DURING THE JULY 4TH weekend of 1994, while riding in a 1988 Chevy Blazer with his wife at the wheel, a computer engineer named Jeff Bezos laid the groundwork for a retail revolution. Back then, the Internet was an insider's tool, largely limited to government and academic circles. But after months of careful observation of its usage, Bezos envisioned a dramatic expansion of this network, one that would bring it into the daily lives of ordinary people. In the car, he sketched out a business plan for a project that would realize his vision: the Internet, he understood, could boost the efficiency of mail-order businesses, starting with books.