Jeffrey Preston Bezos (/ˈbeɪzoʊs/;[a] born Jorgensen; January 12, 1964) is an American technology entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist, who is best known as the founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer.
Bezos was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico and raised in Houston, Texas. He graduated from Princeton University in 1986 with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. He worked on Wall Street in a variety of related fields from 1986 to early 1994. He founded Amazon in late 1994 on a cross-country road trip from New York City to Seattle. The company began as an online bookstore and has expanded to a variety of products and services, including video and audio streaming. It is currently the world’s largest Internet sales online company, as well as the world’s largest provider of cloud infrastructure services via its Amazon Web Services arm.
Bezos added to his business interests when he founded aerospace company Blue Origin in 2000. A Blue Origin test flight successfully first reached space in 2015 and Blue has plans to begin commercial suborbital human spaceflight as early as late 2018. He purchased The Washington Post in 2013 for US$250 million in cash. Bezos manages other business investments through his venture capital fund, Bezos Expeditions.
On July 27, 2017, he became the world’s wealthiest person when his estimated net worth increased to just over $90 billion. His wealth surpassed $100 billion for the first time on November 24 after Amazon’s share price increased by more than 2.5%. On March 6, 2018, Forbes formally designated Bezos the wealthiest person in the world with a net worth of $112 billion, making him the first centi-billionaire on the wealth index.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Business career
- 2.1 Early career
- 2.2 Amazon
- 2.3 Blue Origin
- 2.4 The Washington Post
- 2.5 Bezos Expeditions
- 3 Public image
- 3.1 Leadership style
- 4 Recognition
- 4.1 Wealth
- 5 Personal life
- 6 Politics
- 7 Philanthropy
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 Sources
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
Early life and education
Jeffrey Preston Jorgensen was born on January 12, 1964, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to a teenage mother, Jacklyn Gise Jorgensen, and father Ted Jorgensen, a bike shop owner and Chicago native. At the time of her son’s birth, Jacklyn was a seventeen-year-old high school student. After Jacklyn divorced Ted, she married Miguel “Mike” Bezos, a Cuban immigrant, in April 1968. Shortly after the wedding, Mike Bezos adopted four-year-old Jorgensen, whose surname was then changed to Bezos. The family moved to Houston, where Mike worked as an engineer for Exxon after he received a degree from the University of New Mexico. Bezos attended River Oaks Elementary School in Houston from fourth to sixth grade.
Bezos was the maternal grandson of Lawrence Preston Gise, a regional director of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in Albuquerque. Gise retired early to his family’s ranch near Cotulla, Texas, where Bezos would spend many summers in his youth. Bezos would later purchase this ranch, and grow it from 25,000 acres (101 km2 or 39 miles2) to 300,000 acres (1,214 km2 or 468 miles2). His maternal grandmother was Mattie Louise Gise (née Strait), through whom he is a cousin of country singer George Strait.
Bezos often displayed scientific interests and technological proficiency; he once rigged an electric alarm to keep his younger siblings out of his room. The family moved to Miami, Florida, where he attended Miami Palmetto High School. While Bezos was in high school, he worked at McDonald’s as a short-order line cook during the breakfast shift. He attended the Student Science Training Program at the University of Florida where he received a Silver Knight Award in 1982. He was high school valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar. In 1986, he graduated from Princeton University with a 4.2 grade point average and Bachelor of Science degrees in electrical engineering and computer science and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. While at Princeton, he was also elected to Tau Beta Pi and was the president of the Princeton chapter of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.
After Bezos graduated from Princeton in 1987, he was offered jobs at Intel, Bell Labs, and Andersen Consulting, among others. He first worked at Fitel, a financial telecommunications start-up, where he was tasked with building a network for international trade. Bezos was promoted to head of development and director of customer service thereafter. He transitioned into the banking industry when he was hired months later as a product manager at Bankers Trust; he worked there from 1988 to 1990. He worked at D. E. Shaw & Co, a newly founded hedge fund, from 1990 to 1994, where he eventually served as its fourth senior vice president at the age of 30.
