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This business classic written by longtime New Yorker contributor John Brooks is an insightful and engaging look into corporate and financial life in America. What do the $350 million Ford Motor Company disaster known as the Edsel, the fast and incredible rise of Xerox, and the unbelievable scandals at General Electric and Texas Gulf Sulphur have in common? Each is an examp This business classic written by longtime New Yorker contributor John Brooks is an insightful and engaging look into corporate and financial life in America. What do the $350 million Ford Motor Company disaster known as the Edsel, the fast and incredible rise of Xerox, and the unbelievable scandals at General Electric and Texas Gulf Sulphur have in common? Each is an example of how an iconic company was defined by a particular moment of fame or notoriety. These notable and fascinating accounts are as relevant today to understanding the intricacies of corporate life as they were when the events happened. Stories about Wall Street are infused with drama and adventure and reveal the machinations and volatile nature of the world of finance. John Brooks’s insightful reportage is so full of personality and critical detail that whether he is looking at the astounding market crash of 1962, the collapse of a well-known brokerage firm, or the bold attempt by American bankers to save the British pound, one gets the sense that history really does repeat itself.


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This business classic written by longtime New Yorker contributor John Brooks is an insightful and engaging look into corporate and financial life in America. What do the $350 million Ford Motor Company disaster known as the Edsel, the fast and incredible rise of Xerox, and the unbelievable scandals at General Electric and Texas Gulf Sulphur have in common? Each is an examp This business classic written by longtime New Yorker contributor John Brooks is an insightful and engaging look into corporate and financial life in America. What do the $350 million Ford Motor Company disaster known as the Edsel, the fast and incredible rise of Xerox, and the unbelievable scandals at General Electric and Texas Gulf Sulphur have in common? Each is an example of how an iconic company was defined by a particular moment of fame or notoriety. These notable and fascinating accounts are as relevant today to understanding the intricacies of corporate life as they were when the events happened. Stories about Wall Street are infused with drama and adventure and reveal the machinations and volatile nature of the world of finance. John Brooks’s insightful reportage is so full of personality and critical detail that whether he is looking at the astounding market crash of 1962, the collapse of a well-known brokerage firm, or the bold attempt by American bankers to save the British pound, one gets the sense that history really does repeat itself.

30 review for Business Adventures

  1. 5 out of 5

    H.E. Roulo

    I had heard, as I think everyone else has, that Business Adventures was a favorite book of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. I read the ebook, and I understand a print version will be forthcoming in September. 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 I had heard, as I think everyone else has, that Business Adventures was a favorite book of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. I read the ebook, and I understand a print version will be forthcoming in September. 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. Details may change. People do not.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rick Rowland

    I had such a great time reading this book. Like I have said before, I am not an educated man. I only have a GED. But that did not stop me from understanding and enjoying this book. I learned so much and the authors style kept my attention locked. i hope you enjoy.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    Recommended by Bill Gates

