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.


When you read a luscious book, you probably don’t think about the numerous rewrites made by the author. Likewise, we seldom get to peek behind the scenes at the long and winding road that brought us our favorite technology tools or movies. Many of those stories would be tedious, of course, but I often think it’s a shame that we only become aware of new products or works of art or personal excellence after the hard work has been done. Because we don’t see the rehearsal, so to speak, it’s tempting to dismiss stunning achievement by assuming an extraordinarily gifted mind produced it.

If you’re curious about what it takes to bring an idea to life, I’ve got three great stories to recommend.

Although I’m a huge theater buff, I had never heard of the fascinating documentary Show Business: The Road to Broadway until a friend showed it to me a few months ago. Producer-Director Dori Berinstein had the vision to follow five Broadway shows from inception to debut to the Tony Awards. Along the way, were countless setbacks, side trips and surprising successes. The season she chose included Avenue Q, Wicked and Taboo. Even if you aren’t a theater fan, this film has much to teach and will inspire.

With the passing of Paul Newman, we’ve been reminded that he was a great philanthropist. He was also an accidental social entrepreneur. The often amusing story of the birth and growth of Newman’s Own is recorded in a delightful book (newly out in paperback) called In Pursuit of the Common Good by Newman and his pal A.E. Hotchner. I loved this story when I read it a couple of years ago. You’ll see that being rich and famous didn’t insure a direct path to entrepreneurial success.

Another favorite story of humble beginnings is Leaving Microsoft to Change the World by John Woods. If you aren’t familiar with this story, don’t wait another minute to track it down. Woods was an overworked manager for Microsoft living in Australia when he took his first vacation in years and decided to trek through Nepal. When he discovered a village school with no books or library, he got the idea to gather books from his friends and offer them to the school. That was a life-changing event which led Woods to found Room to Read, which now builds libraries and fills them all over the world. It’s a wonderful example of what can happen when you follow your passion.


To live so that that which comes to me as seed

Goes to the next as blossom

And that which comes to me as blossom 

Goes on as fruit.~ Dawna Markova