This is a story about a little-noticed window into the mind of Jeff Bezos. It's something that's been hiding in plain sight for more than 20 years.
Because it turns out that Bezos is not only the CEO of Amazon and the wealthiest person in the world--but he's also Amazon's 78,951,609th-ranked reviewer.
There are only six reviews on his profile, all posted between 2000 and 2006. If you've read Bezos's shareholder letters, and seen his interviews, his style will be familiar.
An Amazon spokeswoman confirmed that it was Bezos's own profile and the reviews are his.
Beyond that confirmation, we're left to fill in the context. So, here are the six products Bezos took the time to review, along with excerpts from his commentary, and what I think they tell us about him. The two most recent, #5 and #6, are especially interesting.
1. Wow. A masterpiece.
A little over 21 years ago, Bezos wrote a review for the Oscar-winning, 1997 movie, Life is Beautiful.
"This movie is absolutely all it's cracked up to be," Bezos wrote. "Hysterically funny and simultaneously a tear jerker ... The DVD has dubbed english as an option, but I strongly recommend going with the subtitles."
I can't find any further indication that Bezos has talked about this movie, which was his earliest review. In 2018, he posed for a photo in Miami with a sticker reading, "Life is Beautiful" behind him, but perhaps that's just a coincidence.
However, Bezos is known as a fan of emotional, even 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.
Worth noting: the movie is now available on Prime Video, which didn't even exist until years after Bezos wrote his review.
2. Absolutely the best binoculars I've used
Next up, six months later, Bezos was moved to review a pair of very expensive binoculars. They're still on sale at Amazon for $1,469:
"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 at the time 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.
3. Intense and disciplined
This review almost seems autobiographical. It's about a book called The Proving Ground : The Inside Story of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race.
The publisher says the book book, "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 people. Judging these strong people would inevitably over-simplify the reality of human behavior under life-threatening stress."
Hmmm, I wonder if Bezos happened to know any "intense and disciplined" people whom other people would not be able to judge accurately?
4. They were planning to tour the Solar System
Here, Bezos reviews George Dyson's book, Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship, which was about Dyson's father's project, in the 1950s, to equip spaceships with atomic engines, so human astronauts could explore the solar system.
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.
The younger Dyson was involved with Bezos's Blue Origin, which is now scheduling suborbital flights for tourists, supposedly beginning in July.
(I found a reference to Bezos reviewing Dyson's book in a 2018 profile in Wired, which is what led me to look for his review page in the first place.)
5. A grand idea novel!
In January 2003, Bezos gave a glowing review of Cory Doctorow's sci-fi novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom:
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.
6. Long Time Fan
OK, this last review (meaning the most recent) was for a bottle of milk: Tuscan Dairy Whole Vitamin D, to be specific.
"I love milk so much that I've been drinking it since the day I was born," Bezos wrote.
I was stymied trying to figure out the significance, but fortunately, 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 89 people have ever found his review, "helpful."
(Don't forget the free ebook, Jeff Bezos Regrets Nothing.)