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From the file

Tech States: Amazon | The tech giants have as much money and influence as nation states. What if we reported on these companies like countries?

The United States of Amazon: Further reading

Friday 5 June 2020

Beyond our three-part investigation, here’s what to read next on the Everything Store


This week we investigated the United States of Amazon, that vast, sprawling superpower retailer that has an outsized influence over our daily lives – particularly in the pandemic. We delved into its leadership, we examined its vast economy, and how it has responded in the time of Covid-19. You can read the full project here.

But if you want to keep going, there’s plenty more to read, and your starting point might just be where Jeff Bezos prompts his shareholders to look every year, the 1997 Annual Report. Laying out his aggressive, expansionist ‘Day 1’ philosophy, the letter serves as a reminder of how determinedly future-oriented Amazon – has Bezos – has always been.

Linked to that ‘Day 1’ philosophy, you could follow it by reading this article in the New Yorker – “Is Amazon unstoppable?”, by Charles Duhigg, which lays out the company’s trajectory and what this might mean for future anti-trust regulation. Through meticulous examination of all the company’s most high-profile controversies, Duhigg presents the case against Amazon by its fiercest critics and asks how we begin to calculate the cost of the company’s furious growth.

You should also read The Atlantic’s ‘Jeff Bezos’s Master Plan’ by Franklin Foer, who spent several months speaking with current and former executives, as well as Amazon’s rivals, to understand Bezos’s beliefs and ambitions. “Bezos is attempting to set the terms for the future of the species, so that his utopia can take root,” Foer writes. Efforts to predict what that utopia might look like are best indicated in his letters to shareholders. This year-on-year analysis in the Harvard Business Review explores the shifting priorities laid out in those letters, and what the underlying messages could be.

For one of the most widely read accounts of Amazon.com, look no further than Brad Stone’s The Everything Store. And it’s worth looking up the one-star review for the book left by MacKenzie Bezos, Jeff’s ex-wife, also on Amazon.com.

If you want something to watch, the BBC’s recent Panorama Investigation “What do they know about us?” explores the darker side of our love affair with Amazon, while also asking how we might rein in its power. The programme hears from some of Amazon’s most senior executives who say the company is a force for good. On the theme of power, Karen Weise of The New York Times offers both a fascinating and startling account of what happens to businesses who try to stand up to Amazon.

Known to some as Apple’s court journalist, Steven Levy didn’t disappoint when he turned his attention to Amazon. In 2011, Levy exhaustively examined Amazon’s growing investments in a massive cloud computing system, AWS. Back then, he thought people were only “slowly beginning to realise just how much of the Web is powered by Amazon’s cloud services”. Nine years later, we’ll still in the process of figuring that out.


On Jeff Bezos

Despite owning one of the largest newspapers in North America, the Amazon founder has a notorious reluctance to engage with the press, except on the most restrictive terms. For an earlier profile on Bezos, Alan Deutschman’s long-form piece, written in 2004. “You have to look beyond the popular image of Bezos the goofy geek,” Deutschman writes. “And you have got to get past his reputation within the industry as the ultimate quant jock.” 

The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Brandt has been covering Silicon Valley for over 20 years and in 2012 he set his sights on Bezos. One Click is one of the more concise biographies available, tracing Bezos’s upbringing all the way through Amazon’s rise. The same year, Fortune named Bezos the Businessman of the Year, which prompted a deep dive by the magazine into the CEO’s management style.

As for Bezos’s enormous wealth, there have been a number of articles exploring how Bezos could use his fortune to help mitigate climate change. This article in The Economist and another in Wired are the places to start.


By Jeff Bezos

Bezos’s appearance on TED in 2007 is an insight into how he felt at the time the dot come bubble finally burst, when it looked like it might pose an existential threat to Amazon.

Not only the founder of an e-commerce giant, aerospace company and newspaper owner – but Bezos is now an author too, on Medium. In a blog post “No thank you, Mr Pecker”, Bezos published emails reportedly from The National Enquirer, which had attempted to blackmail him by threatening to publish intimate photos unless Bezos stopped an investigation into how the tabloid obtained his private messages and images.


Recommended by Jeff Bezos… 

Bezos loves books. Like both Tim Cook of Apple and Bill Gates of Microsoft, Bezos is not shy about encouraging his top executives to read. His recommendations reportedly include The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker, The Innovator’s Solution by one of Steve Job’s favourite authors, Clayton Christensen, and The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt.


And finally, what’s on Amazon UK’s top 10 books list? 

  1. The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse, by Charlie Mackesy
  2. Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  3. Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo
  4. Normal People, by Sally Rooney
  5. Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
  6. Me and White Supremacy, by Layla Saad
  7. Queenie, by Candice Carty-Williams
  8. The Family Upstairs, by Lisa Jewell
  9. Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala
  10. Slime, by David Walliams