As the end of this year’s book challenge draws near, I am overwhelmed by the incredible people I’ve discovered while reading through these biographies. It seems fitting this Thanksgiving month to express gratitude for the numerous ways my life is blessed every day because of the talents and sacrifices of people I have never met.
All of the people we’ve read about are flawed. They aren’t perfect, but somehow that truth makes the reality of their contributions even more astounding. Imperfect, fallible humans have done and will continue to do absolutely wonderful and amazing things. It’s a beautiful world.
The focus this month is on business and leadership. Activities surrounding making a living and producing, selling, and buying commodities are ubiquitous; every people in every era in every land engage in business. The impact and influence—both positive and negative—of many titans of business are significant.
We’re all doing business of some kind every day. The successes, failures, triumphs, and mistakes of the giants of industry are highly relevant to our personal business efforts and how we view the efforts of others. If you’re skeptical about that, this reading list will change your mind. Let’s dive in.
The People of the Business World
The business world is filled with interesting, complicated people. We’ll start the reading list with a few icons and then move toward a couple of modern examples of business vision and acumen. There are dozens of great business biographies; it was hard to choose just a few, but these are certainly worth a read.
Ron Chernow, 1998
Ron Chernow is an award-winning biographer. He brings all his research and storytelling talents to this book that chronicles the life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., the first billionaire. Chernow obtained unrestricted access to all of Rockefeller’s papers, making Titan a comprehensive portrait of a business legend.
At one point, Rockefeller’s Standard Oil was responsible for nearly 90% of all the oil produced in the United States. Did he get there using unscrupulous tactics, as many contend? Was Rockefeller simply cold-blooded and heartless, or is the whole picture more nuanced? Ron Chernow tackles the stereotype and tells the story of a man and a time that changed American history. You are guaranteed to learn something new in this brilliant biography.
David Nasaw, 2006
Andrew Carnegie is the founder of Carnegie Steel and is considered one of the most influential people in business and philanthropists in US history. His rags-to-riches story is a page-turner; he started as a bobbin boy in a cotton factory and worked himself up to be the richest man in the world.
And then he gave it all away. Author David Nasaw uses his considerable skills to give readers insight into a remarkable man and give him a place in the context of his time and place in history.
T.J. Stiles, 2009
What do you know about Cornelius Vanderbilt? His is a familiar name, but his story is often untold as it’s not altogether pretty. Vanderbilt made his vast fortune in steamboats and railroads and then spent it on drinking and many other vices. Unlike Carnegie, Vanderbilt did not give to charity; he did not leave much money to his children.
This biography tells the whole story – the highs and lows – of a business tycoon who was born when George Washington was president and grew up to revolutionize transportation, drive the Gold Rush, shape Manhattan into a center of finance, and put a decidedly negative spin on what it means to be a business tycoon.
Michael Barrier, 2007
The conversation about Walt Disney tends to extremes; he’s portrayed as either rosy and blemish-free or a monster. Biographer Barrier does neither and instead gives an honest picture of a man with talent, ambition, and vision – a vision that continues to captivate us today.
Disney was an artist and an entrepreneur, which resonates with many of us. This book illustrates how Disney used his imagination and ambition to create sympathetic cartoon characters, tap into the potential of television, and turn a small backyard railroad into Disneyland.
iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It
Steve Wozniak, Gina Smith, 2006
In 1975, Steve Wozniak, a young engineer, had a crazy idea: what if he could connect computer circuitry to a regular video screen and a typewriter? Computers in the early 70s were large, cryptic, and unwieldy; they were far from anything people would or could use at home.
But Wozniak’s idea changed all that; the result was the Apple I, the first “personal computer” that anyone could figure out how to use that would fit into anyone’s home or office. And then everything changed.
iWoz is Wozniak’s story. This book is the perfect companion if you read about Steve Jobs a few months ago. It took both these men to build Apple, and you’ll understand why when you read this book.
Zack O’Malley Greenburg, 2011
There’s more than one way to the top of the corporate ladder, and Jay-Z’s story is proof. He learned business basics on the streets of Brooklyn as a drug dealer. How did that restless kid become the prolific lifestyle brand he is today?
You can listen to his music, wear his cologne, sport his sneakers, cheer for his basketball team, and eat at his restaurant – and that’s just a sampling of his many enterprises. This book is the true story of Jay-Z and how he rose to be a business leader. What does he have in common with the other tycoons on our list? A lot, as you’ll discover when digging into these books.
Phil Knight, 2016
Swoosh. It’s a logo that sets the standard for athletic wear and is recognized worldwide. Phil Knight is the man behind the swoosh, and this memoir is his account of how he created an icon.
It started in 1963 with $50, borrowed from his dad, and a single shipment of high-quality, inexpensive Japanese running shoes. Today, Nike’s sales soar over $30 billion annually. This is the first time Knight’s personal story has been told, and it’s a bestseller. This memoir is funny, well-written, humble, and informative. It’s about ideas, relationships, risks, and persistence. It’s about business and what it takes to be great.
The Ideas that Shape the World of Business
What does it take to be great in business? Are there leadership lessons we can use to improve our ability to achieve personal goals and attain success on a smaller scale? If you’re trying to manage staff at work, a family, or just yourself, these books might contain the secrets to your success.
Andrew S. Grove, 1988
Andrew Grove is considered one of the great business leaders, and he shares his strategies and skills in this book about identifying and leveraging change. Change happens to everyone; most of the time, it happens fast. Learning to navigate these moments that Grove calls Strategic Inflection Points (SIPs), is essential to avoiding disaster.
He shares the lessons he learned from significant SIPs in his industry. The result is a leadership lesson filled with solid strategies anyone facing change can use.
Ed Catmull, 2014
This New York Times bestseller is about the relationship between creativity and leadership in business. It’s the story of Pixar Animation and the leadership and management strategies they use to protect and nurture the creativity and imagination critical to every film they produce.
Pixar’s success is unimpeachable. Delightful storytelling, inventive plots, and genuine emotion define each Pixar project. But getting those results while being profitable is the real business story. Their philosophies that foster both sound business and creativity include the following:
- Managers don’t prevent risks; they make it safe for their team to take risks.
- Preventing errors sometimes costs more than fixing them.
- Mediocre teams can screw up great ideas, while great teams can bring mediocre ideas to life.
These principles, as well as many others, will help you get the most from your team and yourself, regardless of your business.
Stephen R. Covey, Jim Collins, 1988
7 Habits is quite possibly the most famous leadership book of its kind. It continues to be widely read and relevant more than 30 years after its original publication. This edition will help you understand the 7 Habits model more deeply and implement it in every aspect of your life. This book is a must-read if you want to be more effective at work and at home.
Take Another Look at Business and Leadership
You don’t have to be a CEO or entrepreneur to appreciate the values of innovation, hard work, creativity, and persistence. We’re all in the business of business every day. These books about business giants and principles of good leadership (and bad) can help us do our own things better. Common themes woven through these stories will inform how we respond to our own successes and failures to keep on working and growing.
Life is complicated and reading great books gives us the opportunity to relish the splendor of the complexity. You’ll find these and other books about business leaders and ideas at Discover Books. With low prices and free shipping available, you can add all these titles and more to your cart today.