Main article: Amazon
Bezos (center) at a cooperative for robotics in 2005
In late 1993, Bezos decided to start an online bookstore. He left his job at D. E. Shaw and founded Amazon in his garage on July 5, 1994, after writing up its business plan on a trip from New York to Seattle. Bezos named his new company “Amazon” after the Amazon River in South America, in part because the name begins with the letter “A,” which is at the beginning of the alphabet. He accepted an estimated $300,000 from his parents and invested in Amazon. He warned many early investors that there was a 70% chance that Amazon would fail or go bankrupt. Although Amazon was originally an online bookstore, Bezos had always planned to expand to other products. Three years after Bezos founded Amazon, he moved to take it public with an initial public offering (IPO). In response to critical reports from Fortune and Barron’s, Bezos maintained that the growth of the Internet would overtake market competition from larger book retailers such as Borders and Barnes & Noble.
Bezos with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014
Bezos receives the James Smithson Bicentennial medal in 2016 for his work with Amazon.
In 1998, Bezos advocated for enterprise diversification when he initiated the online sale of music and video; by the end of the year, he had also expanded the company’s products to include a variety of consumer goods. Bezos used the $54 million raised during the company’s equity offering to finance aggressive acquisition of smaller or competing firms. In 2002, Bezos led Amazon to launch Amazon Web Services, which compiled data from weather channels and website traffic. During late 2002, rapid spending from Amazon caused it financial distress after revenues stagnated. Bezos borrowed $2 billion from select banks with only $350 million in holdings. After the company nearly went bankrupt, he closed distribution centers and laid off 14% of the Amazon workforce. In 2003, Amazon rebounded from financial instability and turned a profit of $400 million. In November 2007, Bezos launched the Amazon Kindle. According to a 2008 Time profile, Bezos wished to create the same flow state found in video game simulations in books; he wished readers would fully engage with books. In 2013, Bezos secured a $600 million dollar contract with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on behalf of Amazon Web Services. In October that year, Amazon was named as the largest online shopping retailer in the world.
On Saturday, August 15, 2015, The New York Times published an article that described Amazon’s business practices. Bezos responded to his employees with a Sunday memo, in which he rebutted the article’s inferences that the company was an emotionally destitute workplace. Bezos said that anyone who believed that the story was true should contact him directly. In May 2016, Bezos sold slightly more than one million shares of his holdings in the company for $671 million, making it the largest amount of money he had ever raised in a sale of his Amazon holdings.
On August 4, 2016, Bezos sold another million of his shares at a value of $756.7 million. A year later, Bezos took on 130,000 new employess when he initiated widespread hiring sprees across company distribution centers. On January 19, 2018, his holdings in Amazon stock appreciated to slightly over $109 billion; months later he began to sell stock to raise cash for other enterprises, in particular, Blue Origin. On January 29, 2018, he was featured in Amazon’s Super Bowl commercial. On February 1, 2018, Amazon reported its highest ever profit with quarterly earnings of $2 billion. Due to the proliferation of Alibaba in China, Bezos has continuously expressed interest in expanding Amazon across India.
In March 2018, Bezos dispatched Amit Agarwal, Amazon’s point person, to the country, with $5.5 billion to localize operations throughout their supply chain routes. Later in the month, U.S. President Donald Trump accused Amazon–and Bezos in particular–of sales tax avoidance, misusing postal routes, and anti-competitive business practices. Amazon’s share price fell by 9% in response to the president’s negative comments; this reduced Bezos’s personal wealth by $10.7 billion. Weeks later, Bezos recuperated his losses when academic reports out of Stanford University indicated that Trump could do little to meaningfully regulate Amazon in the near-to-long term future.
Main article: Blue Origin
Bezos giving NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver (fourth from left) a tour of Blue Origin’s crew capsule in 2011.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter meets with Bezos in 2016 at The Pentagon.
