Enough, already! Amazon’s 1st employee takes MacKenzie Bezos to task for her blistering critique of Brad Stone’s book

Shel Kaphan (Annie Laurie Malarkey Photo)

Shel Kaphan (Annie Laurie Malarkey Photo)

The reviews for Brad Stone’s book profiling Amazon’s early years are beginning to resemble something approaching a water cooler for people associated with Amazon.

In a four-star review of “The Everything Store” entitled “I did like this book,”, Shel Kaphan, Amazon’s first employee, took MacKenzie Bezos to task for her own one-star review. (While the review is only attributed to “S. Kaphan”, he confirmed that the review was his, according to an email sent to GeekWire and a post published by AllThingsD.)

“I was at Amazon for the first 5 years of its existence, so I also have firsthand experience of those times at the company, and I have been a fairly close observer since I left. I spent considerably more time in the Amazon work environment during those years than MacKenzie Bezos did,” Kaphan wrote.

While Kaphan said that Stone did get some details wrong — including an error about Kaphan having a bushy beard while working the Whole Earth Truck Store & Catalog in the 1970s —  the former Amazon CTO said that it wasn’t a reason to “disregard the entire book.” Similarly, he pointed out that MacKenzie Bezos only mentioned one concrete error in Stone’s book, without naming others.

everythingstore“Breaking news: a new 372 page book has some errors!” Kaphan wrote.

It is worth noting that in much the same way that MacKenzie Bezos may not be an objective observer, Kaphan is not without his own biases. He left Amazon after five years because he “felt that (he) had been sidelined” by new hires, according to an interview he gave to GeekWire in 2011.

Overall, Kaphan seems happy with Stone’s work, though he said that there’s still room for more Amazon histories.

“Especially in comparison to the sad collection of awful books that have been written on this subject, this one is much more detailed, more interesting, and a lot more deeply reported. Sure, there is plenty more that could be written about, and maybe someday somebody will. If and when that happens, I can only hope it is also “unauthorized” and not sanitized by a corporate PR department, and that some real investigative journalism is done, like Mr. Stone did here.”

Stone responded to Bezos’s review this morning, which in turn drew a response from Amazon. We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment, and will update this post if we hear back.

Update: Shel Kaphan provided the following statement to GeekWire via email, when asked if he was the one behind the review, and why he chose to respond to Bezos’s review:

Yes, it was me. I wrote it because it appeared that all the reviews coming from people who had been “on the inside” at Amazon were of one mind, and were trying to convince general readers of the lack of validity of the reporting in the book. I especially felt that MacKenzie Bezos’s review was not really fair to the author. One thing I wanted to make clear is that there is not complete uniformity, and that some of us who were “inside” think the book says some important things that needed to be said, and that Brad Stone did a very credible job even if there are some mistakes. After all, he has said repeatedly he would correct mistakes that people bring to his attention.

[This story has been updated to include context for Shel Kaphan's response.]

Previously on GeekWire: Author of Amazon book responds to review by Bezos’ wife — and Amazon disputes his responseJeff Bezos’ wife issues 1-star review for new Amazon book, deems it ‘misleading’

  • Shel Kaphan

    Just wanted to clarify that my email message beginning “Yes, it was me” was not out of the blue, it was in response to the reporter asking if I was the person who wrote the review that appeared on Amazon. Some people who read it told me they thought it sounded a bit weird to start a message that way. The article doesn’t make the context clear.

    • Blair Hanley Frank

      Sorry about that. I’ve updated the article to add context to your response.