Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Leaders of the Internet Revolution

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Leaders of the Internet Revolution

Article excerpt

Byline: Gideon Spanier

WE ARE living through a technology revolution, so it is fitting that publishers have commissioned a string of books about the new tech goliaths that are disrupting and dominating our lives. Brad Stone's The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (Bantam Press, [pounds sterling]18.99) is my top pick because anyone who loves books is fascinated -- and often appalled -- by the online retailer.

Stone has spent the best part of two decades covering the US tech industry and got access to Bezos and his notoriously secretive company, and it shows in this wellresearched semi-biography, which won the Financial Times business book of the year award last week.

What emerges is a picture of a fearsome man with tremendous vision -- "like a chess master", always thinking many moves ahead -- who foresaw in 1994 how internet technology would disrupt not only book publishing but also the entire retail landscape.

Considering this book covers almost 20 years, the pace is relentless, conveying Bezos's demanding management style and constant quest to move into new areas -- jewellery, shoes, nappies, the Kindle e-reader and so on.

There is a pattern, starting with the books trade, as rivals and suppliers keep underestimating Bezos until it is too late and Amazon dominates.

The book is no hagiography, quoting many critics who didn't like Bezos's brutal way of doing business or his bruising manner towards staff. "If that's our plan, I don't like our plan," "I'm sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?" and "If I hear that idea again, I'm gonna have to kill myself " are among his "Jeffisms". The saving grace, many of the staff conceded, was that so often Bezos turned out to be right.

What Stone does so well is to explain how Amazon's technology worked without ever getting bogged down in jargon, from the early distribution of physical books to the algorithms that created the recommendation service, plus the creation of a huge cloud-computer storage business, Amazon Web Services.

There is also unexpected drama towards the end as -- spoiler alert -- Stone tracks down Bezos's biological father, a small-town shopkeeper in Arizona, who had no idea he ran Amazon. My only criticism is Stone spends little time on Amazon's international expansion and just 10 lines, on page 294, on its controversial tax avoidance, which involves processing all its European sales through Luxembourg, including more than [pounds sterling]4 billion a year from Britain.

Twitter has been the indisputable stock market debut of this year and New York Times writer Nick Bilton's Hatching Twitter (Sceptre, [pounds sterling]14.99) has already pulled off a notable coup by hitting bookshops just one day before the shares began trading this month. …

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