I love to read, but my relationship with business writing is complicated. It takes a special person to have both writing skills and business acumen. When these skills come together in an author, reading about business is a true pleasure. Today, I want to recommend some business writing that has entertained, challenged and inspired me.
I enjoy a good financial thriller, or tale of a fraud being uncovered layer by layer. Regardless of what appeals to you, you should be reading as much as possible. As an auditor, being a learned and charming person is part of your job. Select a topic that is interesting to you, find the penultimate book about it, and get lost in some beautiful prose.
In the meantime, here are some books about auditing and business to get you started. Happy reading!
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
I picked this book up quite recently, and from the minute I started reading could not put it down! I have been following the story of Theranos, a Silicon Valley “unicorn” that was revealed as a fraud, for the last couple of years. John Carreyrou is a Wall Street Journal investigative reporter who almost single-handedly revealed Theranos, and its maniacal founder Elizabeth Holmes, as a game of smoke and mirrors. The story of how Carreyrou became involved, and how other key players were either conned by or attempted to blow the whistle on Holmes, is edge of your seat thrilling.
There are some very shocking cameos in this tale; famed lawyer David Boies, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and many others. There are beach-read worthy sections; a multigenerational family drama, a healthy dose of boardroom theatre, personal vendettas, and off-the-charts office bullying and harassment. There are times it will make you reflect on our broken healthcare system, the roles and responsibilities of the mass media, or the insane but perfectly legal intimidation tactics that allowed the fraud to continue. Honestly, this book has it all.
I’ll shut up now. Just go read it!
Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower by Cynthia Cooper
If you are an auditor who has not yet read this book, you should probably stop reading my post and go take care of that right now! There is one instance where the Internal Audit department is the hero of a story that grabbed the world’s attention, and this is it. This book not only explains the early 2000s WorldCom fraud in clear detail, it explores the human element and tragedy. Cynthia Cooper, who was the lead auditor at WorldCom, tells a tale that reads as both incredible and completely plausible to many of us. It’s an instance of the exact right person for the job, being in the right place at the right time, and competently doing the right thing. If your background is not in Internal Audit, you will still be amazed by Cooper and what her team accomplished. I can’t recommend this book highly enough!
No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller by Harry Markopolos
While the story of Bernie Madoff and his family is best told by novelists and playwrights for its scale and tragedy, Harry Markopolos is the perfect person to explain the business angle. Markopolos is a “quant,” a rare individual who can see patterns and anomalies in numbers, who worked in Madoff’s industry and saw the fraud for what it was early on. Unfortunately, no one would listen. He tells the maddening tale of pleading with hapless regulators who were both clueless and powerless to stop Madoff. He warns friends and associates not to get involved, to no avail. The Ponzi scheme’s ultimate revelation is both a relief and a continuing horror as peers lose their fortunes and fall from grace. While we all know how the story ends, it is excruciating to witness from this perspective.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Steven Covey
First a disclaimer: the genre of writing that reads more like “self-help” usually doesn’t appeal to me. I am wary of the vague titles, bold promises, meaningless metaphors and religious undertones that are all too common.
Yes, this book falls into “self-help” territory. Parts of it are incredibly cheesy. It is at least 100 pages too long. All that said, I will admit that this book holds up. I frequently catch myself referencing the seven habits when reflecting on my decisions and actions. Think of the most and least effective people you know. Then read in amazement as Covey nails behaviors and traits in ways you never noticed but are unable to deny. The themes are so commonly understood at this point that it’s worth reading just to relate to those around you.
My advice is to skip the fluff and only read the seven habits. Anytime he gets into the weeds or too touchy-feely, dog ear the page and move on to the next chapter. If an unusually long story about Covey’s kid mowing the lawn for no reason appeals to you, then by all means go back and read the whole thing!
How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
This is a fascinating book. Carnegie displays a keen ability to understand the human condition, and wrote a behavioral guide that anyone could comprehend and apply to their lives. The world in which Carnegie operated has certainly changed; the language used is old fashioned and the colleagues Carnegie mentions have been deceased for decades. Still, the advice is surprisingly timeless.
If that’s not enough to make you pick it up, here is something to consider. Charles Manson cited this book as one of his tools in recruiting his “family,” adding another level of intrigue to this text.
Final Accounting: Ambition, Greed and the Fall of Arthur Andersen by Barbara Ley Toffler
Of all the books on this list, I am most likely to re-read this one in the near future. I first read it back in the early 2000s, on the advice of my then-boyfriend (now husband) who was working in the Big 4. In fact, the Big 4 had very recently been downgraded (upgraded?) from the Big 5, and this book provides some insight into how that happened. I didn’t have personal experience in consulting or firm politics at that time, but still found this book fascinating. It tells the story of the Arthur Andersen downfall from the perspective of an insider who is both horrified by what she sees and complicit in the system that has made her wealthy. It also tells a compelling story of a professional woman trying to “have it all” in a pre-Sandberg era.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Isaacson is a storied biographer, and his chosen subjects have one thing in common: genius. Steve Jobs, who had a hand in writing this book when his death was imminent, was the genius and visionary of our times. He was also a bully, a flawed husband and father, a maniacal perfectionist, a control freak and many other things most of us would rather not be. Isaacson explores the life of this intriguing person with a no-holds barred approach. He presents Jobs with all his amazing qualities and all his human failings. I came away from this book thankful that Jobs lived and invented so many things that I use every day… and almost as thankful that I never met him!
Left Out on Purpose
Business woman, working mother, owner of an eCommerce business… I bet you thought I was going to recommend Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Not to brag, but I hated this book before Sandberg became a corporate villain. I read Lean In when it first came out, and don’t recall a single piece of advice or anecdote. Lean In blew up the world of business writing six years ago or so, but safe to say it has not held up in this short period of time. Following the tragic death of her husband, Sandberg herself acknowledged that she did not fully grasp the difficulties that exist for single parents. While I applaud what Sandberg was trying to do, I think she missed the mark.
Now readers, I want to hear from you! What are your favorite business and business-adjacent books? Did any of my recommendations make your list? Which of my choices are you most likely to pick up and read yourself? Anything great that I missed? Leave a comment!