REVIEW

Amazon Unbound is essentially an unromantic account of the strange-but-true rise of a corporation

  • Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the invention of a global empire, by Brad Stone. Simon & Schuster, $30.

It is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. But what does this mean when the world's richest men can apparently fly there themselves?

Last month, we saw the world's richest man, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, leap another league in his footrace against follow billionaires Elon Musk and Richard Branson, flying himself and several others on a 10-minute proof-of-concept space flight, briefly returning to Musk the title of richest man on Earth.

What he left behind was a much more terrestrial debate. The slow court of public opinion continues to mull over the moral worth of Bezos and his star-bound company, their meteoric rise barely giving time for a proper account of events, but their impact rumbling across American life, labour and consumerism, and around the world.

Brad Stone appears to trace this rise for us. His new book is a biography of the company, picking up where he left off in 2013 with The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. In doing so, it tracks the lifecycles of Amazon's numerous departments and projects, chronicling the characteristic mixture of futurism and unfettered brutalism that was the nitrous in the company's engine.

He brings us close to the personalities involved, especially founder Bezos, from whom the entire personality cult of Amazon flowed forth, not least in the form of edicts and truisms. Amazon Unbound opts mostly for a descriptive and story-telling mode. Every new page or so feels like a separate micro-tale, whilst Stone remains journalistically distant from the controversies and questions of public conscience depicted.

Yet the core of the book is the rise of a corporation. It tells, unromantically, of acquisitions, mergers, funding, project goals, executive tensions and labour relations. Its force comes from the personality of its cast, but while sparks of personality fly, the grindstone is a cold, hard business. It is a testament to Stone, then, that it is never dense or dull, but remains approachable, even light, throughout.

In this aspect, the story is saved by the stratospheric ambition of Amazon. You read it thinking, "That idea sounds ridiculous", and then realise it is already true, they've already done that, you're already using that service.

Ultimately, Stone tells plainly a story that threatens to be a technocratic snore, and enlivens a tycoonish enthusiasm in the reader, without disguising the compromised landscape of corporate tech. His is a book that bids us to wonder, perhaps ominously, where Amazon has still to rise, if it is really, as Jeff insists, still Day 1.

This story Meanwhile, rich men apparently fly to heaven first appeared on The Canberra Times.