Every summer I try to read one really good biography about a leader or visionary, and ideally, something related to publishing. Given summertime is more relaxed, I find it’s a great season to open the mind a bit to explore someone else’s world and perspective, and allow some “free space” to contemplate lessons learned that can feed back into my work.

One of my all-time favorites is Katharine Graham’s autobiography, Personal History, which details how Graham succeeded in a man’s world, running a large publishing operation (The Washington Post) where she drove many pivotal changes. Also on our recommended reading list this month are biographies detailing the successes—and missteps—of trailblazers like Google’s Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Virgin’s Richard Branson, and Tesla’s Elon Musk, along with a fun memoir from Felicia Day, the “queen of the geeks.”

If you’re planning some downtime this summer, pick up one of these fascinating, behind-the-scenes accounts of the lives and vision of these industry pioneers—they’re enjoyable reads packed with insights you can apply in your own organization!

Biography Book Picks

Personal History cover             How Google w             Amazon cover


 Richard Branson cover        Elon Musk cover      Felicia Day cover

Personal History
by Katharine Graham
Graham’s book is populated with a cast of fascinating characters, from 50 years of presidents to Steichen, Brancusi, Felix Frankfurter, Warren Buffett (her great advisor and protector), Robert McNamara, George Schultz (her regular tennis partner), and of course the great names from The Washington Post: Woodward, Bernstein, and Graham’s editor and partner, Ben Bradlee. She writes of them, and of the most dramatic moments of her stewardship of the Post, with acuity, humor, and good judgment. Her book is about learning by doing, about growing and growing up, about Washington, and about a woman liberated by both circumstance and her own great strengths.

How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg
This entertaining, page-turning primer contains lessons that Google Executive Chairman and ex-CEO Eric Schmidt and former SVP of products Jonathan Rosenberg learned as they helped build the company. The authors explain how technology has shifted the balance of power from companies to consumers, and that the only way to succeed in this ever-changing landscape is to create superior products and attract “smart creatives,” a new breed of multifaceted employees.

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone
This book is a revealing biography of the company that placed one of the first and largest bets on the Internet and forever changed the way we shop and read, offering limitless selection and seductive convenience at disruptively low prices. Its visionary founder, Jeff Bezos, stands out for his restless pursuit of new markets, leading Amazon into risky new ventures like the Kindle and cloud computing, and transforming retail in the same way Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing.

The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership by Richard Branson
While building the Virgin Group over 40 years, Richard Branson has never shied away from seemingly outlandish challenges that others, including his own colleagues, considered sheer lunacy. He has taken on giants like British Airways and won, and monsters like Coca-Cola and lost. Now Branson gives an inside look at his strikingly different, swashbuckling style of leadership. Learn how fun, family, passion, and the dying art of listening are key components to what his extended family of employees around the world have dubbed (with a wink) the “Virgin Way.”

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
This pick spotlights the technology and vision of Elon Musk, the renowned entrepreneur and innovator behind SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity who sold one of his Internet companies, PayPal, for $1.5 billion. The author captures the full spectacle and arc of the genius’ life and work, from his tumultuous upbringing in South Africa and flight to the U.S. to his dramatic technical innovations and entrepreneurial pursuits.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): A Memoir by Felicia Day
The Internet isn’t all cat videos. There’s also Felicia Day, violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely home-schooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become a leading influencer in the world of Internet geeks and Goodreads book clubs. From the online entertainment mogul, actress, and queen of the geeks comes a funny, quirky, and inspiring memoir about her unusual upbringing, her rise to Internet stardom, and how she embraced her individuality to find success in Hollywood.

If you’d like to share something you’ve read, drop us a note. And keep up with the latest industry news coverage by signing up for our This Week in Publishing emails and monthly Publishing Innovations newsletter.

Posted by: Margot Knorr Mancini

A thought leader in the publishing industry, Margot Knorr Mancini has helped numerous publishers redefine their missions to become nimble content generators with the ability to repurpose content easily and efficiently. As Founder & CEO of Technology for Publishing, her analytical mind allows her to remain a step ahead of the industry, recognizing early trends and developing pivotal best practices.