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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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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.

9 of 10 people found this review 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.

27 of 32 people found this review helpful

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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.

12 of 14 people found this review helpful

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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.

10 of 12 people found this review 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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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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.

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

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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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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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Couldn't put it down.

If you could sum up Alibaba in three words, what would they be?

It was really interesting and engulfed the stories of so many other huge internet companies. They are all in bed together. Great story.

Any additional comments?

LOVED the narrator. Made the story that much better.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Amirski 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!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Cosmin
  • 11-27-17

Extraordinary!!!

Jack Ma is is not only a business man, he is a wise teacher and a true leader.

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  • Cheysa B.
  • 11-17-17

Great

it's an amazing inspiring book for those who are living or startinf the entrepreneur path

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  • Niall C.
  • 11-12-17

bit chronological, rather than interesting. a good

a bit chronological, rather than interesting. a good intro to alibaba but wasn't overly insightful

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  • Alexander
  • 08-24-17

Not that interesting - felt biased

Just not that good or informative as other books in the genre. Dissapointed, would​ recommend to avoid.

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  • Peter Chapman
  • 08-02-17

Not a tech startup story

This book isn't a gripping history of Alibaba and its rise. It contains more like a bird's eye view of the Chinese tech scene, and Alibaba's and Ma's place in it.

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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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  • 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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  • 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

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  • 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.

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  • Adam
  • 10-23-17

interesting

really enjoyed the key points about getting things right around who you serve. Finding the right people is always key

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  • Tabris
  • 10-07-17

Get someone who knows basic chinese phoenics

Holy crap... in the first 3 mins of the reading, glaring pronunciation mistakes of prominent place names pop up like a slap in the face, Shanghai and Beijing are just about the only chinese names that the reader pronounced decently.

I'm quite comfortable with Western pronunciation of chinese words, but there are more than a few that you would stand out as really poor effort.

Even basics like the chinese currency RMB which stands for Ren Min "Bee" was read as Ren Min "BAI".Can you believe it, this is just cringing to listen. I would have stopped if not for the interest in the story and the only few books available.

The story itself is quite detailed which is fine, voice quality quite typical of standard textbook reading.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-02-17

what an inspiration

never really knew the story behind ali baba but what a story it is! with the trials and tribulations endured and to still come out on top is well worth all the praise he has gottwn over the years. what a mentally strong individual.

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  • Chris Waters
  • 07-26-17

Missing Something

although the story was good and I was enjoying it. This book felt short and like it was missing something, it felt like it just ended.
Elon Musk's book felt like it went into so much more.

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  • Max Dumais
  • 06-07-17

Mega deals

The size of some of these deals are in the billions but the real story to follow is the resilience and persistence of Jack Ma. The hidden story behind his success is his formula - customers, staff, shareholders in that order. An education in leadership style and the ascent of a billionaire from scratch.

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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