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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

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 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.

24 of 25 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

42 of 48 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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.

16 of 18 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

15 of 17 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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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 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Ray
  • West Deptford, NJ, United States
  • 05-20-16

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 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Historia interesante

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

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Should have been better

Just thought the organization of this book seemed to be all over the place. Really thought it could and should have been better.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • 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 of 6 people found this review 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 of 5 people found this review 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 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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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 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
  • 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 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Anonymous User
  • 10-11-18

Excellent book

A history of Alibaba and Ma. Entertaining and educational! Great book, I highly recommend it

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • HHP
  • 08-07-18

Inspiring but cringeworthy for Chinese speakers

The story is informative, and overall inspiring. Unfortunately the narrator makes a real hash of pronouncing Chinese words and names, of which there are many in the book. It's almost comedic to those who don't speak Chinese, and totally cringeworthy to those who do.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Nick Elliott
  • 06-28-18

good not great

Jack Ma is amazing and the book very informative, but it certainly isn't a page turner. difficult with a biog like this but it is a list of facts of Jack's life limited in anecdotes or stories.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Silvano
  • 05-16-18

great story poorly presented

as pointed out in other reviews, it's just so annoying as a mandarin speaker to listen to the way the narrator is pronouncing anything not english. he also randomly mixes yuan and renminbi without any reaason. how is it possible to mispronounce renminbi btw? (just say renmin "bee" ffs). it gets worse with names (why not learn how to pronounce Zhejiang if you mention it a hundred times during the audio book?) especially names. /rant

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Darryl Reeves
  • 04-20-18

Loved it!

As an IT Business Builder I found it , very insightful, inspiring and offering me many useful ideas.
It essentially tells me that nothing can stop the progress of an idea consistently acted on with passion and commitment. It gives me hope that sharing, and dedication to higher principles is still alive and well and can work in big business.

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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

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 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

1 of 1 people found this review 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!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • 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 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Dean Rzechta
  • 08-01-18

Good insight, over-detailed at times

I enjoyed 70% of this book, however did find it long and drawn out at times; I like detail but this was a lot. Jack Ma is a fascinating guy who we all can learn from, what a life, what a legacy! Would recommend

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Tim
  • 07-21-18

A little dry for my liking.

delivered a tomeline of events and a few anecdotes about Jacks life but overall I would have liked it to be more about Jack the man not just the company and his competition. still worth a listen just on 2x speed

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Brett
  • 07-09-18

Great success story

Wow what a great story, great insight into Alibaba and the Chinese wholesale world trade.

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

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Anonymous User
  • 01-29-18

Good story. One problem!

Good story but one problem the performance. They could of got someone who can pronounce the Chinese words correctly. The pronounciation was cringe worthy and I'm not even Chinese.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • nanoboy
  • 11-19-17

Very insightful

.... but a couple hours too long, which is expected for an unabridged version. Not only is this a biography of Jack Ma, but it also chronicles the ups and downs of Ali Baba. Where it meanders, is with short histories of Yahoo and all major Chinese websites, which adds up to a few hours of listening. If you’re a westerner, then the pronunciation of the Chinese names and places wouldn’t be a major issue, because you yourself will probably pronounce the words as the narrator did. Overall, the book is still definitely worth a listen.