1 star review

I still think this is the most interesting review on Amazon. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

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People have left millions of reviews on Amazon, covering almost every imaginable product. In fact, if Amazon ever spun its cache of reviews into a separate company, my guess is it would be worth billions on its own.

(Showing my work: TripAdvisor has a roughly $3.7 billion market cap; Yelp is at about $2.5 billion.) 

Out of all of the reviews on Amazon, however, one stands out to me.

It’s the one-star review that MacKenzie Scott—then married to Jeff Bezos and known as MacKenzie Bezos, and now the wealthiest woman in the world—wrote for a book called The Everything Store, which was itself about Amazon.

To recap:

  • The wife (at the time) of the founder of Amazon…

  • who is herself described as the first Amazon employee…

  • wrote an Amazon review of a book about Amazon…

  • and skewered it, giving it 1 star!

“I wanted to like this book,” Scott began on November 4, 2013.

But, she claims it has “numerous factual inaccuracies,” starting when it says Jeff Bezos had “recently finished” the novel, Remains of the Day just before starting Amazon—and thus had its themes of loss and regret on his mind at the time.

“It’s not true,” MacKenzie Scott wrote. “Jeff didn’t read Remains of the Day until a year after he started Amazon.”

It’s a small point, she concedes, but she says it’s representative—“a lopsided and misleading portrait of the people and culture at Amazon.”

Is she right? I dunno. Personally, I read The Everything Store a few years back, and I can't say what author Brad Stone might have gotten wrong or not.

(It’s where I first heard about Jeff Bezos’s “jeff@amazon.com” email address, but I hadn't even remembered the part about Remains of the Day actually being in the book.)

Anyway, it’s poignant to me that Scott really came out guns blazing for her then-husband. I can relate to that. I mean, God help anyone who ever writes a book like that about my wife! (I’ve got your back, honey.)

It’s also striking because MacKenzie Scott doesn’t often give interviews, or make many public statements (although she does write well-reviewed novels). Last year the New York Times did a long profile of her, which included this short, telling line:

She could not be reached for comment on this article.

I started thinking about her review again after Stephanie Clifford wrote about her last month for the publication Marker.

As Clifford points out, Scott went to the same prestigious university as her ex-husband (Princeton), and had a similar high-powered Wall Street job. When Bezos gave the commencement address at Princeton, and he mentioned that his wife was an alum in the second row, the cameras didn't acknowledge her.

I wonder what it’s like to have that sort of pedigree, and yet know that you’ll always be known in relation to your ex-husband?

There are no tiny violins in this story, of course; Scott’s net worth, post-divorce, is about $60.5 billion.

She’s signed the Giving Pledge (Jeff Bezos has not), and over the summer she gave a total of $1.7 billion to charity, “with very few strings attached” according to Clifford, who portrays her as someone whose first love was books—and who was much more interested in the literary side of the early Amazon (world’s largest bookstore) than her then-husband was.

Anyway, perhaps reviews aren't quite what they used to be on Amazon, with all kinds of reports of fake evaluations and ratings on the site. (That’ll be another newsletter, maybe.)

For what it’s worth, Scott, who owns about 4 percent of the company, has a “reviewer ranking” of 10,860,748.) And, I'm making a note to be on the lookout for one more review next year, when the sequel to The Everything Store, which Brad Stone's publisher says will be called Amazon Unbound, is due to reach stores.

I'm curious now to know: What more might MacKenzie Scott have to say?

7 other things worth your time

  • Here’s a fascinating 3,500-word feature on the tumultuous life of a Cambodian immigrant entrepreneur who is known as the Donut King of California, and if you’re anything like me, it will account for the next 10 minutes of your life. (BBC)

  • Football in a time of Covid: All three quarterbacks for the Denver Broncos were out due to quarantine, so the team started a wide receiver who hadn’t played quarterback since college. They lost 31 to 3. Ohio State, ranked #3 in the country, has its season in jeopardy because the team isn’t even allowed to practice right now due to an outbreak. And a soccer player named Sarah Fuller made history as the first woman to play in a Power 5 conference football game, when Vanderbilt found itself without a kicker due to Covid. Vanderbilt lost the game 41 to 0, but that had nothing to do with Fuller; Vanderbilt never got close to scoring, so the only chance she got to take the field was the second half kickoff. (Denver Post, AP, ESPN)

  • How trends happen: More than 62 million households have watched The Queen’s Gambit, on Netflix, about an orphaned girl in the 1950s and 1960s who becomes a chess prodigy. Related, you’d have to assume: sales of chess boards in the United States are up 87 percent compared to one year ago. (Deadline, NBC News)

  • How trends happen, part 2: Public school enrollment is falling—maybe 3 or 4 percent in many cities—as a result of the schools limiting in-person instruction due to the pandemic. (Axios)

  • Sad news broke over the weekend that Tony Hsieh, the recently retired CEO of Zappos, died Friday at age 46, after suffering injuries in a house fire November 18. I wrote about him for Inc.com—specifically about the 2-word policy he had at Zappos, called “The Offer,” under which every new employee was offered $1,000 to quit, after a week or so on the job. If you took the money, you were doing both Zappos and yourself a favor. (The Day, Inc.com)

  • The company behind Lysol is making far more disinfectant than it ever has before, with factories running 24 hours per day, and almost a year after the start of the pandemic. It still can’t keep up with demand. (Bloomberg)

  • Potential Covid silver lining if you’re still traveling: Lufthansa is experimenting with a program to let economy passengers purchase an entire row of seats, so they can be guaranteed the chance to spread out. Air New Zealand has been doing this for a while, actually. If airlines can’t sell all their seats anyway, maybe this will catch on. (CNN)

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