Books for life

A reader has written to say how tough it is to find good business biographies. He’s enjoying Driven to Succeed, the book about Frank Hasenfratz I co-authored with Susan M. Papp, and wondered if I could recommend others. Here are six of my favourites: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson; Harrison McCain by Donald Savoie; The Reichmanns by Anthony Bianco; A Gentleman of the Press by Floyd Chalmers; Titan, Ron Chernow on John D. Rockefeller; and Iacocca, the 1984 book by William Novak that set the standard for ghost-written business memoirs.

Books have deep meaning in my life. I was lucky enough to have a father who taught me how to read before I went to kindergarten. He’d sit with me at bedtime and listen to my early struggles pronouncing words like “gnaw” as guh-naw in The Adventures of Danny Meadow Mouse by Thornton W. Burgess. I can still recall his patient explanation about how the “g” was silent. I was four at the time. Among others, I went through all the Burgess books, the Hardy Boys, Freddy the Pig, the brave heroes of G. A. Henty and the twenty-volume-set of the Book of Knowledge in the half dozen years that followed.

By the time I was ten, I’d read everything in the children’s section of the Guelph Public Library and was allowed to get an adult card. But not all adult books. I was maybe fourteen when I tried to check out By Love Possessed by James Gould Cozzens. Said the librarian as she put the book on a shelf behind her, “I don’t think your mother would want you reading that.” Ah, the merits and demerits of living in a small town.

Even buying second-hand books used to be a memorable pursuit. There was a time it could take months to track down a title. I vividly remember finally finding Peter C. Newman’s first book, Flame of Power, in a used bookshop in Elora, Ontario, and Memory’s Wall, by Lady Eaton, on Harbord Street in Toronto. It’s way easier now, but there’s no thrill of the hunt buying online from Abebooks or Alibris.

My six favourite books of all time are Goodbye, Darkness by William Manchester, any one of Robert Caro’s series on Lyndon Johnson, Surfacing by Margaret Atwood (her only readable book), A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, Gentlemen, Players & Politicians by Dalton Camp, and Jane Leavy’s book on Mickey Mantle, The Last Boy

And if you asked for my one hundred favourites, I could rattle off that list, too. 


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