  4. 5 out of 5

    Skip

    Dated, slow, and failed to carry a common theme are among the criticisms of this republished book, which has been touted by wunderkind, Bill Gates. Sadly, the criticisms are all quite true. Most of these "classic tales" date from the late 50s and 60s, ranging from the colossal failure of Ford's Edsel model, to the vagaries of the federal taxation system, to the syndicate of nations that avoided a collapse of the British pound, to a case of cornering the market (Piggly Wiggly), to a case of trade Dated, slow, and failed to carry a common theme are among the criticisms of this republished book, which has been touted by wunderkind, Bill Gates. Sadly, the criticisms are all quite true. Most of these "classic tales" date from the late 50s and 60s, ranging from the colossal failure of Ford's Edsel model, to the vagaries of the federal taxation system, to the syndicate of nations that avoided a collapse of the British pound, to a case of cornering the market (Piggly Wiggly), to a case of trade secrets vs. free employment. The only story that I found interesting was the career and philosophy of Tennessee Valley Authority chairman, David Lilienthal.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    Business Adventures is well written, as John Brooks is able to tell these stories entertainingly by emphasising funny dialogues, and his generally great way with words. Brooks takes a human interest angle and describes the character of key people not just the facts, and thus adds a richness to each ‘adventure’. Essentially this similar to long form journalism today. However, the book requires the reader to read between the lines and draw its own conclusions, as Brooks does not deliver read-made Business Adventures is well written, as John Brooks is able to tell these stories entertainingly by emphasising funny dialogues, and his generally great way with words. Brooks takes a human interest angle and describes the character of key people not just the facts, and thus adds a richness to each ‘adventure’. Essentially this similar to long form journalism today. However, the book requires the reader to read between the lines and draw its own conclusions, as Brooks does not deliver read-made solutions or answers but merely describes the stories and challenges. Some of the stories are more useful than others - my view on all 12: 1. Story of the mini stock market crash on 28 May 1962, shows how it is all about mood and trend in short run, rather than underlying economics of the market / firms. 2. The story of the Ford Edsel failure cannot easily be allocated to a single reason, but while I still think the bad name (not taking into account research) is an issue, it ultimately boils down tone thing: Product focus matters: The Edsel just wast a good car to drive, especially the initial batches that were reviewed by consumer magazines. 3. History of the US Income Tax. Interesting to learn its history (e.g. initially only raised in war times, and required 16th amendment as not apportioned to states). However, less insightful than other stories. It does however have some good evidence of progressiveness of the tax apart from richest as they can afford better lawyers and mainly earn money in stock (especially options) and can utilise charity deductions. 4. Insider trading case of Texas Gulf discovering a rich ore mine at Kidd 55 in Canada makes for interesting story. The company understated reports even though officers were buying shares internally, posing the crucial question: When exactly does something become official? In this case, there was also an interesting angle whether the press conference or the information appearing on Dow Jones broad tape would make it publicly known. While the nature elf this has changed due to the advances in telecommunication, this remains an important issue. Of course, the U.S. court of appeals for second circuit reversed judgment clarifying most stock buying in the case was illegal since knowledges existed since first drill hole. 5. Story of how Xerox invented photocopying as we know it today is mainly one of believing in the product. Xerox spent twice their revenue ($75m) on it until it worked, executives took payment in stock and put mortgages into it (and even got support from university of Rochester). But it also offers insight into other areas: Describes the impact of copying onto copyright and how some thought books may disappear; apparently some things never change… Furthermore, there are lessons to be learned about the executives attitude to not taking stock movements too seriously, and the challenge of keeping company culture during rapid growth (e.g. becoming more impersonal when lot of new employees join. Overall, one of the best ones in the book. 6. Brooks outlines how Ira Haupt & Co are likely going to go bankrupt because of forged collateral by one of its clients, and the stock exchange works with banks to bail them out. Not hugely insightful, but has interesting parallels to the situation of Long Term Capital Management roughly 40 years later, down to the bank negotiations and people taking hold of floors in exchange buildings (even though the reasons each firm finds itself in precarious situation are very different indeed). 7. Highly interesting insight into the challenges of corporate communication, told through the case of price fixing in electrical equipment, with a focus on GE. Shows that stating price fixing isn't allowed in company handbook isn't enough if there is culture of it (such as executives using winks to show they’re not serious about it), and consistency of message is also key: Even if staff is admonished by senior person (here the CEO Paxton) not to do price fix, others may communicate something different, and ultimately a senior person may simply not be told (like Paxton wasn’t - apparently). Additionally, if you don't believe message you’re communicating, that will come across. 8. Clarence Saunders, founder of Piggly Wiggly stores, tried to corner short sellers but failed since exchange halted trading and extended call for stock by five days. Not particularly insightful, though it brings home the point to 'Don't try to beat Wall Street at their own game’. The story does however contain a few interesting nuggets, such as Saunders founding the first supermarkets with Piggly Wiggly, as they were self service; and his attempts to further streamline the service when founding chains Keedoozle and Foodelectric. In the latter, customers used a key to tabulate what they wanted from showroom, and then collect it - which shows that Saunders was years ahead, as this is similar to companies such as Argos today. 9. A very narrow story about an individual, and thus rather limited: Lilienthal, previously a high ranking government employee (in charge of Tennessee Valley Authority and then chairman of Atomic Energy Commission - AEC), talking about how fulfilling running a Company is, but also the risks to getting lost in it; as well as the balance between being involved in detail but keeping far enough away to think strategically also. 10. Brooks describes visiting various stockholder meetings - entertaining but limited learning: Maybe that professional stockholders like to profile themselves, and CEOs can sue that in annual meetings, as smaller stockholders tend to be more likely to support management. 11. Brooks illustrates the issue of trade secrets using the case of Wohlgemut - an engineer working sued upon switching jobs from Goodrich to Latex Corporation, as both were making space suits and Goodrich thought they would lose trade secrets. Court ultimately decided he can switch jobs, but injunction against revealing trade secrets. 12. Great story of Black Friday, but a poor economic take on fixed currency, especially the Pound Sterling. The pound was fixed to dollar as a result of Bretton Woods agreement of 1944, while the dollar was fixed to gold. Pressure from speculation and companies hedging against devaluation finally results in Black Friday (17th Nov 1967) and devaluation of Pound from 2.80 to 2.40 on sat. Unfortunately, since a lot of factors, such as fixed currency and a Bank of England not independent, are a factor of their times, it has limited insight for current policies apart form the power of free market.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Vijay

    I really enjoyed this book! The author has a real gift for making the financial world extremely interesting. Not since Jeffry Archer and Kane and Abel have I read an account of financial dealings that was so exciting! I particularly enjoyed the struggle to save the sterling, the corner, the life of david lilienthal, and other pieces. Some pieces were kind of boring though. Sadly, the author does not have the gift of brevity, and tends to ramble on and on. Highly recommend for anyone interested in I really enjoyed this book! The author has a real gift for making the financial world extremely interesting. Not since Jeffry Archer and Kane and Abel have I read an account of financial dealings that was so exciting! I particularly enjoyed the struggle to save the sterling, the corner, the life of david lilienthal, and other pieces. Some pieces were kind of boring though. Sadly, the author does not have the gift of brevity, and tends to ramble on and on. Highly recommend for anyone interested in business!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kanishka Sirdesai

    A very dated book having an anthology of business stories. Some are interesting while others read like a scientific journal. Coincidentally, a few stories mirror real life business dilemmas!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Tollemache

