An in-depth, if credulous, look at an Internet pioneer.




A journalist’s admiring history of eBay, written with a dated enthusiam for the new economy.

The Web site eBay is quite a phenomenon—the Internet’s flea market cum chat room, where only a few clicks separate Rolex watches from Elvis Presley oven mitts. In addition to the thousand-odd people who work for eBay directly, the New York Times estimates that 75,000 people rely on the site for their livelihood. It is, claims founder Pierre Omidyar, the perfect market—a place where buyers and sellers meet without middlemen and where price fluctuates in concert with supply and demand. Cohen is inclined to agree, viewing Omidyar as a visionary and eBay as an exemplar of the new economy as he traces its evolution from an ad hoc garage-based Web site to a multi-billion-dollar corporation. Because the site began as a hobby, Omidyar designed it to be self-regulating so that, rather than officiate disputes, he created a system of feedback that made both parties dependent on strong reputations. In lieu of customer service, he created bulletin boards that allowed users to answer each other’s questions. The result, claims Cohen, was an Internet community that saw the site both as trading post and social club. Powerful customer loyalty in its early days allowed eBay to win the dominant market position it now enjoys. Unfortunately for Cohen, however, the quirky start-up story covers only the first half of eBay’s history. With an initial public offering that valued the company at $16 billion, eBay became a giant that kept users by buying out competitors rather than improving its own product—not exactly the stuff of a perfect market. But Cohen plugs on undeterred. Although he sees eBay as a philosophically driven experiment in economics, the latter half of The Perfect Store describes a thoroughly ordinary corporation, working to maximize profits and expand operations.

An in-depth, if credulous, look at an Internet pioneer.

Pub Date: June 5, 2002

ISBN: 0-316-15048-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2002

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.


A well-constructed critique of an economic system that, by the author’s account, is a driver of the world’s destruction.

Harvard Business School professor Henderson vigorously questions the bromide that “management’s only duty is to maximize shareholder value,” a notion advanced by Milton Friedman and accepted uncritically in business schools ever since. By that logic, writes the author, there is no reason why corporations should not fish out the oceans, raise drug prices, militate against public education (since it costs tax money), and otherwise behave ruinously and anti-socially. Many do, even though an alternative theory of business organization argues that corporations and society should enjoy a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, which includes corporate investment in what economists call public goods. Given that the history of humankind is “the story of our increasing ability to cooperate at larger and larger scales,” one would hope that in the face of environmental degradation and other threats, we might adopt the symbiotic model rather than the winner-take-all one. Problems abound, of course, including that of the “free rider,” the corporation that takes the benefits from collaborative agreements but does none of the work. Henderson examines case studies such as a large food company that emphasized environmentally responsible production and in turn built “purpose-led, sustainable living brands” and otherwise led the way in increasing shareholder value by reducing risk while building demand. The author argues that the “short-termism” that dominates corporate thinking needs to be adjusted to a longer view even though the larger problem might be better characterized as “failure of information.” Henderson closes with a set of prescriptions for bringing a more equitable economics to the personal level, one that, among other things, asks us to step outside routine—eat less meat, drive less—and become active in forcing corporations (and politicians) to be better citizens.

A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5417-3015-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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