Magazine article Management Today

Books: Bill Gates's Favourite Book

Magazine article Management Today

Books: Bill Gates's Favourite Book

Article excerpt

The encomium may be a tad inflated, but there is much to enjoy in these classic reports about corporate life in the US, says John McLaren.

Business Adventures

John Brooks

John Murray, pounds 14.99

It's amazing, the power of brand names. Not in this case the author's, but that of the fan, Bill Gates, whose praise of this as the 'best business book I have ever read' is splashed all over the cover, and seems to be the sole reason why it has been republished and become a publishing sensation. I don't doubt that Mr Gates's enthusiasm is sincere, but could he have been a tad influenced by the fact that his copy was given to him by Warren Buffett? Would it have been the same if the donor had been another international financial titan, such as Ed Balls?

First published in 1969, Business Adventures is one of 56 books written by Brooks, who was also a prolific contributor to The New Yorker. I've taken a good look at punters' comments, which seem to polarise neatly into 'work of genius' versus 'boring and out of date'. Another line is to identify Brooks as the forerunner of Michael Lewis. That's broadly fair, as they both write with loose-limbed fluency and share the gift of moulding arcane raw material into compelling narratives. But, for me, Brooks's style is closer to that of Andrew Ross Sorkin's Too Big to Fail, with its stunning high-definition, fly-on-the-wall perspective. I can't offer any higher compliment.

The title Business Adventures is a double misnomer. Although some of the dozen episodes are about business proper, many are actually about economics or finance. And, since there are more disasters than triumphs, Misadventures would be nearer the mark. The anthology ranges across subjects as diverse as the US tax system, the stellar rise of Xerox, the anatomy of a Wall Street crash, the Ford Edsel and our very own 1967 'pound-in-your-pocket' devaluation.

Brooks's method is to approach the key players and download their recollections of events. Facts and reported views are generally left to speak for themselves, rather than being marshalled heavy-handedly towards theories or lessons to be learned.

The finest account is probably of the Edsel debacle, where he spoke to almost everyone directly involved (and that turns out to be less a styling fiasco and more a conventional story of wrong product/wrong time, complemented by a light dusting of crap quality). This standard is not quite matched when covering the doomed defence of sterling, where it appears that his only sources were in the US, so the version of what happened in London feels rather second-hand. …

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