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July 18, 2008

News & Opinion: Joe Nocera's Best Business Books Ever

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 9:55 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Joe Nocera is a columnist for The New York Times who writes about big business, and yesterday my inbox was filled with notes pointing me to his blog. His latest post recommends what he believes are the best business books ever. Here is Nocera's list with his commentary:

  • "Liar's Poker," by Michael Lewis (even though I've since become convinced that the anecdote that gives the book its title never happened).
  • "The Devil's Candy," by Julie Salamon. (Greatest dissection of the movie business ever written.)
  • "The Box,", by Marc Levinson. (Hard to believe you can write a great book about the rise and importance of the shipping container, but he pulled it off.)
  • "Indecent Exposure," by David McClintick. (Published in 1982, it single-handedly created the business narrative genre).
  • "The Go-Go Years," by John Brooks. (The best book by the most elegant writer to ever make business his subject.)
  • "The Kingdom and the Power," by Gay Talese. (Yes, the subject is The New York Times, but how can you leave it off any list of great business books?)
  • "Titan," by Ron Chernow. (Chernow's magisterial biography of John D. Rockefeller.)
  • "Do You Sincerely Want To Be Rich," by Godfrey Hodgson, Bruce Page and Charles Raw. (Hard to believe that this committee of authors could write a sensational narrative about the rise and fall of Bernard Cornfeld, but that they did.)
  • "Disney Wars," by James Stewart. ("Best corporate psychoanalysis I've ever read," says John Huey.)
  • "The Informant," by Kurt Eichenwald (Forget his Enron book, "Conspiracy of Fools." This book, about the strange saga of Mark Whitacre and Archer Daniels Midland, is his masterpiece.)
  • "Father, Son and Co.: My Life at IBM and Beyond", by Thomas J. Watson and Peter Petre (The only great ghost-written C.E.O. autobiography ever written. No one else --not even Lee Iacocca or Jack Welch -- even comes close.)
  • "When Genius Failed," by Roger Lowenstein. (Another one of those "how-did-he-do-it?" books: this account of the fall of Long Term Capital Management, which by all rights should be a tough slog, is crackling good read.)
  • "Greed and Glory on Wall Street," by Ken Auletta. (This book, about the crack up of Lehman Brothers, has a great cast of characters, starting with Steve Schwartzman.) - [Out of Print]
  • "The Smartest Guys in the Room," by Peter Elkind and Bethany McLean. (O.K., O.K., they are former colleagues of mine, and I was deeply involved in editing this book -- but I have to say, I think it turned out pretty well!)

Now as we have mentioned before, Jack and I will have a lot to say about The 100 Best Business Books of All-Time in February, but for now we'll say this. Nocera favored the story and tale over the tactics and theory. We think you need to read a wide range of books to get the mental nutrition you need for a well-balanced business diet. You'll be seeing some of these titles again.

PS Nocera has a new book out from Portfolio called Good Guys and Bad Guys: Behind the Scenes with the Saints and Scoundrels of American Business. This is compliation of profiles the writer has penned over the last several years.


About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.