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Marcus, James, 1959-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : New Press ; New York : Distributed by W.W. Norton, [2004]

Physical Description:
261 pages ; 22 cm
Personal Subject:
Corporate Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
Z473.A485 M37 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In a book that Ian Frazier has called "a fascinating and sometimes hair-raising morality tale from deep inside the Internet boom," James Marcus, hired by in 1996, when the company was so small his e-mail address could be, looks back a decade later at the ecstatic rise, dramatic fall, and remarkable comeback of the consummate symbol of late 1990s America.

Observing "how it was to be in the right place (Seattle) at the right time (the 90s)" ( Chicago Reader ), Marcus offers a ringside seat on everything from his first interview with Jeff Bezos to the company's bizarre, Nordic-style retreats, creating what Jonathan Raban calls "an utterly beguiling book." For this edition, Marcus has added a new afterword with further reflections on his Amazon experience.

In the tradition of the most noteworthy and entertaining memoirs of recent years, Marcus offers us a modern-day fable, "a clear-eyed, first-person account, rife with digressions on the larger cultural meaning throughout" (Henry Alford, Newsday ).

Author Notes

James Marcus was employed as Senior Editor at Amazon from 1996 to 2001. The executive editor of Harper's and an award-winning translator, he has written for the Atlantic Monthly , the Village Voice , the New York Times Book Review , the Washington Post Book World , the New York Review of Books , Lingua Franca , and many other publications. He lives in New York City.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Marcus, an accomplished writer of magazine articles and five books, was hired in 1996 as a senior editor at, which was just being recognized as the first Internet bookstore. The company hadn't even gone public yet, and no one had any idea that Amazon would become the poster child for the Internet stock frenzy, but the excitement was already palpable among the young, casually dressed workforce. Marcus began by cranking out thousands of online book reviews, and before long he was doing online author interviews and managing the content of the home page. He spent five years at the company, during which time his stock options made him a paper millionaire, only to watch in anguish as most of it evaporated before his eyes. Marcus tells his story with wit and candor, revealing what it was really like to live in the New Paradigm, where you monetized eyeballs and leveraged your verbiage to reach an inflection point (make money). Although the company survived both the NASDAQ crash and 9/11, the journey was not without loss of artistic freedom: the home page, no longer shaped by human talent, is now simply programmed to display content based on the user's buying habits. --David Siegfried Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

With firmly established as one of the leaders in e-commerce, it is easy to forget the company's early roots as a struggling online bookstore. Marcus, who was employee 55 and one of Amazon's first editors, provides a captivating, witty account of how the fledgling e-retailer transformed itself from a startup that generated $16 million in sales in 1996 to a behemoth with revenue of $5.3 billion in 2003. The early days of Amazon, Marcus recounts, were full of a do-it-yourself attitude, with everyone at the company encouraged to try different ways to drive customers to the site. In Marcus's case, it was writing and assigning reviews, the content designed to make people decide what to buy. But although Amazon founder Jeff Bezos began as a firm believer in the power of content, his philosophy gradually changed to what Marcus calls the "culture of metrics," in which everything connected to the site could be measured. And as Amazon added more and more products, the importance of content slipped away. It's clear Marcus's most satisfying time at Amazon was in the early years, even if that meant picking and packing books during the holiday rush. There is even a bit of nostalgia in his tone, which people in the book industry can especially appreciate: once upon a time there was a company whose employees scrambled to sell books over this new thing called the Internet. Today the company has become a software and retailing machine dedicated to selling as many widgets as efficiently as possible. Agent, Mark Dunow. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In 1996, Marcus escaped the genteel poverty of freelance writing by landing an editorial job at the burgeoning business that would transform the book-selling landscape forever. He here tells the tale of the dazzling rise, dizzying fall, and daring rebirth of Amazon. com from his perch inside the company. His colleagues are quirky but smart, his boss visionary but human, and the company an odd but unbeatable combination of high- and low-tech approaches. Marcus takes readers on the treks through the woods that serve as company outings and the hunt for elusive job titles in an egalitarian world where every employee packs holiday orders at the warehouse. Naturally, Jeff Bezos, the company's legendary founder, figures prominently in the yarn. Watching his vision unfold as the company and e-commerce markets mushroom makes for a worthy management case study in itself. While the quotidian world of everyday work might have seemed uninteresting, Marcus makes it fun to peek inside company workings to see how invented itself. And the literati name-dropping from interviews, parties, and the like lends a tone of friendly gossip to this tale. Recommended for business collections in public and academic libraries. Carol J. Elsen, Univ. of Wisconsin Libs. Whitewater (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.