Rarely surprising, but amusing and intelligently written: a good exploration of how Amazon survived the crash and earned its...

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AMAZONIA

FIVE YEARS AT THE EPICENTER OF THE DOT.COM JUGGERNAUT

Amiable memoir of Amazon.com’s dizzying rise and eventual earthbound return.

Marcus’s debut aptly captures his sense of riding an unforeseeable whirlwind. From 1996 to 2001, he was employed as “Senior Editor” at Amazon. He was the 55th hire, personally interviewed by founder and future billionaire Jeff Bezos, whom the author depicts as superficially easygoing but obsessed with a “Culture of Metrics”: Bezos believed that endless analysis of Amazon’s business numbers would insure its explosive growth—and, in fact, it did. Marcus found the halcyon early days at the perpetually expanding company a constant whirlwind of 60-hour weeks and eccentric, wonky co-workers, many of whom, like the author, temporarily became paper millionaires during the Boom. Marcus perceptively discusses the challenges in representing books through the ultra-mutable online medium and describes how Amazon and Bezos struggled to stay ahead of the maelstrom. (For instance, they developed a top-secret auction capability to compete with eBay.) Many such initiatives failed to deliver—online success seemingly depended on “First Mover” status—even as dot.com raconteurs like Henry Blodget hyped the company and ensured its stock would soar. As the company grew, Marcus became conscious of how few site visitors actually read his careful reviews: “We were creators, and we were clerks,” he ruefully notes. Even before the 2000 market crash, he realized the site’s drive to personalize itself to the needs of all customers would ultimately hobble his editorial vision, as data-mining programs overtook hands-on efforts. Bezos was named Time’s 1999 Person of the Year, and the company’s employee population exploded, but they couldn’t outrun the millennium: by June 2000, the stock had plunged, as erstwhile cheerleaders like Blodget ran for cover and its credit was assessed as “degrading.” After the company laid off 15 percent of the workforce in 2001, the burned-out but wistful Marcus decided it was time to go.

Rarely surprising, but amusing and intelligently written: a good exploration of how Amazon survived the crash and earned its longevity.

Pub Date: June 24, 2004

ISBN: 1-56584-870-5

Page Count: -

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004

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

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

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 deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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