I am an avid eclectic reader.
I must admit that over the years I find myself shopping at Amazon more and more. At first it was just to find a hard to find book. The first time I used Amazon was in the early 1990s I was mad because I had been to a number of books store, chain and independent, and was treated rudely as if it was too much trouble to try to find what I wanted. I contacted Amazon after not finding what I was looking for on their list and what a surprise the person was so polite and helpful and in two days called me back after finding the book and shipped it to me right away. That customer experience made me an Amazon fan. I read this book to discover more about Amazon’s founder. I had recently read biographies on Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Steve Jobs. I did note in reading these books all of them had things in common such as total focus on their goal, not afraid to fail, ruthless with competitors and workers as well as problems with dealing with people. The beginning of the book Brad Stone covers the early life of Jeff Bezos and was complimentary but as the book progressed stone seem to concentrate on the negative factors. I found the fact that Bezos thought in the long term and worked for long term goals for the company refreshing, I have found too many companies planning does not go past the next quarter. I can attest to the fact the company is customer oriented. I noted that Bezos only had a one hour visit with the author about the book but did give him access to Amazon staff. I thought it interesting that Bezos asked Stone how he was going to deal with the “narrative fallacy” in writing the book. This theory was first proposed in 2007 by epistemologist Namin Nicholas Taleb in his book “The Black Swan”. The theory says humans use narrative to turn complex realities into soothing but oversimplified stories. In other words people have to find a rational explanation for something that appears inexplicable rather than trying to accept that things happen for an entirely random reason. Stone goes step by step showing how Amazon grew from a low margin book retailer into a technology company that provides basic computer infrastructure such as storage, and computing power to other companies, a book publisher and e-book reader manufacturer, reseller of many items and to streaming videos. I was surprised to learn that Amazon also owns Zappos and Goodreads. I knew they owned a company I use a lot, Audible. It will be interesting to read another book about Bezos in about 20 years or so. Peter Larkin did a good job narrating the story.
I have never read anything about Henry Ford until this book except when mention in a biography of another person such as John D. Rockefeller and his business dealings with Ford. Richard Snow covers Ford’s life from childhood to death but mostly concentrates on the area of his developing his engine and first cars. I found it interesting that Ford was in some ways was brilliant in his ability to see the end results of his car design and able to devote all his energy and time to develop it and then in his ability to deal with people he failed miserably. He failed at building two car companies before his success with the Ford Motor Company. He was the first to develop the assembly line or mass production and World War Two triggered more companies to quickly follow his methods of mass production. He attracted too him men of great skill’s and ability but then he pitted them against each other and he would fire the looser. He hired more black Americans than any other auto company but as he aged he revealed he was anti-Semitic. He distrusted bankers, Wall Street men and other financial people to the point he never invested in Wall Street which saved him in 1929. He hated investors and he maneuvered his company when it was successful to get rid of his primary investors and became the largest stock holder of the company. He hated to have anyone tell him what to do. According to Snow after he got control of Ford he appointed his son Edsel as company president but he never let go of the control of the company. As I read the book I got the feeling that Ford was his own worst enemy. All these contradiction and Snow’s excellent writing ability reveals an interesting story. It is obvious that Snow did a great deal of research to write the book. Sean Runnett did a great job narrating the book.
Carnegie was born in Scotland and came to America at 10 years of age. He work as a bobbin boy then a telegram delivery boy. One of the key items that struck me about Carnegie was that he did not go to school but he was driven to learn all he could and become an educated man. He learned to read and write, then set off to teach himself Morse code so he could get a job as a telegraph operator. He continue to learn from books and from people and continue to improve his job opportunities until he was a business owner and became a self made millionaire. The other item I noted was that he claimed he was interested in the workers because he was one of them. At first he accepted the unions and was reasonably good to the employers of his various business but then he seemed to turn and was ruthless in breaking the unions and poorly paid his workers and forced 12 hour shifts with NO breaks at all. He build them libraries and swimming pools but never gave them time to use them. When he retired and was giving his money away he did set up a pension plan for injured worker (in companies he had owned) and/or their families and a scholarships for their children. Maybe that was guilt. He was far more generous with strangers than his workers or partners. He was a true Robber Barron. I was very interest in the parts of the book regarding the strikes and also his philanthropy. He was a complicated man. Nasaw did a a good job of pointing out discrepancies between different biographies and what he could prove. Carnegie was a constant reader and traveler who also set out to make friends with powerful people.
Listening to Janis Ian narrate her autobiography punctuated with her singing her songsfelt like sitting in her living room while she told the story. As she sang, I was transported back to my own youth. If you are a fan, this is a absolute must book to listen to. If you are not yet a fan, listen to this book and you'll become one.