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Culture on Demand: Black is Beautiful
The American Express black card is the ultimate status symbol

Asia Buzz: Should the Net Be Free?
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After Florida's controversial ballot recount, Bush holds a 537-vote lead in the state, which could give him the election

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TIME Person of the Year TIME Asian Newsmaker of the Year TIME Person of the Year

DECEMBER 27, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 25

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Some people must be genetically predisposed to explore the frontiers. As a child, Bezos adored Star Trek, but it is unclear that he ever made a connection back then to his ancestors, people whose role in life was that of risk taker, exploring the unknown. The family can trace its American roots to the turn of the 19th century, when a colorful, 6-ft. 4-in. character named Colonel Robert Hall moved to San Antonio, Texas, from his home in Tennessee. A sepia-toned photo of him is framed in Bezos' living room and shows the man wearing a bizarre outfit stitched together from dozens of different kinds of animal pelts. The settler favored that multicolored garment in later years. "When he walked down the streets of San Antonio, the crowds would part," says Jackie Bezos, Jeff's mother and the family historian.

Her great grandfather, Bernhardt Vesper, acquired a 25,000-acre ranch in Cotulla, in the southern part of the state. Jeff would spend summers there with his grandparents, Lawrence Preston ("Pop") Gise and his wife Mattie Louise Strait (related to country singer George Strait).

Person of the Year:
Jeff Bezos

Asian Newsmaker:
Masayoshi Son owns more of the Net than anyone else--and an empire that may be tomorrow's model

Pop was Jeff's favorite relative. A career government employee, he moved his family to Albuquerque, N.M., where he headed the former Atomic Energy Commission's operations in a seven-state region before retiring to the Cotulla ranch at a relatively early age.

Sri Lanka: Watershed?
A stunning advance by Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers could hurt President Kumaratunga's chances in this week's election and, maybe, bring peace talks
PLUS an update on the Presidential assassination attempt

Online Exclusive: Interview with Ranil Wickramasinghe
The leader of Sri Lanka's United National Party spoke to TIME shortly before the Dec. 21 elections on his plans to end the war against the Tamil Tigers

Pakistan: The Horror, the Horror
As a slaughter of the innocents comes to light, a pained Pakistan searches its soul for explanations

Thailand: Thailand's Scapegoat?
Battling extradition over charges of embezzlement, a financier says he's the fall guy for the 1997 financial crash

1999 Person of the Year: Jeffrey P. Bezos

Why the founder of is our choice for 1999

The background and influences that made Bezos the multi-billion-dollar champion of e-tailing

Inside Amazon's Culture
The inner workings and workers

Amazon's System
How a click of your mouse results in a product on your doorstep

Also Featured
The eBay Revolution
How the online auctioneer triggered a revolution of its own

Auction Nation
Amid the e-clamor of 24-7 auctions, a community is born

Coffee with Pierre
A better world -- that's the dream of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar

Clicks and Bricks
Some companies have successfully combined retailing and e-tailing

Where's Wal-Mart?
What the retail champion must do to become an e-commerce force

Food Fight
The supermarket line could soon disappear. Here's why

Could your refrigerator order milk? Sure, someday

TIME senior writer Margaret Carlson hosts a dinner party featuring food ordered online -- and lives to write about it

Jeff's mother, as smart, headstrong and pioneering as anyone in the clan, married young and gave birth to Jeff on Jan. 12, 1964, when she was 17. The marriage lasted about a year. Jeff has neither memory of nor interest in his biological father. "I've never been curious about him. The only time it comes up is in the doctor's office when I'm asked for my medical history," he says. "I put down that I just don't know. My real father is the guy who raised me."

That guy is Mike Bezos, a Cuban refugee who moved to the U.S. by himself when he was 15 years old, with nothing more than two shirts and a pair of pants. Taken under wing by a Catholic mission, Mike learned English, toiled at many odd jobs and made his way to the University of Albuquerque. While working the night shift as a clerk at a bank, he met Jackie, who was also employed there, and fell in love. They married when Jeff was four.

Jeff was an exceptionally smart child. Fed up with sleeping in a crib, the toddler found a screwdriver and reduced his jail to its component parts. He constantly built models, worked a Radio Shack electronics kit that Pop bought him down to the nubs and endlessly tinkered with stuff. When he was six, his sister Christina was born; a year later, his brother Mark arrived. When the siblings were old enough to get into Jeff's bedroom, he rigged a buzzer to his door that would go off like a burglar alarm. Later, in what his family has come to think of as the "solar-cooker era"--named after a solar microwave he concocted out of an umbrella and aluminum foil--the garage became his laboratory.

In high school in Miami--his father, an engineer with Exxon, moved the family several times--Jeff became the valedictorian. He didn't drink, do drugs or even swear. People liked him anyway. And almost every summer, he headed for his grandfather's ranch in Cotulla. It was the perfect antidote to the brainy world he inhabited the rest of the year. On the ranch he'd ride horses, brand cattle with a lazy g, fix windmills and tool around in a 1962 International Harvester Scout. He helped his grandpa fix a D6 Caterpillar tractor using nothing but a 3-ft.-high stack of mail-order manuals. "You have to have a lot of patience on a ranch in the middle of nowhere," he says.

If you ask him today who his heroes were, he names two: Thomas Edison and Walt Disney. The former was a brilliant innovator and a horrid businessman, the latter a good innovator and a great businessman. It wasn't Disney's movies that impressed Bezos but his theme parks. He went to Disney World six times. "The thing that always amazed me was how powerful his vision was," Bezos says. "He knew exactly what he wanted to build and teamed up with a bunch of really smart people and built it. Everyone thought it wouldn't work, and he had to persuade the banks to lend him $400 million. But he did it."

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