Saturday, February 18, 2012

One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Richard L. Brandt. Portfolio/Penguin. 208 pages.

Review by Richard Pachter
Do you like biographies?
I love ‘em!
In fact, my first assigned “book report” at P.S. 139 in Brooklyn was a biography, so I chose “The Wright Brothers.”
But I had no idea I was supposed to just read and “report” on only one book, so I checked out three titles from my great little school library, and read about those pioneering aviators from three different authors’ angles. Why not?
I thought my debut book review, er, report, was a great success, except the teacher wrote TITLE? AUTHOR? in big red letters across the top of my 3-hole notebook paper I’d penciled my report on, and she later informed me that I was supposed to “report” on only one book, not several.
But from tiny acorns…
This new bio of’s Jeff Bezos is a fun read. Serious but not heavy or ponderous, its author does a fine job chronicling the life of the guy who essentially fulfilled the promise of the Internet as a medium for commerce.
Bezos was preternaturally bright and ambitious, one of those driven kids who loved computers and excelled at all sorts of techy things. But he also spent childhood vacations on his grandfather’s Texas ranch, learning to do a slew of decidedly low-tech chores with cattle, such as cleaning stalls, branding (insert joke here!), castrating and other fun stuff.
He never knew his biological father, who‘d divorced his mom when he was a year and a half old, but she soon remarried and they both took the name Bezos from his adopted dad, a Cuban refugee. The family first lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, then Houston, Texas, then Panama City and Miami, Florida. He attended Palmetto Senior High in Pinecrest, had a summer job at McDonald’s, and enjoyed a happy childhood and adolescence.
After high school, Bezos started a little company with another Palmetto High graduate, aimed at tutoring advanced fifth-graders and was written up in the Miami Herald. Bezos also received a science prize in the newspaper’s prestigious Silver Knight competition.
After obtaining a degree in computers and electrical engineering at Princeton, Bezos was a highly sought-after recruit. Spurning several impressive offers, he chose a start-up headed by Columbia professors trying to build “a mini-Internet” for Wall Street investors, a full decade before the real Internet came into popular use. Despite enjoying rapid success in the new company, he yearned for his own enterprise and methodically searched for a business to launch on the World Wide Web. After deciding upon bookselling, he applied himself fanatically to his baby,
Brandt does a good job of weaving an upbeat and appealing narrative thread, making Bezos’ life and quest interesting and compelling. It’s not a lofty literary work, but an example of good long-form journalism. There are numerous interviews with key sources and though Bezos himself may not have provided the author with his own one-on-one, he’s spoken to the media enough times to generate a pool of quotes for Brandt to draw from, as needed.
Perhaps without intending to, Brandt presents a story that’s a classic American tale of tenacity and enterprise. Though not poor, Bezos’ journey, in its own way, is as inspiring as other archetypical American business and creative pioneers’ struggles. And like the Wright Brothers, might encourage other young entrepreneurs — or even nascent book reviewers.


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