Summary: One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com by Richard L. Brandt

Summary: One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com by Richard L. Brandt

Quick summary and verdict

One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon is a brief overview of Jeff Bezos’s life and the founding and explosion of Amazon into one of the world’s most valuable companies.

It charts Bezos’s rise from nerdy school kid, to Princeton graduate, to Wall Street wunderkind, to founding and growing Amazon into the behemoth it is today. 

Author Richard L. Brandt didn’t get access to Bezos for the book and it appears he used a lot of publicly available content for his source material. This means there isn’t a lot new or revolutionary in the book. It was also published in 2011, which leads to a lot of the content being dated.

If you are very interested in a quick overview of Amazon, this is worth reading. Otherwise, there are better alternatives out there.

Extended summary

Richard L. Brandt details the life of Jeff Bezos as well as the birth and explosive growth of Amazon into one of the largest companies in the world in his book One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.

This is a short book that is intended to be an overview of the history of Amazon and Bezos that hits on all the key points but does not cover them in any detail. Published in 2011, it clearly missed everything that has happened in the last decade plus. 

However, Brandt doesn’t cover the 20 years prior in great detail either in the 224 pages of One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.

The book can be split into three main sections:

  1. Short history of Jeff Bezos
  2. Early days of e-commerce and solving the problems it threw up
  3. Where is Bezos taking Amazon next

Section one is the short history of Jeff Bezos. This is a short history for a reason. Jeff Bezos is a famously private person who tries to keep his personal life and information out of the public eye.

Bezos was largely successful in this up until 2019 when his divorce became huge news in the gossip and entertainment columns. In 2011, when this book was published, there was very little detail of Bezos’s early life other than fairly mundane and superficial information. That’s what we get in this book – a brief biography of the type you might find on a corporate website.

When he was young, Jeff Bezos’s parents divorced and his dad took off. His mum met and married a Cuban immigrant called Mike Bezos. He would go on to play an impotent role in Bezos’s life and acted like a real father figure to him – hence why Jeff Bezos retains his step-father’s name to this day.

This may sound like a “rags to riches” story of a poor boy from a broken home made good. But, Bezos actually came from quite a well-off family. His grandfather was a rocket scientist. He eventually ended up becoming a regional director at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His adopted father, Mike Bezos, was an engineer with Exxon. So Bezos had a pretty comfortable life growing up.

In school, Bezos was a bit of a nerd. But it was clear he wasn’t just a socially awkward nerd, he was also incredibly intelligent. In school, he won a number of awards for maths and science.

After high school, Bezos went to Princeton – one of the best universities in the country – to study for a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree (BSE) in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. This laid the foundation for his technical knowledge when it came time to launch Amazon. While many think of Bezos as a strategic businessman, they often overlook that he understands the technical aspects as well which was important to his success at the time. Bezos was clearly extremely competent, graduating with a 4.2-grade point average (GPA).

With such a valuable degree, Bezos had no problems finding a job out of college. He initially started working at a telecommunications start-up and rose the ranks pretty quickly to become Head of Development and Customer Service Director – foreshadowing his insistence on the importance of customer service. 

After two years he moved to Wall Street. Woking in a number of jobs in banks and hedge funds. This is where he saw the efficiency of traders who were able to trade using computers. Wherever Bezos went, he was a success. He was successful before Amazon, it was just that Amazon took that to a whole new level.

Around the same time, he read an article that the internet was growing at crazy rates – 2300% a year. This is where Brandt begins to discuss the early days of e-commerce. How were they going to process credit card details online while still keeping the information secure? Were people going to feel safe buying things online?

Bezos and his wife both quit their jobs and drove across the country from New York to Seattle to launch their own internet company that eventually became Amazon. 

This section then tackles the rise of Amazon. Why Bezos chose to start with books when other online sites were trying to sell technical equipment to nerds that were already online, he was trying to target the mass market.

The basis for this section is that Jeff Bezos is an extremely talented person but his success also lies in the fact he is an extremely logical person.

He chose to sell books because it was logical. Then evolved Amazon to do the things other booksellers did, and then to become a publisher. Once he had figured out how to sell one product, he then expanded to different verticals and repeated the trick there until Amazon sold everything.

The final section is where Brandt discusses where Bezos is taking Amazon next. This section has a focus on the Amazon API, the Kindle, and cloud computing with AWS. 

Tone of One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon

The goal of One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon is to be informative. 

It’s a quick, easy read that summarizes the rise of Amazon and Jeff Bezos. Author Richard L. Brandt does not go into too much detail about critical events. This keeps the narrative moving, turning the book into something of a page-turner. 

However, with the lack of depth at times he left the reader wanting more detail and insight.

