Responding to MacKenzie Bezos's One-Star Slapdown

Mackenzie (left) and Jeff Bezos in Sun Valley, Idaho, in July Photograph by Andrew Gombert/EPA via Corbis

One of the gratifying and terrifying things about writing a book in 2013 is that anyone can immediately publish their review of it. Yesterday, a reader of my book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, did just that. The review was well written, entertaining, and perceptive about the challenges of doing a biography of a person and a company without their complete co-operation. In the end, the writer was the first to give the book one star. Negative feedback happens all the time. (Ask my editors.) The only reason this review is worth mentioning is that it was written by MacKenzie Bezos, Jeff Bezos’s wife.

Bezos said that he married MacKenzie after searching for someone tenacious resourceful enough to break him out of a Third World prison. By that standard, I got off easy. Mrs. Bezos mostly took me to task for what she perceived were subtle biases in my story. I’ll own up to that, though my slant is hardly political or personal. Nor is it particularly unique.

No matter how hard we strive for objectivity, writers are biased toward tension—those moments in which character is forged and revealed. I set out to tell the incredible story of how Amazon grew from three people in a garage to a company that employs 100,000 people around the world. It wasn’t an easy journey for the company, and for many Amazon employees, it wasn’t always enjoyable. It’s precisely that tension—between sacrifice and success—that makes Amazon and Bezos so compelling. Like any company, there were countless moments of dull harmony, and who knows how many hours of unremarkable meetings along the way. You could argue that many of those define Bezos and the company more than the strategic risks and moments of friction. MacKenzie Bezos does. I happen to disagree.

Mrs. Bezos also suggests that there are a handful of factual errors in my account. As a journalist with a two-decade record of accuracy, that troubles me a great deal more. I spoke to more than 300 people for my book—among them current and former Amazon employees, rivals, partners, and customers. They gave generously of their time, memories, and documents to help me fill in the gaps in Amazon’s history that, as my sources pointed out, were sometimes left intentionally.

Still, I’m not so high on my own authority to ignore the obvious: there are details of this story that only Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos can know. If they point to errors, I’ll gladly correct them. But I’d also proudly note that no one has taken issue with the major revelations in my book, such as Bezos’s Amazon.Love memo, the Cheetah and Gazelle negotiations with book publishers, the MilliRavi press release, the fight with and LoveFilm, and on and on.

Nevertheless, I’m grateful to MacKenzie and to every other thoughtful reviewer who shares their perspectives on my book and on this remarkable story. It’s the kind of dialogue that helps readers—and writers—and it’s a big reason why I got into the business.

(Note: Word change in second paragraph requested by Amazon spokesman Craig Berman)

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