Brad Stone's The Everything Store might not be the first book to be written about Amazon.com, but it's probably the most comprehensive. Stone, a reporter for Bloomberg, has been writing about Amazon for almost as long as there's been an Amazon, so he's got all the sources he needs and a wealth of previously prepared research to write an in-depth biography of the business that Jeff Bezos built from nothing to the biggest online retailer in the world.
It's not an Amazon-authorized biography, but it's not a terribly critical portrait of the company, either. Stone addresses some of the major criticisms against Amazon in a chapter late in the book, including mistreatment of warehouse employees, public distaste over Amazon's "showrooming" apps, and the company's long battle against paying local taxes. But each of those complaints is quickly hand-waved away by the official Amazon explanation for the lapse. Stone also lists some of the many insults Jeff Bezos has thrown at his employees while in the middle of a tirade. (Apparently, around Amazon, they developed a cutesy little nickname—"nutters"—for Bezos's frequent temper tantrums.) But, he explains, this is the problem with people who possess a great intellect and drive; they are fickle but they are passionate. And he lists all the extravagant ways Bezos has celebrated a few of the hardest-working Amazon employees through the years, too.
The problem with The Everything Store is that too many of its edges are dulled. Stone adheres to the standard tech writer cliches of Bezos as a world-class genius driven by a daddy-issue sized hole in his life without bothering to do too much peeking behind the legend. Some of his conclusions about Amazon's corporate culture feel lazy. He dismisses Amazon's cheapness and libertarian leanings as simple frugality, like some adorable personality tic. (At his reading at Town Hall last night, Stone excused Amazon's lack of charitable giving in part as a result of the company being too busy to notice that it's not giving money to charity, which feels like a hell of a stretch.) You've read this story before, about the white man who has a pure idea and makes it whole thanks to the benevolent gods of technology and his own innate pluck. It's a story that's been told a lot in the last decade and a half, and the story is starting to clunk with the tinny echo of cliche. The next tech writer who decides to write a book about a world-conquering dotcom should try to dig a little deeper and tell us something new.