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Jeff Bezos's recommended reading: A Wrinkle in Time

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Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos
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Jeff Bezos Interview

Founder and CEO,

May 4, 2001
San Antonio, Texas

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  Jeff Bezos

We understand you were born in Albuquerque. Did you grow up there?

Jeff Bezos: No, I left Albuquerque when I was about four. We moved to Houston, Texas.

What was it like for you growing up?

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Jeff Bezos: Well, I had what I considered to be an idyllic childhood. I mean, I had two parents who loved me incredibly. I also had a tremendous amount of contact with my grandparents -- my mom's parents. In fact, I spent all my summers on my grandfather's ranch not far from where we're sitting right now, not far from San Antonio. And, I spent three months every year from the age of four to the age of 16 working on the ranch with my grandfather, which was just an incredible, incredible experience. Ranchers -- and anybody I think who works in rural areas -- they learn how to be very self-reliant, and whether they're farmers, whatever it is they're doing, they have to rely on themselves for a lot of things. My grandfather did sort of all of his own veterinary care on the cattle. We would, you know, repair the D-6 Caterpillar bulldozer when it broke, and it had gears this big, you know. We would build cranes to lift the gears out. This is just a very common sort of thing that folks in far away places do. I think it was a great experience.

How come you didn't grow up to be a cowboy?

Jeff Bezos: There's a little bit of that in me, I think. I remember the very first occupation I wanted to be -- when, I think, I was about six years old -- was an archeologist. I would like to point out this was before Indiana Jones. It's a point of pride. Then I wanted to be an astronaut. By the time I was in my high school years, I wanted to be a physicist and then by the time I got to college I wanted to be a computer programmer. That's actually what I studied in school and that's what has led me along the path I'm on.

Did you have heroes or role models when you were growing up?

Jeff Bezos: I did. I had some family role models. Certainly my grandfather was a serious role model for me. I think you learn different things from grandparents than you learn from parents. It's great. I would encourage anybody to try to spend time not only with their parents but with their grandparents. I had some historical role models that I looked at, too. Two people I always would read about were Thomas Edison and Walt Disney. Those were sort of my two biographical heroes.

Why Edison and Disney?

Jeff Bezos Interview Photo
Jeff Bezos: I've always been interested in inventors and invention. Edison, of course, for a little kid and probably for adults, too, is not only the symbol of that but the actual fact of that -- the incredible inventor. I've always felt that there's a certain kind of important pioneering that goes on from an inventor like Thomas Edison. Disney was a different sort of thing. He was also a real pioneer and an inventor, doing new things. It seemed to me that he had this incredible capability to create a vision that he could get a large number of people to share. Things that Disney invented, like Disneyland, the theme parks, they were such big visions that no single individual could ever pull them off, unlike a lot of the things that Edison worked on. Walt Disney really was able to get a big team of people working in a concerted direction.

What kind of a student were you as a kid?

Jeff Bezos: I was a very nerdy and good student. I was in the "goody goody" class of students and was working hard, studying. I always did my homework on time. I was a good student. I liked school.

Did you ever get into trouble?

Jeff Bezos: Very rarely. The things I got into trouble on were like I lost my library privileges one time -- which was really inconvenient for me -- for laughing too loudly in the library. I've had this laugh all my life. I have no idea where it came from. There was a period where my brother and sister wouldn't go see a movie with me. It was too embarrassing. I was probably unnaturally on the side of not getting in trouble. By the time I was in high school we did some prank type things, but they were the kind of pranks that at the end of the day the teachers actually secretly loved.

Are there any books you remember being important to you when you were growing up?

Jeff Bezos: At different ages, lots of different books.

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I remember in fourth grade we had this wonderful contest which was -- the people in the class, whoever -- there was some prize -- I can't even remember what it was -- whoever could read the most Newbery Award winners in a year and I read through -- I didn't end up winning. You know, I think I read like 30 Newbery Award winners that year, but somebody else read more. The standout there is the old classic that I think so many people have read and enjoyed, A Wrinkle in Time, and I just remember loving that book. I was always a big fan of science fiction, even from when I was, you know, in elementary school reading various things and loved, of course, The Hobbit and Tolkien's trilogy that follows on from that. In this little town where my grandfather lived -- in the summers, where I spent my time in the summer -- had a tiny little Andrew Carnegie-style library where all the books had been donated from the local citizens. And I found --I mean this was a very small library, smaller than the room that we're sitting in now -- but it had an extensive science fiction collection because it just so happened one of the residents of this 3,000-person town had been a science fiction fan, and donated their whole collection. And that started a love affair for me with people like Heinlein and Asimov and all the well-known science fiction authors that persists to this day.

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This page last revised on Apr 17, 2008 12:48 EDT