John Brooks ’42
John Brooks ’42

An impassioned endorsement from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has put a long-forgotten business book by John Brooks ’42 on the bestseller lists.

Gates called Business Adventures, which came out in 1969, “the best business book I’ve ever read” in a blog post in July. He also mentioned that the book initially was loaned to him by fellow business titan Warren Buffett. Business Adventures is a collection of essays on topics ranging from the Ford Edsel to the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain. Brooks, who died in 1993, wrote the pieces for The New Yorker, where he was a staff writer.

The book had been out of print, but publishers rushed to re-issue it. It since has made The New York Times best-seller list.

Brooks, who grew up in Trenton, N.J., wrote for The Daily Princetonian before launching his career at Time. “Beginning in 1949, his continuing association with The New Yorker nourished an extraordinary talent for writing lucid and entertaining prose, and gaining for him the reputation for having invented the style of treating business and finance as a human adventure,” his PAW memorial observed.

Gates, who first read Business Adventures in 1991, called Brooks’ insights into business “as relevant today as they were back then.” Brooks rebuts the popular explanations for why the Ford Edsel was a flop. “It wasn’t because the car was overly poll-tested; it was because Ford’s executives only pretended to be acting on what the polls said,” Gates writes. And Brooks explains how Xerox failed to capitalize on promising research it had done because executives didn’t think the ideas fit with their core business. Gates concludes: “John Brooks’ work is really about human nature, which is why it has stood the test of time.”