that in aggregate, every million or so people have approximately the same potential. So there could be a lot more Jeff Bezoses (or is it Bezii?) out there if they all had access to the same opportunities throughout there lives. Don’t get me wrong, he’s an exceedingly intelligent, driven man (and perhaps the world isn’t quite big enough for several Amazon’s), but he also got to start in a pretty decent lane.
The pivotal moment for Jeff Bezos, I think, was when he decided to leave D.E. Shaw, and go do Amazon himself. He could have stayed, and tried to do the same idea under the patronage of an employer, but he knew what he built would never truly be his, and he wouldn’t get to do it entirely his way. Jeff and his wife sold up and drove west without even knowing where they would set up the company when they left – that’s a pretty bold step!
There are a great deal more lessons in this book, from single-minded drive, ruthless competitiveness, to being careful with your cash, especially when you have a lot of it! If I was to criticize the book, though, I would say that although it is quite clear about Bezos’ brutal approach to competition – generally driving competitors into the ground if they won’t sell – it glosses over the working conditions in Amazon’s fulfillment centers, which have attracted quite a lot of negative press over the years.
All in all, I think the book is fairly well written, and broadly gives a balanced look at Bezos and his empire, which leaves me both amazed by Bezos’ achievements, and questioning whether it is truly worth the cost; whether I should be thanking Bezos for the convenience he has brought to my life, or protesting the way his company has killed high-street shopping, and the way it mistreats its workers. I guess that’s the mark of a decent book.