The best business books for appreciating how the world really works

Who am I?

Sometimes I feel like we know more about the anthropologies of ancient civilizations and remote tribes than about the business most people do every day. There's mystery behind the curtain. To me, good nonfiction that goes deep inside a business is about our culture and how our world works. It's a way to understand everything we interact with and how it got there. I have enjoyed telling specific business creation stories as a business journalist, but understanding what truly turns the gears has informed writing I have done on every subject, including my humor.

I wrote...

The Kickstarter Handbook: Real-Life Crowdfunding Success Stories

By Don Steinberg,

Book cover of The Kickstarter Handbook: Real-Life Crowdfunding Success Stories

What is my book about?

I like to mix useful information with engaging stories. So I tried to make the Kickstarter Handbook a fun read and a hands-on resource for entrepreneurs. Every Kickstarter campaign is its own thrilling adventure, a story of desire and obstacle, creativity, perseverance, denial, anger, bargaining, failure and success. I think these tales help make the book a pleasant and enlightening read, no matter what you actually wanted to read about.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Out of the Shadows: The New Merchants of Grain

Why did I love this book?

This book reveals a substantial but obscure piece of the world economy. It's gonna blow your mind how much grains influence the world. Corn is in food and packaging and gasoline. Palm oil is in everything. Wheat, rice, soybeans…apparently billions of people eat this stuff. Commodities futures trading is about high finance but also farming, land use, biotech, politics, and climate change. Kingsman is a lively writer, considering he's a career commodities trader, and he interviews insiders at companies including the "ABCD" giants -- ADM, Bunge, Cargill, and Dreyfus (of the Julia Louis-Dreyfuses).

By Jonathan Kingsman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Out of the Shadows as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1979, Dan Morgan, a journalist with the Washington Post, wrote Merchants of Grain, a definitive history of the international grain trade. In the 40 years since Dan’s book was published the grain markets have changed almost beyond recognition. So too have the merchants of grain. Once shadowy figures, grain merchants have now come out of the shadows. Almost everything that you eat or drink today will contain something bought, stored, transported, processed, shipped, distributed or sold by one of the seven giants of the agricultural supply chain. The media often refers to them as the ABCD group of international…

Book cover of How to Get Rich: One of the World's Greatest Entrepreneurs Shares His Secrets

Why did I love this book?

The title is a trick, probably the publisher's idea. Dennis (who passed away in 2014) expresses qualms about the whole getting rich idea. Before becoming a magazine multimillionaire (The Week, Maxim, Stuff) he was a poet, jailed in 1971 for editing an obscene humor magazine. He borrowed to start his publishing empire with Cozmic Comics and Kung Fu Monthly. He writes that anyone can raise capital -- you just need enough confidence in your plan to grovel and risk your friends' money. I forever carry his advice on negotiation: whoever cares less wins. Negotiate hard, be sure about what you'd like, but be ready to walk away, because no deal is a must-do.

By Felix Dennis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Get Rich as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Making money is a knack, a knack that can be acquired. And if someone like me can become rich, then so can you - no matter what your present circumstances. Here is how I did it and what I learned along the way.' So writes Felix Dennis, who believes that almost anyone of reasonable intelligence can become rich, given sufficient motivation and application.

How To Get Rich is a distillation of his business wisdom. Primarily concerned with the step-by-step creation of wealth, it ruthlessly dissects the business failures and financial triumphs of 'a South London lad who became rich virtually…

Book cover of The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger

Why did I love this book?

In a blurb on the back, a guy says "the modern shipping container may be a close second to the Internet on the way it has changed our lives." That's debatable, but Levinson makes the case in telling the history and impact of those 40-foot metal boxes that stack on freight ships and transfer easily to trains to trucks. Back in the On The Waterfront days, goods and crates and canvas sacks hoisted by ropes were loaded and unloaded separately onto ships. It was death-defying labor for longshoremen, and inefficient business. Containers that could travel neatly and intermodally made goods cheaper for consumers everywhere, created global markets, and killed many jobs. So maybe they were the first Internet!

By Marc Levinson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Box as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In April 1956, a refitted oil tanker carried fifty-eight shipping containers from Newark to Houston. From that modest beginning, container shipping developed into a huge industry that made the boom in global trade possible. The Box tells the dramatic story of the container's creation, the decade of struggle before it was widely adopted, and the sweeping economic consequences of the sharp fall in transportation costs that containerization brought about. But the container didn't just happen. Its adoption required huge sums of money, both from private investors and from ports that aspired to be on the leading edge of a new…

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Book cover of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

Why did I love this book?

I grew up at a time when the characters on cereal boxes had their own Saturday morning cartoon shows. Stuff like that was pioneered by packaged-food companies that were funding experiments to determine the perfect "bliss point" for how much sugar they could load into kid's mouths. Moss chronicles food companies' relentless push of "convenience" over health, from instant pudding to cake mixes, while fighting to minimize medical research into obesity, tooth decay, and other bad news. He tells about Betty Dickson, a healthy foods activist who gained traction in the 1950s persuading women to cook meals from scratch at home. General Foods wanted to sell boxed cake mixes, so it created Betty Crocker, a fake cooking authority named Betty who became more famous and influential. Moss's new book, "Hooked," is a sort of sequel.

By Michael Moss,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Salt Sugar Fat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The No.1 New York Times Bestseller

In China, for the first time, the people who weigh too much now outnumber those who weigh too little. In Mexico, the obesity rate has tripled in the past three decades. In the UK over 60 per cent of adults and 30 per cent of children are overweight, while the United States remains the most obese country in the world.

We are hooked on salt, sugar and fat. These three simple ingredients are used by the major food companies to achieve the greatest allure for the lowest possible cost. Here, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter…

Book cover of The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket

Why did I love this book?

Sorry, it's another behind-the-scenes food book on my list. But food is something we all like to eat, and we ought to know how it happens. Lorr rips into the way supermarkets choose foods based on profit margins, shelf appeal, and turnover rather than necessarily tasting great, or being healthful. And also on lucrative "slotting fees" -- manufacturers paying to have products on the shelves. Lorr saves special spite for the way the trucking industry exploits drivers. His histories of grocery chains like Trader Joe's and ALDI are fascinating, and he gets a job at Whole Foods, where he learns the magic phrase employees are trained to say to cranky or bothersome customers: "Sounds important!"

By Benjamin Lorr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Secret Life of Groceries as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A deeply curious and evenhanded report on our national appetites." --The New York Times

In the tradition of Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma, an extraordinary investigation into the human lives at the heart of the American grocery store

The miracle of the supermarket has never been more apparent. Like the doctors and nurses who care for the sick, suddenly the men and women who stock our shelves and operate our warehouses are understood as 'essential' workers, providing a quality of life we all too easily take for granted. But the sad truth is that the grocery industry has…

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