A well-organized, well-written account of how Alibaba grew from a tiny startup to a corporate giant.



A key Alibaba executive looks at the culture that has underpinned the company’s growth—and what it means for the world.

Wong has held a number of senior positions at Alibaba, including as founder Jack Ma’s special assistant for international affairs. Because he joined the company in its early days (he was the 52nd employee and first American), he is well positioned to track the company’s development and explain the culture expansion. The book has the feel of an official corporate history, and anyone who is looking for critical analysis or an account of Alibaba’s ethically dubious cooperation with China’s authoritarian rulers will not find it here. That said, Wong has plenty to discuss. His initial emphasis is on the company’s priorities: customers first, employees second, shareholders third. This might sound like anathema to American businesses but it has worked well, and shareholders have received good returns. Wong points out that 20 years ago China had thousands of dynamic small companies which had no way to reach customers. Alibaba provided the portal to link sellers and buyers in a digital mall. Unlike Amazon, it did not have to carry huge inventory loads, but the key problem was payment. Credit cards were rare in China, so the answer was to jump to cellphones as primary payment mechanisms. Alibaba overcame the trust issue with its own payment arm, Alipay. Wong emphasizes that Alibaba has eschewed detailed planning in favor of responding to problems as they arise. Ma, when he was CEO, had an eye for good tech people although he also recruited people who showed capacities for innovation and customer relations rather than programming skills. The company gives division, branch, and team leaders wide discretion in decisions, which was especially valuable when Alibaba started global expansion and had to learn new cultural environments. The book might have been given more depth by a considered examination of some of the company’s failures but nevertheless The Tao of Alibaba presents a different way of looking at business as well as telling the story of a company that has become a key part of the world economy.

A well-organized, well-written account of how Alibaba grew from a tiny startup to a corporate giant.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5417-0165-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 23, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2022

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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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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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