One-Minute Book Reviews

April 15, 2008

James Marcus’s Memoir of His Years at Amazon.com, the Most Entertaining Book About a Business Since ‘Liar’s Poker’

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:26 am
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First, you sign a paper saying that you won’t sue if you go crazy on the job

I ran into the critic James Marcus at a National Book Critics Circle event last month, and he said that he’d launched a literary blog. James has great taste, so I headed to his House of Mirth housemirth.blogspot.com. I learned from it that after he and I served on the NBCC board together, he wrote a memoir of his time as a senior editor at Amazon.com, Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot-Com Juggernaut (New Press, 2004).

James worked for the online bookseller in its infancy, when job descriptions had greater fluidity, so he did more than write reviews for the Amazon site. He wrapped books and pitched in on customer service by answering e-mail queries from shoppers:

I saw a book on television last week, I would read. The one with the red cover. Can you tell me what it’s called?”

James writes from the perspective of a self-described “token humanist” at Amazon, not an MBA who itched to see his picture on the cover of Wired. But Amazonia is still the most entertaining book about a business that I’ve read since Liar’s Poker.

You think the forms you get from your HR department are bad? Before going to work Amazon, James had to sign a 10-page work agreement and, in Amazonia, quotes from its section on job-related stress. “Strip away the legalese and what remains is a fairly colorful stipulation,” he writes. “Namely: if you go crazy on the job, the company won’t pay to patch you up.”
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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