walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_The Everything Store_, Brad Stone (kindle)

I've been putting off writing a review of this book, because I've spent so many years very, very, very carefully not saying certain things and I probably should continue to not say those things, but I am more tempted than I have ever been before, if only because Stone actually _mentions_ Berkley db.


This isn't a technical book. It's a story of a company book that is highly influenced by the sources involved because that's the way these things always go. Stone covered Amazon over a long period of time, and he got to talk to a lot of people, so that's nice. Lots of other people have re-told stories that Stone included, so I'm not going to do any of that.

For me, reading this book satisfied two long-standing areas of curiosity. It answered a question I've been wondering about since 1996: did Jeff Bezos start Amazon as a one line store (books), and then decide to branch out into other things, or did he start it as an Everything store, and strategically picked books as the line to start with, knowing all along he was going to branch out into, well, Everything. Bezos was cagey about this for years, but Stone's book lays out an unambiguous case, as well as developing why it was so important to be cagey about this for so long. (The book also provided detail and insight into the relationship between Bezos and Holden, which I didn't have prior to reading this. It doesn't change any of the opinions I held in the past, and I still think a lot of information that should have made it up to Bezos was stopped out of fear of that relationship. But hey, I'm the autistic one; I don't understand all this social shit. But honestly, that wasn't something I gave a lot of thought to then or now. I had some pretty strong opinions about one of the founders of Omnigroup, too, and look how that turned out. I Wasn't Wrong.)

The other area of curiosity is something I think everyone who has ever left a job they feel passionately about feels: What Happened Next? You can keep in touch with coworkers, and in the case of Amazon, you can read news coverage of them, watch the CEO be interviewed or do launches or whatever, but we all know that's not anything like the kind of sense of the company that you might get from working there. No guarantee you'll get a global sense while working there, mind you. I started at Spry around the time that H & R Block bought them, and I think there wasn't even an org chart (like, at all) when I started. So as soon as Actual Management appeared on the scene, stuff like org charts happened, because if you don't have an org, it's hard to have a re-org and Cue Cynical Bullshit Here. Because I am a DIY sort of person, I worked up my own version of the org chart, because I figured that Actual Management would want something reality based and I could interact with reality, too. My co-workers thought this was sort of weird (it was, actually, and I do recognize that now, altho I didn't then. Seemed like a duh thing to me at the time), and were Amazed that my org chart was basically what the Actual Managers produced. I think it had not occurred to them that at least some managers might not be Totally Detached From Reality.

Stone manages to tell the What Happened at Amazon story in enough detail to support a reader doing little thought experiments on what could have gone differently. This is fantastic -- it is a huge accomplishment. _Stone_ isn't trying to do this; Stone is busy telling a story about rabid capitalism, unfortunately, he's telling the story about Amazon, which means there isn't low hanging fruit like CEOs cussing out employees (I _loved_ the examples of Bezos Being Mean: they were so _deliciously_ passive aggressive. Bezos doesn't threaten to kill someone for being stupid. He threatens to kill himself if someone keeps saying stupid stuff to him. This guy is no Ballmer), or looking at a possible acquisition's code, deciding not to acquire it, and then just stealing the code, or even obvious violations of Robinson-Patman (which Stone mentions! In the correct context!!!). He's also trying to work out the puzzle which is El Jefe: why would someone with that much money keep working that hard? Totally unnecessary and honestly really very strange (go find me a counter example other than Branson -- and then explain why Branson does it, because I'm honestly curious). My favorite: that he really enjoys being needed. It's a pretty compelling explanation, too.

I'm sure everyone wishes there were more detail here or there or somewhere else. (Obviously, I'd commit minor crimes to get access to a whole lot more technical detail, especially on AWS.) But you only have so much space and so many sources, and your audience only overlaps on so much of the material. Stone made really good choices. I could have been so unhappy with this book, and I was not at all.
Tags: book review, non-fiction
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