I had heard scuttlebutt that the book was hostile to Amazon. I didn't find that to be the case at all. In fact, it increased my admiration for Jeff anI had heard scuttlebutt that the book was hostile to Amazon. I didn't find that to be the case at all. In fact, it increased my admiration for Jeff and what he and his team have accomplished.
To be sure, it is incomplete and doubtless has many inaccuracies, but it gives insight into the mind of a remarkable man and the company he has built - a company with profound influence on the present and future shape of our society.
After Steve Jobs died, everyone was saying "Will we ever see his like again?" I would always respond, "What do you mean? He's already here, and his name is Jeff Bezos. He's the only other tech entrepreneur I know who has transformed multiple industries, and shown the ability to work his magic not once but many times. He's been the misunderstood underdog who came out on top because of vision, passion, and persistence."
(OK, since then, Elon Musk has shown signs of pulling off the same ambition. But the fact remains that Jeff is one of the most important and successful entrepreneurs of our time.)
Because of my admiration and liking for Jeff, I was a bit dismayed to see the book position me as an "adversary." While in some ways I am a competitor to Amazon, I think of myself more as a partner and friend than any kind of adversary! And while Jeff and I have occasionally butted heads, first about the 1-click patent back in 2000 (a conflict that ended up with us as friends), and later about some of Amazon's overly aggressive business tactics towards suppliers (described in chapter 10 of the book), and about the use of a proprietary DRM'd ebook format rather than open standards for the Kindle, I have always been a huge fan.
One of the things the book gets across is what a great learner Jeff is. It makes clear just how freshly he responded to the challenges of growing his business, relying on some uncompromising principles but also adapting them so that, as long-time Amazon employee Rick Dalzell described, he always engaged his decision-making around "the best truth at the time." (Chapter 9, page 267) His intense curiosity is one of the most striking things about him.
The book also underplays Jeff's humanity, humor, and kindness. There are a lot of stories of how forceful, even abrasive, he sometimes is with subordinates - and I imagine that can be unpleasant. But I also know just how hard it is to get thousands of people moving in the same direction without ruffling any feathers. And some of the changes that Jeff had to make to the company direction required enormous determination and force of will. I wish that some other leaders I know (e.g. in government) had equal clarity and determination.
The book also really helped me see how deep Jeff's focus on the customer is. While I have always believed that focus to be sincere, I have also always worried that it would fade as the company became dominant, as is so often the case. But the book makes clear again and again how it really is a touchstone for Jeff.
I have also worried that focus on the customer isn't enough - that companies that become as powerful as Amazon also need to understand the complete ecosystem in which they operate. The book's account of Amazon's sometimes brutal interactions with companies that it wanted to acquire, like Quidsi, the company behind diapers.com (page 298), and suppliers like German knife-maker Wusthof (page 300 and ff) makes clear that Amazon hasn't fully learned that lesson, and seems to believe that as long as customers benefit, it's ok to hurt suppliers. Sometimes that is true, when suppliers are inefficient or exploitive of their customers, but in other cases, squeezing all the profit out of suppliers' businesses is enormously short sighted. The ideal ecosystem is one where everyone flourishes, not where one company flourishes at the expense of all the others.
But I got a lot of hope from reading about Jeff's "Amazon.love memo" (Chapter 10, page 317-318), in which he analyzed why some big and powerful companies are hated, while others continue to engender love from not only their customers but their entire ecosystem. In particular, I liked that one of the principles that Jeff distilled was this one:
"Capturing all the value only for the company is not cool."
I've long urged companies to make "Create more value than you capture" their watchword, because it seems to me that building a healthy ecosystem in which everyone - employees, customers, suppliers, partners, and even competitors - can flourish is key to the positive impact that capitalism can have on society as a whole. The fact that Jeff is thinking about this as Amazon gets more dominant is a really good sign. Some companies never realize that they need to be especially careful to create value for everyone as they get larger and more powerful.
My chief beef about the book is that it skimped on some of the really big management lessons from Amazon. For me one of the most fascinating things about Amazon is the way that it seems to have modeled its organizational culture on its software. Stories I've heard about the way small teams are organized at Amazon remind me of the way modern modular software is designed. I suspect that Amazon has cracked the code of the problem that was once laid out to me by the CIO of Fidelity Investments: "We know about all these new technologies. What we don't know is how to organize our company around them."