In September 2000, Bezos founded Blue Origin, a human spaceflight startup company. Bezos has long expressed an interest in space travel and the development of human life in the solar system. He was the valedictorian when he graduated from high school in 1982. His speech was followed up with a Miami Herald interview in which he expressed an interest to build and develop hotels, amusement parks, and colonies for human beings who were in orbit. The 18-year-old Bezos stated that he wanted to preserve Earth from overuse through resource depletion.
After its founding, Blue Origin maintained a low profile until 2006, when it purchased a large tract of land in West Texas for a launch and test facility. After the company gained the public’s attention during the late 2000s, Bezos additionally indicated his interest in reducing the cost of space travel for humans while also increasing the safety of extraterrestrial travel. In September 2011, one of the company’s unmanned prototype vehicles crashed during a short-hop test flight. Although the crash was viewed as a setback, news outlets noted how far the company went from its founding-to-date in advancing spaceflight. In May 2013, Bezos met with Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Galactic, in 2013 to discuss commercial spaceflight opportunities and strategies. He has been compared to Branson and Elon Musk as all three are billionaires who prioritize spaceflight among their business interests.
In 2015, Bezos announced that a new orbital launch vehicle was under development and would make its first flight in the late-2010s. Later in November, Blue Origin’s New Shepard space vehicle successfully rocketed into space and reached its planned test altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) before executing a vertical landing back at the launch site in West Texas. In 2016, Bezos allowed select journalists to visit, tour, and photograph his facility. He has repeatedly called for increased inter-space energy and industrial manufacturing to decrease the negative costs associated with business-related pollution.
In December 2017, New Shepard successfully flew and landed dummy passengers, amending and pushing its human space travel start date into late 2018. To execute this program, Blue Origin built six of the vehicles to support all phases of testing and operations: no-passenger test flights, flights with test passengers, and commercial-passenger weekly operations. Since 2016, Bezos has spoken more freely about his hopes to colonize the solar system, and has been selling $1 billion in Amazon stock each year to capitalize Blue Origin in an effort to support this endeavor. In May 2018, Bezos maintained that the primary goal of Blue Origin is to preserve the natural resources of Earth by making the human species multi-planetary. He announced that New Shepard would begin transporting humans into sub-orbital space by November 2018.
The Washington Post
On August 5, 2013, Bezos announced his purchase of The Washington Post for $250 million in cash. In order to execute the sale, he established Nash Holdings, a limited liability holding company that legally owns the paper. The sale closed on October 1, 2013, and Nash Holdings took control. In March 2014, Bezos made his first significant change at The Washington Post and lifted the online paywall for subscribers of a number of U.S. local newspapers in Texas, Hawaii, and Minnesota. In January 2016, Bezos set out to reinvent the newspaper as a media and technology company by reconstructing its digital media, mobile platforms, and analytics software. Throughout the early years of ownership, Bezos was accused of having a potential conflict of interest with the paper. Bezos and the newspaper’s editorial board have dismissed accusations that he unfairly controlled the paper’s content and Bezos maintains the paper’s independence. After a surge in online readership in 2016, the paper was profitable for the first time since Bezos made the purchase in 2013.
Bezos makes personal investments through his venture capital vehicle, Bezos Expeditions. He was one of the first shareholders in Google, when he invested $250,000 in 1998. That $250,000 investment resulted in 3.3 million shares of Google stock, worth about $3.1 billion in 2017. He also invested in Unity Biotechnology, a life-extension research firm hoping to slow or stop the process of aging. Bezos is involved in the healthcare sector, which includes investments in Unity Biotechnology, Grail, Juno Therapeutics, and ZocDoc. In January 2018, an announcement was made concerning Bezos’s role within a new, unnamed healthcare company. This venture is expected to be a partnership between Amazon, JPMorgan, and Berkshire Hathaway.
