Entrepreneurs

11 Biographies That Will Teach You More Than Any Business Book

Say you’re looking for expert guidance on how to advance your career or build a better business. Where do you turn? There are, of course, millions of books offering advice and abstract principles on every aspect of business. But even after reading them you may be left thinking, “that all sounds well and good, but what does that actually look like in practice?”

The place to turn, according to one entrepreneur, is biographies. On Twitter recently founder and CTO Colin Landforce confessed that he’s traded in general advice for deeper dives into the lives of past innovators. “I stopped reading business books a while ago, I’m reading history and biographies instead,” he tweeted. 

Looking for titles to add to his to-read queue, Landforce asked his 20,000+ followers to suggest great biographies and memoirs. More than 100 ideas poured in. Landforce helpfully sorted through the suggestions to weed out repetitions and self promoters, coming up with a final tally of 43 recommendations. The full list is here or, to get you started, here are a handful of the most promising. 

1. The Tycoons by Charles R. Morris

A group biography of four Gilded Age men who created the modern American economy (for better and for worse): Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J. P. Morgan. 

2. The Innovators by Walter Isaacson  

The Innovators is celebrated biographer Walter Isaacson’s deep dive into the history of the digital revolution, tracing the origins of the internet from its beginnings with Ada Lovelace to the contributions of contemporary visionaries like Tim Berners-Lee and Larry Page. 

3. The Fish That Ate the Whale by Rich Cohen 

This book has nothing to do with wish or whales, but is instead “the fascinating untold tale of Samuel Zemurray, the self-made banana mogul who went from penniless roadside banana peddler to kingmaker and capitalist revolutionary,” according to Amazon. Booklist insisted “it is nearly impossible to put the book down.”

4. American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin

This Pulitzer Prize-winning biography traces the life of physicist Robert Oppenheimer from his early career to his work on the Manhattan Project developing the atom bomb to his later misgivings about the impact on his life’s work upon the world. 

5. The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro  

Another Pulitzer Prize winner, this biography of New York politician and “master builder” Robert Moses garnered ecstatic reviews. The Sunday Times called it “simply one of the best nonfiction books in English of the past 40 years.” Focused not just on the man, but also on the city he remade, the book is “surely the greatest book ever written about a city,” according to legendary journalist David Halberstam. 

6. The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger 

Best-selling author Brené Brown had this to say about the former Disney CEO’s memoir: “I expected a book written by the person who has led Disney for decades to be defined by both gripping storytelling and deep leadership wisdom. Bob Iger delivers, and then some! The Ride of a Lifetime is leadership gold.”

7. The Box by by Marc Levinson

A biography of a technology rather than a person, this book by economist Marc Levinson unravels how the rise of container shipping quietly remade our economy and fueled the rise of globalization. 

8. Grinding It Out by Ray Kroc 

 In Grinding It Out the McDonald’s founder explains how he revolutionized the restaurant business at the not so tender age of 52 while also opening up about his personal life and philosophy. 

9. Tap Dancing to Work by by Carol J. Loomis

This collection of writings from a journalist and long-time friend of Warren Buffett charts the rise of Berkshire Hathaway and attempts to explain what about Buffett’s character and approach led him to become one of the world’s most successful investors. 

10. The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

Actually a historical novel about the battle between Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla to electrify America, The Last Days of Night was Mark Zuckerberg’s pick for his top. Read it for entertainment value as much as historical and business insight. 

11. The Man Who Solved the Market by Gregory Zuckerman

This biography that reads like a page turner tells “the unbelievable story of a secretive mathematician who pioneered the era of the algorithm–and made $23 billion doing it,” according to Amazon. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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