Playwright Oscar Wilde once wrote, “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”
Learning from business-oriented novels
Non-fiction business-oriented books are great for learning how other people do things. But when you read fiction, you learn life lessons that you can apply to making your own decisions. Here is an eclectic list of novels that teach valuable life lessons. None of these books is set in the modern business world. However, when you get caught up in these plots and with these strong characters, you will see things as they see them and you will learn from both their mistakes and their triumphs.
Business-oriented novels: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1990)
“I can’t even say I made my own mistakes,” laments this novel’s narrator, Stevens. “Really — one has to say — what dignity is there in that?” In his unwavering devotion to his master, Lord Darlington, and to his career as an English butler, Stevens has sacrificed his own soul. Or has he? This beautifully written novel examines the fading class system of early- to mid-20th century England, but it also delves into the broader – and more relevant – question of how do you remain true to your own personal ethics when they conflict your employer’s? How does love fit into duty? Ishiguro’s prose is powerful and moving.
Business-oriented novels: The Godfather by Mario Puzo (1969)
Power. Family. Greed. Loyalty. You’ve probably seen the movie, but you owe it to yourself to read the book. Essentiality the story of father and son — Don Vito Corleone and his son, Michael – this novel takes us on a sweeping inside look at the Mafia. Much more than a crime story, Puzo makes us care about these men and women and yet at the same time feel the impact of the violence that is part of running their “family business.”
Business-oriented novels: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (1974)
If you want to take a look at leadership, military leaders are a great place to start. Here is an historical fiction account of the Battle of Gettysburg through the eyes of the Confederate Army’s Lee, Longstreet and Armistead and the Federal Army’s Buford and Chamberlain, as well as others. We learn of their personalities, their fears, their faults and their strengths. It is hard not to ache when you read about what these leaders and their men went through on these horrible July days in 1863.
Business-oriented novels: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
I think it is a tragedy that many of us read great novels only when we are too young to appreciate them fully. If you read The Great Gatsby in high school, you will benefit from reading it again now. With more life experience under your belt, you are bound to feel differently about this deceptively simple piece of American fiction. Yes, it is the love story and tale of money and power that you remember, but you will also more clearly see the darkness and the sadness that is Jay Gatsby. It is a story that will linger with you long after you have read it.
Business-oriented novels: The Coffee Traders by David Liss (2004)
This exciting historical novel gives a fascinating look at commodity trading. Set in 17th-century Amsterdam, the book’s protagonist is a Portuguese Jew who is seeking investors for a new product – coffee. The story deals with the strong anti-Semitism and the other politics of doing business at that time in history. Be ready to set aside some time for this one. After a somewhat slow start, it reads like a thriller, and you won’t want to put it down.
Business-oriented novels: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1943)
Twelve publishers told Ayn Rand, “No,” before the Bobbs-Merrill Company finally brought us the story of architect Howard Roark and Dominique Francon. The author said the theme of her book was “individualism versus collectivism, not in politics but within a man’s soul.” It is a life-changing theme and just as important now as during the turbulent times in which Rand wrote it. Do not be daunted by the chunkiness of this book. The characters are so compelling that you will find the time to read it.