The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

Posted by jack_miller | Published 7 months ago

With 2259 ratings

By: Brad Stone, Pete Larkin, et al.

Purchased At: $18.00

Audie Award Finalist, Business/Educational, 2014

The definitive story of Amazon.com, one of the most successful companies in the world, and of its driven, brilliant founder, Jeff Bezos.

Amazon.com started off delivering books through the mail. But its visionary founder, Jeff Bezos, wasn't content with being a bookseller. He wanted Amazon to become the everything store, offering limitless selection and seductive convenience at disruptively low prices. To do so, he developed a corporate culture of relentless ambition and secrecy that's never been cracked. Until now.

Brad Stone enjoyed unprecedented access to current and former Amazon employees and Bezos family members, giving listeners the first in-depth, fly-on-the-wall account of life at Amazon. Compared to tech's other elite innovators - Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg - Bezos is a private man. But he stands out for his restless pursuit of new markets, leading Amazon into risky new ventures like the Kindle and cloud computing, and transforming retail in the same way Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing.

The Everything Store will be the revealing, definitive biography of the company that placed one of the first and largest bets on the Internet and forever changed the way we shop and read.

As somebody who has been familiar with Amazon since they began (tech in Seattle is a small world), Amazon has always been in my peripherals so I was already somewhat familiar with Amazon's stigma, especially in this city, as well as what a lot of people have had to say about Amazon. This book only really scratches the surface of the mindset of Jeff and his executive team throughout the course of Amazon's history, but if you can take an objective viewpoint and read between the lines of the book you can get a pretty revealing idea of how Amazon operates and their philosophy behind a lot of what they do. There is a lot to get out of this book that other things are severely lacking (looking at you, New York Times).

Like other people have mentioned, this book paints Jeff in a little bit of a strange light, only focusing on his ruthless approach to business and e-commerce and spending little time talking about the fact that he is indeed human and has a wide range of emotions and isn't actually Darth Vader incarnate.

All in all, I enjoyed the book thoroughly. The pacing is quick, but not thin, and the author spends just enough time explaining situations to provide context without risking crafting a dense editorial. The language is smart, but not aloof, and the progression of the writing makes it easy to continue reading for long stretches of time unlike a lot of other books like this one.

- myah_edwards

I’ve been fascinated by Amazon and Jeff Bezos since I first heard about them in 1994-1995, and followed the company closely ever since, via articles, videos, and so on. When I helped launched Circuitcity.com in 1999, Amazon was one of the sites that I used for inspiration on a daily basis.

I enjoyed reading this book; I learned a lot about Amazon’s history and culture. I always find the “backstories” interesting. Of course, I think you have to take any single article or book with a grain of salt; we humans tend to be subjective, myopic, and one-sided, even if our intentions are good. And, I don’t think the author actually interviewed Mr. Bezos, so that seems like a significant miss to me. But all in all, I don’t think the book comes across as either for or against Amazon, and it is a very easy read. If you’re trying to learn about Amazon, don’t limit yourself to this book, or any other single source of information. I’d particularly recommend reading the book's reviews written by Mackenzie Bezos and Andy Jassy.

One really interesting tidbit was the story about Jeff having an open seat in meetings, where the “customer” is seated. Some people may think it a bit silly, but I don’t. I can’t think of a better constant reminder. I’ve found that I actually seem to have a lot of the same quirks and philosophies as Mr. Bezos, which is kind of cool. Like, frugality is one of my mantras too. It’s hard to find fault with much of anything, when Amazon has been so successful.

- tyson_white

I was looking for a biography of Jeff Bezos and The Everything Store is about Amazon almost exclusively. The book reveals what a complex entity Amazon is and how tremendously impressive Jeff Bezos is, and that's useful but there may be a little too much detail, and I'd like something more on how Bezos' style has meshed with the presumably independent Washington Post. Also, I 've been wondering about the competition between Bezos and Musk in the area of space ships. Perhaps the book was written before much could be said about either of those two topics. It's interesting to know that Bezos, like Musk and Jobs, all very successful, were pretty rough on those who worked for them and don't seem to have suffered for it.