    I give this one a middling review not because it was middling, but it is a 40 year old anthology of business stories and some of them are boring and dated...ie. tax changes of the early 60s, a profile of a forgotten New Deal mandarin and an inconclusive analysis of the Edsel flop. The other stories are really good, I understand why Gates and Buffet cite this book as a favorite. The opening chapter on the mini-crash in '62 and the tech/messaging/quote issues they had reads almost like a tale fro I give this one a middling review not because it was middling, but it is a 40 year old anthology of business stories and some of them are boring and dated...ie. tax changes of the early 60s, a profile of a forgotten New Deal mandarin and an inconclusive analysis of the Edsel flop. The other stories are really good, I understand why Gates and Buffet cite this book as a favorite. The opening chapter on the mini-crash in '62 and the tech/messaging/quote issues they had reads almost like a tale from today minus their Fred Flintstone technology--ooh a computer that can read the NYC phone book in 7 minutes. The mini-panic caused by a fraudulent vegetable oil trade that killed a couple firms and forced Wall Street to pool its $$ to bailout innocent acct holders reads like a premonition of our Age of Bailouts. I also liked the chapter on insider trading in which SEC ruled that insiders trading on info they put out 1 1/2 hours before hand had not allowed enuff time for info to be disseminated, which is comical compared to the instant standard used now. In all a breezy read once you skim the more dated chapters.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dkovlak

    Great book. Since it was written in 1968, a lot has taken place. I wish each story could be updated. The author had a great idea in writing this book. He has written about 12 business adventures during the 60s. It would be great for someone to do a current day version of this book with more current business adventures. An updated version of this book should be included in all MBA programs. I really learned a lot about business from this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    Yeah, more people have read this in the past two months than in the prior forty years. I'm glad as the New Yorker + Finance angle is a good one for me. While reading I found the stories interesting, but didn't once think of them afterwards. Guess that's why I'm not one of the two richest folks in America.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Grant

    Semi-entertaining read. Gates & Buffett have successfully pushed this book into "massively overhyped" territory however. Some of the chapters are rather boring, despite Brooks' engaging prose, which is often tongue-in-cheek. Best chapters: -Texas Gulf Sulphur chapter... this was interesting, learned a lot about the SEC and was fun to read about how the Kidd Mine guys thought they were being clever enough to get away with what was obviously insider trading. Good work from the SEC on this one. - Semi-entertaining read. Gates & Buffett have successfully pushed this book into "massively overhyped" territory however. Some of the chapters are rather boring, despite Brooks' engaging prose, which is often tongue-in-cheek. Best chapters: -Texas Gulf Sulphur chapter... this was interesting, learned a lot about the SEC and was fun to read about how the Kidd Mine guys thought they were being clever enough to get away with what was obviously insider trading. Good work from the SEC on this one. -Xerox ... interesting to see the rise of this important company, and how it was one of the first to adopt the notion of "corporate social responsibility" ... I have a new respect for Xerox now. -"Non-communication at GE" ... definitely the funniest chapter of the book. The stuff about communication via winking is just gold. -"One free bite" ... most entertaining chapter in the book. Very interesting stuff about the development of trade secrets law in here. Raises some interesting moral questions too - loyalty to a company vs. free will to make career moves. Was Wohlgemuth in the right or wrong here? I think compelling arguments can be made on both sides. That said, the "Making the customers whole", Income tax and Lilienthal chapters were just boring. "Piggly Wiggly" chapter was mediocre, and felt the opening/closing chapters on the '62 crash and '67 sterling devaluation were informative but far from memorable. The famous Edsel chapter was just kinda "meh" to me... maybe it would mean more to people who actually care about cars, which I don't. Nevertheless, it's hard NOT to learn some valuable things about business from reading this book, although note that it is very American-centric.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gaurav Bhati

    Read this book for the joy of exploring old school style of writing and to experience what good business journalism looks like. Examples are a bit dated, but the storytelling skills of the author make up for it. Author has a unique style of creating a Sherlock Holmes type suspense even while narrating business stories which most people find boring. The book was a bit difficult to read in the beginning, but the style grew on me.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Denar

