Book Review: Personal History by Katherine Graham (And The Business Lessons Therein)

I’ve always wanted to read Katherine Graham’s Personal History and when I saw Bill Gates was reading it it moved higher up on my list. It was a great book. Though long (600 pages), it’s a fun and easy read, as she chronicles being born into a newspaper family, her husband Phil taking the reigns of the Washington Post and ultimately committing suicide, and then her nerve racking step into the spotlight as publisher of the Post.

There are a number of reasons why I liked the book. It is a Who’s Who of influencers (from Presidents to Warren Buffett). It shows the largely unchallenged discrimination against women. It is some good U.S. history. It is an honest, personal account of journalistic leadership.

But it is also a good business book. I’ve written in the past that entrepreneurs should stop reading business books and instead should read traditionally non-business books to stretch their mind in other ways. As Jim Collins has observed, there are maybe a couple dozen really influential business books with original ideas. Most blatant how-to’s are crap. Also, it’s important to read books other than bestsellers. Novel insights are a dime a dozen and no one is novel if all they cite is The World is Flat/Blink/Freakonomics etc.

Graham’s stories contain a number of subtle business lessons. For example, when the Post union went on strike, she – the publisher – went down to the floor room and starting taking classified ads over the phone. That’s like the CEO of 700 employee company answering the reception telephone line. You gotta do what you gotta do, even when it means getting grimey and rolling up your sleeves.

2 comments on “Book Review: Personal History by Katherine Graham (And The Business Lessons Therein)
  • Have you read “On Bullshit” by Harry G. Frankfurt? It’s a really short and rather small book. It took me roughly an hour to analyze. I’ve been told I’m rather good at ‘bsing,’ I suppose it’s a good idea to learn about the art that I supposedly practice. I’m currently reading a religion book, which pretty much lays out the basic facts of various world religions. Do you know of any good journalism or philosophy books that’d you’d recommend?

  • To sarah – I throughly enjoyed “Socrates vs. Sartre” and if you’re into philosophy you will like it a lot. The classics (plato mainly) is intriquing but expensive. Vonnegut is always good if you enjoy fiction.

    I have a diasease, at 330 in the morning I’m on your blog leaving comment via blackberry. I’m sick. Comcast should be up tommorrow which means I get my RSS back, oh yeah!

    I remember asking you earlier why you haven’t read singularity or blink. I agree with you wholeheartedly with reading the same books leads to boring debate. I happen to like singularity because of the philosophical concerns… My dad and I like to argue about where progress stops and we cease to be humans. I can argue the as myspace, linkedin, secondlife, and this little crackberry suck us online for more tasks, we become less human. One of your friends from UHS has a blog in which he posted an overheard conversation.

    G1:are you friends with her?
    G2:she’s nice but we don’t really talk outside of math.
    G1:no I mean on myspace

    Redefining terms and memes is a big part of changing outlooks.

    I has a conversation with my dad where he advocated a voice activated psp style laptop, then an eyeglass unit, and finally a temporal implant… I think any more instantaneous access to information then we already have will begin to give us more shallow insight. Because the more information we share the less wildness and cool kooky ideas can occur. So if everyone reads one book (blink ie) then we don’t inject any fresh ideas.

    Back to the social networks argument I think we are begining to lose our societal taste for human interaction… Do we someday become fully online beings? That question is worth at least skimming reviews of singularity for.

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