Thierry Ehrmann’s “Jeff Bezos” on the Abode of Chaos in Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d’Or, France, 2017
Journalist Nellie Bowles of The New York Times has described the public persona and personality of Bezos as that of “a brilliant but mysterious and coldblooded corporate titan”. During the 1990s, Bezos earned a reputation for relentlessly pushing Amazon forward, often at the expense of public charity and social welfare. His business practices projected a public image of prudence and parsimony with his own wealth and that of Amazon’s. Bezos was a multi-billionaire who hung his clothes on a rack in his Amazon headquarters office and drove a 1996 Honda Accord. Throughout the early 2000s, he was perceived to be geeky or nerdy, often wearing ill-fitting clothing and making a variety of social missteps.
Bezos was seen by the public as needlessly quantitative and data-driven. This perception was detailed by Alan Deutschman who described him as “talking in lists” and “[enumerating] the criteria, in order of importance, for every decision he has made.” Select accounts of his persona have drawn controversy and public attention. Notably, journalist Brad Stone wrote an unauthorized book that described Bezos as a demanding boss as well as hyper-competitive. Studies involving former Amazon employees have noted interactions with Bezos as Darwinian in nature but praised the dynamic for maintaining a well-run company. Bezos has been stereotyped as a notoriously opportunistic CEO who operates with little concern for obstacles and externalities. This depiction has been challenged by Bezos himself, his wife, Amazon employees, and the public as a mischaracterization.
During the early 2010s, Bezos solidified his reputation for imperialistic business practices, and his public image began to shift. Bezos started to wear tailored clothing; he weight trained, pursued a regimented diet and began to freely spend his money. His physical transformation has been compared to the transformation of Amazon; he is often referred to as the metonym of the company. His physical appearance increased the public’s perception of him as a symbolically dominant figure in business and in popular culture, wherein he has been parodied as an enterprising super villain. Bezos eats exotic foods, such as breakfast octopus and roasted iguana. During the late 2010s, Bezos reversed his reputation for being reluctant to spend money on non-business related expenses. His liberal personal spending and lack of philanthropy has drawn a negative response from the public since 2016.
“Day 1” Management Philosophy
Day 1: start up
Day 2: stasis
Day 3: irrelevance
Day 4: “excruciating, painful decline”
Day 5: death
Bezos has stated “it is always Day 1” to describe his growth mindset.
Bezos used what he called a “regret-minimization framework” while he worked at D. E. Shaw and again during the early years of Amazon. He described this life philosophy by stating: “When I’m 80, am I going to regret leaving Wall Street? No. Will I regret missing the beginning of the Internet? Yes.” During the 1990s and early 2000s at Amazon, he was characterized as trying to quantify all aspects of running the company, often listing employees on spreadsheets and basing executive decisions on data. To push Amazon forward, Bezos developed the mantra “Get Big Fast”, which spoke to the company’s need to scale its operations and establish market dominance. He favored diverting Amazon profits back into the company in lieu of allocating it amongst shareholders in the form of dividends.
Bezos uses the term “work–life harmony” instead of the more standard work–life balance because he believes balance implies that you can have one and not the other. He believes that work and home life are interconnected, informing and calibrating each other. Journalist Walt Mossberg dubbed the idea that someone who cannot tolerate criticism or critique shouldn’t do anything new or interesting, “The Bezos Principle”. Bezos does not schedule early morning meetings and enforces a two pizza rule–a preference for meetings to be small enough to where two pizzas can feed everyone in the board room. He meets with Amazon investors for a total of only six hours a year. Instead of using PowerPoints, Bezos requires high-level employees to present information with six-page narratives. Starting in 1998, Bezos publishes an annual letter for Amazon shareholders wherein he frequently refers to five principles: focus on customers not competitors, take risks for market leadership, facilitate staff morality, build a company culture, and empower people. Bezos maintains the email address “email@example.com” as an outlet for customers to reach out to him and the company. Although he does not respond to the emails, he forwards some of them with a question mark in the subject line to executives who attempt to address the issues. Bezos has cited Warren Buffet (of Berkshire Hathaway), Jamie Dimon (of JPMorgan Chase), and Bob Iger (of Walt Disney) as major influences on his leadership style.
