7 Must-Read Biographies

I owe most of the lessons I have learnt in life to books. Books have taught me to deal with it all: from challenging nay-sayers to loss of loved ones. And the greatest wisdom stems from experience (perhaps that’s why its an entire case study based curriculum @HBS), so I have turned to biographies to compensate for my lack of years. Below is a list of some of the most fulfilling biographies I have recently read, all of which have been a source of inspiration and personal growth. I hope they shall serve you well, and I specially welcome comments and reviews for this post.

1. Decision Points – George Bush  Lesson: Do not believe everything what the media says. There’s more to the man, much much more than just plain dumb. At the end, whether you agree with him or not, he will have earned your respect and then some. He remains a President who followed through on his decisions, not stooping to petty political appeasement at the cost of the country. While this portion is not covered, his handling of the 123 Nuclear Agreement with India is a demonstration of his political prowess and influence, as well as his strategic thinking of foreign policy.

2. Whatever the Odds – K.P. Singh.
 The Chairman of DLF, India’s largest real estate firm talks about  taking ‘life in its stride’ and to constantly push yourself out of your comfort zone, advise that has helped me extensively in my own career. It is very tempting to stick to what you do best (called ‘core competence’ in consultant speak), but sometimes that can lead to complacency and stall your personal growth. It’s also a big reminder of the most important things in your life: family and the love of your near and dear ones.

3. The Snowball – Alice Schroeder on
 Warren Buffett has been my most admired hero for a while now, so I readily admit my bias here. But this is one truly legendary life. The book explores his rise to prominence, and talks a lot about some of the simple credos of life that he exemplifies, and we seem to have forgotten. The last chapter is particularly touching, where he talks about his decision to give away $35 bn to charity, particularly the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, saying that once upon a time, people entrusted him with money because they thought he was better at investing, and similarly, he is now entrusting his money to people who he thinks would be better at giving it away, as opposed to the likes of several prominent American families who prefer having their surnames stamped on their Foundations for eternity.

4. Straight From the Gut – Jack Welch. For any admirer of business, Jack Welch is among the top of my heroes list. Here he talks about his rise within GE, and his own thought-process to revamp the company, making it one of the largest and fiercest in the world. Pay particular attention to the 1st or 2nd or Out of the Industry rule and his art of managing transition at the CEO level.

5. The King of Capital: The Remarkable Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone – This book is not a biography in the true sense of the term, it is more like a history of Blackstone itself. But for everybody remotely interested in PE, it is a Holy grail. BX’s success in the PE LBO world has been the envy of many: other firms want to be like them, every finance grad wants to work for them. This book chronicles its many deals, and talks a bit about the leadership issues and the debate over going public. A widely fascinating read.

6. An Unfinished Life: John F Kennedy – Robert Dallek: JFK has gone down as one of the most enigmatic and well-known Presidents of the United States. Amid allegations of all sorts, he rose from insurmountable odds (Catholicism and medical problems) to reach the highest echelons of elected office. His is a story of determination, passion and tragedy, all told in one. Inspite of his numerous flaws, he does not fail to impress or inspire, standing as a tall, supra-mortal figure above us. A definitely engaging read for anybody interested in a good story.

7. Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson – The death of Steve Jobs multiplied the sales of Isaacson’s book manifold. Steve Jobs has been a hallmark of the world, the demi-God of tech junkies and the hero of millions of consumers who use iPads and iPods and iMacs. His is a story of passion, of combating life’s toughest challenges and of simply doing what you love. Here is a man who truly did not bother about ‘perception’, focusing merely on doing stuff that he loved and enjoyed. It is this focus of his that gave us some of the kewlest products in the IT industry, revolutionizing music and books in the process. A definite addition to your reading list.