18 Biographies of the Most Successful People in Business
It’s officially summer, so Fortune put together a reading list for those of us who can’t just sit idly by the pool with a mindless beach read.
With the help of Term Sheet readers, we compiled a list of some of the best business biographies of all time. These timeless reads are entertaining and deeply personal as they detail the lives of business magnates, tech titans, and media powerhouses.
Now, onto your suggestions:
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
A Bill Gates (and Term Sheet reader) favorite, Shoe Dog offers an inside look at how Phil Knight built his startup Nike into the global brand it is today.
Personal History by Katharine Graham
You’ve seen the movie, now read the book. Katharine Graham is the woman who led the Washington Post through the scandals of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. This one has it all — courage, candor, and dignity.
The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder
This is a personally revealing and complete biography of the man known everywhere as “The Oracle of Omaha.” Warren Buffett is one of the most respected businesspeople of our time, but his life has been a mix of strengths and frailties. As revealed in this book, Buffett’s legacy will not be his ranking on the scorecard of wealth — it will be his principles and ideas.
Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson
You may already know that Franklin was a writer, inventor, media baron, scientist, diplomat, and business strategist, but this is a look into how this country’s ultimate founder helped define America’s national identity.
Titan by Ron Chernow
John D. Rockefeller has been referred to as “the Jekyll-and-Hyde of American capitalism.” He was a ruthless business magnate while also being a major philanthropist. This one is a business staple.
Carnegie by Peter Krass
One of the major figures in American history, Andrew Carnegie was a businessman who made his fortune in the steel industry and ultimately gave most of it away. He used his wealth to ascend the world’s political stage, influencing the presidencies of Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt. In this compelling biography, Peter Krass reconstructs the complicated life of the titan who came to power in America’s Gilded Age.
Morgan, American Financier by Jean Strouse
For decades, J. Pierpont Morgan served as America’s unofficial central banker. He was the force behind mammoths like General Electric, U.S. Steel, and vast railroad empires. Since his death, he has remained a mysterious figure — both celebrated as a hero of industrial progress and also vilified as a rapacious robber baron.
The Patriarch by David Nasaw
This biography examines the life of Joseph P. Kennedy, the founder of the 20th century’s most famous political dynasty. It tracks the path of a man who participated in the major events of his times — the booms and busts, the Depression and the New Deal, two world wars, a cold war, and the birth of the New Frontier.
Sam Walton, Made in America by Sam Walton/John Huey
Over the course of his life, Sam Walton built one of the world’s largest and most powerful corporations from scratch. This is the story of a small-town folk hero who revolutionized retail distribution and changed the game as we know it. Hard to believe that was once a single store in a tiny town is now a behemoth with revenue to the tune of $500 billion.
I Love Capitalism! by Ken Langone
The life of Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone is a perfect portrayal of the American Dream. He recounts how a poor boy from Long Island became one of the most successful businessmen in America. In this memoir, Langone walks readers through how he struggled to get an education, broke into Wall Street, and scrambled for an MBA.
Jack, Straight From the Gut by Jack Welch
Under Jack Welch’s leadership, General Electric reinvented itself several times over by integrating new and innovative practices into its many lines of business. This book recounts his career and the style of management that helped to make GE one of the most successful companies of the last century.
THE TECH TITANS
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and The Age of Amazon by Brad Stone
It is mind-boggling to think Amazon started out as an online bookstore. That wasn’t nearly enough for its wildly ambitious founder, Jeff Bezos. This is an in-depth account of how Bezos’ large bets forever transformed the retail industry.
Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance
I personally like this book because it delves into the psyche of one of the most innovative (albeit unusual) entrepreneurs of our time. Vance gives readers an exclusive look into SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity, while also giving us a better understanding of Elon Musk’s mind.
Wild Ride by Adam Lashinsky
Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky wrote about Travis Kalanick, one of the most polarizing figures in Silicon Valley. Lashinsky takes readers on quite a ride as he meticulously details Uber’s meteoric rise — and its jaw-dropping plunge into controversy.
A Triumph of Genius: Edwin Land, Polaroid, and the Kodak Patent War by Ronald K. Fierstein
This biography delves into the life of Edwin Land, the breakthrough inventor of the Polaroid. At the time of his death, he stood third on the list of most prolific inventors, behind only Thomas Edison and one of Edison’s colleagues. It’s a compelling look at the man behind one of the most important legal battles over intellectual property of our time — Polaroid versus Kodak.
Bloomberg by Bloomberg by Michael Bloomberg
Brash, aggressive, and supremely self-confident, Michael Bloomberg has been hailed as the new standard for what it takes to win in the Information Age. His specialized media approach — including manipulable online data feeds, a global newswire, and extensive magazine and broadcast outlets — have turned the business of business news upside down.
Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead by Cecile Richards
Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards has been an activist since she was taken to the principal’s office in seventh grade for wearing an armband in protest of the Vietnam War. She had a remarkable childhood in conservative Texas, where her civil rights attorney father and activist mother taught their kids to be troublemakers. In the Richards household, the “dinner table was never for eating—it was for sorting precinct lists.”
The House of Dimon by Patricia Crisafulli
In a candid look at Wall Street’s top banker, former business journalist Patricia Crisafulli goes behind the scenes to recount the critical events that have shaped Dimon’s career. He managed to survive one of the most difficult and most tumultuous periods in Wall Street history. This story reveals how he did it and explores what lies ahead.