In 1999, Bezos received his first major award when Time named him Person of the Year. In 2008, he was selected by U.S. News & World Report as one of America’s best leaders. Bezos was awarded an honorary doctorate in science and technology from Carnegie Mellon University in 2008. In 2011, The Economist gave Bezos and Gregg Zehr an Innovation Award for the Amazon Kindle. In 2012, Bezos was named Businessperson of the Year by Fortune. He is also a member of the Bilderberg Group and attended the 2011 Bilderberg conference in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and the 2013 conference in Watford, Hertfordshire, England. He was a member of the Executive Committee of The Business Council for 2011 and 2012. In 2014, he was ranked the best-performing CEO in the world by Harvard Business Review.
He has also figured in Fortune’s list of 50 great leaders of the world for three straight years, topping the list in 2015. In September 2016, Bezos received a $250,000 prize for winning the Heinlein Prize for Advances in Space Commercialization, which he donated to the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. In February 2018, Bezos was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for “leadership and innovation in space exploration, autonomous systems, and building a commercial pathway for human space flight”. In March 2018, he was awarded the Buzz Aldrin Space Exploration Award in recognition of his work with Blue Origin. He received Germany’s 2018 Axel Springer Award 2018 for Business Innovation and Social Responsibility. Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in their 2018 listing.
Bezos first became a millionaire in 1997 after raising $54 million through Amazon’s initial public offering (IPO). He was first included on Forbes The World’s Billionaires list in 1999 with a registered net worth of $10.1 billion. His net worth decreased to $6.1 billion a year later, a 40.5% drop. His wealth plummeted even more the following year, dropping 66.6% to $2.0 billion. He lost $500 million the following year, which brought his net worth down to $1.5 billion. The following year, his net worth increased by 104% to $2.5 billion. From 2005 to 2007, he quadrupled his net worth to $8.7 billion. After the financial crisis and succeeding economic recession, his net worth would erode $6.8 billion—a 17.7% drop. His wealth rose by 85.2% in 2010, leaving him with $12.6 billion. This percentage increase ascended him to the 43rd spot on the ranking from 68th.
After a rumor broke out that Amazon was developing a smartphone, Bezos’s net worth rose to $30.5 billion in 2014. A year later, Bezos entered the top ten when he increased his net worth to a total of $50.3 billion. Bezos rose to be the 5th richest person in the world hours before market close; he gained $7 billion in one hour. By the time the Forbes list was calculated in March 2016, his net worth was registered at $45.2 billion. However, just months later in October 2016, his wealth increased by $16.2 billion to $66.5 billion unofficially ranking him the third richest person in the world behind Warren Buffett. After sporadic jumps in Amazon’s share price, in July 2017 he briefly unseated Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates as the wealthiest person in the world.
The net worth of Jeff Bezos from 1999 to 2018 as estimated by Forbes magazine, in the nominal U.S. dollar. His net worth is calculated in the billions by March of each year.
Bezos would continue to sporadically surpass Gates throughout the month of October 2017 after Amazon’s share price fluctuated. His net worth surpassed $100 billion for the first time on November 24, 2017, after Amazon’s share price increased by more than 2.5%. When the 2017 list was issued, Bezos’s net worth was registered at $72.8 billion, adding $27.6 billion from the previous year. Bezos was officially ranked as the third wealthiest person in the world up from the 5th spot in 2016. His wealth’s rapid growth from 2016 to 2017 sparked a variety of assessments about how much money Bezos earned on a controlled, reduced time scale. On October 10, 2017, he made an estimated $6.24 billion in 5 minutes, slightly less than the entire economic output of Kyrgyzstan.
On March 6, 2018, Bezos was officially designated the wealthiest person in the world with a registered net worth of $112 billion. He unseated Bill Gates ($90 billion) who was $6 billion ahead of Warren Buffett ($84 billion), ranked third. He is considered the first registered centi-billionaire (not adjusted for inflation).[c]
His wealth, in 2017–18 terms, equaled that of 2.7 million Americans. Bezos’s net worth increased by $33.6 billion from January 2017 to January 2018. This increase outstripped the economic development (in GDP terms) of more than 96 countries around the world. During March 9, Bezos earned $230,000 every 60-seconds. The Motley Fool estimated that if Bezos had not sold any of his shares from its original public offering in 1997, his net worth would sit at $181 billion in 2018.