    John Brooks tells stories that any business can learn from. Written in detail and entertaining. There are 12 different stories that can be read separately as I knew most of the cases.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    This little-remembered collection of New Yorker essays from the 1960s surged into popularity recently when both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who, depending on the week or month, are the two richest humans in history, declared it their favorite business book ever. Surprisingly to many, however, this is not a typical business book. It does not feature the typical managerial bromides or numbered lists of MOST IMPORTANT LEADERSHIP ATTRIBUTES. What it does have are 12 extremely well-written, well-th This little-remembered collection of New Yorker essays from the 1960s surged into popularity recently when both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who, depending on the week or month, are the two richest humans in history, declared it their favorite business book ever. Surprisingly to many, however, this is not a typical business book. It does not feature the typical managerial bromides or numbered lists of MOST IMPORTANT LEADERSHIP ATTRIBUTES. What it does have are 12 extremely well-written, well-thought-out stories about disparate events, usually crises, often concerning finance, in business history. As the author John Brooks says in an article on the phenomenally successful Xerox company (appropriately titled "Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox") "I find that companies are inclined to be at their most interesting when they are undergoing a little misfortune." Not surprisingly the flubbed Edsel car merits an extended discussion. Many essays, in fact, focus on the public or legal implications of business mistakes, and aim to suss out the human impact of different policies. For instance, the Xerox article goes into detail on the legal wrangling the technology caused about "fair use" exception to copyright, and how the machine seemed to pose as much a threat to writers as the internet does today. There are few obvious lessons to be gleaned from the book overall, and the author tries hard to convey a narrative instead of a moral; those are probably the reasons why it may be one of the best business books ever. John Brooks has an obvious affinity for intricate details and the importance of subtle differences. One essay, in fact, is merely a droll stroll through the history of income tax provisions. Another details the first real insider trading prosecution, of geologists at Texas Gulf, who traded on a potentially massive Canadian ore fine in 1959. Here Brooks describes the details of prospective ore drilling and of the changing rules of the SEC, and emerges with a confession of how difficult it is to draw a clear line about who or what is an insider. Another article focuses on the collapse of the Ira Haupt brokerage company in November 1963, little remembered today because it coincided with the weekend of the Kennedy assassination. Yet Brooks dives into the nature of the "salad oil scandal" of false warehouse receipts and shoddy auditing that allowed the company to go under, and into how the New York Stock Exchange made the important decision to bail out all the customers of Ira Haupt so there wouldn't be a run on mutual funds. President Johnson, on his first Monday in office, took time to congratulate the Exchange for averting a panic. Some of the stories, such as the stock exchange bail-out, seem to have only grown in importance with time. There is for instance, philosophical disquisition on the General Electric antitrust prosecution, the first criminal antitrust prosecution in the U.S., and how hints and communication nudges could push people into crime while keeping the higher ups plausibly out of danger. There is also the thrilling description of the Federal Reserve's by any means necessary defense of the British pound from speculative attack in 1964. With a focus on finance and financial flubs, this book offers a lot of grist for the modern reader, and, although every story doesn't shine, they are all both thoughtful and entertaining. I think that's why Bill and Warren love it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Fred Forbes

    Interesting to see the mention of this book as a "favorite" of Bill Gates, given to him by Warren Buffet with a strong recommendation. Article in the Wall St. Journal mentioned it was out of print. Within days, miraculously back in print, complete with kindle edition (which I purchased) and climbing the best seller lists. The book's "business adventures" take place in the mid 60's and it was fun to journey back to those days when I could not have cared less about business and finance - provides Interesting to see the mention of this book as a "favorite" of Bill Gates, given to him by Warren Buffet with a strong recommendation. Article in the Wall St. Journal mentioned it was out of print. Within days, miraculously back in print, complete with kindle edition (which I purchased) and climbing the best seller lists. The book's "business adventures" take place in the mid 60's and it was fun to journey back to those days when I could not have cared less about business and finance - provides an interesting perspective after 40 years in business and finance - especially with regard to well paid executives and engineers making an astounding $13k a year! Frankly, they don't write them like this anymore. Probably one of the best written tomes of a non-fiction nature in terms of vocabulary, erudition, grammatical precision and article structure that I have read. Some will find the long detailed stories on the role of the SEC, happenings in the currency exchange markets to be overdone, but for those with and interest it is a treasure trove to explore these things when the U.S. would still pay off foreign currency claims in gold at $35 an ounce.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Danny Hui

    My review: I found this book on Bill Gates top reads. Few books have the effect of showing you the world in a whole new light. This is one of those books. Have you ever wondered why North America doesn't have open government corruption? Or how the concept of insider trading got created? This book has the answers. What I remember: There are 12 very powerful stories that teach a wealth of knowledge. I remember the story of the Model E by Ford, which is funny because it was such a failure that we wou My review: I found this book on Bill Gates top reads. Few books have the effect of showing you the world in a whole new light. This is one of those books. Have you ever wondered why North America doesn't have open government corruption? Or how the concept of insider trading got created? This book has the answers. What I remember: There are 12 very powerful stories that teach a wealth of knowledge. I remember the story of the Model E by Ford, which is funny because it was such a failure that we would think they would never bring it back up. However, they did dig it up when Tesla tried to complete the E in SEXY, which they ended up calling the model 3. Comments: Even though the stories are very old, they are timeless. The lessons I learned in this book really showed me a whole new way of looking at how business shapes our society.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David Highton

    The business 'adventures' in this book are all pretty dated - none written later than 1968 - some still a good read, others not. Not sure I understand why the Gates/Buffett quotes of support are so strong

  18. 5 out of 5

    Uday Khanna

    I picked this up when I saw that Bill Gates' quote heaping praises for this one. I dont know If I'm in a position right now to 'quote' something, but have to say this is unbelievably good. I might be guilty of saying this for every book that I read perhaps, but I think I make the right choices haha. When it comes to talking about the financial capital of the world, or the Wall street, there's no one as good as Micheal Lewis. Well, John Brooks 'might' be as good as Lewis. Fantastic narratives, so I picked this up when I saw that Bill Gates' quote heaping praises for this one. I dont know If I'm in a position right now to 'quote' something, but have to say this is unbelievably good. I might be guilty of saying this for every book that I read perhaps, but I think I make the right choices haha. When it comes to talking about the financial capital of the world, or the Wall street, there's no one as good as Micheal Lewis. Well, John Brooks 'might' be as good as Lewis. Fantastic narratives, some of the stories grip you with suspense, oh yes, the post WW2 era was a roller coaster for the entire world. Brooks transforms even the simplest of stories, like the one about Xerox Corp., into a perfect Business Lesson. Ooh btw, Brooks opines very strongly on these 'Shorting speculators/the bear raiders'. It was fun yeah.

