Having missed Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.com Juggernaut upon its initial release, the paperback release presents a chance to make up for missed opportunities. For those unfamiliar with the tale, author James Marcus was present more or less at the birth and creation of Amazon – his employee number was an enviously low 55 and his email address simply "email@example.com" – and he turns out to have been an acute, insightful and witty observer, well placed to document the rise, fall and subsequent rebirth of the dot commerce giant.
Memoirs have never been a TEV favorite but Marcus is one of those blessed with a subject worth reporting, the early days of e-commerce where everything was new. No idea was too far fetched, no claim too pie-in-the-sky and no stock price too high. Every day was, indeed, Day One, as founder Jeff Bezos was wont to say.
Marcus charts the development of retail giant with a particular focus on his own fiefdom of the world of fiction and literature (though he reports ably on developments in other sectors as well), which moved over time from a hand-built, individualistic and idiosyncratic page to a bot-generated tally of marketing preferences. Marcus' prose is lively, bright and witty when he's not mired in the odd Emersonian digression (mercifully few and far between - why do authors so often feel the need to ennoble their material by forcing lofty parallels onto them?). Despite all that 20/20 hindsight tells us in 2005, you'll find it hard not to get swept along with the enthusiasm of these e-commerce pioneers who spend their first few Amazon Christmases stuffing boxes in the warehouse.
The book's faults are few and minor. The enterprise is afflicted with a mild case of "The Author Doth Protest Too Much" as Marcus goes to great lengths to assure us that he had the personal integrity to resist Amazon's more meretricious initiatives. A related tone of mild self-congratulation creeps in to both his account of his final literature initiative and into his newly added Q&A with dot commerce Kingmaker Henry Blodgett. And just as DVD Director's Cuts prove that more is not necessarily better, the new afterword is somewhat lame, merely retreading the more unfortunate parts of the book – protests, self-congratulations and even a return of Emerson.
However, these complaints are minor and take up the smallest part of this brisk, smart and vivid read that will probably stand – for as long as things stand in the everchanging world of the Internet – as the definitive account of life during the boom. It's a true cautionary tale for the 21st century and deserves a second round of success in its paperback life.