In addition, I wish there were more written about the design of Amazon's internal services. When Jeff had the insight that led to the rise of Amazon as a platform - not only that its software needed to make the transition from a single monolithic application to a series of reusable web services, but also that those services should be designed in such a way that they could be re-used as easily by developers outside the company as by its internal units - he demonstrated a lesson that has yet to be learned by most large organizations.
Take the recent healthcare.gov debacle. One of the functions that the system depends on is income verification by the IRS. That lookup is, consistent with monolithic old-school software development, a tightly integrated part of the application rather than a true reusable service. If healthcare.gov were designed with the lessons of Amazon in mind, not only could the Federal healthcare.gov site call IRS web services to do income verification, but so could any of the state healthcare exchanges, or, for that matter, any private insurance company - or any company that needed to do income verification for any purpose.
I realize that this is a general business book, and getting too deep on the technology might have scared off many readers, but I do hope that some future book about Amazon will give more than tantalizing glimpses of the interplay between the software architecture of a large-scale web enterprise like Amazon and the human and organizational architecture that makes it possible for that software to be deployed in as agile a way as possible.
I highly recommend this book. Amazon is one of the most important companies in the 21st century economy, and anyone whose business has been or will be touched by Amazon should be sure to read it.
I do hope that one day there will be a biography of Jeff Bezos as comprehensive as Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs, but until then, this will have to do. Like Inside Steve's Brain, it gives tantalizing glimpses and lessons from the work of a great inventor, entrepreneur, and business leader....more
I really enjoyed this book. It's a quick read, but gives a vivid sense of conditions during the siege of Leningrad. The characters are lovely, and theI really enjoyed this book. It's a quick read, but gives a vivid sense of conditions during the siege of Leningrad. The characters are lovely, and the plot engaging. ...more
This was one of my favorite science-fiction books when I was a kid. My brothers and I read it over and over. Of course, the cold war setting is now anThis was one of my favorite science-fiction books when I was a kid. My brothers and I read it over and over. Of course, the cold war setting is now an anachronism, but for us it was everyday reality.
I loved the characters, I loved the story, I loved the imagery. When we were really exhausted from a long day outdoors, my brother James would say "The red jelly! We need the red jelly!" And of course we'd know exactly what he meant.
I haven't read it for years. I wonder how it would hold up.
P.S. I didn't read the Kindle edition, but at least this shows the Ace cover from the sixties, which is one of the editions I read. (I don't remember who published the hardcover I first read. World? Gollancz? Grosset and Dunlap? Anyway, someone long gone.)...more
I first read this when I was eight or nine years old, and probably read it a couple of dozen times during my childhood. It was probably my favorite boI first read this when I was eight or nine years old, and probably read it a couple of dozen times during my childhood. It was probably my favorite book. In general, early Andre Norton (she got wonky as she got older, and wrote crazy cat lady stuff) is the best there is in juvenile science fiction, along with Heinlein juveniles like Farmer in the Sky.
While I enjoyed this book quite a bit, it didn't live up to the thrill of excitement that its cover engendered when I first encountered it. After all,While I enjoyed this book quite a bit, it didn't live up to the thrill of excitement that its cover engendered when I first encountered it. After all, I loved The Count of Monte Cristo, and to be told that this was about "the real Count of Monte Cristo" excited childhood fantasies that were inevitably disappointed. While the novel was clearly influenced by the life of Dumas' father, the parallels are actually given fairly short shrift in this biography.
Of course, I can forgive that marketing because the life of General Alex Dumas was so fascinating. What's more, the historical background of the brief period during the French Revolution when blacks were suddenly (and alas so briefly) accepted into society as equals, such that a slave from Saint Domingue could become a general in Napoleon's army, only to be driven back into the fringes only a few years later, provides hugely important perspective on racial politics.
And for those fans of Alexandre Dumas the novelist, there is plenty of meat even if it isn't all Monte Cristo. In particular, I found the exaggerations of Dumas' accounts of his father's exploits, when compared to other , more mundane accounts, an interesting sidelight on the novelist's imagination. I would have loved more of the book to be about the connections between the life of the father and the writing of the son, but the biography itself is so interesting and enjoyable that I can hardly complain. ...more
While I enjoyed the detailed history of the Punic wars, I found both the style of the book and the style of tI found this book somewhat disappointing.