  19. 5 out of 5

    huydx

    this book tells us about 12 different stories range from stock market, xerox success story to ford failure story. John Brooks is good at telling stories with detail and well-investigated fact. Recommend for people who want to know how the greatest stock market work, fail and spike, how Ford most proud car model could become their most costly failure..

  20. 4 out of 5

    Zach

    Dated (written in late 1960s), but still generally applicable. Approachable and straightforward. Not a book for those without an interest/background in finance.

  21. 5 out of 5

    B A

    I admit that the main reason I read this book is because Bill Gates calls it "The Best Business Book I’ve Ever Read" ( https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Busi... ). (The second reason I read the book was because it was on sale). After having read both this book and another Gates-recommended book, Sapiens by Yuval Hariri, I have to really question his judgment on books. Whereas Sapiens was a near total disaster of a book that I hate more and more the more I think about it, this book was just not th I admit that the main reason I read this book is because Bill Gates calls it "The Best Business Book I’ve Ever Read" ( https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Busi... ). (The second reason I read the book was because it was on sale). After having read both this book and another Gates-recommended book, Sapiens by Yuval Hariri, I have to really question his judgment on books. Whereas Sapiens was a near total disaster of a book that I hate more and more the more I think about it, this book was just not that great. I agree with other reviews that it has a '60s-era writing style that has not aged well. And beyond the style, the writing itself is often just bad. Here's a particularly egregious example: Since its formation, in 1955, I learned, D. & R. had, at moderate but gratifying profit to itself, planned and managed the beginnings of a vast scheme for the reclamation of Khuzistan, an arid and poverty-stricken, though oil-rich, region of western Iran; advised the government of Italy on the development of its backward southern provinces; helped the Republic of Colombia set up a T.V.A.-like authority for its potentially fertile but flood-plagued Cauca Valley; and offered advice to Ghana on water supply, to the Ivory Coast on mineral development, and to Puerto Rico on electric power and atomic energy. If you can look past the occasionally horrendous writing, the book actually has some pretty interesting stories. It is divided into 12 stories, which I believe the author wrote for the New Yorker. I will briefly describe every story. I'll order them from my favorite to my least favorite. 12. In Defense of Sterling - the last and longest - but also by far the best - story of this book. It talks about the international financial system's efforts to prevent the devaluation of the British pound during the '60s. It involves a fascinating deep dive into the international financial system. I learned a lot about the history of the financial system that I knew very little about before reading this book. Brooks talks about the Bretton Woods agreement that created the IMF and the World Bank; the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements, which became a sort of club for federal bank presidents; the 'swap network', which I think was made as a short-term fast-and-easy version of IMF loans; the emergence of the dollar as the world's reserve currency; the gold market in London (for when the dollar was pegged to gold); and how the foreign exchange market works. I knew very little about this stuff before, and Brooks presents it in a fascinating way. After the failure of the gold standard at the beginning of the Great Depression, the big economies came together at Bretton Wood and decided that all of their currencies would be pegged to the dollar instead. The dollar, in turn, would be pegged to gold. It was therefore America's responsibility to maintain the gold standard and act as the world's reserve currency. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York played a large role in this system, since it stored huge quantities of gold for the European countries. Say that a British company buys a machine from a German company. One of two things must happen - either the British company exchanges its pounds for marks and gives the marks to the German company, or the German company accepts the pounds and then exchanges the pounds for marks itself. Either way, this means that pounds are sold on the forex market and marks are bought. This raises the price of marks and lowers the price of pounds. According to Bretton Wood, a country could only allow its currency to float within a narrow range. If the currency went below that range, the country had to spend its gold reserves to prop up the price of its currency. If the currency went above that range, the country could sell is currency and buy gold. This was in large part carried out in the gold vaults of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. If a country does not have enough gold to prop up its currency, then it has to devalue its currency - that is, allow its peg to the dollar to drop. I had heard all of these terms before but never really knew how they worked. Through this engaging and even somewhat dramatic retelling of Britain's devaluation of the pound, Brooks gets all of this information across really well! Of course, we are under a new financial system that doesn't operate exactly like this anymore, but it's still an interesting history and a great place to start with an understanding of the international financial system. 5. Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox - an article on Xerox. Given the current obsession with technology companies, I found this '60s-era version of technology mania to be really interesting. Like, guys, this has allllll happened before. Xerography was a revolutionary invention, way bigger than, say, 3D printing is today. It allowed you to make unlimited copies of written documents... hmm... sounds kind of familiar! Brooks goes through the process of how the copier was invented (which was pretty interesting. It involved a lone inventor developing a unique process; an R&D company buying the rights to it and continuing to work on it; and then the Haloid company making an all-in bet on the technology that paid off big time). The article contains little gems such as, "once one has used a copier, one tends to be hooked." Similarities to modern day technologies doesn't stop there. "A more immediate problem of xerography is the overwhelming temptation it offers to violate the copyright laws." “Xerography is bringing a reign of terror into the world of publishing, because it means that every reader can become both author and publisher,” the Canadian sage Marshall McLuhan wrote in the spring, 1966, issue of the American Scholar. “Authorship and readership alike can become production-oriented under xerography.… Xerography is electricity invading the world of typography, and it means a total revolution in this old sphere.” "Various magazine articles have predicted nothing less than the disappearance of the book as it now exists." It took an additional 5 decades and didn't involve photocopying (I think), but yes, I did read this book on a Kindle I guess... 