What's Bill Gates's favorite business book?

'Business Adventures' by John Brooks, published in 1969, is seeing new life, thanks to praise from Bill Gates.

AP Photo/Nati Harnik
Microsoft co-founder and Berkshire Hathaway board member Bill Gates smiles during an interview with Liz Claman on the Fox Business Network in Omaha, Neb., Monday, May 5, 2014.

Last week, Bill Gates contributed a column to The Wall Street Journal. In it, he revealed his favorite business book of all time: "Business Adventures," by John Brooks.

Readers instantly flocked to various book outlets to get their hands on a book so highly recommended by one of the most financially successful people in the world, only to find that the book had been out of print for decades.

The sudden demand, however, means that the collection of business stories, originally published in 1969, is making a huge comeback.

When Alex Brooks, son of the late John Brooks, heard that Bill Gates had publicly recommended "Business Adventures," he was surprised. “I was very pleased to learn Bill Gates was a fan of my father’s book,” he said in an interview with Quartz.

"Business Adventures" is a collection of a dozen articles from the New Yorker magazine which offer insightful and humorous looks into the business world of the time period in which it was written. It covers such stories of scandals at GE, the historic financial disaster that was the Ford Edsel, and the early history of Xerox and the development of the graphical user interface.

“['Business Adventures'] got reprinted a few times during the 70s and I guess after that people thought that it was old news because it was describing stories that had happened in the 60s and even back into the 50s, I think that people saw it as an ephemeral thing, as a good piece of journalism,” Brooks said in the Quartz interview.

In his Wall Street Journal column, Gates admits that some of the details of the book may be a little out of date. However, he points out that "'Business Adventures' is as much about the strengths and weaknesses of leaders in challenging circumstances as it is about the particulars of one business or another. In that sense, it is still relevant not despite its age but because of it. John Brooks's work is really about human nature, which is why it has stood the test of time."

Gate's praise of "Business Adventures" meant that used copies of the books that had languished unsold for quite some time suddenly flew off the shelves. Abebooks, an online seller of primarily used books, reported "Business Adventures by John Brooks" was the top search term on their website. A spokesman for the company said they had run out of copies by Sunday morning, according to The Guardian.

But instead of making the book scarce, Gates's recommendation has done the opposite. Brooks called up his father's agent as soon as he heard about Gates's comments and "asked them if we could get an e-book ready in a hurry. They got in touch with the publisher Open Road, and Open Road seemed to think it was a good opportunity and jumped right in,” according to Quartz. The e-book is already available, and a new paperback edition will be out in September.

Though Brooks has Bill Gates to thank for the sudden resurrection of his father's book, the co-founder of Microsoft is not the only famous businessman to think highly of "Business Adventures." According to Gates's column, the book was personally recommended to him by Warren Buffett.

"Not long after I first met Warren Buffett back in 1991, I asked him to recommend his favorite book about business. He didn't miss a beat: 'It's 'Business Adventures,' by John Brooks,' he said. 'I'll send you my copy.'"

Gates says that since he first received the book, it's lost none of its appeal.

"Today, more than two decades after Warren 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. John Brooks is still my favorite business writer," says Gates in his column. "And Warren, if you're reading this, I still have your copy."

Weston Williams is a Monitor contributor.

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