How to write a book that people will read for years

Jul 24, 2014 | Writing A Book

“Summertime reading lists are typically heavy on page-turning novels — not a collection of business articles, published as a book in 1969, and long out of print until a few weeks ago.”

Don’t you want to know more about that? You can read Steve Lohr’s article in the New York Times, “With the Blessing of Bill Gates, an Unlikely Summertime Best Seller,” but here are the basics.

The book in question is John Brooks’s collection of his business articles, Business Adventures. Bill Gates says it’s his favorite business book, one he re-reads often. I’m not surprised that he likes that book.

I still have my copy from the second printing. It sits on the shelf next to another John Brooks book, The Autobiography of American Business. It’s a great book and it’s worth reading almost half a century after its first printing. Why?

Still helpful after all these years

I’ve never talked with Bill Gates, but I bet the reason this book is his favorite is that he gets something from it every time he goes back to it. That’s a simple, but profound truth, people re-read and recommend books that help them make progress.

Evergreen books help us with the human part of things

There are lots of books that help you do things better. Some explain a technology. Others analyze current business trends. But the books that we re-read over and over are the ones that help us with the people part of things.

Evergreen books usually tell great stories

The way the best books help readers with the human part of business is by telling stories. That’s what John Brooks did in Business Adventures. Sure some of what he writes about is dated. You’ll get a chuckle when he refers a “huge drop” the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1962. But you’ll learn from the story, because the story is about people and how they act.

Bottom Line

If you want to write a business book that people read for decades, write about the human parts of business. And dress your learning in the clothes of stories.

Now it’s your turn

What are the books you keep going back to? Why?