3. The Federal Income Tax - This story was pretty interesting, and also enraging. Given that it was written in the '60s, I find it fascinating how relevant it is today, in 2018: When it comes to the income tax, we almost all want reform. As reformers, however, we are largely powerless, the chief reasons being the staggering complexity of the whole subject, which causes many people’s minds to go blank at the very mention of it, and the specific, knowledgeable, and energetic advocacy by small groups of the particular provisions they benefit from. ... Paradoxical as it may seem, the evolution of our income tax has been from a low-rate tax relying for revenue on the high income group to a high-rate tax relying on the middle and lower-middle income groups. ... The staff of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress wrote in a report issued in 1961, “Capital gains treatment has become one of the most impressive loopholes in the federal revenue structure.” Brooks dives satisfyingly deep into the subject of abuses of the income tax, for example charitable deductions: At one point, the suggestion is put forward that, instead of actually giving anything away, the owner of appreciated securities may wish to sell them to Princeton, for cash, at the price he originally paid for them; this might appear to the simple-minded to be a commercial transaction, but the booklet points out, accurately, that in the eyes of the Code the difference between the securities’ current market value and the lower price at which they are sold to Princeton represents pure charity, and is fully deductible as such. [aka you can profit from your gains at a 0% tax rate] The charitable deduction loophole means that a rich man can, say, buy a collection of gemstones, display them in his house for a few years, donate them to a museum, and then deduct their (appreciated) value from his tax statement. The consequence is that 1) rich people get to do fancy things that normal people don't get to do and make money from it, and 2) the government (the common taxpayer) is essentially subsidizing purchases for museum collections but has no control over which purchases are made. I think Brooks sums it all well in this sentence: Hypocritically egalitarian on the surface and systematically oligarchic underneath, unconscionably complicated, whimsically discriminatory, specious in its reasoning, pettifogging in its language, demoralizing to charity, an enemy of discourse, a promoter of shop talk, a squanderer of talent, a rock of support to the property owner but a weighty onus to the underpaid, an inconstant friend to the artist and scholar -- and yet, Brooks goes on to say, the income tax is still necessary. And not only is it necessary, but, given the unfathomable, mind-boggling complexity of our society, it's actually not as bad as it could be. 8. The Last Great Corner - this was a great story about how Clarence Saunders, the founder of the Piggly Wiggly chain of grocery stores (the first modern supermarket chain), tried to take on the short sellers of Wall Street and lost. Brooks describes in depth what short selling is, and what a corner is. It's actually pretty fascinating. Essentially a 'corner' is when you buy all of the outstanding shares of a stock and then recall all of the contracts that the short sellers have made, so that they have to buy the stock back, and since you have all of the stock, you get to set the price of the stock. 4. A Reasonable Amount of Time - a fun story about one of the first big insider trading lawsuits. 9. A Second Sort of Life - an interesting vignette of David Lilienthal's life. Lilienthal was the first director of the Tennessee Valley Administration, and therefore played a huge role in lifting the country out of depression and lifting the Tennessee Valley area out of poverty. Brooks is particularly interested in Lilienthal's post-public service life as a businessman. 11. One Free Bite - a story about one of the first lawsuits regarding trade secrets and whether an employee with knowledge of trade secrets can go to work for a competitor. Brooks manages to make an extremely boring subject somewhat interesting. 7. The Impacted Philosophers - a story about price fixing at GE. This was kind of interesting because it showed how easily things can go horrible wrong in an organization due to poor communication. Essentially, even though the upper echelons of GE were firm in banning price fixing, their underlings went behind their backs and did price fixing because... well... why? One possible reason is because the upper management was not convincing enough about not doing price fixing. 2. The Fate of the Edsel - the story of the Edsel is pretty interesting. It was a huge play by Ford to enter the upper-mid sedan market, and it ended in complete failure. Apparently Ford sent $250 million (in '50s dollars) before the first car was even sold. Unfortunately for Ford, not many were sold. Brooks tries to figure out why the Edsel was such a failure, and he overturns what he says was the prevailing belief that the Edsel failed because of the use of slick modern market research tactics. He says it was actually because the Ford management decided to go with their gut instinct instead of market research (for example in naming the Edsel the Edsel). It went beyond that though. The Edsel was also funky looking and had terrible reliability issues. And even more importantly, by the time the Edsel came to market, the market has shifted in favor of small cars. I didn't really see many important lessons from this story. The Edsel project was just poorly managed and poorly executed and had bad luck. 10. Stockholder Season - an interesting article where Brooks visits a few shareholder meetings to see what goes on. There is a handful of activist shareholders whom he loves to make fun of. 6. Making the Customers Whole - a story about a New York Stock Exchange crisis. Pretty forgettable. 1. The Fluctuation - a pretty unmemorable story about the stock market crash of 1962. I think Brooks intends to rev the reader up with an exciting and drama-filled story, but maybe the modern hatred of stock traders is so great that I was kind of pleased reading about their travails in 1962. Or maybe I'm already jaded about stock market crashes - who cares if there's a crash, the stocks will always recover right? (At least they have so far after every crash). The only interesting parts of this story were his descriptions of the (ancient) technology that they used, in particular the Dow Jones ticker. I found this fascinating because it explained so much that I've heard of, particularly, why is the Dow Jones index so important? and why is a stock ticker called a ticker? Apparently the Dow Jones ran (maybe still runs?) an information service that was literally a printer (or 'ticker') that would tick out information such as stock prices and short news blurbs. They didn't have internet back in the '60s so that was the best they could do. I thought that was pretty cool.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ashish

    Some chapters are great; some worth skipping My summary goes here: http://ashishb.net/book-summary/book-...

