Updated: May 10, 2023

16 Best Business History Books to Read in 2023

You found our list of the best business history books.

Business history books are publications that discuss the establishment and effects of business operations on different economic sectors. Examples include Titan by Ron Chernow and DisneyWar by James B. Stewart. The purpose of these books is to broaden readers’ knowledge of the business world and learn from the past mistakes of renowned business persons.

These examples are similar to business books, business strategy books, and business biographies. These resources can help entrepreneurs learn more about cost-saving ideas, professional development ideas, and building strong teams.

This list includes:

  • true story business books
  • books about companies throughout history
  • American business history books
  • best selling business history books

Let’s get started!

List of business history books

Business history is a fascinating subject that offers insights into the evolution of economic systems. From The Everything Store by Brad Stone and Grinding It Out by Ray Kroc, here is a list of the best books that individuals can use to learn the history of business.

1. Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar

As one of the best selling business history books, Barbarians at the Gate provides insights into the fall of RJR Nabisco. Bryan Burrough and John Helyar discuss the era of federal bailouts and spectacular business crashes leading to the fall of the American conglomerate. Barbarians at the Gate entails handy lessons on hostile takeovers, acquisitions, assets, and liquidity. The authors include interviews of the main characters of corporate histories, obscure financial procedures, and legal ramifications. Readers will learn about the closure of businesses after obtaining the maximum profit. In addition, the authors focus on vital lessons such as the dangers of allowing companies to trade on the stock markets and corporate mismanagement.

Notable quote: “Recognize that ultimate success comes from opportunistic, bold moves which, by definition, cannot be planned.”

Read Barbarians at the Gate.

2. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow

Titan details the life of John D. Rockefeller, an American philanthropist and business magnate. Ron Chernow provides a psychologically insightful history of America’s first billionaire and the most famous dynasty. Readers will get insights into the rise of Rockefeller, from rustic origins to becoming a renowned multibillionaire and the most controversial businessman in America’s history. The book also entails Rockefeller’s creation of Standard Oil, the most powerful monopoly in America. Chernow talks about the belief that the billionaire’s empire results from predatory pricing, bribery of political officials, collusion with the railroads, and industrial espionage. Titan also captures America’s business history, including the post-civil war shift and the rise of corporations.

Notable quote: “Rockefeller equated silence with strength: Weak men had loose tongues and blabbed to reporters, while prudent businessmen kept their own counsel.”

Read Titan.

3. The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind

The Smartest Guys in the Room is one of the best true story business books. Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind take readers through the biggest business story of our time, with exclusive details of the history of Enron. McLean and Elkind discuss past private meetings that led to the disastrous demise of the corporation. The authors also reveal the role of major characters such as Andy Fastow and Cliff Baxter in the rise and fall of Enron. Business leaders can learn pivotal lessons about the scandal of the former American energy, services, and commodities corporation. For instance, readers will get insights into the dangers of the lack of reliable corporate finance systems.

Notable quote: “Unmistakable message to boardrooms across the country: You can’t lie to shareholders. You can’t put yourself in front of your employees’ interests. No matter how rich and powerful you are, you have to play by the rules.”

Read The Smartest Guys in the Room.

4. For Profit: A History of Corporations by William Magnuson

For Profit discusses the history of corporate innovation and its effect on the economy, politics, and society. William Magnuson argues that corporations hold immense power, with some using these entities as engines of progress while others use businesses for selfish prosperity. The author uses a diverse group of bankers, merchants, and investors to tell the corporation’s story. Readers will learn about the eight periods in corporation evolution, from Rome to the start-up age. The book also contains interesting characters such as powerful, brave, fraudulent, and conniving individuals.

Notable quote: “He who deals in exchanges and he who deals in merchandise is always anxious and beset by worry.”

Read For Profit.

5. Den of Thieves by James B. Stewart

Den of Thieves is a fantastic choice of American business history books. The publication entails an insider trading scandal that nearly ruined Wall Street. James B. Stewart, a Pulitzer Prize–winner, explains the role of four of the biggest names on Wall Street in the scandal. Readers will learn how Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken, Dennis Levine, and Martin Siegel created an insider trading ring and almost walked away with billions. The author based the book on secret grand jury interviews, transcripts, and trading records.

Notable quote: “If Wall Street escapes another major threat to its integrity for even half as long, the crackdown that culminated in Milken’s conviction will have proven of historic value.”

Read Den of Thieves.