While I enjoyed the detailed history of the Punic wars, I found both the style of the book and the style of the reading to be somewhat grating at times. The attempts to be hip and casual were dated the moment they were written. Furthermore, the argument that Cannae and the treatment of its veterans had a role in re-shaping the Roman Republic seems a bit thin. Scipio Africanus may have been the template for later charismatic generals who took their outsized sway back into the political arena, but the idea that that was a result of Cannae is not substantiated.
That being said, if you haven't read Roman history, you should, and this may be a reasonable place to start. Once you get into it, the book is reasonably engaging.
One thing I did get out of the book that is relevant for modern readers, especially in a management or a business context, is how the Romans kept using the same tactics against Hannibal, and kept failing in the face of his protean trickery. They would raise a bigger army, and try a different general, but use the same tactics. Fabius Maximus had a clever, successful defensive strategy that changed the game, but even he couldn't defeat Hannibal in battle. It wasn't until Scipio developed new, more flexible tactics, and trained his men to use them, that Hannibal met his match. How often do companies, or government agencies, try what amounts to the same plan over and over again, changing the name of the program and its leader, but not its fundamentals? Real change is hard.
Possibly the most interesting thing in the book was the epilogue, which, contrary to the overhyped description on the jacket, points out that Cannae's place in history as the archetypal battle, the perfect victory, wasn't common until the 20th century, when it became a key part of German military doctrine.
That little note made me think how much of our history is a reflection not only of the time when the events occurred and the real impact that they had, but also of the fashions of the day, which elevate them or bury them. ...more
There are far too many books about technology and society that start with a premise and then beat it to death. We've recently been treated to a largeThere are far too many books about technology and society that start with a premise and then beat it to death. We've recently been treated to a large number of ideological diatribes explaining how the internet is transforming everything, either for the better or the worse. The irony is that most of those decrying the impact of the internet demonstrate the very weaknesses of internet argument they claim to excoriate: they argue from authority, they attack those who disagree with them, and they use overblown statements (link bait, in Internet parlance) to attract attention.
Rewire, on the other hand, is a thoughtful exploration, based on decades of real-world experience, of what the internet changes, and what it doesn't, about human society. This is the best book on the Internet that I've read in a long time.
I really enjoyed this book. It was the perfect way to fill a round trip between SFO and Heathrow, with a little bit of time on my Irish vacation throwI really enjoyed this book. It was the perfect way to fill a round trip between SFO and Heathrow, with a little bit of time on my Irish vacation thrown in. It's a satisfying mystery, and a satisfying romp of world-building. In fact, I think it might be my favorite Peter Hamilton since The Reality Dysfunction. (The sequels to RD went on too long, and ended unsatisfyingly, while I found The Great North Road just long enough, and with an unexpectedly enjoyable, expansive ending.)
I loved the characters, and the way their history gradually unfolded, making sense of various levels of mystery in the story.
My main knock on this book were some of the ridiculous brand anachronisms. Several hundred years in the future, the world is completely different, but major consumer brands are still potent? And oil's crucial role in the world economy has been replaced by synthetic "bioil" even in a world where matter transmittal to distant worlds is possible?
This is an intense, lovely book about the breakup of one family (or maybe more than one) and the recreation of a new one. It's about the complexity ofThis is an intense, lovely book about the breakup of one family (or maybe more than one) and the recreation of a new one. It's about the complexity of family histories and the need to get beyond focusing on yourself and your own needs, and instead to focus on others, to build true love.
It's got compelling characters (although the wonderful, precocious Will is perhaps a little too precocious - he'd be more believable at seven than at five), emotional truth (although some of the revelations and turns are perhaps a bit too abrupt.) But I found it a satisfying read - a great vacation read in that it was absorbing and enjoyable, but also stimulated deep thought and reflection. Highly recommended....more
Buchan is a bit of an acquired taste. The book is a bit slow at times, and the values that form its backbone are often foreign. But that is part of hiBuchan is a bit of an acquired taste. The book is a bit slow at times, and the values that form its backbone are often foreign. But that is part of his charm.