  23. 4 out of 5

    Diego

    Twelve Wall Street stories from the 60s. These type of lessons are valuable to understand, but unfortunately not all were readable. I was still able to get the summary of each except one. I have no idea what nine was about. One Market fluctuations is about a three day dip in the market in 1962, of which was caused by the delay in information. Not exactly applicable today. Two Ford’s introduction of the Edsel was a bust. This appears to be due to over hype and marketing at the wrong time, and going a Twelve Wall Street stories from the 60s. These type of lessons are valuable to understand, but unfortunately not all were readable. I was still able to get the summary of each except one. I have no idea what nine was about. One Market fluctuations is about a three day dip in the market in 1962, of which was caused by the delay in information. Not exactly applicable today. Two Ford’s introduction of the Edsel was a bust. This appears to be due to over hype and marketing at the wrong time, and going all in on it. But companies can make mistakes and bounce back. This story was a bit long. Three Federal Income Tax developed out of the need to supply war, but was highly unpopular. It has since been modified to the point of complexity that only favors the rich. Trump now claims simplicity, but favors the rich and screws the poor. It’s only getting worse. Loopholes can be exploited by the rich. Four A story about Texas Gulf drilling for natural resources in Canada, and the information didn’t make it to the media quickly. And the belief of how big the find was didn’t resonate with what the market knew from the first report. Also that only the employees knew the real story and was able to buy up stock. This lead to an SEC court case of insider trading. Not an issue today with the internet available and information updates are instant. This may be about practicing emotional intelligence by not rushing a public statement until all facts are set. Insider trading at the level of thousands of shares is a red flag when purchased directly after a major company strategic event. Five Xerox unknowingly put themselves right in the behind enabling copy-write law infractions. Books were being copied and the situation became political very quick. Thus, the company became involved and more political. They turned out to be a company that also donates to their local university. Six A company is discovered to have no assets and is illiquid. They report to Wall Street and JFK is assassinated that morning. The market is stopped. They basically spend the time to regroup and figure out what to do. They decide to borrow money and repay the customers that lost money. This would never happen again, not when it’s so easy to go bankrupt nowadays. And that Wall Street is the devils lair. Seven This appears to be a purposeful lack of communication about price fixing and violating anti trust laws at the executive level of GE. Conniving stories spinner as poor communication. Typical. Eight Cornering the market is when bears sell off and try to get the price to drop so they can buy low. Bulls will then corner the market by buying up all those floating shares and selling at whatever price they want. They flood the news with propaganda that the stock is bad. This was about Piggly Wiggly and it’s founder. Nine .... Ten Stockholder meeting in AT&T with everyone arguing with one another in 1966. Then another in Atlanta for GE. Small shareholders want more say. Then another about Pfizer’s meeting with open arms and communication. No arguments between stockholders and managers. Evident respect. Chief executive personalities are evident in a public forum of this kind. Eleven A man is approached by another competitor for a better job. Goodrich, his employer, won’t let him leave and threaten to sue him. This one is about the protection of trade secrets. Though one cannot be held guilty before a crime is committed. But could be investigated if found to have used trade secrets. Twelve The US Federal Reserve holds funds for Great Britain, and if they crash or lose money, the Federal Reserve Bank loses. Thus began the defense of the Pound Sterling. Mitigation solutions like devaluation of the currency is explored. Cheaper to export, but making standard of living at home more expensive and cannot buy goods or import. The worry was it would lead to a devaluation of the dollar as well leading to world depression. Great Britain was not good at managing their funds and did not operate to grow, which can leave open for risk and loss in drastic times. Preventative measures weee taken and a crash was vehemently fought. Sterling eventually failed but they bankers that fought it felt a structure was established that made the crash less impactful. I would skip this book. Not very enjoyable to read. Only a few stories were interesting. Recommended by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates but I bet they don’t even remember that.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Byrd

    I don't know how he makes this stuff exciting but he sure does!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Albert W Tu

