Alibaba

The House That Jack Ma Built
Narrated by: Jim Meskimen
Length: 9 hrs and 9 mins
4 out of 5 stars (2,696 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

An engrossing insider's account of how a teacher built one of the world's most valuable companies - rivaling Walmart and Amazon - and forever reshaped the global economy.

In just a decade and a half, Jack Ma, a man from modest beginnings who started out as an English teacher, founded Alibaba and built it into one of the world's largest companies, an e-commerce empire on which hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers depend. Alibaba's $25 billion IPO in 2014 was the largest global IPO ever. A Rockefeller of his age who is courted by CEOs and presidents around the world, Jack is an icon for China's booming private sector and the gatekeeper to hundreds of millions of middle-class consumers.

Duncan Clark first met Jack in 1999 in the small apartment where Jack founded Alibaba. Granted unprecedented access to a wealth of new material including exclusive interviews, Clark draws on his own experience as an early advisor to Alibaba and two decades in China chronicling the Internet's impact on the country to create an authoritative, compelling narrative account of Alibaba's rise.

How did Jack overcome his humble origins and early failures to achieve massive success with Alibaba? How did he outsmart rival entrepreneurs from China and Silicon Valley? Can Alibaba maintain its 80 percent market share? As it forges ahead into finance and entertainment, are there limits to Alibaba's ambitions? How does the Chinese government view its rise? Will Alibaba expand further overseas, including in the US?

Clark tells Alibaba's tale in the context of China's momentous economic and social changes, illuminating an unlikely corporate titan as never before.

©2016 Duncan Clark (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers

Featured Article: Big Ideas in Business and Tech


Even the most successful entrepreneurs had to start somewhere. When it comes to groundbreaking technology, the people who became leading business executives often began as lone visionaries with nothing but an idea. Now that they’re global industry leaders, many of them have shared their amazing stories in memoirs. These tales of heartbreak and triumph will bring you along on the roller-coaster of success, all the while showing you the secrets of how business greats transformed their dreams into reality. Read on to find your next great inspiration!

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Strange: Best part of story happens "off-screen"

"Alibaba" is a good book despite a near-fatal flaw. The author is an investor and he cares about what investors care about: deal-making, IPO's, threats to valuations, etc. Sometimes he lets that interest overshadow the actual storytelling.

One example is so flagrant it is hilarious. Most of the launch of Alibaba—surely the critical turning point of Jack Ma's life—happens "off-screen." We learn about some deal-making that went into convincing the first employees to join the project. A page or two later we learn about a deal with some early investors, and as a note in that deal Clark mentions Alibaba had by then gained over 250,000 customers. Nothing worth mentioning went into getting their first quarter million customers?

Such moments of early launch play a central role in Isaacson's "Steve Jobs" and Vance's "Elon Musk." In this book, it was left out. The omission leaves a big question open. Clark notes that Ma runs a technology company despite knowing nothing about coding or the internet's machinery . How did he do that? I would like to know. The book skipped over that part.

Clark makes other strange choices. He describes the life story and character of multiple Chinese entrepreneurs and then never returns to them.

And yet, despite all this, it's a good book and it's worth reading. The perspective of an investor on one of the world's highest valued companies is interesting. He appears to do a great job conveying what it's like to do business in China and the history of entrepreneurship in the country. Jack Ma's life makes for a compelling story—despite some of the odd choices in focus.

Should you read Alibaba? Yes. Chinese technology firms are starting to overtake silicon valley ones in a number of arenas. It's a good idea to understand what they are all about, and it's a fun book to do it with. Just join me at rolling your eyes at Clark's investor-myopia.

43 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Mispronunciation kills me

While the story is amazing, the obvious lack of effort in correct Chinese pronunciation hurts my ears and takes away so much from the book.

This performance is so vastly different from the likes of "Chaos Monkeys" in which the reader eloquently pronounced various Italian and French phrases.

24 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Not a Biography book about Jack Ma

If you are looking for a book about Jack Ma, about his life, ideas, thinking and what/how/why he becomes successful, this is NOT the book for you.
More like a Business report about Alibaba and summary his words from published interview.

13 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Interesting story, bad narration

While it did contain some critical info on the development of the China's dotcom industry as well as some bitesized nuggets of Jack Ma wisdom, I found myself continually wincing at the narrator's pronunciation of the names of Chinese individuals and places. However, this is just one of many audiobooks on China blighted by this headache-inducing problem.

