Although it didn’t arrive until the end of October, Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs was the top selling book of 2011. It’s continued to grace bestseller lists this year, too.

This is notable for several reasons, but caught my attention because biographies of entrepreneurs don’t usually attract such huge readership. What a shame.

Many such true stories are every bit as intriguing as fictional tales. More importantly, they can provide inspiration and trigger ideas for others wishing to succeed in the Joyfully Jobless world.

As Caroline Myss reminds us, “We evolve at the rate of the tribe we’re plugged into.” Knowing the stories of others who have carved their own path can be enormously helpful to our own evolution.

Some of my favorite business biographies aren’t even close to being bestsellers, but they’re certainly worth investigating. While many of the subjects/authors are now well-known, there was a time when they were known only to their families.

If you’ve missed any of these true stories, track them down and see what you can learn.

Losing My Virginity is Sir Richard Branson’s autobiography of his early years in business. He’s written several other books sharing his philosophy and recent enterprises, but this charmer offers us a glimpse of the early days of the self-described adventure capitalist.

Ben and Jerry’s Double-Dip by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield shows us what it means to create a values-led business. Read this while enjoying a bowl of Cherry Garcia or Creme Brulee.

Hershey by Michael D’Antonio is the surprisingly inspiring tale of Milton S. Hershey who not only became synonymous with chocolate bars, but was one of the country’s first social entrepreneurs. This visionary was decades ahead of his time.

The Gospel According to Coco Chanel by Karen Karbo brings us the philosophy of another visionary whose humble beginnings bore no resemblance to the influential woman she became. Chanel was opinionated and not shy about speaking her mind on living life on your own terms.

In Pursuit of the Common Good by Paul Newman and A.E. Hotchner is one of the funniest stories on the list. It’s a marvel that Newman’s Own ever managed to succeed.

Body and Soul by Anita Roddick is subtitled Profits With Principles. This book recounts the early days of The Body Shop. Equally worth tracking down is her later book, Business as Unusual. You may need to do some detective work to find either title. It’s worth it.

Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS shoes, urges us to use our businesses to make a positive difference in the world.

Make the Impossible Possible by Bill Strickland is a book I reread every year. It’s the incredible story of the author’s journey to create Manchester Bidwell, a jobs training center and community arts program near Pittsburgh. Every city should be so blessed.

Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus shares the story of the birth of micro-lending, which helped poor women in Bangladesh become successful businessowners.

While you may be able to locate some of these books through your public library, I believe they deserve a permanent home in your library. Every one of these stories is worth revisiting from time to time.

You’ll find several of these titles on Barbara’s Book List, along with several others that I haven’t included here. Out of print titles may be available through my new favorite used book source, Thriftbooks.


Although the Joyfully Jobless Journey is unique to everyone who takes it, hearing the stories of others who have followed their entrepreneurial promptings can be inspiring and instructive. Here are five very different stories which are each worth a visit.

Winner Takes All by Christina Binkley is a well-written account of how modern Las Vegas was shaped by three very different entrepreneurial thinkers. You need not aspire to run a hospitality empire in order to enjoy this often dramatic true tale. Terrific storytelling because the story’s so good. Hyperion, 2009.

Business Stripped Bare by Richard Branson shares lessons learned by this adventurous entrepreneur. Branson recalls both his hits and his misses and what he’s learned from both. Might save you making a few mistakes of your own if you pay attention to his advice. New York: Virgin Books, 2008.

Hershey by Michael D’Antonio is the fascinating story of Milton Hershey of chocolate fame who was also an ahead-of-his-time social entrepreneur. You’ll never look at a Hershey Kiss the same way again. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.

Make the Impossible Possible by Bill Strickland is a story I can read again and again. Genuinely inspiring example of how a positive vision impacts positively. Strickland has changed thousands of lives through his innovative training programs. Here’s an entrepreneur who also understands why art matters. New York: Broadway, 2007.

Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus is the wildly inspiring story of the birth of micro-lending and the lives that were changed by helping  the poor create their own enterprises. Yunus’ story dramatically illustrates that when you begin by doing what you can, opportunities to do much more begin to unfold. New York: Public Affairs, 2003.

I dare say, all successful entrepreneurs have loved the story of their business. Because that’s what true entrepreneurs do: They tell stories that come to life in the form of their business. ~ Michael E. Gerber