    may not be worth your time... Out of print for over 40 years and recently resurrected(#508 on Amazon eBooks and #76 in paperback-and still a few days out from release) this book is cited by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates as their favorite book on business. I'm wagering this book will take over from Piketty's Capital as the most purchased yet unread book of the season and yet the difference in reading pleasure is so stark. Brooks wrote these essays nearly 50 years ago and you can't help but recall t may not be worth your time... Out of print for over 40 years and recently resurrected(#508 on Amazon eBooks and #76 in paperback-and still a few days out from release) this book is cited by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates as their favorite book on business. I'm wagering this book will take over from Piketty's Capital as the most purchased yet unread book of the season and yet the difference in reading pleasure is so stark. Brooks wrote these essays nearly 50 years ago and you can't help but recall that Buffet and Gates are 83 and 58 respectively. The writing feels dated and stilted -- I found the much lauded Edsel piece exceptionally arduous but hardly an outlier. This book is not without merits however. In twelve parts, Brooks does cover many timeless aspects of business from stock markets swings, to non-compete issues, to income tax, insider trading. The story of business, like any history, is rife with repetition and so contemporary parallels abound. The frantic efforts to cleanly dissolve the Haupt brokerage firm eerily resonates the start of the Great Recession and the final chapter on international coordination to defend the sterling in the late 60s reminds you of the last few years as well. Still, I can't say this is worth the necessary investment in time.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    Absolutely worth reading for anyone with an interest in how the "big leagues" of business, finance and industry work. This was groundbreaking, revelatory feature writing when it was first published nearly 50 years ago; it only gets four stars instead of five because it dwells in part on areas that probably fascinated lay readers of the 1960s but are old news to modern readers, or are simply obsolete (hang wringing over maintaining the Gold Standard in the US). Its being out of date is in part of Absolutely worth reading for anyone with an interest in how the "big leagues" of business, finance and industry work. This was groundbreaking, revelatory feature writing when it was first published nearly 50 years ago; it only gets four stars instead of five because it dwells in part on areas that probably fascinated lay readers of the 1960s but are old news to modern readers, or are simply obsolete (hang wringing over maintaining the Gold Standard in the US). Its being out of date is in part of its appeal, though - hearing about the stock ticker when it actually was a "ticker" rattling out printed strips over primitive dedicated modem connections to the NYSE, or listening to the author marvel at a computer "able to read the entire contents of the Manhattan phone book every eight seconds" gives a wonderful sense of historical perspective. It's not for everyone, and modern business reading audiences won't find it as insightful as others did five decades ago, but it's still a classic that belongs on every business bookshelf.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jaseem

    One blog entry by Bill Gates sort of resurrected this book. The book is dated, and that shows. When was the last time you used the word "transatlantic phone call"? Some of the stories are really engaging. The crash of '62 and the colossal failure of Ford Edsel are good examples. The history of IRS will tell you why your company gave you that ESOP. The story of Texas Gulf Sulfur gives you good insights into insider trading and the moral and economic implications of it. History of Xerox is truly in One blog entry by Bill Gates sort of resurrected this book. The book is dated, and that shows. When was the last time you used the word "transatlantic phone call"? Some of the stories are really engaging. The crash of '62 and the colossal failure of Ford Edsel are good examples. The history of IRS will tell you why your company gave you that ESOP. The story of Texas Gulf Sulfur gives you good insights into insider trading and the moral and economic implications of it. History of Xerox is truly inspiring. Some of them were not so great as well. "A second sort of life" was so slow and boring that I had to skip the chapter. "In Defense of Sterling" would have been the best if it didn't get elongated so much. "Stockholder Season" added no real value. Brooks goes into too much detail when not necessary. The book is lengthy, close to 380 pages and could have been easily brought down close to 250. It's a great book, but not worth the hype.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ashwin

    I read this book since it comes with a reputation of being one of the favourite of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. It was a good read and I must say that it was informative to read about diverse corporate events like a big car project fiasco at Ford, an employee's fight against a large corporation like Goodrich, one of the first cases of insider trading, the pound sterling crisis and many more. However I must also say that the book has been written in an over detailed manner which makes the readin I read this book since it comes with a reputation of being one of the favourite of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. It was a good read and I must say that it was informative to read about diverse corporate events like a big car project fiasco at Ford, an employee's fight against a large corporation like Goodrich, one of the first cases of insider trading, the pound sterling crisis and many more. However I must also say that the book has been written in an over detailed manner which makes the reading very insipid rather than interesting. There are times that one finds the chapters meandering around myriad of unnecessary details and almost gasping with the thought that what's the point out here. Nonetheless this is a very rich account of corporate diaries circa 1960s and indeed very insightful and a must read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Vilmantas

    Twelve jaw-dropping stories: from unsuccessfully launched products by Ford to 1964 crisis of the oldest currency in the world - the pound sterling and it's devaluation. The impact of latter historic event is captured in following excerpt by John Brooks: “Hayes paused, and when he spoke again his voice was full of such quiet force that I saw the devaluation through his eyes—not as just a severe professional reverse but as an ideal lost and an idol fallen. He said, “That day in November, here at th Twelve jaw-dropping stories: from unsuccessfully launched products by Ford to 1964 crisis of the oldest currency in the world - the pound sterling and it's devaluation. The impact of latter historic event is captured in following excerpt by John Brooks: “Hayes paused, and when he spoke again his voice was full of such quiet force that I saw the devaluation through his eyes—not as just a severe professional reverse but as an ideal lost and an idol fallen. He said, “That day in November, here at the bank, when a courier brought me the top-secret British document informing us of the decision to devalue, I felt physically sick. Sterling would not be the same. It would never again command the same amount of faith around the world.”

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alex Song

    I wanted to like this book. 12 vignettes, hit or miss. Ch 1 and 12 were really great (he's good at writing about the financial markets). The chapter on insider trading was also very interesting. Everything else was meh. If there is a reason why this is Bill Gates' and Warren Buffett's favorite book, I didn't see it.

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