The Books That Helped Jeff Bezos Create Amazon

In The Everything Store, Brad Stone’s new chronicling of Jeff Bezos, readers learn what books shaped the man. And yeah, we’re guessing he bought them on Amazon.

The Books That Helped Jeff Bezos Create Amazon
[Image: Flickr user Jason Cartwright]

Jeff Bezos, the warrior-king of Amazon, is known for the way he bursts into a room, hates cohesion, and dresses down his employees.


But when he’s not on the battlefield, the dude who built an empire selling books actually reads the things, as shared in an appendix to The Everything Store, Brad Stone’s new book on Amazon (which at least one reviewer has taken issue with). Shane Parrish, the purveyor of Farnham Street, recently shared the bibliography on his blog. As we’ll see below, certain of books have shaped certain aspects of Amazon’s rapid and multi-pronged growth.

The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen

One book is central to the canon of startup-land: The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clay Christensen. In it, Christensen, who last year helped us to measure our lives and find work we love, explains his theory of distruption–the way in which new firms, like say Netflix, displace incumbents, like Blockbuster.

Dilemma, Stone says, helped spur on the creation of the Kindle and Amazon Web Services–two product lines that are quite far from Amazon’s original business. Why would they do such a thing? “Some companies are reluctant to embrace disruptive technology because it might alienate customers and undermine their core business,” Stone says, “but Christensen argues that ignoring potential disruption is even costlier.”

So with the Kindle and AWS, Amazon did some disruptive, potentially alienating things–and thus ensured they’d actually stay relevant.

The Mythical Man-Month by Frederick P. Brooks Jr.

Amazon is ruled by slices: that is, there’s a Two Pizza Rule that governs the size of teams–none should be bigger than what could be fed by two pizzas.

This lunch-sized heuristic draws from the work of National Medal of Technology-winning software engineer Frederick P. Brooks Jr. His Mythical Man-Month, now nearly four decades old, is a technical book that still sells 10,000 copies a year. Why? Because he makes the counterintuitive argument that small teams of programmers work better than large ones: after a while, bringing more people on just adds noise.


Creation: Life And How To Make It by Steve Grand

Steve Grand is the dude behind Creatures, a computer game from back in 1996 that simulated life. (Yes, really.)

Grand then reflected on his neo-Frankensteinian quest to create artificial life in Creation. One of the central theories of the book is that intelligent systems can be built from the bottom up if you start with the right set of building blocks. Which, Stone says, inspired Amazon Web Services.

So if even world-conquering CEOs find the time to read, maybe us normals can read way more books, too–and thus know way more stuff.

Hat tip: Farnham Street


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.