“Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market alow you to put there.” —Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan
Read, Read, Read, Read and Hope to Have a Few Insights
Below, a few book tips taken from the appendix Jeff’s Reading List as published in The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.
Emphasis added by my. Also, book covers added by me and they’re not included in the book as referenced above.
Appendix: Jeff’s Reading List
Books have nurtured Amazon since its creation and shaped its culture and strategy. Here are a dozen books widely read by executives and employees that are integral to understanding the company.
The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989).
Jeff Bezos’s favorite novel, about a butler who wistfully recalls his career in service during wartime Great Britain. Bezos has said he learns more from novels than nonfiction.
Sam Walton: Made in America, by Sam Walton with John Huey (1992).
In his autobiography, Walmart’s founder expounds on the principles of discount retailing and discusses his core values of frugality and a bias for action—a willingness to try a lot of things and make many mistakes. Bezos included both in Amazon’s corporate values.
Memos from the Chairman, by Alan Greenberg (1996).
A collection of memos to employees by the chairman of the now- defunct investment bank Bear Stearns. In his memos, Greenberg is constantly restating the bank’s core values, especially modesty and frugality. His repetition of wisdom from a fictional philosopher presages Amazon’s annual recycling of its original 1997 letter to shareholders.
The Mythical Man-Month, by Frederick P. Brooks Jr. (1975).
An influential computer scientist makes the counterintuitive argument that small groups of engineers are more effective than larger ones at handling complex software projects. The book lays out the theory behind Amazon’s two-pizza teams.
Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras (1994).
The famous management book about why certain companies succeed over time. A core ideology guides these firms, and only those employees who embrace the central mission flourish; others are “expunged like a virus” from the companies.
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins (2001).
Collins briefed Amazon executives on his seminal management book before its publication. Companies must confront the brutal facts of their business, find out what they are uniquely good at, and master their flywheel, in which each part of the business reinforces and accelerates the other parts.
Creation: Life and How to Make It, by Steve Grand (2001).
A video-game designer argues that intelligent systems can be created from the bottom up if one devises a set of primitive building blocks. The book was influential in the creation of Amazon Web Services, or AWS, the service that popularized the notion of the cloud.
The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business, by Clayton M. Christensen (1997).
An enormously influential business book whose principles Amazon acted on and that facilitated the creation of the Kindle and AWS. Some companies are reluctant to embrace disruptive technology because it might alienate customers and undermine their core businesses, but Christensen argues that ignoring potential disruption is even costlier.
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox (1984).
An exposition of the science of manufacturing written in the guise of the novel, the book encourages companies to identify the biggest constraints in their operations and then structure their organizations to get the most out of those constraints. The Goal was a bible for Jeff Wilke and the team that fixed Amazon’s fulfillment network.
Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones (1996).
The production philosophy pioneered by Toyota calls for a focus on those activities that create value for the customer and the systematic eradication of everything else.
Data-Driven Marketing: The 15 Metrics Everyone in Marketing Should Know, by Mark Jeffery (2010).
A guide to using data to measure everything from customer satisfaction to the effectiveness of marketing. Amazon employees must support all assertions with data, and if the data has a weakness, they must point it out or their colleagues will do it for them.
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2007).
The scholar argues that people are wired to see patterns in chaos while remaining blind to unpredictable events, with massive consequences. Experimentation and empiricism trumps the easy and obvious narrative.
Disclosure: I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company or individual mentioned in this article. I have no positions in any stocks mentioned.