Holiday Books on Finance and Entrepreneurship

A list of recent books (partially via NDE) of possible interest to entrepreneurs and investors. To be upfront, the only ones on the list that I have read are the first two — Schramm’s and Fisher’s, which are both excellent — and so with the rest you’re on your own:

The Entrepreneurial Imperative: How America’s Economic Miracle Will Reshape the World – And Change Your Life
Carl J. Schramm (Harper Collins, 2006)
This book comes to us from Carl Schramm, president of the Kauffman Foundation. If you’re looking for one book that lays it all it out in one place on the important question of why entrepreneurship matters, start here. While lauding America’s nurturing environment for entrepreneurship, Schramm puts the challenge out to us all to be more entrepreneurial. Not only is it his passionate goal to see a greater expansion of start-ups domestically and globally, he feels the promotion of entrepreneurial capitalism is a key formula for bringing about peace, prosperity, and stability in the world. The Economist didn’t call Schramm the “evangelist of entrepreneurship” for nothing.

The Only Three Questions That Count: Investing by Knowing What Others Don’t
Ken Fisher, Jennifer Chou, Lara Hoffmans, James J. Cramer (Foreword) (Wiley 2006)
An entertaining, irreverent, and empirical look at investing via Forbes columnist and Fisher Investments fund manager Ken Fisher. He is relentlessly contrarian and interesting throughout, especially in driving readers to think about how their biases are leading them astray.

The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations
Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom (Portfolio Hardcover, 2006)
You can’t kill a starfish by chopping off a tentacle; it simply grows a new one. That’s the metaphor driving this argument for the power of decentralized organizations. The authors examine many cases of decentralized firms, like eBay, Craigslist, and Napster. They use these examples to argue that decentralized leadership based on peer networking can help foster more creative, flexible, and innovative organizations.

Economic Turbulence: Is a Volatile Economy Good for America?
Clair Brown, John Haltiwanger and Julia Lane (University of Chicago Press, 2006).
In some ways, economic turbulence is a clear by-product of an entrepreneurial economy. As entrepreneurs wreak creative destruction, other firms are closed and people are put out of work. This book takes a deeper look at the process: how volatile is the US economy and is this a good thing? The authors don’t sugarcoat the costs of volatility, but they conclude that our economy is stronger, more flexible, and more innovative because of such churn. The study is data-driven (based on new Census Bureau data sets), but don’t let that scare you away. It’s a good read with lots of compelling information.

Mellon: An American Life
David Cannadine (Knopf, 2006)
The old so-called “Robber Barons” are generating a lot of interest these days. In the past few years, we’ve seen new biographies of Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie (see more below), and now Andrew Mellon. While many have heard of Mellon, his exploits are probably less well-known than his fellow industrialists. Instead of building a steel or oil empire, Mellon made his money in more modern way–in the real estate and financial sectors. Mellon also engaged in the world of politics, and served as Treasury Secretary under three Administrations (Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover). We can also thank Mellon for the National Gallery of Art, which was built around his private art collection.

Dynasties: Fortunes and Misfortunes of the World’s Great Family Businesses
David Landes (Viking Adult, 2006)
When we think about entrepreneurship, we often fail to think about the importance of family-owned businesses. When we consider these family-owned firms, we often picture the classic small Mom-and-Pop operation. Yet, many family owned firms were and are world-class operations. After all, Ford, Toyota, and Morgan all started as family enterprises. Landes, a renowned economic historian, is a big fan of family enterprises. He argues that these firms perform better in the market, and in terms of supporting employees, than do firms run by professional managers and outsiders. The book covers the landscape of family business dynasties going back to the 17th century, and includes lots of great stories and vignettes.

Andrew Carnegie

David Nasaw (Penguin Press, 2006)
Andrew Carnegie’s legacy is two-fold. As an entrepreneur, he built US Steel and one of the world’s greatest fortunes. After this feat, he revolutionized the world of philanthropy and his impact is still felt today. This massive biography (weighing in at over 800 pages) tells the complete story of Carnegie and his impact on his times.