18 Best Business Biographies to Read in 2021

Home » Books » Business BiographiesUpdated: September 15, 2021

You found our list of top business biographies.

Business biographies are narratives that tell the stories of entrepreneurs and the birth and growth of influential companies. These works deal with topics such as childhood influences, education and early career, business founding, and the evolution of entrepreneurial empires. The purpose of these books is to provide further context and insight into the personal factors that contributed to the creation of companies, and to inspire and educate current and future entrepreneurs.

These works are a subset of business books and are similar to entrepreneur books and CEO books.

This list includes:

  • autobiographies of business founders
  • biographies of business leaders
  • entrepreneur biographies
  • business biographies about women

Here we go!

List of business biographies

Here is a list of biographies of business leaders that shed light on how to launch and nurture legacies and empires.

1. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog

Shoe Dog is one of the most popular autobiographies of business founders of all time. This memoir has received endorsements from the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

In his own words, Nike founder Phil Knight recounts the journey of founding the sneaker company and its ascent into a top athletic wear brand. Knight gives a peek into his early life and influences, as well as insights into his leadership and business philosophy. Shoe Dog is a masterful illustration of tenacity, vision, and the business lifestyle.

Notable Quote: “Beating the competition is relatively easy. Beating yourself is a never-ending commitment.”

Read Shoe Dog.

2. Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire by Brad Stone

Amazon unbound book cover

Amazon Unbound is Brad Stone’s followup to the bestselling book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. This latest biography about the founder of Amazon charts the company’s rise to global titan status and chronicles Bezos’ evolution as a leader within the past decade. The work includes the company’s development of cloud technology, Alexa, and Prime Video, as well as acquisitions of Whole Foods and The Washington Post. The book continues the narrative of the story of Amazon and its founder and lays forth the next chapter in the saga of the e-commerce giant.

Notable Quote: “Jeff is master of ‘this isn’t working today, but could work tomorrow.’ If customers like it, he’s got the cash flow to fund it.”

Read Amazon Unbound.

3. Iacocca: An Autobiography by Lee Iacocca

Iacocca an autobiography book cover

Iacocca: An Autobiography is a firsthand account of the life of the legendary auto executive. Lee Iacocca’s life is a prime example of the American dream– raised by immigrants, he rises up the ranks in corporate America and dominates the auto world. In the course of this journey, Lee Iacocca revolutionized the automobile industry and earned icon status. The autobiography traces the highlights of Iacocca’s illustrious career, from his part in creating the Mustang and ascent to president of Ford, to saving the Chrysler brand, and defeating hurdles along the way. Iacocca: An Autobiography is a motivational read and a rallying call for resilience.

Notable Quote: “In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product, and profits. People come first. Unless you’ve got a good team, you can’t do much with the other two.”

Read Iacocca: An Autobiography.

4. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow

titan the life of john d rockefeller book cover

Titan traces the life of legendary businessman John D Rockefeller. This biography aims to examine Rockefeller through a new lens. Many other accounts either overly-glorify Rockefeller as a hero or condemn him based on The Standard Oil Company’s later scandals. Ron Chernow angles to lift the veil on and gain insight into the notoriously private Rockefeller by compiling a comprehensive account of his full life. The book follows John Rockefeller Sr from his childhood to death. In doing so, the author not only recounts the moves and deals that helped build a business and charity empire, but also shares stories and quotes that more thoroughly flesh out the figure behind the great deeds.

Notable Quote: “Rockefeller equated silence with strength: Weak men had loose tongues and blabbed to reporters, while prudent businessmen kept their own counsel.”

Read Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

5. The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution by Gregory Zuckerman

The man who solved the market book cover

The Man Who Solved the Market is a bestselling book about Jim Simons, the mathematician who pioneered an algorithm-driven approach to investing that achieved unheard-of market returns. The book unpacks Simon’s backstory by tracing the codebreaker’s early adolescence, education at MIT, early career, and finally the late-life acclaim and founding of Renaissance Technologies. Gregory Zuckerman connects Simons’ story to the broader current climate and notes the influences the discovery had on the wider world. The Man Who Solved the Market also holds lessons about teamwork and professional collaboration.

Notable Quote: “Scientists and mathematicians are trained to dig below the surface of the chaotic, natural world to search for unexpected simplicity, structure, and even beauty”

Read The Man Who Solved the Market.

6. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams

How to fail at almost everything and still win big book cover

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big is equal parts amusing and profound. In this book, Dilbert comic creator Scott Adams traces his career, paying special attention to the flops, setbacks, and disappointments. By focusing on failure, Adams explains how he was able to transform losses into lessons and eventual opportunities. The author’s signature wry sense of humor elevates the underdog narrative beyond motivational fluff and into actionable advice.

While telling his own tale, Adams drops tidbits such as:

  • Goals are for losers. Systems are for winners.
  • The most important metric is to track your personal energy.
  • Conquer shyness by being a huge phony (in a good way.)

