Brad Stone, the journalist whose detailed account of Amazon’s rise received a withering, one-star review from Jeff Bezos’ wife MacKenzie Bezos yesterday, has responded by promising to correct any factual errors but also defending his reporting and the accuracy of the major revelations in his book.
And now a top Amazon communications exec is disputing Stone’s response.
Yes, this is officially a public spat — highly unusual for a company that normally does its best to keep to itself. The back-and-forth suggests that the book’s account of Bezos and Amazon’s hard-driving culture has gotten plenty of attention inside the company, and perhaps touched a nerve.
In his response, published this morning by Bloomberg Businessweek, Stone called the review by MacKenzie Bezos “well written, entertaining, and perceptive about the challenges of doing a biography of a person and a company without their complete co-operation.”
Stone acknowledged that he focused on the big moments of “tension” in the company’s evolution. He wrote …
No matter how hard we strive for objectivity, writers are biased toward tension—those moments in which character is forged and revealed. I set out to tell the incredible story of how Amazon grew from three people in a garage to a company that employs 100,000 people around the world. It wasn’t an easy journey for the company, and for many Amazon employees, it wasn’t always enjoyable. It’s precisely that tension—between sacrifice and success—that makes Amazon and Bezos so compelling. Like any company, there were countless moments of dull harmony, and who knows how many hours of unremarkable meetings along the way. You could argue that many of those define Bezos and the company more than the strategic risks and moments of friction. MacKenzie Bezos does. I happen to disagree.
Stone also notes, “Bezos said that he married MacKenzie after searching for someone tenacious enough to break him out of a Third World prison. By that standard, I got off easy.”
Amazon’s VP of global communications, Craig Berman, focused on that sentence in his statement responding to Stone’s post. Here is Berman’s statement in full.
In the rebuttal Mr. Stone published in Bloomberg Businessweek today, he writes:
“Bezos said that he married MacKenzie after searching for someone tenacious enough to break him out of a Third World prison. By that standard, I got off easy.”
Entertaining, and inaccurate.
Mr. Bezos says “resourceful” – not “tenacious.” Mr. Stone knows that. He also knows that the correct word doesn’t work quite as well for his purpose. “Resourceful” and “tenacious” mean different things. They also have subtle connotations. You might or might not like a tenacious person. It’s easy to imagine someone tenacious that you find a little exhausting and unpleasant. On the other hand, resourceful is hard to dislike. But no matter how well the word choice works for his purpose, it is not Mr. Stone’s choice to make. By beginning with “Bezos said,” he obligates himself to get it right.
It is ironic that he has done this in a rebuttal to a one-star review that comments on the combination of inaccuracy and slanted characterization in his book.
In her review, MacKenzie Bezos cites the example of Bezos taking inspiration from the novel “Remains of the Day.” Stone reports in the book that this happened when Jeff Bezos was coming up with the idea, shaping his decision to start the company, but MacKenzie Bezos says in her review that he actually didn’t read the book until after starting the company.
“If this were an isolated example, it might not matter, but it’s not,” she writes. “Everywhere I can fact check from personal knowledge, I find way too many inaccuracies, and unfortunately that casts doubt over every episode in the book.”
In another review, former Amazon executive Rick Dalzell has taken issue with Stone’s quote of Dalzell calling Bezos’ legendary laugh “disarming and punishing.” Dalzell writes in the review, “Nothing could be farther from the truth. In actuality, Jeff’s laugh is spontaneous, sincere, warm and endearing. It diffuses stressful situations. Clearly, Brad misunderstood me.”
Bezos met with Stone about the book and gave the go-ahead for Stone to talk with key people who were part of the Amazon story. However, Bezos declined to be interviewed for the book, saying he believed it was still too early in the company’s evolution to try to tell a full story, according to Stone’s account of the meeting. Stone ended up interviewing more than 300 people who have been involved with the company, including current and past executives and employees.
For better or worse, Amazon’s decision to go public with its complaints this week has given a new round of publicity to the book. “The Everything Store” is currently ranked #210 among best-sellers in the Kindle Store, with MacKenzie Bezos’ review having been voted by customers as the most helpful.