The following list appears as an appendix in the novel The Everything Store by Brad Stone. 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 favourite novel, about a butler who wistfully recalls his career service during wartime Great Britain. Bezos has said he learns more from novels (fiction) than non-fiction.
- 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 new things and make many mistakes.
- Memos from the Chairman by Alan Greenberg (1996)
A collection of memos to employees by the chairman of the now defunct investment bank Bear Sterns. In his memo, Greenburg 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 Fredrick P. brooks Jr. (1975)
An influential computer scientist makes the counterintuitive argument that small groups of engineers are more effective than larger ones handling complex software projects.
- 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)
Colins 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)
Mankind now has within its grasp the power to synthesize true artificial life, playing out Dr Frankenstein’s dream in both cyberspace and the real world. In this book, Steve Grand, a leading exponent of artificial life, provides the first authoritative and comprehensive tour of the frontiers of this burgeoning new creation. He surveys what has been achieved so far and looks at future possibilities for generating autonomous, intelligent, even conscious living things. The fundamental questions he tackles range widely: what is life? What should the minds, brains and bodies of these new life forms be like? What philosophical guidelines and computational frameworks are necessary? At the heart of this brilliantly accessible and thought-provoking book is the author’s unique imaginative vision – a vision based on his experience of making some of the most advanced artificial life currently available. 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 Wed Services.
- The Innovators Dillemia: The Revoultionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business by Clayton M. Christensen (1997)
Innovation is the ruling buzzword in business today. Technology companies invest billions in developing new gadgets; business leaders see innovation as the key to a competitive edge; policymakers craft regulations to foster a climate of innovation. And yet businesses report a success rate of only four percent for innovation initiatives. Can we significantly increase our odds of success? In The Innovator’s Way, innovation experts Peter Denning and Robert Dunham reply with an emphatic yes. Innovation, they write, is not simply an invention, a policy, or a process to be managed. It is a personal skill that can be learned, developed through practice, and extended into organizations. Denning and Dunham identify and describe eight personal practices that all successful innovators perform: sensing, envisioning, offering, adopting, sustaining, executing, leading, and embodying. Together, these practices can boost a fledgling innovator to success. Weakness in any of these practices, they show, blocks innovation. Denning and Dunham chart the path to innovation mastery, from individual practices to teams and social networks. Some companies are reluctant to embrace disruptive technologies because it might undermine their core business and alienate customers, but Christensen argues that ignoring potentially disruption is 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 fulfilment 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 and Demming 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 (2007)
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)
Taleb 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.