- tucker_ward

"'If [humans] think long term, we can accomplish things that we wouldn't accomplish otherwise,' Bezos said. 'Time horizons matter, they matter a lot. The other thing I would point out is that we humans are getting awfully sophisticated in technological ways and have a lot potential to be very dangerous to ourselves. It seems to me that we, as a species, have to start thinking longer term.'"
Jeff Bezos

Brad Stone did a great job of writing The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. He captured the business incredibly, from its extremely successful start, to its struggles in the beginning of the 2000's. This book was very insightful, and, after reading it, I look at the company as more than just a convenient, "Everything Store."

We have all heard of them - it's more than likely that you have bought something from them - but do you know how Jeff Bezos created this giant of a business?

He started in a garage with an idea, books, and desks made from cheap doors.

After starting out in the garage, Jeff and his associates quickly had to buy an official office space, as well as a warehouse. They grew so quickly that, on May 15, 1997, the company reported a 900% growth in annual sales.

Jeff's idea was extremely successful up until 2000, when the company's stock made a complete U-turn. Its share value would continue to drop in value for 21 months. Jeff Bezos has been up against incredible challenges, and this book has taught me how he came through each of them.

During a meeting in the earlier years of his company's lifetime, Jeff and the other attendees came up with six terms that described what they wanted to be. These terms are:

1. Customer Obsession
2. Frugality
3. Bias for Action
4. Ownership
5. High Bar for Talent
6. Innovation

After being hit by his business's decline in 2000, Bezos came up with three more terms to add to that list:

7. Discipline
8. Efficiency
9. Eliminating waste

If you want to learn more about one of the most successful CEO's, or if you are dying to know how his company recovered from their 21 month slump, I highly recommend that you buy The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.

This review was originally posted on my blog, along with other biographies, classics, and insipiring nonfiction.
thewrightread.com

- stanley_johnson

It stays faithful to consumers but is ruthless for everyone else. I liked one of the "jeffism's", (as the author likes to refer to some of his statements) Keep an empty chair in business meetings while taking business decisions. The empty chair signifies the customer and the decision makers should keep the customer in their minds.

After reading the biography of ELON MUSK and now this, I can now safely say that, you need to be low on empathy if you want to run a bold and thriving business. (Correct me if I am wrong & recommend a contradictory biography )

- craig_wood

This has been on my kindle for ages, and I wish I read it before now. The book gives a fascinating insight into Amazon, not just the Amazon we know today but right back to the start of the business.

The author, Brad Stone, is a well respected US journalist with a strong pedigree in this arena, and with The Everything Store he really delivers. The book appears well researched with lots of rich history, from the amusing to the serious technical details, and introduces the reader to a lot of the key players in the business.

As a longtime Amazon user I thought I knew a lot about it, but it turns out that Amazon is like an iceberg and we only see a small percentage of the real company on the surface, the rest of the behemoth is under the surface, away from view.

This book is very readable, Stone has turned what could have been a quite dry subject into a fascinating read that keeps you turning the page. Some books in this genre are heavy going, but this one has just enough story-telling weaved through the cold facts to keep you interested to the end.

If you're interested in Amazon or the way that billion dollar businesses are built and run this will make for a great read which I highly recommend.

- gordon_moore

Grab an armful of business leadership books from your nearest bookshop and look through them for advice on how to treat staff. I doubt you'll find any of them encouraging business leaders to humiliate their colleagues in public more frequently.

Yet one of the most memorable stories in Brad Stone's account of how Jeff Bezos made such a success of Amazon is just such an encounter with a senior manager. They were giving answers that Bezos did not believe about the speed with which the phones were being answered by the customer service team. So in the middle of a meeting with senior managers, Bezos put a phone on loudspeaker, dialed Amazon's customer service number and started ostentatiously timing how long it took to be answered. He'd been told that calls were being answered in less than a minute, but the meeting had to sit in excruciating silence as the minutes ticked up before finally the phone was answered.

