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Book Reviews

The Perfect Store: Inside eBay 

By Adam Cohen

"In THE PERFECT STORE, Adam Cohen has written the definitive history of eBay - a strange and exhilarating tale of the one (maybe the only one) Internet idea that really and truly worked." -Jeffrey Toobin, ABC News

"THE PERFECT STORE is the only book that will never be sold on eBay. Who'd want to give it up? Bravo, Adam Cohen!" 
- Rosie O'Donnell, author of Find Me

By Adam Cohen
Little, Brown and Company 
June 5, 2002
336 pages ISBN: 0-316-15048-7

We've seen the Internet boom and the Internet bust, the insane hype of the start-up culture and the body blows delivered to many of the overvalued companies that sprouted up in Silicon Valley in the mid-1990s. In THE PERFECT STORE: Inside eBay (Little, Brown and Company; June 5, 2002; $25.95), journalist Adam Cohen goes behind the scenes at eBay to give the first all-access account of the rise of the most successful Internet company in history. Combing the far reaches of America, from the Kansas City Airport Hilton for a convention of people who collect antique clothing irons to Lewisburg, PA, where one collector sold a pickle bottle for $44,100, Cohen reaches into the heart of the community of users that has made eBay such an overwhelming success.

Legend has it that when Pierre Omidyar started eBay in his apartment in 1995, he was trying to help his girlfriend find PEZ dispensers. But he also had a bigger idea: to create a perfect marketplace. Armed with the core values of commerce and community, and staffed with employees who shared his vision, Omidyar's experiment expanded rapidly. THE PERFECT STORE chronicles eBay's growth in an engrossing narrative that includes the search for a new CEO, strategic partnerships with AOL, the coast-to-coast road show that preceded eBay's tremendously successful IPO, the twenty-two-hour site outage that could have destroyed the company, and the eventual triumph over larger, better-funded rivals. Now under the leadership of Meg Whitman, arguably the most accomplished female executive in the country, eBay is aiming to hit $3 billion in revenue by 2005. In THE PERFECT STORE, Cohen examines where executives made brilliant moves and where they learned their lessons-most notably, that the community is the cornerstone on which all the company's success is built.

THE PERFECT STORE profiles dozens of quirky characters and landmark auctions. Among them are: 

  • Pongo: One of the earliest stars of the eBay message boards, Pongo ran a small image-hosting business and created elaborate postings built around fellow users. "Pongo" was really a housewife in Alaska who had experienced an extreme case of amnesia-she had completely blocked out the first twenty-six years of her life-but whose original personality shone through on her Web postings. 
  • Rick Gagliano: Rick was a respected but down-on-his-luck Rochester journalist when he discovered a stash of old Playboys and Hustlers at a used-furniture store. When he decided to sell the magazines online, he suddenly found himself with a booming business. 
  • John Freyer: In October 2000 John, a fine arts grad student at the University of Iowa, put all of his possessions up for sale--more than eight hundred items. His can of Chunky Soup sold for $2.75, but no one bid on his $433.66 electric bill. The stunt was intended as performance art, a statement that people too often allowed themselves to be defined by their possessions. From prank kidney auctions to the Million Auction March, a user protest against what was seen as eBay's overly corporate orientation, it is the community of eBay users that has given the company its unmistakable culture.

In THE PERFECT STORE, Adam Cohen provides a fast-paced, enthralling examination of the eBay phenomenon and a road map for anyone interested in how a business can thrive in the Internet Age.


Adam Cohen is on the editorial board of the New York Times. Previously, he was chief technology writer for Time magazine. He is the author, with Elizabeth Taylor, of American Pharoah, an acclaimed biography of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Cohen lives in New York.