In November, Amazon founder, Time’s Person of the Year (1999), Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year (2012), and the World’s #1 CEO (2013) Jeff Bezos released his updated autobiography, a nuance-filled commentary on his life thus far, titled Invent and Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos.
Readers of all types came out of the woodwork for this 288-page wonder, brimming with curiosity as to what secrets the book would hold. Fans and critics alike have been clamoring for an inside look into Bezos’ brain, perhaps to glean a little bit of that business mind for themselves.
What can you expect?
This book isn’t the tell-all that the world has ultimately been craving. (I mean, who doesn’t want to understand the brain behind the biggest brand in the world?) It is composed of Bezos’ letters — and other documentation, speeches, and information — that have already been granted to the public.
As one Amazon reviewer so succinctly put it, “There is a lot of redundancy which is great for an organization to keep consistent, but you can save yourself the money and get these annual letters and his speeches for free.”
Another customer was equally unimpressed but far angrier about it: “Instead this is literally the download off of the Internet of Amazon’s annual reports which I could’ve done by myself for free. I feel very scammed by this book.” If you want to archive your existing content so that there is a copy of it for generations to come, that’s a pretty stellar way to leave your legacy. But to claim that it is more than that with such a renowned journalist backing it is truly tone-deaf to the hopes and expectations of your readers.
An aspect of this particular book that could rub you the wrong way is how tone-deaf some of it is. While the marketing around the book itself has repeatedly claimed that he focuses on how COVID-19 changed his business, he is one of the few that thrived, and to the detriment of others. Without that empathetic mindset, however, it is fun for the analytical mind to examine how the statistics flow as Bezos’ writings take you on a journey through time.
Perhaps Journalist and Professor Walter Isaacson‘s analysis of Bezos is where the real meat and potatoes of Invent and Wander is for those of us truly dissecting the patterns of successful people, whether for the progression of mankind or our own career goals.
He does a phenomenal job with the book’s introduction. Noting Bezos’ curiosity as a pillar to his greatness within the first few lines piques the readers’ own curiosity. How can such a basic trait feel so profound in the grand scheme of things? He goes on to discuss how science and art are both key to an entrepreneurial mind, as well as a positive mindset. Through those first few pages, the reader is able to determine that they need to do some inner work to attain their own version of success.
Though the Amazon description of the book specifies that it is “written in a direct, down-to-earth style, [and] offers readers a master class in business values, strategy, and execution,” that isn’t exactly the deep dive that you get. And that’s okay. “I loved hearing the early stories of creating and growing Amazon and some of the trials and tribulations along the way. What I didn’t love, however, was hearing the same stories over and over again,” explains a well-written customer review. Perhaps this sums up the dichotomy of the work. And he isn’t wrong.
Between the well-crafted intro and the last lines of Invent and Wander, you’ll find yourself wondering if you’ve read an anecdote or letter multiple times, and things might not always feel well-crafted. But the subheading of the book serves as our warning: that these are collective writings, like a file kept in a drawer for too long. They won’t necessarily tell a complete story, and it’s up to you to find little nuggets of knowledge along the way.
A very powerful thing of note is that there has been an effort to include first-hand Amazon success stories and partnership positives from people who sell on the platform. The industry doesn’t tend to highlight how a storefront, maker, or creative benefits from the platform itself. And while one could argue that some of the material feels self-serving, the end of the book brings with it a sense of positivity about “the long term” instead of the feeling that you just read a 288 page Amazon advertisement.