A devastatingly effective way of making a point, true. But how do you combine such a brutish attitude at times with an ability to recruit, retain and motivate the sort of brilliant staff you need, especially when Amazon wasn't paying high wages? The mystery is deepened by the grimly humorous collection of stories of other technology CEOs and their abrasive behaviour that Brad Stone presents in the book.

As with Steve Jobs, reading about Jeff Bezos and all his quirks in dealing with other human beings (not to mention Amazon's huge sums spent on failed takeovers) leaves you wondering for much of the time if you're reading an account of a brilliant success or a tragic failure. Clearly the path Amazon has taken shows he - like Jobs - is the former.

But whilst Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs does answer the question of how Jobs and Apple ended up so successful despite his manner, in the case of Bezos and Amazon, Brad Stone leaves that question only partly answered. Early on in the book Amazon is but one amongst many online book selling startups. Stone explains well why traditional bookselling firms found it difficult to move into the online business, constrained as they were by their heavy investment in offline stores. Why, though, did Amazon triumph from all those different online startups? That Stone doesn't tell us.

The more successful Amazon gets, the better Stone's book does explain its gathering momentum, especially thanks to Bezos's insistence on using Amazon's scale to drive prices as low as possible. There are two types of company, Bezos says. Those that looks to charge as high a price as possible (think Apple) and those that look to charge as low a price as possible (think Amazon). Amazon's low prices may have kept its profits down, but they have hugely boosted its size and, while Apple's high margins have attracted big competitors eating into its market, Amazon's low margins have kept competitors out of the market, leaving more space for it to grow even further.

It's a shame though that the initial crucial breakthrough remains unexplained even by the end of an enjoyable book.

- reyna_evans

This book, published in 2013, is both a history of Amazon as a company in its first nearly two decades and a biography of its remarkable founder, who has imprinted his philosophy probably more deeply than any other CEO of a major company, arguably even more so than Steve Jobs did with Apple. Indeed, the author, a technology journalist claims that: "In a way, the entire company is scaffolding built around his brain—an amplification machine meant to disseminate his ingenuity and drive across the greatest possible radius". The company is often stated to be based around certain key concepts: putting the interests of the customer at the centre of everything it does, especially in terms of low prices and excellent customer service, and ahead of the interests of employees and the potential threat from competitors; a capacity for reinventing the rules of retail, as the most successful company whose rise coincided with that of the internet in the mid to late 1990s, surviving the dot com crash; and a determination to take a long term view of the company's prospects, eschewing immediately profitable lines for long term future growth areas across an ever great wider range of goods: witness, Amazon Fresh. This is powered by a virtuous cycle, or flywheel, described thus: "Lower prices led to more customer visits. More customers increased the volume of sales and attracted more commission-paying third-party sellers to the site. That allowed Amazon to get more out of fixed costs like the fulfillment centers and the servers needed to run the website. This greater efficiency then enabled it to lower prices further. Feed any part of this flywheel, they reasoned, and it should accelerate the loop".

Clearly in all the above, Amazon has been massively successful. Yet it has faced criticism over tax and some of its employee policies, and as Brad Stone, and many past employees point out, Amazon has no culture of work-life balance and different teams working together: Bezos appears to believe that creative tension creates progress and drives up standards. There is a powerful feeling across the political divide in the US that Amazon has got too big and is exercising a distorting effect on many markets (though some of this is caused by political jealousy, for example Trump's dislike of the liberal Washington Post newspaper, also owned by Bezos). Brad Stone is apparently writing an updated version of this book, which should be an interesting read. Certainly, barring some unforeseen catastrophe, Amazon's capacity for forward-looking thinking and not resting on its laurels seems set to ensure it continues to evolve and play a key role in online retail for many years to come.