While this book is structured more like a self-help guide than a traditional biography, it is full of personal anecdotes that provide a much more rounded picture of the famous cartoonist.

Notable Quote: “Failure always brings something valuable with it. I don’t let it leave until I extract that value.”

Read ​​How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

7. The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder

The snowball book cover

The Snowball provides a personal portrait of the Oracle of Omaha. In this exclusive biography, Warren Buffet allows Alice Schroeder and the readers intimate access into his inner life by way of years of one-on-one interviews with the author. The book reveals previously non-public details about Buffet’s childhood, career, and relationships, and sheds light on the investor’s inner-drivers, values, and areas of personal growth. The Snowball shows Warren Buffet’s human side and gives extra context to the magnate’s extraordinary accomplishments.

Notable Quote: “Intensity is the price of excellence.”

Read The Snowball.

8. Pappyland: A Story of Family, Fine Bourbon, and the Things That Last by Wright Thompson

Pappyland book cover

Pappyland is a tale of familial entrepreneurial duty and legacy preservation. The book tells the tale of Julian Van Winkle III’s battle to save his father and grandfather’s lifework and the reputation of the family whiskey business. The work chronicles Van Winkle’s early struggles to keep the business afloat in leaner years to the eventual rise to several-hundred-dollar-a-bottle prestige, and the resulting need for innovation and reinvention that stayed true to the company’s roots. Few entrepreneur biographies touch so heavily on themes of family devotion and obligation, making Pappyland a moving and relatable read as well as a practical business study.

Notable Quote: “That’s the work of adulthood. Sorting out the good and bad within.”

Read Pappyland.

9. The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger

The Ride of a Lifetime book cover

The Ride of a Lifetime is a self-penned profile of Disney executive Robert Iger. The book recounts Iger’s rise from entry-level employee at ABC to head of the most powerful media company in the world. Iger reflects on the industry changes that he saw and had a hand in during his long and lucrative career, and highlights the keys to his professional success. While the book is not strictly a memoir, Iger structures this guide with personal details that give context to his business behaviors. The Ride of a Lifetime provides a direct look at the philosophies of the man behind the mouse.

Notable Quote: “Ask the questions you need to ask, admit without apology what you don’t understand, and do the work to learn what you need to learn as quickly as you can.”

Read The Ride of a Lifetime.

10. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs Official Biography

Walter Isaacson’s official profile on Steve Jobs ranks as one of the best biographies of business leaders. Drawing on over 40 interviews with Jobs and hundreds more with family and friends, colleagues, and rivals, Isaccson weaves a thrilling account of the icon’s life. The result is a comprehensive collection of life events that shaped the subject told from multiple perspectives. From childhood to college, inventions and product launches, collaborations and clashes, career setbacks and redemptions, and roller-coaster relationships, Steve Jobs paints an appropriately complex portrait of a larger than life figure with undeniable human flaws.

Notable Quote: “One way to remember who you are is to remember who your heroes are.”

Read Steve Jobs.

11. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

Elon musk book cover

Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk is a profile of a monumental current businessman. This biography retells Musk’s extraordinary story of overcoming childhood adversity in South Africa only to become one of the most influential figures in Silicon Valley and modern industry. The book touches on Musk’s early pursuits in PayPal, the founding of Tesla, as well as the eventual decision to set sights on space and enter the aerospace frontier. The book is an exploration of Musk’s character and vision, charting his life through his innovations and ideas.

Notable Quote: “Good ideas are always crazy until they’re not.”

Read Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.

12. Sam Walton: Made In America by Sam Walton

Made in america book cover

Sam Walton: Made in America is the story of Walmart and the man who made Walmart the behemoth that it is today. This autobiography reveals how Walton grew a single dime store into a retail giant. The book explores how Walton built his foundations, structured his business, grew the company, bounced back from missteps, and kept control over his mission even as his empire expanded around the country and the world. Sam Walton: Made in America is a book about big business world ambition paired with small-town values, and is a distinctly American tale of commercial success and the achievement of a distinct vision.

Notable Quote: “Great ideas come from everywhere if you just listen and look for them. You never know who’s going to have a great idea.”

Read Sam Walton: Made In America.

13. Empire State of Mind: How Jay Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office by Zack O’Malley Greenburg

Empire state of mind book cover

Empire State of Mind is a love letter to Jay Z’s business acumen. This biography recounts the rapper’s meteoric rise from ghettos to boardrooms. The book highlights some of the key points in Carter’s career, including the inception of Roc-a-Fella records, marriage to Beyoncé, birth of Roc Nation, and expansion into the streetwear, alcohol, and streaming spaces. Viewing Jay-Z as a businessman above all and hailing his hustler mindset, Empire State of Mind spins a tale of entrepreneurship, self-creation, and re-invention.

Notable Quote: “One of the main reasons for this success is Jay-Z’s ability to build and leverage his personal brand. As much as Martha Stewart or Oprah, he has turned himself into a lifestyle.”