20 people found this helpful

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Terrible narration if you know Chinese mars good book

The book itself is both interesting and insightful. As somebody engaged in the China Internet space for work, and consequently very familiar with the content I found learned quite a bit about personalities and backstory delivered in engaging prose. True the book is very pro Jack and BABA but this is not a surprise, and does not obscure facts.

But if you know any Chinese, preparing to spend the entire book alternating between cringing and puzzling over the generally incomprehensible narration of every single Chinese word other than Alibaba, Ma, and Tsai. The inability to select a Chinese speaker to conduct narration on a book about China is inexplicable and disappointing.

48 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Narrator ruined it for me

Is there anything you would change about this book?

Get a narrator who can actually correctly pronounce the Chinese words.

What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

The further I listened to the audiobook, the more frustrated I got because the narrator kept reading the Chinese words in the "American way". You'd think with Amazon's resources, they could at least get someone who can pronounce Chinese words correctly. With a book centered around the development and rise of a Chinese technopreneur and a Chinese company with more than a dozen Chinese names and terms, all the mispronounced words made a profoundly negative impact on my listening experience. I myself am not a native Chinese speaker, but the "Americanized" pronunciations made it difficult to correctly search for the names of the various people and companies mentioned in the book - something I often do when I am interested to know more about certain topics.

5 people found this helpful

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  • sb
  • 05-02-17

Not a very informative or insightful on Jack

I was missing to hear more about Jack management style, growth and personal advice. You won't get it here.

4 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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BUTCHERING THE CHINESE LANGUAGE

If you speak any Chinese at all, do yourself a favour and buy the *hard copy*..

The reader completely butchers the Chinese language, to the point where I do not know what city he is talking about.

Not only does he not know how to pronounce any Chinese (which is an integral part of the book), but he often pronounces things differently throughout the book. Example 1 (of many): He first pronounces the city of YiWu correctly, but later begins to pronounce it YiWa... Not sure why.

I can't listen to it anymore unfortunately, in the audiobook it is quite difficult to understand what people, cities, or companies the author is referring to.

Extra minus points to the pronunciation of ZheJiang: "Jzayjeeang" :(

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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AMAZON AND E-BAY COMBINED

A good overview of the Alibaba story. Until I listened to this book, I wasn't aware of the nature of the company, thought that it was just another Amazon, but found that it was more akin to E-Bay.

6 people found this helpful

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Historia interesante

No solo es una historis de Jack Ma, me gusta como relata la historia del emprendimiento en China.

4 people found this helpful

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Profile Image for Amir Anzur
  • Amir Anzur
  • 07-29-16

great insight to one of the world's smartest men

good read and great insight to a man that has helped so many entrepreneurs. highly recommended!

6 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • iLard
  • 09-23-16

Rather dull

An interesting story told in a very boring way, like a dry, unchallenging newspaper article. What a shame. Had to listen at x2 speed to get through in double quick, toe-curling time.

5 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Project Manager
  • 11-16-16

Very average book

The Chinese pronunciation is really terrible as other listeners have mentioned. The story isn't great either. You never really get to know Jack Ma and there isn't much backing to statements like 'Jack Magic'. It's almost like a Wikipedia article mixed with some hearsay and a few newspaper articles. I'd give Steve Jobs book 5 out of 5. In contrast this book struggles to get 2 out of 5.

3 people found this helpful

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  • pargi1988
  • 07-15-17

Great read

Great read with a good understanding of how it all started. very insightful and well worth it.

1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • demanda
  • 02-02-17

Commentary with little insight

Little objectivity.

Didn't get passed chapter 2 before losing the will to listen any further.

Learned little that's not already published in interviews and profiles.

1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • S. Harris
  • 02-11-20

Not the best

Interesting topic but not the best written book and at times felt like the narrator would be better of reading a restaurant menu.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Raj Chakraborty
  • 10-29-19

Not a great book

It was more of read from someone marketing Jack Ma, ratherb than a clean unbiased view!

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  • E
  • 06-21-19

Highly recommended

Super insightful on the back story of Jack Ma and Alibaba! Would definitely recommend to anyone with either an interest in the company, the man or even the birth of the internet from a Chinese man's point of view

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Thomas Brown
  • 06-10-19

I expected some inights of chinese ecommerce

This audiobook is quite average. Its a great testament to Jack Ma's rise to the top of Chinese business and it is impressive the way he went about doing that. But I kinda hoped that this book would give greater insights into the differences between Chinese eCommerce and Western eCommerce. It is highlighted briefly when it goes into the likes of design differences and such. But it is very brief. If they had added an extra chapter going into these highlights I would have rated this higher.

