21 Dog Years: doing time at amazon.com
Free Press, 2002 (2002)
Read an Excerpt
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
he personality that comes across in the pages of
21 Dog Years
seems like such a square peg in the round hole of corporate culture that you wonder how he was ever hired. But, according to Mike Daisey, Amazon was explicitly trying to take on '
' in 1998. The author, with his degree in aesthetics and varied (and hilarious) experiences '
delaying adulthood and responsibility
' fit right in.
nd no, he was not an employee of Amazon for 21 years; the adjective in the title is important and there is a lengthy dissertation on
are both recurrent themes in the book. The '
temporal caste system
' (based on how early on you were hired) reminded me of the temporal promotion system in the British navy described in C.S. Forester's
series. And dogs apparently '
roamed up and down the hallways in packs
' at the BizDev building where the author did some of his time.
aisey describes his seduction into a stock option driven startup, which worshipped its founder and guru, Jeff Bezos - the latter, of course, being expected to bring home the bacon of extreme wealth to employees. Some elements will be familiar to anyone who has worked for a large corporation. Others are unique to the
smoke and mirrors
dot.com era and specifically to Amazon, where '
no one would ever see your face
'; Dickensian '
' was in vogue; and pride was taken in the fact that desks were built out of doors.
ince the author performs a one-man show on the book's topic, it's not surprising that it occasionally shocks the reader into gut-level laughter. There is the moment in a fringe theater performance when Daisey '
took a deep breath and did my real job
', descriptions of the lengths to which he was driven as a customer service representative who '
hated the customers
', and the long term effects of '
having weathered the yearly storm of rapacious shoppers
' during Christmas seasons.
nderneath the humor lies serious stuff, some of which comes through in '
letters to Jeff
' interspersed throughout. There is the impact of performance metrics on human dignity; the importance of doing work that you love rather than passing time waiting for the winning lottery ticket; and, of course, the big dot.com question '
Where's the line between irrational exuberance and fraud?
ut mostly the author of
21 Dog Years
will tickle your sense of the ridiculous as he describes both the dot.com era and that time of idealism and naivet9 common to us all when we are young and have the '
delusion of immortality
' of both body and mind.
[ib:Reviewed by David Pitt:
^bc]M]ike Daisey, a self-described dilettante (he graduated from a '
hoity-toity microivy college
' with a bachelor's degree in aesthetics), moved from one job to another. It looked like he would become a professional temp 133 and then came Amazon.com, the Internet book retailer that was making a huge splash in the media (but not much actual money).
aisey took a job in their Customer Service department; later he moved to Business Development, where he was never quite sure exactly what he was supposed to be doing. Eventually he quit the company, even though he loved it. This quirky, lightly entertaining book chronicles his adventures at Amazon, a company that seems to have combined shrewd guesswork, a certain amount of luck, and a near-total lack of common sense and organization into one of the net's few success stories (although, not to harp on it, the company was not making any actual money).
he book is based on a one-man show Daisey began performing in 2001; it opened Off Broadway in May, 2002. I haven't seen the show, but I feel like I have a good sense of it.
is a lively book, filled with improbable but real people, unlikely but genuine events, and a whole lot of witty observations about Amazon, the Internet, and the people who live in the world of computer commerce. I spent half the time laughing, the other half shaking my head in amazement at the things Daisey was telling me.
nlike most of the recent books about dot-coms, which are serious and businesslike to the point of distraction, this one's funny, simply written, and entirely delightful.
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