Generally, Brandt is very positive about Bezos. He discusses how ruthless Bezos can be in business. However, he fails to criticize some of the major business practices that many feel were crucial to the growth of Amazon – such as a cult-like culture in Amazon offices, poor working conditions for warehouse staff, and running at a loss to kill off competitors. 

In fact, this final piece is where Brandt begins to critique Bezos slightly, but even then it is fairly timid.

The whole book is very gentle and friendly towards Jeff Bezos.

Who should read it?

Students

This book is a perfectly compact overview of Bezos and Amazon. It hits all of the major events but doesn’t cover them in too much detail.

Brandt is able to surmise some basic information into Bezos’s mindset, thinking, and psyche. However, the vast majority of this is so typical to billionaire businessmen that it could be copied and pasted from a book about Andrew Carnegie or Bill Gates. Not to say that’s it untrue, just to question if we really know.

For anyone looking for a deep dive into the thinking, thought processes, and planning of how Amazon took over the world –  this is probably not the book you’re looking for.

What do readers say about One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon?

Concise – Quick, insightful read

One Click is a short read, but it is insightful in terms of the overview it gives you of the journey Amazon took from its founding up until 2011 when the book was published.

Readers commented that it was great to get a general overview of Bezos and his life without too many business tips and all the waffle that business books seem to have about key takeaways and what lessons you can learn from what Bezos did.

This isn’t a management textbook. It is a journalist reporting what happened and providing limited analysis about what the different choices Bezos made were, what they meant, and why they were important.

Uninspiring but informational

On the other hand, a number of readers who were expecting an inspirational story looking inside the mind of Jeff Bezos were left disappointed.

Brandt didn’t have any access to Bezos for the book. As such, he was able to do some general reporting work but it was impossible for him to truly understand what Jeff Bezos thought process was when he made certain decisions because Bezos wouldn’t answer his questions.

Mixes solid reporting with stylish writing

In One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon, Richard L. Brandt is able to combine some basic but effective reporting with stylish writing.

The two perhaps go hand in hand. Brandt doesn’t go into too much detail when covering key events throughout the history of Amazon – possibly because he doesn’t have the detail.

This has the positive impact of keeping the narrative moving. What could have been a long and stodgy book, turns into a fast-paced story of the company that can keep the reader engaged.

Lack of primary research

On the flip side, readers complained they were getting nothing new. As mentioned, Jeff Bezos refused to grant Richard L. Brandt access for the book. That means that Brandt was not able to ask Bezos or any current Amazon employees questions for the book while on the record.

Clearly, Bezos would have been the most important person. But it would have also been important for Brandt to have access to senior management who were there when the decisions and conversations were taking place about what direction to take the company in.

It would also have been useful to speak to the senior management who implemented the changes about the challenges they faced while doing it, and any initiatives that had been introduced, failed, and later scrapped.

For some readers, the lack of primary research, as they put it, was a major issue. From their perspective, all of the information in the book was readily available in various interviews of Bezos that are up on YouTube or profiles in various magazines.

In fact, a number of readers complained that the book read like an elongated magazine rather than a book. It was more of a profile than a narrative.

Dated

Richard L. Brandt published One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon in 2011. With over a decade having passed since the book was published, many people felt the book was very dated.

In the age of the internet, things change so quickly that this book was probably starting to be out of date within a year of it being published. So, with more than 10 years having passed, there are a number of crucial parts of Amazon’s business that are not covered by the book.

Since the book was published, Amazon has acquired companies such as GoodReads, Twitch, and WholeFoods.

They’ve released products like the Kindle Fire tablets, and Alexa. Have got into entertainment with Amazon Music and Prime Video.

The book does touch on Amazon Web Services, but since 2011, this has also growing significantly to be a leading player in the space and a key pillar of the Amazon business.

None of this is covered in the book which left many readers disappointed. Brandt also makes a number of proclamations about what direction Amazon will head in. Almost none of the predictions he made have come to fruition. Predicting the future is obviously very difficult, especially when the rate of change is so high. However, these wild predictions (when you look back at them with the benefit of hindsight) somewhat take away from Brandt’s credibility as an authority on the subject.

Should I read One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon?

Positive

  • Concise – Quick, insightful read

Negative

  • Dated
  • Lack of primary research

Probably not. Even though this is a quick-read, there is nothing particularly interesting or revolutionary about it.

It is useful to anyone who wants the basic facts of Amazon and Bezos from when the company was founded up until 2011.

However, on the whole, the content is dated given that the book was published so long ago. And, given the writer was not given access to Jeff Bezos to write the book, there is very little brand new content in there that can’t be found from short interviews on YouTube or magazine profiles elsewhere.