I love old books that were once popular. They are the window into the soul of an age.
In this one, we have a wonderful view of the tensions between pacifism and patriotism, socialism and class expectations in WWI Britain. Much of this is quite illuminating, and by itself makes the book worth reading. (In order to worm his way into a spy ring, Hannay has to pose as a pacifist.)
And as in Buchan's other books, it is precisely what Buchan doesn't mean to show us that is particularly illuminating: the generous "condescenscion" of the upper class General Hannay in appreciating the salt of the earth British soldier, the notion that he as an officer has an orderly as a servant, the casual racism of references to Asians, Italians, and Africans, the demonization of "the Boche."
I was given this by a friend who was editing a new biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes; she noted that this was one of the fifty books that Holmes read in the summer of 1919, when the court was out of session. That alone is a reason to read the book - a reminder particularly appropriate to Goodreads, that sharing the act of reading with someone else enhances the reading itself. I relished that I was getting a view not only into the mind of the time, but also of the great jurist. (Though of course, I have no idea what he thought of the book.)
My friend gave it to me because it is organized around metaphors and characters from A Pilgrim's Progress, and I had recently given her husband a lovely old illustrated edition of the same. Not remembering my Pilgrim's Progress as well as I might, or as the good christians of Buchan's day might have, a lot of the connections went over my head, as did some of the taken-for-granted background about WWI. The war front really only comes alive at the end of the book, in the concluding battles.
By the way, I don't understand the other reviews that suggest that Buchan is completely negative about pacifists. While he builds a portrait of the narrowness of the sentiment of those opposed to the war (as opposed to the solid citizens who shoulder the burden uncomplainingly), it is almost Trollopian in its sympathy for those so portrayed, and in the end, it is a conscientious objector who is described as "the best of us" at the front.
P.S. I read The Thirty-Nine Steps long ago, but don't remember it well, and never read Greenmantle, the second book in his Richard Hannay series, so that may have contributed to my review. If I'd read the books in sequence, the characters and the thrust of the narrative would have been more familiar, and I might have found the book more engaging. I'd recommend starting with The Thirty-Nine Steps....more
What a fascinating woman! How little she is known. Read it just for that, but also for the beauty of the excerpts from her own book, The Desert and thWhat a fascinating woman! How little she is known. Read it just for that, but also for the beauty of the excerpts from her own book, The Desert and the Sown. I've been looking for it for years, finally found a copy but haven't read it yet....more
I really enjoyed this graphic biography. I found it much more engaging (perhaps because the subject was more engaging) than Logicomics, to which it wiI really enjoyed this graphic biography. I found it much more engaging (perhaps because the subject was more engaging) than Logicomics, to which it will likely be compared. Unlike Nat Torkington, I loved the last part of the book, which took a stab at explaining Quantum Electrodynamics (for which Feynman shared a Nobel prize.)
It was also lovely to see people I know appear in the book, including Freeman Dyson (who explained Feynman's idiosyncratic thinking to the rest of the physics world in a way that they could understand) and Danny Hillis. I had no idea that Danny had hired Feynman at Thinking Machines. And the night that Richard Feynman and Freeman Dyson spent the night together and kept each other up talking physics can only be compared to the night when Ben Franklin and John Adams shared a room on their way to Philadelphia!
The only part of the book I found unsatisfying was the description of Feynman's safecracking while at Los Alamos. While the book made a show of explaining his technique, it left something crucial out (at least for me). I couldn't figure out how having the door left open would tell Feynman what the last two digits of the combination were.
(It's possible that he often got two digits because the person sometimes left the lock on the last number, and the technique above gives the first number. But that's different than getting the last two numbers. If anyone knows differently, please explain in the comments!]
At any rate, this is a wonderful overview of the life and ideas of a man so many have heard of, but only in fragments. Best of all, it's a quick fun read that leaves you hungry for more. I've had my Dad's copy of the Feyman Lectures on Physics on my shelf for decades, but never read them, and his autobiography Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman has been on my to-read list for almost as long. Now I'm going to read both, as well as some of the other books and documentary videos cited in the extensive bibliography....more