6. The Founders: The Story of PayPal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley by Jimmy Soni

The Founders dives into the history of PayPal, an American financial technology company with a global presence. Jimmy Soni tells stories about PayPal’s founders and the employees who have revolutionized the technology industry. The author discusses the founders’ journeys, from unknown creators to building leading companies like YouTube, LinkedIn, and Tesla. The book discusses the competition, online fraud, and internal strife the founders faced throughout their journey. The Founders also includes stories of unknown individuals monumental to PayPal’s success.

Notable quote: “The indescribable financial excesses, the massive increase in debt, the monstrous use of leverage upon leverage, the collapse in private savings, the incredulous current account deficits, and the ballooning central bank assets all describe the very severe financial imbalances.”

Read The Founders.

7. Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis

Readers searching for American business history books will relish Liar’s Poker. Michael Lewis reviews his experience working at Salomon Brothers, a premier investment firm on Wall Street. The author talks about his rise from a callow trainee to a bond salesman. In the book, Lewis provides behind-the-scenes insights during challenging times in American business, including the eras of outrageous fortune and greed. The author also covers the mortgage bond business’s creation in the ’80s and its effect on the 2008 global economic meltdown. Liar’s Poker is a great resource for individuals who want to gain in-depth insights into the past decade’s financial bailouts, crashes, and bubbles.

Notable quote: “I thought instead of a good rule for survival on Wall Street: Never agree to anything proposed on someone else’s boat or you’ll regret it in the morning.”

Read Liar’s Poker.

8. DisneyWar by James B. Stewart

DisneyWar details the dramatic story of Disney through the leadership of Michael Eisner. The book discusses events that led America’s leading entertainment firm to civil war. James B. Stewart bases the resource on his access to current and former Disney executives and board members. The author also includes details from memos, letters, and transcripts to get to the bottom of Disney mysteries. DisneyWar is a must read for individuals who want to get in-depth information about one of the world’s most influential media and entertainment entities.

Notable quote: “You don’t do something because it’s a sure thing. You don’t do something for the bank. That’s the one that flops. That’s a riskier proposition than doing something completely original. It’s risky to be safe.”

Read DisneyWar.

9. Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity by Michael Lewis

Panic is a great choice of books about companies throughout history. Michael Lewis uses his humor to discuss the financial history and its effects on business markets. In addition, Lewis dives into market factors behind the events and analyzes the best course of action at the time. Panic also covers events such as the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the 2008 global financial collapse, and the 2000 dotcom collapse. Other notable insights include the fast business growth in the internet stage, housing bubbles, and plummeting of foreign currencies.

Notable quote: “Everything, in retrospect, is obvious. But if everything were obvious, authors of histories of financial folly would be rich.”

Read Panic.

10. Sam Walton: Made in America by Sam Walton and John Huey

Sam Walton is a story about entrepreneurship, hard work, and risk. Renowned for founding Walmart and Sam’s Club, Sam Walton takes readers through his journey to growing the largest corporation globally by revenue. The publication contains exciting stories about Walton’s business struggles and how relationships with partners, competitors, and associates. Some notable lessons include the businessman’s tactics to motivate team members and entice his customers. In addition, the book will encourage entrepreneurs to believe in their idea and navigate business challenges.

Notable quote: “It is a story about entrepreneurship, and risk, and hard work, and knowing where you want to go and being willing to do what it takes to get there.”

Read Sam Walton.

11. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone

The Everything Store tops the list of books about companies throughout history. Brad Stone talks about the history of Amazon, from its founding stage to becoming a global entity. Additionally, the book touches on the corporate culture behind the venture’s success. Stone discusses Amazon’s strategies to respond to business challenges and how new businesses can build lasting structures. The Everything Store gives readers in-depth details of life at Amazon, the pursuits for new markets, and the company’s journey to transform retail.

Notable quote: “Jeff always said that when you focus on the business inputs, then the outputs such as revenue and income will take care of themselves.”

Read The Everything Store.

12. When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management by Roger Lowenstein

When Genius Failed provides insights into Long-Term Capital Management. Roger Lowenstein captures the roller coaster of the hedge fund, discussing untold details about the bailouts and deal brokerages. The author bases the facts on interviews and internal memos with key players. Readers will also get a glimpse of Long-Term’s partners, the mathematical uncertainties, and the effect of the Wall Street culture on the hedge fund. Other notable historic moments include catastrophic losses that affect even the biggest banks on Wall Street. When Genius Failed also shows why the rise and fall of Long-Term Capital Management is a template for market meltdowns.

Notable quote: “Investors long for steady waters, but paradoxically, the opportunities are richest when markets turn turbulent.”

Read When Genius Failed.

13. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog is an excellent read for individuals looking for best selling business history books. Phil Knight shares inside details of Nike’s early days to its evolution into one of the most profitable global entities. Knight talks about his journey from borrowing $50 to building a business with an average of $30 billion in annual sales. Readers will also get insight into Nike’s financing, especially in the early stages. The author is open about the setbacks, risks, and triumphs in building a successful brand.

Notable quote: “It’s never just business. It never will be. If it ever does become just business, that will mean that business is very bad.”

Read Shoe Dog.

14. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

The biography of Steve Jobs is an excellent read for individuals who want to learn more about Apple, the largest technology company by revenue. Walter Isaacson bases the publication on interviews within more than two years. These interviews contain tales by Steve Jobs, competitors, friends, and colleagues. The resource talks about the life of the founder and his drive to revolutionize phones, music, personal computers, and digital publishing industries. Steve Jobs also details the experience of building a company as the world strives to sustain an innovative edge. The book includes instructive yet cautionary tales with lessons on character, leadership, innovation, and values.

Notable Quote: “Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.”

Read Steve Jobs.

15. Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s by Ray Kroc and Robert Anderson

Grinding It Out is an excellent choice of true story business books. Ray Kroc is renowned for acquiring McDonald’s and transforming the chain into one of the most successful food operations globally. Kroc takes readers through his journey in McDonald’s, detailing the challenges that he experienced along the way. Kroc talks about the importance of hard work and determination when it comes to seizing business opportunities. The book also discusses the importance of fairness, especially with suppliers. In addition, Grinding It Out details notable revolutions in food service automation, advertising, and franchising.

Notable quote: “You must perfect every fundamental of your business if you expect it to perform well. We demonstrated this emphasis on details, and saw it pay off, in our approach to hamburger patties.”

Read Grinding It Out.

16. Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time by Howard Schultz

Pour Your Heart Into It recounts the history of one of the most amazing business success stories in decades. Howard Schultz details his experience as the CEO of Starbucks, an American multinational chain of coffeehouses and roastery reserves. The author gives his firsthand experience of realizing a vision through discipline, determination, and patience. Schultz illustrates the principles that shape the company, from the mission to making coffee an essential part of the American experience. The author also provides lessons to managers, marketers, and aspiring business owners who want to turn passion into profit.

Notable quote: “In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign.”

Read Pour Your Heart Into It.


From ancient trade networks to modern global corporations, the history of business provides rich and complex details of human endeavors and achievements. Our list of business history books explores corporations’ narratives from various perspectives. These resources examine the economic, social, and political forces that shape the business landscape. In addition, readers will get insights into the rise and fall of individual firms and industries and the impact of technological changes.

Next, check out our list of entrepreneur books, business ethics books, and growth hacking books.

FAQ: Business history books

Here are answers to questions about business history books.

What are business history books?

Business history books are publications that focus on the stories of enterprises and their impact on specific societal aspects. These resources cover the origins and development of companies, industries, and economic systems and the individuals and events that shape them.

What are the best books about business history?

Business history books may focus on a specific company, industry, or period. These resources often examine the decisions, strategies, and innovations that lead to the success or failure of a particular business or industry. Business history books also cover the broader social, political, and economic context in which these events occur. The choice of resources about business history depends on the topics an individual wants to learn. Some of the best books about business history include Barbarians at the Gate by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar, When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein, and The Founders by Jimmy Soni.

Why should you read about business history?

Business history encompasses the development of business enterprises, the emergence of new industries and markets, and the role of entrepreneurship and innovation in economic growth.

Some of the benefits of reading business history resources include:

  • Learn from past mistakes and successes: By studying the history of businesses and industries, individuals can gain insights into the factors that could lead to successes and failures. Thus, readers can avoid making the same mistakes and adopt successful strategies.
  • Gain perspective on current events: Understanding the historical context of current business trends and events can provide a broader perspective on the challenges and opportunities facing businesses today.
  • Develop critical thinking skills: Business history requires the analysis of complex data. By engaging with these narratives, readers can develop their analytical skills and learn to think critically.
  • Broaden knowledge of the world: Business history can provide insights into the social, political, and economic forces that shape the world.
  • Get inspiration from great entrepreneurs: Business history often highlights the stories of successful companies. These stories can inspire and motivate readers to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.

Reading business history can be a fascinating and rewarding way to develop critical thinking skills and broaden your perspective on the world of business.

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People & Culture Director at teambuilding.com.
Grace is the Director of People & Culture at TeamBuilding. She studied Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, Information Science at East China Normal University and earned an MBA at Washington State University.

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