- gianluca_bennet

Some, but not all books, allow you to inhabit them and, at least while you are reading them, they become a part of your life; I can think of a few books like this and they are the ones that linger, that you return to, sometimes again and again. Certainly this book at a little over 400 pages takes some time to read, if, as I do, you read a little each evening before turning-in for the night, so I was slightly disappointed to have finished it. The story which covers the early genesis of what becomes Amazon, covers the early years and thereafter up to 2013, although I cannot imaging a sequel adding much to what has already been written, which is deep, extensive and in-glossed in its coverage of the ups and down of the Amazon journey. Jeff Bezos, the chief architect and principal character does not actually develop in a way that you could say that reading the book, you now know the man, but he is intrinsically bound up in the story and the edifice that is Amazon; the two are inseparable and give character, each to the other. Many people, other than Jeff inhabit the story and play their parts in the creation of the everything store and they come and go, for many reasons, not least exhaustion, but this account as everything and everyone becomes subsumed by the ethics that drive the inexorable rise of a monolith: is that the right word? Probably not; Amazon does not exclude the possibility of other such stores entering the market place, but the disruptive quality of the enterprise makes it seem unassailable, for not anyway. In the end, this is an interesting account of how a business develops, against all odds, due to the single-mindedness and resilience of one man, supported by an array of others, men and women, who for a while take part in the unfolding story. It is an account of how to do it and how to do it well, but also why you need a person of extraordinary grit and almost supra-human resolve. The book is amazing; it does justice to the character of Jeff Bezos, without over eulogising or ignoring his failures: read it.

- paisley_hall

I thought this was an even-handed, well researched history of Amazon. There's a lot to admire about the company, but Jeff Bezos's very heavy-handed approach to suppliers and employees is disturbing, not to mention the extraordinary lengths he has gone to in attempts to avoid paying the taxes which most other businesses pay.

There is no doubt that Amazon is a wonderful company from the consumer's point of view. However it has used its immense power in the marketplace to reduce what creative individuals, small companies and employees can earn for their hard work.

This book does not have much information on what it is like to work in an Amazon warehouse. This topic has been covered extensively and its absence makes the book incomplete. As a society, we need to question whether it is right for any company to treat employees badly, and to do so we need good information about the reality of the workplace.

Jeff Bezos was adopted by his stepfather, and until fairly recently he did not have any contact with his biological father. The author of this book decided to track down his biological father, who did not know that the son he fathered grew up to be Jeff Bezos, and to reveal this information to him. I consider the author's interference in the Bezos family relationships to be unethical. Journalists are meant to report a story, not alter the story to make their book more 'interesting'.

- kaiya_collins

Great read. A fascinating story about Amazon, Jeff Bezos and the culture of the most successful company in the world. This is a great book, written in a witty way. Real pleasure to read.

It talks about the beginning of the small internet bookstore and how it became the biggest internet ecommerce company in the world, its leadership, philosophy of its founder. You can learn a lot how to setup up and run a successful business. It explains why Amazon was destined for success.

It is a must read if you want to understand how Amazon became the biggest company and Jeff B one of the most powerful men on the planet.

- zayne_chavez

The research and story is inspiring and thought provoking. I would have preferred if it were more thorough and even more thought provoking. The usage of some unpopular words makes this read a tad boring. Words like extolled, eponymous, avowed, acerbic, nom de guerre... That last one, literally meaning pseudonym.

I circled new words, and reviewed the circled words at the end of the book. I would have preferred to have spent my review time on concepts, rather than deciphering rare words.

I recommend it anyway, as it goes into good detail about a whole range of subjects.

- manuel_kelly

I purchased this book and also the CD version of this book so that I can listen to it asap. I have been very inspired and motivated by Jeff Bezos's journey in starting Amazon and his extrodinary creative mind set. Learning about the failures and challenges Jeff had suffered on his journey to creating Amazon has made me more determined to succeed in my own ventures. I listen to the CDs twice in order to pick up on the many learnings that one can get from this CD/book. I am enjoying listening to the CDs and looking forward to reading the book.

- isla_williams

I read this and 'Let My People Go Surfing' by Yvon Chouinard in quick succession and was very surprised at the polar opposite mission and work ethic between Amazon and Patagonia.

