Not long after I first met Warren Buffett back in 1991, I asked him to recommend his favorite book about business. He didn’t miss a beat: “It’s ‘Business Adventures,’ by John Brooks, ” he said. “I’ll send you my copy.” I was intrigued: I had never heard of “Business Adventures” or John Brooks.
It begins this essay by Bill Gates, Bill Gates’s Favorite Business Book: John Brooks’s 1960s collection ‘Business Adventures’ still offers many insights into running a strong business.
Now, did you notice the key element? Bill Gates asked Warren Buffett to recommend his favorite book about business. Warren Buffett had an answer, and in fact loaned him the book.
This is not unimportant.
Warren Buffett did not say “Oh, there are so many good ones. I can’t recommend just one.” Nor did he say “I don’t read business books.” He has read enough business books that he has a favorite.
This reveals that Bill Gates reads business books. It reveals that Warren Buffett reads business books. It means that books are important enough to Bill Gates that he asks people he admires to name their favorite business book. It means that Warren Buffett had an answer to the question – he could in fact recommend a favorite business book.
That’s the big point!
Now, a little more. The rest of Gates’s essay describes why this book is so valuable. Again, from his essay:
As the journalist Michael Lewis wrote in his foreword to Brooks’s book “The Go-Go Years,” even when Brooks got things wrong, “at least he got them wrong in an interesting way.” Unlike a lot of today’s business writers, Brooks didn’t boil his work down into pat how-to lessons or simplistic explanations for success. (How many times have you read that some company is taking off because they give their employees free lunch?) You won’t find any listicles in his work. Brooks wrote long articles that frame an issue, explore it in depth, introduce a few compelling characters and show how things went for them…
Brooks was also a masterful storyteller.
So, the lessons (yes, in a five point list… sorry about that):
#1 – Read good books
#2 – Talk about the books you have read
#3 – Ask people you respect what their favorite business books are
#4 – Read the “favorite books” that you learn about from people you respect
#5 – Have an answer ready to the question when someone asks you what your favorite business book is
And, for the record, I am reading their favorite book now: Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street by John Brooks (just reissued). Ask me later, and I’ll let you know if I move it into my “favorite business book” spot personally.