Books, a movie, milk and binoculars

It's about 6 reviews, but more than that: the reviewer. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

I learned very recently that Jeff Bezos is Amazon's 78,582,024th-ranked reviewer

Weirdly, I can’t find any suggestion that anyone else has ever noticed his reviewer profile—at least not anyone else who writes articles like this.

Amazon confirmed to me that it’s real. I did find one story from 2018 reporting that he reviewed one product (a book, review #4 out of 6, below). But really, that’s it. Even other customers don’t seem to have noticed.

Anyway, here are the half-dozen products Bezos took the time to review, along with excerpts from his commentary, and what I think the reviews tell us about him.

The most recent review is 15 years old, and whole thing is kind of bizarre, truth to tell. The last two reviews are the oddest. So feel free to skip down if you’re pressed for time.

Review #1: The Oscar-winning, 1997 movie, Life is Beautiful.

"This movie is absolutely all it's cracked up to be," Bezos wrote on March 17, 2000. "Hysterically funny and simultaneously a tear jerker."

He’s right, it was a great movie. Come to think of it, I wonder if my wife realizes this is why I sometimes greet her by saying, “Buongiorno Principessa!” since we didn’t actually get (back) together until 15 years after it came out.

I digress. I can't find any further indication that Bezos has talked about this movie publicly.

But, he is known as a fan of emotional, tear-jerker stories. In fact, the degree to which he was inspired to start Amazon by reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day is a big part of another famous Amazon review.

Review #2: Canon 18x50 Image Stabilization All-Weather Binoculars

Six months later, Bezos was moved to review this pair of very expensive binoculars. They're still on sale at Amazon for $1,499:

"The problem with high power binoculars is that humans can't hold them steady, and that jitter makes it impossible to really look at something without a tripod. The image stabilization in this pair solves that problem and holds things rock steady.

I have only two small complaints: First, for a product this expensive they should pre-install the neck strap for you -- not a big deal, but it would be nice for the customer. Second, I wish the lens cap covers were higher quality ..."

I once ran the full text of every Jeff Bezos shareholder letter through a word cloud generator, and found that the number-1 most repeated word was "customer" (even more than "Amazon"). Interesting to note that this word made its way into his second review, too.

Review #3: The Proving Ground

This review almost seems autobiographical. It's about a book called The Proving Ground: The Inside Story of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race, which the publisher says, "describes how the annual sailing competition became one of the worst modern sailing disasters that left six sailors dead and a number of yachts destroyed."

Bezos says the author,  Bruce Knecht:

"captures acts of heroism and frailty, but ... never judges these … strong people [which] would inevitably over-simplify the reality of human behavior under life-threatening stress."

Hmmm, I wonder if Bezos happened to know any “strong people” operating under great stress, that he believed others would not be able to judge accurately?

Review #4: Another book, Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship

This is the book review I referenced at the very start. In fact, entire reason I went looking for Bezos’s profile page is that this review was mentioned in a 2018 profile in Wired ($).

The book was written by George Dyson, who was involved with Blue Origin. It’s about a project Dyson’s father was involved with in the 1950s, exploring the idea of equipping spaceships with atomic engines, so astronauts could explore the solar system.

Bezos wrote:

For those of us who dream of visiting the outer planets, seeing Saturn's rings up close without intermediation of telescopes or charge-coupled devices, well, we pretty much *have* to read Project Orion. ...

This was not pie-in-the-sky optimism; they had strong technical reasons for believing they could do it. 

Review #5: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Another book; this one a sci-fi novel by Cory Doctorow. Bezos gave it a glowing review on January 22, 2003:

In this fun, fast book, the clearly talented Cory Doctorow explores a full-on reputation economy. With the help of a sophisticated, real-time network, people accumulate and lose a reputation currency called "whuffie." ...

Cory Doctorow deserves much whuffie for this novel. Highly recommended.

Are you ready for the ironic plot twist? Here's Cory Doctorow, on Twitter, 17 years later (so last April), lamenting several things Amazon has done, to the point that, "its reputation has cratered."

Doctorow's thread runs 10 tweets, so I won't include the whole thing here, but wow.

Review #6: Milk

Yep, milk. Specifically, Tuscan Dairy Whole Vitamin D. Bezos wrote:

"I love milk so much that I've been drinking it since the day I was born.”

I was stymied trying to figure this one out until a series of 2006 news articles solved the mystery. The Amazon listing was the subject of a digitally crowd-sourced prank, with people choosing the random listing, and leaving glowing reviews just for the heck of it.

Turns out, Bezos has an absurdist streak too, and likes to be in on the joke. But as of this writing, only 31 people have ever found his review, "helpful." 

Anyone want to review Bezos’s reviews? Or else, review my review of his reviews? Let us know in the comments.

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7 other things worth your time

  • More Bezos news: After Blue Origin lost out to SpaceX on a $2.9 billion contract to build a lunar lander, Blue Origin appealed. Now, apparently Sen. Bernie Sanders has stepped in, trying to scuttle Blue Origin’s chances, with an amendment to the NASA appropriations bill officially designed to “eliminate the multi-billion dollar Bezos Bailout.”

  • It turns out the Florida law prohibiting social media companies from “de-platforming” people has a bizarre loophole: It doesn’t apply to any company that owns a theme park in Florida. Real question: Would it be cheaper for Jack Dorsey just to open Twitterland in the Panhandle than to bother fighting this thing? (Business Insider, $)

  • Actor John Cena is apologizing to Chinese fans after referring to Taiwan as a “country,” as opposed to being part of China. Don’t get me started on this; we won’t have time to finish. But the fascinating part, and why I’m including it, is that Cena made his apology in what looks and sounds like pretty good Mandarin Chinese. He apparently started studying the language in 2016, when he would have been 39. (Mediaite)

  • Airbnb is rolling out 100 new features that let you do things like search for places to rent without specifying a destination or even dates. Why? To take advantage of the “work from anywhere” trend, with travelers who want a change of scenery but don’t actually know exactly where they want to go. (Quartz)

  • “New York prosecutors have convened a special grand jury to consider evidence in a criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump’s business dealings … The development signals that the Manhattan district attorney’s office was moving toward seeking charges as a result of its two-year investigation, which included a lengthy legal battle to obtain Trump’s tax records.” (AP)

  • Half of all Americans are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Meanwhile, Moderna now claims its vaccine is “safe and appears effective” for teens. (NPR)

  • Leading indicator of the day: Rent the Runway memberships are up 92 percent from their record low last year. “As quarantines have lifted, so have hemlines.” (NYT, $)

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Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson on Flickr. A version of today’s newsletter previously ran on Inc.com. (Lots going on yesterday and today.) Want to see all my mistakes? Click here

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