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7 More Great Entrepreneurship Books That Have Nothing to Do With Business

Some of the best entrepreneurial stories are about characters whose goals don't have anything to do with making money.

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Recently, I wrote a column singling out The Great Escape, which is about a break out from a World War II prison camp, as the greatest book ever written about entrepreneurship. I give it that accolade despite the fact the book (like the more famous 1963 movie) has nothing at all to do with starting or running a business.

My rationale is that at its core, entrepreneurship isn't so much about business as it is about pursuing opportunity. Instead, entrepreneurship is a management style focused on the relentless "pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled." 

In other words: Find a problem, formulate a uniquely effective way to solve it, and execute.

I gave a guest lecture in Professor Gary Jonas's MBA class at Johns Hopkins University last week incorporating my Great Escape theory, and it sparked a very interesting discussion. That led me think about how many other great and inspiring books fall into the same category: incredible stories about entrepreneurship that have little or nothing to do with business.

So, in no particular order, here are seven more examples:

1.  Between a Rock and a Hard Place (2004)

Aron Ralston's account of how he became trapped under a boulder in a remote canyon while climbing in a remote area of Utah. As he had not told anyone where he was going, Ralston knew nobody would be looking for him.

Problem: Escape from a slow, certain death using only the meager contents of Ralston's rucksack.

Solution: After five days, convinced he had no other options, Ralston broke the bones in his arm and used a dull, two-inch knife to amputate it. His 2004 book was made into a 2010 movie starring James Franco.

2.  Hardball: How Politics Is Played Told by One Who Knows the Game (1988)

Somewhat forgotten but for the author's eponymous television show, this 1998 book "is like a modern version of Machiavelli's The Prince, only much more richly illustrated," according to the official Amazon review.

Problem: How do you get things done in Washington?

Solution: It all starts with the very first chapter in the book: "It's Not Who You Know; It's Who You Get to Know." In other words, acquire resources (contacts) without regard to who you're connected to at the start.

3.  The Aeneid

Pretty much the granddaddy of Western literature, Virgil's epic poem tells two long stories: The journey of Aeneas from Troy to found Rome, and the war between the Greeks and the Trojans.

Problem: The one we're focusing on here is the most famous: How can the Greeks conquer Troy?

Solution: Sneak a bunch of Greek soldiers into Troy by hiding them in a giant wooden horse, convincing the Trojans to bring the horse into their city, breaking out of the horse, and slaughtering everyone.

4.  The Man Who Never Was (1954)

Another wartime one. In 1943, the Germans knew the Allies would invade Europe. They just didn't know where or when. The book was written by Ewen Montagu, a lawyer and wartime naval intelligence officer who came up with a bizarre solution.

Problem: Deceive the Axis powers into thinking Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily, would take place elsewhere.

Solution: Obtain a dead body, preferably of a drowning victim, convince his family to release his body without knowing what would become of it, handcuff  a briefcase filled with fake war plans to his arm, and launch it from a submarine. The body washed up on the Spanish coast, and the Germans were fooled into believing he was a courier whose plane had crashed.

5.  Moneyball (2003)

Michael Lewis wrote this book about the 2002 Oakland Athletics, who put together one of the best teams in professional baseball despite a budget less than one-third of the league-leading New York Yankees.

Problem: With limited financial resources, draft the best players in baseball.

Solution: Employ a different, fact-based way of evaluating and judging players. Revolutionize baseball, win 20 games in a row.

6.  All the President's Men (1974)

Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post penned this account of their investigative reporting on the Watergate scandal. (Full disclosure: I worked for Woodward from 2005 to 2007.)

Problem: Despite massive White House pressure, investigate one of the biggest political scandals in American history.

Solution: Assemble the best available version of the truth by following the money and leveraging every possible source--including  waiters, security guards, secretaries and, famously, the deputy director of the FBI.

7.  One Day, All Children (2003)

Wendy Kopp wrote this first-person account of how she turned her Princeton senior thesis into the nonprofit education giant, Teach for America.

Problem: Provide every child in America with the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

Solution: Beg, borrow, cajole, and do everything but steal to scrounge resources and put together TFA, which now places more than 8,000 young teachers a year in some of the nation's most disadvantaged schools.

What other books did I miss? Which ones on this list do you think are kind of a stretch? Let me know in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

IMAGE: kalebdf via Flickr
Last updated: Jul 20, 2012

BILL MURPHY JR. is a journalist, ghostwriter, and entrepreneur. He is the author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship (with Jon Burgstone) and is a former reporter for The Washington Post.
@BillMurphyJr




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