I had heard this book is a favourite of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet amongst others, so thought it would be good to see why it’s so popular. It’s a collection of 12 stories about different aspects of business, markets and regulation, with topics including insider trading, the stock market, the failure of the Edsel car from Ford and the success of Xerox. The stories are predominantly based in the 1960s, when the book was first published.
Brooks writes in a enjoyable style, mixing facts with his opinions, and including plenty of quotes from people involved in the various stories. He has clearly spent a lot of time researching each story, and talking to as many people who were involved as he could.
For me, the most interesting stories were the two business stories, the first about the failure of the Ford Edsel car, which seems to be a victim of being launched in an over-hyped way at the wrong time, and the second about the success Xerox which risked a lot on developing the photocopier but having come up with such a great idea did very well once they got it working.
Other stories were insightful by showing the history of events which have now become common. For instance, a scientist who wanted to move companies and became embroiled in the law court around whether he was allowed to, given the trade secrets he knew; and another story around Insider trading at the Texas Gulf mining firm who made a new discovery in Canada.
The most enjoyable story to read concerned a price fixing scandal at GE. Here Brooks appeared to relish in exploring the different levels of communication, where people were being lectured on and signing agreements not to price fix, while through winks, or other subtle communications were engaging in it; this subtlety meaning others didn’t, or claimed not to, understand what their colleagues were doing.
Several of the stories were less interesting, including on income tax and the 1964 steeling crisis. Overall this was an enjoyable read, although it would not go in my list of favourite books, so I don’t appear to have the mindset of a successful billionaire!