The Everything Store, a new book about the history of Amazon, has earned acclaim for its portrait of the online retailer’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, whom author Brad Stone paints as a compelling mix of inspirational, confrontational and downright ruthless. But at least one critic remains unconvinced by Stone’s depiction: Mr Bezos’s wife, Mackenzie, who has posted a one-star review of the book on her husband’s website.
In a 900-word hatchet-job, Mrs Bezos complains that Mr Stone’s book contains “numerous factual inaccuracies”, “unbalanced reporting” and a bias against accounts from people with positive memories of working at Amazon. She claims even the book’s opening anecdote is inaccurate: Mr Stone writes that Mr Bezos read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker Prize-winning novel Remains of the Day shortly before starting Amazon; Mrs Bezos says he read it a year after the website launched.
“I have first-hand knowledge of many of the events,” she writes. “I was there when [Jeff] wrote the business plan, and I worked with him and many others represented in the converted garage, the basement warehouse closet, the barbecue-scented offices, the Christmas-rush distribution centres, and the door-desk filled conference rooms in the early years of Amazon’s history. Jeff and I have been married for 20 years.”
In a statement, Amazon spokesman Craig Berman backed Mrs Bezos’s review, saying the company had arranged for Mr Stone to interview several Amazon executives. “He had every opportunity to thoroughly fact-check and bring a more balanced viewpoint to his narrative,” Mr Berman said, “but he was very secretive about the book and simply chose not to.”
Mr Stone, a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek, responded to the criticism in a post on the publication’s website, saying he would address any minor factual inaccuracies, such as the Remains of the Day story. But he insisted the major revelations in the book were true, and denied any bias against Mr Bezos or his company. Instead, he said his account simply focused on the more dramatic moments in Amazon’s 19-year history. Mrs Bezos, he writes, “took me to task for what she perceived were subtle biases in my story.
“I’ll own up to that, though my slant is hardly political or personal… Writers are biased toward tension.”
Mr Stone says he spoke to more than 300 sources while researching the book, including current and former Amazon employees, at least two of whom have also written Amazon reviews. Jonathan Leblang, who is in charge of developing the firm’s Kindle tablet devices, recommended The Everything Store, awarding it four out of five stars, though he warned that of episodes of which he had personal knowledge, “about 80 per cent is correct and 20 per cent isn’t”.
Rick Dalzell, Amazon’s chief information officer from 1997 to 2007, gave the book three stars, saying it was an “unbalanced” account. “Brad painted a one-dimensional picture of Jeff as a ruthless capitalist,” Mr Dalzell wrote. “He completely missed his warmth, his humour, and his empathy.”
Mrs Bezos noted that Mr Stone never interviewed her husband personally, though the author recounts in his book how he approached Mr Bezos, who declined an interview but reportedly encouraged colleagues, friends and family to cooperate.
Mr Bezos also asked Mr Stone how he intended to avoid the issue of “narrative fallacy”, a concept outlined in the bestselling business tome, The Black Swan, which is said to be required reading for all senior staff at Amazon. Taleb warns that humans employ narrative as a means of transforming “complex realities into soothing but oversimplified stories.”