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Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street Paperback – August 12, 2014
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Garth Brooks: The Anthology Part 1 | Limited Edition
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“More than two decades after Warren [Buffett] 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 . . . Brooks’s deeper insights about business are just as relevant today as they were back then.” —Bill Gates, The Wall Street Journal
“The prose is superb. Reading Brooks is a supreme pleasure. His writing turns potentially eye-glazing topics (e.g., price-fixing scandals in the industrial electronics market) into rollicking narratives. He’s also funny. . . . He tells entertaining stories replete with richly drawn characters, setting them during heightened moments within the world of commerce.” —Slate
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This book makes me feel as though I'm sitting at the knee of my grandfather, listening to wise recollections.
A writer of articles in the 1950's and 1960, many for the New Yorker, the author intelligently and thoughtfully steps through 12 events, one per chapter.
At first I thought perhaps I was particularly dense and wasn't getting the message. What held these stories together? Eventually, I realized that the author is not driving home a point, selling anything, or giving advice. His observations leave room for the reader to consider events, their connections, their parallels to today, the importance of character, and the question of morality in business. It was refreshing not to be told what to think.
I enjoyed the stories of Ford's Edsel, Piggly Wiggly, Xerox, Goodrich vs Latex.
The chapter on the federal income tax is particularly relevant, given the wide-spread debate about taxes and modern conversations about the 1%.
John Brooks' perspective is firmly rooted in the past, when the book was written, and provides readers opportunity for a sense of omniscience since we can consider ramifications the author himself could not be aware of, at that time.
Times may change. People do not.
This book casts a wide net over the USAmerican business and investing scene, always with with and insight. There's a lot to be learned here, as Brooks examines the three-day stock market mini-crash of 1962, how Ford lost a bundle on the Edsel, how GE broke the anti-trust laws, how Xerox became very wealthy (later, Xerox became very broke, but that was after this article) . . . all great stuff.
Rereading these after forty years, I'm impressed with Brooks ability to get to the bottom of things, especially when there is no "bottom". Why did the New York Stock exchange lose over 5% one day in 1962, then rally suddenly? No one really knows, but Brooks examines the chaos of that day, and dissects the explanations offered after the fact — while noting that BEFORE the fact, none of the explainers had a clue what was about to happen. Interspersed are comments from THE first book ever written on stock markets, "Confusion of Confusions", by Josseph Penso de la Vega (no product link; apparently Amazon doesn't want to use its reviews to sell books other than the one being reviewed anymore). Brooks demonstrates how little has changed over the centuries.
And so it goes through the rest of the essays. Facts and insight, presented with wit, charm, and grace. Highly recommended.
The essays are exceptionally well-written. Yes, they come from a different era, and not all of the essays were usable for my purpose. But most of the essays focused on issues that are very much with us today. With little effort, I was able to bring the lessons to life in my interactive class by drawing connections to current issues in the business press, sometimes simply by referring to recent developments in the companies covered in the essays.
The Xerox essay was useful to illustrate the role of corporations in politics and public policy. I updated the discussion of that company by addressing the company's 2014 report on Corporate Global Citizenship. We discussed the Xerox essay not long after The New York Times reported on the relationship between state attorneys general and companies under investigation. One of the companies in the Times article was 5-Hour Energy Drink -- a company to which any undergraduate can relate.
Other current hot topics covered in the book include the ethics of corporate communication (enabling the class to compare the GE wink in the "Impacted Philosophers" essay, on the one hand, to the GM nod and salute now in the news, on the other hand); insider trading; the use of trade secrets by former employees; and the role of the shareholder gadfly in corporate governance. I sometimes used published obituaries of those profiled in the essays to show how the behavior Mr. Brooks chronicled affected the individuals' ethical legacy.
The point is that the core lessons in the essays transfer nicely and practically, even if many of the details of the stories are bounded by the time in which they occurred.
The cost of the book is about $15. As a guide to the 21st century business student or the 21st century businessman or businesswoman of any age, the book is priceless.