Bill Gates - 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.
Today, more than two decades after Warren lent it to me—and more than four decades after it was first published—"Business Adventures" remains the best business book I've ever read. John Brooks is still my favorite business writer. (And Warren, if you're reading this, I still have your copy.)
A skeptic might wonder how this out-of-print collection of New Yorker articles from the 1960s could have anything to say about business today. After all, in 1966, when Brooks profiled Xerox, XRX +0.41% the company's top-of-the-line copier weighed 650 pounds, cost $27,500, required a full-time operator and came with a fire extinguisher because of its tendency to overheat. A lot has changed since then.
t's certainly true that many of the particulars of business have changed. But the fundamentals have not. Brooks's deeper insights about business are just as relevant today as they were back then. In terms of its longevity, "Business Adventures" stands alongside Benjamin Graham's "The Intelligent Investor," the 1949 book that Warren says is the best book on investing that he has ever read.
Brooks grew up in New Jersey during the Depression, attended Princeton University (where he roomed with future Secretary of State George Shultz ) and, after serving in World War II, turned to journalism with dreams of becoming a novelist. In addition to his magazine work, he published a handful of books, only some of which are still in print. He died in 1993.
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.
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