Best Business Books: John W. Rogers Jr.'s Picks
John W. Rogers Jr., chairman and CEO, Ariel Capital Management
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro (1974)
In a book that won him the Pulitzer Prize, Caro offers a scathing portrait of Robert Moses, the urban planner who, from various positions in city government, dominated politicians, razed neighborhoods, and oversaw construction of the freeways, bridges, and parks of modern New York City.
Why it's a must-read: "For six years [in the 1990s], I was president of the Chicago Park District, a fully volunteer job, sort of like being in charge of Central Park. Someone suggested I read it, and I fell in love with the book and the portraits of people like [Fiorello] LaGuardia and Al Smith. You also learn about how to get things done. Robert Moses knew how to move mountains to achieve his ultimate goal; he didn't take no for an answer. He could see the future of what he wanted to accomplish. These men had their weaknesses and sometimes abused their powers. But in business, you're going to run into people like that; it's part of business lifeto understand what the opposition is going to be like, how they're going to maneuver and manipulate the situation to their advantage. It helps you to read about how these guys did things inappropriately."
Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 195463 by Taylor Branch (1988)
In the first of three volumes on how the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. helped reshape American society, Branch chronicles the young civil rights leader's evolution from the Montgomery bus boycott to the "I Have a Dream" speech.
Why it's a must-read: "For someone like me who's too young to have lived through the civil rights movement, it made it feel like I was there in Selma and Montgomery. To learn about not only the star of the book but people like Harry Belafonte and John Lewis, who had so much courage and who fought against all odds, was inspiring, and it made me feel like I should be fighting harder around areas of fairness and inclusion."
Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist by Roger Lowenstein (1995)
Lowenstein, a longtime Wall Street Journal reporter, charts the rise of the Nebraska investor whose bets on the long-term growth of companies like American Express and GEICO made him a multibillionaire.
Why it's a must-read: "This is another one of the books our analysts read as part of their training program. To me, Buffett's ability to articulate an investment strategy and philosophy is second to none. The values are so everlasting: These are just tried and true principles that sound simple and easy but are very hard to execute in reality. Most people, when push comes to shove, don't have the discipline they needthey don't do all the reading and studying they should be doing. That long-term perspective comes through loud and clear, and it's consistent with us: At Ariel, we have a turtle as a logo. Long-term investing is what we're all about."
Succeeding Against the Odds by John H. Johnson with Lerone Bennett Jr. (1989)
The memoir of John Johnson, who rose from modest beginnings to found Negro Digest, Ebony, and Jetand earned plaudits for "inventing" the black consumer market
Why it's a must-read: "He was one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time. He started up a business with a loan from his mother on the home furniturejust $500. That's unbelievable. To learn how he had the ingenuity to start from scratch and build that business one brick at a time, day by day, with no financing, well, for someone who's a young entrepreneur like me, it was a wonderful book. It gives you inspiration that you can find the focus and the passion to build something sustainable in this country."
The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1) by Robert A. Caro (1982)
The first in a four-volume series about Lyndon Johnson, from his first congressional campaign to the presidency
Why it's a must-read: "We have everybody in the leadership at our firm read it. It reminds me how important perseverance is. Johnson used hard work and ingenuity to accomplish things no one ever dreamed he'd be able to accomplish. I remember vividly him being worn down and in pain, forcing himself to knock on one more door when he was running for Congress because he so desperately wanted to win. Caro also had such vivid portraits of the way LBJ was able to create relationships with people who would be able to help him with his own career. So much of business success is relationships with people who can open up a door for you sometimes, who can give you advice and counsel and mentorships when you need it. It's almost a how-to book for me about how to cultivate relationships."