Regardless of that, Jack Ma is an inspirational and humble businessman. I feel his methodology and mentality should be more widely regarded in the west. Like Jeff Bezos, he values the customer more than anything, but the greatest difference between the two eCommerce giants that I can see is that Jack is generally a much nicer person (I make this judgement after listening to both this audiobook and the 'Amazon - The Everything Store'. Or is at least portrayed as a much nicer person. Empathy is a value that shouldn't be overlooked.

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  • Alex
  • 04-14-19

Very interesting but a little too long

Really interesting audio book on Jack Ma. I was aware of him but knew very little of his history and the history of Alibaba. I found the back story very interesting but perhaps a little too long.

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  • alexkusuma
  • 05-30-17

Inspiring but narrated by wrong person

The story is inspiring and insightful, unfortunately the narrator doesn't pronounce the names correctly. Chinese are tonal language if he say it with different tones it will have different meaning or no meaning at all.
The wrongly pronounce take some of the joy out of listening to this book

3 people found this helpful

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  • Jeremy
  • 05-28-17

Good story but cringeworthy Chinese pronunciation

Great story. Enjoyed it. But for something with so many Chinese names in it, you would think the narrator would have a reasonable ability in Chinese pronunciation. Needs help

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Mingtao
  • 12-17-16

Good book, wrong narrator!

I'm a Chinese raised and educated in New Zealand. I found it very difficult to understand who and what the narrator was referring to because he obviously hasn't learnt any pin yin. Huge let down for what would otherwise be a great read!

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Alice
  • 09-03-19

Poor pronunciation

Great story only marred by poor pronunciation of Chinese names and phrases. A beginners lesson in phonetics should have been advised. If you’re going to narrate a story with foreign words then assign someone capable of using the correct phonetics or train them first.

1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-21-19

Annoying narrator can't pronounce Mandarin words.

I found it hard to listen to the narrator fumble his way through every word it Mandarin, it was difficult to listen to. Why wouldn't you just Google how to pronounce the word!!

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-22-18

Great performance and story

If you are lookong for inspiration, don't buy it. if you inspired but looking for a push to put in the work, don't buy it. Only buy this if you want an appreciation for how difficult the road to success is.

Jack Ma's story is woven between the realities of doing business in China and the US. More so this narrative tells of the rise of the internet in a country that tries to control as much as it can. It is a wonder that Jack and his peers have survived and thrived in that country, a testament to the agile and manouverability of entrepreneurs when they need to find their space.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • B. van Caspel
  • 09-11-16

Good, solid business biography

Having listened to a lot of business biographies, this one moves at a decent pace and gets into the right details. A balance of personal and business narrative as they both go through different challenges. I found this really helpful and leads me to want to know more about China's tech landscape.

What was annoying was how the narrator mispronounces many of the Chinese names and words, it would have been good if the narrator nailed them before recording the book. It throws you out of what is otherwise a well narrated book.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Shaun
  • 04-24-20

Good audio book

Good story backed up by facts.

It's very interesting how Aliliba came to exist and it's potential impact on the world economy.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Ed F Parker
  • 03-20-20

Interesting content presented in an engaging way

I found the delivery easy to understand and follow. The story is interesting with some insightful interpretation of how online business developed in China.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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Profile Image for Lars C.
  • Lars C.
  • 11-05-19

Poor narrator conveyed without dedication

The story of Alibaba is PROBABLY interesting, however conveyed/narrated by Jim Meskimen it is told in a monotone and un-enthusiastic way. Including terribly poor pronounciation of Chinese words, which should have been avoided if so poorly pronounced. At times it sounds like the Chinese words have been inserted subsequently into the context.

Contentwise, the book lacks focus and a natural flow. It is all over the place, jumping back and forth. Explaining technical things at one stage, personal issues at another and irrelevant information the third.

I truly regret buying this and trying to listen to it, as it really puts me off, when a job is done so poor. And more over; It truly degrades the story of a person, who PROBABLY had an interesting story - or maybe not...

Not a fan and will avoid this narrator going forward - and the author as well, should he have made more than 1 book.