Read Empire State of Mind.

14. Authentic: A Memoir by the Founder of Vans by Paul Van Doren

Authentic book cover

Authentic is one of the final projects of Vans founder Paul Van Doren. The memoir tells the tale of how a high school dropout went on to helm one of the most beloved shoewear brands in the world. This autobiographical account charts Van Doren’s journey of working in a rubber factory as a teenager to creating the renowned skateboard shoe company, to preserving the legacy throughout the decades. The book examines the decisions that made the foundations of the empire and the elements that rocketed the company to fame. The story also deals with the personal and professional obstacles that threatened and informed the work. Authentic is a parable for following passions and staying true to style and vision even in the face of change.

Notable Quote: “What I’ve accomplished comes down to one thing: my knack for identifying and then solving problems. What I do better than anything else is cut out distractions. If a system isn’t working efficiently, I can see where it’s jammed, eliminate the problem, and find a way to keep everything moving forward.”

Read Authentic: A Memoir by the Founder of Vans.

15. Believe IT: How to Go from Underestimated to Unstoppable by Jamie Kern Lima

Believe It book cover

Believe IT tells the life story of Jamie Kern Lima, founder of IT Cosmetics and waitress-turned-entrepreneur who overcame the odds to build a company worth a billion dollars and to become the first female CEO of a L’Oreal brand. The book lays out defining events such as Lima learning of her adoption in early adulthood, and shows how the authors’ life hardships prepared her to face the adversity of a beauty industry that constantly told her she would not succeed. Believe IT is part manifesto and part memoir, and full-throttle motivational read.

Notable Quote: “How we react to times of uncertainty, and whether we make decisions based in love or fear, can change the course of our life. Champions aren’t made when the game is easy. In any area of life.”

Read Believe It: How to Go from Underestimated to Unstoppable.

16. The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It by Tilar J Mazzeo

The widow Clicquot book cover

The Widow Clicquot is a historical business biography, and is one of the most fascinating business biographies about women. The book tells the tale of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, a businesswoman who gained control of her family’s business and revolutionized champagne. The biography describes how Clicquot Ponsardin turned misfortune into fortune and made a mark on the world at a time when opportunities for women were limited. The Widow Clicquot is an empowerment message and fascinating historical story wrapped into one riveting account.

Notable Quote: “Widowed at the age of twenty-seven, with no formal business training and no firsthand experience, Barbe-Nicole transformed a well-funded but struggling and small-time family wine brokerage into arguably the most important champagne house of the nineteenth century in just over a decade.”

Read The Widow Clicquot.

17. Losing My Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson

Losing my virginity book cover

Losing My Virginity is billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson’s first autobiography. The book pinpoints the most essential events and influences in Branson’s life. As most business biographies do, the work starts with the executive’s upbringing and moves through his life chronologically. Branson’s many adventures include professional forays into the music and airline industries, as well as personal exploits such as trying to circle the globe in a hot air balloon. Alongside his colorful stories, the businessman shares his personal and professional philosophies, chiefly the belief of working hard yet having passions and wins beyond work. Losing My Virginity advocates for living a full and rounded life and taking control in both personal and business spheres.

Notable Quote: “I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive then I believe you are better off not doing it. A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.”

Read Losing My Virginity.

18. Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built by Duncan Clark

Alibaba the house that jack ma built book cover

Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built is a striking profile of the founder of one of the most expansive eCommerce companies in China and the world at large. The book highlights Ma’s humble beginnings as an English teacher as well as his late start to the world of entrepreneurship, and explores how the businessman rapidly climbed from running a company out of an apartment to securing a record-setting multi-billion dollar IPO. Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built provides a comprehensive history of Jack Ma’s life and professional journey and Alibaba’s evolution.

Notable Quote: “Today is brutal, tomorrow is more brutal, but the day after tomorrow is beautiful. However, the majority of people will die tomorrow night.”

Read Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built.

Conclusion

Founders, CEOs, and industry leaders are so often mythologized and painted as larger-than-life, that it can be easy to forget that these figures are humans with backstories and deeply personal lives. Business biographies provide perspective and additional insight into the motivations and influences of these legends and help flesh out more fully-formed profiles of these grand personas. These memoirs also portray the history of major companies and can paint fuller portraits of organizations’ origins and growth. By reading biographies on business leaders, professionals can be more mindful and in-control of their own work aspirations.

For more reading recommendations, check out this list of books on leadership or these business books by women.

FAQ: Business biographies

Here are answers to common questions about business biographies.

What are business biographies?

Business biographies are narrative nonfiction works that follow the lives of industry leaders and chart the launch and growth of important organizations. These books often draw from interviews and mix facts and history with philosophy.

What are the best business biographies?

The best business biographies include Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, The Snowball by Alice Schroeder, and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

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Author: Angela Robinson

Team building content expert. Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.

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