Made for very interesting reading, and gives a real insight into the cut throat and dog-eat-dog world of American corporations. You have to hand it to Bezos - he's made a giant of a company, but it's very interesting to read how he did it with an unwavering attitude and drive to provide Amazon customers the best possible price, but at times bullying tactics once his company became a market force.

- louisa_phillips

There has been heaps of information in the media about Amazon over the past two decades. I have been remiss in not reading much of it at all. Consequently, I though this book would fill me in on the main threads and events on the life of a huge global force in retail and technology. On this front, I have not been disappointed.

The book is fairly well researched, but does suffer from chronology problems. I think this is due to the selection of the chapters. The end result is that there is quite bit of repetition and is sluggish in parts. The storyline does dovetail broadly over the firm's life but is insufficiently linear to build a good rhythm and momentum for the reader. That said, for someone of limited knowledge on the subject (like me) it was tolerable. For Amazon buffs, this may be a problem.

I found the criticism to be fairly balanced in also highlighting quirky management styles, testosterone, ruthless negotiating, threats to staff that left of their own free will and the financial stinginess. Bezos, was depicted as an intelligent, eccentric, driven, relentless innovator, with enormous dreams. His ego too is not spared criticism, yet the Writer's terms both missionary and mercenary seem most apt.

I would have liked more insights into the thinking and the strategy of the technical heads regards their development and evolving of their information strategy and data mining. (if possible of course) The brains trust that created a computer software network that was sold or rented to big clients intrigues me. Also, the 'scorched earth' style pricing strategy to clear competition and win market supremacy is controversial and would have created many enemies.

Only passing paragraphs are given to companies bought, sold and dumped. Many mistakes were made on the way and the shareholders were notoriously forgiving. Bezos certainly was mooted to have the Midas touch even when losses were relentless.

The book is not sordid or tacky, venting needless gossip. It also doesn't go into depth, as I mentioned earlier, so as a first step into finding out about Bezos, the consumer strategist - this is a book I liked and recommend.

- eliza_flores

It’s a lesson in self-belief and one man’s conviction in pursuit of The Everything Store, his dream, tenacious, ingenious, at times over-bearing but never dull. Amazon an JB are synonymous there couldn’t be one without the other it is a colossal achievement worthy of the highest quality in the spirit of man and something we should all be proud of, and it's thanks to Brad Stone and his remarkable and enjoyable book that we can. Didn’t he do well!

- rene_carter

Read this book while I was working at Amazon and it was a perfect introduction to the company culture and ethos. Although not entirely aligned with the experience I had, learning more about how it grew and the conviction to put customers first made me better understand the startup and innovative culture in the company. While some parts were portrayed Bezos as an unscrupulous businessman and boss, squeezing everyone in the supply chain and Amazon internally to keep prices low, it is honestly that brutal competitiveness that has allowed consumers to achieve the level of value and service quality that is demanded industry-wide today.

I highly recommend this book for any entrepreneur or business person looking to formulate strategies to launch innovative products and differentiate their company from the rest. Amazon has transformed commerce in this age, and regardless of the good or bad that this has brought, it is definitely worth a look to better understand what has made it into the company it is today.

- ana_hernandez

Obviously, it would have been better if it was written by Bezos himself however, Brad Stone did an amazing job with the book.
It takes you back to the days even before Amazon was born, all the challenges faced, it shows the genius of Jeff Bezos and the culture created at Amazon.
It's amazing to get to know the story of the biggest company in the world.

- camila_thompson

Not exactly an authorised version of Amazon's history but all the better for it. If you're at all interested in how internet business works, what makes Amazon tick or to peek behind the curtains at the mind and personality of Jeff Bezos, this is the book.
Although dry in places and with a tendency, from time to time, to feel like nothing more than a list of events, overall this is a fascinating account of a remarkable journey. It's the story of how, as with Apple and, to an extent, Microsoft, a global company can be propelled to break the mould by the genius, strength and personality of one person. I wouldn't want to work there, though...

- marco_torres

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