In 1992, Bezos was working for D. E. Shaw in Manhattan when he met novelist MacKenzie Tuttle. MacKenzie was a research associate at the firm and they married a year later. In 1994, they moved across the country to Seattle, Washington, where Bezos founded Amazon. He and his wife are the parents of four children: three sons, and one daughter adopted from China.
In March 2003, Bezos was one of three passengers in a helicopter that crashed in West Texas after the craft’s tail boom hit a tree. Bezos sustained minor injuries and was discharged from a local hospital the same day.
In 2016, Bezos played a Starfleet official in the movie Star Trek Beyond, and joined the cast and crew at a San Diego Comic-Con screening.
According to public campaign finance records, Bezos supported the electoral campaigns of Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, two Democratic U.S. Senators from Washington. He has also supported U.S. representative John Conyers, as well as Patrick Leahy and Spencer Abraham, U.S. Senators serving on committees dealing with Internet-related issues. He is an advocate of the LGBTQ movement and supported the legalization of same-sex marriage. Bezos donated $100,000 towards a movement against a higher Washington state income tax in 2010. In 2012, he donated to Amazon’s political action committee (PAC), which has given $56,000 and $74,500 to Democrats and Republicans, respectively.
After the 2016 presidential election, Bezos was invited to join Donald Trump’s Defense Innovation Board, an advisory council to improve the technology used by the Defense Department. Bezos declined the offer without further comment. Trump has alluded to potential conflicts of interest between Bezos’s business interests. He accused Bezos of avoiding corporate taxes, gaining undue political influence, and undermining his presidency by spreading fake news. Bezos has repeatedly joked about using his rocket company to send Donald Trump into outer space.
In March 2018, Bezos met in Seattle with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, to discuss investment opportunities for Saudi Vision 2030.
Bezos funded the retrieval of this F-1 Engine from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in 2015.
Bezos supports his philanthropic efforts through direct donations, non-profit projects funded by Bezos Expeditions, and other charitable organizations. Through Bezos Expeditions, he has funded the Bezos Center for Innovation at the Seattle Museum of History and Industry for $10 million and Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics at Princeton Neuroscience Institute for $15 million. He personally donated $10 million in 2009 and $20 million in 2010 to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He also donated $800,000 to Worldreader, a non-profit, founded by a former Amazon employee.
In 2015, he funded the recovery of two Saturn V first-stage Rocketdyne F-1 engines from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. They were positively identified as belonging to the Apollo 11 mission’s S-1C stage in July 2013. The engine is currently on display at the Seattle Museum of Flight.
On June 15, 2017, he sent a message on Twitter asking for ideas for philanthropy: “I’m thinking about a philanthropy strategy that is the opposite of how I mostly spend my time—working on the long term”. On May 23, 2017, he gave $1 million to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the largest single gift received by the organization. The committee provides pro bono legal services to protect the rights of American journalists.
In January 2018, he made a $33 million donation to TheDream.US, a college scholarship fund for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were minors.
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- Robinson, Tom (2010). Jeff Bezos: Amazon.com Architect. ABDO Publishing. ISBN 9781604537598.
- Döpfner, Mathias S. (March 28, 2018). Jeff Bezos reveals what it’s like to build an empire. Business Insider. Retrieved April 29, 2018.
- Wofford, Ben (April 22, 2018). Inside Jeff Bezos’s Washington D.C. Life. Washingtonian. Retrieved April 29, 2018.
- Wingfield, Nick (January 12, 2018). Jeff Bezos, Mr. Amazon, Steps Out. The New York Times. Retrieved April 29, 2018.
- Boyle, Alan (May 29, 2018). Jeff Bezos: ‘We will have to leave this planet … and it’s going to make this planet better’. Geek Wire. Retrieved May 31, 2018.
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